In the ten years or so we’ve been traveling to the Riviera Maya we’ve been hearing it from everyone – on dive boats, in restaurants, on the beach, on the plane, you name it. “Have you swam with the whale sharks? You’ve GOT to swim with the whale sharks!” As avid scuba divers and lovers of all things ocean related, the idea of swimming with the largest fish on Earth definitely appealed to us.
Isla Mujeres, a tiny island just off the coast of Cancun is arguably the best spot in this hemisphere to swim with these gentle giants in their own environment and is only a short drive and ferry ride away from us. The island’s close proximity to the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico make the sea life of Isla Mujeres some of the richest and most diverse in the world.
So what was the problem? Why hadn’t we been to see one of nature’s greatest spectacles when we were so close?
I could give you a list of reasons why we hadn’t made the trip yet but honestly? I was skeptical anything could possibly be as cool as we’d heard people describe and I had a sneaking suspicion what was once a spectacular natural event had degenerated into a pale version of its former self. I mean, how could it not when it’s not more than a few miles from the high rises, chain restaurants and crowds of people of the Cancun Hotel Zone?
That being said, swimming with the whale sharks was still on our bucket list. How could we pass up a chance to swim with a 40 foot long, 20 ton fish that had come all the way from the Phillipines or South Africa just to visit us? Deidre’s recent birthday gave us the perfect chance to pack our snorkel gear and head up to Isla Mujeres to see for ourselves what the fuss is all about.
The ferry ride from Cancun to Isla Mujeres only lasts about 30 minutes but it feels like it has transported you to another time or dimension. Standing on this tiny island looking back at the bright lights, tall buildings and hustle and bustle of Cancun, you certainly feel you’ve left the mainland and arrived in the Caribbean. After watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean we sacked out early, we had an early morning appointment with some big fish awaiting us.
The next morning we arrived bright and early at the marina where we were greeted by the friendly staff of On La Isla Water Tours. After a nice breakfast and a safety briefing we were on our way to the whale shark grounds. The whale sharks are typically several miles out to sea and some of the local operators utilize the fastest boats possible to race out to the whale sharks (and back) as quickly as they can. On La Isla has a bit of a different style and they used the trip out to show off a lot of the sea life. They slowed down or stopped the boat to point out turtles, flying fish, dolphins and anything else whose path we crossed before we reached the whale sharks.Captain Jorge De La O and his crew are truly a class act and I’d highly recommend them to anyone.
It was our first time seeing dolphins in the wild so it was a really great trip out but once we reached the whale sharks everything else faded into the background. It’s one thing to intellectually know the animals are massive but it’s impossible to comprehend until you see in person the sheer size of these creatures and are finally able to appreciate their grace and beauty (not to mention their friends the giant manta rays).
I could write thousands of words here trying to describe this scene to you without even scratching the surface. Why don’t I save us both some time and just show you a video that we shot? I’ll be back with you after the movie.
Okay, glad you’re back. I shot so much footage of these guys that I had a really hard time editing it down to a video of reasonable length, I could probably watch just the manta rays all day! If you’d like to see more just send us a message and I can share some more footage with you.
Swimming with these gentle giants unleashed a multitude of primal feeling and emotions but miles out to sea with no land in sight neither fear nor nervousness were present. An overwhelming sense of peace and the realization of how lucky I was just to be in the presence of such immense power and grace was permanently imprinted on my mind in those few hours in the water. This was not only one of the best days I’ve ever had diving or snorkeling but it is quite possibly one of the best days of my life.
While I may have started out a skeptic, this trip truly made a believer out of me and fueled my passion for trying new things. Experiencing new things without preconceived notions was one of the major driving points behind starting this new life together and the whale sharks definitely reminded me of that. Thank you whale sharks and we’ll see you next year.