Diving Cancun

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Cancun, Mexico

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Country: Mexico  Area: Mexico

Water Temp: 26 - 29°C (79 - 84°F)

Visibility: 15 - 40m (49 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 10 - 30m (33 - 98 ft)

Green/Loggerhead Nesting Season - Late May to Aug, Green/Loggerhead Hatching Season - Aug to Oct

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A popular diving hotspot in Mexico, where you can see Whale Sharks, dive the spectacular cenotes and visit the famous underwater sculture museum. Cancun is great for tourists, within easy driving distance of the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen, a jumping off point to nearby Cozumel Island.

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Popular among the spring break crowd, which makes it easy to find a great package deal here. All-inclusive resorts are in the majority but there are still some places that offer it as an option only. Cancun’s Hotel Zone consists of close to 100 hotels is built on a 22 km sandbar island that lies on the northeastern edge of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2011 Top 100 Reader’s Choice Awards touted diving Mexico as the number one location in the Caribbean & Atlantic region for value for dollar. This certainly holds true in Cancun, where the variety of diving includes reefs, wrecks, large animals, freshwater caverns and an underwater sculpture museum.

La playa en Cancún, CreditAnimals of all shapes and sizes can be found in the waters around Cancun. Whale sharks gather to the north around nearby Isla Holbox, sailfish congregate between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, grouper, eagle rays, moray eels, lobster, and several species of sharks and turtles are spotted on a regular basis.

Parrotfish, Credit

Climate & Sea conditions

The year round climate of Cancun only varies by a couple of degrees from winter to summer. Average daily high temperatures peak in July and August at 32C and drop to 27C in January. Sea breezes keep it from getting too hot here. Average daily lows do get a bit cooler in the winter months, reaching around 19C in January. You can expect high humidity levels all year in the 85% range. Rainfall is moderate, with about 60 days of rainfall per year. The weather does change quickly however and rain isn’t likely to last very long.

Water temperatures are likewise warm and steady year round, varying between 28C in the summer and 25C in the winter.

Cancun does sit in the Atlantic hurricane zone. The storm season lasts from May to December. Large hurricane strikes are rare however, with the last large storm to affect Cancun being hurricane Dean in 2007, which made landfall 310 km to the south. Prior to that hurricane Wilma made a direct landfall in 2005, with the eye passing over Playa del Carmen.

Turtle! Credit

It is important to note that there is no off season for diving in Cancun. Due to the rarity of large storms, operators are in business all year. Cancellations due to bad weather are rare.

Marine Conservation

The Royal Resorts on the Riviera Maya spearhead an annual effort to protect nesting green and loggerhead turtles which come to nest on the resort beaches. They then collect and move the eggs to a protected location where they hatch 45-60 days later. Tourists are then allowed to participate in release events.

 
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Shore Diving

The Riviera Maya features shore diving of a different variety. The limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula makes it an ideal location for the formation of underground, freshwater filled caverns. Some of these cenotes (from the Mayan word for ‘well’) are known to have been sacrificial sites for the Mayans.

Nowadays several cenotes can be dived by recreational divers without special certifications as long as they dive with a certified guide. The cool, fresh water offers crystal clear visibility up to 100m, though most of your dive will take place in the darkened, enclosed passages between open-air caverns and sinkholes.

It's a Star! Credit

Popular sites include Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote as well as the more advanced level Angelita and Calavera. The fantastic limestone formations can be appreciated by snorkelers within the sinkhole openings. Located inland and accessed via badly eroded dirt jungle roads, getting to these sites can be half the adventure.

Be warned, the water here tends to run a bit cooler than the balmy Caribbean. At a year-round temperature of 25 C most people will want some form of thermal protection. The shallow depths here can equal long dive times and it’s easy to get chilled. The cenotes can be reached on an easy day trip from Cancun. Many dive shops offer tour packages and they are located about an hour’s drive south of the Hotel Zone.

Grouper, Credit

Day Trips

Cancun sits at the beginning of the world’s second largest barrier reef. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef stretches 1000 km down the east coast of Mexico and Belize right down to Honduras. Thanks to this there are several nearby reef sites at a variety of depths. Chitales, Aristos, Media Luna and Punta Negra are popular sites shallower than 25 m with little current.

Nearby Isla Mujeres and Cozumel offer many more exciting spots like the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks (20 m), where nurse sharks are frequent visitors. On Cozumel’s west coast you can fly over the reefs and the spectacular Santa Rosa wall (15-30 m) on fast-moving drift dives.

There are three major wreck dives in Cancun, the Ultrafreeze tug (max depth 33 m), the C58 minesweeper (22 m) and the C-55 gunship (25 m). All three wrecks were purpose-sunk by the government as artificial reef sites as long ago as 1980 (C58). Sharks, rays and turtles are frequently sighted on these wrecks which are considered intermediate to advanced sites. 

One of the newer underwater attractions here is MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte), or the Underwater Sculpture Museum. Installed starting in 2009, artist Jason deCaires Taylor produced 403 individual life-size human sculptures to be located on an otherwise barren, sandy stretch of ocean floor occupying 420 sq.m.

Trunkfish, Credit

The sculptures will act as an artificial reef and tourist attraction, alleviating pressure on heavily visiting natural reefs nearby. The biggest of four separate installations is La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution) sits at only 9 m and can be visited by divers and snorkelers alike.

Though the encounters are snorkel only, the nearby islands of Holbox and Contoy are home to one of the world’s largest feeding aggregations of whale sharks. Aerial surveys from 2009 estimated the swarm to consist of at least 420 animals! From late May to early September encounters here are so reliable that many operators have money back guarantees. The islands can be reached by a 45 minute boat ride or a minibus over land to Holbox.

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How to get there

Cancun International Airport (CUN) welcomes in the area of 800,000 passengers per month in the high season. Major international airlines flying into Cancun include all major American carriers (Delta, American Airlines, United, etc.), Air Canada, Thomas Cook and Thomson (UK), Belair (Germany), Iberia Airlines (Spain) as well as AeroMexico. A departure tax of approximately $48 USD is usually included in your airfare.

Diving the reef, Credit

The airport features four major car rental agencies, Thrifty, Dollar, Hertz and Budget. In Mexico cars drive on the right. Taxis, shuttles and buses to the hotels are easily located just outside the doors and Cancun is about 20-30 minutes from the airport.

All travellers to Mexico are required to carry passports valid for at least 90 days after your departure date. Visa requirements vary by country and can be valid for anywhere from 30 to 180 days depending on your country of citizenship.

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Where to eat & drink

Cancun restaurants run the gamut for every budget and palette. Well-known chains including Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, Outback Steakhouse and Hooters all have outlets here. All major fast-food chains can be found here as well.

Mexican Food, Credit

Some examples of what the area offers are, La Destileria which features 150 brands of tequila that can be sampled on a Tequila Tour daily. The menu is Mexican with mains starting at $10 up to $25. Casa Rolandi, a highly regarded Italian restaurant, featuring a second storey terrace overlooking the Nichupte Lagoon enclosed by the Hotel Zone sandbar. Prices range from $12-35 USD. Lorenzillo’s which has been a long-time fixture in Cancun, established in 1979. Specializing in seafood, the restaurant established a lobster farm in the late 1980s. Mains here range from $20-50 USD. They also feature an extensive wine selection. Also Puerto Madero, featuring South American fare, specializing in steaks and seafood. Mains range from $15-60 USD.

Nightlife includes the more casual restaurant/bars Carlos ‘n Charlie’s and Señor Frogs or the dance clubs The City or CoCo Bongo which both offer a flat-fee open bar cover charge.

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Other activities

Cancun and its environs are chock full of activities on land, on the water and in the water besides diving. Whether you’re into golf, nature, history or shopping there really is something for everyone. Cancun is home to a handful of upscale shopping malls hosting many popular and familiar American and international brands such as Benetton, Gucci and Ralph Lauren as well as restaurants like Planet Hollywood and Margaritaville and all the major fast food chains. Smaller handicraft shops can also be found in the Hotel Zone.

A tourist in Cancun, Credit

Major nearby attractions include the ecological parks Xcaret and Xel-Ha where you can float down lazy rivers and underground streams or swim with dolphins. Xcaret is billed as an ecological theme park. It is located about a 70 minute drive from the Hotel Zone. Admission is not cheap, so try to find deals online. Almost all hotels will offer a tour package or the concierge should be able to arrange one which will include round trip transportation. Included in the admission are enough attractions to fill at least a day’s visit. 

You’ll have access to an underground river system, a butterfly pavilion, a tropical aquarium and on-site Mayan ruins as well as various animal exhibits including jaguars, manatees, flamingos, turtles and dolphins. A variety of cultural performances are scheduled throughout the day and into the evening. For-cost extras include snorkel and snuba tours, dolphin and shark swims, a Mexican wine tasting and a range of spa services. Xcaret has a high end, all inclusive resort on-site.

Couple and Fantastic view, Credit

Xel-Ha is another park nearby that offers top-notch snorkelling in a sheltered mangrove lagoon. It is often paired in a tour package with a stop at Tulum, a spectacularly well preserved Mayan fortified city, built on a cliff top overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The same types of for-cost activities available at Xcaret are also available at Xel-Ha.

Further down the coast is the Sian Ka’an Bioreserve. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 the reserve encompasses 528,000 ha of land (5,280 sq. km), houses over 300 species of birds, 120 species of trees and shrubs, 1,200 plant species, five species of wild cats, 42 species of reptiles and amphibians, 52 species of fish and over 1,300 varieties of invertebrate species. There are also 23 Mayan archaeological sites and 64 km of coastal dunes within the boundaries of the reserve. A variety of activities both recreational and education in nature are available.

Cancun Underwater Museum, Credit

Chichen Itza is available as a day trip, albeit a very long day trip, from Cancun. Usually done on a coach trip from the Hotel Zone, it is home to the most recognizable Mayan pyramid, El Castillo. 

Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives over 1 million visitors annually. Located almost halfway across the Yucatan Peninsula it’s about a 5 hour round-trip drive, minus the time spent touring the site.

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Tips

If you dive within Cancun’s Marine Park a fee of $2 USD applies.

There are military checkpoints along the highway into and out of Cancun. You will encounter heavily armed soldiers here. Do not be alarmed, these are for your security and have been in place far longer than the recent drug war escalation in certain areas of the country. Just follow their instructions and answer their questions and you won’t have a problem.

You will likely be approached more than once with a free or cheap offer of some sort. The catch is that you are required to attend a 90 minute presentation on purchasing a time share. These are usually legitimate offers, but the presentations will often extend past 90 minutes and will be followed by a high pressure sales pitch. If you’re actually in the market for a time share be prepared to negotiate because they will usually start with a majorly over-inflated price.

Enjoying the view of the ocean, Credit

Mexican vendors can make some people uncomfortable. They will approach you and they may occasionally try to take you by the arm to bring you to their shops. A calm but stern, “No, thank you,” will usually do the trick.

If you’re staying within the bounds of the Hotel Zone there is a very easy to use bus system that will take you the length of the strip for a few pesos. You will have to be careful for pick pockets on these buses though as tourists are a favourite and easy target.

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Where to dive in October

I'll be in the Cancun area in mid-October. I haven't decided where to stay yet, and will do so based on the best diving locations. The location needs to be within an hour and a half of Cancun. I'm hoping to mostly do shore dives (keep diving as cheap as possible), but can afford to do a few boat dives as well. Our main goal is to see wildlife, but we'd also like to do a cenote or two.

Experience level: I'm an experienced diver, but I'll be bringing my husband who is getting certified right now.

Any suggestions?

Showing 3 of 5 comments. Show all

Nick F

1 vote

the absolute MUST in the region are the cenotes dives. The visibility is infinite, just google it. We dived there from Playa del Carmen. I strongly recommend it as it's one of the only spot in the world to provide that kind of diving.

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Alla Zakharenko

1 vote

+1 to Nick's comment, but you need to be aware that water temperature in the cenotes is much lower than in the sea. I was so frozen after the first dive that I had to skip the second despite it was already paid for. So, boots and hoodie are a must there

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Alla Zakharenko

0 votes

Unfortunately it is not the best season in October - whale sharks season lasts up to mid September while it is bot yet bull shark season. You can try heading to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel and dive there, Playa will be more affordable.

help!

I saw what i think was a small shark at the c-58 ship wreck site. It was about 3ft in length and had a square shaped head. Has anyone else seen this kind of fish? If so what was it? Thanx

2

Mike Bednarz

0 votes

I think i have seen something similar but no idea what it is! Sorry! :D

I am traveling to Cancun on Feb 19-24th 2016

What have you guys seen out lately? or should i expect to see so that i can plan my dive trip. Thank you

liam

Liam Parker

0 votes

I was there 3 weeks ago - just the usual :) A couple of turtles, some reef sharks plus lots of fish/smaller stuff. I plan to go back mid-year for whale shark season.

Miguel Cachoa

0 votes

Good day Peter Dang & Liam Parker, if you visit the Mexican caribbean have excellent options, from the Underwater Museum to Wreck Diving. It's amazing experience. Contac us to: http://diveprocancundiving.com.

Heading to Cancun 12/2-5

what is the best diving experience to look for?

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Jaromíra Tomanová

0 votes

Whale sharks! :)

jon

Joss Leonard

0 votes

Its not really whaleshark season.. but there is a lot to see anyway :) Check out Isla Mujeres if you can.

Where should I dive when visiting Tulum Mexico

Besides the Cenotes, Where is the best marine life?? Reefs?

Does anyone have a dive shop they can recommend? please, leaving May20-29

thank you

Lisa

Showing 3 of 5 comments. Show all
9.1262834930.scuba diving in jamaica

Marie Harper

0 votes

I would take the short trip over to Cozumel Island, there's some lovely diving there.

Lisa Rubin

0 votes

Thank you for your recommendation, we will be staying in Tulum, aprox 1 hour south of cancun airport,

Lisa Rubin

0 votes

would you have any recommentation for dive shops., thank you again Lisa

Are the dives better in Cancun or Playa del Carmen?

I've dived a few times in Playa del Carmen (and Cozumel and cenotes). I've never dived in Cancun so I would like to know where it is better.. i have a lot of dives so I am expecting something really good :) Thank you, hope you guys can help me

Nautilus Diving

0 votes

Cancun diving is different - personally I think it's better than the diving in Playa del Carmen, but not great compared to Cozumel: Cancun doesn't have a wall like Cozumel does which makes the Cozumel dives so beautiful. But the reefs in Cancun are very nice - healthy, tons of sealife (I think more than Cozumel) and it's also part of the national marine park. The highlights are the underwater sculpture museum (30' dives), the C-58 shipwreck, and the reefs outside of the bay (average 50').

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Catherine Jones

0 votes

Mexico Blue Dream dive center says: We recommend the Underwater Museum in Cancun. It is something with a totally different atmosphere. It is not really deep but you see a lot of human statues, home, animals.... Regarding the reef, the best is Cozumel and in Playa the bull shark season is starting now til February.\n

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