Where to stay when swimming with whale sharks

I have been asked to talk about one of my favorite hotels. While I love being pampered in style, I also love adventure & off the beaten path. One of my adventures a few years back took me to the little-known Isla Holbox, geographically not far off the coast of Cancun, but not the most easily accessible of places. What drew me there was the fact that the waters around that tiny secret island are home to the largest aggregation of whale sharks.

Every summer, without fail, these gentle giants that grow to be approximately 60 feet long, yet live on only plankton & krill, show up to feast from dawn till dusk. While I do want to share more about this absolutely life-changing experience, I will need to leave that for another post as my charge today is about accommodations, and my place of stay was as unique and charming as the island.

sabiasqueMy home for the few magical days I was privileged to visit was called Xaloc. Located directly on the white sandy beaches of Isla Holbox, Xaloc is a small boutique resort, with just 18 “rooms”. The rooms are actually in fact individual round bungalows, each with their own private little porch, palapa roofs and decorated in a rustic yet romantic décor that include hand-built four poster beds with sweeping mosquito nets yet contain modern conveniences such as a coffee maker and hairdryer.

The 18 rooms are divided into two sets of 9, each surrounding a small free-form freshwater pool, one designated for adults-only and one available for all. While not large or impressive by any means, they are wonderful for taking a dip and recounting the incredible adventures earlier that day with friends and other guests. Pool-side bar service is available at both pools upon request, so really what more do you need?

The resort also offers an onsite restaurant that serves 3 meals a day. Continental breakfast is included. Frankly I found dining slightly over-priced (relatively speaking to most of the other options on the island) but the setting is wonderful and the food and service great, so I didn’t mind paying a little more for the convenience of eating at the resort on the days I was too tired to venture out at night.

Other amenities the resort offers is a small library and recreational room with books and board games and tables, chairs, and sofas scattered for guests to convene. When I stayed there, there was one computer for guest use with dial-up internet but I believe that is being improved and also a Jacuzzi and sauna are in the pipeline. In the meantime massages and yoga sessions can be arranged.

I have been talking with friends, family and customers about going back to Holbox this coming summer. While white beaches, friendly locals, great food and swimming once again with 200 whale sharks are all a driving force for my return, I have to say that part of my desire is also to lounge once again, drink in hand, in the hammock on the front porch of my very own bungalow at the beautiful Xaloc.

Sample package rates for Summer 2011 (whale shark season) includes round trip airfare from stated city, all airline taxes and ticket fees, 5 days double-occupancy accommodations, Continental breakfast daily, hotel taxes and round trip land transfers from Cancun Airport to the resort.

Detroit:            $755 per person double occupancy

New York:      $718 per person double occupancy

Los Angeles:  $762 per person double occupancy

Seattle:            $846 per person double occupancy

Package rates based on actual available fares at the time of this post.

Cheryl Patterson
Dive Travel specialist & owner of Deep Blue Adventures
Email: Cheryl@DeepBlueAdventures.com

5 thoughts on “Where to stay when swimming with whale sharks

    • Hi Ledean,

      Due to the protection laws in Mexico, it was all snorkel, but the whale sharks literally feed on the surface from dusk until dawn so you could see them really well, even from the boat.

      We personally went with Holbox Whale Shark Tours – a very professional outfit with good boats & equipment, though I recommmend if you can to gather a small party and pay extra for the VIP option which means you can be out there all day and swim with them as much as you like versus 2 or 3 swims.

      The official season is June – September, but as they are arriving & departing in June/September, I would look at July or August if you can, with July being the optimal month as the visibility is better that month.

      You fly into Cancun, so airfare is often affordable & regular with lots of options. Getting to Holbox requires either a combination of 2-3 hours driving to Chiquila follwed by a boat or ferry transfer 30-40 minutes to the island or else a short “puddle jumper” but this is expensive unless you have a small party – approx $550 each way for up to 5 people. The sample prices I gave above included land transfers. Either way, we set everything up for our customers so they dont have to worry about anything. You can also self-drive to Chiquila or there is a bus once or twice a day for people who are more into backpacking style vacations, but I have not tried either of those methods & thats not really our clientele.

      When I went I was escorting a group family vacation with multi-generation with ages ranging from 8 years old to in their sixties. We combined 4 nights on Holbox with 5 nights on the Riviera Maya on the mainland of Mexico. There is where we did both reef and cenote diving (another great experience). We stayed at a luxury all-inclusive for that part of the itinerary and the stark contrast between the barefoot living in Holbox versus the self-indulgence at Playa Del Carmen was almost mind-blowing but a lot of fun. I was escorting some guests that had never left the country before and to share with them the various flavors, styles and options one destination can offer was a lot of fun for me.

      My harddrive with all of my photos is out for service right now, but I will post some of my personal trip pictures as soon as I can. I have been asked to repeat this trip for returning clients and new ones and I have to say I am excited at the thought of going back.

      If you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your interest in my blog – I truly appreciate it!

  1. Isla Holbox is an awesome location. It still has dirt roads, no cars and is an ideal place for chilling out if you prefer to be away from the crowds. I haven’t been there during the season to swim with the whale sharks, but hope to do it soon.
    The packages look great, especially since the transfers are included.

    Cruise Bug
    Cruise Bug Vacations

    • Thank you Mascrub. If you have already fallen for the charm of Holbox, you have to go back and add the whale sharks…you will fall head over heels!
      The transfer company we use I have personally tried and tested many times as well as sending numerous happy customers with them. They have modern, well-kept vehicles, with all working seatbelts etc (not always the case in Mexico), fantastic drivers who meet & greet right outside the airport doors & will have cold bottles of water (or beer & pop for a small surcharge) waiting in a cooler in the vans. If you want to stop along the way for a bite to eat or stock up on sundries they will do that too, so we are very happy with them. Happy travels!

  2. Still is and always will be one of my favorite adventures ever! I’ll never forget the feeling I had climbing back onto the boat after swimming next to these gentle giants. I was in complete wonder and awe, a dream come true. It really was life changing. The sheer size and power of these marvelous animals is just undescribable. Swimming next to those big round eyes and feeling so small and blessed to be able to experience that is something that will stay with me forever……and feed my desire for more!

    I thought we’d see one or two whale sharks, here and there. But they were EVERYWHERE! I remember there was one on the second day that seemed to stay with our boat and allow us to keep jumping in with him. We even gave him a name. We were certainly blessed, allowing us to share their space and environment. Can’t wait to go back!

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