I came to Mexico for its food and diving in Cozumel and as it turned out those were the only two things which didn’t disappoint. I know that I will return at some point, avoiding Tulum like the plague, and explore the rest of the country but for now, the only things I miss about it are the tacos and the diving. I don’t even miss its margaritas as I discovered them too late. A rookie error I know.
Read more: A Foodie’s Guide to Tulum.
I had planned to go diving on both of Mexico’s coasts – the Carribean and in the Pacific in Baja California. I couldn’t wait to go diving in Cozumel and the Great Maya Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and hopefully see my first hammerhead shark in Gordo Banks. In the end, money and the for me freezing water temperatures kept me from going to Baja California and so I decided to focus my diving in the Carribean for the time being and to venture into one of Yucatan’s cenotes.
Before I could make any further plans my passport and then my heart was broken. I exaggerate but it felt like it at the time and personally, I like the analogy of a broken passport and a broken heart which simply meant that Mexico and I weren’t meant for each other this time.
It was in the wake of this conundrum that I decided the only thing able to help me (remember, I hadn’t discovered those margaritas!) was a week of non-stop diving in Mexico. I checked on the Girls that Scuba page, found Blue Life in Playa del Carmen, and before I knew it I had booked a hotel and a week of various dives there. While Blue Life has a shop in Tulum as well, I realized that most dives are conducted from Playa del Carmen and honestly, I was ready to get the hell out of Tulum.
Scuba Diving in Riviera Maya
If you are new to diving at the Riviera Maya there are a couple of options you can consider depending on your experience level and interests. For me that included diving in Cozumel, a world-renowned dive destination and island, off the coast of Playa del Carmen as well as diving in a cenote.
Read more: Cenote Diving in Tulum, Mexico.
Since Cozumel is known for its often strong currents and I had never been in a cenote or a cave before, I decided to start with some easy dives. Apparently, I was not the only one who wants a little bit of the best of all the diving in Riviera Maya because Blue Life offered various scuba diving packages. The “Taste of the Riviera Maya Dive Package” came with 6 dives including 2 dives at Playa del Carmen reefs, 2 dives in Cozumel, and 2 dives in a cenote, providing the first impression of all the various dive sites in the area.
Scuba diving in Playa del Carmen
I started my time with Blue Life with a couple of scuba dives in Playa del Carmen, something I was very happy about. Playa del Carmen is incredibly touristy and not necessarily known for having the best diving in Mexico but is good as a starting point to explore the area. For me, it was perfect before moving on to diving in Cozumel as it allowed me to dip my toes back in the water after a few months on dry land without too challenging conditions.
From Blue Life, it is just a short walk to the beach from where you will get on a small boat. We conducted two dives along the Playa del Carmen reef and it was the perfect opportunity for me to get reaccustomed to being underwater as well as for various new divers who had just gotten their scuba certification.
While the visibility wasn’t great after a few days of heavy rain, there was still plenty to see including the biggest moray eel I had ever come across (not something I am keen about to repeat – sign me up for some shark diving any day but moray eels are creepy!).
Diving in Cozumel
On day two it was time to board the ferry to head for some Cozumel scuba diving. While there are plenty of Cozumel dive shops I was happy that I stuck with Blue Life even if it meant a ferry trip to get to and from the island. Unlike what I envisioned, Cozumel is no sleepy tropical island like Kri in Raja Ampat or even Koh Tao in Thailand but rather a huge tourist machine include a big load of daily cruise ships. Some may like it but it didn’t look like a great destination for diving holidays to me unless you actually plan to spend most of your time underwater.
And it is underwater where the magic of Cozumel reveals itself. The Great Maya Barrier Reef is world-renowned for its nutrient-rich water and incredible marine life and let’s just say – scuba diving in Cozumel didn’t disappoint and that statement is coming from someone who is pretty spoiled by now.
Divers are often warned about strong currents when diving in Cozumel, something that scared me beforehand as I have very little experience of diving in currents. However, I shouldn’t have worried too much as we overall had very little current, just enough for a gentle drift dive. Needless to say, conditions are hard to predict so make sure to choose a reputable dive center and let your dive guide know about your experience with currents (or lack thereof). I also make sure to carry my own SMB (surface marker buoy) and practice deploying it often. If you are unsure how it works (I am not too sure in which course they are supposed to teach you as I only learned how to deploy an SMB during my divemaster training), ask your dive guide to teach you.
Our amazing instructor Karina first took us to the famous Santa Rosa Wall, a deep dive with plenty of sea life to see and fun swim-throughs. To my utter delight, there was only a little bit of current which made this dive easy and enjoyable. Our second dive was Tormentos Reef, one of the best reefs around Cozumel and all-around best dive site I have ever seen. If you are looking for a picture-perfect real-life aquarium this is it and if you get extra lucky you will find some sleeping nurse sharks, dancing eagle rays or see big groupers making out with each other. As a bonus, the visibility was so good that it looked more like fresh than seawater. I may or may not have cried a little it was so beautiful.
Something to note about diving in Cozumel:
When diving with Blue Life your ferry tickets are included in your price as is the transport from the dive center to the ferry. Once you get to Cozumel, the boat that is taking you out as well as lunch and your marine park ticket are also included.
Know that sunscreen is not allowed when going into the water in Cozumel. While that seems a bit ironic considering the pollution of the cruise ships this is done to protect the very fragile reef and its ecosystem. I only used some reef-friendly sunscreen on my face very early in the morning before leaving and made sure to stay in the shade on our surface intervals.
As of October 7th, 2019 the Marine Park of Cozumel has closed down parts indefinitely to give the declining reefs a chance to heal. Parts effected are at the Palancar pier and none of the dives sites I mention above are part of it. There are still plenty of great spots to dive in Cozumel and personally I applaud measures like this to protect the reef. Now if only something could be done about those cruise ships too…
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