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Scuba Diving In Riviera Maya, Mexico
Read on and go to the end of the page to enter to win a draw for a chance to win one of three scuba diving and snorkeling tours provided by the Akumal Dive Center.
This month we explore why the Riviera Maya, Mexico is one of the best diving destinations in the world. Find out what types of dives are available, for example diving with sharks. What the best time of year to dive is, and how easy or technical the diving is. Also where the dive sites are, what to expect from a dive rental center, and where to stay. By the end you'll appreciate that scuba diving in the Riviera Maya is an experience of a lifetime for beginner and advanced divers alike. And definitely a destination to consider for your next trip.
Scuba Diving In Mexico
Diving in Mexico is an excellent activity and thing to do for many reasons. Firstly, there are many different types of dives that you can experience. Including those for novice divers to divemasters. From blue water ocean diving to shoreline diving along coral reefs. As well you have the best cavern and cave diving experience. And you can dive with sharks, turtles and many other marine species.
Secondly, as well as great dive sites, Mexico has good diving infrastructure, and 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 in Akumal. Since 1975 they have overseen and guided over 1,000,000 dives!
With hundreds of species of fish, sharks, turtles, and other marine life, and the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, scuba diving in Mexico is excellent. Added to that the natural beauty of the ocean, excellent visibility, fabulous sandy beaches and warm water there’s not much not to like for a diver!
Scuba Diving In Riviera Maya
The two main diving areas in Mexico are the Pacific coast and the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast. Both have great diving but most regard the Riviera Maya to have the best scuba diving in Mexico. Firstly, the Mesoamerican barrier reef, the largest barrier reef outside of Australia, provides many unique and inspiring diving sites. The water is also calmer, because of the reef than on the Pacific coast. As well it is also on average 10F warmer on the Caribbean coast. So instead of diving in wet or dry suits, often only a rash guard is needed.
Besides, the ocean currents on the Caribbean coast are more tranquil than those on the Pacific side of Mexico. So, the crystal clear, azure water of the Caribbean provides idyllic diving conditions most the year-round
The Caribbean coast also offers a one-off diving experience: Cenote diving. These naturally occurring subterranean sinkholes create a unique diving experience. The Yucatan Peninsula (on which the Riviera Maya coast is located) has over 6,000 cenotes. This is the largest number anywhere in the world, and includes one that is over 80 km in length!
One of the attractions to divers to the Riviera Maya, Mexico is the range of available dives. While there are many technical dives for advanced divers, there are lots of options for all levels of diver, including beginners.
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
Although 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 (of the two)."... 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 rare habitat to support 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. Extending from the northern tip of the Yucatan Pennisula, down the Caribbean coast of Mexico past Belize, Guatemala and 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 habitat for fish and shorebirds. Also, the mangroves protect coastal areas from the damage from strong storms.
The Mesoamerican barrier reef provides fabulous opportunities for a unique diving experience. 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. This is an ideal option for your second dive of the day, making diving in Akumal a perfect choice. However, 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 maybe for more advanced divers, intermediate and novice divers have lots of choices as well.
The Akumal Dive Center has over 30 dive sites in and along the coast close to Akumal Bay, alone. A map of these dive sites is located here.
Species of fish that you can often see while scuba diving in the Riviera Maya include
Angelfish – including Blue, French & Queen
Butterflyfish – including Banded, & Foureye
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
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
Squirrelfish – including Longspine
Stingrays – including Round Yellow, Southern, Roughtail, & Eagle ray
Surgeonfish – including Doctorfish, & Blue Tang
Triggerfish – including Ocean, Queen & Whitespotted
Ocean Diving or Blue Water Diving
While reef diving is the most popular, many opportunities exist for open water diving. The warm, clear waters of Riviera Maya provide the perfect location to experience deep, technical, diving. Qualified instructors provide you with the necessary equipment and training for an amazing adventure. So, if you ever wanted to try mixed gases, a rebreather or a planned decompression then this is your opportunity!
Cenotes are a natural phenomenon and the Riviera Maya has the majority of the world’s cenotes. A Cenote is a natural sinkhole created where a cave ceiling has collapsed. These caves were formed by porous coral limestone slowly dissolving.
Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization and are considered sacred by the Mayan people. There are reputedly over 6000 different cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico alone.
Cenotes are a great place to swim in warm freshwater. But they also attract divers who explore the extensive maze of caverns and caves. Some which are 340 km or more in length! Most 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 to the Riviera Maya from all over the world. Cavern diving is a new world for anyone coming from recreational diving and takes your breath away every time.
Alternatively, if you prefer the more technical cave diving, then the Riviera Maya is the place to come. Its the place to dive with experienced cave and dive masters. But it is also one of the best places in the world to complete your cave diving certification too.
Cenotes that you should consider include the following list below. At Gran Cenote, Chac Mool and Car Wash you can do both Cavern and Cave Diving.
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.
Dos Ojos (meaning ‘Two Eyes’ is 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.
Garden of Eden Cenote
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 jungle. Divers can pass through a wide tunnel connecting to Cenote Corral. Divers are thrilled by the sun lighting up the fresh water, and the unusual visual effects caused by the mixing of fresh and saltwater.
Chac Mool Cenote
This cenote has fabulous light shows from the sunlight piercing through the water into the caverns below. Chac Mool consists of 3 cenotes and is an excellent cenote for scuba diving. 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.
Car Wash Cenote
Also known as Aktun-Ha it 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 colours 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. This provides for an excellent cenote diving experience.
Diving with Bull Sharks
Starting from the end of November to February bull sharks are inhabitants of the Riviera Maya coastline. Bull sharks are large, strong and heavy sharks. The larger females weigh 290 lbs, while the smaller males weigh in at 95 lbs. They 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 colour with a white belly. Bull sharks prefer warm, tropical waters, so in the winter months, they move closer to the coast to find warmer conditions.
The first encounter underwater with these animals is an incredible feeling. Usually breathtaking, along with a few nerves. But diving in the Riviera Maya with these magnificent creatures is an unforgettable experience.
While scuba diving with Whale Sharks is prohibited, to add to your shark experiences you can go snorkeling with whale sharks. Whale sharks are gentle giants, which 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.
Diving with Sea Turtles
The Riviera Maya, and Akumal Bay, in particular, is famous for being one of the world's largest breeding habitats for turtles. Most common are green, loggerhead and then 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 you can take a leisurely swim along Akumal Bay as they feed in the eelgrass. Diving in Akumal is one of the few (maybe only?) 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. One of the best wreck dives is at Puerto Morelos a local fishing town. Located 90 ft deep just offshore is the C-56 Juan Escutia, a 120 ft US Navy ship. The ship was submerged specifically to help the reef to grow and create a great place for divers to visit.
The wreck is safe to swim through, from one end of the ship to the other. There are large schools of fish, eagle rays, sharks, turtles, giant fish, and many types of amazing new coral growing.
In front of Puerto Aventuras, there are 3 main reef systems. The outer reef is a wall starting at 100 – 135 feet and it drops well past the limits for even the most advanced technical diver. Having an experienced dive master with you, for such a dive is very important unless you know this specific dive well. Nearby Cozumel has spectacular walls and dramatic drops as well.
The ocean is a completely different experience at night during a dive. 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 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 coloration. Also, at specific times of the year, during your night diving, you will get to experience the glittering phenomenon from bioluminescent plankton in the water.
What Time Of Year To Dive In Riviera Maya?
One of the advantages of the Riviera Maya as a diving destination is the excellent all-year-round diving options. The water and air temperatures are such that you never need to wear a wet or dry suit. Also, the travel season of 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 in unaffected. Thus, leaving plenty of options all year round.
What Can You Expect From A Dive Rental Company?
The standard of diving rental companies in the Riviera Maya is high overall, 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, highly qualified and experienced dive center is paramount. An established and well-run dive center will also provide a lot more services and types and availability of dives. In addition, they will provide more certification and training options, than a small 1-2 person 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.
Where To Stay During Your Diving Vacation
During your Riviera Maya scuba diving vacation, you need somewhere to stay. All-inclusive hotels are an option and most will have a small dive shop to support diving at their location. Besides, most all-inclusive resorts will offer tours to allow you to go snorkeling as well. The downside of some of these options, however, is that they can be more expensive, and limited in the dive options they provide.
Another option is to stay at one of the many vacation rentals along the Riviera Maya coastline. Airbnb and other online travel booking platforms will have lots of options. First, identify a suitable area. One within easy reach of the primary dive sites you are interested in, or close to an established dive center. A downside is that if there are several people in the group these platforms don’t provide accommodation options for small groups and aren’t usually connected to a local dive center.
A third option is to search for a vacation rental supplier that has multiple apartments in the same building in case you have a group of divers. Finding one that has established a relationship with a local dive center would be best. While these are limited, they do exist. An example is Ocean Breeze Akumal which has access to multiple apartment rentals and has a relationship with a local dive center providing transportation to the diving locations.
Scuba Diving In Riviera Maya Summary
many unique diving experiences
2nd largest barrier reef in the world, and
excellent diving and travel infrastructure
it's easy to see why the Riviera Maya is one of the best diving destinations in the world.
Reef diving, diving with turtles and bull sharks, snorkeling with whale sharks, night diving, wall diving and cenote (cavern and cave) diving is all available. Creating many options for both beginner divers and advanced divers wanting to test their technical skills. Diving in Mexico is fabulous, scuba diving in the Riviera Maya is an experience of a lifetime. Definitely worth serious consideration for your next trip.
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