Diving in Cancun
discover an amazing underground world
Just south of the Hotel Zone sits the second largest coral reef barrier in the world and the biggest one in the Northern Hemisphere. It runs all the way from México to the Honduras coast, and between Cancun and Isla Mujeres it features a number of very famous coral formations. This well-preserved reef is at an accessible depth for beginner scuba divers and you’ll find diving tours at nearly every marina within the Hotel Zone.
Outside of Cancun, the whole Riviera Maya is your underwater playground. It’s easy to get to and has many places for practicing scuba diving, like Puerto Morelos, Akumal, Puerto Aventuras and Tulum.
Cancun is also close to the whole Yucatán Peninsula, an area famous for its underground rivers and caves. Most of them have been explored and are opened to the public.
Cozumel is accessible from Playa del Carmen or you can take a short flight to the island from Cancun and dive its famous coral reef. Divers come to this reef to see its beautiful walls.
The Mexican Caribbean, including Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, offers an incredible array of diving opportunities for every skill level and preference. All of your diving needs can be taken care of while visiting this area, including:
- Snorkeling and scuba diving tours
- Diving lessons for beginners and advanced divers (usually PADI)
- Rentals and sales of state of the art diving equipment for snorkeling and scuba diving.
- Diving equipment repair.
- Tank refills.
- Highly qualify guides (usually PADI) who speak different languages.
- Photographic and video equipment for rent.
- Decompression chambers.
- Diving medicine.
Whether you want to dive in the deep ocean or swim underground in an ancient cave system, this part of the world has it all.
Here is a list of this region’s recreational scuba options:
- Free diving or snorkeling in shallow areas closest to the coast, in cenotes and around the surface of coral reef barriers.
- Snuba diving – or submarine walks – in shallow areas, wearing a helmet.
- Autonomous ocean diving using tanks to access greater depths.
- Autonomous diving with tanks in caverns and cenotes, wearing specialized equipment and adhering to strict access requirements.
The most common areas for autonomous diving are: Cancun
Cancun treasuries a diver’s dream, with water temperatures from 21°C to 29°C; a visibility between 16 to 32 meters and a depth between 6 to 40 meters.
The reefs located near Cancun are coral reef banks. They are part of a protected natural park and very well preserved. They are surrounded by an incredible variety of marine flora and fauna, as well as sunken boats and interesting natural phenomena unique to this region.
In Cancun, expert diving services are available for beginners and advanced divers, as well as medical assistance should that become necessary. Even though there are lots of great dive spots, the most popular ones are:
- Punta Nizuc Marine Reserve, a big extension to the south of Cancun where the reef barrier starts.
- Punta Cancun Marine Reserve, an area that extends from Playa Tortugas to the Dreams hotel. Known for a great variety of tropical fauna ideal for shallow diving and beginners.
- Other diving areas of interest include Chitales, Grampin, La Herradura, Manchones and lots more between Isla Mujeres and Cancun.
Cenotes & Caverns
The word cenote comes from the Mayan word “dzonot” which means an underground well. Diving in cenotes and caverns became popular in Quintana Roo during the ‘80s when globe-traveling divers discovered the wide selection of dives in this area. It quickly became a favorite place to practice this sport.
Cenotes are formed over many years as rain shapes the soft, porous limestone rock that makes up the Yucatán Peninsula. The underground erosion forms caverns and intricate tunnels, and the water forms pools. Sometimes the erosion is so severe that the surface collapses and a cenote opens up for exploration. This part of the world has many charted cenotes, all the way from Quintana Roo to Central America, and they are breathtakingly beautiful, ancient and mysterious.
Diving in cenotes and spelunking are high-risk sports that require very specific and advanced skills. There are courses and guides to teach one how to dive in cenotes and they are taught by highly qualified professionals. Some of these pros can be contacted in Cancun and along the coast. There are also tours in some parks where entire families can snorkel and hike through the safer cenotes.
Even though there are over 50 cenotes in this area, generally, the most recommended ones are:
- Cenotes in the area of Puerto Aventuras, C. Chacmool, Cristal and the Escondido.
- Cenote Nohoch Chic, Cenote Tankah, Laba Há, Kantuchi, Dos Ojos, Cenote Azul, Xpuhá, Xcaret, and Xelhá are located along the route near Puerto Morelos.
Isla Mujeres is 45 minutes away from Cancun’s Hotel Zone by boat and there are many marinas that offer tours to the island. There you will find approximately 10 wonderful places to practice snorkeling and diving in the Isla Mujeres Marine Reserve. The tons of fish put on a very colorful show and the water is absolutely sparkling.
- Garrafón is a protected nature park dedicated to eco-tourism and preservation. It’s thriving reef gets you very close to all sorts of marine life and the park has many wonderful sights and amenities.
- Two other spectacular diving locations on Isla Mujeres: El Arco and El Puente. Both are recommended for experienced divers.
- El Farito is popular, as is Los Manchones with its coral flowerbeds that grow up to 5 meters tall.
- And from the side of Bahía de Mujeres, visitors rave about La Cruz Submarina and La Virgen de la Bahía.
Contoy is a biosphere reserve and protected habitat of marine birds that are both migratory and native to the Mexican Caribbean. It is close to three coral reefs including Las Calderas, Arrecifes Ixlache and Barco Hundido. Divers report that the visibility conditions are excellent in this area even though you have to be careful of the undertow.
Mother nature was generous with Cancun. It is surrounded by a tropical, rich rainforest full of wild fauna. Its stunning coast spills into warm, turquoise waters that sparkle under the sun. And just beneath the sea, the area’s aquatic life explodes with abundant color and beauty.
This unique landscape has made the Riviera Maya an ideal destination for snorkeling and diving. Whether you prefer shallow or deep water, you should consider exploring a few of these noteworthy areas:
- Puerto Morelos, a small town whose main attraction is the coral reef located only 500 meters away from the beach. This area is a protected zone and to get there you need to go with a scuba or snorkeling tour. Sign up at the town’s local dock.
- Xcaret, an eco-archeological park with an emphasis on culture, ecology, aquatic sports, wellness and health. The park invites all levels to come snorkel and dive. It also offers Snuba, which combines scuba diving technology with the freedom of snorkeling in water as deep as six meters, and a Seatrek experience where you can walk along the ocean floor wearing a helmet for breathing.
- Akumal, a small village located 100 km south of Cancun, has almost 2 km of wide beaches. All of them are protected by coral reef barriers, which makes this a paradise for snorkeling and diving.
- Xelhá, a real jewel located 115 km away from Cancun, is where waters from the Caribbean Sea meet the coast. This creates a vibrant inlet where water crashes and splashes around a number of cenotes. Xelhá is a monitored nature reserve where marine species can safely reproduce and be admired without the harmful risk human impact.
- Tulum also has excellent conditions for scuba diving because of the coral reef barriers that run in front of its beach hotels.
Cozumel is surrounded by warm, clear water that is home to a vast amount of sea life. With a visibility from 40 and 50 meters, it is one of the best scuba and snorkeling destinations in the world. Dive spots along Cozumel are classified for all kinds of divers, from beginners to intermediate and advanced levelsFor beginners
- Chankanaab (a natural park) is a lagoon where you can dive and snorkel around extraordinary coral formations. Access is through a really cool tunnel. It also has an attractive botanical garden, swimming with dolphins, a museum, restaurant, dressing rooms and snorkeling and diving equipment for rent.
- Beginner divers should also check out Arrecifes Paraíso Norte, Paraíso Sur, La Herradura (extraordinarily beautiful), Pared de Villa Blanca and Jardines de Palancar.
- Arrecifes San Francisco, Punta Tunich, Tormentos, Paseos del Cedral and Santa Rosa are all great spots. Santa Rosa has a vertical wall with an extension of hundreds of meters and it’s very popular in Cozumel.
- Arrecife Palancar is the most famous place in Cozumel because it allows you to enjoy a big mountain of intricate coral reef formations with unrivalled marine life. The less deep areas are from 6 to 12 meters and the deepest ones are from 30 to 37 meters. It has four entry points: Los Jardines, La Herradura, Las Cuevas and the Profunda Zone, all of them support different dive levels.
- The Colombia Reef is as beautiful as Palancar. It features several coral reef formations creating canyons and very deep gullies. This is an excellent place to watch anemones and other sticky organisms that adhere to the reef in a depth between 23 to 30 meters.
- Arrecifes de Punta Sur is a perfect place for experienced divers. Its depth is between 27 to 37 meters. Here you can observe extraordinary scenery teeming with exotic marine life. Highly recommended for night diving.
Learning to Dive
You will find a large number of diving schools in this area, and all of them have a first class reputation and adhere to the highest standards. The minimum age to be certified as a sport diver is 12 years old and divers under 18 years old require permission from their parents to dive. There is no maximum age, as long as the diver is in good health.
To choose a diving school, you should check to make sure that the instructors are PADI, NAUI or BSAC certified. These organizations represent the best in diving instruction.
- PADI: The Professional Association of Diving Instructors is represented in 87 countries and certifies almost 85% of the world’s divers. In Quintana Roo, this is the most represented certification.
- NAUI: The National Association of Underwater Instructors is less popular in this area, but it’s as competent as PADI.
- BSAC: This is the British Scuba Aqua Club, which is well known in Europe and Japan. Some of our diving schools have instructors from this club.
Once a basic course is taken, you can continue taking additional specialized courses such as diving in sunken boats, diving in cenotes and caverns, or submarine photography. Even a Dive Master course can be completed.
All these courses are available in Cancun and throughout Quintana Roo. The certification or the “C” card is good for global use, but you must dive once a year to maintain it. Taking courses prior to your arrival is always recommended.
Marine Life Conservation
The northern coast of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo is home to the second longest coral reef barrier in the world. The Yucatán Current, a branch of the Gulf Current, contributes to the reef’s health by supplying water rich in nutrients. The area’s coastal mangroves also provide nutritious material to the reef and warm water helps this coastal ecosystem sustain its biological diversity.
Within this natural aquatic habitat, you will find an enormous number of fish species including shoals of deep-sea fish. The area also includes key migratory zones for many oceanic species and a huge variety of benthonic species that make their habitat along the sea floor.
Unfortunately, all of these ecosystems are very fragile. Human and environmental influences can greatly impact the area and damage the slow growing coral banks before they can regenerate. The same is true for the sea life. Because of this susceptibility, dive tour operators and local residents have adopted strict environmental conservation rules to protect and preserve the local marine life.
While the locals are grateful for tourism, it has impacted the closest coral reef. So have three large-scale hurricanes that occurred over the past 20 years. In an effort to correct the damage to the Quintana Roo coast, authorities have imposed policies to protect all of the diving areas, including reefs, walls and downs. Most dive spots have been declared protected zones or natural reserves, and all visitors are asked to follow these guidelines while safely exploring the area:
- Do not touch or move coral, objects or any animal at the bottom of the sea.
- Do not take any living organism of any kind out of the water.
- Never pull seaweed, plants or coral out of the water.
- Use of harpoons and fishing nets are forbidden.
- Do not interfere with the migration or nesting of animals, including fish, sharks, turtles, birds or marine mammals.
- Never litter or throw any plastic waste or garbage into the water.
- Only use natural sun block or suntan lotion when you go into the water.
- Do not swim, snorkel or dive alone.
- Always notify the hotel where you will be when taking part in any aquatic activity. This helps them ensure your safe return.
It’s important to make sure that the tour company you hire has all the required legal permissions for your activity. You should also check the equipment and confirm with the tour guide your location, pick up, drop off, duration, outing details, and emergency plans.
It is also recommended that you leave your diving plan details at the hotel or with someone you. By telling them your estimated time of return, you guarantee that someone will look out for you and be able to take action should that be needed.
Specialized Medical Services and Decompression Chamber
Diving has two kinds of risks: decompression and arterial embolism caused by gas. Both of these are treated as emergencies. In Quintana Roo, there are hyperbaric chambers available to treat people in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. All of the companies that provide diving services have emergency access to these hyperbaric chambers.
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