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 Yucatán 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
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.
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.
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.