What’s the best thing about diving in Cozumel? First of all, it’s in Mexico, one of our favorite vacation destinations in the world. The energy of the Yucatan Peninsula is always fun and upbeat and the minute we get off the plane, we can’t help but feel happy. Second, the waters of Cozumel have pristine coral reefs filled with an abundance of underwater wildlife that can be seen with amazing clarity. Cozumel is known for its crystal clear waters with visibility reaching over 100 feet.
Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island, located a short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. In 1961 Jacques Cousteau discovered the magnificent diving here and declared the area as one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. Thanks in part to the popularity of diving in these waters, they were declared a national marine park in 1996. This has allowed the reef to thrive and the wildlife to flourish, making for one of the most sensational diving experiences you’re likely to ever have, with wildlife and colorful reefs waiting to be seen at every turn.
Viewfinder Tip: Never touch or stand on coral. Diving places great stress on an ecosystem and responsible operators help protect the reef rather than destroy it.
Our trip to Cozumel was our first diving trip outside of Canada. I think Cozumel is the perfect trip for a first dive like this, since there is something for all levels and interests. The visibility is second to none and the water is warm. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced diver, you’ll be astounded by the diversity of diving in Cozumel.
On the Boat out to the dive site
I’ll never forget going from diving the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River in Canada to experiencing the clarity of Palancar Reef in Mexico. We had never seen such beauty. A highlight was swimming through Palancar Garden and witnessing the amazing coral pillars jutting up from the sandy seabed. We swam through arches and around mountains of coral. Diving gives you the feeling of being on another planet and Cozumel definitely has an out-of-this-world landscape.
Clear waters of Cozumel
Cozumel is known for its swift current and it was here that we enjoyed many drift dives. We hopped in the water, relaxed, and then let the sea sweep us away. The fun of diving here is that you don’t have to work very hard while swimming, but just follow the current and you’ll drift lazily through the dive site with ease. While you can see spectacular reef systems and wildlife in merely 20 feet of water in Cozumel, we also managed many deep wall dives reaching 120 feet. The water is so clear that you don’t realize just how deep you are. It’s important to keep an eye on your gauges as it’s easy to dip past the 120-foot recreational dive limit.
Although diving deep is fun and exciting, our favorite dives were definitely the shallower dives. The underwater world is bursting with color that can’t be seen deep down. When you are in shallow waters, the sun ignites the coral and fish, making their colors more vibrant. In shallow water, your oxygen lasts longer, while wildlife is plentiful. There are over 250 species of fish in Cozumel and some of the highlights we saw on our dives included seahorses, trumpet fish, barracudas, eagle rays, and sharks. During one dive, we drifted above a black tip reef shark for most of our time underwater. He could have been drifting in the same current, or maybe we were just his entertainment for the day. Whatever it was, we were happy to have him along for the ride. At the end of another dive, we found ourselves in very shallow water with a sandy bottom covered in a field of starfish. There were so many of them, I thought that the dive operator may have put them all out on display to amuse their clients. I had never seen anything like it.
On the mainland
Cozumel’s main attraction may be the Palancar Reef, but a must for divers is to head to the mainland for a day to explore the extraordinary cenotes of the Riviera Maya. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes created by a cave ceiling collapsing. This sinkhole gives you access to underground rivers that can be explored by divers and snorkelers alike.
Choosing a dive vacation in Cozumel gives you plenty of time to explore underwater and because many of the dive sites are just a short boat ride away, it cuts the travel time down, giving you more time to enjoy the island above water as well. You can spend an entire week on the island of Cozumel and never get bored. It’s a world-class vacation destination with resorts and spas, nearly deserted beaches, and the lively downtown of San Miguel. There’s even a ruin or two to explore. After all, Cozumel is in the heart of the Mayan Riviera, once inhabited by the great Mayan nation. So if you do make your next diving vacation a trip to Cozumel, make sure to get out of the water every once in a while and see all the activities the island has to offer.
Where is your favorite diving destination in the world?
Header photo above of Cenote courtesy of Expert Vagabond