Cozumel

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(12 REVIEWS)

 

Cozumel in a Nutshell

 

Cozumel is a year-round dive destination known for easy drift diving with stellar visibility, vibrantly colored sponges and marine life like turtles, nurse sharks and rays. It also has good nightlife and a mix between luxury and inexpensive dive resorts.

 

 

Intro to Cozumel 

 

Located on a Caribbean island 10 miles (16k) just off the Yucat√°n peninsula of Mexico, Cozumel sits opposite Playa Del Carmen and about an hour south of Cancun. The island itself is 28 miles long and 9 miles wide. The diving in Cozumel is comprised of 45+ sites on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which touches Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras and is the second largest barrier reef in the world (the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is larger).

Travel to Cozumel is easy and the resort/hotel options are bountiful for all budgets and travel styles. The popularity of Cozumel as a vacation and cruise ship destination means that there is rich nightlife and non-dive activities, creating a great atmosphere for those traveling with non-dive fun seekers, resort loungers and beach explorers.

The Marine Park of Cozumel has protected the southern area of the island for almost two decades, which boasts a variety of corals, sponges and fish species. The diving in Cozumel will entertain beginner divers with shallow colorful sites and the more advanced with deeper drift dives along huge walls and swim-throughs. Water temperature is warm year-round. Underwater photographers are smart to bring both wide-angle and macro gear.

 

Typical Cozumel Dive

 

There are many dive operators in Cozumel - some independent and some attached to resorts. Diving is done from a variety of boats, from spacious 20-diver boats to fast twin-outboard pangas for 4-6 divers. Two-tank morning dives are standard, picking up divers at resort docks anywhere between 7:30-8:30am, returning by 12 or 1pm in time for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Single-tank afternoon dives, night dives and resort beach dives are also available.

Because of the currents (running south to north), dive boats make live drops and follow divers as they drift along the reef before ascending right next the boat. Some operations will drop a big group with several guides and some will space out small groups with one guide each. Guides always deploy an SMB before ascending to a safety stop.

Those diving several days will experience a great variety in dive sites. Advanced divers will start with deeper (70-80ft) dives along the famous Punta Sur, Colombia and Palancar Reefs followed by a surface interval and second dive further north at shallower reefs like Paso Del Cedral, Tormentos, Chankanaab or several others. The deeper reefs feature massive coral heads with a maze of swim-throughs and walls decorated with colorful sponges of all shapes and sizes. The dives will generally start in shallower water for a quick bouyancy check and then drop over the ledge into deeper water for the majority of the dive. Towards the end, divers will work their way up the slope into the 30-40ft range before rising for a mid-water safety stop. The shallower reefs are colorful with more natural light as divers drift over exotic coral, sponges and marine life - perfect as a second dive.

 

Cozumel Marine Life & Photography Subjects

 

Cozumel is home to over 500 fish species and a wide variety of corals. On a typical trip divers will see turtles, groupers, green moray eels, nurse sharks, the endemic splended toadfish and lots of colorful tropical fish. Divers will often see eagle rays in the distance during winter months while the summer brings more blacktip and reef sharks. The southernmost deeper reefs feature massive coral heads covered with vase, tube, rope, elephant ear and many other vibrantly colored sponges. The coral heads create a network of fun channels, swim-throughs and wall drifts above steep drop-offs. The depth and rich color make a dive light very useful in viewing the rich colors and for peering into nooks and crannies looking for a spendid toadfish or dog-sized lobsters.

 

The shallower reefs further north boast many small fish and inverts. It's here that divers will often see hawksbill turtles, eagle rays and small schools of jacks, barracuda and other open water fish. Searching beneath and behind the coral heads will reward divers with nurse sharks, moray eels, lobsters and more. Afternoon and night boat dives are done on these shallower reefs as well.

 

Shore diving from resorts offers a chance macro subjects on artificial reefs and the sandy bottom. The current is minimal at these sites, prividing ample opportunity to shoot anemone shrimp, juvenile drumfish, spotted moray eels, stingrays, trumpetfish and more. Diving at dusk into night will bring out more critters, including some curious squid. And while more rare, divers should always be on the lookout for seahorses

 

 

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Schooling fish 00:18, turtle 00:42, nurse shark 00:51, sting ray 01:08, free swimming eel 01:15, ray 01:51, moray eel 02:02, turtle 02:14, schooling fish 03:02, turtle 03:18, turtle 03:35

 

Nurse shark 00:11, eagle ray 00:16, turtle 00:37, nurse shark 01:14, lobster 01:37, nurse shark 01:57, turtle 02:33, ray 03:12, sting ray 04:23, eagle ray 04:52, nurse shark 05:02, eagle ray 05:26, turtle 06:52

 

Best time to dive Cozumel, Water Temps and Visibility

 

Cozumel can be dived year-round, however December - April is considered the high season. Tourists create the high season, so prices will be highest this time of year. On the other hand, non-dive activities are in full swing. Water temps hover around 75-85F and winter winds occasionally create choppy surface conditions. May - September is considered the rainy season but the water begins to warm up. Late summer and fall is the low season due to occasional hurricanes, but water temperatures are warmest - up to around 85F. The typical currents can also be stronger during the transition between seasons, however this also can bring more sharks and eagle rays.

In short, there's no bad time to visit Cozumel. As with many tropical destinations, it can be pouring rain one minute and sunny with blue skies 15 minutes later. Visibility is consistently 80-100 feet (24-30 meters). On the rare day when it's too windy to dive the Cozumel reefs, visitors can look into crossing the channel to Playa Del Carmen and the Cenotes, which presents an incredible day of freshwater cavern/cave diving.

 

Getting There

 

Flying to Cozumel is easy thanks to many visiting tourists. Several airlines offer direct flights into Cozumel International Airport (CZM), and from there it's a quick shuttle or shared taxi ride to the dive resorts. If taking the taxi, it's necessary to pay for the ride inside the airport before walking outside. There are two rates depending on whether the resort is close to town or further south (about $9 USD).

The other alternative is to fly into Cancun and then take a ferry down to Cozumel. This also presents the opportunity to visit Playa Del Carmen - a great option for those who would like to cover a bit more ground or dive the Cenotes.

 

Non-diving activites

 

Cozumel offers many activities for non-divers and divers who want to relax after diving in the morning. The nightlife is rich with a variety of entertainment to choose from. There are restaurants offering nice romantic dining, casual family dinners, latenight clubs and everything in-between. There is shopping, parasailing, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and many more activities. The wide range of resorts allows divers to choose from exceptional spa facilities, hammocks to tuck away and read a book, tennis courts and pools with swim-up bars. Those who are more adventurous can ride horses, take a tequila tasting tour, join eco jungle and lagoon tours or venture inland to explore ancient Mayan ruins.

 

Cozumel Resort & Liveaboard options

 

Land-based diving is the norm in Cozumel, offering the balance between non-dive activities and excellent scuba diving. Most resorts work with an in-house dive operation but also allow other dive operations to pick guests up at their docks.

 

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Cozumel has some of the best diving in the Caribbean. Cozumel has excellent conditions, and abundant marine life. Cozumel has a variety of dive sites, but it is most well known for its stunning wall dives and leisurely drift dives. Marine life you can expect to see on most dives in Cozumel include nurse sharks, eagle rays, giant green morays, turtles, lobsters, and numerous colorful reef fish. There are so many excellent dive sites on the island, but in this review I will just cover a few of my favorites. Santa Rosa wall is a beautiful wall dive that is done as a drift dive. The top of the wall is right around 50 feet and it drops off into the abyss. Keep an eye out for the endemic splendid toad fish that hides in the coral crevices along the wall. Punta Dalila is a great dive site that was loaded with nurse sharks and eagle rays, it is also a shallower site at around 40-60 feet so it makes a great 2nd dive after a deep wall dive. The cathedral was an amazing dive because of it's incredible reef structures. Around these dramatic swim throughs and the cathedral cavern itself you will see lots of lobsters and green morays, as well as large groupers. While diving this site we were also visited by a lone reef shark. Right by the Cathedral is an excellent dive that is only for experienced divers called The Devil's Throat. The devils throat is a cave/tunnel that starts around 90 feet and continues down until it opens up at around 135 feet. Due to the depth and confined space, only very experienced divers should attempt this dive. Columbia shallows is a nice shallow site that is loaded with beautiful colorful reef fish and frequented by turtles. This site is always done as a second dive after a deep wall dive due to the fact it's only about 20-40 feet deep. This site is very popular as a second dive so it can get somewhat crowded at times. My favorite wall dive that I did on the island was Maracaibo. This was a deeper wall dive as the top of the wall is at around 80 feet. The wall itself is stunning and it drops straight down into the abyss. Currents were relatively strong and this dive is always a drift dive. Drifting along this beautiful wall while watching eagle rays glide by and nurse sharks prowl the edge of the wall made for one of the most memorable dives of my trip.

Topside Cozumel has amazing beaches, excellent restaurants, and lively bars. The main town of San Miguel can get crowded and busy when a cruise ship is docked there, which is pretty often. Cozumel is great for a cheap dive vacation, as getting there is cheap, hotels are cheap, and diving is cheap. With great diving in a beautiful location at great price, it's obvious why Cozumel is such a popular dive destination.

Visited on 10/2011 - Submitted on 09/13/2015
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Cozumel has it all: world class diving, great cuisine, a bustling tourist trade, and may very well be the best bang for your buck going. With cheap airfare from LAX and affordable resorts, you can't beat the total outlay for a week of diving in the warm, clear Caribbean. Drift diving means you don't have to kick much, just enjoy the 100' visibility as you fly slowly over the reef on the Gulf Stream's conveyor belt. Or penetrate the C-53, a scuttled minesweeper sitting perfectly upright in 80 ft off water. Topside, the little town of San Miguel waits to tempt you with its touristy shopping area, great local food, and the largest Wal-Mart-like store I've ever seen in Mexico! You can purchase food, cosmetics, electronics, even a moped! Take the ferry 13 miles to Cancun for the wild night life and more diving, this time in fresh water Cenotes. Here the water is so clear that divers appear to float in air rather than water. By day four or five, you'll already be planning your return trip to this island oasis Ahh, Cozumel...the only downside is going home.

Visited on 04/2014 - Submitted on 09/04/2014
  • Top Reviewer
Larkspur, CO
United States
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I've dived Cozumel several times, and each time the visibility never ceases to amaze. It may be the best in the world. The dive sites are much-visited, but quite spectacular. Virtually all diving is drift diving, so you have to be comfortable with that. The marine life is quite good for the Caribbean. Up north of town is a wall dive called Cantarel for more advanced divers (85' and strong current) where you can see squadrons of eagle rays up close in Jan/Feb. If you're vigilant, you may get to see a splendid toadfish, which are endemic solely to Cozumel. Go with an operator who has fast boats, so you can get to the best dive sites south of the town before the rest of the boats show up. The town of San Miguel on Cozumel has many good restaurants, virtually all within walking distance of the town square. If you're there on a Sunday night, don't miss the festivities on the square--live band, dancing, all kinds of vendors and artists.

Visited on 07/2014 - Submitted on 07/30/2014
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We went to Cozumel for the first time last year, in June, which is the off season and a good time to go since prices are lower and the island is not as swamped with tourists. The diving was fantastic, with tremendous fish schools, interesting corals, and good conditions. This was one of the first tropical trips for me with my DSLR underwater camera setup, and while I did get some great shots, the typical "drift" diving in the area made for some tricky and sometimes altogether impossible macro shooting. Sometimes the current was simply too strong and you moving too fast to search for anything interesting, let alone stop and compose a shot. We typically did 2 dives a day, then a shore dive by ourselves - just renting tanks in front of our hotel - Villa Blanca - and entering from the pier right there. It was good to have that shore dive to work on technique by myself, without worrying about keeping up with a group. Rays and turtles, schools of silversides, needle fish and barracuda were seen right next to shore. A night dive was a highlight, and so nice that we actually switched a day dive the next day to do a second night dive. We saw tons of octopus, and the bio luminescent plankton was really amazing. Weather top side was a little blah - 80's, party sunny, and a little rainy, but it didn't effect the diving. All in all, a great destination for a tropical dive fix without the larger price tag of flights and accommodations at more remote pacific locations.

Visited on 06/2013 - Submitted on 07/30/2014
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My favorite things about Cozumel are the affordability and ease of getting there. From the United States, it's a quick single-connection or even direct flight and that means all in 1/2 a day, you can leave your house, hop a flight, and be IN THE WATER by 1PM: depending how far you have to travel. It won't cost you an arm and a leg, either! :)

There are at least a dozen reputable dive operators to choose from on this small island - probably more. Dive & Stay packages are quite popular, and can run anywhere form $350 to $1500 (USD) depending on the duration, location, and resort options selected. I personally took an eight day trip that included 7 days lodging, two meals per day, and five two tank boat dives with unlimited shore diving for about $800 USD...the eighth day I went solely on the local economy for about $60 USD. I'd rate the five, two-tank dive days about an average expectation for a dive trip in Cozumel but you can be as frugal or as liberal as you like. For the REALLY budget-conscious diver, there are a handful of cheap hotels in San Miguel that can be had for under $40USD per night if you want to try booking dives a-la-carte for less than what the resorts charge on their packages. There's a MEGA (grocery store) on the southern edge of the city for all of your grocery needs, or you can dine at one of many restaurants near the town square and along the main coastal passage way. I, personally, chose to mix my trip up and found it to be a little less money, but more stressful to do the a-la-carte-thing. However, if you want a REAL feel for the local atmosphere, I'd say that's how to do it.

The diving is good to great, with rather consistent visibility from 80' to 100'+, and water temps in the low to mid 80's (Farhenheit). However, that great visibility comes at a cost in current. Strong gulf-stream currents sweep past the island at all times of the year, so drift diving is the norm. (Also, the most enjoyable given the conditions) Many of the reefs offer some releif from the flow, but not much and you can plan on drifting at least a little from wherever you put in. The structure consists of some patch reef, spur-and-groove, and wall formations. (The walls being my personal favorite) Marine life will not disappoint! While there I saw zillions of little macro critters all the way up to nurse sharks, turtles, and spotted eagle rays. Very cool to see a mix of big and small animals. Oh, and did I mention the brilliant cobalt and turquoise appearance of the water that just SCREAMS dive paradise? :)

The currency is the Mexican peso, but US dollars are widely accepted. I found street prices to be somewhat less negotiable on Cozumel, as opposed to other hot tourism areas like Cabo San Lucas and Cancun. Dive prices were not negotiable at all with many of the dive operators I spoke to. (Y yo hablo espanol, compadres!) Oh well - The rates are still quite fair and you'll enjoy your time underwater in Cozumel.

Topside, the city of San Miguel sort of ebbs and flows with the cruise liner schedules. Boat comes to port: Town bustles. Boat leaves port: Town goes to sleep. I was surprised to find popular tourist clubs (Sr. Frogs, Margaritaville) empty or even closed after 5 or 6 PM on some days. That said, get out and explore like a local - Just be careful of solicitors: They're around and sometimes may try to sell you some things that can get you into trouble, depending which street you walk down. (I'd stick to the square and main roads if I wasn't with somebody local who could vouch for my interests) The square is a nice area to kick back and enjoy a little food and if you're lucky: Live entertainment via fire dancers, bands, mariachi, or other street performers. Cold beers can be had for $2-$3USD, or about 20-30 pesos.

Getting to and from the airport is relatively easy by taxi, and many resorts offer shuttle service. Also, there's a ferry that runs at least twice daily to/from Playa del Carmen if you feel like checking out what it has to offer (Mayan ruins, and Cenote dives are accessible from Playa). It takes about 45 minutes and will cost you from $10-$20USD each way.

I've already stated that flights to Cozumel are easy to come by from the US. Now, being the popular cruise stopover that it is, if you find yourself landing for a brief stay in Cozumel via cruise itinerary - It's probably an outstanding value as a port of call that offers great diving. :)

Enjoy!

Visited on 01/2012 - Submitted on 03/03/2014