Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text:
I crossed an ocean for them. Whale sharks - tiburones ballena in Spanish - gather in July and August off Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
Yes, in this month of July 2014, I am in Mexico. This is a new destination on the Little Bubbles of Elsewhere! I usually hang out in Southeast Asia more during the summer vacations... But I really wanted to see this:
Every year, from mid-June to mid-SeptemberWhale sharks gather by the hundreds off the Yucatan Peninsula, near the Yum Balam Nature Reserve in Mexico. They come to feed on tiny translucent tuna eggs, abundant in the area in this season. You can swim with them by snorkeling.
The intensity of the experience is proportional to the size of the animal. It's just enooormous!!!
Those are the biggest fish in the world. They don't have teeth (only tiny teeth of a few millimeters that are not very useful), but they are sharks.
Like whales (which are mammals, not fish), they are gigantic and feed on tiny marine organisms (plankton) and small fish, which they swallow by filtering the water with their mouths wide open.
They measure in the 12-14 meters at the adult age. The largest specimens can reach, it seems, 18 to 20 meters and weigh 20 to 30 tons...
My previous encounter with a whale shark was in 2006! It was in Thailandduring a dive-cruise in the Similan Islands, near Richelieu Rock (the picture on the right, where you can see me with my little compact camera of the time, was taken by another diver, Daniel Cocker, whom I thank for the picture!)
What a show! The animals are there, on the surface, swallowing big swallows of plankton, indifferent to the small swimmers tossed by the swell around them.
Once in the water, there is no need to chase them. These nice monsters are much faster than humans with fins. With the swell and the current, approaching them is already very sportive!
I confirmed what I already knew: I'm a much better diver than swimmer. I'm not a good swimmer. I never get sick on a boat, but I was almost seasick in the water when I was maneuvering my boat. I never get sick on a boat, but I was almost seasick in the water, maneuvering my big tank to take my pictures and videos!
Some practical information to observe whale sharks in Mexico
As I receive more and more emails asking me about my trips, I compile below some little info about my stay in Isla Mujeres and the whale shark tours... 😎
WHEN TO GO?
As I explained above, the whale shark season is roughly from mid-June to mid-September. The meeting with the giants of the seas is, so to speak guaranteed from mid-July to mid-August. The rainy and hurricane season usually arrives in September-October.
July-August is also the season when it is terribly hot in this region of Mexico (tourists who are not interested in whale sharks come en masse, in February-March, to enjoy the Riviera Maya when the temperature is more bearable).
I am able to be satisfied with a fan in Asia, I bless the air conditioning here ... But it is really in the water that we are the best!
ISLA MUJERES AS A BASIC CAMP
I chose to stay at Isla MujeresThis way, you can be as close as possible and reduce the travel time to the whale shark area (and thus get there before the hordes of snorkelers coming from Cancún and Playa del Carmen).
I settled in the south of the islandfar from the tourist "village" of the north. Nothing planned in advance. I found at the last moment, on the internet, the day before my arrival, a small hotel that seemed nice and comfortable, just to end my Mexican stay in beauty. It was a good choice. A peaceful place, with a view on the sea, very cute. The iguanas come to walk near the pool and the wifi works like a charm. I recommend the address, which remains affordable, it's really nice: Hotel La Joya.
Good to know: for accommodation in Mexico, if you pay in cash, you are often given a discount corresponding to the amount of the taxes (that is 16% + 3% in all the hotels where I stayed).
WELL CHOOSING YOUR DIVE CENTER
Once again, I had not planned or booked anything in advance... Once I arrived in Isla Mujeres, I looked at the reviews on the internet and decided to go to the Casa del Buceo. It is a small Mexican diving center, family, out of the tourist center (and not too far from my hotel). Super nice welcome, outings in small groups, staff with small care. Ideal for me who is in a hurry a bulky camera with its waterproof housing.
The day I showed up, it was hot as hell. The very efficient Pablo was opening a cerveza behind the counter. A nice guy, who immediately understood what the dripping tourist who came to inquire needed: "Here, it's too hot, have a beer", he told me while handing me a Dos Equis (XX). I also did two small scuba dives near the island with them.
(If you live in Playa del Carmen, I also recommend the small French diving center O2 Mexicowhich regularly organizes whale shark excursions. I dove with them in cenotes and at sea ...)
WHALE SHARK EXCURSION RATES
Whale sharks, which gather in the summer off the Yucatán Peninsula, near the Yum Balam nature reserve, have become a tourist attraction. We come to swim with them from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox ...
The tour (which usually includes transportation, lunch and drinks, guide and equipment rental) costs from $100 to $150 (American, of course), sometimes more, depending on the starting point, the operators, the services.
HOW TO AVOID THE CROWD
At the end of the morning, there is an impressive number of boats in the area where the whale sharks are! To avoid the crowd, it is better to use a diving center or a tour operator who leaves early (same tactic as to visit the Mayan pyramids). It's definitely worth getting up at dawn!
RESPECT THE LAW
Since recently, the approach of whale sharks is regulated (fortunately for them): no scuba diving, no more than two swimmers together with an authorized guideIt is mandatory to wear a floating suit (wetsuit or lifejacket), ban on touching animals…
Once located, the huge fishes are clearly visible from the surface, by boat, and the success of the trip depends on the skill of the captain and the guide to lead you to the right place, to admire these giants from their best angle, preferably avoiding other groups of snorkelers.
Another thing to know: the crossing to reach the whale shark area can be long (from one to three hours, depending on the starting point, the power of the engines, the age of the captain and the weather). It can also be very "bumpy" if there are waves (watch out for seasickness, both on the boat and in the water). Whale sharks are not always in the same place and not necessarily very close to the coast. At one time, there was a gathering near the island of Holbox. But this is not the case anymore.
For the outing I did, we went quite far offshore, well beyond Isla Contoy located north of Cancún. I made a Google Map below, with a blue fish that I placed where I think we went.
Three weeks in Mexico
I've been in Mexico for three weeks now! My stay ends this Sunday, July 20th... And except for today, I haven't blogged at all during the trip! Too many busy days and messed up internet connections. And then, I think I needed to disconnect a bit...
Still, I managed to post some pictures (mostly underwater) along the way, on the Facebook page of Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs. You can see them at the end of this link : → Album "Mexico - July 2014" on Facebook
Here are, in order, the stages of this trip to Mexico - or more exactly to a very small part of Mexico, along the very touristic Riviera Maya - that I will detail in future articles: