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Swimming with Mexico's Whale Sharks

6 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

Click for Dates and Prices 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 hotel. 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. Along the way, we 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. En route, we stop at a Mayan community to enjoy a picnic lunch. Once we reach the north coast of the peninsula, we board a ferry for the short ride to Holbox Island. Our 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, 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 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 Azul Beach Hotel. A submarine paradise awaits with a chance to 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 / 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 relatively untouched by tourism. Isla Holbox might go unnoticed entirely, except for some high-profile visitors that frequent its warm ocean waters each summer. At an average 40 feet long and 15 tons, the presence of these stately filter feeders is hard to ignore. 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 white dots and stripes covering their thick gray skin. If you're looking for a fish tale to trump all others, this is it!
  • Airport transfers on Day 1 to and from Azul Beach Hotel
  • Van and boat transportation between Puerto Morelos and Isla Holbox
  • Accommodations
  • Meals from dinner Day 1 to dinner Day 5
  • Purified drinking water during activities and purified drinking water and soft drinks at meals
  • Services of NHA Expedition Leaders
  • Most gratuities
  • All permits, entrance fees and taxes
  • Alongside our naturalist Expedition Leaders, swim with enormous, friendly whale sharks from our boat base in the Caribbean waters
  • Explore idyllic Holbox Island, a traditional fishing community with streets of white sand and virtually no cars, in contrast to the crowded resorts down the Yucatan coast
  • 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
Bahia Petempich: Azul Beach Hotel
  • Group Size Limit: Approximately 12 Travelers.
  • Not Included: Travel to and from start and end points of trip, early arrival or late departure airport transfers to hotels other than Azul Beach Hotel, alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, internet, etc.), passport fees, optional travel insurance, required medical evacuation insurance and optional activities.
  • Physical Requirements: Moderate. This adventure does not require a high degree of physical fitness. However, in order to be in the water with the whale sharks you must be able to swim a minimum of 150 feet, and you must be able to climb a four-rung vertical ladder which hangs over the sideto re-enter the boat. Less capable swimmers and travelers who are unable to climb the ladder can view the whale sharks from the boat, which is also an exciting nature experience. We travel in 23- to 29-foot 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 bi-level accommodation on Holbox Island does 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. Snorkeling is also an option. It is easy to learn, instruction is provided, and we expect that most guests will have little or no experience. Travelers should be aware that the heat and humidity may be very high, and roads may be bumpy.
  • Important Information About This Trip: This exceptional wildlife adventure offers an unique chance to swim with one of the world's largest marine creatures. The little-known area we visit is one of the best places in the world to encounter these huge, gentle creatures, donning snorkels and fins to enjoy time in the water with them at close range.
  • Mandatory Insurance: Since the areas we travel to on this trip are remote and wild (that's why we go there!), we require medical evacuation insurance for our guests' safety. If you decline the medical evacuation insurance coverage offered by Natural Habitat, we request that you send us documentation of the independent coverage you have selected. We will add the cost of a medical evacuation policy to your tour invoice until you provide our office with proof of coverage, including your insurance company's name, contact number and your individual policy number. Thank you for understanding that our policy exists exclusively in the interest of our guests' safety.
  • Getting There & Getting Home: You should arrive in Cancun in time for a 6 pm orientation on Day 1 and can depart Cancun 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.