May 19, 2015
Located beside the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea, the Riviera Maya is the perfect place to enjoy some amazing scuba diving near Cancun. Whether you’re a beginner or have logged plenty of dives, the waters here are teeming with spectacular coral and marine life. Here’s a guide to some of the best dive sites in the area, from shipwrecks and steep wall dives to relaxed reefs.
This popular reef can be busy with divers and snorkelers during the day, but come here on a night dive and you’ll be able to admire the reef without the crowds. Explore Manchones with flashlights to observe some of the more elusive marine life, usually hidden away in the caves and corals during daylight hours. You’ll also see plenty of sea turtles, eels and octopus. At 40 feet, this site is good for beginners and advanced divers alike.
This wreck dive is a 45-minute boat ride from Isla Mujeres, but it is well worth the journey. Nearly 100 feet below the surface, this large cargo ship is home to turtles, rays, grouper and barracuda. This is the site to dive if you want to see larger fish. Definitely an adventure for advanced divers, the site is known as “˜El Frio’ meaning “˜cold’ in Spanish, as the water chills considerably just before you reach the wreck, giving the place an eerie quality.
If you’ve never tried a drift dive (where the current pushes you through the water, for an effortless ride), then make sure to visit No Name. Big schools of snapper, grouper and triggerfish are all common in this area, as are moray eels, turtles and nurse sharks. At a depth of 52 feet, the current will fly you along for up to two miles making this site a popular option for advanced divers. And it is easy to reach, just a 30-minute boat ride from Isla Mujeres.
The Aquarium, a 15-minute boat ride from Puerto Morelos, is the ideal spot for beginners looking to try their hand at diving near Cancun. This site lives up to its name, with large schools of French grunts and pork fish, plus lobster, eels, trumpet fish, turtles, rays and puffer fish. At a depth of 40 to 50 feet, there are large formations of finger corals, sea fans, sponges and small canyons to explore.
For advanced divers who like to go a bit deeper, the C-56 Juan Escutia shipwreck, 20 minutes from Puerto Morelos, is the site to head to. This WWII US Navy gun ship is encrusted in corals and has large holes where divers can enter the wreck and follow safety lines to explore the two levels. The wreck lies at a depth of 90 feet, and you can look out for stingrays, tuna and barracuda. During the winter months you will also see migrating spotted eagle rays.
Gatas, 20 minutes from Puerto Morelos, is where scuba instructors go fun diving near Cancun. This advanced drift dive has depths of 90 to 120 feet, and you can glimpse nurse sharks, turtles and lobsters here. Adrenaline junkies can join a lion fish spear hunting tour of Gatas. Lion fish are a venomous fish that has invaded the Caribbean sea in large numbers and endanger the local marine life, so divers have been permitted to hunt them to control their numbers. Fortunately, lion fish are tasty to eat so you can enjoy a feast after your dive.
Playa Del Carmen, with its warm water and good visibility is one of the top places in the world to dive with bull sharks. Advanced divers can swim with the sharks from November to March at depths of 60 to 80 feet. Bull sharks are a fierce ocean predator reaching up to four meters in length, who feed on fish, turtles and even other sharks. It is recommended to dive with a tour operator who does not feed or bait the sharks, instead, search them out in their natural environment to get close to these beautiful creatures.
Without question, Cozumel offers some of the best diving near Cancun. With absurdly good visibility (100 to 200 feet), swift current and steep walls, there are many dive sites to explore with an abundance of marine life including turtles, sharks, crabs, squid and seahorses. A good starting point for beginners and intermediate divers is Palancar. This huge reef tops a 3000-foot sloping wall with many swim-throughs. There are also towering rock spires and cliffs, which are covered in magnificent corals and sponges.
This wall dive is very popular so plan your trip in the afternoon to dodge the crowds. The wall is for advanced divers and has some great swim-throughs where you can see French grunts and schoolmasters. You can reach depths of over 100 feet, and the moderate current gives divers the feeling of racing along a cliff. Common sightings among the rocky outcrops and sponges include giant parrotfish, angelfish, toadfish and green moray eels.
Puerto Aventuras has some good dives for beginners and advanced divers who are looking for a relaxed experience without crowds of other divers around. The dive sites are close to shore and the current is usually mild. Caones has spectacular coral canyons with many different sponges and corals. You will be able to view turtles, lobsters, porcupine fish, rays and barracudas here, as well as friendly turtles, who will often let you swim alongside them.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Cancun from London Gatwick, making it the ideal diving destination.
Have you been scuba diving in Cancun? What are your favourite dive sites? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Catherine Gordon