I came to Mexico for its food and the diving 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. Rookie error I know.
I had planned to go diving on both of Mexico’s coasts – the Carribean and on the Pacific in Baja California. I couldn’t wait to dive 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 for me freezing water temperatures kept me from going to Baja California and so I decided to focus my diving on 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 definitely 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. 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 a first impression of all the various dive sites in the area.
For an extra fee, I could upgrade my cenote dives at Chikin Ha to the cenotes Dos Ojos and the Pit instead and since my Tulum fling had suggested it would be worth the extra price, I decided to go for it. I am happy to say it was the one thing I didn’t come to regret about him.
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 really 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 – my scuba diving in Cozumel didn’t disappoint.
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 an added bonus the visibility was so good that it looked more like fresh than sea water. I may or may not have cried a little it was so beautiful.
Divers are often warned about strong currents when diving in Cozumel, something that really 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). In addition, I make sure to always carry my own SMB (surface marker buoy) and practice deploying it often.
Note: When diving with Blue Life your ferry tickets are included in your price as is the transport from the dive center to the ferry, and once you get to Cozumel to the boat that is taking your out as well as lunch and your marine park ticket. 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.
My last day finally took me to the cenotes, which are sinkholes you can find all over Yucatan and Instagram. Some of the best cenotes in Riviera Maya are open to swimmers and snorkelers while others are only open to certified cavern and cave divers and pretty much look like a puddle on the ground.
Various cenotes dives are on offer with Blue Life and quite a few don’t require additional but just an Open Water certification. We started our day with instructor Isa at the Pit, a cenote with 30m depth (here you will need an AOW), a sulfur cloud, a halocline, and lots of cool stalagmites and stalactites. Temperatures in the cenotes are a lot colder than in the ocean (we got around 25 degrees) so even I had to bundle up and wear a 5mm suit.
Before we started our dive Isa gave us a detailed briefing on the dive site as well as safety procedures that exceeded most dive briefings you get on a regular ocean dive. We weren’t in Kansas anymore, we were moving over to the dark side.
If you are like me and slightly terrified of enclosed spaces the Pit is actually the perfect place to start your cenotes diving as it is completely open and you can see the sky at all times, albeit from 30m depth. Getting in is literally the hardest part as you will have to walk down a long set of wobbly stairs to get to the water while wearing your gear and tank.
Once in the water and a couple of reminders to yours truly to stop complaining about the oh so cold temperatures we went down into a beautiful world of shadows. While you need to look down to find cool stuff when diving in the ocean, cenote diving is all about looking up so you can appreciate the sky and the light above you. Also, it pays off to watch your head (or in my case my hair bun) when moving up and down because there are stalactites growing everywhere and the halocline where saltwater changes to freshwater can throw off your buoyancy.
From the Pit, we moved on to Cenote Dos Ojos, one of the most famous cenotes in Tulum for both divers and snorkelers. Unlike the Pit, this cenote is also a great place for a trip for the whole family because it comes with hammocks and palm trees and plenty of swimming opportunities if you are not diving.
In Dos Ojos, you have two dives you can do as an uncertified cavern diver which lead you along a set line. One is taking you to a bat cave and one to a Barbie who is living underwater with a toy crocodile. Both dives aren’t very deep however you are in an actual cave here which would have scared me had I known the details before. As it was, we went in and I was just incredibly grateful for being able to dive through and not having to stumble over rocks and stalagmites with my wonky knees and ankles. And of course, we not only had torches but got plenty of natural light through various exits which classify these paths as cavern dives. The scariest thing was the various snorkelers above our heads kicking instead of swimming, the rest was underwater magic.
Back in the sun we devoured our lunch sandwiches, made friends with an iguana and I realized that while I wasn’t going to trade sharks for bats exclusively, cenotes diving was a lot more fun than expected. Maybe Tulum wasn’t only good for its tacos after all and maybe I would eventually return to move over to the dark side and do a cavern diving specialty.
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