Once mainly visited by divers, cruise ships regularly disgorge great packs of shopper on this little island off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The island offers a wide range of accommodations, restaurants, topside activities, colorful night life and stimulating cultural opportunities.
Most dive sites are very interesting in geography; you’ll find a combination of caves, tunnels, overhangs, pinnacles, and sheer dropoffs.
The diving offered along the reefs and shoals of the island’s southwest coast is excellent. Virtually all of the diving involves drift diving from a boat and most dives are not more then 20 minutes away. Besides accompanied boat diving, there are also numerous shore dives at locations along the island’s west coast.
Spectacular dives exist, buy many operators are reluctant to visit these sites, especially if the divers aboard have mixed experience levels. And rightfully so. Because Cozumel’s diving is deep or fast current drift diving, beginning divers should stick to easier dives.
Best Diving Destinations in Cozumel
Best diving is on the western side toward the southern end of Cozumel. Eastern side generally unsafe to dive. Best dives include Palancar Reef, Santa Rosa Wall, Maracaibo, Punta Sur and Colombia Reefs.
Palancar is a huge, largely pristine reef stretching over 5 km (3 miles). It offers an amazing diversity of marine life and coral formations to suit all tastes and levels of diving expertise. For convenience, it has been split int the four dives most popular with the Cozumel Diving Association, which has over 150 registered dive sites around the island. Topographiclly, Palancare Shallows is a very interesting site since it rises to around 5m (16ft) in some places, and in others drops in a mini-wall to 18m (59ft). The reef is cut and dividd by many fissures and caves. Black corals, such as Antipathes pennacea, are found in the deeper parts, and huge stovepipe sponges stretch out from the reef. There are also brightly coloured yellow tube sponges, associated with juvenile yellowhead wrasse, and a number of fish that often hide in the deep tubes of the sponge at night for protection. Palancare Horseshoe forms a natural amphitheatre cut into the Palancar Shallows stretch of Palancar Reef. It is always dived separately from the other areas. This dive is better in the deeper section where large gorgonian sea fans stretch out into the current, surrounded by fish, corals and invertebrates.
The reef slopes outwards and has a deeply convoluted lip. Here the corals seem to take on a life of their own, forming spires, buttresses, caves, gulleys and canyons. Deep fissures run under the coral formations and sand slopes plummet off into the depths. Large sheet corals jut out from the reef, forming overhangs where squirrelfish and bigeyes seek shelter during the day. Divers should take a torch to pick out the true colors of the fish.
This is a deeply incised wall with many varied combinations of coral growth. Shoaling fish such as grunts and snappers are in evidence and if you take your time as you exit the caves on the outer edge of the reef, you may catch a glimpse of a green turtle or a spotted eagle ray.
Experienced level dives include Devil’s Throat, a deep tunnel dive which opens up into the ocean at about 45 meters. Another dive not to be missed is Eagle Ray Alley on the rarely visited North Western side of the island. During late January and beginning of February you can spot large schools of Eagle Rays there.
When to Visit Cozumel
Best diving is in spring and summer (May-Sept) when the seas are calmer. It is often rainy during fall and winter. Expect water temperatures in low to mid 80°F (26-29°C). The Eagle Ray migration starts in late January and lasts for about two weeks into early February.
Getting to Cozumel
Cancun is the big international airport served by a number of international airlines and charter flights from where it is easy to get to Cozumel. Internal flights to Cozumel are available on Mexicana and regular ferry services depart from Puerto Morelos and Playa Del Carmen on the Yucatan mainland.