When was the last time you did something spontaneous? Well for us, it was when we were just south of the border in the land of chips and salsa, margaritas, and of course, how could we forget about the Coronas. Perhaps you’ve heard of it – Mexico!
After sadly waving goodbye to the islands of Fiji, we boarded our flight and made our way to Cancun. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a mariachi band to greet us at the airport but we were excited nonetheless and after arriving at the airport, we then traveled onward to Playa Del Carmen by bus. We had every intention of leaving Mexico in T – 24 hours after our arrival and making the bus trip to Chetumal and then taking the ferry to the always sunny Ambergris Caye.
However, we scratched our original travel plans and opted to call Playa Del Carmen home for a few more days than we expected. Why might you ask? Two words – whale sharks. Thanks to absolutely zero planning and pure luck, we ended up on the Yucatan Peninsula during prime time for spotting whale sharks.
While we were anxious and excited to arrive in Ambergris Caye, we knew it would be silly on our part to pass up such an amazing opportunity. We had heard of people swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines but we unfortunately didn’t make it there during our time in Southeast Asia because we opted to go to Indonesia instead.
We did waver a bit on whether we should stay or whether we should go but we’ve come to realize that every spontaneous decision we’ve made so far during our travels has ended up bringing incredible experiences. We never had any intention of visiting Hong Kong, Singapore, or Fiji but we’re sure glad we did! Had we not been open to changing the course of our travels, we would have been very regretful.
We originally made the decision to fly into Cancun because it was significantly cheaper than flying into Belize City. We never in a million years thought we would be swimming with the world’s largest fish as a result of that decision! Similar to the manta rays in Komodo, whale sharks are a plankton eating species which makes them pose a small threat (even in my book).
We went with Underwater Expeditions for our whale shark adventure. The owner, Luis, is a phenomenal guy who was actually one of the first people to spot these whale sharks swimming just off the coast of Mexico about 20 years ago. Talk about landing a tourist gold mine. He’s been running his whale shark tours for years now and you can tell he absolutely loves what he does and we had a blast sharing in his excitement.
Snorkeling with the whale sharks was quite a thrill! Once our captain spotted a whale shark, two people from our boat jumped in the water with the guide and swam right next to the massive whale sharks. The second whale shark we swam with actually swam right at the surface of the water. We couldn’t believe it! As a result, we literally glided right next to this enormous creature while snorkeling near the surface ourselves! No scuba diving was required which conveniently works out well as they don’t allow you to scuba dive with them.
At one point, I swam ahead of Brian and the whale shark in order to get some good video of footage of the two of them swimming together side by side and head to head. Well, all of the sudden the whale shark, measuring 40 feet in length, started heading right at me with it’s gigantic mouth wide open and it made no indication that it was turning it’s course away from me. As you can imagine, I absolutely lost it! Every limb on my body was flailing and the go pro jolted around as a result. Yes, I had a minor heart attack. It’s hard to remind yourself that they are harmless and only eat plankton when the only thing separating you from the whale shark’s wide open mouth is a foot or two of water!
We thoroughly enjoyed every second of our day with the whale sharks. However, one thing we found to be a bit concerning was that it became one big scavenger hunt out on the water with five or more boats looking in one area. When a whale shark was spotted towards the end of the afternoon, several boats (not our boat though) let every single person aboard their boat swim in the water which meant the whale shark was heavily outnumbered twenty to one. I can’t say that if I were that whale shark I would have enjoyed all the annoyances and overstimulation that come with the chaos of having all the extra swimmers in the water.
We were very fortunate that we were able to see and swim with several! Apparently, they migrate north from waters near Honduras and Belize to the Yucatan Peninsula in search of cooler water temperatures. If you ever find yourself near Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox anytime between June and September, be sure to reserve a day to play with the whale sharks. You definitely won’t regret it. If you’re still not convinced, check out our video of us snorkeling with these magnificent creatures!