Swimming With Whale Sharks In Mexico (They’re HUGE!)

Whale Sharks in Mexico

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks is an underwater adventure I’ve wanted to try for years. I finally took the plunge, and swam alongside these gentle giants in Mexico!

I’ve swam with regular sharks before — the kind that occasionally dine on humans. But swimming with whale sharks is a totally different experience.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. However you don’t have to worry about them eating you with their very tiny teeth.

Which is why you should try swimming with them in Mexico!

Isla Holbox Boat Trip

Sailing Around Isla Holbox

Whale Shark Snorkeling

Anna Snorkeling with a Whale Shark

Whale Sharks Won’t Eat You

Whale sharks are filter-feeders, sucking up microscopic plankton and baby fish with their giant mouths. This makes them similar to whales, although technically they are from the shark family.

They can’t eat humans — which is why swimming with them has become so popular in places like Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Whale sharks can live up to 70 years old. They move slow enough that we can keep up with them underwater, but barely. You have to swim really fast with fins to stay beside one.

The only real danger is swimming under one. After feeding they sometimes descend without warning… imagine being trapped under a sinking dump truck!

Whale Shark Boats

Tour Boats Waiting for Snorkeling

Sailing The Gulf Of Mexico

My girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) and I booked our whale shark tour with Willy’s Tours in Isla Holbox.

Setting off from the dock at 8am, we sped over the Gulf of Mexico for the next 2 hours. Stopping briefly for photos of a pod of playful dolphins!

The boat was covered, which was nice, because that tropical Mexican sun is hot! Eventually we saw other boats gathering in the distance… this was a good sign.

Whale Shark Tours

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Waiting Our Turn

Unfortunately there was only one whale shark that day. But that’s still better than none, which sometimes happens early or late in the season. So a group of 6 boats took turns sending customers into the water.

We sat on the edge with our snorkel gear on, waiting for the signal to jump in. Once you’re in the water, the goal is to kick hard and fast to keep up with the shark. Because if you hesitate, you might miss it.

They swim effortlessly, but are much faster than they look.

You aren’t allowed to touch the whale sharks because it stresses them out, and may cause them to dive deep, ending the experience for everyone. Only 2 people go into the water at a time, along with your guide.

Whale Sharks Underwater

Huge 30 Foot Whale Shark

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Swimming next to a 30 foot long sea creature, the size of a small bus, was a wild experience. It’s a bit intimidating to be honest… they’re huge! It looks like they could swallow you whole…

But the world’s largest fish won’t try to eat you.

It’s just slurping up tasty plankton and expelling excess seawater through its gills. The white-spotted shark kept her eye on us, but didn’t seem to mind our presence.

Normally whale sharks live much deeper in the ocean — only coming up to eat about 46 pounds of those microscopic organisms each day.

How an animal this big can live on something so small is a mystery to me…

Flamingos at Isla Holbox

A Flamboyance of Flamingos!

Sea Turtle Swimming

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

Flamingos & Sea Turtles Too!

After swimming with the whale shark 3 times, for a few minutes each, it was time to leave it alone and motor off to the next part of the trip.

Our guide prepared fresh ceviche as we sped back to Holbox, on our way to a reef. There we snorkeled for about 30 minutes with sea turtles, manta rays, and a bunch of fish. Including a few barracudas!

We then sailed into a protected bird sanctuary to watch flamingos and other sea birds hanging out in the shallow water, before heading back to the dock.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Great Day on the Water!

Sustainable Tourism

Is swimming with whale sharks ethical? Personally, I believe responsible and sustainable tourism can help these animals survive.

Sharks of all kinds are being wiped out by overfishing. But conservation & awareness projects to save them are often funded by tour permit fees. Without tours, these programs don’t get much funding.

Yet we also need to be careful, and not wreck the animal’s habitat due to unchecked tourism either. There’s no easy answer.

When To Visit

Whale Shark season on the Yucatan Peninsula is from June to September. This is when the sharks migrate to waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Isla Holbox to feed.

But the best months are July & August, when populations are highest.

Sunny days are better than cloudy days too, but not just because you’ll get better photos. The plankton whale sharks feed on only comes up to the surface when the sun is out, so if it’s cloudy, they stay below.

Holbox Dock

Boat Dock in Isla Holbox

Holbox Beach

White Sand Beaches in Holbox

Getting To Holbox

Most tourists base themselves in Cancun. However, if you have the time, I recommend visiting the beautiful sleepy island of Isla Holbox. Voted a top travel destination by the New York Times.

To get to Holbox, you take a ferry from the fishing town of Chiquila, which is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (3 hours from Playa del Carmen). A bus is also possible, but takes a lot longer with all the stops. Hiring a taxi/shuttle can cost $60 – $100+ USD.

Best Places To Stay

We based ourselves from Isla Holbox at hotel Cielito Lindo, 2 blocks from the beach. I enjoy using AirBnB, but there are great hotels and hostels on Holbox too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Budget

Los Arcos

Mid-Range

Cielito Lindo

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was a pretty unique experience, there are only a few places in the world where you can do this.

Witnessing these gentle giants up close really helps you appreciate how small humans are, and how diverse the ocean is. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Swimming With Whale Sharks


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Swimming With Whale Sharks – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Isla Holbox, Mexico
Total Cost: $1100 Pesos ($70 USD)
Official Website: Willy’s Tours Holbox
Useful Notes: The whale shark tour lasts from 8am – 3pm. Normal sunscreen isn’t allowed (to protect the sharks), so make sure to pack some natural stuff if you don’t want to get burned. The sea can be choppy, resulting in seasickness for some people.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Whale Shark Snorkeling

READ NEXT: Exploring Mexico’s Secret River

Have any questions about swimming with whale sharks in Mexico? Would you do it? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Rio Secreto: Exploring Mexico’s Underground Rivers & Caves

Rio Secreto Mexico

Rio Secreto Underground River

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Hiking in waist-deep water through dark caves at Rio Secreto, we turned a corner to discover a massive cavern decorated with incredible stalactites all over the ceiling.

Spelunking, or exploring caves, is one of my favorite adventure travel activities. I’ve hiked and crawled through natural underground passageways in South Africa, Guatemala, Iceland, and more.

But Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is teeming with incredible caves too.

There is something exciting about wandering through the darkness, deep into the Earth, not sure what you’ll discover around the next bend.

Visiting Rio Secreto gives you a taste of this rarely-seen and magical world.

We walked through the jungle to one of the cave entrances led by our guide “Ro”, who told us camera traps nearby had recently captured images of wild jaguars that call the area home.

Rio Secreto Mayan Blessing

Traditional Mayan Blessing

The Maya Underworld

Our adventure begins with a sacred Maya cleansing ritual using smoke. A local shaman asks Mayan death gods for permission for us to enter their domain.

The Maya consider these caves scared, a portal to Xibalba (aka “the place of fear”) — the Mayan underworld.

Ancient skeletons, artifacts, and petroglyphs have been discovered in the cenotes and caves that cover the Yucatan Peninsula. Some date back 13,000 years!

Caves like this were often used for human & animal sacrifice, and even today many local Maya keep clear of them.

In 2007 Rio Secreto’s owner decided to allow eco-tours through 10% of the natural reserve, in order to fund conservation for the rest of it.

Cave Entrance

Entrance to the Underworld

Stalactites in a Cave

Amazing Cathedral of Stalactites

Exploring Rio Secreto’s Caves

There are a few different entrances to the caves, covered in vines. Black holes ready to swallow us into the earth. We switch on our headlamps and head into the darkness, not sure what lies ahead.

Rio Secreto is a maze of passageways and dramatic mineral formations. Water drips lightly from the ends of stalactites on the ceiling into the pristine blue pools at our feet. This water has slowly filtered through the porous rock, which is why it’s so clean.

We’re witnessing millions of years of geological history as we hike and swim through different chambers.

The water is cold, but the air is warm with humidity too. We squeeze through narrow cave passages, sometimes with water up to our chests. But there are also massive chambers, large enough to fit a small house inside.

Secret Caves in Mexico

Swimming through Narrow Passages

Underground River Systems

Limestone cave environments like this are very fragile. Rio Secreto has taken great pains to keep the area pristine, without installing concrete paths or tons of cheesy artificial lighting. It’s just you and your headlamp in the darkness.

You have to watch your footing though, as the cave floor constantly changes from wet and slippery to sharp and jagged. It feels like a proper caving adventure!

Our guide occasionally placed a couple of powerful waterproof flashlights into the water, turning it into a giant glowing river of blue light.

This water is part of an intricate network of rivers that flows beneath the Yucatan Peninsula’s hollow limestone shell. It’s actually the 2nd largest underground river system in the world.

Professional cave divers love the area’s many underwater caves. But at Rio Secreto, the water level is shallow — allowing anyone to explore these caves on foot. No need for specialized scuba gear or expensive training.

Yucatan Caves width=

Pristine Underground Rivers

Getting There

Rio Secreto is located a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, off Highway 307 along the Riviera Maya. It’s about an hour south of Cancun, or 40 minutes north of Tulum.

If you have a rental car you can drive there yourself, jump in a local taxi/collectivo van, or arrange for them to pick you up at your hotel.

Rio Secreto Tips & Advice

If you don’t get too claustrophobic and love exploring caves like me, then Mexico’s Rio Secreto is a pretty awesome experience. You are going to get wet. But don’t worry, that’s part of the fun!

Make sure to bring a swimsuit and towel. Rio Secreto provides a wetsuit, water shoes, lifejacket, helmet, and light.

Cameras are not allowed because of the wet & hazardous cave environment. However trained staff can take photos with special equipment, which you can buy at the end of the tour.

Best Places To Stay

The closest town to stay nearby is Playa del Carmen — but Cozumel, Cancun, and Tulum are not too far away either. I’m a big fan of AirBnB, but there are also great hotels and hostels in Playa too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

The limestone cenotes and caves of the Yucatan Peninsula are very unique to this area, you won’t find anything quite like them anywhere else around the world. They’re one of my favorite tourist attractions in Mexico! ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico
Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Have any questions about Rio Secreto? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

The Unbelievable Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas In Mexico

Las Coloradas Mexico

Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas, Mexico

Hidden away on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a magical place full of color. These stunning cotton-candy pink lakes filled with salt are called Las Coloradas.

Las Coloradas means “the red” in Spanish. It’s the name of a tiny Mexican fishing village with a population of 1000. Nearby, a series of brightly colored pink lakes cover the landscape on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

The region is part of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, a protected wetlands area home to animals like flamingos, crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, and all kinds of sea birds. The reserve covers some 150,000 acres.

I rented a car and drove up from Playa del Carmen with my girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) to check out the biosphere reserve, but it’s these strange pink lakes that really steal the show!

Las Coloradas Water

Enjoying the Hot & Salty Water

Las Coloradas Drone Shot

Pink Lakes from the Sky

Mayan Salt Production

Fishing isn’t the only industry here, salt is big business in Las Coloradas. It has been for thousands of years, when the ancient Maya used this area to produce highly valuable salt. How do they do it?

Salty ocean water from the mangroves nearby floods onto hard flat salt plains, creating shallow lagoons. The sun then slowly evaporates this water, leaving fresh sea salt behind.

Salt was extremely important to the Maya for both nutritional needs as well as food preservation. It was mined here in the northern Yucatan then shipped by canoe to other parts of the Mayan empire.

Las Coloradas Salt Factory

Mountains of Salt

Las Coloradas Salt Production

Traditional Salt Production

Why Are The Lakes Pink?

While this “solar salt” production process is a natural one, the large pink lakes of Las Coloradas we see today were constructed by a company who produces salt on a much larger scale (500,000 tons per year).

The vibrant pink color of these lakes is due to red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in the salty environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated, glimmering pink in the bright Mexican sunlight.

Want to hear a cool fact? The reason flamingos are pink is because they eat these pink creatures. Normally their feathers are white, however they change color after eating this stuff!

You can often find pink flamingos hanging out in the pink lakes.

Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Real Flamingos Live here Too

Las Coloradas Mexico

Floating in the Salty Water

Visiting Las Coloradas

The amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas are located off the beaten track a bit. Getting here requires a 3 hour drive from Cancun or Playa del Carmen — 2 hours from Valladolid. So you can do it as a very long day trip, or even better, spend 2 days in the area as there’s plenty to do.

Las Coloradas (the village) has no real accommodation options, but they do have a restaurant. Most travelers stay in the nearby town of Rio Lagartos 30 minutes away. Popular mangrove and flamingo boat tours are based in Rio Lagartos, which usually stop at the pink lakes too.

There is a local bus from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, but because of different stops/changes it can take 7 hours. Renting a car like we did is much easier.

The pink water is incredibly salty, so while safe to get in, it can sting a bit — especially if you have cuts. However it’s more for the photo op than anything else, because the lakes are only about a foot deep!

Las Coloradas Mexico

Brilliant Pink Colors in the Sun

Mexico's Pink Lake

Swimming in the Pink Lake

Beautiful Mexican Beaches

The road to Las Coloradas stretches along the coastline, with a few places to turn off and explore the white-sand beaches, dunes, and brilliant turquoise water.

The beach is a favorite stop for sea turtles, so be careful where you step! The turtles bury their eggs on the beach at night.

Road tripping up to Las Coloradas is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day in Mexico. The pink lakes show off their best colors in the sunshine. Remember to pack plenty of water & sunscreen too.

Some of the roads are very narrow, so watch out for the large trucks making deliveries from the salt factory. They can hog the whole road. ★

Watch Video: Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas

(Click to watch Las Coloradas Pink Lakes – Mexico on YouTube)

Amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas in Mexico

READ NEXT: Driving The Scottish Highlands

Have you ever seen pink lakes like this before? Any favorite spots in Mexico? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Climbing The Ancient Mayan Ruins Of Coba

Coba Ruins Mexico

Coba, Mexico

From the top of Coba’s ancient pyramid, the jungle looks like a living green carpet. The Mayan Ruins of Coba are one of my favorite archaeological sites in Mexico’s Yucatan.

Archaeologists believe the Mayan ruins of Coba were an incredibly important city for the Maya people. However due to its remote location, the site is not as popular with tourists as other ruins in Mexico.

But there are many reasons to visit the city of white roads.

Because Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as places like Chichen Itza or Tulum, so you can actually still climb some of the structures for a totally different and unique perspective.

Coba Ruins Church

Coba Ruins Bike

Coba Ruins Trees

Exploring Mayan Ruins Of Coba

Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public.

The raised stone pathways connect clusters of residential areas to the main pyramid area of Nohoch Mul and small lakes used as a water supply nearby. There are three ways to explore the ruins along these roads.

You can walk, hire a bici taxi, or my personal favorite, rent a bicycle.

Mysteriously no one really knows how the Maya transported goods along these roads. While scientists believe the Maya knew about the existence of the wheel, there’s no evidence they actually used them.

One of my favorite reasons to visit Coba is that it isn’t as excavated as other sites, so you feel like you’re wandering through a forest, with many structures still covered in trees.

Nohoch Mul Coba

Coba Ruins Pyramid

Coba Ruins Pyramid

Climbing The Pyramid

The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, part of the Nohoch Mul group of buildings. The pyramid is 42 meters (138 feet) tall and was the heart of the city. Unlike other Maya sites, you can still climb this one, if you dare!

The 120 stone steps are much steeper than they look…

This is why there’s a thick rope in the middle for safety. But the view from the top is totally worth the climb. A light breeze cools you off from the summit while gazing at the lush jungle landscape stretching out in all directions.

Plus, there aren’t many places where you can climb a Mayan pyramid anymore. As a site gets more popular and tourism increases, authorities eventually restrict climbing to preserve structures and reduce accidents.

Be careful climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up!

Coba Structures Mexico

Coba Trails

Painting Complex Coba

History Of Coba

Coba is estimated to have had a population of over 50,000 at its peak. There are many tall stone carved monuments at the complex, called stelae. Some stelae here depict women, suggesting the city had many female rulers.

There are two well-preserved ball courts on the site too, used for playing ōllamaliztli, a traditional Mayan ballgame.

Specific rules differ depending on the time period, but basically players attempted to bounce a heavy rubber ball through stone rings using their hips.

Sometimes the captain of the losing team was ritually sacrificed.

The Mayan City of Coba was first inhabited around 100 AD and was eventually abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550 AD. However the city was once the most powerful in the region, controlling farmland, trading routes, and important water sources.

Coba Cenote Mexico

Coba Cenote Swimming

Swimming In Cenotes

Speaking of water sources, no visit to Coba would be complete without taking a dip in the refreshing limestone cenotes nearby. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water, found all over the Yucatan.

There are 3 cenotes just a 10 minute drive away from the ruins.

Cenote Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote with crystal blue water and many stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. My personal favorite of the three.

Cenote Tamcach-Ha is a deep underground cavern with two fun jumping platforms at 5 & 10 meters (15 & 30 feet) high. Cenote Multun-Ha is a bit further away in the jungle and boasts a large wooden deck.

The entrance fee for each cenote is 55 pesos ($3 USD). They are a wonderful way to cool off after a hot day exploring the Mayan ruins of Coba!

Motorcycle Road Trip Coba

Motorcycle Road Trip Coba

Tips For Visiting Coba

The ruins of Coba are about 44 kilometers (28 miles) from Tulum, or 109 kilometers (68 miles) from Playa del Carmen. For the budget minded, you can get to the site via ADO Bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. Colectivos (public taxi vans) are also an option, however you’ll have to change vans in Tulum.

Renting a car is the most flexible and allows you to visit cenotes.

Or, if you’re a fan of motorcycles, you can rent a Harley Davidson in Playa del Carmen like I did with my friends Evelina from Earth Wanderess & Jeremy from The World Or Bust. The road is an easy and smooth ride.

At the ruins you can hire a guide to explain the history, or just wander on your own. Renting an old bicycle for 45 pesos and riding around enables you to see the most in the shortest period of time.

Whatever you decide, remember to bring sunscreen & water because it can get hot! Plus sturdy shoes if you plan to climb the main pyramid. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Mayan Ruins Of Coba

(Click to watch Mayan Ruins Of Coba – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Coba, Mexico
Total Cost: 65 pesos ($4 USD) entry fee
Motorcycle Rental: Harley Adventures
Useful Notes: It gets hot during the day at Coba, so visiting early morning or late afternoon is best. Less people too. You can explore on foot but I highly recommend renting a bicycle. The complex is very large!
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Have any questions about the Mayan ruins of Coba? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.