With another week of sub-zero temperatures and an impending blizzard on Thursday, I’ve become to plan my escape from the Maine winter. While I am stuck stateside until my trip to Peru in April, I have been carefully crafting my travel plans now that I am back to the 9 to 5 grind.
During my Great Escape travels, I fell in love with scuba diving. I based my entire Australian East Coast road trip around the best dive spots, and I planned much of my Southeast Asia adventures around the same. I have seen some incredible sites under the sea (hello Manta Rays and octopuses!), but the one organism that continues to elude me is the whale shark. Thankfully, our neighbors to the south have an abundance of them during the summer months.
Mexico, especially the Yucatan Peninsula region, is an incredible destination for adventure lovers like myself. There are plenty of vacation rentals in Mexico that I can base myself in for a week while I explore the best of the Yucatan Peninsula from above and below the ocean. With cheap airfare to Cancun from just about every major city in the US including Boston, flying to Mexico is simple and affordable.
I only have a limited amount of vacation time, so one of my tricks to maximize my travels throughout the year is to travel over US holidays. The height of Whale Shark season in Mexico just so happens to fall over the 4th of July holiday. While most people prefer to travel to Mexico when it’s freezing and snowing in their hometown, I prefer to travel in the off-season to save some money. Even though it may be ridiculously hot and humid in July, the money I’m saving is well spent on other things, like lots of scuba diving!
Why Whale Sharks?
Contrary to popular belief, Whale Sharks aren’t actually sharks. They are the world’s largest fish weighing in at over 40,000 lbs and up to 41.5 feet long! Whale Sharks are harmless to humans. They exclusively eat plankton. Unfortunately, much like many beloved creatures of our planet, Whale Sharks are listed as Vulnerable and are still hunted, often illegally, in parts of Asia.
From mid-May to mid-September, Whale Sharks migrate over 6,000 km off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. During Whale Shark season in Mexico over 800 animals gather around Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres. Many dive shops and snorkel companies run tours to these areas for guests to snorkel with these majestic creatures. While I’m still debating whether I’ll do a Whale Shark snorkel tour or try my chances with diving, I want to ensure I pick a tour operator who follows the rules and ensures no customers touch the animals. The more I travel, the more I realize how important it is to select an eco-friendly and sustainable tour operator that protects our creatures and not exploit them for their own profits.
Other Adventure Sports in Mexico
Obviously, this weeklong vacation will be dive focused. The Yucatan Peninsula has an abundance of fantastic fresh and saltwater dive sites. I’ve heard many people, including an older couple I met on my Great Barrier Reef liveaboard in Australia, rave about diving on the Mesoamerican Reef off the island of Cozumel and with over 2,000 cenotes on the Peninsula, cave diving might be an exciting experience. Albeit, my claustrophobia might not be up for it. No matter what I choose, I know a couple of days underwater is always a good idea. And hey, maybe I’ll see a Whale Shark or two!
No trip to the Yucatan is complete without visiting Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and popular ancient Mayan ruins. Thought to be built in 400 AD, the height of the city reigned between 625 and 800 AD before the settlement was abandoned in the late 12 century. If I make my way to Tulum, there are plenty of other Mayan ruins to explore, like Tulum Ruins and Xel Ha Ruins.
Speaking of Tulum, I’ve had several friends spend time on the beaches of Tulum and rave about its beauty. Nestled on the coast of Quintana Roo, Tulum is home to white sandy beaches, jade-green water, and lots of swaying palm beaches. With tons of luxurious resorts and vacation rentals, who doesn’t want to stay in paradise for a few days? The Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an is nearby and is a UNESCO World Heritage site that protects a variety of native birds and animals so I can explore a little bit of the native wildlife without the beach-loving crowds.
After seeing the incredible photos of the pink lakes from Expert Vagabond, I knew I have to visit the famous pink lakes in Las Coloradas when I visit the Yucatan Peninsula. These lakes are pink because of red-colored algae, plankton, and shrimp brine that thrive in these salty ponds that are used to manufacture salt for eating. While swimming in the lake around the factory is now illegal, you can still take a tour from Rio Lagartos that takes you to a different area to float around in this flamingo-colored water. And, you might be able to see real flamingos!
Of course, Mexico is filled with delicious Mexican food! I will admit that I’m not a huge Mexican food fan, but I discovered while on a food tour in Mexico City, that authentic Mexican food is delicious. Bring on the tacos!
Now, I just need to convince my boyfriend that he should come along with me on this vacation. But, if he doesn’t, that’s okay because that means I get to spend more time doing the thing that I love – scuba diving!