Swimming with Mexico's Whale Sharks
6 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
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 seven guests in our boat, and usually no more than six, 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. Sleepy 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. If you’re looking for a fish tale to top all others, this is it!
Holbox Island: Villas Palapas Del Mar
Riviera Maya: Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita
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