Swimming with Mexico's Whale Sharks
6 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Cancún, Mexico / Puerto Morelos
Our whale shark tour begins on arrival at Cancún airport, where you are met and transferred to our hotel. Enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation with our Expedition Leader this evening.
Day 2: Isla Holbox
After breakfast, we drive three hours north, bound for Holbox Island. Along the way we stop at a freshwater cenote, one of the Yucatán’s most enticing natural wonders, where those who wish may enjoy a refreshing swim or snorkel. Cenotes, fed by subterranean rivers, were sacred to the Mayans as entrances to the mythical underworld, and were their only source of fresh water in the jungle. Our journey continues to a Mayan community where we have a picnic lunch under hundred-year-old trees at an orchid sanctuary. Once we reach the north coast of the peninsula, we board our boat for the short ride to Holbox Island. Our tranquil destination is home to the tiny fishing village of Holbox, unspoiled beaches, streets of white sand, and abundant fresh seafood. Our hotel is set amid palm-studded gardens and fronts an expanse of inviting sandy beach.
Day 3: Swimming with Whale Sharks / Isla Holbox
After an early breakfast, we set off in search of the whale sharks that migrate to this area between May and September. We generally find them 20 to 25 miles offshore, so our boat ride can take up to two hours. When we locate them, we enter the water two at a time with our guide, who helps us swim within arm's reach of them for several minutes at a time. Whale sharks aren't actually whales at all, despite their enormous size—they are the biggest fish in the world, reaching up to 45 feet in length and weighing some 15 tons. They feed on plankton near the surface of the water and are easily visible with their distinctive gray and white-patterned skin. To be underwater with these enormous, gentle creatures is an experience that many describe as life-altering. We may also spot giant manta rays and bottlenose dolphins during our boat rides. This afternoon we travel by motorboat to Isla de Los Pájaros, a protected mangrove island that is a nesting sanctuary for flamingos, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, frigatebirds and cormorants.
Day 4: Swimming with Whale Sharks / Island Tour / Isla Holbox
A second excursion offshore offers another magical encounter with the whale sharks. After lunch at our hotel, we explore the island Holbox-style—in golf carts! Our guides, who have years of experience exploring the island, know just where to take us to observe local wildlife and tropical birds in their natural environment.
Day 5: Puerto Morelos
Bid farewell to Holbox Island's languid charms this morning as we cruise back to the mainland and return to the Azul Beach Hotel. A submarine paradise awaits as we snorkel over the second-largest coral reef in the world, located right in front of our hotel! This is the northern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that stretches some 620 miles to Belize, an underwater ecosystem with myriad types of tropical marine life. Along with colorful coral and huge schools of fish, we're likely to see sea turtles, manta rays and sponges in the transparent Caribbean waters. This fragile ecosystem, like most of the world's coral reefs, is threatened by human impacts of pollution and global warming, and we leave more conscious of the critical need to protect its astounding biodiversity. This evening we'll enjoy a farewell dinner together.
Day 6: Puerto Morelos / Depart
Our whale shark adventure comes to a close as we leave the Riviera Maya behind and transfer to the airport this morning for departing flights.
All This Included
Just off the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a small island largely untouched by tourism. Isla Holbox might go unnoticed entirely, except for some highly noticeable visitors that frequent its warm ocean waters each summer. Their presence is hard to ignore, since they average 40 feet long and weigh 15 tons. These are gentle whale sharks—not whales at all, despite their size, but actually the world’s largest fish. Docile and unafraid, they allow us to swim close enough to observe the checkerboard pattern of pale yellow dots and stripes covering their thick gray skin. If you're looking for a fish tale to trump all others, this is it!
Holbox Island: Villas Paraiso del Mar
Bahia Petempich: Azul Beach Hotel
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