July 2007: The Yucatan Peninsula is one of my favorite regions of Mexico because of its Mayan ruins, jungles, freshwater cenotes with underground cave diving and it is also a great place to swim with whale sharks in La Isla Holbox. My brother Jesse and I flew to Cancun in July for a long weekend, rented a car and set off to explore the Yucatan, scuba dive in the cenotes and swim with whale sharks.

 

Where is the Yucatan

Yellow line shows the route we took in the Yucatan

Day 1: I met Jesse in Cancun, picked up the rental car and immediately started driving to Tulum from Cancun, a place I had previously visited for Spring Break in 1995.

 

My first scuba dive in the Yucatan in 1995 on Spring Break

While in Tulum, Jesse and I scaled the cliffs along the beach full of nesting iguanas to enter the Tulum Mayan Pyramid in the evening when it was closed. We snuck around the pyramid, climbed it and on our way back to the cliff, a guard intercepted us and claimed we had to hand him our wallets and camera. We dismissed his request and ran off down the cliffs back to our accommodation, a cheap hut on the beach. The hut was pretty hot with no ventilation, so we ended up sleeping on the beach for the night out in the open. 

Mayan Pyramids in Tulum In the Evening When My Brother and I Snuck In

Iguana in the sea cliffs

Day 2: We set off into the jungle visiting some cenotes for a swim along the way to Coba. The Mayan ruins of Coba are overgrown by jungle and not as restored as Chichi Nitza are my favorite ruins in the Yucatan.

Coba Mayan Pyramids

My brother and I on top of Coba Pyramid

From Coban we drove to Dos Ojos Cave to scuba dive. To access the cave, we had to drive into the jungle, carry the dive gear on foot and down a ladder to the opening of a cenote inside a cave. The Yucatan Peninsula has no surface rivers. The limestone topography does however have one of the largest underground freshwater cave networks in the world. The dive in Dos Ojos was incredible. The visibility was perfect, cave formations in immaculate condition. The dive conditions were challenging through small tunnels in between stalactites and in one tunnel I had to remove my oxygen tank to enter the entrance. Sadly, I had no underwater camera to capture the beauty of the cave. 

Dos Ojos Cave

We drove deeper into the jungle visiting Cabo Lake to see the saltwater crocodiles along its shores. Then from there we went to the Akumal jungle reserve, a wild jungle reserve home to some of the last spider monkeys in the Yucatan. Jesse and I found a cenote at the bottom of a 50′ rope ladder, where we went for a swim in the Akumal jungle. 

Wild Crocodile in Cabo Lake

Cenote in Akumal jungle My brother and I Swam In

Akumal jungle Wild Spider Monkey

My brother having a moment with an injured spider monkey in a cage who reached out to clasp my brothers hand

Me swimming in a cenote

Mayan Woman in Traditional Dress

After a long drive across the Yucatan with maddening hidden speed bumps randomly located in the roads that seemed to try and leave our rental vehicle in ruins, we arrived at the ferry to La Isla Holbox. We left our car in a secure parking lot and set off to La Isla Holbox for two nights with the objective to swim with whale sharks.

Swimming With Whale Sharks in La Isla Holbox

la Isla Holbox is a relaxed idyllic island on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan not ruined by mega resorts like Cancun. It is a budget island of guest houses and sand roads where locals get around by golf cart instead of vehicle. My brother and I rented a golf cart and drove around the island exploring usually with a beer in hand, which most locals also did.

Me in our golf cart

Nightlife in La isla Holbox

Outdoor Gameroom La isla Holbox

Day 3/4: The season for whale sharks is in the summer, when the warmer waters create more sediment in the Gulf of Mexico waters around Isla Holbox, which attract whale sharks who feed off of the plankton and small fish by filtering the sediment rich water.  Whale sharks can grow up to 30 feet long and are the largest species of fish. They are docile and of no threat to humans as long as you stay out of their way and do not get hit by their fin. Along the trip out to the area where the whale sharks are we saw manta rays jumping out of the water and after a 1-hour boat ride we saw our first whale sharks. My brother and I prepared our fins and snorkel mask and jumped in in front of the path pf the whale shark. When I entered the water, I didn’t expect the whale shark to be so close, and I quickly scurried to get out of its path accidentally kicking my brother in the face and knocking his snorkel off right as the whale shark approached us. Everyone turned out fine and we had many more opportunities to swim with them going forward and at times swam alongside them for up to 10 minutes before losing pace. On one occasion I was on one side of the shark eye to eye while my brother was on the other side eye to eye. The shark was so big that I could see my brother on the other side of the shark. Aside from the whale sharks, there was nothing else to see in the water and the sediment was too thick to see anything anyways.

La Isla Holbox Whale Shark

La Isla Holbox Whale Shark

La Isla Holbox Whale Shark

La Isla Holbox Whale Shark

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