Famous for its protected reefs and astounding marine biodiversity, Cozumel is a diving mecca. There’s something for every diver, including easy drift dives, drop-offs and plunging walls. Surround yourself with over 500 fish species, plus turtles, schooling barracuda, rays and macro treasures whilst you dive there.
Diving in Cozumel
Cozumel, an island located about 10km off the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and part of the state of Quintana Roo, is famous for its scuba diving. Its 22km of reefs and their stunning biodiversity are what makeup Cozumel’s incredible underwater gardens. Their beauty is protected; these reefs, which are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, are safeguarded by the Arrecifes de Cozumel (Cozumel Reefs) National Marine Park.
Cozumel is a diving heaven that fits the needs of every experience level; due to its versatility in types of dive sites, there is something for everyone, even those who are just getting certified. Cozumel offers both shore and boat dives; you can dive on your own or take advantage of the many dive shops and dive resorts on the island.
Cozumel is best known for its drift-diving, but even this can be tailored to different experience levels. For example, shallow, nearshore sites with mild current are recommended for beginners and those who have not been diving in some time. Diving at sites further offshore requires more advanced skills because this area is deeper, has a swifter current, and is near a drop-off.
Dive resorts are extremely popular in Cozumel, since in many cases they are all-inclusive (bookings include costs related to diving, accommodations, food, and beverages). Since they cater to your every need, deciding to stay at a dive resort requires minimal planning, and divers can focus on what they traveled to Cozumel for: scuba diving!
Best time to dive
Cozumel has great scuba diving year-round. Air temperatures stay at an average of 27°C (80°F), and average water temperatures can range from 24°C (75°F) in the winter to 29°C (85°F) in the summer months. Visibility is also great during all seasons, with an average of 33m. Because Cozumel is warm year-round and the majority of its tourists are from the eastern United States (it is only a short flight away), Cozumel is busiest during the wintertime (December to April). These months are also the best for bull shark sightings. To avoid the crowds, and if you prefer warmer water, you should target the May through November window. Keep in mind, however, that this overlaps with hurricane season; hurricanes have cut short or cancelled many a trip to this region!
Types of diving
While divers of all experience levels will enjoy the diving at Cozumel, drift and wall dives are by far the main attraction, making it a top destination for advanced divers. Knowing how to handle a stiff current and minding your depth are essential skills for diving some of Cozumel’s sites. These walls are a playground of diverse features such as caves, swim-through tunnels, caverns, and columns.
Despite this focus on wall dives, Cozumel has plenty of shallow reefs whose abundant marine life can be explored by the novice or rusty diver.
Since Cozumel is such a popular dive destination, there are countless dive shops and dive resorts on the island. Dive shops offer courses, gear rentals, daily and sometimes twice-daily boat dive trips, and in some cases, night dive trips. Dive resorts usually run twice-daily, two-tank boat dives, unlimited shore dives, and night dives, in addition to accommodations, food, and beverages. Liveaboards are not commonly found in this area since all the dive sites are so close to the island and are easily accessible either from shore or via a short boat ride.
What to see
The biodiversity of Cozumel is exquisite. Due to its distinction as a national marine park, Cozumel’s coral reefs are home to abundant flora and fauna, including over 500 fish species. The Cozumel splendid toadfish, a species categorized as vulnerable and endemic to these reefs, can normally be found resting under coral outcrops. Other protected species include Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead sea turtles, the queen conch, and black coral. You can also expect to see lobsters, octopus, angelfish, parrotfish, snapper, eagle rays, moray eels, and seahorses at most reef sites, such as “Palancar Reef” and “Paradise Beach”.
Best places to dive
Cozumel’s many dive sites (over thirty!) fit the needs of all experience levels, from beginner to technical diver. Due to its shallow nature, “Paradise Beach” is a popular shore dive among beginners and those actively taking part in certification courses. There is not a dull moment at this reef, however, what with the countless brightly colored tropical fish and crustaceans to see.
“Palancar Reef”, sometimes called “Palancar Garden”, is also great for novice divers, but is only accessible by boat. The reef, consisting of thousands of different coral species that form in large clusters, extends for about 5.5km and is home to yellowhead wrasse, angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, and damselfish. The current at this site is relatively weak, making it a good spot for inexperienced divers and for taking photographs.
The “Punta Sur Reef” dive site consists of a deep wall that is peppered with many caves and fissures. While these structures are interesting to see from afar, certified tec divers have the opportunity to enter one of the fissures and follow it for about 27m until it reaches a complex of caves.
The “Santa Rosa Wall” dive site offers a fast-paced drift dive along a wall and is one of the most popular deep dives. The strong current carries divers over various structures such as overhangs, ledges, caves, tunnels, and sightings of large pelagic fish, eagle rays, turtles, giant sponges, and fire coral are common.
At over 30m in height, the “Columbia Wall” dive site is an impressive sight. Some exciting features that divers can expect to see at this site are caves, tunnels, caverns, and tall coral pillars (over 20m tall!). Sea turtles, eagle rays, and barracuda are frequent visitors and if you’re lucky, you may even spot a nurse shark.