Image Credit: Robert Stansfield
Easy to get to and with an excellent range of diving to suit all tastes, Mexico gives one of the most convenient and exciting scuba dive spots in the world. From big classes encounters in the Sea of Cortez, to the serenity of the Yucatan’s cenotes, it is hard not to be blown away by the variety and range of the Mexican dive scene.
Moreover, Mexico is a wonderful family destination and great for non-divers, with a vast range of top-side activities and snorkeling adventures that are second-to-none. Here we pick our top dive places around Mexico and her outlying islands, showcasing the best of this picturesque region and its magnificent world-class diving.
SHARKS AND RAYS ABOUND
On a level with the Galapagos and Cocos Island, the Socorro Islands are a world-class UNESCO World Heritage Site claiming a bounty of shark classes and numerous pelagic giants in its Pacific ocean. The four islands that make up the Revillagigedo Archipelago sit 240 miles from Cabo San Lucas on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, and are only available via liveaboard. Diving here is not for the faint-hearted, as deep ocean currents and heavy weather batter the dramatic walls and pinnacles of the island’s coastline. But, for those willing to endure the often-rough 24-hour sea crossing, the awards are unique. Dive after dive will proffer amazing encounters with some true superstars of the undersea world.
Socorro’s status as a world-class shark destination comes into its own at Roca Partida, where dive after dive showcases the islands’ substantial marine diversity. Here, vast quantities of Galapagos, silky, and hammerhead sharks fin slowly into the strong current, while whitetip reef sharks pile up in the crevices along the rocky beach. Big game fish species such as tuna, wahoo, and marlin are attracted by bait balls of schooling jacks, as well as the random sighting of a whale shark or humpback whale.
Arguably the best location in the world to dive with oceanic manta rays, The Boiler is a submerged pinnacle used as a cleaning service by these gentle giants year-round. Divers can see from enticingly close by as mantas glide and swoop overhead, seeming to operate in their bubbles. The adventure is truly breathtaking, a rare chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures.
Socorro also has some very kind dolphins at Cabo Pearce, and no journey is complete without a dive communicating with this delightful pod.
A picturesque AQUARIUM OF MARINE LIFE
On Mexico’s northeastern coast, near Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the land of Cozumel revels in the warm waters of the Carribean Sea, and its barrier reef is home to an abundance of tropical species. Divers with packages to stay and dive in Cozumel enjoy easy drift dives along Cozumel’s steep but vibrant walls, with a bonanza of colorful hard corals, sponges, and gorgonians creating an aquarium backdrop for all manner of fish life, turtles, rays, and the specific reef shark.
There are above 45 dive places around Cozumel, with diving to suit all levels. The southern end of the land has been a marine park for more than 20 years, and the reef here is in excellent health with 100 different types of coral and over 260 varieties of fish. In the clear, superficial waters of the southern and northern reefs, divers will often encounter hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, and education jack, with moray eels, lobsters, and frogfish found hiding amongst the coral heads. Non-divers can also investigate the shallower reefs, with snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours to some of the Caribbean's most reliable sites.
Along Cozumel’s near-shore coastline, the dives become progressively more profound and more challenging towards the island's center. Exciting drop-offs and coral topography produce an elaborate maze ripe for exploration, and sites such as Palancar Reefs, Panta Sur, and Columbia feature colossal coral formations and swim-throughs full of marine life.
Cozumel is within comfortable reach of Playa del Carmen on the mainland, giving an excellent opportunity for day trips to dive and snorkel the famous cenotes. Accommodation options are numerous, from large all-inclusive hotels to small hostels, and AirBnB.
RIVIERA MAYA CENOTES
SURREAL SUBTERRANEAN ENCOUNTERS
Even the most seasoned diver is promised to be surprised by the spectacular rock structures and blue-green sunlight typical of the Mexican Cenotes. Placed in the Riviera Maya on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, this freshwater system of limestone sinkholes, caverns, and caves draws guests from all over the world to explore the vast network of subterranean channels.
Once underwater, follow small tunnels that curve and twist, before opening quickly into huge cathedral-like caves. Light and shadow flicker in competition against the ethereal limestone formations, where sunbeams pierce straggling vegetation hanging through collapsed rock.
The crystal clear water is filtered to such an extent that little marine life can survive. But, diving here is all about underwater topography. Snorkelers and divers of all levels can enjoy the unique scenery where large entrance caves connect to dimly lit caverns, providing a safe start to cave diving. At the boundary among the caverns and caves, signs warn of the risks and technical experience needed for full cave diving.
PELAGICS COMING IN TO FEED
Two interesting events draw divers and underwater photographers each year to Isla Mujeres on the northeast point of the Yucatan Peninsula near Cancun. Through the summertime, huge whale sharks gather to feed on plankton and krill around the shallow seas of Isla Holbox. There are so many whale sharks that snorkeling tours almost confirm a sighting, and despite a large number of visitor boats, there are usually more than enough sharks for everyone to have a unique encounter. It is also reasonable to snorkel with these giants further offshore, where they feed on bonito and tuna eggs during spawning events. Sightings of whale sharks are less consistent here, but there is a good possibility of spotting manta rays connecting the feast.
Exciting GREAT WHITE SHARK ENCOUNTERS
If diving with large white sharks takes your fancy, you’ll be hard forced to find anywhere better than Guadalupe Island. Diving here is all about the great whites, and this is one of the best scuba diving stops in the world to get up close and individual with these incredible predators.
Placed 150 miles off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula, Isla Guadalupe is only available by liveaboard, and the touring boats practice in shark-cage diving. Tours depart from San Diego in the US, or Ensenada in the north of Mexico, and usually provide 3 days of diving.
The great white term is from August to October, with various lively young males coming ready to mate early in the season and the larger males making an appearance from late September onwards. The largest females come well into October when the climate is starting to turn. But, this is peak breeding period and points to some breathtaking interactions.
While large white sharks are the show's star, divers will also spot the endemic Guadalupe seals and sea lions feeding on large schools of mackerel while the sharks are confused by the cages. In addition, the boat trip out and back affords the opportunity to spot whales and dolphins.
Cage diving in Guadalupe fits for shark-diving enthusiasts and novices alike, and it is reasonable to experience the great whites with no diving skills at all! This makes it an excellent journey for non-diving friends and family keen for a feeling of adventure.
As the center of Baja California Sur, La Paz gives visitors access to a great range of diving in the southern Sea of Cortez. One of the greatest attractions here is the whale sharks that hit La Paz Bay in October and November when plankton flowers are at their richest. Diving with these gentle giants is a humbling adventure and one of the highlights of a La Paz tour. Also, in La Paz Bay, the hammerhead shark nursery, which has been decimated by fishing in recent times, is restoring, and sightings of these once abundant sharks are becoming more frequent again. La Paz Bay is blocked for swimming with whale sharks from May until early October each year.
CABO SAN LUCAS & CABO PULMO
DIVING AND SNORKELLING FOR EVERYONE
Located 40 miles apart on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo catch a different range of tropical reef and pelagic species. The Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. On the southernmost location, the covered San Lucas Bay provides great introductory diving amongst rocky reefs and corridors, where places such as Santa Maria and Chileno Bay are chock full of critters and tiny tropical fish, nudibranchs, and lobsters. California sea lions appear in abundance here, too, adding a feeling of mischief to the dive. San Lucas Bay is also home to the area’s popular Sand Falls place, where sand consumed from the surrounding cliffs cascades down ravines to create amazing underwater scenes.
Further out at the exciting offshore walls and plateaus of Gordo Banks, marine pelagics regularly pass through on movement further into the Sea of Cortez. Humpback and gray whales can be found between December and May, and this is also the most suitable time to catch a glimpse of scalloped hammerhead sharks. The diving here can be difficult, with strong currents and rough surface situations, so is best suited to experienced divers.
UNEXPLORED REEF IN PRISTINE CONDITION
A five-hour drive south of Cancun, guarded within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the Chinchorro Banks are a secret gem on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. While thousands of divers flock to the northern resorts of Cozumel and Cancun, very few are aware of the unusual biodiversity and pristine habitats found along this remote atoll.
Diving the banks is only reasonable from the mainland, and a 30 to 60-minute speedboat ride from Xcalak, Majahual, or Costa Maya will take you out to one of the best scuba diving stops in the Northern Hemisphere. Rest on easy drift dives over the picturesque coral or explore some of the nine interesting wrecks spread along the reef. French angelfish and queen angelfish school in a bright patchwork, while lobsters, grouper, and stingrays loiter under the coral heads and swim-throughs. The hot, clear waters are excellent for snorkeling, and shallow wreck sites such as Forty Canons are just as intriguing investigated from the surface as they are underwater.
For a truly unusual experience, the bravest divers can get up close and individual with American saltwater crocodiles. Whilst correctly managed for the safest experience, this is still an adrenaline-filled encounter and gives some great photo opportunities.
Besides all these above-mentioned fantastic diving spots, Mexico gives so much more. You can also do some whale watching in San Ignacio. Visit Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast for some excellent diving, where you can also see humpback whales and maybe even spot some manta rays and whale sharks. Finally, in Xcalak, where the saltwater crocodiles are, you can also dive with manatees. Between November and March, brave divers can go scuba diving with bull sharks in Playa del Carmen for a thrilling adventure. Lastly, in Puerto Morelos scuba divers can enjoy some excellent and easy shore diving.