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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. So, 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.


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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.

Read more about C58 Minesweeper Wreck Dive →


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 you'll see fish are abundant.

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 guide about current conditions before your dive.

Read more about Cave of the Sleeping Sharks →


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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 excitement and relaxation 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 →


This 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, so it's best for snorkelers who will be able to spot small entrances to underwater caves. 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.

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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 have begun to grow coral. This 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.

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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. Cenote Chikin Ha, located approximately 12 miles from Playa del Carmen, is the first in a system that connects several cenotes through more than 6 miles of underwater passages.

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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: Book your vacation through locogringo.com, the Akumal experts.

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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, and 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: The National Reef Park of Puerto Morelos is just a few hundred meters offshore and it's easy to hire a local guide on the beach.

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.

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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.

Read more about Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park →


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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

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