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Scuba Diving in Mexico: The Ultimate Guide [2021 Update]

Weather in Mexico

Summer Season — 21-24°C/70-75°F.

Rainfall — 91-111mm/3.6-4.4inches

Winter Season — 15-19°C/60-65°F

Rainfall — 10-36mm/0.4-1.4inches

Water in Mexico

Average Water Temp. — 21-29°C/70-84°F

Best visibility is July and August

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The author:

sylvia jenkins

Sylvia Jenkins

Scuba Instructor
Sylvia is a scuba instructor and underwater photographer

Diving in Mexico

Thanks to Hollywood, many of us already think of Mexico as an ideal getaway location. But look beyond the curtains of the movie scenes, and see a gateway to an underwater eden. In the diving community, Mexico is most famous for its cenotes, sinkholes offering unique opportunities to go diving inland, through spectacular geological wonders.

Thanks to its close proximity to the Equator, the water temperature is a comfortable 65-71°F/18-22°C for most of the year, whether that be inland or open ocean. If cavern diving in cenotes makes you feel a little claustrophobic, the big blue is just as exciting. Mexico has it all from a rainbow range of reef fish to a mix of marine megafauna, such as bull sharks, whales and sea lions.

20 Amazing Dive Sites: The Best Scuba Diving in Mexico [2021 Update]

Sort this list to fit your scuba level and wishes

Dive Type


  1. Coral Reef
  2. Wall
  3. Sinkholes
  4. Sandy Bottom
  5. Boat
  6. Shore
  7. Turtle
  8. Whale Shark
  9. Swim-through
  10. Wreck
  11. Pinnacles
  12. Pelagic
  13. Seals
  14. Deep
  15. Current
  16. Night
  17. Caves
  18. Sculptures
  19. Crocodiles
  20. Liveaboard
  21. Sharks
  22. Arches
  23. Crevices
  24. Ledge
  25. Manatees
  26. Megafauna
  27. Great White Sharks

Recommended Level:


  1. Beginner
  2. Intermediate
  3. Advanced

Show only the very best:


  1. Yes
  2. No

YUCATAN PENINSULA

CANCUN AND ISLA MUJERES

Cancun is the gateway to the Yucatan Peninsula, and there is plenty to see, whether it be diving in their magical cenotes, the nearby Isla Mujeres, its unique MUSA or (god-forbid!) doing some topside day trips.

Isla Mujeres

Just a quick 15 minute ferry across the bay from Cancun is Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres is a fully functional island, so you can definitely stay a few nights to get away from the craziness of Cancun. Isla Mujures has plenty of picturesque white sand beaches twined with tropical turquoise water.

What you will see

There are plenty of snorkeling opportunities, whether it is just off the beach or specific tours. From June to September whale sharks are around the island, and a local festival takes place in July, celebrating their return. Snorkeling with them is heavily regulated, with a minimum set price of $125, and only 2 guests per guide. This allows us, and more importantly the whale shark, a more relaxed and magical encounter.

Everything you need to know about whale sharks!


Coral Reef Boat Whale Shark Wreck Pelagic Seals Deep Caves Sharks Arches Beginner Intermediate Our Favorite

MUSA, Isla Mujeres

If ticking weird and wonderful off your list is what you want from a dive, then definitely consider adding Museo Subacuatico De Arte (MUSA) to it! This unique collection is an eclectic mix of 1,364 underwater sculptures, created by national and international artists, and dotted around Isla Mujures.

Originally founded by Jason deCaires Taylor, MUSA’s aim is to raise awareness about climate change by creating an artificial reef system to take the weight off from the national park, and thus support the local marine life.

What you will see

The shallow waters at most MUSA sites allow everyone to admire the giant sculptors, and appreciate the different “galleries'' that have been set up. The statues include “The Silent Evolution'', a collection of tens of life size human sculptures, or “The Anchors” a set of busts within the seagrass.

The spectacular detail of the pieces give them a realistic, if not somewhat eerie feel. With twelve individual galleries, MUSA can be visited multiple times, offering something different every time!


Coral Reef Sandy Bottom Turtle Whale Shark Pelagic Sculptures Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Manchones Reef, Isla Mujeres

Maybe you are a beginner scuba diver or a novice wanting a day off from the exciting cenotes, Manchones Reef is the perfect blend of peaceful and entertaining. Just a ten-minute speed boat ride from the coast, Manchones stretches over 6 miles/10 kilometers, depths ranging 16ft/5m to over 1650ft/500m!

What you will see

Whether you are watching from above or down below, there is plenty of reef fish life for all to see! The clear blue waters and brilliant sunshine make it easy to spot angelfish, wrasse, parrot fish and blue tangs. Those scuba diving will have a better chance to see lobsters and king crabs hiding in crevices.

Also on Manchones Reef there is “The Man on Fire” and “The Ernest Hemingway Desk”; both MUSA sculptures.

Tangs and parrotfish:


Coral Reef Boat Turtle Pelagic Sculptures Sharks Crevices Beginner Intermediate Advanced

CENOTES

If there is only one destination when you book your trip to Mexico, it should 100% be its cenotes. Cenotes are flooded sinkholes, creating huge cave systems stretching across the Yucatan Peninsula. They may not compare to Raja Ampat when it comes to reef life, but the experience is quite literally out of this world!

Due to their limestone composition, the waters are crystal clear, allowing the sun to illuminate their majestic chambers.

Read more about these incredible cenotes!

Cenote Angelina

Probably the most popular of all its cenotes is Angelina. After a short but enchanting walk through the jungle, a large opening appears; an underwater gateway. Cenote Angelina is basically a straight column of water, reaching a max depth of nearly 200tf/60m.

What will you see

The first 100ft is clear freshwater, whose bottom is a milky mirage of a sandy bottom. But as you and your dive light inch towards, you fall through the dizzying layer into the second layer of saltwater. There is a mound rising from the base of the cenotes to about 25m, just at the border of the water mixtures. There are in fact trees at the top of the mound, a truly unique underwater feature!

Due to its depth and decompression concerns, it is only suitable for intermediate divers. However Cenote Angelina does have an open-top and lacks side passages, so cave training isn't necessary.


Sinkholes Deep Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Dos Ojos

Dos Ojos, meaning “Two Eyes”, are two neighouring sinkholes, just 130ft/70m apart above ground and with 1312ft/400m of passageway joining them underwater. Dos Ojos cave systems is one of the top ten longest in the world, with 38 miles documented so far! Their openings are wide and shallow, great for snorkeling as well.

What you will see

Despite the excitement topside with tourists getting an insta-worthy photo, be comforted to know that underwater it is much more serene. If you’re new to cave diving, Dos Ojos is a great place to start; their large openings allow a lot of sunlight to brighten up the underwater spaces.

The depths here are around 30-40ft/9-12m, so beginner divers can learn to cave/cavern dive here as well. But since it is so shallow, remember to master your kicking as not to scrape your gear in any tight spots!

What's the difference between cave and cavern diving?


Sinkholes Swim-through Caves Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa Del Carmen is a popular base for visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, and a perfect alternative to the busier Cancun. Keeping with the theme of the region, Playa Del Carmen has cavern diving, and also stunning reef scenes just off the coast.

Inland, top cenote sites are Azul, Cristalino and Jardin del Eden, conveniently located nearby meaning that they can all be visited in one day. All three are caverns with large entrances, and accessible for all dive certifications and snorkelers.

What you will see

The top attraction of Playa Del Carmen is diving with bull sharks. From November to March/April large female bull sharks come close to the shoreline, returning to breeding grounds.

Please note that diving with these big ladies are baited, meaning dead fish are used to tease them closer. Obviously we will leave that up to you whether that is a practice you agree with, but shark ecotourism is always worth backing.

Feeding; a necessity to promote shark ecotourism?


Coral Reef Turtle Whale Shark Pelagic Sharks Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Cozumel Marine Park

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island, and is conveniently located just 10 miles/16 km offshore from Playa del Carmen/ an hour from Cancun. Cozumel and its Marine Park are part of the Great Mayan Reef, which stretches over 620 miles/1000km south to Honduras.

Scattered around Cozumel and within its national park there are over 45 individual dive sites, which are generally shallow wall dives-great for all levels of divers.

What you will see

Home to over 500 fish species and even more corals, the colourful scenes and relatively calm conditions make it a photographer’s dream. The northern sites tend to be shallower with the opportunity to see turtles, rays and cool critters. On the southern end, the sites require additional deep and drift diving training.

There are multitudes of massive corals such as elephant ear and barrels, a perfect subject for any underwater camera! There is a current around the island, running south to north, so drifting is the way it is done.


Coral Reef Wall Turtle Whale Shark Pelagic Deep Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Tulum

Continue down the coast from Playa del Carmen and you will come to Tulum, the next obvious stop on your Yucatan road trip. The karst nature of the peninsula is still present here, with plenty of inland sinkholes just outside Tulum. The best time to visit Tulum’s cenotes in the spring/summer months, May-October, when the water is a balmy 82°F/28°C, perfect shorty conditions!

What you will see

If you missed the bull sharks in Playa del Carmen, don’t worry, there's still a chance to catch a sighting in Tulum. Every winter, female bull sharks migrate to the warm Mexican waters, giving divers a lifetime chance to see them up close. The sites around Tulum for bull shark diving are deeper, around 20m/65ft, so an intermediate certification is required.


Sinkholes Pelagic Deep Sharks Ledge Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Cenote Calavera

A popular cenote for scuba diving is Cenote Calavera, just 2miles/3km out of town. Calavera is a great way to see the halocline-where freshwater and seawater meet. The water level is about 10ft/3m below the ledge, so you can opt for an exciting leap to start your dive. Don’t worry though, there is a ladder if jumping in isn't really your style!

What you will see

Once in the water you’ll be able to see light piercing through gaps of the cenotes, giving Calavera--aka skull in English--its name. Just under the surface, where it is the brightest, you can see the rainbow hues of the rock formations.

The total depth of Calavera is 50ft/15m and there is a permanent line to help guide throughout the dive. The bottom of this cenote presents cool geological features such as stunning stalagmites and stalactites.

Stalactites, diving in a cenote:


Sinkholes Pelagic Deep Sharks Ledge Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Sian Ka’an

Sian Ka’an is a part of the Great Mayan Reef, located about halfway down the eastern coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sian Ka’an is an area of outstanding natural beauty and understandably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What makes Sian Ka’an so special are 23 archaeological Mayan sites and rich wildlife, both above and below the water.

What you will see

The majority of the reserve is a mangrove forest, consisting of reasonably shallow waters. Like other mangrove habitats around the world, manatees live there, alongside maine turtles, crocodiles, hundreds of fish species and even the occasional pod of dolphins. Due to its UNESCO status, diving is heavily controlled and limited to certain areas so be sure to book in advance

Turtle:


Coral Reef Turtle Pelagic Manatees Beginner Intermediate Advanced

SEA OF CORTEZ

La Paz

On Western coast of Mexico, up top by the peninsula of Baja California, is the Gulf of California, also referred to as the Sea of Cortez. The most popular diving destinations are situated at the southern tip, between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. Hosting the major airport of the region, La Paz (not-to-be-confused with Bolivia) is the biggest city and a hub for diving and the starting point for most liveaboards.

What you will see

Due to its isolated conditions, the waters of La Paz are the perfect place for large marine animals like seals and whales to exist, free from their open ocean predators. Generally all year round are opportunities to see rays, including mobulas, eagles and majestic mantas. Their shark cousins, like white and black tip, are also native to the area. During the warmer months, May until September, divers can expect to see whalesharks and frolicing sea lions.

Sea lion:


Coral Reef Turtle Whale Shark Pelagic Seals Sharks Megafauna Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Cabo San Lucas

Although it may not be as rich in terms of biodiversity as the Sea of Cortez, Cabo San Lucas still has plenty to offer. Being on the edge of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, it gets a great mix of underwater action, especially marine megafauna!

What you will see

The just-off-the-coast sites have a rocky topography, with lionfish, lobsters, moray eels and other critters within. However it requires getting on a speedboat to see the real action. Conditions can get choppy, with strong currents and depths to match. Being a new diver, it can take your breath away for the wrong reasons!

Further out at sea, large schools of mobulas, whales, hammerheads, sardines and dolphinfish migrate. In the cooler months, December to April, the humpbacks and blue whales pass by. Open water dives, reserved for advanced divers, hold a chase encounter with mako sharks, marlins and slender blue sharks.


Coral Reef Pinnacles Megafauna Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Gordo Banks, Los Cabos

Approximately 8miles/5km offshore from Cabo San Lucas, is Gordo Banks. This collection of exposed seamounts features underwater plateaus and pinnacles, attracting passing pelagics. The peaks of the pinnacles range from 180-120ft/54-36m, and is done as a big blue drift dive at shallower depths.

What you will see

As with many ocean drift dives, no one really knows what great marine animals you will get to encounter that day. Common sightings include scalloped hammerheads, manta rays, schools of groupers, tuna and jacks. Keep your fingers crossed for a sailfish or a humpback. As you squint at the endless blue, second guessing a silhouette, remember to look at your dive computer and be wary of your buoyancy!


Pinnacles Pelagic Deep Current Sharks Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Cabo Pulmo National Park

Cabo Pulmo National Park is a protected area of 27 square miles on the eastern side of the peninsula. The reef here is approximately 20,000 years old, making it the oldest reef marine in the Americas. The star of the region is the great Calfornian sea lions, seen both above and below the water.

What you will see

Keeping in theme of its neighbouring dive spots, Cabo Pulmo promises big schools of big fish. On the reef are plenty of cute reef fish and colourful critters to entertain your macro lens. Just passing by the reef you can see tornadoes of groupers, barracudas, tunas, jacks and mobulas rays. Conditions are calmer here than at Gordo Banks or Cabo San Lucas, and the depths shallower. Cabo Pulmo is a good starting point for beginner divers or great for a relaxing day-off snorkelling.

School of barracudas:


Coral Reef Shore Pinnacles Pelagic Seals Deep Sharks Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

QUINTANA ROO

Xcalak

This quiet town, pronounced “sh-ka-luk”, is perfect for those who love to get away from the crowds and off the beaten track! On the border with Belize, Xcalak has the Great Mayan Reef on its doorstep, the second largest barrier reef in the world. Mexico has some of the best diving in the world, Xcalak claiming a top spot in Mexico itself.

What you will see

Xcalak has many exciting dive sites, the favourites being The Cathedral, La Pozeta, La Poza and The Chimney. La Pozeta and La Poza are both situated close to shore and offer the rare opportunity to dive with manatees. The sites’ depth range from 5-25m, so it's an experience all divers will love. The Chimney (Chiminea locally) and The Cathedral’s topography are more maze-like, reserved for advanced divers.

Linking the two sites together is a narrow swim through, leading to a spectacular chamber, at 28m depth.

Chinchorro Banks

Just a stone’s throw away north from sleepy Xcalak, is the UNESCO Biosphere reserve, Chinchorro Banks/Banco Chinchorro. Chinchorro Banks one of the last few underwater edens, with 2,500 species of marine flora and fauna. Also surrounding its shores are 60+ wrecks, some which are Spanish galleons over 500 years old!

What you will see

Being the largest reef system in the Northern Hemisphere, it's no surprise that animal sightings are endless. Lobsters, turtles, angelfish, sharks, tapilon, moray eels and spectacular corals to name a few. But the real star of Chinchorro Banks is the Croc! Cayo Centro, a small 6 km² island--but the largest in Chinchorro Banks--is home to approximately 400 American crocodiles. The crocodiles habitat the mangroves and surrounding seagrass, and can reach lengths up to 12ft/4m! Encounters are done while snorkeling, so getting face to face with a croc can be done by anyone-if you dare!-

Close up croc shot:


Coral Reef Sandy Bottom Turtle Swim-through Deep Manatees Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

ISLANDS

Guadalupe Island

Like all the island diving destinations based around Mexico, they are too far away for a casual day trip, and require a liveaboard booking to get there. Guadalupe Island is definitely a unique experience, since the trips are to specifically see great white sharks!

What you will see

Well great white sharks hopefully! The majority of the operators offer the standard surface-supplied cage diving so anyone can witness great whites in the water. Others, like Nautlius, have a submersible cage, so certified divers can plunge upto 40ft/12m deep! The sharks are around Guadalupe Island year round, with peak season being July-October, when sea conditions are calmer.

Read more about liveaboards going to Guadalupe!

Great white from cage:


Pelagic Deep Liveaboard Great White Sharks Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Socorro Island

Lying 300 miles/500 km south from the tip of the Baja Peninsula, is the Revillagigedo Archipelago. These Islands are a UNESCO Site, and its most famous diving destination is the sensational Socorro Island.

What you will see

Often dubbed as the “Mexican Galapagos”, Socorro Island is an absolute marine megafauna mecca. Booking a liveaboard will give you the opportunity to see manta rays, big schools of fish and sharks like hammerheads, dolphins and even humpback whales! This remote island, with its neighbouring brothers, offer sights that are a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Diving here does not promise shallow reef scenes, but pinnacles with mild to high currents. With an open water feel, diving here is reserved for the experienced.

NB *Humpback whale season is approximately January-April*


Whale Shark Pinnacles Pelagic Deep Current Sharks Megafauna Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

San Benedicto

Also within the same archipelago, San Benedicto is the first stop for many Socorro liveaboards. San Benedicto is the perfect place to tickle your taste buds and fine tune your camera skills before arriving at Socorro.

What you will see

San Benedicto’s number one stop is The Boiler, a world-class site for diving with mantas. This site is predominantly a pinnacle starting from 165ft/50m and getting as shallow at 20ft/6m. This pinnacle serves as a cleaning station where eye catching Clarion angelfish help out the grateful Manta.

What makes The Boiler unique is that the mantas are not just a fleeting passerby, but an awesome dive-long encounter. Mantas, like whale sharks, have been speculated to enjoy the company of scuba divers, using their bubbles to break away their parasites. So be prepared for some up close and personal experiences!

Manta and diver:


Whale Shark Pinnacles Pelagic Deep Sharks Beginner Intermediate Advanced Our Favorite

Whether you decide to head to the east coast and explore Yucatan Peninsula or west for the Sea of Cortez, Mexico will offer once-in-a-lifetime encounters over and over again! Its unique limestone landscape, reef systems and warm weather make it the perfect holiday destination, whether you’re a thrill seeker or a chill photographer.

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THE AUTHORS:

sylvia jenkins

Sylvia Jenkins

Scuba Instructor
Sylvia is a scuba instructor and underwater photographer

Torben Lonne

Scuba Instructor and editor

Torben has a huge passion for Scuba diving and traveling. He’s also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of divein. 

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