At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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If your idea of the perfect holiday involves exploring stunning coral formations, swimming with marine life, and venturing into the deep dark blue, then you need to go scuba diving in Cozumel.

The island of Cozumel, located just 12 miles off Playa del Carmen, is not only the largest Mexican island in the Caribbean but it is also one of the best places in the world to go scuba diving.

The Cozumel Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, which 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 in Belize and many stunning and unique dive sites spread all over the reef.

From navigating through WWII shipwrecks to exploring “underwater zoos”, the Cozumel dive sites are some of my favorite in the world! And I’m here to share them with you so you can experience them for yourself.

Diving in Cozumel

Cozumel has more than a few of those stunning dive spots that make the Mesoamerican Reef so impressive, which is why scuba diving in Cozumel should be a bucket list item for any diving aficionado.

Casablanca Diving - Diving in Cozumel

In fact, 46 square miles (120 square kilometers) of the reefs in Cozumel fall under the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park (Cozumel Reefs National Park). Established in 1996, the park and its dedicated staff are making a great effort to monitor and protect the reef’s biodiversity.

Diving responsibly

To help protect the beautiful waters around Cozumel, there are a couple of Park Rules that you need to follow to ensure your safety and that of the ocean. Some of the things that are prohibited in these waters include:

  • Standing or holding on to the coral
  • Feeding any of the marine life
  • Using sunblock that is not marine-safe or biodegradable
  • Collecting or disturbing any of the marine life

Keep in mind that by failing to follow these rules, you are breaking Mexican federal law and damaging the ocean in the process.

My Recommended Dive Center: ScubaTony

  • Best for: Beginners up to advanced divers
  • Address: Carrefera Costerce sur k m Interior Marina Fonatur, Zona Hotelera Nte., 77600 Cozumel
  • Reviews: 5/5 stars on Google (500+ reviews); 4.8/5 stars on Facebook (260+ reviews)
  • To book: Fill out their online form
  • Dive packages:
    • Discover Scuba Diving: $155
    • SSI & PADI Open Water Diver Certification With E-learning: $500 – $590
    • Referral Course: $370
    • Enriched Air Nitrox Specialty: $310
    • Advanced Certification: $525+
    • Scuba Refresher: $100
  • Rental gear: Up to $16

During my week in Cozumel, I dived eight times with ScubaTony, which I highly recommend for your next dive trip in Cozumel.

Tony has been diving for over 20 years and has dedicated his life to creating his top-notch diving service. All the team members are exceptionally professional and easygoing, which only added to my fun diving experience.

Scuba Tony - Diving in Cozumel

Their boats are small, so you’ll never be diving with dozens of other divers. At most, you’ll only be in a group of around six, which allows for a much richer dive experience, in my opinion.

Since I don’t travel with scuba diving gear, I rented all my gear from them, which was really convenient. I can safely say that everything I received was new and in excellent condition.

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5 Best Dive Sites in Cozumel

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!

1. Tormentos

  • Depth: 50-60 ft
  • Best for: Intermediate to advanced divers

This was a fun dive, mostly thanks to the strong current along this reef.

I spent most of this 55-minute dive barely kicking my fins while gliding over the reef for what seemed like miles. I believe we were even pulled into the Yucab dive site!

Tormentos Diving - Diving in Cozumel

Due to these strong currents, I generally advise that only intermediate to advanced divers tackle this site.

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. We also 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 here between October and November.

2. Palancar Gardens and Palancar Herradura

  • Depth: 30-110 ft
  • Best for: Beginner divers

While I did these two spots in two different dives, they are part of the same Palancar Reef.

Located on the southwest side of the island, the Palancar Reef is over 1.5 miles long and consists of several dive sites that range from 30 to 110 feet in depth.

The Palancar Reef is probably one of the most popular dive sites. It’s also a great area to dive if you’re a beginner since the currents are not as strong as in Tormentos or other Cozumel dive sites.

Palancar Gardens - Diving in Cozumel
Palancar Gardens

What’s striking about the Palancar Gardens and Herradura (Horseshoe) sites is that they are full of magnificent reef formations that tower dozens of feet from the sea bed.

Palancar Gardens, in particular, has a series of tunnels and canyons that you can swim through. These tunnels are not too long so they’re easy to navigate and you can always see some sunlight coming in through natural skylights or its entrance and exit. It’s quite a thrilling experience.

On the other hand, Palancar Herradura has a dramatic entrance through a canyon. You’ll dive from the top to the bottom, descending roughly 60 feet before you start swimming through some tunnels.

Palancar Herradura - Diving in Cozumel
Palancar Herradura

Both sites are full of sea life, including nurse sharks, sea turtles, and even eagle rays (from December to April). Not to mention, the colorful variety of stone corals makes for stunning underwater scenery!

Now, not to brag, but my dive experience here was also pretty unique as I happened to have the famous UFC Fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in my group. I admit, I did not know much about him beforehand, but it was fun doing “cowboy signs” underwater!

Norbert and Cowboy Cerrone in Cozumel
With Cowboy Cerrone. Photo by Mik’ n Drik’ Photography.

3. Casa Blanca

  • Depth: 62 ft
  • Best for: Beginner to intermediate divers

Casa Blanca is named after the white house located by the shore close to this dive spot, but people (or at least my dive masters at ScubaTony) also refer to this site as Jurassic Park.

Why, you may ask? Well, simply because this dive site is like an “underwater zoo”, where you can see more than 500 species of marine life along the Cozumel Reef.

Chaankanaab - Diving in Cozumel

While you can see many of these species all over the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, they seem to absolutely love this spot for some reason, so they’re quite easy to spot!

You can see three of the seven sea turtle species that exist worldwide, including the Green Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, and Hawksbill Turtle.

If you’re lucky enough, you may even spot the lonesome Loggerhead Turtle, fondly called Mr. T by the guys at ScubaTony, as I did! Based on the size of its shell and the moss on it, it’s believed that this turtle is probably over 100 years old.

Casablanca - Diving in Cozumel
My photo of Mr. T wasn’t great, so here’s a Hawksbill Turtle instead. Mr. T is much bigger, though!

I also got extremely lucky to spot a huge, beautiful Eagle Ray! While Eagle Rays are a common sighting from January to April, I was fortunate enough to see it in mid-May, weeks after their season ended.

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Some other sea life that I saw included nurse sharks, huge lobsters, bull sharks, triggerfish, flounders, barracudas, manta rays, and so much more. I think you get the point though – if you want to see some incredible ocean life, this is the dive site to be at!

4. C-53 Shipwreck

  • Depth: 50-98 ft
  • Best for: Intermediate to advanced divers

This dive almost didn’t happen, but I’m so glad that I pitched it to my dive master. 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 an easy sell. After all, who could turn down the opportunity to see a WWII shipwreck?

C-53 - Diving in Cozumel

This is why I mentioned earlier that diving with ScubaTony is very chill. They are very easygoing and if you’re interested in a specific dive, and it works with the overall dive plan and the rest of your group, they are more than happy to do it.

The C-53 shipwreck, also known as Felipe Xicotencatl, is a US WWII minesweeper built in 1943. Under the name of USS Scuffle, it served in the Pacific theatre for 55 years until it was decommissioned in 1946, after the end of the war.

Fast forward to 1962, it was sold to the Mexican Navy, converted to an Admiral-class gunboat, and renamed Felipe Xicotencatl (C-53). It served for around 37 more years until it sank off the coast of Cozumel, creating the artificial reef that can be seen at this site today.

C-53 Deck - Diving in Cozumel

Measuring 184 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 40 feet high, this is the second-largest shipwreck I’ve dived to date, which makes it one of my favorite dives ever! Who doesn’t love exploring shipwrecks?

The dive starts on the C-53’s lower level, before you slowly make your way up, swimming around the ship.

Along the way, there are a few holes where you can see some of the interior spaces, including some below-deck rooms, a few hallways, and even the bridge from where the ship used to be steered.

Inside C-53 - Diving in Cozumel
Inside C-53 hallway - Diving in Cozumel

For the more advanced divers, you could even check out the bathroom! However, it is quite small, so not everyone goes there. For fun, why not swim over to where the guns were once spotted?

While the sea life here is not as impressive as in the previous dive sites I mentioned, you will still see a few small schools of tropical fish while swimming around.

But, the star here is the shipwreck after all, and it is quite an impressive sight!

Seriously, you shouldn’t miss this spot when diving in Cozumel.

C-53 Bridge - Diving in Cozumel
Hi from the bridge!

5. Palancar Caves

  • Depth: 90 ft
  • Best for: Advanced divers

This is another spot in the Palancar Reef, and it’s no surprise! The Palancar Reef is one of the best and most beautiful areas of the entire Cozumel Reef.

I’ve already mentioned how stunning this reef area is, but for me, the Palancar Caves have even longer tunnels than those of the Palancar Gardens and Palancar Herradura sites.

Of course, there are also beautiful caves and swim-throughs. I found that this gave me a fun diving experience when it came to hopping between tunnels, caves, and stone coral walls.

Palancar Caves - Diving in Cozumel

As with the 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!

Final Thoughts on Diving in Cozumel

Diving in Cozumel is incredible and I highly suggest you add this location to your bucket list, especially if exploring the underworld world is your kind of adventure.

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While these are the five dive spots that I really loved, there are plenty more that I haven’t experienced yet. And I’m sure they are just as stunning as the ones I mentioned – if not more.

One thing I can guarantee you is that Cozumel does have a healthy and varied diving playground that can keep you busy for weeks!

FAQs

Do you need certification to go diving in Cozumel?

While you can dive without being a certified diver in Cozumel, it is not recommended. Having the necessary diving certification not only ensures that you know how to dive but also ensures your safety. There are a couple of basic instructions and protocols that you need to learn first before you can dive safely in Cozumel.

When is the best time to go diving in Cozumel?

March to April is generally the best time to go diving in Cozumel. During this time of year, it’s not so packed with tourists and the rainy season hasn’t started yet.

However, if you’re not too bothered by crowds, any time between December and March will ensure that you get to see the most while diving. The weather is also particularly great during this time, hence the influx of tourists.

Are there any Cozumel dive resorts?

Yes, there are a couple of resorts in Cozumel that offer diving packages that you can buy during your stay. Some of these include Casa Del Mar Cozumel Hotel and Dive Resort, InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa, and Allegro Cozumel Resort.

Cozumel, Mexico. East side beaches

Where is the best site to go diving in Cozumel for beginners?

The best sites to go diving in Cozumel for beginners are Palancar Gardens and Palancar Herradura.

The currents in the Palancar Reef are not particularly strong, and these sites are easily navigable, which makes them an excellent choice for beginners. Alternatively, you could also try Chankanaab Reef, Santa Rosa Shallows, or Columbia Shallows.

Where is the best place to go diving in Cozumel for experienced divers?

For more experienced divers, I suggest you check out Tormentos, Palancar Caves, and the C-53 Shipwreck. These sites require a bit more skill to navigate through and the currents are often a bit stronger, especially for Tormentos. Some other sites you could also try include Punta Tunich and Santa Rosa Wall.

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, Vrbo 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 HeyMondo 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.

Diving in Cozumel: My Top 5 Dive Spots on the Cozumel Reef
Adventure Awaits

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4 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. Hey Nobert,
    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 !
    Cheers
    Tom

    1. Hi Tom,

      Apologies for the delay. I personally have no experience with ProDive, so I can’t speak about them, but I do still recommend ScubaTony.

  3. 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.