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Diving in Mexico

The Pacific Coast and Caribbean Sea

Long considered a fascinating tourist haven, in recent years Mexico has become increasingly recognised as a world-class dive destination. When you consider the breathtaking waters of the Pacific coast and the delightful beaches, islands and bays of the Caribbean Sea, one can only wonder at the underwater riches that lie beneath.

Scuba diving in Mexico with manta rays - image courtesy of the Bonnie Pelnar

Mexico offers all manner of scuba diving from entry-level dives off sandy beaches, and awe-inspiring cave diving on the Cenotes, to great white shark and whale encounters in the Pacific. This destination really does have an embarrassment of riches.

With the USA to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the southeast, Mexico spans a huge area with many diverse land and seascapes. South of the U.S. state of California, stretches the long finger of Baja California from where divers can access the Sea of Cortez and the Socorro Islands. It is this part of Mexico where you will find all the liveaboard operators. The east coast is lapped by the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, where the Yucatan Peninsula and islands such as Cozumel and Isla Mujeres create a celebratory atmosphere both above and below the surface. Here the diving is resort-based.

Mexico is also a country rich in history and culture and you can immerse yourself in the historical world of the great Mayan culture by visiting Mayan ruins and visiting some of the wonderful museum displays from this era. Trekking, kayaking and beach bar-hopping are among the other popular pursuits among visitors to this exceptional destination.

Highlights

The choice is clear: If you are interested in the exciting open sea diving then a liveaboard cruise in the Pacific is the choice for you. For land-based diving and those with an eye on non-diving activities, look to the Caribbean Sea.

Mexico's Pacific Coast

Socorro Island (and the Revillagigedos) comprise an archipelago some 400 km from Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Socorro is famed for experiences with huge manta rays, sharks and humpback whales. With such breathtaking encounters with big animals in impressive numbers, it is understandable why Socorro has been called "The Galapagos of Mexico".

Guadalupe is a volcanic island 240 km west of Baja California and is a mecca for great white shark cage diving. Guadalupe's shark population is said to be one of the most prolific on earth. From August to October you can join liveaboard trips here and fulfill all your great white dreams.

The Sea of Cortez is a thin stretch of water lying between the Baja California peninsula to the west and the Mexican mainland to the east, and it is bursting with biological riches. Vast schools of hammerhead sharks, colonies of sea lions and even grey whales are common here in this aquarium-like marine haven.

Mexico's Caribbean Sea

Cozumel, the 'Island of Swallows' is blessed with a diversity of reefs, caves, caverns and tunnels. The reef forms part of the Great Maya Barrier Reef, the world's second largest reef system. The diving here is characterized by gin-clear water and innumerable tropical fish species as well as turtles, nurse sharks and eagle rays.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a section of the Mexican mainland which is home to the turtle playground that is Playa del Carmen, sitting just across the water from Cozumel. From here or from the nearby, and very lively, Cancun you can dive the other delights of Mexico's Caribbean Sea. Cancun has some noteable wrecks to explore, bull shark diving, spectacular visibility and some extra-ordinary night dives. Isla Mujeres lies just to the north of the peninsula and boasts a number of great shallow dives.

The Cenotes are known the world over and are in many ways the unique jewel in Mexico's diving crown. The Yucatan Peninsula is in fact a plateau beneath which runs a system of underwater caves, some of which collapsed into sinkholes. You can now experience the wonder of descending into a hole in the jungle floor and diving past huge eerie columns and silent, ancient stalactites.

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How to Dive Mexico

Choosing where to dive in Mexico is like coming to a fork in the road. One sign is for people for whom diving is the sole focus. If you want to go on a Mexican liveaboard safari and experience awe-inspiring encounters with mega-fauna and "dive, eat, sleep" then turn right and head to the Pacific Coast. It is fair to say that the Pacific Coast tends to attract more experienced scuba divers for whom the open sea, currents and choppy conditions, cooler water and rocky outcrops, are all part of the fun.

Aerial shot of a massive school of mobula rays in Yucatan, Mexico

If you are not a hardcore diver and non-diving activities are also important to you, then the other sign might be meant for you. Turn left for the Mexican Caribbean where there is an incredible diversity of dive sites, great visibility and lot of Caribbean island charm. The diving is awesome here too, but a different kind of awesome. Expect dive resorts, crystal clear water, colourful reefs, steep wall, caves and caverns. Non-diving activities here abound too, including historical sites and some lively apres-dive beach bars.

If you feel like you want to turn both left and right, then simply extend your holiday and make Mexico the diving trip of a lifetime!

Diving Season

Mexico is a year round destination although different seasons apply to different locations within the country.

Socorro is mostly dived between November and May when calm seas determine the liveaboard season. Socorro water temperatures range from 28°C in November, to as low as 21°C in February, and then back to 25°C by May. Whale sharks are most commonly sighted in the first month or two of the season. The winter months bring over a thousand humpback whales to the area to breed and calve. Manta rays can be seen all year round. Visibility variation is less seasonal and more associated with plankton blooms which occur frequently, especially around full moon, and bring in the big fish.

The Guadalupe dive season is from August to October and colder temperatures (19°C to 22°C) are to be expected. The Sea of Cortez liveaboard season runs from August to November which is the warmest period. Conditions can vary a great deal here throughout the year, but during liveaboard season the water temperatures hover around the 27°C mark. September and October are the best times for sighting hammerhead sharks in the Sea of Cortez.

The air temperate and warm water temperatures of the Caribbean Sea make this region of Mexico "year round". Visibility, always good in Cozumel and the Yucatan Peninsula, is at its best in August or September. Temperatures (25°C to 29°C) and underwater encounters are also consistent throughout the year. December to March is considered peak season for diving. The Cenotes are also year round with the best light effects visible from May to September.

Reef Summary

Good for: Visibility, large animals, wrecks, cave diving
Not so good for:
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 25 - 60m
Currents: Can be strong in the Pacific, usually mild in the Caribbean
Surface conditions: Mostly calm but can be choppy further from shore
Water temperature: 19 - 29°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced (Pacific), beginner - advanced (Caribbean)
Number of dive sites: >120
Access: Liveaboards (Pacific) and dive resorts (Caribbean)
Recommended length of stay: 2 - 3 weeks

More on Mexico

So where do you want to go? Read more on these top Mexican dive spots:

  • Guadalupe Island • Sea of Cortez
  • Socorro Islands

Useful References


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