Cozumel and the Riviera Maya Scuba Diving
by Nick Lucey
Once a collection of small fishing villages, the portion of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula containing the Riviera Maya and island of Cozumel has evolved into one of the Caribbean's most popular, dynamic tourist destinations. It offers the perfect mix of dive opportunities, cultural experiences, shopping and adventure. It's enough to satisfy the most hardcore diver and landlubber alike.
HOT DIVE SITES
This current-washed Caribbean dive icon has been made famous by sites such as Punta Sur, about an hour's boat ride from most docks. This advanced dive pays off with dramatic walls, caverns and fissures brimming with life, including angelfish, butterflyfish and loads of invertebrates. The Devil's Throat is perhaps the most famous spot in this reef system. This cavern opens up into an ethereal, underwater cathedral.
Find a PADI Dive Center in Cozumel
While many fly into Cancun and continue to other points in the region, you shouldn't overlook Cancun's reef system. Some of the more popular sites include Punta Cancun, Playa Tortugas, Manchones, La Bandera, El Tunnel and Punta Nizuc.
Find a PADI Dive Center in Cancun
Playa del Carmen, Akumal and Tulum
South of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is a bustling town with a European vibe. Topside, you'll find sidewalk cafes, al fresco shopping and white sand beaches. Along the water you'll find watersports and dive opportunities galore. Akumal and Tulum, both south of Playa, are sleepy seaside villages that offer a glimpse into the Yucatan of yesterday. Generally, the dive sites here are shallow with excellent visibility and boat rides are as short as five minutes. You're likely to see turtles barracuda, stingrays, lobsters and nurse sharks.
Find a PADI Dive Center in Playa del Carmen
If you want to try something truly special, dive a cenote. These deep, freshwater-filled sinkholes formed when the roofs of limestone caverns collapsed and filled with water. The Yucatan's elaborate cenotes have intricate cave systems and underground tunnels that draw divers from around the globe. Many cenotes boast pristine turquoise waters and a beautiful array of stalagmites and stalactites formed over millions of years.
Depth: It depends on the location, but sites range roughly from 10-30 metres/ 30-100 feet.
Visibility: For open-ocean dives off the Riviera Maya, visibility can range from 12 metres/40 feet in the winter to 23 metres/75 feet in the summer. Visibility in the cenotes and caverns is only limited by the quality of your vision. Cozumel visibility is usually higher, around 24-30 metres/80-100 feet.
Currents: Currents are generally mild in the Riviera Maya, but can be strong at sites like Playa Tortugas. Be sure to check with your dive center or resort before each dive. Cozumel, on the other hand, is known for its drift diving, so currents can be significantly stronger.
Water Temperature: Water temperatures average between 25-28° C/77-82° F in winter and 27-29° C/81-85° F in summer. A light to medium wetsuit or skin is recommended. You’ll want to wear something a little thicker in the cenotes.
Dive Season: You can dive year-round, but keep in mind that hurricane season runs from July through November. December through March is the busiest tourist season.
Weather: Air temperatures range from 18-32° C/65-90° F. The rainy season is from May through October and the dry season is November through April. May and June have the highest humidity.
Skill Level: With shallow reefs, mild currents and colorful marine life, the Riviera Maya is one of the best places to learn to dive. Intermediate to expert divers will enjoy reefs and wrecks, while properly trained technical divers will head for the cenotes and cave systems. There’s a dive site for every skill level on Cozumel.
Featured Creatures: The Riviera Maya has an abundance of hawksbill turtles and it’s common to see at least one on each dive. Other sightings include eagle rays, moray eels, lobsters, spadefish, parrotfish, creole wrasse, trumpetfish, angelfish and the usual Caribbean reef species. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of lemon sharks, nurse sharks and possibly even manatees on certain dives. Cozumel has it all, with the added intrigue of seeing an endemic species called the splendid toadfish.
Scuba Gear: Most dive centers and resorts have gear rentals, but it’s always a good idea to pack your own mask, fins, snorkel and regulator. This will allow you to be ready to snorkel at any time.
Access: Boat ride times vary widely depending on your point of origin and the dive site. Some Cozumel's best sites will be a longer trip south.
Major Airports: Most divers heading to the Riviera Maya will want to fly into Cancun's Cancún International Airport (CUN), while the Cozumel International Airport (CZM) serves the island. Divers headed to Cozumel also fly into Cancun, take ground transport to Playa del Carmen, then hop a ferry to the island.
Transportation: Taxis and hire cars are your best bet in Cozumel. If you’re headed to Playa del Carmen, hop in a “collectivo” at Cancun airport and share the cost with fellow tourists for a quick, cheap ride.
Length of Stay: You'll want to stay at least a week to settle into the groove. Remember, there’s always mañana.
Language: Spanish, though English is also widely spoken in tourist areas.
Currency: Mexican peso (MXN). The US Dollar (USD) is also widely accepted.
Documents: Visitors from many countries can enter Mexico as visitors for up to 180 days with a valid passport. Check the INM site for details.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Electricity: 120V/60Hz and plug types A and B (those used in the United States). Some older buildings may only have type A, so you may want to bring a converter that changes from type B to type A.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Airlines normally collect the $22 US entry fee on behalf of the Mexican government and include it in the cost of the ticket.
For more information, visit www.rivieramaya.com or www.cozumel.travel.
Nick Lucey was an editor at Scuba Diving Magazine for 15 years and now hosts a dive travel television show called Into the Drink.