It’s almost dawn and we’ve just checked in at the luxurious Grand Velas Riviera Maya, a welcome indulgence after our long journey via Mexico City. This beautiful all inclusive resort sits between the jungle and white sands of the Caribbean coast. Our short stay here was an incredible treat and full of exceptional experiences.
Have you ever thought about diving in a fresh water underground river and cave system? Possibly not, but you definitely should. After all the research and feedback from colleagues and clients over the years, it’s something that’s been on my mind and now I’m left wanting more! Yes, it is a little odd, but adventurous, unique and totally captivating. We visited Cenote Dos Ojos, renowned for its crystal clear waters and rock formations, especially spectacular on a sunny day as the light beams cut through the water. Typically, it rained. Nonetheless the experience of both sites, the Barbie Line and Bat Cave Line, was amazing and on ending the dive, my buddy and I couldn’t stop grinning, a moment shared that would be remembered forever.
Now in its fifth year, Cozumel Scuba Fest has become an important platform for divers and ocean lovers to express their passion for the sea, via keynote presentations, video, exhibitions, art and music. Having seen the programme of events, the variety of subjects and those who were to receive the coveted ‘El Buzo de Oro’ (Golden Diver Award) in person, I was excited about heading to Cozumel, a half hour ferry journey from the mainland.
Each morning we headed out with our host, Pepe Scuba, to dive the route of the Scuba Fest, a tribute to the Cousteau family comprising of nine dive sites along the most beautiful reefs of Cozumel. Yes, we did fly along at great speeds on Tormentos reef, poke out into the blue on Santa Rosa Wall and see turtles, angel fish, nurse shark and large schools of grunts and pork fish at Paso De Cedral. We even found the endemic splendid toad fish and a snapping shrimp. Again, extremely happy divers!
Over the course of the week, both out diving and at the expo, we rubbed shoulders with a host of ocean advocates, all extremely passionate and knowledgeable in their fields, all out to influence the next generation and educate the world, including us divers! As a result, we’re now busy creating more holiday ideas, offering you more marine encounters and exciting dives in this fantastic part of the world.
They say great things come along in threes. So far I’d experienced breathtaking dives in the Cenotes and some spectacular sites along the second largest barrier reef in the world. Number three had a lot to live up to! I parted company with my fellow buddies and transferred to Holbox island in the north of the Yucatan peninsula. Holbox is a small, low key island with a rustic style, white sand beaches and a local population dedicated to fishing and tourism. It’s a place to relax and recharge your batteries. It’s also a departure point for whale shark encounters in season. This was it, my dream of coming face-to-face with this magnificent animal was about to come true. Super lucky me!
Uncharacteristically, I was up and ready way before our early start to head out into the blue to find the whale sharks. There are a limited number of licences granted each year and there are strict regulations to adhere to, which ultimately enhances the experience. They had moved further out to sea over night, but that didn’t stop us. When we arrived, there were several other boats in the area, around 40 whale sharks and some huge manta rays vying for attention. Known as one of the largest aggregation areas in the world, the peak months of July and August often have 300+ individuals.
“Sarah, would you like to go first?” – would I ever! Kitted up for snorkelling, we sat on the side of the boat waiting to be dropped in the water and then it appeared, my first ever whale shark. Wow! I flopped in, GoPro at the ready. I caught a glimpse before my own bubbles wrecked my view and then in a few seconds it was off, gracefully continuing its journey. We tried, but couldn’t keep up. My head and my heart were in different places. It was so exciting to be in the water with them, but I wanted more! Everyone gets a second chance and this time it turned out to be a moment I would never forget. My ‘first’ encounter with a whale shark (identified as MXA-647, a regular visitor since 2010) was captured on camera and my grin lasted for days!
I sincerely hope there are many more adventures to come in Mexico, for all of us.
Sarah visited the Yucatan peninsula and Cozumel, an incredible area to visit with its variety of diving, beautiful beaches, ancient history and culture, amazing culinary delights and plenty of adventure for all the family.