Riviera Maya, Yucatan

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(3 REVIEWS)
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Scuba Diving in The Riviera Maya, Yucatan

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Riviera Maya & Yucatan Diving Highlights

Scuba diving in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is best known for cenotes diving, but also offers reef scuba dives, a bull shark dive, American Crocodiles at Chinchorro Banks, plus whale shark and sailfish snorkeling off Isla Mujeres. It provides scuba divers the largest underwater options with dive sites so different from each other, a large variety of marine life and some really unique dives that you cannot find elsewhere. There are a lot of scuba diving sites for complete beginners and very many for experienced divers. For more advanced divers, it is also a great destination to upgrade your diving skills and learn about cavern or cave diving in locations where some of the best divers in the world have been trained!

 

Intro to the Yucatan Peninsula & Riviera Maya

Easy to reach, the Yucatan is a very popular vacation destination. The region is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and is also known as the Riviera Maya. Described as the 100-mile long Tourist Corridor, Riviera Maya extends 24 miles from Punta Brava, south of Puerto Morelos to the fishing village of Punta Allen inside the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an. The further south one travels, the land becomes less developed and more ancestral Mayan. Riviera Maya offers wonderful beaches, turquoise waters and fine white sand, archeological sites, picturesque little towns, recreation centers, freshwater lagoons, underwater caves, cenotes, ecological tours, food and lodging options ranging from rustic cabins to gleaming condos, five-star hotels, and all-inclusive accommodation.

Unique diving opportunities abound, whether as a dedicated dive trip or as an add-on to a tropical vacation package. Divers can find many different types of accommodation in the cities of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, Cozumel or Isla Mujeres. Accommodation ranges from quiet retreats to huge all-inclusive resorts, with plenty of topside activities like visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum. The abundance of activities and tours makes the Yucatan a great destination for divers traveling with non-divers.

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Top dive destinations within the Yucatan Peninsula 

1. Cozumel - Cozumel is an amazing scuba destination. Along Cozumel runs the second largest barrier reef in the world, which offers abundant marine life and beautiful coral reefs. The southern area is protected by a marine park which is why Cozumel has managed to keep the reef healthy having a variety of corals, many fish species and sponges. All this makes Cozumel a favorite dive destination for many scuba divers. Check out our entire Cozumel Scuba Diving page to learn more.

2. Isla Mujeres- There are two distinct snorkeling opportunities off Isla Mujeres that attract divers and underwater photographers year after year. These are swimming with sailfish from mid-December to mid-March and swimming with whale sharks during the summer. For complete details on diving Isla Mujeres, visit our Isla Mujeres Dive Travel Guide.

3. Playa Del Carmen- There are many great dive sites off Playa del Carmen. Pared Verde (Green Wall) deserves a special mention having spectacular coral formations and filled with marine life. There is also a chimney style swim thru towards the end of the dive. Between November and March, divers can come for an adrenaline-filled scuba dive with bull sharks. Some dive operations organize a bated dive and others a non baited dive. Either way, you can get a close encounter with these beautiful animals. This dive is for advanced divers only as it is done in deeper depths. 

4. Banco Chinchorro - A popular dive trip in recent years, Chinchorro Banks is home to saltwater crocodiles that live in shallow water. Amenities are minimal but the photos speak for themselves. You will be able to closely observe these predators in their natural habitat. These are done as skin dives and a special crocodile handler will make sure everyone's safety is guaranteed. In our Mexico Crocs & Cenotes trip report, you can read more in detail how it really is to dive with crocodiles. Besides the crocodiles, Banco Chinchorro has also some healthy colorful reefs, offers some fun drift dives and even can attract some wreck diving enthusiasts to explore its shipwrecks. 

5. Akumal- Home to abundant coral with spur and groove formations, rich marine life and a large turtle population. Akumal diving offers high chances to see turtles and get close to them. The bay is protected from heavy currents which make the dives relatively easy, but there are also some deeper dive sites for more advanced divers. 


 
banco chinchorro 

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CENOTES

The Mayans believed cenotes were the entrances to a sacred underwater world. They cater to two types of divers: the full cave-certified explorers diving the true caves and the ocean certified divers who swim through the caverns. The difference is that the cavern lines will always have a visible exit and while technically an overhead environment, are safe for non-cave certified divers to explore with a trained guide. The boundary where a cavern turns into a cave is usually marked by a large sign. 

Each cenote (cavern) is a different dive experience, blending magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, dark corners, crisp sun rays and views through the crystal clear water into the jungle canopy above. Many cenotes have haloclines, where top freshwater blends with the lower salt water (yes, many of the cenotes connect with the ocean!). These haloclines are a blast to swim through. Depth on cenotes dives will range anywhere from 120ft (36m) (and beyond for technical divers) to 25ft (8m).

Want to see some photos of the cenotes? Check out Diving the Mexico Cenotes on the Underwater Photography Guide.


Cenotes TOP DIVE SITES

Here are some of the most popular cenotes around Riviera Maya:

  • Cenote Aktun Ha - Better known as “Car Wash”. Aktun-Ha is situated 8kms outside from Tulum on the road to Coba. With the water level just a few inches below ground level, divers find an easy entrance into the water. For Cavern divers there are upstream and downstream dives possible. The upstream section with its large chestnut colored columns is the most popular route. You will enter the water through the roots and fallen trees which like any good fairy tail take you into a strange and different world. Looking back towards the entrance, it seems like we are underneath the clouds thanks to small algae that live near the surface. The light falling through the roots creates an amazing light show and the large room behind these roots is beautifully decorated.
  • Cenote Dos Ojos - The entrance to this popular and famous Cenote is situated one Kilometer South of Xel-Ha and roughly 48km from Playa del Carmen. A 2.5 mile (4km) long dirt road leads from the highway to the parking lots and Cavern and Cave entrances. The name “Dos Ojos” means “Two eyes” and originated for the two circular-shaped Cenotes which are located very close to one and another. Dos Ojos known for its multiple shallow dives gives divers plenty of bottom time to enjoy the beautifully decorated system. In the Cenote called “the First Eye” two very different cavern dives start and end. The Dos Ojos Cavern Dive leads the diver mainly along with the opening of the “Second Eye” where there is plenty of daylight. Remember to look occasionally towards the entrance for great backlit effects. With shallow dives, crystal clear visibility and great decoration, Dos Ojos is spectacular for Cavern and Cave Diving.
  • Cenote Calavera - Cenote Calavera, which means “Skull Cave” is also known as “Temple of Doom”. It is located just outside of Tulum, on the road to Coba. Completely different from any other cavern in the area, the entrance passes through a round hole on the surface rock. The adventure starts almost immediately, as you need to jump about 3m to the water's surface. The cavern area is a huge room with a hill of sediments and rocks in the center. During the dive, divers wind their way slowly around the hill, traveling at different depth alongside the walls of the cenote. In this dive, it is possible to move through three different halocline layers. There is much light in the cavern and many hidden fossils to discover.
  • Cenote Chac Mool - The entrance to this Cenote is about 320ft (100m) south of Puerto Aventuras. There are two water entries to Chac-Mool, both leading into the same rooms. The first room is relatively large with much light entering from the opening. In the second room, a portion of the ceiling has collapsed under an air dome where divers can surface, thus allowing divers to admire two levels of beautiful stalactites. Along the opening of the main entrance, trunks and branches reach into the water. It is here where on a sunny day a stunning laser light show takes place. Chac-Mool is one of the Caverns which has a halocline. This is where salt and freshwater come together creating fascinating visual effects. With its large rooms and a maximum depth of 40ft (12m), Chac Mool is perfect for any novice Cavern Diver. It also offers long penetration for Cave Divers and is home to the largest underwater stalactite in the world.
  • Gran Cenote - Gran Cenote is considered one of the best cenotes for Cave Diving, as well as for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya. It is part of the system Sac-Aktun which means “Cave” in Maya. It is along the highway to Coba just 2.5 miles (4km) outside the town of Tulum. Recreational ocean divers used to be allowed to dive there, but due to its difficulty level, it is now only open for full cave certified divers. The cavern dive leads you along the edge of the circular shaped Cenote which has a max. depth of 33ft (10m). Perfect buoyancy is required as the Cave passages are highly decorated. White walls, crystal clear waters and amazing formations await to hypnotize the diver. Cave divers can explore various routes inside the incredible decorate cave.

 

 

 

 

Diving Information 

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MARINE LIFE AND ENVIRONMENT

Though the cenotes do not have much marine life, the rest of the diving in Yucatan is very colorful. An expansive coral reef system extending just off the coast is home to a dizzying array of marine life including colorful tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks. 

Here is a list of some of the marine life you are likely to see when scuba diving in Riviera Maya: 

  • Pufferfish
  • Angelfish
  • Parrotfish
  • Groupers
  • Turtles
  • Rays
  • Lobsters
  • Shrimp
  • Lionfish
  • Trumpetfish
  • Morays
  • Barracudas
  • Nurse Shark
  • Seahorses
  • Lobsters 
  • Snappers

 

Watch this awesome video to give you a great feel for what it would be like to dive in Riviera Maya!

 

 

 

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Diving Conditions

Water Temperatures:

    The water off Cozumel ranges from 75-85F (24-29C) depending on the season. The water in the Cenotes is about 77F (25C). The angle of the sun shifts during the year, so different cenotes will benefit from different angles of light. For example, temperatures can be very hot during the summer, but that is when the sun is overhead and shines to the bottom of The Pit (391ft/119m), creating a very surreal experience. Along the Riviera Maya coastline, the water temperatures range from 77-82°F (25-28C) in winter and 81-85°F (27-29C) in summer.
  • Visibility: 15 - 40m (49 - 131 ft)
  • Depth Range: 10 - 40m (30 - 131 ft) 
  • Weather: Air temperatures range from 18-32°C/65-90°F


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Travel Information 

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How to Get There

Travel to the Yucatan is easy from the United States and major international hubs. Flying to Cancun (CUN) is easy thanks to all the visiting tourists. The Cancun International Airport is the main gate of entrance to Riviera Maya, and it is served by all major international airlines with direct or non-stop service from many places around the world.

From the airport, there are several transportation services like shuttles and taxis providing convenient and safe airport transfers to any location in the Riviera Maya. In the southeast corner of Terminal 2, there is a bus service from the airport to Playa del Carmen which is only a 45-minute drive. The bus departs every 30 minutes from 5:00 hrs to 1:00 hrs. The drive from the airport to the Isla Mujeres ferry is about 30 minutes and the ferries run every half hour during the day. You can also fly directly into Cozumel (CZM) and from Cozumel, you have the option to take a modern ferry to Playa del Carmen.

How to Dive Riviera Maya, Yucatan

There are plenty of dive resorts and dive centers you can choose from in Riviera Maya. There are facilities, instructors and equipment rentals at Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Xcaret, Paamul, Puerto Aventuras, Xpu-Ha, Kantenah, Chemuyil Xcacel and Akumal, known as a diver’s paradise. There is even liveaboard diving possible in the Yucatan Peninsula, the first liveaboard in the Mexican Caribbean called the Caribbean Kraken. This vessel can take you around Banco Chincorro, Los Picos & Alcaranes.  

Best Time to Dive Riviera Maya, Yucatan

The Yucatan is a year-round dive destination, although the specific marine life encounters are seasonal. If you want to see the whale sharks near Isla Mujeres, then the best time to visit is from June until mid-September. If you are interested in bull shark diving in Playa del Carmen, then the season starts around November until March. 

Diving in the cenotes is not seasonal or weather dependent and can be done also with heavy rain, while the rest of Riviera Maya diving does depend on the weather. The rainy season is from May through October and the dry season is November through April. May and June have the highest humidity. June through October is hurricane season.

 

Topside & Non-Diving Activities

The Yucatan has many non-diving activities, making it a fun destination for divers as well as groups and those who aren't divers. Resort and hotel accommodation is abundant, whether quiet and romantic or large and all-inclusive. Whale sharks are a snorkeling activity, and several of the cenotes offer snorkeling in addition to scuba diving (including Dos Ojos and Eden). Visitors can tour Mayan ruins, visit postcard-perfect white sand beaches, shop, or participate in the vibrant nightlife of Cancun. Playa Del Rey offers a more quiet scene.

Here are some of the top non-diving activities you can do in Riviera Maya: 

  • Swim by the archeological site located by the Sea, Tulum
  • Visit one of the world’s most amazing theme parks in Xcaret
  • Snorkeling in the world’s largest natural aquarium: Xel-Ha
  • Experience Akumal’s silky beaches
  • Explore the Mayan caves in Aktun Chen
  • Visit bars, shops, and restaurants in Playa del Carmen
  • Tour around Mayan villages
  • Visit the Biosphere Reserve of Sia Ka’an to see one of the greatest biodiversity in the world
  • Experience the Mayan spa treatment
  • Enjoy a cosmopolitan and exciting nightlife with a wide range of restaurants
  • Enjoy great shopping experience at modern shopping malls or traditional and colorful markets

 

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Other Useful Information 

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Practical Information

  • Currency: Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • Language: Spanish is the official language in Mexico but most people today learn English as a second language
  • Main Airport Code: CUN
  • Time Zone: UTC-5
  • Electricity: 127 V 60 Hz

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Reviews (3)

  • Top Reviewer
Fountain Valley, CA
United States
5
5
4
5

For traveling divers, the Yucatan is the gateway to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, the Riviera Maya, and little known Holbox island. Its easiest to fly to Cancun, pick up a rental car, and explore. Two of the best Mayan archeological sites in the world are located in this area: Chitzen Itza and Uxmal. These should be considered no-miss destinations when traveling here.

Merida, in the northwest part of the state, is the capital and the largest city on the Yucatan peninsula. It’s a beautiful colonial city with a rich history and culture. We enjoyed the central market while shopping for handicrafts and eating at the food stalls.

At the north end of the peninsula, is the city of Chiquila where you can take a ferry to Holbox island. The main reason to come here is to swim with whale sharks. It is in the migration path and your chances of seeing the world's largest fish are excellent. This is a natural paradise with giant flocks of flamingos, an island that serves as a bird sanctuary, and a small island with a natural freshwater spring in the middle, which forms a pool for swimming. We saw whale sharks, breaching mantas, and thousands of migrating golden rays. It’s a very small island with golf carts used as the primary form of transportation. We stayed in a beautiful small boutique hotel near town and walked everywhere. If you’re able to visit here, it should also be considered a no-miss. We have traveled here many times and never get tired of this wonderful destination.

I've visited the Riviera Maya many times. We've always based ourselves in Playa del Carmen and ventured out from there. Playa del Carmen is an easy drive from Cancun and a rental car is essential. Each time, we have rented a beachfront private villa within walking distance of town. Fifth Avenue is the main street in town and is pedestrian only. This is where you will find a great number of restaurants, bars, and shops. Many dive shops are scattered around town. This is the main embarkation point for the ferry to Cozumel.

The main reason divers come to this area is to dive in the cenotes. These are ancient limestone caves, now filled with water, and making up the largest underwater cave system in the world. You can dive the cenotes without special training because they are considered cavern dives where you never lose sight of the entrance. Any further exploration requires cave diving training. The dive shops in Playa del Carmen will all arrange guided cenote dives led by certified cave divers. Some will also arrange high-speed boats to Cozumel for a two tank dive on the world-famous walls.

As you continue south of Playa del Carmen, you'll come to the town of Puerto Aventuras, Tulum, and Akumal. Cenotes are scattered throughout this entire area. Akumal has a wonderful, calm bay perfect for snorkeling and is usually occupied by a large number of sea turtles, including green, hawksbill, and loggerheads. There is also a beautiful white sand beach. Tulum has an ancient Mayan archeological site that’s quite extensive and certainly worth a visit. Coba, another Mayan site, is only a short drive from Tulum and is also an excellent side trip. Some of my favorite cenotes are Dos Ojos, Angelita, Dream Gate, and Gran Cenote.

Bottom line: The Riviera Maya & Yucatan are an outstanding area to experience world-class diving, fantastic Mayan ruins and cultural sites, incredible nature sites, and large marine animals, cenote diving, authentic Mexican food, beautiful beaches and a welcoming and warm local population. It's family-friendly, with plenty of things to do for both adults and children.

Visited on 06/2017 - Submitted on 03/10/2020
  • Reviewer
Marina Del Rey, CA
United States
5
4
3
5

I recently visited the Yucatan to dive the cenotes for 3 days followed by 3 days looking for sailfish off Isla Mujeres. The cenotes are incredible dives. We visited some of the very popular cenotes (popular for good reason - they're beautiful) as well as some more advanced and off-the-beaten path cenotes. Bluewater arranged everything for us with diving through Scuba Playa, who I give an A++. Very professional and fun at the same time, with a nice van for transport and excellent guides who worked to help make sure we got the photos we wanted. They even carried gear for one of our group.

We also visited Isla Mujeres and spent three days looking for sailfish. These are natural, wild encounters, so you never know what you'll see. Over 2.5 days on the water we spend about 45 seconds watching the majestic fish corral and feed on bait fish. It's an amazing experience but you have to be willing to put in the time.

I gave the Yucatan only 3 stars for marine life because the marine life is very specialized. There is none in the cenotes, but that's obvious. Sailfish and whale sharks are special expeditions, while Cozumel has beautiful reefs and some big life (nurse sharks, eagle rays, turtles, good macro, etc).

Can't wait to go back!

Visited on 02/2016 - Submitted on 03/04/2016
5
5
5
5

Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women is an island about 8.1 mile off Cancun in Carribean Sea. Altough every year more tourists are traveling to this island, it still has retained its charm and tranquil atmosphere. As for Scuba divers main attraction is close encounters with Whale Sharks. The annual whale shark migration occurs from May 15th until September 15th near the waters of Isla Mujeres. But the peak time to visit is late July to early August. There are many tour operators but make sure to select the one own the boats. It gets very crowded where Whale Sharks are located late in the morning so look for tours that leave early in the morning.
Manchones Reef is another near by attraction. Its known for calm waters and lots of marine life.

Visited on 07/2015 - Submitted on 08/17/2015

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