Cancun is ideal for combining your best dives with ancient Mayan ruins and stunning wildlife encounters above and below water. Dive in to discover the famous MUSA underwater museum of art, incredible cenote diving and Isla Mujeres’ numerous whale sharks.
Diving in Cancun
Cancún is the tourist mecca of Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo and is located on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. Cancún is popular among tourists from all over the world due to its warm weather all-year-round, sandy beaches, ruins of the ancient Mayan civilization, and stunning terrestrial and marine wildlife.
For divers, there are many top-notch dive sites that are just a short drive or boat ride from Cancún. The Underwater Contemporary Museum of Art, the island of Isla Mujeres, and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are definite must-sees. Isla Mujeres is an island about 13km offshore from Cancún that marks where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea. Isla Mujeres is part of a National Marine Park that contains a portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system, as well as the sculptures of the underwater museum.
Aside from the plentiful offshore dive sites, this region of Mexico boasts cenote-diving opportunities as well. Cenotes are underwater caves that are partially exposed to the air, and they are part of an underground, interconnected cave system. They are usually filled with brackish water (mixture of fresh groundwater and salty seawater) and are made of limestone bedrock. A cenote is created when weaknesses in the limestone bedrock lead to a cave collapsing, which forms a sinkhole and exposes the cave to the atmosphere. The freshwater of the cenote comes from filtered rainwater—its very few suspended particles make for very clear water, and great visibility.
Impressive dive sites dot the eastern coast of Quintana Roo. Treat Cancún as your home base and make day trips down to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel Island, Cenote Dos Ojos, Tulum, and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to make the most of the diverse diving opportunities in this region! There are dive shops and dive resorts galore with experts that can show you the ins and outs of these gems. Liveaboard dive boats, however, are not common because all dive sites are accessible from shore or by boat.
Best time to dive
There is great diving in Cancún all year round due to constant warm water temperatures, with only slight cooling in the winter months. Temperatures can range from 25°C (78°F) in the winter to 28°C (82°F) in the summer months.
May through November is the best time to visit if cenote-diving is your main objective. This is the time of year that visibility is best, and that sunlight illuminates the caves in the most photogenic way. Within this window, from June to September, is when whale shark sightings are most common near the island of Isla Mujeres. Keep in mind that this window overlaps with hurricane season, which has cut short or cancelled many a trip to this region of Mexico.
Types of diving
Cancún is a short drive from world-class cenote-diving opportunities, such as “Cenote Dos Ojos”. There are many cenotes in this region, with some catering to novice divers, and others attracting experienced tec divers. If cave-diving is not your cup of tea, there are plentiful reef dives, since offshore from Cancún is the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef or second largest reef system in the world. Another popular attraction is to dive among the sculptures of the Underwater Contemporary Museum of Art, a truly unforgettable experience. Playa del Carmen and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve provide wreck-diving opportunities as well, at the “Mama Viña” site and “Banco Chinchorro” site, respectively.
Diving is usually done through a local, reputable dive shop or dive resort (of which there are many), especially because some of the dive sites in protected areas require permits. If you are brand new to the scuba diving world or are in the process of completing your Open Water certification, there are many accredited dive shops that offer certification courses and can help get you where you want to be.
What to see
In the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef ecosystem near Isla Mujeres, sightings of crabs, lobsters, stingrays, eagle rays, eels, groupers, angelfish, and damselfish are common. Green, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill sea turtles are also frequently spotted along the edge of the reef. In the wintertime, the cooler waters of this region are a hotspot for pelagic megafauna.
Cenotes, on the other hand, are home to a completely different community of organisms due to their brackish water. Cichlids, catfish, molly fish, tetras, and shrimp can be found swimming among the stalagmites. Chara, a type of green marine algae, is the dominant plant life in cenotes. Do not be discouraged by the lack of aquatic life in some of these cenotes; after all, they are not the main attraction… the dramatic geologic formations are!
Best places to dive
“El Museo Subacuático de Arte”, or MUSA, is an underwater contemporary museum of art that is made up of over 500 life-sized sculptures created by various artists including Jason deCaires Taylor, Elier Amado Gil, and Roberto Diaz Abraham. These sculptures are spread out over three locations along the coast of the Cancún: Punta Nizuc, Manchones, and Punta Sam. By being a surface upon which corals can colonize, the sculptures of MUSA play the role of a unique and striking artistic statement, while simultaneously acting as a symbol of coral/marine conservation and environmental consciousness. Tours must be purchased through the museum and are available for both certified and uncertified divers.
The island of Isla Mujeres is surrounded by a National Marine Park that is largely made up of two coral reef systems: Manchones and Atlantis reefs. Exploring these reefs allows divers to enter the world of sea turtles, lobsters, stingrays, angelfish, and other tropical fish. Isla Mujeres is also where whale sharks migrate every summer (June through September), providing ample opportunities for divers to have intimate encounters with these gentle giants.
The most well-known cenote dive site in Mexico is 100km south of Cancún, in between the cities of Akumal and Tulum. “Cenote Dos Ojos” or “Two Eyes” are a pair of crystal clear cenotes that look like two eyes staring into the earth. This site boasts spectacular visibility (up to 40m!) and picturesque beams of natural light streaming through the water column against the backdrop of stalagmites and stalactites.