DIVE | CANCUN & THE MAYA RIVIERA
White-sand beaches and tropical cocktails are the order of the day along the Maya Riviera and at Cancun, which has a deserved reputation for mass tourism with large hotels, bars and restaurants serving the many visitors to this coastline. For divers, however, there are all sorts of options along the 70-mile stretch from Cancun to Tulum, including shallow holiday dives, curious caverns and underwater art installations. Topside too there is a wide range of things to see and do in an area that takes in the big tourist resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen and at the southern end the Mayan city of Tulum, known for its iconic pyramids.
Forming part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the dives along the Maya Riviera attract many Caribbean species and migratory animals. It’s fair to say that the best of the diving in this area is found in either Cozumel or the Cenotes (see DIVE | Cenotes, but there are nevertheless several options to keep visiting divers entertained, with the added benefit of the many attractions topside.
The area is a great base to mix cenote diving with a few reefs dives including the world-class bull shark dive in December to February or the equally wonderful whales sharks at Holbox and Isla Mujeres in the summer months. Many dive operators also offer day excursions over to Cozumel.
As with Cozumel, much of the diving is drift diving and there is the chance to dive busy reefs with notable species such as turtles. In terms of topography, caverns and swim-throughs are common and there are some beautiful arches on the sea bed.
Bull Shark Nursery | Playa del Carmen
This is the only place in the world where bull sharks are known to congregate before giving birth. Each winter mature, pregnant females accompanied by juveniles gather in a nearby sand bay before delivering more than 15 live pups in the nearby mangroves. Saving Our Sharks, a local NGO, has set up a system to regulate up to 40 local dive centres with strict guidelines for divers to interact with the sharks without harassing them. Divers during the months of December, January and February can see as many as 30 bull sharks on each dive, half of which will be carrying pups. Saving Our Sharks is campaigning for the whole of the Mexican part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef to be made a protected, non-fishing zone as safeguarding apex predators such as bull sharks would benefit the whole of the Caribbean region.
MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum
MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) at Cancun consists of more than 500 permanent sculptures and is one of the largest underwater art attractions in the world. The project has seen British artist Jason deCaires Taylor help create the largest underwater museum on the planet by making sculptures that will change over time, as coral grows and marine life establishes itself. The museum, located in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Marine Park, is divided into two galleries called Salon Manchones and Salon Nizuc. The first is 8m deep and suitable for both divers and snorkellers and the second 4m deep where only snorkelling is permitted. Exhibits include sculptures of a number of life-size human figures in different poses and situations, a Volkswagen Beetle and huge humans hands – undoubtedly a hugely innovative and unique attraction.
Wreck of the C58 General Anya
Located halfway between Isla Mujeres and Cancun, the wreck of the C58 General Anya is a popular dive that is at recreational diving depths. Originally a minesweeper, the boat was sunk as an artificial reef in 2000 and now sits at a depth of 25m. The wreck was split in two by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and now has an open stern section, which can be penetrated. It’s an excellent dive for marine life, most noticeably for the school of eagle rays that frequents the wreck.
Moc-Che – Shallow
This site off Playa Del Carmen is typical of the local diving with a shallow reef between 7 and 14m that has little current and a good smattering of marine life, including stingrays, moray eels, porkfish, grouper, crustaceans and turtles. Suitable for beginners, the dive ends with a small arch at end of the reef that is packed with fish and sponges.
Moc-Che – Deep
At 30m deep, this wall dive to the north of Playa del Carmen makes a good first dive of the day. The current varies but you are likely to cover some 500m. Expect to see typical reef species along with barrel sponges, eagle rays and turtles. There are a number of breaks or sandy channels in the wall where you can see large stingrays and on occasion bull sharks.
Brain corals are the biggest attraction at this shallow site off Playa del Carmen (Cerebros means brains in Spanish), which at 12m makes for an excellent checkout dive. It’s a pretty dive with schooling reef fish and plenty of fan corals.
Turtles at Akumal
Mexico is well known for the numbers of sea turtles that visit its waters. Akumal Bay is a popular site for green turtles and at various times of year there are turtle hatchlings on the beach making for the water. Hawksbill and loggerhead turtles also frequent the bay.