Are you one of the six million divers worldwide? Then you’ll want to discover why Mayan Riviera scuba diving is such as awesome experience. It's the best scuba diving 🤿 in Mexico. And provides many fabulous diving opportunities year-round. Including some Riviera Maya scuba diving experiences, you won’t get anywhere else. Find out what you’re missing out on.
Scuba diving in Mexico is a popular activity for locals and visitors alike. The two main areas for scuba diving in Mexico are the Pacific coast and the Caribbean and Gulf Coast. Both have great diving. But most regard the Caribbean Riviera Maya scuba diving as being the best diving in Mexico.
Why you might ask? First because of the Mesoamerican barrier reef. It is the largest barrier reef outside of Australia. Which National Geographic describes as more remarkable than the Great Barrier Reef. This provides many unique and inspiring Mayan Riviera scuba diving sites. Second, the water on the Caribbean coast is calmer. The ocean currents on the Caribbean coast are more tranquil than those on the Pacific side of Mexico. And then there is the corral reef which provides added protection. So, the crystal clear, azure water of the Caribbean provides idyllic diving conditions. And on average it is 10F warmer on the Riviera Maya coast. So instead of diving in heavy wet or dry suits, sometimes only a rash guard is needed.
There are also many different types of ocean dives that you can experience in the Riviera Maya. Including those for novice divers to divemasters. From blue water ocean diving to shoreline diving along coral reefs. And you can dive with sharks, turtles, rays and many other marine species.
One of the best reasons why the Riviera Maya scuba diving is so awesome has nothing at all to do with the ocean. It is because of all the cave and cavern diving opportunities in the thousands of cenotes in the Mayan Riviera. This is the best place in the world for cave and cavern diving. And on rare occasions when the weather in the ocean isn't good, it doesn’t affect the scuba diving conditions in a cenote.
Last, as well as great dive sites, Mexico has a good diving infrastructure. And many PADI qualified Dive Masters. Diving in Mexico is well-established and has a strong network of qualified and experienced divers. People who can guide or assist you in the planning and execution of dives. For example, the Akumal Dive Center, established in 1975, is the oldest Riviera Maya scuba diving center. Since 1975 they have overseen and guided well over a million dives!
With all this, the natural beauty of the ocean, the fabulous sandy beaches, and warm water Mayan Riviera scuba diving is truly awesome.
Copyright Martin Broen
The Mesoamerican barrier reef is the second largest reef in the world. It is described by National Geographic as “in its own way the more remarkable” "... than the Great Barrier Reef. The advantage over its Australian counterpart is its proximity to land. And the connection with inshore habitats. The mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef provide a unique Riviera Maya scuba diving experience. This rare habitat supports many species of fish and turtles that depend on them for their existence.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef stretches for 700 miles. From the northern tip of the Yucatan Pennisula, down the Caribbean coast of Mexico to Honduras. Dazzling arrays of coral form, supporting more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk, and more than 500 species of fish.As well as sea turtles, whale sharks and the largest population of manatees in the world. Along the shores, mangroves provide a habitat for fish and shorebirds. Also, the mangroves protect coastal areas from damage from strong storms. Making Riviera Maya scuba diving a remarkable experience.
The coral reef provides fabulous opportunities for a unique Mayan Riviera scuba diving adventure. For example, in Akumal Bay, there is a double-barrier reef. A deep reef starts at a depth of 60 to 70 feet. It extends out in finger-like ridges and drops to between 100 and 140 feet in beautiful canyons. A second reef ranges from 50 to 70 feet in depth. Making this an ideal option for a second dive of the day. Yet, that’s not all. An even shallower part of the reef runs between 25 to 45 feet in depth with large Elkhorn formations. While the deeper dives are for more advanced divers, intermediate and novice divers have lots of choices as well.
Species of fish that you will likely see while Riviera Maya scuba diving include:
|Angelfish – including Blue, French & Queen||Barracuda|
|Butterflyfish – including Banded, & Foureye||Chub|
|Cobia||Damselfish – including Threespot, Yellowtail, & Bicolor|
|Grouper – including Black, Yellowfin, Tiger, & Red||Grunt Fish – including Bluestripped, Spanish, Cottonwick, White & Tomtate|
|Hamlet – including Shy, Black, Indigo & Butter||Hogfish – including Spanish, Puddingwife, & Yellowhead|
|Jack – including Horse-eye, Almaco, & Yellowjack||Lionfish|
|Moray & Snake Eels||Parrotfish – including Redband, Stoplight, Rainbow Queen, & Stripped|
|Porgy – including Saucereye, & Jolthead||Pufferfish – including Porcupine, Sharpnose & Ballonfish|
|Snapper – including Yellowtail, Red, Mutton, Dog & Gray||Spadefish|
|Spotted Dolphin||Squirrelfish – including Longspine|
|Stingrays – including Round Yellow, Southern, Roughtail, & Eagle ray||Surgeonfish – including Doctorfish, & Blue Tang|
|Triggerfish – including Ocean, Queen & Whitespotted|
While reef diving is the most popular, many opportunities exist for blue water diving. The warm, clear waters provide the perfect location to experience technical, Mayan Riviera scuba diving. Qualified instructors provide you with the necessary equipment and training for an amazing quest. So, if you ever wanted to try mixed gases, a rebreather, or a planned decompression then this is your opportunity!
While the ocean Riviera Maya scuba diving is fabulous there is one thing that makes diving in the Mayan Riviera truly a unique experience. And that is Cenote diving. These subterranean sinkholes are a natural phenomenon. A Cenote is a sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed. These caves were formed by porous coral limestone slowly dissolving. And they were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and considered sacred by the ancient Maya. In the Yucatan Peninsula, there are over 6,000 cenotes. This is the largest number anywhere in the world. It makes for awesome Riviera Maya scuba diving when combined with the fabulous ocean diving opportunities too.
Although cenotes are a great place to swim in warm freshwater, they also attract divers who explore the extensive maze of caverns and caves. Some of which are 340 km or more in length! But, many cenote cavern dives are shallow dives (15-30 ft). And open to anyone with entry-level diving experience. The freshwater is quiet, welcoming you to a world of silence and rest. Unlike the ocean, you can dive cenotes in any weather all year long. This is a unique experience that attracts divers from all over the world. Cavern diving is a new world for anyone coming from recreational diving. It will take your breath away every time. It definitely makes for an exhilarating Mayan Riviera scuba diving quest.
But, if you prefer the more technical cave diving, then Riviera Maya scuba diving is the place. It attracts the most experienced divers to explore its long, and tricky caves. As well there are a lot of experienced resident cave and dive masters. So it's one of the best places in the world to complete your cave or cavern diving certification too.
For a great Maya Riviera scuba diving experience, the following cenotes are highly recommended.
Gran Cenote is outside of Tulum on the way to Coba. Underneath the lily pads, you will see an eerie underwater cavern. From here there are endless cave systems, passageways, and chambers. You’ll find large stalagmites, stalactites, and columns that puncture through the water. Gran Cenote offers an excellent Mayan Riviera scuba diving experience. It has plenty of sunlight and offers divers endless passageways, and blue-green waters. The average water temperature is 68F (20C) with visibility from 30-100 feet (10-30 m).
This is often considered the ultimate Riviera Maya scuba diving experience. Dos Ojos (meaning ‘Two Eyes’ in Spanish) is part of a flooded cave system north of Tulum. At this part of the cave system, there are three cenotes to explore. Dos Ojos is home to the deepest known underwater cave passage called ‘the Pit’. It is 118 m deep and was discovered in 1996 by cave explorers who came from the main entrance of more than 1,500 m away. The deep passages include the "Wakulla Room", the "Beyond Main Base (BMB) passage", "Jill's room" and "The Next Generation passage". The 2002 IMAX film, Journey Into Amazing Caves, and the 2006 BBC/Discovery Channel series Planet Earth both featured Dos Ojos. Parts of the 2005 Hollywood movie The Cave were filmed here as well.
Dos Ojos makes for a great Riviera Maya scuba diving day as you can also do two, 45-50 minute shallow dives too. In these shallow sections, you are at a max depth of 30 feet with a water temperature of 77F (24C).
And even though a divemaster accompanies you this is not recommended for beginners. Good buoyancy control is required, and you have to be comfortable in complete darkness. All while avoiding getting snagged up on a 10,000-year-old stalagmite.
With a depth of 45 ft, the Garden of Eden Cenote offers inexperienced divers an excellent introduction to cavern or cenote diving. When you arrive, it looks like a large swimming pool in the middle of the lush jungle. And with the water temperature at a pretty year-round constant of 77F (24-25C), it’s swimming pool temperatures!
Divers can pass through a wide tunnel connecting to Cenote Coral. Divers are thrilled by the sun lighting up the freshwater. And the unusual visual effects caused by the mixing of fresh and saltwater. As well, this cenote has interesting marine life too. Making it a great Mayan Riviera scuba diving experience for those new to cave and cavern diving.
This cenote has fabulous light shows from the sunlight piercing through the water into the caverns below. Making it one of the best Mayan Riviera scuba diving experiences. Chac Mool consists of 3 cenotes. There are several large caverns with beautiful stalactites and fossils. Also, in one area, called the 'Dome Room' the ceiling has collapsed to create an air dome with a hole in the ceiling. Light streams through here. There are also unusual effects created by the mixing of salt and fresh water in parts of the Chac Mool.
This is a technical dive in that in many areas it is completely dark necessitating a light. The depth is 30-40 feet (10-12m) with visibility between 30-100 feet (10-30m).
Also known as Aktun-Ha this is a very open cenote with water lilies throughout. Besides, the freshwater turtles there is also a small crocodile. Interestingly, after a heavy rain, red tannic acid colors the first few meters of the water. Looking up from the bottom of the cenote (~15 ft) it generates a red roof. This is in stark contrast to the transparency of the last three meters of water, creating a spectacular view. As well there are large stalactites and many coral fossils. The greatest depth is 50 feet. This provides for a truly enjoyable Mayan Riviera scuba diving experience.
Starting from the end of November to February bull sharks are inhabitants of the coastline. They are large, strong, and heavy sharks and make for an exhilarating Riviera Maya scuba diving encounter. The larger females weigh 290 lbs, while the smaller males weigh in at 95 lbs. Bull sharks are often between 7.5 and 8 feet long with a round, short snout and little dark eyes. The first fin on the back is large and nearly rectangular. They are a pale dark gray color with a white belly. The first encounter underwater with these animals is an incredible feeling. Usually breathtaking, along with a few nerves. But diving with these magnificent creatures is an unforgettable experience.
Bull sharks prefer warm, tropical waters, in the winter months. So they move closer to the coast to find warmer conditions. They are one of 43 shark species that live in both seawater and freshwater and can live for 10-16 years with the larger female living longer. And most of the time they are found in water less than 100 feet (30m) deep. So, start planning your Riviera Maya scuba diving trip now. And make sure you’re here when the sharks are around!
In the Riviera Maya scuba diving with Whale Sharks is prohibited. But to add to your shark experiences, you can go snorkeling with whale sharks instead. Whale sharks are gentle giants. This is good as they are the largest fish in the ocean growing up to 40 ft in length and weighing up to 11 tons! Fortunately, they pose no threat to humans. From early June to mid-September whale sharks frequent the northern waters of the Riviera Maya.
Akumal Bay is famous for being one of the world's largest breeding habitats for turtles. Most common are the green, loggerhead, and the less common hawksbill turtles. From May until September the turtles come to the shore to lay an average of 120 eggs each. In October the hatchlings begin emerging and heading for the ocean. As a result, you don’t need to don scuba gear to swim with turtles. Simply putting on a mask and snorkel and you can take a gentle swim along Akumal Bay as they feed in the eelgrass. Yet, year-round you can have a phenomenal Riviera Maya scuba diving experience. Exploring the turtles, their habitat, and the coral reef. In fact, Riviera Maya scuba diving is one of the few places in the world where you are guaranteed to see a turtle.
To add to your technical diving list, you can also experience wreck diving in the Riviera Maya. There are three main wreck dives along the coast that you can do.
One of the best Riviera Maya scuba diving wrecks is at Puerto Morelos a local fishing town. Located 90 ft deep just offshore is the C-56 Juan Escutia, a US Navy ship. The ship was submerged to help the reef to grow and create a great place for divers to visit. This gunboat is 200 feet in length and has 3 decks to explore: cabins, bathroom, engine, and ammunition room.
The wreck is safe to swim through, from one end of the ship to the other. And there are large schools of fish, eagle rays, sharks, turtles, giant fish, and many types of amazing new coral growing.
The C-53 Felipe Xicotenantl is a Mexican Navy minesweeper that sank in 2000. It is in 80 feet of water and sits on the sandy bottom in Chankanaab Bay. The sides have been opened up to allow divers to enter and safely exit making this a worthwhile Riviera Maya scuba diving adventure.
The Mama Viña is a former shrimp boat intentionally sunk in 1995 for the fun of divers. At 90 feet depth, this is a very enjoyable dive site that is full of marine life!
Although not common Mayan Riviera scuba diving includes wall dives too. In front of Puerto Aventuras, there are 3 main reef systems. The outer reef is a wall starting at 100-135 feet (30 – 40m). And then it drops way past the limits for even the most advanced technical diver. Also, nearby Cozumel has spectacular walls and dramatic drops.
The ocean is a completely different experience at night during a dive. And the calm clear water makes this an excellent, and eery, Riviera Maya scuba diving adventure. As well as getting used to navigating in the dark, many creatures only come out at night. For example, octopus hunt at night and you are much more likely to see a Hawksbill (or Carey) turtle night diving too. Similarly, you are more likely to see nurse sharks and moray eels. And crabs, angelfish, groupers, and parrots queens are common too.
Another benefit is the coral formations that look quite different at night when lit up with a flashlight. Many exhibiting quite different and beautiful colorations. Also, at specific times of the year, you will get to experience the glittering bioluminescent plankton in the water.
One of the advantages of Riviera Maya scuba diving is that it is a year-round diving destination. The water and air temperatures are such that often you never need to wear a wet or drysuit. Also, the high season (December to March) provides excellent weather. And allows you to dive with bull sharks from November to February.
Yet, shoulder and low seasons offer less expensive flights and accommodation. And the season for whale sharks runs from June to early September. While ocean dives during the August to October period might be subject to weather, cenote diving is unaffected all year-round. Thus, leaving plenty of options all year for an awesome Riviera Maya Scuba Diving adventure.
The standard of Riviera Maya scuba diving companies is high. But as with any service provider, there are exceptions. Diving isn’t an activity where you want to take any unnecessary risks due to poor preparation or equipment. So, finding a reliable, qualified, and experienced dive center is paramount. An established and well-run center will also provide a lot more services, and types of dives. Also, they will provide more certification and training, than a small dive shop.
For example, you should expect the following services from more established dive centers: Transportation to and from the dive location clean and reliable equipment: tanks, BCD, regulator, fins, dive computers, masks, lockers, showers, changing areas, towels, Master Dive Instructors and highly trained dive instructors, PADI Certification programs, support for tour groups including planning and logistics of dives, transportation, food, and accommodation.
Akumal Dive Center is one example of a highly reputable and established dive center. They have been in operation since 1975 and have conducted over 1,000,000 dives. As well as offering a large range of diving options, they provide certification, equipment, and cater to groups of divers travelling together.
During your Riviera Maya scuba diving vacation, you need somewhere to stay. At Ocean Breeze Akumal we offer dive vacation packages. And free shuttle transportation to and from the Akumal Dive Centre when booked on a diving package.
Our accommodation diving packages cater to individuals and small groups. You receive discounted rates on all tours, equipment, and certification programs. But you also have free transportation direct from your accommodation. Find out more and plan your Riviera Maya Scuba Diving adventure.
So now you know why Mayan Riviera scuba diving is so awesome. And why many of the 6 million divers worldwide make it a point to dive here. With the best scuba diving in Mexico, year-round. And opportunities to dive with sharks, turtles, the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, and the best place to go cave and cavern diving worldwide. What are you waiting for? Start planning your Rivera Maya scuba diving vacation now.
About Our Blog
Exploring The Riviera Maya is Ocean Breeze Akumal's Blog. Here we explore the diversity of Mexico's best tourism destination to highlight the best beaches, cenotes, restaurants, attractions, Mayan ruins, etc., etc. We provide information to help you explore this spectacular part of the world and give you tips and tricks that only the locals know. Helping to give you the vacation experience of a lifetime.
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