Are you in the Riviera Maya and want to enjoy some of the best diving sites? In Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you’ll find top spots for diving in Mexico, boasting diverse marine life and breathtaking underwater landscapes. The Caribbean coast’s coral reefs teem with tropical fish and marine life, including sharks, turtles, and the elusive whale shark. But the real gem of this region is cenote diving – a unique and unforgettable experience that can only be found in Mexico. These underwater caves offer a one-of-a-kind environment that you won’t want to miss.
Diving in Cancún and Playa del Carmen
- Diving in Cancun and Playa del Carmen
- Best places to dive in Cancun and Playa del Carmen
- Take a diving course in Cancun or Playa del Carmen
- Safety when traveling through Mexico
- Useful resources for your trip
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Best diving spots in Cancun and Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen and Cancun are both home to some of the best diving spots in Mexico. From the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean sea to the unique cenotes, there’s no shortage of places to explore the underwater treasures of this beautiful country. Below I’ve listed some of the most impressive spots for you to discover and experience for yourself.
Diving site: Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos, a lesser-known but equally impressive dive destination, sits halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It boasts a wide variety of options for divers of all skill levels, including the Puerto Morelos National Reef Park. The park is one of the best places for diving in the Mexican Caribbean, and it’s home to an abundance of marine life, corals and breathtaking underwater landscapes.
For experienced divers, the Shark Caves are an exciting and unforgettable adventure. These complex underwater caverns are home to a variety of sharks, including nurse sharks and bull sharks. During the winter months, eagle rays can be seen in large numbers, making for a truly impressive sight.
For beginners, the reef is a perfect place to see coral and fish in shallow, safe waters. Its depth varies, but in some areas, it’s as shallow as 2 meters, making for excellent visibility. Due to the depth of the area, it’s also a great spot for snorkeling, allowing even non-divers to enjoy the marine life.
Advanced divers will also find something to love in Puerto Morelos, with the sunken gunboat being a particularly attractive dive site. This former Mexican Navy ship was intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef, and it sits at a depth of between 25 and 30 meters, with a moderate current. However, it’s worth noting that it’s recommended only for advanced divers who have reached the Advanced diving level.
In summary, Puerto Morelos is a fantastic dive destination that offers something for divers of all skill levels.
Scuba diving in the Mesoamerican Reef
The Mesoamerican Reef is a world-renowned diving destination, stretching along the Caribbean coast of Mexico. It’s home to the Great Belt of Reefs, the second largest coral reef system in the world, and is part of the West Coast of Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancun, and Punta Nizuc National Park, spanning 8,673 hectares.
Diving in the Great Belt of Reefs in Mexico is a unique experience, since you’ll have the chance to witness a great variety of marine species, such as dolphins, turtles of various species (like Hawksbill, White, and Green), the famous loggerhead, manatees, fish of colors, starfish, sponges, black sea urchins, and various types of corals. All this, set against a backdrop of paradisiacal beaches.
The Mesoamerican Reef extends for approximately 1,000 kilometers across four countries, with Quintana Roo being the only state in Mexico that runs through this system, which is the second largest barrier reef in the world.
The best time to dive in the Mesoamerican Reef is all year round, as the water temperature stays relatively constant (between 25°C and 28°C) and the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea offer incredible visibility. The abundance of marine life and the beauty of the reef make it an ideal destination for diving enthusiasts.
In addition, the wealth of marine fauna and the beauty of the reef make this place an ideal destination for diving lovers. It’s a one-of-a-kind diving site where you can enjoy a unique diving experience in a spectacular natural environment. If you’re seeking an exciting underwater adventure, the Mesoamerican Reef is the perfect place for you.
Diving spot: Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a small island located just off the coast of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. One of its main draws is the Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), an incredible contemporary art installation located within the Marine Park of Isla Mujeres and Cancun. This underwater museum features 500 life-size sculptures created by 6 different artists, which can be viewed while scuba diving or snorkeling.
What sets the Museo Subacuático de Arte apart is its conservation purpose, as it was created by a non-profit organization with the goal of providing protection for marine fauna and helping to propagate living corals.
The installation is located a short distance from the shores of Isla Mujeres, spanning 420 square meters, and is truly impressive. Visitors can view sculptures on a wide range of subjects, from submerged cars to sea serpents to mermaids. These sculptures are not just for show, however. The special cement used to make the sculptures helps to form reefs and aid in the restoration and protection of the marine ecosystem.
It’s a unique opportunity to appreciate art and nature simultaneously. And the diving in this area is spectacular, as you’ll have the chance to see a wide variety of marine life and corals, including turtles!
Scuba diving in Cozumel
Diving in Cozumel is experiencing a true paradise, thanks to its abundance of shallow reefs and diverse marine life. It’s one of the premier diving spots right off the coast of Playa del Carmen, offering a unique panorama for diving among tropical fish like parrot fish, cat sharks, nurse sharks and rays, turtles, and colorful reefs.
One of the highlights of Cozumel is the Santa Rosa wall, where you can take in the spectacular sponges and a wide variety of corals. You’ll also have the chance to spot crabs, lobsters, groupers, snappers, giant moray eels, and frogfish.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, Cozumel offers a wide range of underwater options, from exploring shipwrecks, mysterious tunnels, and fascinating limestone caves to admiring coral skeletons.
Diving in the Cenotes
Diving in the cenotes of Mexico is a unique and distinct experience compared to diving in the open sea. The Quintana Roo region is known for its limestone rock formations, which led to the creation of the Sac Actun System, the largest underground river system in the world. This system connects various cenotes through underwater cave passages.
In the Mexican Caribbean, there are over 2,500 cenotes and 407 flooded caves, and the formations you’ll encounter underwater are truly awe-inspiring. Some of the most popular cenotes for diving include Cenote Angelita, Chac Mool, Tajma Ha, the Dos Ojos system, and Cenote Zapote.
While diving through these underwater caves may seem exciting at first, it’s important to remember that it can be very dangerous. That’s why it’s crucial to have an experienced instructor who knows the cenotes well and can navigate them easily.
Some of the most popular cenotes in the area include the Taj-Mahal (25 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen), which is made up of four interconnected cenotes. Another highly sought-after cenote for diving is Dos Ojos, located north of Tulum. It got its name because it looks like two eyes when seen from above, it’s formed by two cenotes connected to each other.
Diving in Mahahual
Mahahual is a picturesque fishing village located on the Mexican Caribbean coast, which is home to one of Mexico’s most spectacular underwater treasures: the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve. This protected natural area is home to the largest coral atoll in the country, boasting a wide diversity of marine species that can be easily observed up close.
The reserve’s shallow waters make it a great spot for beginner divers to explore and potentially spot manatees and even American crocodiles! Other species that can be found in the area include manta rays, groupers, and loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles.
In addition, the marine reserve boasts over 60 sunken ships dating back from the 16th to the 20th century, making it a paradise for divers and history enthusiasts. It’s truly an adventure in the Caribbean, but it’s worth noting that these deeper dives are intended for more experienced divers.
Beyond diving, Mahahual offers a variety of other activities to enjoy as well. You can relax on its white sand beaches, go snorkeling, or simply take in the peaceful atmosphere of the town.
Scuba diving spot: Akumal
Akumal is a fantastic spot for diving in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico. Located just 105 kilometers from Cancun and 40 kilometers from Playa del Carmen, it’s a small paradise for turtles and offers a wide variety of diving sites and environments.
Loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles are commonly spotted in the area as they come to lay their eggs every summer.
With 12 different dive sites to explore, the water temperature is pleasant and visibility is generally excellent. Additionally, most of the sites are protected from strong currents, making it an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced divers.
Diving off the coast of Akumal is particularly unique as the coral formations include typical caverns and canyons, creating “mountains” and structures home to a diverse array of marine life.
Travel tip: If you’re planning a trip to the Tulum area, I highly recommend staying in Akumal or one of the nearby beaches. While Tulum has cheaper accommodation options and more restaurants, it’s not the most picturesque place and it’s farther from the beach. Overall, it’s not the best choice if you want to fully enjoy the sunsets and natural beauty of the area.
gETTING padi/ssi CERTIFIED
If you’re unsure about whether or not you’ll enjoy diving, you can try a “baptism dive” which is essentially a dive in open water with an instructor who will be with you the whole time to ensure your safety. This way you can decide if you want to continue diving.
Personally, I did my Open Water certification in Playa del Carmen because it’s located in front of the second largest barrier reef in the world and also because there’s a lot of tourism, which makes prices more competitive than in other places.
The underwater landscape during the 4 dives that I did in Playa del Carmen was quite flat with a lot of fan corals (in purple tones), mole mulberry trees (which are really pretty) and green giants (which are spectacular) and also saw turtles, lion fish, crabs and rays.
Although the dives were nice, they were not very spectacular. I suppose that since it was an initiation course, they were looking for calm dives for beginners. These first dives were particularly good for me, I really enjoyed seeing the animals and my instructor was great.
Also, during the first few times you dive you’re very focused on buoyancy and breathing and survival, and you don’t pay as much attention to your surroundings as you do on subsequent dives (at least that was the case for me).
Is it a good idea to get certified in Cancun or Playa del Carmen?
Without a doubt! And after getting certified I would recommend doing your next dives in Cozumel and a cenote, to be able to enjoy them with more calm and a little more expertise.
If you’re on the fence about getting your Open Water certification, let me tell you that diving is amazing and you’ll hardly regret it. Also, in some places, they only allow certified divers (Open Water, Advanced) to dive. So, considering that it’s only a 3-day course and then you’ll have a nice card that accredits you as a diver, it’s not much effort to get certified.
Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Mexico is a country where violent crime, such as robbery, homicide, and kidnapping, is common. There are states that it is not recommended to travel to ecause of safety reasons. Bellow, you’ll find a list of the places that you should avoid.
The following states are not recommended for travel: Colima, Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas. And take extra precautions in Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico State, Morelos, Nayarit, Sonora, and Zacatecas.
Remember to follow these recommendations:
- In case of robbery, do not resist physically.
- Do not show a high purchasing power, that is, do not go with jewels, bags, etc … that are expensive.
- Be careful if you go out at night, and stay in crowded places where you are surrounded by other people.
- Thefts are usual (at guntpoint and during daytime), so don’t go with the camera or mobile in your hand or hang out of your neck.
- Try to avoid carrying the backpack on the back. Put it in front of you, or use a belt pouch or a cross bag.
I, personally, spent 4 months solo traveling around Mexico (I was in Puerto Escondido + Chacahua, Huatulco, Mexico City, Holbox, Merida, Valladolid, Tulum, Bacalar, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen) and I didn’t find myself in any dangerous situation.
Although in most of these places murders took place in the middle of the street and people staying in the same hostel as me were robbed at gunpoint. But don’t let this scare you! Traveling to Mexico is totally possible, in fact it is a country with a lot of tourism.
In any case, it is always a good idea to have a TRAVEL INSURANCE that can compensate you economically and help you if a medical emergency arises.
If you are interested in traveling alone, I recommend this article on the reasons and benefits of solo traveling and this other article with tips for traveling alone as a woman. I encourage you to try it as it is a great and very beneficial experience for oneself.
Useful resources for your trip
While you’re getting ready for your trip, don’t forget to find a flight that fits your needs and budget. With this easy and efficient guide on how to find CHEAP FLIGHTS step-by-step, you’ll be able to snag the perfect flight for your pocketbook.
When it comes to financial aspect of your trip, it’s important to also think about how you will MANAGE your MONEY and cash once you arrive in the country or if you decide to travel by plane. Additionally, these tricks on how to WASH your CLOTHES during your trip, whether you’re staying in a hotel, camping, or dorm, can help you save money and keep your clothes fresh.
If you’re eager to explore the world but have a limited budget, a popular option is to VOLUNTEER while TRAVELING volunteer while traveling. This approach allows you to experience other cultures while also giving back, and it’s also a great way to travel solo and meet new people.
If the idea of traveling alone interests you and you want to learn more, be sure to check out this post where I discuss all the BENEFITS of SOLO TRAVEL and how it can change you. And, if you are a woman, I highly recommend reading these tips for TRAVELING SOLO as a WOMAN, they will give you insight on how to ensure your safety while traveling and how to choose the right destination and avoid any unsafe situations.
Before I say goodbye, I want to share one final tip with you. From my personal experience, I understand how challenging it can be to TRAVEL while staying VEGAN. That’s why I’ve put together a comprehensive guide filled with advice for traveling as a vegan. Inside, you’ll find plenty of suggestions for ordering vegan meals at restaurants, information on where to purchase vegan personal care products, and even tips on how to prepare food in your hotel room!