The island of Cozumel, located just 12 miles off Playa del Carmen, is not only the largest Mexican island in the Caribbean but also one of the best places in the world to go diving.
The Cozumel Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, that spans over 600 miles from southeast Mexico to the Bay of Islands in Honduras.
In fact, the Mesoamerican Reef is the second largest reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef. It counts with stunning natural wonders like the Blue Hole and many stunning and unique dive sites spread all over the reef.
Diving in Cozumel
Cozumel has more than a few of those stunning dive spots that make the Mesoamerican Reef so impressive, which is why diving in Cozumel should be a bucket list item for any diving aficionado.
In fact, 120 square kilometers (46 sq. mi.) of the reefs in Cozumel are protected by the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, which is making a great effort to keep reef’s biodiversity as intact as possible by forbidding any illegal fishing or harvesting in the area.
Diving with ScubaTony
During my week in Cozumel, I managed to dive eight times with ScubaTony, which I highly recommend for your next dive trip in Cozumel. Not only are they extremely professional, but they are very easy-going and fun to dive with.
Their boats are small, so you’ll never be diving with dozens of other divers – at a maximum, you’ll be a group of six. In my opinion, this allows for a richer dive experience.
Since I don’t travel with diving gear, I rented all my gear with them, so I can say they are top-notch, new, and in excellent shape.
Now, here are the five dive spots that impressed me the most in Cozumel. As a side note, my photos don’t do any justice to these stunning dive spots but trust me, they are gorgeous!
This was a fun dive, but part of it was due to the strong current that usually happens along the reef.
I spent most of this 55-minute dive barely kicking my fins, yet we managed to glide over the reef for what seemed like miles. (I believe we even ventured into the Yucab dive site due to the strong current)
The dive ranged from 30 to 60 feet in depth and had various overhangs and coral-formed holes that were perfect for lobsters and huge crabs to hide in.
Throughout the dive, we managed to see a few nurse sharks hiding and sleeping under the coral holes, as well as a few moray eels.
While I wasn’t lucky to see them since I dove off the season, you could even spot seahorses when diving between October and November.
4. Palancar Gardens and Palancar Herradura
While I did these two spots in two different dives, they are part of the same reef – the Palancar Reef.
The Palancar Reef is over 1.5 miles long and consists of several dive sites that range from 30 to 90 feet in depth.
The Palancar Reef is a great area to dive if you’re a beginner since currents are not as strong as in Tormentos or other dive spots along the Cozumel Reef.
Palancar Gardens and Herradura (Horseshoe) might be part of the same reef, but they are completely different!
What’s striking about both sites is that they are full of magnificent reef formations that tower dozens of feet from the sea bed, creating a series of tunnels and canyons you can swim through.
Both sites are full of sea life like turtles, nurse sharks, and even eagle rays (during the season – December to April) and a colorful variety of stone corals that make a stunning underwater scenery.
Palancar Gardens has a stunning tunnel system you can swim through. These tunnels are not too long and you can always see some sunlight coming in through natural skylights or through its entrance and exit. It’s quite a thrilling experience.
My dive experience here was also pretty unique as I happened to dive with the famous UFC Fighter Cowboy Cerrone. I admit I did not know much about him beforehand, but it was fun doing “cowboy signs” underwater.
Palancar Herradura, on the other hand, has a dramatic entrance through a canyon you dive from top to bottom as you descend to roughly 60 feet, from where you’ll start doing some tunnel swim-throughs.
Casablanca is named after the white house located by the shore close to the dive spot, but people, or at least my divemasters at Scuba Tony, also refer to this site as Jurassic Park.
Thinks of this site as an “underwater zoo,” where seeing any of the more than 500 species found along the Cozumel Reef is possible.
While you can see many of these species all over Cozumel and the Mesoamerican Reef, for some reason, many of these conglomerate here, so it’s quite easy to spot them.
You can see three of the seven turtle species that exist worldwide, which are the Green Turtle, the Loggerhead Turtle, and the Hawksbill Turtle.
Cozumel seems to have a lonesome Loggerhead Turtle that’s probably over 100 years old (based on its size and moss on its shell), and I managed to see it here! (This turtle is fondly called Mr. T by the guys at ScubaTony)
Also, I got extremely lucky when I saw a huge, beautiful Eagle Ray! While these are common during season, I was diving in mid-May, which is weeks after their season ended.
Other sea life like huge lobsters, nurse sharks, bull sharks, flounders, triggerfish, barracudas, and manta rays, among many others, were also spotted.
2. C-53 Shipwreck
This dive almost didn’t happen, but I’m so glad I pitched it to my divemaster and he simply replied, “ask your dive mates. If they are ok with it, we are going!”
Since we were four divers in total, it was easy pitching this dive to them. Basically, I said, “do you want to dive a WWII shipwreck?”
This is why I said before that diving with ScubaTony is very chill. They are very easy going and if you’re interested in a specific dive, and it works with the overall dive plan, they are more than happy to do it.
The C-53 shipwreck, also known as Felipe Xicotencatl, is a WWII minesweeper built by the US in 1943. Under the name of USS Scuffle, it served in the Pacific theatre until it was decommissioned in 1946 after the end of the war.
In 1962 it was sold to the Mexican Navy when it was converted to an Admiral-class gunboat and renamed Felipe Xicotencatl C-53. It served for 37 more years until it was again decommissioned and sank to create an artificial reef.
Measuring 184 feet long, 33 feet wide and 40 feet high from keel to the top of the superstructure, this is the second-largest shipwreck I’ve dived to date, which makes it one of my favorite dives ever since I love shipwrecks.
The dive starts on its lower level and you slowly swim around the ship as you make your way up.
Along the way, there are a few penetrations where you get to see some of the interior spaces, including some below deck rooms, a few hallways, random rooms, and even the bridge, from where the ship used to be steered.
Depending on your diving skills, you might even get to see the bathroom! (it’s small, so not everyone goes there)
For fun, you can also stand where the guns were once spotted. while sea life is not as impressive here as in the previous dive sites, you still get to see a few small schools of fish in some of the rooms and while swimming around.
The star here is the shipwreck, and it is quite an impressive sight!
Seriously, you shouldn’t miss this spot when diving in Cozumel.
1. Palancar Caves
Another Palancar spot, and it’s no surprise! The Palancar Reef is one of the best and most beautiful areas of the entire Cozumel Reef.
I already explained how stunning this reef area is when I described Palancar Gardens and Palancar Herradura, but for me, Palancar Caves combines both of those, but with even longer tunnels.
Also, Palancar Caves has even more beautiful caves and swim-throughs that give you a diving experience that hops between tunnels, caves, and stone coral walls.
As with previous Palancar sites, the caves were full of sea life and an array of colorful stone corals, making it an almost surreal sight. I would love to dive this site a few more times as I feel there’s still a lot more to discover.
Diving in Cozumel was incredible and these are just five dive spots I really loved, but there are plenty more that I haven’t seen yet and I’m sure are just as stunning as these I mentioned, if not more.
One thing I can guarantee is that Cozumel does have a healthy and varied diving playground that can keep you busy for weeks!
Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip to Cozumel
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Airbnb offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.
For hotels, guesthouses, and other types of accommodation, I also recommend Booking.com. They usually have the cheapest fares for guesthouses and hotels. I always book my hotels with Booking.com.
DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I use World Nomads to insure my trips.
If you’re a nomad and travel often or long-term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on travel insurance.
FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.
BOOK YOUR LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
Bookaway offers the easiest and most accessible way to book overland transportation with local operators; be it by bus, train, ferry, plane, mini-van, or even private transfers.
OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.
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Cozumel looks a charming place to visit. The photos and the landscapes are giving me real travel goals to plan a trip soon to this hidden paradise.
Love your blog, well done.
We are heading to Cozumel on Feb 10th for a couple of week of sun, sand & scuba.
Staying at the Occidental.
Would you recommend Scuba Tony over the ProDive shop located at the hotel ?
We are using your list of dive sites as our starting point.
Thanks for doing such a thorough job !
Apologies for the delay. I personally have no experience with ProDive, so I can’t speak about them, but I do still recommend ScubaTony.
I am in diving in Cozumel right now when I found your article. I find it entertaining and enlightening to the new diver. Scubatony does a good job as do several other dive operations on the island. You’ve limited your readers to just a few dives the island has to offer. There is so much more than just a week’s worth of diving here. Stay awhile longer and you’ll see what I mean.