Best Scuba Diving & Snorkeling in Cancún

10 of the best scuba diving and snorkeling spots in Cancun

Cancun and the Riviera Maya boast some of the most exciting places to scuba dive and snorkel in the world. From the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere to shipwrecks, and even an underwater museum, there is no shortage of amazing options for scuba divers and snorkelers – whether you're a beginner or you have your diving certification.

If you're not certified to dive, but would like to try it during your vacation, you can take a short course (normally around 4 hours) that will allow you to dive to 40 feet under the supervision of a certified scuba instructor.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is home to 65 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish, runs along the entire Yucatan Peninsula and right past Cozumel. It's also the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The warm waters of the crystal clear Caribbean Sea are the ideal place to explore what lies below the surface.

Other popular places to snorkel or dive on the Yucatán Peninsula are cenotes (natural sinkholes). The peninsula has an extensive freshwater underground river system and the ground is made of porous limestone. Cenotes were formed when the limestone collapsed and the groundwater was exposed, a phenomenon that's unique to this region.

Lagoons and inlets are also common here and are wonderful places to explore if you don’t feel comfortable in the open ocean.


There is something mysterious, haunting and romantic about a shipwreck. You can't dive down to the Titanic, but the C58 Minesweeper Wreck Dive is only about 80 feet below the surface and is accessible by boat from Cancun. It's an old Navy vessel from World War II that was sold to the Mexican Navy in 1962 and eventually sank for the purpose of becoming an artificial reef. It is recommended that divers be experienced, as the currents on the way down to the ship can be quite strong. The area is frequented by groupers, eagle rays, barracuda and manta rays. You can swim around the entire ship and even enter the wreck where Hurricane Wilma tore it in two in 2005.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: The C58 Minesweeper Wreck serves as an artificial reef, thereby giving natural reefs a break.

Kristin's expert tip: Wear a wetsuit, especially during winter months. Despite the water temperature being in the 80s, you may be cold.

Read more about C58 Minesweeper Wreck Dive →

Zona Hotelera

Punta Nizuc is an isolated beach located at Kilometer 24 at the south end of Cancun's Hotel Zone. There is plenty of public parking or you can take the bus and get off at the last stop, which is across the street from the Westin Regina. Be sure to bring water, snacks, towels, sunscreen and anything else you think you might need or want. Maybe even an umbrella for shade, because this beach is completely without shade. Of course, you will also need to bring your own snorkel equipment. Then, just walk a few feet offshore where the water is shallow and start exploring.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: At Punta Nizuc, visitors can bring their own gear and explore on their own.

Kristin's expert tip: Go it alone. There is no reason to pay a tour operator if you want to snorkel at Punta Nizuc.

Read more about Punta Nizuc →

Cave of the Sleeping Sharks
Photo courtesy of DanSchmitt/iStock

About 50 years ago, Isla Mujeres resident Carlos Garcia Castilla found a cave deep in the waters off of the island. Inside the cave he found many sharks that appeared to be sleeping. These days, divers frequently visit the cave to witness its inhabitants remain motionless for hours, then return to dry land to tell their story. The Cave of the Sleeping Sharks is approximately 65 feet below the surface. The phenomenon baffled marine biologists because sharks must be in constant motion in order to breathe, until it was discovered that the caves had an extremely high amount of oxygen and reduced salinity, and these conditions probably made it easier for the sharks to breathe without moving.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: C'mon! Sleeping sharks? What could be cooler than diving in an underwater cave to see sleeping sharks?

Kristin's expert tip: There are not always sharks in the cave, so ask your tour guide about current conditions before you reserve and dive.

Read more about Cave of the Sleeping Sharks →


This eco-park is part of the Grupo Xcaret family (Xcaret, Xplor, Xenotes, Xoximilco, Xenses and Xavage). Xel-Ha boasts the "largest, most beautiful natural aquarium in the world." You can swim in grottos & cenotes (natural sinkholes) and see local marine life, explore Mayan ruins, jump off the Cliff of Courage, cross the floating bridge, ride bikes or fly kites. There are plenty of other activities and exhibits to keep you occupied for the entire day or you can simply spend your time relaxing in the sun or napping in a seaside hammock. Xel-Ha also features a delicious buffet restaurant and a children's area.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Xel-Ha offers a day of snorkeling for the entire family.

Kristin's expert tip: Combine your tour to Xel-Ha with a stop at the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Tulum can be seen in about an hour, so it won't add much more time to the length of your tour, and it's a great attraction to see.

Read more about Xel-Ha →

Beautiful Yal-Ku Lagoon is located in Akumal, which is approximately 65 miles south of Cancun on Highway 307. It's connected to the Caribbean Sea, which means you can see barracuda, parrot fish, stingrays and sea turtles, but its waters are calm and serene. Larger sea animals are found closer to where the lagoon meets the sea. The depth ranges from 6 to 15 feet. The limestone bottom gets very slippery, so be careful. There are stairs to enter and exit the water. No guide needed here. The area surrounding the lagoon is very natural but includes sculptures, restrooms with showers and a small snack bar.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Yal-Ku Lagoon is a bit of a hidden treasure and an amazing place to cool off on a hot day.

Kristin's expert tip: After you snorkel the lagoon, grab a cold beer from the snack bar and take a walk along the paths that wind around the edge of the lagoon.

Read more about Yal-Ku Lagoon →

This is one of Cancun's most unique attractions. The Underwater Museum (MUSA) is made up of hundreds of sunken statues sculpted by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. The statues are covered in coral, which benefits the environment in two ways... by creating an "artificial reef" and by directing some of the traffic away from the natural reefs. Snorkel and dive tours are offered by many Cancun vendors, including Aquaworld Cancun, which has been a big supporter of the Cancun Underwater Museum project from its inception. There are three locations of the underwater museum; off of Punta Cancun, off of Punta Nizuc and off of Isla Mujeres.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Cancun's Underwater Museum is simply amazing and can be viewed by snorkeling or diving.

Kristin's expert tip: Make a reservation with Aquaworld Cancun, or another reputable supplier, because you can only reach this site by boat.

Read more about Underwater Museum (MUSA) →

Cenote Dos Ojos
Photo courtesy of Simon Dannhauer/iStock

Cenotes, or natural sinkholes, are a phenomenon unique to the Yucatan Peninsula. These pools, some completely underground and some open, are connected by an underground river system and are filled with cool fresh water, perfect for escaping the hot Caribbean sun. There are so many different types of cenotes that both divers and snorkelers can find the perfect one to explore. Cenote Dos Ojos, located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, is shallow on one side and deeper on the other and is great for snorkelers of all ages. Dos Ojos is part of the Sac Actun cave system and contains the deepest known cave passage in Quintana Roo at 119.1 meters (391 ft).

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Dos Ojos offers spectacular snorkeling and diving for both novices and experts.

Kristin's expert tip: The water is very cold, divers definitely need a wetsuit.

Read more about Cenote Dos Ojos →

Akumal is known as the "place of the turtle" and is made up of 3 bays: Half Moon Bay, Akumal Bay and Aventuras Akumal Bay. There are both shallow and deep reef dive sites, most only a few minutes from shore by boat. Depending on the site, you can see eels, barracuda, groupers and squid during a dive. Check out the coral-overgrown motorcycle where you will find schools of fish, crabs and rays, or Xaak, a deep dive site where coral reaches up to 30 feet from the ocean floor. Marine turtles, nurse sharks, rays and many different types of fish are common here. Snorkelers only have to swim about 100 yards off the sandy shore of Akumal Bay to see sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Visitors can get up close and personal with sea turtles in Akumal.

Kristin's expert tip: Never touch or disturb coral or marine animals.

Read more about Akumal Bay →

National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos
Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world, runs parallel to the Yucatan Peninsula. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the only reef that is larger. At the National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos, the reef is closer to the shore than in other areas of the Riviera Maya. In 1998, this section of the reef became a protected area. Snorkeling tours and scuba diving trips are available from several dive shops in the small, seaside town of Puerto Morelos. It's illegal to swim out to the reef from the shore. To protect the reef, all snorkelers and divers must go out to the reef with guides.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: At the National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos, visitors can explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef just a few meters off shore.

Kristin's expert tip: Book a snorkel or dive tour. Individuals are not allowed to swim out to the reef on their own. You must go with an accredited guide.

Read more about National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos →

Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park
Photo courtesy of eaglerayjoel/iStock

Cozumel, a snorkel and dive mecca, is an island located approximately 11 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen and is home to the second largest coral barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. There are both shallow reefs, great for snorkeling and deep dives available for experienced scuba divers. Visitors will see both colorful coral and ocean inhabitants. It's important to note that hitting or kicking the reef, even by accident, can damage years of coral growth, so it's very important to be careful and follow all instructions given by your guide. Many different dive shops offer tours to the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park.

Recommended for Scuba Diving & Snorkeling because: Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park boasts some of the best snorkeling and diving on Earth.

Kristin's expert tip: Bring an underwater camera (even a disposable one). The ocean surrounding Cozumel is crystal clear.

Read more about Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park →


Meet Kristin Busse

After vacationing in Mexico many times, Kristin decided to move to Cancun "for a year". That was in 2001.

Kristin grew-up in Michigan and studied Communications at Michigan State University....  More About Kristin