One of the Yucatan attractions I was looking forward to the most was swimming with Holbox whale sharks. While I’ve been lucky to have a variety of incredible marine creature encounters as a PADI Rescue Diver, I had yet found these gentle giants in the wild–until the Gulf of Mexico called.
Swimming with Whale Sharks: First, My Urban Legend
I first heard story of swimming with whale sharks thousands of miles away, in Koh Tao, Thailand. There, divers daydream of meeting the elusive whale-like creatures, spotted sporadically beneath the waters of the majestic Chumphon Pinnacle, on a daily basis.
I found tiny box fishes, rare octopuses, dancing shrimp, and even several barracuda vortexes–but not whale sharks. Not even a baby one.
It wasn’t my time yet.
Back in 2015, I thought I could only encounter the largest fish in the world in deep waters. It wasn’t until I researched further that I found out these filter feeders mainly munch on plankton lurking in the surface.
I had to, literally, go with the flow.
Following the currents
That mini investigation taught me two vital facts. First, whale sharks love the tropics–they are rarely spotted in waters below 72°F. Second, their main source of food (plankton) is moved around by the ocean’s major currents.
Gee, what urban legend?! I didn’t even have to dive to find them!
It was then that Mexico called. Again.
The owner of Karma Trails was one of my partners in the first press trip I took to Playa Del Carmen. Earlier this summer, he reached out to me to see if I could explore more of the Yucatan Peninsula with his knowledgeable local guides.
“Only if I can swim with whale sharks. That’s one of your Holbox tours, right?”
I could feel him smiling from his computer monitor.
Tale of the Holbox Whale Sharks
Whale sharks have lurked the waters around Holbox Island for many years, frightening local fishermen. We can’t blame them: it’s hard to believe the largest non-mammal vertebrate in the world, averaging between 33 to 40 feet long, isn’t a threat to humans.
Still, the Mexican fishermen didn’t bother them. Eventually, word spread out: giant creatures come to the same patch of the Gulf of Mexico between May and September (with higher concentrations between mid-July and August), every year.
Hundreds of them.
BOOM: Holbox was put on the map.
Holbox Island: The Paradise I Got to Know
Going with the flow paid off. Colorful murals, charming bamboo-and-palapa architecture, scores of seafood, and some of the calmest Latinos I’ve met…Holbox is a speck of paradise I’m glad I got to know.
Despite its proximity to the Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox retains a laid-back vibe due to the lack of infrastructure. Thus, getting there can be time-consuming. A three-hour drive from most resorts to Chiquila, the only port of departure; a 20-min. ferry ride through the Gulf; and no paved roads upon arrival make it quite the journey.
Add to that a 2+ hour boat ride each way to find the plankton and pods of whale sharks…
This is where the locals’ advice really came in handy: stay a minimum of two days to make any Holbox tour worth it!
Is swimming with Holbox whale sharks on your bucket list?
Special thanks to Karma Trails for booking my Holbox transfer, fabulous Holbox Dream Hotel, and unforgettable swim with whale sharks. I was not paid for positive reports, however, so all opinions and research facts on this article were independently written–on my own.