Yucatan from its finest
Yucatan, Mexico 2018
We love Mexico so much, and after this trip we love it even more. I had been with groups to Yucatan before, but at different times. That is the amazing thing about Mexico, it offers such different animal interactions throughout the season. In the summer season we have the opportunity to snorkel with whalesharks and manta rays, dive with manatees – and face the American Crocodile
And we started this trip with the most extreme. Snorkeling with “Salties”, short for saltwater crocodiles in Chinchorro Banks, an offshore reef close to Xcalak, at the south tip of Yucatan.
What happens is the crocs are pretty slow going in the heat of the day and are open for a snack provided by XTC croc handlers. In the morning we hunt lionfish in the surrounding reefs – this introduced species is a menace to the reefs of the entire carribean. These fish are tied on lines and thrown in the water in front of the crocs. Ambush predators that they are, they sit mostly full still at the shallow lagoon floor, waiting for an opportunity to actually get the lionfish. In that ambush time they don’t even seem to notice our presence, allowing us to observe, video and photograph these 3m large dinosaurs. It’s bizarre, but after a bit in the water with them, we got pretty confortable being at arms length of closer to rows of sharp teeth.
Xcalak also has some very interesting dives to be had, so that’s our next stop. The reefs are kind of boring, but there are two big highlights. Manatees swimming in blue water, seemingly taking a break from feeding in the shallow waters between the reef and the beaches. Rather than seeing them munch away on seagrass we can see them swimming – and they look surprisingly graceful. Its now much more understandable how the imagination of sailors got sparked into believing that these creatures where mermaids.
Check out this one ripping a gassy one
The other highlight is a dive in an underwater canyon that is home to a massive school of tarpons. Tarpons are a weird looking silvery fish, that have an unusually shaped head that allows them to swim close to the surface to ambush prey at the surface. Special as it is, Xcalaks Tarpons are massive!! Each of these fish is around 1.5m long, the size of a fully grown Grey Reef Shark! As long as we remained calmed they would circle around us like a school of giant jack fish.
From here we headed north to do the all-year classic of Yucatan – the Cenote caverns. There are hundreds of these fresh water filled caverns hidden under the thick jungle.
Each cenote has its own character. The classics like Taj Mahal or Dos Ojos have large stalactite filled caverns, with clear water of up to 100m visibility. As the water does not move all sediment travels to the bottom. In this clear water diving really seems like flying.
Another fabulous cave system is Chak-Mool, where unfortunately cameras are forbidden. This one features the largest cavern rooms, as well as the most interesting thermoclines – where different layers of water mix, blurring our vision when we transfer from one layer to another.
We also dove Ponderosa Cavern, but this was a rather busy dive, and a lot less interesting than all other caverns
Other Cenotes are the sink holes El Pit and Angelita. El Pit is a massive sink hole with crystal clear water. Diving through it you cross through several “halocline”, where water and salt water mix and your vision suddenly gets blurry.
Angelita is even more bizarre as it features the bizarre “Underwater River” a cloud of white colored water at 30m that is actually hydrogen sulfate, which separates the divers from the deeper salt water. First we dive above the clouds but then our guides take us one by one into this cloud and to the level below the cloud, which is completely dark and massively obscure.
Scott turned 67 on the day we dove Angelita - so another group photo was due!
After enjoying the restaurants and drinks of Playa del Carmen, a busy but colorful tourist town close to the cenotes we have to spend the last few days in Cancun. I am definitely not a fan of this Americanoid Tourist Mecca with its massive hotels and fake beaches. But, it offers access to the largest whaleshark aggregation in the world.
Our speed boat takes us 30km out to the north of Cancun, in the middle of the blue the currents bring Tuna eggs to the area, which seem to spawn all summer. Whalesharks and manta rays cruise through the blue water and filter the tiny eggs, invisible to us humans, out of the water. The food source must be rich, as the whalesharks come in vast numbers – up to 500 have been counted in the area on some days
Mind you, a ton of boats come out as well. Sometimes well over 50 boats cruise the area and if whalesharks are found it’s a mess. Fortunately we booked a private boat and the very experienced guides of Solo Buceo, which bring us to the sharks earlier and stay longer than the masses. This gives all of us plenty of whaleshark and manta ray time. It’s phenomenal to swim next to these massive 5-8m long sharks, that are absolutely not bothered by anything but feeding. You have to pay attention otherwise you might suddently turn around and look into a 1.5m wide gaping black mouth. Fortunately nothing can happen, except a close pass and a gentle slap by the passing tailfin.
What a trip – manatees, crocs, multi-colored freshwater caverns, manta rays and whalesharks – all in one week. We love Mexico even more than before.
ABOUT INSIDER DIVERS
INSIDER DIVERS is a service for divers who want to dive with like-minded divers in the best dive spots in the aquatic world. Simon Lorenz and his guides accompany every diving trip. All itineraries are bespoke, and especially arranged to provide the best possible dive experience. We are not always the cheapest possible trip, but you will dive with the best operators and learn the most about the region where you are diving. Our trips come with free background presentations on flora and fauna, and our trainers can help with any questions or training needs with regards to your diving or photography skills.