Isla Holbox Map
This is one of those times we just couldn't get away. It was August and if we were going to swim with the Whale Sharks it had to be between June and September when the Whale Sharks gathered in The Gulf of Mexico near the island of Holbox (pronounced "Hole-Bosh, the letter "x" in Mayan is pronounced "sh").
The Whale Shark is the largest fish on earth measuring between 15 and 50 feet
It eats plankton by scooping it up with an open mouth. Unlike most sharks, the whale sharks has it's mouth in the front of it's head rather than on the underside and does not eat meat. It normally feeds on or just below the surface by literally vacuuming up minute plankton, scooping it up with an open mouth.
The whale sharks are known locally as "Dominos". They are dark brown or grey with white or yellow spots and a white or yellow underbelly. As I have said, sometimes you just can't get away. This was one of those times. If you have ever seen our videos or followed some of our travels online, you would know that Leslie is not only our Dr. Dolittle (she talks to the animals) but she is also one of the most adventurous human beings you'll ever meet!!
Leslie takes on this adventure by herself, this is her story........
I needed three things. A hotel in downtown Cancun, a hotel in Holbox and a tour guide to take me to swim with the whale sharks. I was unsure of what to expect so I began by going online. I needed a hotel in Cancun that was near the bus depot. The bus takes you to the little coastal town of Chiquila and then you catch a ferry to the island. I had thought about renting a car, but since there are no cars on Holbox I would need to leave my rented car at the parking lot close to the ferry pier for a few days. I decided to take the bus that departs from the main bus station in Cancun. It would also give me a chance to relax and see the area and the people a little more than if I was driving. Besides the bus will drop you right at the ferry pier for the 20-minute ride across the Yalahua Lagoon to the island.
Hotel Alux Cancun
There are several hotels in downtown Cancun close to the bus station that are very nice, although not a lot of frills."The Hotel Alux" and "Hotel Plaza Caribe" are both very clean and situated very close to the bus station. The buses ran at 6:00am, and noon, at least that is the time they were running when I was there. I would arrive in Cancun in the late afternoon so would need a hotel for the evening. I settled into my room, it had a large balcony and was within walking distance of the bus station and restaurants. I began looking for something to eat.
Actually one of my favorite restaurants is in downtown Cancun. La Habichuela has been a legend in Cancun since 1977, when Armando Pezzotti opened a restaurant in what was once his home. The restaurant is situated in a romantic sculptured garden, filled with aromatic plants and native trees. Habichuela creates the magical illusion of Mayan ruins under starlight. They have numerous awards and use only the best ingredients. They say their dishes are prepared with love and warmth and I can attest to that!!
You could walk there or take a cab. From the bus station follow the walkway from Ave. Tulum, past the church, park and cine. Turn right on Avenida Margaritas, it is between Avenidas Uxmal & Jazmines. The menu is fresh Mexican with a Caribbean flare. Try the famous "cocobichuelas" served in a coconut shell.
I However I wanted to be a little more adventurous that night and try somewhere I'd never been before so I walked around the town and looked through restaurant windows and found a restaurant that looked
comfortable. As you know I was by myself. Several people bought me drinks and talked to me not as a pick up situation at all but in a friendly manner. I had a lovely seafood meal and then walked back to my hotel. I had bought my tickets for the bus that evening when I arrived. I choose the 12 noon departure as I wanted a little time to just walk around town before I left for Holbox.
The bus ride was very entertaining. The bus makes many stops and people get on the bus and sell things. The driver will stop for anyone standing along the road who waves them down and will drop off passengers anywhere they want along the route. During the course of the ride, vendors with various food and drink offerings will hop on one stop and sell their wares to the passengers, then get off at the next stop and get on the bus going the other way. They would then sell to the passengers returning from Holbox. They seemed to be doing a booming business. As of this writing the bus cost was $62 pesos each way. The bus is air conditioned.... Yes, but it does not have bathroom facilities. They do stop about half way through the trip at a little market so you can purchase things. I'm a vegetarian so could not buy anything from the vendors on the bus as all their products seemed to have a meat filling of some kind so I
Chiquila Tix Booth
bought something to eat there at the market. The market also has a bathroom which was much needed by this time. I think I can speak for everyone!!
It takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to arrive at the small town of Chiquila. The ferry ride between Chiquila and Holbox takes about 20 minutes and cost about 40 pesos each way as of this writing. Once you arrive on the island there are two main forms of transportation. you can walk or take a golf cart. It is very rares to see anything traveling the dirt streets besides a golf cart, scooter, bicycle or ATV.
Finally I arrived at Holbox which in Mayan means "Black Hole" no one
knows exactly why they called it that. My hotel was Faro Viejo. Like most Mexican pueblos there is a main square in the center of the village. I rented a golf cart taxi (very inexpensive) to take me to my hotel. Faro Viejo is about two blocks from the main square, it has two floors with a palapa style construction that fits perfectly with the natural surroundings. All the rooms have a view of the sea. The Faro Viejo is the last hotel, right on the beach and very rustic. They didn't have my reservation when I arrived. Now let me say at this point that I am not
Hotel Faro Viejo
fluent in spanish and there didn't seem to be anyone who spoke english so we made do with Spanglish.The reservation mix up was not a problem and they easily accomodated me.
Holbox Hotel Room
I had a cute little room with Mexican furnishings, a balcony that overlooked the beach above a coconut tree. Muy lindo!!!! It had a bed and bed table with a cute little bathroom. I can't remember if there was hot water or not then but there is hot water now. The young man who helped me to my room with my luggage was also my waiter at a cute little outside restaurant they had. There are many cute little hotels to stay at.. ....... Hotel Holbox Casas Las Tortugas, or also Villas Paraiso Del Mar or a liitle eco-hotel called Xaloc Resort just to name a few When I was there not to long ago they did not accept credit cards but things have changed quickly and they do now!! I would also suggest buying a phone card as the concept of a phone in the room did not seem to exist. I found a pay phone however so I could let others know I had arrived safely. I had a wonderful fish dinner at the Restaurant Hotel Faro Viejo.
A very good place to have lunch is right behind the Faro Viejo called the Buena Vista Grill, it is said that they have the best Ceviche in Holbox. I was a little nervous about getting up on time as I had forgot to bring a travel clock and as I said earlier, there weren't any phones in the room so I could ask for a wake up call. I informed the front desk that I was going in the morning to swim with the whale sharks. They told me to just walk out on the beach and it would be fine. This sounded like magic to me. How did they know who I had made my reservations with etc.....? What choice did I have as I said earlier no one spoke English very well and I didn't speak Spanish very well. I woke up early and got dressed and waited on the beach. A man walked up to me and said "tiburones de ballena?" He directed me to the pier. There were women who welcomed me and offered me fruit pastries and coffee. There were about 8 people on the boat including myself. We were a global group. Several Europeans, a couple of Americans, actually our guide was Dutch, possibly in his early 20's. He spoke all the languages and was very personable.
Boats to Whale Sharks
Swimming with the "Tiburones de Ballena"
The ride to their habitat in the Gulf of Mexico takes about 1 hour. Our guide was giving us instruction on swimming with the whale sharks. The whale sharks are harmless and non threatening to humans. They are mainly solitary in nature. They have been coming to the northern tip of the Yucatan for several years now. Government agencies have taken steps to protect these magnificent animals so that the species will not be harmed and they will return to this area to mate and feed. For this reason, Isla Holbox has recently been named by the Mexican government as the only port that can offer trips to swim with the Whale Sharks. There are strict rules against scuba equipment being used to view them. The guide told us not to touch them, don't use sun tan lotion, try and stay near the head of this gigantic fish and stay away from the tail. They say on a typical day you might sea a school of Wild Dolphins, flocks of Flamingos, Sting Rays, Egrets and Pelicans. En route we saw Manta Rays, Sea-Turtles, we even saw Sea-Turtles mating.When you finally reach the feeding grounds the water is very deep.
2 people at a time went with the guide. You sit on the edge of the boat with your snorkel gear on and when you get close to the fish the guide tells you to jump in. All I could see was seaweed, my heart was racing. all of a sudden I looked up and realized the seaweed was on the fish. It was right beside me. I stuck my head back in the water and saw I was staring right into his eye!!! Oh my God, but at least I now had my bearings and the fish paid no attention to me.
I began to relax and really enjoy the experience. It was very Zen. I guess I'm not going to have a heart attack after all.
Swimming with Whale Shark
The other people weren't swimmers so they stopped and went back to the boat , I however kept swimming and followed the whale shark until it eventually dove down. They do that every so often. I waited for the boat to come and get me.
While in the water I felt totally alone with the whale shark even though there were others and the guide, I never saw them. It was really an amazing experience. Back on the boat, it seemed that all the other boats had gone. We were the last boat so the guide looked directly at me and said do you want to go in again? That would be a YES!!!! Even though the whale shark had dove down, I could still see it's shadow so I followed that and then in about a minute or two it surfaced. I just kept following it until it dove down again. It felt like the time was right for the boat to come and get me, That, and also the others might kill me if stayed any longer!!!!
On the way back our guide showed us more of the island of Holbox. The east side is the town side..... the southern end was sparse with little boutique hotels. There aren't any big hotels on Holbox, it feels very remote and special. No Sr. Frogs or Carlos & Charlie's. I love this sleepy little island. I know I'll be back again to swim with the whale sharks, Now it's time for me to go back to Cancun and then I'm moving on to Playa del Carmen. Hasta Luego
Back to Top
© 2009-2013 Mexico A Boomer's Guide