Snorkeling With The Whale Sharks!

September 26, 2015

Snorkeling With The Whale Sharks!

My big birthday was coming up and I wanted to do something special. Since whale sharks has always been one of my favorite creatures in the water, I knew I had to see them in person. Thinking that the only way I was going to fulfill my dream was to go to Africa and this was not possible at this time. So when I read about how the whale sharks migrate in Holbox, Mexico, I was all in. Never heard of the island? Well neither did I.

The scientists predict that the whale sharks have been in Holbox for hundreds of years but it wasnt until almost 10 years ago that fishermen spotted them, not realizing what they really discovered. Holbox is a fishing village (only 7 miles long & 1 mile wide) that provided fish to surrounding Mexican communities including lobster & octopus to the tourists in Cancun. The first whale shark season, which is middle of June through early September, Holbox only had 1500 tourists which included Europeans & Americans. And now this little island has over 23,000 tourists per season.

Holbox is an island that is northwest of Cancun, in Mexico. To get to Holbox, we flew into Cancun and then took a 2 hour taxi ride (or take the local bus) to the Port of Chiquila. Now depending on the traffic, it could take up to 3 hours, but we were lucky, the taxi driver took us to the ferry which only took a 1/2 hour. A golf cart was waiting for us, to take us to our hotel, Faro Viejo.

Because of the Cancun Airport rules, you should get a one way transfers from the property you are staying at, which will run about $90.00 - $125.00 per person. If you choose to take a taxi from the airport, it will cost $350.00… way to much. But your other option is to take a taxi to the Cancun Bus Station and take the bus or taxi from that location and pay very little compared from the airport. The ferry cost $6.00 per person, one way. Now you can fly from Cancun or Cozumel but the prices are around $500 a person each way. Dont expect much of an airport though, I have to admit, it is unique as the airport is outlined in conch shells. Please verify our figures before you leave as we are not responsible for the prices.

When we arrived, I was impressed with the sandy streets, lots of bicycles, even 3 wheelers with carts and rows of golf carts to take you were you are going. The majority of tourists are from the mainland in Mexico but I was surprised with a large community of Europeans. There is a wide variety of resorts, hotels, B&Bs and you can even rent a room. I was in heaven as this little island with no stop lights, fast food restaurants reminded me of the days when I went to Cozumel for the first time and there was barely any bathrooms, only out houses.... ah the days of being small and no tourism. 

What is a whale shark? It is a shark and the largest fish in the world. These gentle giants can grow up to 60 feet long and up to 15 tons in weight. They visit Holbox to feed on plankton in the summer that swim near the surface of the waters. The filter feeding fish, sieve the tiny food, plankton, through their large gills. This offers us a great opportunity to see the docile creatures in their natural habitat.

Our day in the water was a spectacular experience and something everyone should do at least once in their life. We used Holbox Whale Shark Tours and was thrilled with our guide, Diego who spoke excellent english. They provided mask, fins & snorkels but I prefer to use my own, as I am fussy with using rental gear and having other peoples body fluids on my mask & snorkel. 

We went in teams of 2 with Diego and sat on the edge of the boat and waited for the Captain to get the boat in front of the whale sharks mouth. He told us when to go and when to slide in the water. (No jumping in the water was allowed, as this might scare the whale sharks.) This video will show you how the boat was close to the whale shark and how snorkelers (swimmers in their case) were following the whale shark.

I was the last to go in the water and I was anxious. As I watched everyone take their turns, I could not wait to see these beautiful creatures up close. I was like a kid in a candy store. So my first reaction was, OH MY GOD… I am in the water with the largest fish in the world, how exciting for me. But there was a trick that was not explained. When you slide in the water, the whale shark is coming at you and you need to hurry to their side as their eyes are on the side of their body and you dont want them to literally ram you. When you get to the side you better start kicking to keep up with this large fish. In this video you will be able to see Diego in size compared to the whale shark. And when you are kicking to keep up, dont forget to breathe. Because it can be exhausting, snorkelers had the option to take a second & third time in the water with the whale sharks but many denied their turns. And this is why I had the opportunity to get in the water 8 times. Lucky me!

When we were out on the boats looking for the whale sharks, we saw hundreds of small red row boats and asked about it. They were fishermen fishing for octopus and hired by one company. The fishermen fish with 4 poles with a hook at the end. Talk about a long day at the office… Fresh fish is standard on all menus on Holbox and caught daily to add to the menus. 

The days we were not in the water, we rented golf carts. How fun that was! There was so much exploring to do, something I love to do when I go to a new island. Stopping at an outdoor restaurant, bar having a cervesa, and the wonderful beaches was as much fun as the watersports. I love beaches and the water, Holbox has my thumbs up for both! As we drove around (and on the beach) I was quite surprised that in some areas the water was shallow for a mile. Great island for shelling also.

I highly recommend for a long weekend adventure, the island of Holbox. Whether you travel solo or with your family, you will not be disappointed.


RELATED READING:
Where is Holbox, Mexico
What Are Whale Sharks
All About Holbox Island


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