For fantastic scuba diving in a relatively surprising location, look no further than Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. Located around 400km east of Mexico City, the city itself is a large and fairly crowded place with polluted waters that are not ideal for diving. However, a 20 minute boat ride away will reveal crystal clear, blue-green waters that the Gulf of Mexico is known for. A favorite for tourists is Isla de Sacrificios which holds a famous lighthouse and is surrounded by submerged reefs with plenty of underwater life to see.
All around Veracruz, to the north and south, are fantastic beaches laden with palm trees and wonderful warm gulf breezes, not to mention an abundance of scuba diving possibilities, many of which are yet to be made official sites. The Gulf boasts a multitude of accommodation options with a great beach scene offering unique restaurants, historic landmarks and more.
Within the port of Veracruz divers will find the fairly underused Veracruz Reef System, reef platforms that are otherwise known as Systema Arrecifal Veracruzano. Platform reefs are generally reef banks that are found off the coast, extending upwards from the ocean floor and offering sandy cays and a lagoon. The reef platforms at Veracruz, however, do not have any true lagoons but do feature a few cays worth exploring.
As you head south of Veracruz you’ll come across Antón Lizardo, a small town with fantastic scuba diving opportunities in the way of sites and scuba shops. The wide variety of corals are a major highlight for scuba divers visiting Veracruz – you’ll find boulder brain corals, great star coral and giant starlet coral. In terms of marine inhabitants, large groupers can often be seen as well as colourful honeycomb cowfish and queen angelfish.
With clear waters and flourishing reefs, scuba diving around the state of Veracruz is simply a no-brainer and definitely worth exploring for the adventurous scuba diver. The waters are beautifully clear and warm and conditions only get better the further south you go away from the sandy, cloudy waters of the northern areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
Veracruz’s offshore reef system is an official Marine National Park and an excellent location for scuba diving, however it is still considered one of Mexico’s hidden treasures which only adds to the charm.
Although the port of Veracruz is a high traffic area and fairly polluted, there are a number of interesting wreck dives to be done nearby. The ships that have sunk in the last 5 centuries are located on stunning reefs and are always teeming with colorful marine life. Three of the more popular wrecks can be reached within a 30 minute boat ride from Veracruz, making them convenient for all wreck diving enthusiasts.
The USS Tacoma, once a US patrol ship, sunk in very shallow water due to a heavy storm in 1924 just to the north of the port of Veracruz. It lies on Blanquilla Reef and offers divers an easily accessible wreck very nearby the hustle and bustle of the port.
Another easily accessible wreck with an interesting backstory is the wreck Riva Palacio located off Isla Verde and the Anegada Reef. This ship was a minesweeper that originally was known as the USS Jubilant and formed part of the US Navy. In 1962 it was sold to the Mexican Navy where it was renamed and later purposefully sunk to become an artificial reef in the year 2000.
An excellent beginner wreck dive is the El Hidalgo which is just a 30 minute boat ride from Veracruz and lies beyond the port at Isla Verde. Divers often come across massive schools of red snapper, large Nassau grouper and trumpet fish who have made the sanctuary of these ships wrecks their homes.
Two additional shipwrecks which are well-worth hiring a boat to visit are the Maria Elena and El Rielero, located on the north and south of the big Anegada reef. The Anegada reef is located slightly further south from the port at Veracruz and the wrecks are suitable for intermediate divers and even beginner divers when the currents are low.
Other Dive Sites
There are a number of known dive sites to the north of Veracruz which, although they require some planning to get to, are definitely worthwhile.
The offshore reef of Arrecife Los Amarillos is just north of the Chachalacas Dune field and only takes 20 minutes by boat from Veracruz. Eagle rays, tarpons, octopus, anemone and coral can all be seen here, as well as sharks, grouper and schools of snapper which are often seen near the 120-foot drop that is just off the site.
Near the southern area of Veracruz state, and south of Veracruz city, is an industrial port city known as Coatzacoalcos which stands as a good base to visit some excellent diving right near the Yucatan peninsula. Punta Gorda is a 40 meter dive ideal for coral enthusiasts with both hard and soft corals and a number of small reef fish that make for an interesting dive. The visibility at this dive site is well known for being exceptional, and the site is especially popular with intermediate divers wishing to explore the not-so-often-seen dive sites Mexico has to offer.
How to get there
In order to explore Mexico’s Gulf Coast, especially for those coming from Mexico City, an excellent starting point is the city of Veracruz. It is a 3 hour drive from Mexico City to Veracruz, but there are also hop flights available which will shorten the journey time. Mexico City’s airport Internacional Benito Juarez Airport (MEX) is a good option but flights are also available from other major cities in Mexico to the Las Bajadas Airport (VER) in Veracruz.
Renting a car is a great idea to explore Mexico’s Gulf coast, and Veracruz is centrally located so that regardless of whether you go north or south you’ll be able to explore some great sights and dive locations.
It’s also possible to drive to Veracruz from the US about would take about 12 hours from Brownsville, Texas. Once through the city of Tuxpan and heading south, the drive becomes very scenic and the coastline and beaches are great places to stop to stretch your legs.
Dive shops are plentiful in Veracruz even though as a scuba destination it is still fairly new, but there is no shortage of diving operations and many offer great customer service and friendly, helpful instructors. Most dive operators will offer short, day-long dive trips on a regular basis.
There is also the possibility to do commercial diving in the area with a few dive shops specializing in this kind of high tech scuba equipment and training. To the south of Veracruz’s port is the quaint fishing town of Anton Lizardo where it is possible to hire small boats, arrange private diving trips or take day diving trips to the fantastic sites nearby.