Yahoo! Travel writer Lena N. Katz and her fiancé recently traveled to idyllic Isla Mujeres,which is an island located in the Mexican Caribbean just a short ferry ride from downtown Cancun. Here,the couple swam with the enormous 800-pound manatees,which are admittedly large but also quite timid (thank goodness!).
“I’ve been fascinated by these creatures since seeing pictures of them in elementary school,” writes Katz. “Whiskered,snuffly and curious,these aquatic mammals seem ready to be your BFF.”
On the morning of the adventure,which was hosted by the Isla Mujeres Dolphin Discovery center,the other participants who had signed up for the small-group manatee encounter happened not to show,which provided Katz and her fiancé with an even more personalized experience. With a shape that “resembles a cozy,overstuffed sofa,” it’s hard to imagine that sailors of yesteryear once mistook these ponderous creatures for nubile mermaids,but according to history that’s exactly what happened. Perhaps it had something to do with spending months at sea in conditions that were often harsh at best,but still!
“I stand chest-deep in ocean water,watching a manatee play patty-cake with a human,and I feel like an eight year old again,” quips Katz.
Unfortunately,manatees have become endangered in the wild,due in part to their heightened sense of curiosity and complete lack of aggression. In addition,when they enter rivers and other shallow waters they are at risk of being struck by boat propellers as they graze on underwater plants,and others succumb to the dangers of industrial fishing or accidentally ingest pieces of the floating trash that can be found in virtually every major waterway.
“Manatees have a lot of curiosity,” manatee specialist Silvia Becerra of the Dolphin Discovery center told Katz. “They like interacting with people.”
Basically,the manatee experience on Isla Mujeres involves helping caretakers feed the animals,who will gladly take lettuce,bananas and other treats from your hand. The two adult manatees at Dolphin Discovery,Cesar and Sabina,will even high five you or kiss you for a reward and also love to receive belly rubs. The pair were rescued by a facility in Veracruz after being discovered as babies floating alone without their mother in the open ocean.
“Sometimes people think their minds are as slow as their bodies,but no – they can learn many things,like dolphins,” shared Becerra.
Eating is basically a full-time job for manatees,which consume as much as 40 pounds of lettuce,along with as many apples,bananas,sweet potatoes and other treats as they can find. The giant mammals are so patient and gentle that they readily allow Becerra and the other resident specialists at Dolphin Discovery show guests their unique physical features,including belly buttons and tiny ears.
Named one of the Top 10 Islands in the World by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards in 2013,Isla Mujeres also offers sea kayak and boat tours,windsurfing and miles of soft,white-sand beaches. At only 4.3 miles in length,Isla is a bit more laid back than Cancun and some of the Riviera Maya’s other larger towns,but there are plenty of highly-rated hotels,restaurants and other attractions to keep visitors well occupied throughout their stay.
Want to know more about activities in Isla Mujeres and other parts of Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Post your questions in the comments section below and we’ll be happy to reply!