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Snorkeling Tour Oaxaca Mexico

Or, The Mexico Snorkeling Tour That Wasn’t PUERTO ANGEL, Mexico- After a week of hanging out on the beaches of Puerto Angel watching snorkeling tour boats full of tourists coming in from and going out to sea, I found myself the acquaintance of a fisherman. We would drink beer in the shade together as he [...]

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Or, The Mexico Snorkeling Tour That Wasn’t

PUERTO ANGEL, Mexico- After a week of hanging out on the beaches of Puerto Angel watching snorkeling tour boats full of tourists coming in from and going out to sea, I found myself the acquaintance of a fisherman. We would drink beer in the shade together as he worked on his boat and I took notes or played with my daughter. Sometimes we would talk about fishing. One day the fishermen invited me and my family to go out snorkeling with him to spear some octopuses.

This was precisely what I wanted to have happen, though I agreed with hesitation:

The boat men here run snorkeling tours for tourists. In such a scenario it is easy to find yourself agreeing to going out fishing and end up another tourist in a tour boat. There is also a general rule in travel that states that if a local approaches you unprovoked with a seemingly friendly proposition to do something interesting the outcome has a far greater chance of going south than if you approach them. It is the great asker/ askee dichotomy of travel: I trust a situation more if I put myself in it than if I am invited into it by another.

This fisherman was asking me if I wanted to go fishing with him, I immediately asked him how much it would cost — it was unclear if he was inviting me out to accompany him as a companion or if this was a sly way to get me onto a tour boat.

“A tank of gas,” he told me would be the price.

Fair enough.

I figured this deal had a 75% chance of not going right, that I would need to nip it done before it even got started. In point, I would often talk with this fisherman in the shade of a big sign advertising fishing tours. The foreshadowing was clear.

“We can make it a family event, I will bring my family and you can bring yours” the fisherman told me, and I began to trust the situation a little more.

On the 25% chance that I was be offered an interesting experience — going out and spearing octopuses off the coast of Oaxaca — I agreed to go.

Tourist boat from Oaxaca Mexico


For a few days the fisherman kept changing the date of when we would go out to fish for octopuses. I grew more and more suspicious. Then one day he asked if I would like to go out the following morning.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Ok, you are going to go with my friend because I have to work.”

Shit. It was a lock in prop.

I woke up the next morning and, with my family, walked down to the beach to check out the situation on his “friend.” We were prepared to just head down and tell him that we were not interested in going.

The “friend” ended up being a snorkling tour.

No shit, even a newbie traveler could see this coming from a mile away.

But my fisherman friend was there to greet us on the beach (and collect on his commission, I am sure). We skeptically asked how much this tour was going to cost. The price he quoted was remarkably low.

Normally, I would have told this guy to go shit in his hat, but the price that he arranged for us to go on this tour was drastically under the going rate. The cost was clearly in the why not? price range.

“Do you want to go?” I asked my wife hesitantly.

“Why not?” she proclaimed.

Why not? Because this guy railroaded us.

But the price was very low . . .

Why not?

We cut our loses and agreed to go anyway. Pride in such a case would only be an obstacle. We took the cheap tour.


We jumped into a boat with around a dozen other tourists. They were normal tourists, nothing to really describe about them except for the fact that one was a very voluptuous English girl who had difficulty keeping all of herself tucked inside of a way too small bikini.

The boat went out to sea, then it stopped. We floated. We were looking for ocean things, animals or something. We floated. It then became apparent to me that I was on a seasick tour. The boat rose and fell at least two feet with each gyration of the waves, and bobbed and bobbed and bobbed.

“Sea turtle! Sea turtle! Where!?! Where!?!”

Everybody freaked out about a sea turtle, a crowd of cameras rushed over to one side of the boat. The boat tilted in the waves in the direction of the migrating mob as it continued to bob up and down in the waves.

My one and a half year old daughter, Petra, saw the turtle and yelled “Tuga!”

That was cool.

Then some dick American tourist wanted to have a precious life defining moment swimming with a sea turtle. He jumped into the sea and swam out to it while everybody else sat on the boat, just bobbing up and down in the waves waiting for him to return.

I began not feeling so well.

The tourist finished up his magical Mexico experience and returned to the boat.

“There is a turtle!”

“There is a manta ray!”

“Are those dolphins?”

“There is a coconut!”

I was on a tour, and, suddenly, I remembered why I don’t go on tours: I don’t like them. Money has nothing to do with why I avoid tours (I could go on just about any tour that I wanted for free just by offering to write about it on this blog, but this is a practice I gave up on long ago — I am too honest for this line of work).

My enjoyment of travel is found in subtle explorations, talking with people, living life on my own volition. Travel soon becomes a psychosis — an obsessive urge have control of yourself in your surroundings at all times, the drive to do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. This liberty, once matured fully, is far more enjoyable than being lead around by the bit on any tour.

Sitting on a tour boat bobbing in the ocean with tour guides at the helm is simply not a place that I really enjoy being. I wanted out.

Travelers are nothing if not big, stubborn, selfish babies.

But finding, living out, and fully enjoying the inner infant is part of the subtle art of travel.

I feel like a head of a cattle herded up and locked into a flatbed when on tours. I cannot shake this feeling as much as I try. I truly looked for ways to make this snorkeling tour interesting, enjoyable — I tried to make the best of it. I considered talking with the guides running the tour, but thought better of it as I figured they would just lie to me. I had tried before the tour started:

“Can I go fishing for octopus?” I asked just to see what one of the guides would say.

“Of course you can.”

This was a lie, and I knew it. The guide spoke to me like I was some dumb tourist, and I did not want to be spoken to like this again. So I figured that starting a conversation with another one of these guides would not be in my best interest.

I remembered traveling for a stretch in the Peruvian Amazon with an old English traveler. This guy had been traveling the world for 20 years, he told me that he hated tours. Why? “Because I hate people telling me where to look.”

Long term travel is a psychosis.


Of course I could have milked the guides for information about the sea, the animals in it, made them into characters, selectively taken photos, and then wrote this story up like I had an exotic Mexican adventure.

I very easily could have cooked this story up to be sold, but this would have run a little too flush with the world of mainstream travel writing for me to stomach. I am a writer not a liar, and I will not lie to make a living writing.


I sat and watched the waves from the boat, at least I was out at sea. Well, sort of. The boat kept stopping at regular intervals just to bob in the waves. It is my impression that we were looking for animals. I began not feeling so well.

I am naturally inclined to seasickness. But upon learning this aspect of my biology I immediately set out to come up with methods to subvert it. I found ways to do so, and I have not been seasick since I was 17 years old. But on this small tourist boat, just bobbing up and down in the waves, the tourists running from side to side yelling out the names of ocean creatures both seen and unseen, I felt my grip on my stomach loosen.

“Petra is seasick,” my wife informed me in timely fashion.

I turned to find that my poor little daughter had doubled over and puked all over herself. She sat with her head hung over her lap, limply bobbing up and down with the waves. She blew chunks everywhere. My own stomach rose to my mouth.

No matter how little money I paid, this tour was not worth it. I realized that I would happily pay 10X what I did to get on this boat just to get off of it. I was trapped.

Beach in Mexico

The boat then pulled into a little bay that had a beach. There were houses and a restaurant on this beach, it seemed as if it may have had road access. But the boat stopped short of pulling up onto the sand. Shit.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“Normally, we go snorkeling here,” the boat captain told the tourists, “but today there are jelly fish in the water so we can’t.”

The boat just bobbed in place for five minutes. Nobody really did anything. The turtle guy jumped out and tried to snorkel anyway. He returned to say that he could not see anything and that the jellyfish stung him, but it did not really hurt. The boat then went off to find another place to snorkel.

“If we can’t snorkel here what makes you think that it is going to be different anywhere else?” one of the tourists asked the guides.

The guides did not answer. Rather, they pulled the boat into another bay.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“No, the water isn’t clear enough. We came here to jump off a rock.”

One of the guides demonstrated how someone could jump off a rock into the water. The boat sat bobbing in the surf, filling with exhaust fumes. I felt even sicker. My poor daughter was comatose, seasick green, miserable. Nobody wanted to jump off a rock, they wanted to snorkel — this was suppose to be a snorkeling tour. The guides were insistent though that we needed to jump of a rock, and some tourists obliged them.

After ten minutes of this, the boat collected up the more adventurous tourists from the water and made way out to sea once again. Once there, of course, it stopped to continued its idle bobbing in the waves.

“Can we snorkel now? Can we snorkel now?” the excited tourists asked.

“No, this spot is just for swimming.”

It soon became clear that their would be no snorkeling on this snorkeling tour.

Eventually, the boat pulled up to a beach. The feel of freedom came with the feel of sand on my feet.

A view of the Pacific ocean from the hills near Puerto Angel

I gathered up my wife, my baby, bought a cold Coca-Cola and a lime and ran far, far away from the boat. We jumped ship on the no snorkeling snorkeling tour. We went for a hike instead — a hike on our own volition, able to go wherever we wanted to go. Like big babies we walked through the hills of coastal Mexico, stopping where we chose, looking at whatever we wanted. Petra found fun in a heap of organic debris, I found fun photographing the normal houses where normal people live, my poor wife found solace in the fact that she was no longer being puked on by her little baby or hearing the complaints of her big one.

This simple walk through the neighborhoods in the hills back to Puerto Angel was better than any tour I could ever take. Alas, this is travel.

Publishing travelogue entries such as this ensure that I will never be a successful travel writer, but they do keep my soul intact — which is more important?


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Filed under: Beaches, Mexico, North America, Tourism

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

9 comments… add one

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  • Sam December 17, 2010, 1:43 am

    Hey Wade,
    This was just the entry I needed to read. As I travel I find myself more and more in the same mindset. I´m not necesarily on the same page but I do find myself pushing away from these same boring ass tours that oversell and underpay.

    I´m currently in El Salvador and am enjoying it more and more every day because there are relatively few foreign tourists. I´m currently in Los Cabanos where me and an Englishman are the only tourists other than El Salvadorans buying fresh caught fish from the fisherman after spending 3 days in ´El Imposible´. Perfect. I´m fine without seeing another tourist for the current time being.

    On a similar note. I went to type your website into this computer (not mine) and your web address was already entered. Looks like you have a following even down here where I thought I was getting off the beaten track.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 17, 2010, 10:28 am

      Thanks Sam,

      It is a great thing when you start to really find that certain essence of travel that has to do with how you feel rather than what you see. I sometimes even feel stressed out just watching tourists run around “doing” this and “doing” that. It seems like a lot of work. On that tour there was this one guy — the guy that jumped off the boat to swim with the sea turtle — that was so bent on having “experiences” that he seemed to be missing the plot. It was almost like he was collecting these experiences, and he had this sort of mania in his approach to seeing and doing things.

      Perhaps he had it right: he tried hard to make the most of a very deficient tour.

      Perhaps I had it right: I split and did what makes me happy, I went for a walk in the hills.

      I suppose travel is the idea mechanism to really find out what you enjoy and the knowledge that you can go and get it at all times: whether that is swimming with sea turtles or ditching an unenjoyable scene to walk in the hills.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 19, 2010, 10:50 am

      That is funny about how my URL was already in the computer. We had made tracks in El Salvador, and I guess we are being followed haha.

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  • mike crosby December 17, 2010, 12:50 pm

    Wade, good stuff. I believe you wrote about a touristy experience you had in Haiti. Seems like you never win any time you do those things.

    I like your sense of freedom. You realized you made a mistake taking the boat, but when you got your chance, you got the hell off.

    Here in US, I think if you got off the boat and left, they’d be calling Search and Rescue, and your story would be all over the local news.

    In fact, here in Southern CA, we get so little rain, that when we finally get an inch or two, you can go on the local tv news and all they talk about is the rain–“Storm Watch 2010”.

    BTW, I haven’t sent you a comment in quite awhile. You said somehow my comments were screwing up the system or something. Let me know if this causes any problems.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 17, 2010, 1:36 pm

      Good to hear from you again, Mike.

      Very true, these “excursions” often don’t cut it for me haha. I like to do my own thing by own way, look at what I want to look at.

      The problem was probably my comment system messing up your comments rather than the other way around haha. Keep the comments coming, they work fine.

      Welcome back.

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  • Caitlin December 17, 2010, 3:06 pm

    I’m with you on tours. I avoid them like the plague, not really because of cost but because I just don’t like being herded around like I’m a 10 year old on a school field trip. I think I can count on two hands the number of tours I’ve been on in the last five years.

    Volcano Pacaya tour (4 times… that’s right I have climbed Pacaya FOUR TIMES because people kept visiting me in Guatemala.) This one is worth it because you can’t really climb the volcano without the tour (though you’d doubtless find a way to save 5 bucks :P)

    Snorkel tour in Belize. This one cost a small fortune, but it was a birthday present from my brother and I have to say it was really really cool. (But then again, it cost a fortune so it should have.)

    Tour of an old neighborhood in Burkina Faso – complete waste of money. He just kept leading us to his friends’ artisan stores.

    Camel tour, northern Burkina Faso – this was worth it, I suppose, because I don’t think camels do freelance. Even so, despite bringing 4 litres of water I get dehydrated and headstroke so it was a horrible day.

    Canopy tour, Kakum national park, Ghana: Well, you weren’t allowed to go on the canopy without the tour.

    There you go. That’s it. Most of the time I only took the tour in order to be able to see the thing I wanted to see.

    Hope when you guys get to DF you’ll want to cough up a bit of cash to go booze cruising in Xochimilco… with a bunch of people it’s pretty cheap and you can bring your own beer and it’s my absolute favourite place in Mexico City.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 17, 2010, 6:49 pm

      Right on, some places are real cool and can only be accessed with a tour or with hired guides. When in the Peruvian Amazon I had to hire guides to spend some weeks in the jungle — I could not have done this alone, I don’t often travel with a canoe packed in my bag nor do I know much about the river systems in this part of the world. But I just hired some guys in a jungle town to do it, not through a company, and it was way worth it.

      Looking forward to going booze cruising with you, whatever that is haha.

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  • aimee November 11, 2012, 7:01 pm

    I loved reading this. My family and I were just there a week ago, and we had a very similar tour… except the boat broke down and we were stuck on a beach with no road access for an hour. We snorkeled despite the waves and my 6 year old daughter and I were rolled over the table of coral and cut into ribbons. We had to be rescued from the water by the young operator of the lancha. As I sit here, my scabs are still peeling. The difference is I loved it… I knew it was a tourist trip and I took it anyway. I live in Oaxaca and I have plenty of opportunities for off the beaten path travel – I don’t mind doing the tourist thing once in a while. Especially since my Oaxacan husband and my native-caliber Spanish often afford me the chance to talk to people in a way that the average tourist can’t. The kid who ran our boat, for example, was born and raised in Puerto Angel, had a brother in LA, and had taken the motor to be fixed just the day before. He was pissed, and he and my husband enjoyed the time spent waiting for the second lancha drinking beer and cursing mechanics.

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    • Wade Shepard November 11, 2012, 7:37 pm

      This is a really excellent perspective to have. Tours are a part of the world we live in, when they’re not too expensive why not enjoy them? But, on the other hand, the nature of tourism seems to allow many very unscrupulous operators to exist. I went on a snorkeling tour where we couldn’t go snorkeling 🙂 Good thing it only cost a few bucks. The beach we went to was nice, and the walk back after escaping from the tour enjoyable.

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