After breakfast at the hotel, we got out to catch a van to port and took in the sunny morning. Blue, open skies stretched overhead like an endless ocean, meeting their end only where the horizon cut a glassy blue division with water below. We drove to an outpost by the beach, a small shack with pictures of whale sharks and posters explaining coral reefs. A guide dictated the rules to us: there could be no more than three participants from our boat in the water at any given time, no more than 10 people on the boat, and anyone who attempted to touch the animals would get taken out of the water, no chance of being let back in.
Holbox Island, at the tip of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico, is sparsely populated island (1,600 residents), part of a nature reserve boasting a large shallow lagoon, and is not yet visible on tourist maps. It’s said to be an idyllic natural paradise—full of sea birds, lobster, manatees in its lagoon and other sea life. But our speedboat wasn’t taking us to its coasts; instead we headed towards the open ocean.
Miles offshore, when no land was visible, the captain scanned the horizon. The glassy, calm surface made it easier to search today. He turned the radio on to listen for other captains, and switched course. Another boat had spotted whale sharks about a mile away. Catching my first glimpse of whale sharks felt magical—seeing the giants gracefully move below the waves, dorsal fins breaking the surface as their caudal fins, swaying gently side to side, propelled them.
I was part of the second group of 3 to jump in the water. It was a workout to keep up with the leviathans—their tail’s rhythmic movement belies their speed. But I was mesmerized by the scene—their grace, the patterns of their skin contrasting against the deep blue, the way their gills expanded and contracted into their bodies; their sheer size. I was glad to see park rangers appear, to inspect boats, observe interactions and ensure minimal disturbance to…