Diving Playa del Carmen

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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Country: Mexico  Area: Mexico

Water Temp: 26 - 29°C (79 - 84°F)

Visibility: 25 - 30m (82 - 98 ft)

Depth Range: 6 - 40m (20 - 131 ft)

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Playa del Carmen is located on the Yucatán peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico in the Caribbean Sea.  The city lies within the Riviera Maya, a tourist district known for large all-inclusive resorts and as a popular cruise ship destination.  For young South Americans, Mexicans, and Europeans, this chic enclave is the place to see and be seen.

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With its luxury accommodation, decent restaurants, upscale shopping, busy nightlife along with great diving Playa del Carmen caters toward the young single crowd. Most of the shops, restaurants, and bars are within walking distance in the pedestrian friendly town.

Low tropical jungle covers an extensive network of underground rivers, caves and cenotes.  Mangrove forests lead up to the beaches and headlands.  The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second longest in the world, lies offshore.

Whitespot Filefish, Credit

Playa del Carmen is home to both whale sharks and bull sharks at certain times during the year. The whale shark season is from late may to mid September and during this time hundreds of sharks come to feed on the rich plankton filled waters.

Bull shark season is November to March. There’s plenty of diving opportunities for families and junior divers, there are many shallow reefs which are perfect for young divers and snorkelers.

 For those divers who want to try something different from ocean diving, Playa del Carmen is right in the middle of Cave Country. The area is home to the world’s largest underwater cave systems, also known as Cenotes, where cave and cavern diving takes place every day. Located in the jungle these freshwater caves don’t have much in way of marine life but instead divers have spectacular rock and cave formations which are often the highlight of diver's visits.

Morning Twilight - Playa del Carmen, Credit

Playa Del Carmen also just a short 45 minute ferry ride away from Cozumel with more good quality diving.

Marine Conservation

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve covers 647,500 hectares (1.6 million acres).  The reserve includes the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef as well as other coastal and marine habitats, wetlands, tropical forest, and underground river systems.  Amigos de Sian Ka’an, a nongovernmental organization, works with the reserve to promote biodiversity conservation through extensive environmental education programs.  The organization collaborates with local Mayan communities to develop strategies for economic development through the sustainable use of natural resources.  By encouraging the use of traditional skills and locally made products, Amigos de Sian Ka’an has enabled the Mayan communities to preserve their culture while protecting the environment.

GVI, through an alliance with the University of Quintana Roo, works to place volunteers in conservation programs on the Yucatán Peninsula.  Volunteers work as field researchers, monitoring the reef system and fish populations, conducting turtle nesting surveys, and providing outreach education to the local community.

Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park, a top rated eco and cultural heritage theme park, runs the turtle conservation program in Riviera Maya.


Cordyline fruticosa, Credit

Playa del Carmen has a subtropical climate that ranges from warm to hot with a high level of humidity.  Average high temperatures range from 27°C (80°F) in January to 31°C (88°F) in July.  Average low temperatures range from 20°C (68°F) in January to 24°C (75°F) in July.  The nicest weather occurs from February to May when the humidity and rainfall are at their lowest level.  Summer is characterized by high heat and humidity with afternoon downpours.

Hurricane season is from June through November, although the likelihood of a storm is greatest from August through October.

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The Diving

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System runs over 1,000km (540 miles) from the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula to the Bay Islands of Honduras.  The reefs have a rich biodiversity of hard and soft corals, mollusks, and fish. Elkhorn and black corals are among some of the endangered species that grow here. Other endangered or threatened species that inhabit the reefs include the Nassau grouper, queen conch, West Indian manatee, and sea turtles. Currents are moderate to strong and run from south to north along the barrier reef, making drift diving the norm.  

Kofferfisch, Credit

Shallow to moderate drift dive sites are abundant along the coral reef system.  At the southern end, Barracuda is a sandy area full of finger reefs that have many overhangs and ledges.  The maximum depth is 14m (46ft.). Near the end is a swim-through to the top of the reef.  Sea turtles, moray eels, lobster, king crab, seahorses, and the reef’s namesake, barracuda are common.

Sabalos was named after the Tarpon. Occasionally, schools of these silver monsters can still be seen in the area. Drop down behind the reef to avoid the currents.  Here, you can more closely observe the marine life, making it a prime spot for photographers.

Tortugas Reef is one of the most popular medium depth dives because of its abundant population of sea turtles.  Green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead turtles graze in the forest of barrel sponges on this gently sloping reef.  Residents of the reef also include angelfish, grouper, nurse sharks, moray eels, spadefish, and rays. The reef begins at a depth of 18m (60ft.) and gradually slopes down to 30m (100ft.).  At 21m (70ft.), a massive ledge is the home of some very large green moray eels. Currents are light to moderate.

Muräne, Credit

A couple of hundred meters further out are some deeper dive sites, often with strong currents. Moc Che Deep is a sheer wall dive that begins at 20m (65ft.) and bottoms out in the sand at 30m (100ft.).  A mixture of hard and soft corals provide habitat for moray eels, king crab, lobster, and sea turtles. Bull sharks, hammerheads, and eagle rays are common during the winter months. Rather than a single drop off wall, Pared Verde has sections of wall interspersed with sloping areas of sand. Wall formations begin at 21m (70ft.) and drop down to 30m (100ft.).

The only shipwreck in the area, the Mama Viña is a 27m (90ft.) ferry that was sunk to serve as artificial reef and recreational dive site. A more advanced dive, the ferry sits upright in 27m (90ft.) of water with very strong currents. Large schools of jacks and barracudas are ever present.  

In Playa del Carmen, the diving does not stop when you get out of the ocean. Cenotes (sink holes) are created when the limestone bedrock collapses, exposing the underground river systems that flow beneath the Yucatán Peninsula.  Diving in water with no current with good visibility allows for close inspection of the intricate rock formations and marine life. 

Diving Playa del Carmen, Credit

The cenotes often connect to elaborate underwater cave systems. Cave diving on the peninsula draws divers from around the world.  Horizontal penetration, complicated navigation, deep depths, and strong currents make this one of the most hazardous forms of diving.  Only specially trained, advanced divers should attempt the caves.

The cenotes that are open to the public have good park facilities. Cenote Azul is a small, uncrowded cenote with turquoise waters, mini-cliffs and smaller pools.The Cenote Ponderosa (also known as the ‘Garden of Eden’) has a maximum depth of 15m (49ft.).  A rocky ceiling juts out over part of this sacred Mayan site; offerings of gold and jade were cast into the cenote and the surrounding rock ran red with blood as the Mayans made their human sacrifices.

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How to Get there

Most visitors fly into the Cancún International Airport, 50km (31 miles) north of Playa del Carmen.  An alternative is to fly into Cozumel International Airport and ride the ferry across to Playa del Carmen.

From the Cancún International Airport, there are buses, private transfer companies, and rental cars available.  Playa del Carmen is pedestrian friendly; 5th Avenue does not allow vehicles except for early morning deliveries.  You can reach anywhere you wish to go on foot or bicycle.  Bicycle rentals are readily available.

Playa del Carmen Aerial view, Credit

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Where to Eat & Drink

From street food to upscale international cuisine, Playa del Carmen has more restaurants (over 700) than any other town on the Riviera Maya!

Puerto de Playa del Carmen, Credit

A few favorites: Oh Lala International Cuisine by George is one of the top rated restaurants in Playa del Carmen. La Coronela is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant off the beaten path that serves mouth watering authentic Mexican cuisine. For local organic vegan fare, La Senda is the place to go.

OR.. hang out at the exciting Playa Del Carmen WalMart :D, Credit

When the locals are lined up, you know you have found the best Mexican street food!  In Playa del Carmen, that place is 15th Avenue.  El Rey del Taco Cart, Torte de Cochinita Pibil Stand, Chilli Rellenos Taco Stand, and Tamales Stand each have their own specialties.  You may have to try them all.  Don’t forget the Churros Stand for those fried dough strips rolled in sugar, a crunchy delight.

When the sun goes down, 5th Avenue becomes the party venue that delivers until the small hours of the morning. The street is packed with revellers; music and flashing lights spill out the doorways of all the clubs. 

If exploring the nightclubs on your own Blue Parrot, El Pirata and Coco Bongo may be worth a look.


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Other Activities

Other activities in and around Playa del Carmen include swimming in cenotes, swimming with dolphins, jet skiing, zip lining, horseback riding, fishing, sailing, field archaeology, and guided jungle tours. Local art galleries, street vendors, and upscale boutiques provide many shopping opportunities.  Yoga is catching on in Playa del Carmen and there are several studios.

The Portal Maya, Credit

Experience the native wildlife of the Yucatán Peninsula and learn about the Mayan culture at Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park.  A favourite attraction on the Riviera Maya, Xcaret is a leader in sustainable tourism.  Hike through jungle trails, swim in an underground river, explore Mayan ruins and caves adorned with stalagmites and stalactites, observe the flora and fauna, and enjoy a pre-Hispanic dance or the Equestrian show. Enjoy dinner at one of their many restaurants.

Univers Maya offers personalized, guided tours.  Your guide provides a wealth of information about the history and cultural importance of the Mayan sites, as well as the natural resources and wildlife in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Massage treat, Credit

Xaman Ha Aviary is a small bird sanctuary that is home to more than 60 species of tropical bird.  In this natural habitat, you can get a close up view of Caribbean flamingos, snowy egrets, toucans, scarlet macaws, and many more.  Butterflies, iguanas, turtles, and squirrels also make the sanctuary home.

The net, Credit

Family Friendly

There are no formal activities for children.  Some snorkelling and dolphin swimming excursions are open to older kids.  Beautiful beaches with tranquil waters for swimming and snorkelling, hiking trails through nature reserve, cenotes, and wildlife sanctuaries provide many opportunities for families to spend time together and enjoy enriching experiences.

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• Pack sunscreen at any time of year and bug spray (with DEET) during the summer and early fall.  Dengue virus is a mosquito-borne illness that has become more prevalent in the  Caribbean over the last few years.  Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, rash, joint aches, and muscle and bone soreness.

• Pack sturdy shoes for hiking and flashlights for cave exploration.

• Pack handheld VHF and GPS if you will be exploring on your own.

• Consider a global rescue membership, particularly if you plan to engage in more advanced and dangerous dives. 

Gaviotas en Playa del Carmen, Credit

Dive Reports


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Rating 10/10

Bull Sharks!!!

Playa del Carmen3 Jan 2014 - 11 Jan 2015

Playa del Carmen is one of the best places to dive with Bull Sharks. Warm water, very good visibility, no cage and just about 15min from the beach. The shark season is between November and February. I've seen 10 sharks at the same time. If the weather is not good you can dive in the "cenotes" (caves) which is an amazing experience too.

I like to dive with Deep Mexico. They don't feed the sharks.

Rating 7/10

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen11 Jun 2014 - 25 Jun 2014

This is the third of my trilogy. Of the three, this was the least memorable. To start with there is no jetty so the boat comes into the beach and you have to wade into the surf to about chest height with a mesh bag with your kit in and climb into the boat. This side of the channel (see my Cozumel report) the sea bed is at only about 12 m so good visibility and long dives (even I could last 55 minutes!). Primarily this is drift diving although one was a mix of coral reefs and drift. There is good fish life, primarily large shoals of grunts and snapper which will let you get very close indeed - to less that a metre. There are plenty of large moray eels of various species and we saw one eagle ray although that was rare for this time of year. There is also a large number of yellow rays (which look brown under water)which I think are limited to this location and that occasional large grey ones. We dived with Yucatek Divers, a Swiss owned operation, who can also organise cenotes diving (see my Tulum report and photo hopefully attached with me upside down) and would happily recommend them as they can also do you a deal with hotels if you dive with them. This is the most commercial part of the area and whilst there is almost limitless bars restaurants and shops, the salesmen that go with them aren't too bad but can get a bit tedious

Hana Nováková

:) I quite like a wade out.. makes you feel adventurous!


Julieta Rodrigues

I enjoy your reports. I hope to get back to Playa next year :)


Debra Johnson

Thanks for sharing sounds a fun dive spot we remember for the future. I really want to dive the Cenotes one day,

Rating 10/10

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen11 Jan 2014 - 14 Mar 2014

Diving with sea turtles, tons of beautiful fish. Apple Vacations.

mexico scuba dive jan 2014 mexico scuba dive 2014
diving goggles 1208672 m

Camelia Kemenes

:) looks so nice!

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