diving in cozumelThe Mexican island of Cozumel was a sleepy little fishing community until 1961, when a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the most beautiful scuba diving areas of the world. Since that time, Cozumel has become a mecca for divers, and has declared the southern reef area as an underwater National Marine Park to protect the delicate balance of its dazzling coral reefs and abundant variety of tropical fish. The underwater wildlife is absolutely amazing here: flounder, grouper, stingrays, turtles and hundreds of colorful, tropical fish dart around the coral reefs. Visibility ranges from 60 ft. to 200 ft., depending on the season and water conditions. Most diving in Cozumel is drift diving, where divers (accompanied by their dive guides) are dropped off by the boat up current at the start of the dive, and are carried along the reef by the current. As divers complete their underwater tour, they are picked up at the end of the dive by the boat… making navigation easy. Shore diving is available for buoyancy checks and refreshers, but to experience the true coral reefs, divers should head out on the boat dives.

The island’s diving association assesses a fee of $2.00 per dive, with the proceeds going to protect the reef. A separate daily fee (about $1.00) is also assessed to support the island’s recompression chamber, which any diver can then use at no additional charge. This fee is waived for divers having DAN membership. There are four recompression chambers located in Cozumel, some staffed 24 hrs. a day.

Besides diving, Cozumel is also world renown for its dazzling white sandy beaches and the remarkable clarity of the multi-hued turquoise-blue Caribbean ocean in which it rests. The climate is subtropical & the people native to Cozumel are of Mayan descent.

Dive Sites

All of Cozumel’s reefs are considered excellent by Caribbean standards. The drift diving technique utilized on the reefs is the easiest type of diving by any standards. Most important to us all is the fact that these reefs are now protected by Mexican law and will be preserved forever.

Bearing in mind that just one careless kick can destroy 20–40 years of coral growth, please watch your Buoyancy Control. If you are new to the sport and have not yet mastered this important skill, try to stay at least 3 feet above the reef and be aware of what your fins are doing. Likewise, following correct diving procedures, your instrument consoles should be secured to your B.C. and not left dragging along the reef.

Cozumel’s Shallow Reefs

Cozumel coral reef

* Paradise Reef – is actually a series of three separate reefs running parallel to shore approximately 200 yards out and is the only reef listed here accessible to beach divers. Maximum depth is 45 feet. All 3 sections are abundant with marine life of every size, color and description. Expect to see crab, lobster and a plethora of multi-colored tropical fish. Bring some food and be surrounded by angels, tangs and yellowtails. Watch your guide feed the spotted morays. Look closely under ledges and in holes and you’re likely to spy the reclusive “Splendid Toad Fish” reputed to live nowhere in the world other than Cozumel. Paradise reef is the island’s most popular night diving location. (Intermediate)
* Chancanab – is just south of Parque Chancanab and about 350 yards offshore. Maximum depth is 55 ft. The coral formations and marine Life are similar to, but a little less populated than Paradise. Chancanab is another good location for night diving. (Novice)
* Balones of Chancanab – is a series of balloon shaped coral heads. Plenty of lobster, crab and color. Out from and slightly south of Chancanab. 60–70 ft. (Novice)
* San Francisco Reef – Beginning on the southern end of San Francisco Beach, this half mile reef is broken into 3 sections, each separated by about 60 yards of sand. This is Cozumel’s shallowest wall dive. Loaded with life and best dived between 35 and 50 ft. San Francisco is a particularly exciting shallow dive, and not to be missed. (Intermediate)
* Santa Maria Reef - begins where San Francisco leaves off… at the south end of S.F. restaurant, a little less coral, larger schools of angels…beautiful diving also. (Intermediate)
* Yucab Reef – maximum depth 60 ft.. Yucab’s. dense low profile is a cornucopia of life and color. Barracuda are almost always seen here and the current is usually swift. (Novice)
* Torments Reef – is a series of colorful coral heads separated by “blue” sand valleys you can almost always visit with a very friendly and big moray. A divemaster’s favorite. 40–70 ft. (Intermediate)
* Paso El Cedral - or “Oak Pass” is a series of many reefs marked with expansive low profile caverns at its beginning and plenty of big fish throughout. Maximum depth 60 ft.. Cedral is another seldom dived but spectacular site. (Intermediate)
* Shallow Palancar – An outstanding dive between 20 and 40 ft. Great for beginners but small groups of experienced divers can enjoy an incredible tour of long, narrow tunnels and caves. (Novice)
* Shallow Columbia – This never ending sea garden is still a favorite for maximum bottom time. 15–35 ft. If you want to dive deeper here, you’ll have to bring a shovel. (Novice)

Cozumel’s Deep Dives

* Maracaibo Reef – On the wall. Cozumel’s great myth! At 100–120 ft. Don’t waste your time and money! At 140–160 it is spectacular but that’s decompression diving. Often sold as Maracaibo or Lighthouse Reef is some super-fine diving slightly in from the wall—a series of very lush and rarely dived huge heads in 60–90 ft. of water. (Advanced)
* Chun Chakab – Probably the most difficult to find reef in Cozumel Diving this one takes very special combination of captain, divemaster and weather conditions. If you do manage to get there, expect a virgin submarine fantasyland where large pelagics are often seen. For experienced only! 90–120 ft. (Advanced)
* La Francesa Reef – An excellent deep site for first time ocean divers. Not located on our famous drop-off, this reef is surrounded by sand bottom at 7–15 feet: Expect mild currents and a wide spectrum of colorful marine life.
* Palancar Reef – The reef most identified with Cozumel is actually a conglomeration of many different coral formations and personalities. Stretching over three and one half miles, this gargantuan queen reef lies about a mile off shore and tops a sloping wall which descends to a maximum depth of over 3000 feet. Palancar offers such a wide variety of profiles that she could not be seen in 20 or even 30 dives. Just to get a glimpse” of this multi-faceted giant, the diver need make at least 6 separate dives. (Novice)
* Palancar Gardens – at the north end is relatively shallow and best dived between 40 and 70 ft. Often dived, nevertheless beautiful with many large caverns. (Novice)
* The Little Caves – is the area of many winding canyons, deep ravines and narrow crevices. A labyrinth of passageways, tunnels and caves, this is best dived at 50–70 feet. (Novice)
* The Big Horseshoe – where a series of tightly packed giant coral heads form a natural horseshoe rising from 100 feet to within 20 feet of the surface. Former home of the Christ statue (which now stands in Chancanab Park), this is still Palancar’s busiest deep dive. Too much broken coral here, dive well, please. (Novice)
* Broken Reef or The Little Horseshoe – just south of the big one is where you’ll find majestic coral ridges rising high from the slope—many windows, canyons and caverns. Best at 60–80 ft. Seldom dived and pristine. (Novice)
* Palancar Caves – still further south, is best dived al 60–90 feet to appreciate it’s deep buttresses, tunnels, caves and immense caverns. (Novice)
* Deep Palancar – is where the wall begins at 90–100 feet. Rarely dived and pristine. Not for novice divers 100–120 ft. Spectacular visibility and currents vary all along the reef, but you can always count on stunning, exciting dive at mighty Palancar. (Advanced)
* Santa Rosa Reef/Wall - Undoubtedly Cozumel’s second most popular drop-off. The wall begins at 50 feet and drops straight away into the deep. There is usually a brisk current and what an incredible thrill it is to literally fly the face of the wall and frolic with the playful grouper that gather to be hand fed by divers. Santa Rosa offers great beds of tunicates, immense sponges, huge overhangs of stony corals and impressive caves and tunnels best dived 60–80 ft. Awesome! (Intermediate)
* Cedral Wall – A fairly flat wall just brimming with life and color. Expect a swift ride—Look Maw! No kicking—50–90 ft. (Intermediate)
* Columbia Reef - Another impressive drop-off at 60–80 feet. The quality of diving here is at least as spectacular as any part of Palancar. Deep diving at its finest. Columbia is comprised of a series of gigantic coral pinnacles (most over 90 ft. tall) rock marked with caves, tunnels and caverns. Here you’ll experience a unique sensation liken to floating around the Rocky Mountains. Small marine life is a bit sparse but large creatures are frequently seen. (Intermediate)
* Punta Sur – incredible topography…huge caverns. Many divers surface screaming with joy. 90–100 ft.
* Punta Sur II - Home of “the devil’s throat”. This sequel is every bit as fascinating as the original. 90–120 ft. (Advanced)
* Barrcuda and San Juan Reefs - are younger, more virgin reefs. Barracuda’s Wall and the “Mountains” of San Juan offer little exciting topography. These are definitely not for the novice or overly confident divers. Currents of 3–10 knots run straight out to sea and if you lose your dive group, your next stop may be Cuba. These 2 reefs can be dived safely only by small groups of experienced current divers utilizing a hand held ascent line tied to float which the boat can keep sight of and follow. Depths range from 70–110 ft. Cameras must be left topside. (Expert)
* Villablanca Wall – Different! Instead of the huge stony coral buttresses so typical of this southern deep reefs, the sloping wall here is dominated by huge sponges, gorgonians, and big schools of jacks and angelfish. It is recommended that novices make this one from a boat, but this site can be dived by more experienced divers from the beach. 50–100 ft. (Intermediate)
* Virgin Wall – Due to heavy currents preventing local divemasters from bringing large groups of reef wreckers, this area remains pristine and lush. 2–4 different dives to see it all. If I had to choose my very favorite dive In Cozumel, it would be one of these. Which? Thank you, I won’t tell. 40–130 ft. (Advanced)

Dive Operators

Dive Paradise“, “Dive Palancar“, “Sand Dollar” and “Dive House Cozumel“—are among our recommended operators. All have a long history of safety. Following a “No Cattle Boat” policy, they set guaranteed maximums of 12–16 divers on Standard Boat Trips. All operators have expert staff, and can easily accommodate the novice diver, who needs more personal attention.

* Dive Paradise … Villablanca, Hotel Cozumel, Fiesta Americana
* Dive Paradise or Dive House … Fiesta Americana
* Sand Dollar … Reef Club Cozumel
* Dive Palancar … Allegro Diamond

For those diving with Dive Paradise—Dive adventures include taxes, welcome tank for shore diving, dive boat pickup at hotel pier, tanks, weights, soft drinks, snack lunch on 2-tank standard trips, and divemaster guide. During US holiday periods (arrivals 5 days before or after a major US holiday) the single-tank BONUS boat dives are optional and $15 each, paid to Dive Paradise. Caribbean “standard” boats with cover, 12–16 divers max with never more than 8 per dive group. Upgrades to “express” boats (6 divers max) $10/trip; please note that Express boat adventures do not include free (or $10 holiday period optional) single-tank 3:00pm boat dives—these dives are part of the Caribbean standard boat adventures only. Specialty trips can be upgraded for more advanced divers using dive computers.

Dive Adventures

* Cozumel Palace – former Plaza las Glorias
* Hotel Cozumel – former Magic Sunset, Hotel Brisas, Costa Club, Fiesta Inn
* Villablanca
* Fiesta Americana
* Reef Club Isla Cozumel
* Allegro Diamond Resort

High Season and Low Season – High season generally begins mid-December and ends mid-April. Higher rates are found during High Season and some holidays.

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