Things To Do in Holbox

Holbox is first and foremost a fishing village. Traditionally, many of the tourists that have come to Holbox have been fisherman and that still remains a popular activity on the island. There is a wide variety of fishing options including deep sea and fly fishing.

  1. credit: rbrands on Flickr
  2. credit: rbrands on Flickr

The pace of life in Holbox is very tranquil. Unlike Cancun and other better know resort destinations, this is a place where you can truly relax and enjoy nature. In addition to enjoying a swim in the very calm waters, the local beaches are a shell hunter’s delight.

Isla Pájaros (Bird Island) is a 30 minute boat ride from the town. Tours are available to view the more than 140 species of birds that live or season here including a large flock of pink flamingos.

Yalahau Lagoon separates Isla Holbox from the mainland. There are some nice fresh and brackish water swimming holes and other large groups of birds (including flamingos) in the mangroves bordering the lagoon around the island.

But today, the big attraction (sorry for the intended pun) is the chance to snorkel with the whale sharks that summer (June to September) in nearby waters. Drawn by the calm seas and the abundant supply of plankton, these massive fish gather in relatively shallow waters about 8-10 miles off shore.

Whale Sharks are really not whales. That term is used to describe the size of these giant fish. The average shark is 25 feet but they may grow to 50 feet and weigh up to 15 tons. They have thousands of very small teeth but actually feed by filtering plankton through their gills. They are really very gentle and don’t seem to bothered by the attention they receive from humans.

The typical tour gathers at a wooden dock in Holbox around 7:00am and departs by 7:30am. On the ride out to the whale sharks, it is common to see large pods of dolphins and giant manta rays. On our trip, we got to see a manta jump completely out of the water as our boat approached.

With the stops to see the dolphins and mantas, it took us about 1-½ hours to reach the whale sharks. In the general area where we found them, there were 15-20 of them feeding by sweeping almost in a grid pattern. When we left the dock in the town, there were several other boats departing as well but none of those boats were in the same specific area while we were swimming with the sharks so there must be multiple locations where similar numbers can be found.

A dive master will take groups of 2 people at a time into the water. The boat tries to drop the snorkelers so that the fish is swimming directly towards them and then will sometimes circle around attempting to guide the fish back towards the snorkelers for a 2nd pass. Then others on board are rotated into the water until everyone on board has had several chances to swim with the fish.

Because of the heavy plankton that draws them to the area, underwater visibility when snorkeling with the sharks is not very good. When we were dropped in the water directly in front of them, we could see them coming when we poked our heads above the water. But when we looked below, there was a feeling of “I know they’re coming. I know there coming. I know there coming but I can’t see them.” Then when they get to within about 6-feet, there they are: huge and right on you. It was enough to make grown ups scream with joyous surprise.

After everyone has had a chance to snorkel several times with the whale sharks, the boat heads back towards the town. On the trip back, most boats stop near an island with a large pink flamingo and pelican flocks.

We were back to the town at roughly noon.

There are a lot of tour operators that are offering very similar trips. We booked ours through our hotel with Holbox Island Tours at a cost of $800 pesos per person. They also offer all of the other tours mentioned in this discussion.

The dive master and captain did not speak much English and gave us little instruction except “don’t touch the fish”. Air vests were available but not required and decent snorkel gear was provided. The boat was well designed (except for a ladder that needed one more step), in excellent condition and with the very calm waters, was able to travel along at a fast clip. There were a total of 9 divers on our boat and we were not crowded at all.