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Swimming with Mexico's Whale Sharks

6 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

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Day 1: Cancun, Mexico / Puerto Morelos
Our whale shark tour begins on arrival at the Cancun airport, where you are met and transferred to our oceanfront hotel on the Riviera Maya. Enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation with our Expedition Leader this evening.
Day 2: Cenote Swim / Isla Holbox
After breakfast, we drive three hours north, bound for Holbox Island. En route, stop at a freshwater cenote, one of the Yucatan’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 their only source of fresh water in the jungle. Along the way, we'll stop at a Mayan community for a picnic lunch. Once we reach the north coast of the peninsula, we board a ferry for the short ride to Holbox Island. This tranquil destination is home to the tiny fishing village of Holbox, unspoiled beaches, white sand streets and abundant fresh seafood. Our hotel is set amid palm-studded gardens and fronts an inviting sandy beach.
Day 3: Swimming with Whale Sharks / Isla de Los Pajaros
After an early breakfast, 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 the whale sharks 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 water's surface 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 Pajaros, a protected mangrove island that is a nesting sanctuary for flamingos, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, frigatebirds and cormorants.
Day 4: Swimming with Whale Sharks / Isla Holbox Tour
A second excursion offshore offers another magical encounter with the whale sharks. With a maximum of eight guests in our boat, and usually no more than seven, we have a peaceful, personalized experience that few visitors who come to see whale sharks get to enjoy. After lunch, set out to explore Holbox Island. Our guides, who have years of experience discovering the hidden corners of Holbox, 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 our beachfront hotel. A submarine paradise awaits with a chance to snorkel over the world's second-largest coral reef, 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 / Cancun / 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 Yucatan Peninsula is a small island untouched by mass tourism. Peaceful Isla Holbox might go unnoticed entirely, except for some high-profile visitors that frequent its warm ocean waters each summer. Averaging 40 feet long and weighing 15 tons, the whale sharks’ presence is hard to ignore. These gentle filter-feeders are actually not whales at all, despite their size, but the world’s largest fish. We enter the water with them in pairs, alongside our Expedition Leader, for a low-impact encounter. Docile and unafraid, they allow us to swim close enough to observe the checkerboard pattern of pale white dots and stripes covering their thick gray skin. Their capacious mouths are 5 feet wide, and as we watch them swim with their jaws wide open to collect plankton, it's easy to imagine Jonah's fate! If you’re looking for a fish tale to top all others, this is it!
  • Accommodations
  • Services of Nat Hab's professional Expedition Leader(s)
  • All meals from dinner on Day 1 through dinner on Day 5
  • Most alcoholic beverages
  • Most gratuities
  • Airport transfers on Day 1 and final day
  • All activities and entrance fees, all taxes, permits and service fees
  • Meet Whale Sharks Up Close: Alongside our naturalist Expedition Leaders, swim with enormous friendly whale sharks as we make multiple excursions by boat in the warm Caribbean waters
  • Stay on a Small, Peaceful Island: Explore idyllic Isla Holbox, a traditional fishing community with streets of white sand and virtually no cars, in contrast to the crowded resorts down the Yucatan coast
  • Enjoy Birding & Snorkeling: Visit Isla de Los Pajaros—Bird Island—teeming with frigates, flamingos, pelicans, herons and egrets, and snorkel over the world's second-largest barrier reef
Holbox Island: Villas Palapas Del Mar
Riviera Maya: Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita
  • Group Size: Approximately 14 Travelers.
  • Not Included: Travel to and from the start and end point of your trip, some alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, passport and visa fees (if any), optional activities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry and internet, etc.), airline baggage fees, airport and departure taxes (if any), required medical evacuation insurance, optional travel protection insurance.
  • Physical Requirements: Moderate. This adventure does not require a high degree of physical fitness. However, snorkeling is a big component of this trip, with excursions offered nearly every day, and snorkeling is essential for the fullest encounter with the whale sharks. In order to snorkel with the whale sharks, you must be able to swim a minimum of 150 feet in deep water and moderate currents while wearing a required PFD (personal flotation device), which will be provided. The PFD will provide additional flotation assistance as you snorkel. We strongly recommend practicing snorkeling while actively swimming beforehand if you have limited experience. Our Expedition Leaders also provide instruction for those in need of additional snorkeling guidance. If you choose to enter the water to swim with whale sharks, you must also be able to climb a four-rung vertical ladder that hangs over the side of the boat in order to re-board the vessel. Less capable swimmers and guests who are unable to climb the ladder can view the whale sharks from the boat, which is also an exciting experience. We travel in 23- to 29-foot open panga-style outboard motorboats, sometimes for hours at a time, to find and view the whale sharks. Due to the potential for bumpy seas, these boat rides are not recommended for pregnant women or travelers with back or neck injuries. In order to join this trip, you must be able to climb stairs, as our multi-level accommodations do not have elevators. Additionally, in order to participate in all activities, you should be able to walk unassisted for a minimum of one-half mile, as our itinerary includes several short walks. Travelers should be aware that the heat and humidity may be very high, and roads may be bumpy.
  • Since the areas you will travel to on this trip are remote and wild (that's why we go there!), we require medical evacuation insurance for this program. If you decline the medical evacuation insurance coverage offered by Natural Habitat Adventures, we require that you send us documentation of the independent coverage you have selected. We recommend that your chosen independent insurance plan includes at least $250,000 in medical evacuation coverage. Please note that we will add the cost of Natural Habitat Adventures' medical evacuation policy (currently $48 per person) to your tour invoice until you provide our office with proof of coverage including your insurance company's name, phone number and your individual policy number. 
  • Plan to arrive in Cancun no later than 4:30 pm on Day 1 of the adventure, as there is a group orientation and welcome dinner at 6 pm. You are free to depart anytime on the final day. 
  • Please ask your Vacations To Go travel counselor for more information.
Terms and Conditions
For Natural Habitat Adventures terms and conditions, please click here.

* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.