A few weeks ago my mom, sister, niece, and I took a short trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. For the most part, it was your typical all-inclusive vacation (with a lot less drinking when a three-year old wakes you up at 7 AM). We did go snorkeling with whale sharks so here’s a short blog post about it:
After arriving at the airport, we got into a private transfer shuttle, which I booked ahead of time ($119 roundtrip for 3 passengers and a child). I liked this shuttle much more than the typical Apple Vacation shuttles, which are shared and take forever to get you to your hotel.
We stayed at the Iberostar Tucan for five nights ($500/person for one shared room). I have previously stayed at this resort in 2012 and must say that it has really gone downhill. I remember the food being beautifully displayed and delicious. Perhaps it was the off season or I have eaten at a lot of nice restaurants in the last six years but the food was just ok. There was a lot of variety, however, nothing really tasted amazing. The silver lining is that I had little trouble controlling myself during mealtimes. This particular hotel was relatively outdated with the rooms showing their age. Major plusses were the beach – long and wide with lots of beach chairs, and the pool – refreshing. The nightly shows were also impressive with the “Circus Night” being my favorite. I am a diehard Iberostar fan (I’ve stayed at six different resorts) but after this experience, I will definitely be trying a different chain.
My favorite part of this vacation was snorkeling with whale sharks as part of a Kay Tours group. The $190 price tag may seem steep but it is well worth an opportunity to swim with a fish as big as a school bus. My sister and I were picked up at 6 AM from our hotel and driven to a port in Cancun, picking up a few other tour group members on the way. Once we arrived at the port we were handed wetsuits, snorkeling mask and fins, and walked over to a boat. Once on the boat, we were given a safety briefing and began the boat ride in search of whale sharks. How long this ride takes is completely dependent on where the whale sharks are feeding at the time and we were fortunate enough to find them 30-45 minutes from shore.
Whale sharks feed on plankton and they like sunshine so they come up to the surface for a feeding in the morning/early afternoon. I was expecting to see maybe one or two in the middle of the ocean but when got close to a spot where about 20 boats were parked, I realized that there were more than fifty whale sharks in the water. As we anchored the boat, fins kept popping up and it was evident that there was more than 100 whale sharks in the water and even some manta rays. We were divided up into pairs and given three dive opportunities (about 3-5 mins each). It seems like a really short period of time but the whale sharks swim pretty slowly so you get a good look at them each time and if you were to swim after it, you would run into another boat. If there were any more of them, we wouldn’t be able to swim, we’d just have to sit there and watch them pass by. More than the whale sharks I loved seeing the manta rays. These rays are harmless as they feed on plankton and do not have stingers. Underwater they look like giant birds. They are my favorite now.
After everyone got three chances to dive, we picked up anchor and drove to Isla Mujeres. Here we got out to enjoy some crystal clear waters while the crew prepared an amazingly fresh ceviche lunch. Next, we got driven back to the dock in Cancun and subsequently, to our respective hotels in Playa Del Carmen.
Whale shark excursions are only in season in the summer months and the fish migrate, passing Isla Mujeres. If you are in Mexico around this time, I highly recommend this trip, especially with Kay Tours. On of their best features is the fact that they include free professional pictures so you don’t have to worry about trying to capture the whale sharks with a GoPro or a waterproof iPhone contraption. Our guide Rosa gave me some great suggestions for my upcoming Thailand and Bali trips. We are even going to dive off of/stay on her friend’s boat in Komodo!