Offering abundant marine megafauna off the Pacific coast and Caribbean diving with stunning coral reefs, there is nowhere quite like Mexico. Dive in to experience crystal-clear cenotes plus the remote and wild Socorro Islands or meet Guadalupe’s world-famous great white sharks.
Surrounded by both the Pacific Ocean and ‘the world’s aquarium’ the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur diving is exceptional, with cheeky sea lions and hammerheads, impressive mobula ray migrations and humpback whales. Cabo Pulmo, a famed conservation success story and UNESCO World Heritage site, draws divers from around the world.
Beautiful beaches, humpback whales, giant Pacific manta rays and epic scuba diving await you at bustling Jalisco. Go just offshore to dive impressive granite islands and protected marine parks or take a liveaboard to the world-famous marine megafauna hotspot; the Socorro Islands.
Offering shallow reef dives, deep walls, exciting drift dives and imposing rock formations, the Nayarit region is a scuba diving playground. You can encounter whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales and more at protected National Park dive sites or go exploring among the caves.
For an idyllic mix of ancient Mayan ruins, beautiful sandy beaches and world-class dive experiences, try the Quintana Roo region. As well as abundant caves and wrecks, you can dive the second largest barrier reef in the world and surround yourself with whale sharks and bull sharks.
Take your pick from crystal-clear cenotes, coral atolls, a famous underwater sculpture museum or the second largest barrier reef in the world. Whichever you choose, Yucatan will charm you with its abundant reef life, whale sharks, striking coral formations and numerous rays.
Diving in Mexico
Mexico might be the best dive destination in the western hemisphere. This country of ancient civilizations and diverse ecosystems is an underwater paradise along both of its long coastlines. Pacific diving in Mexico and Caribbean diving in Mexico are totally different from one another. The cold waters of the Pacific host big marine life like manta rays, great white sharks, whales, and sea lions. The warm, clear waters of the Caribbean nurture colorful coral reefs- though it’s not only smaller fish who live there; whale sharks and bull sharks are the specialties of some Caribbean dive sites in Mexico. And Mexican scuba diving doesn’t stop when you leave the ocean. The cenotes, submerged freshwater caverns in the Yucatan peninsula, have a unique and unforgettable beauty, and diving in them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Mexico has abundant dive centers (including professional training centers) and dive resorts which bring visitors to nearshore destinations via motorboat. Divers can feel totally confident about finding plenty of dive centers in whichever region they choose. To reach the offshore islands of Socorro and Guadalupe, where mantas and great whites can be found, a liveaboard is the only option. There’s a range of vessels which specialize in Mexican Pacific diving; given the popularity of the destinations and the relatively short season, it’s good to research and book your trip far in advance.
Best time to dive
The best time to dive in Mexico depends on where you want to go and what you want to see. At any time of year, there’s a perfect location for Mexican diving.
Caribbean diving and snorkeling in Mexico can be enjoyed year-round. The peak season is from December to March, but there is plenty (if not more) to see outside of those dates. The already incredible visibility is at its best in August and September. Whale sharks visit Isla Mujeres from June to September. And between May and September, rays of sunlight fill the cenotes most beautifully. The best time for bull sharks at Playa del Carmen is from November to May.
The best time to dive in the Mexican Pacific also varies between destinations. Socorro should be visited between November and May; this is when the seas are calm enough for the long boat journey. Mantas, whale sharks, and calving humpback whales can all be seen at this time of year. Guadalupeshould be dived between August and October, when the seawater temperature sinks to 19-22 C, or 66-70 F. Divers may shiver at these temperatures, but great white sharks love it, making these months perfect for cage diving. The Sea of Cortezhas a liveaboard season from August to November, overlapping with Guadalupe. Luckily its water temperature is on the higher side, at around 27 C, or 80 F.
Types of diving
Any type of diving can be found in Mexico. For colorful coral reef diving, the Caribbean coast is the place to go. In the “Riviera Maya,” a stretch of coastline dotted with ancient Mayan ruins, divers will find deep walls, swift drifts, caverns, wrecks, and even an underwater museum of sculptures near Cancun. The site Pared Verde near Playa del Carmen has a famous drift dive along its deep wall. The island of Cozumel, 10 kilometers off the Yucatan coast, is also known for walls and drift diving in perfect visibility. And at the dive site Punta Sur on Cozumel’s south tip, a large cavern and cave system can be accessed. The most famous feature is Devil’s Throat, a vertical tunnel which bottoms out at a challenging 40 meters of depth.
For divers who really want to prioritize cavern and cave diving, it’s the cenotes which deserve attention. Cenotes are limestone sinkholes, often ringed with verdant jungle, which are filled with freshwater. Mexico’s submerged cave systems are some of the largest in the world, and diving in them deserves to be on every diver’s bucket list. The underwater landscape is a mix of stalactites, stalagmites, open halls, and winding tunnels, sometimes pierced by golden sunrays from above, or by the roots of jungle trees. Many cenotes are accessible to open water divers, but each site is specific, and may require additional certifications or a certain number of recent dives. Mexico dive centers offer many opportunities to train in cavern diving, cave diving, and tec diving within the cenotes’ unforgettable chambers.
Mexico is a great destination for shark diving as well. Divers looking for the ultimate thrill should consider cage diving with great white sharks in Guadalupe, a Pacific island reached from Mexico’s west coast. Snorkelers who want a much gentler, but no less thrilling, experience should head to Isla Mujeres for its whale sharks. And for those who want to get near a fearsome predator without the cage, baited dives with Playa del Carmen’s bull sharks are a good option, though they would be better for the animals without the bait.
Mexico has a steady liveaboard industry servicing the dive destinations on its west coast. Specialized liveaboards brave the open water crossings to Socorro and Guadalupe during the diving season, and offer a range of options in terms of luxury and personality. Liveaboard diving is also a great way to experience the wonders of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico’s sheltered bay between the Baja California peninsula and the rest of the country.
What to see
Great white sharks, the rulers of the oceanic food chain, can be found in abundance around Guadalupe Island, 250 kilometers off Mexico’s west coast. These giants use Guadalupe’s waters to hunt for sea lions, but they spend part of the day cruising calmly at a shallow depth. There are governmental rules and restrictions on chumming (putting fish in the water to attract sharks) in Guadalupe, for the good of both divers and sharks.
Oceanic manta rays are a dream of many divers, and Socorro island is famous for them. It’s often said that the mantas at Socorro, some reaching seven meters in wingspan, are the friendliest in the whole world. They tend to get close to divers, and often look them in the eye. Socorro and its neighbouring islands in the Revillagigedo peninsula are hotspots for big wildlife. The list includes dolphins, whale sharks, humpback whales and hammerheads.
Bull sharks, a mighty and versatile tropical predator, can be seen in Caribbean Playa del Carmen. Female bull sharks use Playa’s shallow blue waters to breed from November to March. Bull shark dives are done without cages, so it’s important that divers stay calm, follow rules, and maintain good buoyancy.
Whale sharks, the biggest fish in the ocean, can be found in abundance near the island of Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun. These gentle giants gather every year to feast on the spawn of local fish species. Diving with them is not allowed, but snorkeling is just as good, if not better. The sharks skim the surface with their gaping mouths, and without heavy gear and tanks, snorkelers can more easily swim alongside them.
Saltwater crocodiles are gaining popularity as truly special marine creatures to encounter underwater. These animals are powerful, ancient predators, and snorkeling with them requires caution and guidance from trained operators. However, more and more divers are craving the awe of getting close to these reptiles’ armored bodies and huge jaws. Banco Chinchorro is the place to snorkel with saltwater crocodiles, as they live in the atoll’s mangrove forests and forage in its seagrass beds.
Best places to dive
On the Pacific side of Mexico, Baja California is the hub for diving. This skinny peninsula offers world class diving on both sides.
At Baja’s west coast begins the great Pacific ocean. This is the jumping-off point for Guadalupe and Socorro, along with Socorro’s neighboring islands in the Revillagigedo Peninsula. As mentioned above, Socorro is a prime destination for diving with big wildlife. Its rocky terrain is nothing to get excited about, but the surrounding waters are crystal clear, and the humpbacks, hammerheads, whale sharks, mantas, and dolphins who live there make it one of the best dive sites in the world. Guadalupe is the place to go for cage diving with great whites.
Along the east coast of Baja California lies the Sea of Cortez. The Sea of Cortez is the youngest and richest sea on Earth. It contains warmer, calmer waters than the Pacific, and a great deal of exciting marine life. Playful sea lions are a major attraction here at dive sites like Isla Lobos. Whale sharks are abundant in autumn and winter at La Paz and Bahia de los Angeles. Dolphins and whales can be seen, as well as mobula rays, and a high diversity of fish on the protected reef of Cabo Pulmo Marine Reserve, the northernmost coral reef in the eastern Pacific.
The dive-accessible Cenotes in Mexico are mostly clustered between Puerto Aventura and Tulum. Some of the most famous are Dos Ojos, named for the two neighboring sinkholes which look like a pair of eyes, Gran Cenote, Chac Mool, and Tajma Ha.
Along the Riviera Maya, the best diving can be found in Cozumel (for reefs), Playa del Carmen (for bull sharks), Isla Mujeres (for snorkeling with whale sharks and mantas), and a variety of other diverse sites. For something out of the ordinary, divers can visit MUSA in Cancun, an underwater museum of contemporary sculptures which was created to reduce the diving pressure on local reefs.
Banco Chinchorro is a very special dive destination; it is the largest of the four coral atolls in the northern hemisphere (the other three are in neighboring Belize). Diving in Banco Chinchorro is the only opportunity for atoll diving in Mexico. Divers in this remote site get to enjoy colorful brain coral, big sponges, shipwrecks, eagle rays, and schools of other fish- without the crowds. Even more exciting, Chinchorro is the place to snorkel with saltwater crocodiles in Mexico. To top it off, dugongs migrate seasonally through the area; sightings are rare, but possible.