DIVING WITH THE CROCODILES OF
CHINCHORRO ATOLL 2016
Abundant with wildlife and known only to a
handful of well-informed travellers, the isolated fishing
village of Xcalak remains totally unspoilt by time and is
the gateway to our American crocodile adventure. Located
400km south of Cancún on the Mexican Caribbean coast; our
journey time to the remote village was close to 6 hours, but
well worth the wait as we feasted our eyes on the rickety
wooden buildings, white sand beaches and tranquil blue
waters of the Caribbean ocean.
An eco-tourist's heaven
Our hotel is on the beach in the heart of the Xcalak
National Marine Park (Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Xcalak).
A huge protected area of land and sea extending up to
17,949,456 hectares. It’s an exceptional spot and only a
short boat ride away from some of the best diving in the
Costa Maya. Although, kayaking and snorkelling from the
shore is impressive too.
On our first full day, we enjoyed two guided boat dives
exploring Xcalak’s spectacular reefs, La Poza & La Chimenea.
The water was a toasty 29˚C/84˚F, 3mm ‘shortie’ temperature
for all but one or two. Both dives were excellent and
allowed us to see large schools of tarpon, jacks, octopus,
lobsters, a turtle and a bajillion silver-sides. The reefs
in the marine park are vibrant and healthy, an absolute joy
to dive. It’s easy to understand why the few who visit
describe it as a ‘diver's paradise’!
As anticipated, our second day’s weather was exceptional!
Awakening to flat calm seas and a warm inviting sun, this
was the day that our American crocodile adventure would
begin to take shape. There was a lot of excitement amongst
the group as we waited eagerly for our early morning
pick-up. But it’s fair to say that there was some
apprehension too, for the task ahead.
Destination Banco Chinchorro Atoll
With our gear packed onto the boat we gathered under the
jetty sign ‘Extasis’ (Ecstasy) for our first team photograph
before heading out across the ocean. The journey time to the
atoll would normally be 2 hours and the crew have shared
horror stories of lumpy wet 4 hour crossings when the
weather is unkind. Our weather conditions were phenomenal
and we made the crossing in little more than 1 hour, taking
the initiative to sun bath along the way.
Banco Chinchorro is one of the jewels of the Mesoamerican
Barrier Reef System. The MBRS extends from the southern half
of the Yucatan Peninsula down to the Bay Islands of
Honduras, includes the second longest barrier reef in the
world, and is unique on account of its size, its array of
reef types, and the superabundance of corals.
Within its vast 557,337 square miles of protected waters,
the Banco Chinchorro atoll has three small islands; Cayo
Norte, Cayo Central and Cayo Lobos. Although all islands are
considered uninhabited, rangers, fishermen and researchers
do stay on Cayo Central from time-to-time, along with an
estimated resident 700 American crocodiles and a healthy
population of giant iguanas.
Chinchorro is a destination that instantly makes people feel
uplifted and happy. It’s an area of outstanding beauty and
can be immensely overwhelming on a first visit. We stayed
close to the island of Cayo Central in a practical
purpose-built stilted fisherman’s house. It’s nothing like
the luxurious Maldivian water bungalows of the Indian ocean.
That said, the quirky hut is utterly charming and the
perfect location to compliment our 3 day extraordinary
Within the limited space, there are areas designated for
cooking, sleeping and washing. From the terrace, you can
observe schools of fish, stingrays or crocodiles moving
around the shallow turquoise waters below. And, during
sunrise and sunset, the hut is ideally positioned with
panoramic views of both the start and conclusion of the day.
Experiences that could only be enhanced with a frozen
Margarita in hand.
From the moment we arrived, we wasted no time unloading the
boat and making our temporary home comfy. Captain Moi began
cooking lunch; whilst Captain Gallo began emulating the
fishermen cleaning their catch to seduce the crocodiles
close. For years, crocodiles have associated the splashing
of water and a rhythmic chopping sound with a free meal.
Hammocks were strung, bags unpacked and guests eagerly
tested their cameras.
For an off-the-grid location, we were incredibly
well-serviced. We had enough ice to keep our chilled foods
and drinks cool for the duration of our stay. A petrol
generator for charging batteries (if required) and bottled
gas to ensure that our meals were cooked to perfection.
For a second year, our American crocodile trip coincided
with the Caribbean lobster season. You’d struggle to buy a
decent lobster on 5th Avenue for less than US$85, but in
Chinchorro we negotiated for 20 lobsters from the local
fishermen for a total purchase price of US$55. Cooked in
garlic butter echoed last year’s ‘freshest catch of the
Croctastic new faces!
Starting with a full briefing of ‘croc etiquette’ and
safety, we were told that there had been many new crocodiles
visiting during the year. Their behavior was completely
different to many of the known favourites. Some of the
smaller crocodiles were really feisty, whereas, the larger
ones by stark contrast were über chilled and lethargic.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before the new
faces inquisitively arrived.
Our crocodile interactions were marvellous, bucket list
moments in life. Each day, we enjoyed many hours in the
water with single crocs, pairs of crocs and occasionally
rowdy or fighting crocs. Snorkelling alongside the
‘prehistoric’ looking American crocodiles was a huge
privilege. For many, an unforgettable event.
“Today’s croc encounter was completely badass! Being in the
water, 3 feet away from a 10 foot croc was completely insane
and a once in a lifetime experience.” — Angela
And there’s more...
Crocodiles are like teenagers and tend not to rise too
early. So, we used the mornings as a perfect opportunity to
explore Chinchorro both above and below the waves. Each day
started with a lazy dive. Twice we dove the splendid walls
of the outer atoll; bountiful marine life and colourful
coral, positive signs of a healthy reef ecosystem. These
dives also allowed us to stock up on Lion fish. Crocodiles
love the taste of Lion fish and we make a small contribution
to help the ocean too, ridding the atoll of an invasive
Chinchorro has been dubbed by the local fishermen as ‘the
ships graveyard’. Decades of poor decisions and bad weather
having contributed to the final voyages of countless vessels
large and small around the atoll. Our third dive was on the
wreck of the SS Ginger Scout. Battered by the elements,
Ginger Scout is scattered over the sea bottom in only
6m/18ft of water. The dive was a little bit surgy but hugely
rewarding, vast schools of fish, early morning light beams
and colourful fans amongst the highlights.
An island visit to Cayo Central is mandatory. It’s required
during our visit to let the rangers know that we’re actively
snorkelling with the crocodiles. However, our island
excursion also gives us the freedom to meet the endemic
giant iguanas. And, they are everywhere. Measuring up to 6ft
in length, they’re an interesting contrast to the crocodiles
we had been swimming alongside.
Walking around the island we found more crocodiles basking
in the shallow waters of the mangroves. These crocodiles are
known never to visit the fisherman’s hut, choosing to live
their life amongst the mangroves.
There are many areas around the island that can only be
accessed by boat. Photography and video opportunities are
bountiful at Chinchorro and we made sure that we didn’t miss
a single one!
Every ending has a new beginning
We returned to Xcalak with time to enjoy four more reef
dives and appreciate the fascinating night sky. There’s
seldom cloud cover in Xcalak or Banco Chinchorro and the
light pollution is very limited. Shooting stars are
frequently seen and the Milky Way is just so beautiful. Who
wouldn’t want to sit outside and relax?
The Big Fish Expeditions American Crocodile Expedition, is
an epic trip, very different to others on our calender. A
collection of so many unique experiences that always
delivers a smile. Should you wish to join us for 2017,
please feel to book online:
2017 American Crocodile
What the guests said...
“Great trip. We were smiling all day. Even though you should
never smile at a crocodile.” — Tony
“It was a fabulous day interacting with the crocs. A
experience of a lifetime that will not be forgotten. Terry
and the crew did a incredible job!” — Frank
“Everything I wished for and more. A great trip… Friendly
guests and crew.” — Steve