Downey Duck

Swimming Whale Sharks and Giant Mantas  Isla Mujeres August 2013

Whale sharks gather in the Cancun, Mexico area each summer to gorge on plankton. We decided it was time to check it out and went with Andy Murch, owner of Big Fish Expeditions, also the person we went with last year to snorkel with sailfish. We stayed at Na Balam hotel on Isla Mujeres.  Each morning the eight of us had the included continental breakfast (fruit plate, toast, coffee or tea), and then waded out to the boat. About an hour later we arrived at our destination for the day, usually one of the first boats to arrive. We spent four days snorkeling with whale sharks, manta rays, and a few smaller mobula rays. The first and fourth days were fairy docile, but days two and three were kick-ass, with sometimes four or five whalesharks in view at the same time and sharks and rays swimming side-by-side. We had to continually look in all directions; the whalesharks seemed to enjoy running us over if we weren’t paying attention!

Our flight from Pittsburgh to Cancun went smoothly. We were met by Andy and Laura, then taxied to the ferry depot for the 20 minute ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres. After another  five minute taxi ride, we arrived at Na Balm hotel. Two-thirds of the hotel is on one side of the road; we were in the third on the other side of the road with the small pool. The room was large, with plenty of storage. At first I thought the hot water was lacking, but it just took a really long time to reach us. The room was air-conditioned, but the maids usually turned it off during the day and it took until late evening to cool down sufficiently—it was August, after all. Our only real complaint was the extremely loud music that carried on until 2am on Saturday and Sunday nights—the bar (not part of the hotel) was right across the street from our room. We would be willing to stay at that hotel again, mainly for its convenient location, but only if we were guaranteed a room far far away from the loud music.

Na Balm was only a couple blocks away from the main town where we enjoyed dinner at a different restaurant each evening, usually enjoying outdoor dining. Bill and I didn’t do any exploring, as we were usually napping in the afternoons and asleep by 10pm each evening, except for Saturday and Sunday, of course.

By 9am each day there were 30 or 40 boats spread over a wide area, so there wasn’t really any crowding; just wait a while and the sharks come to you. We were in the water for 1 to 2 hours, then climbed into the boat for some food, water, and rest. Solo Buceo, the dive operator, provided plenty of water, sandwiches, soda, fruit drinks, cookies, and even beer. All that snorkeling definitely made us hungry, thirsty, and tired! Then back into the water for a couple more hours. Between 12:30 and 2pm, the whaleshark activity started to die down as they went deeper, and we headed back to Isla Mujeres, exhausted and happy.

Bill and I really enjoyed this trip and are thinking about running  a repeat trip in 2015. If you want to experience this exciting adventure before we get around to it, Andy Murch will be running trips in 2014. Check out his website at