The coastal zone along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico is best known for the resort town of Cancun and the popular vacation spots around Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel and the coastal ruins in Tulum. These Yucatan getaways are spectacular and offer top-notch resorts, restaurants, great scuba diving shops, and dive sites. If you want to get away from the crowds, head south to the small village of Costa Maya and the region that bears the same name.
The Mexican state of Quintana Roo is the only Mexican state along the Caribbean Sea. The capital of Quintana Roo is not Cancun -nor even close- it is Chetumal near Costa Maya. The city is directly on the border with Belize. Chetumal is a common launching point for scuba divers looking to explore the southern realms of Quintana Roo.
The Mayan Coast is found far south of Tulum along the Caribbean, stretching south until the border of Belize. Offshore Costa Maya and beyond the Belize Barrier Reef, you will find the only coral atoll in Mexico, Banco Chinchorro. This coral atoll is the northernmost of the four atolls that line the coast of Belize, and the only atoll out of the four in Mexican waters. This is a special and unspoiled place to plan a real scuba diving adventure.
Costa Maya is the closest port to many of the lesser known Yucatan's Mayan ruins. Take a tour, or better yet rent a car, and explore Chacchoben, about 40 miles inland from the village of Costa Maya, where you will find a more rustic, less excavated ruins site with amazing pyramids and places you can explore on your own.
There is also the ruin known as Kokunlich or Pyramid of the Masks. Kokunlich is further inland and off more obscure roads about 30 miles west of the capital city of Chetumal. It is well worth the trip; check it out on Google maps, it is amazing. Mayan ruin sites are spectacular and get you back into the jungle to explore the inland where many scuba divers rarely do.
Costa Maya is not lined with resorts like up north; in fact there are very few roads that run along the coast. Most access to scuba diving sites is by boat. The town also known as Costa Maya is a quiet place to stay and head out to Banco Chinchorro, or explore the many dive sites closer to shore or along the Belize Barrier Reef. This reef runs offshore the mainland of Honduras, all along Belize and up into the northern realms of the Yucatan in Mexico. The reef and its atolls are amazing, offering clear, warm waters ideal for scuba diving and marine life.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is the most extensive reef in the western hemisphere and has a rich and healthy diversity of coral and marine species. The reef was over fished and abused in the past but recent protection measures by local and Mexican federal government have passed strict laws that are enforced. Please respect and support these laws and regulations when scuba diving along the reef and the atoll.
Banco Chinchorro, offshore from the southern border where Mexico and Belize meet, is an amazing and unique place to dive in Mexico. The Banco Chinchorro coral atoll is far wilder and more isolated compared to the busy world of Riviera Maya and Cancun to the north. The slightly oval shaped coral atoll has three islands: Cayo Norte, Caye Central and Cayo Lobos. The islands have mangroves and scampering crabs and a few fishermen who live in stilted homes. In 1996, Banco Chinchorro was named a Biosphere Reserve and is patrolled and protected by the Mexican government. It is very difficult for local dive operators to get permits to take scuba divers out onto the atoll. It is possible if you have a large enough group of divers, a registered dive operator and good weather to organize a day trip to this protected submerged world.
In the scuba diving community, the elusive Banco Chinchorro is famous for its shipwrecks- genuine shipwrecks old and new; there are no artificial reefs that have been created on the atoll. Most of the wrecks are in extremely shallow water, less than 10 meters, and are in the surf zone making these dive sites very difficult and dangerous. The authorities do not allow divers on most of the wrecks, to protect the coral as well as the divers.
There are two Spanish Galleon wrecks on Chinchorro that can be snorkeled over. The 40 Canons wreck site, near Cayo Norte, is the resting place of a 17th century Dutch galleon whose huge anchor and 16 of the original 40 cannons can easily be seen as you snorkel in the shallow 10-15 feet deep water. Thieves stole the other 24 cannons partly explaining why the Mexican government currently forbids scuba diving on the site.
In 2005, Hurricane Wilma ravaged the Atlantic and Yucatan Peninsula and a ferry boat named Cozumel washed south and hit the atoll, it sits upright for the most part and largely out of the water.
If you can get there and you are not so attached to wreck dives, Banco Chinchorro is a great place for beginner and advanced divers alike. Most of the wrecks are in rough, shallow waters on the eastern side of the atoll, whereas the western side is where the great diving and show of coral and marine life makes for amazing dive sites. Along the western shore of Banco Chinchorro, you will find beautiful reef formations, huge barrel sponges, brain coral, and black coral that are uniquely large and vibrant. The sloping edge of the atoll are perfect for exploring at 30 feet depths for long peaceful dives where you can really experience the marine life and coral formations. Pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins as well as spotted eagle rays are common in the area during certain peak times of the year.
Some of the best dive sites on the western side of Chinchorro include The Garden just south of 40 Canons. The Garden sits in 60-80 feet of water and puts on a show that lives up to its name and is suitable for all levels of scuba divers. Punta Gonzalez and nearby Kai Ha are two sites that are located off Banco Chinchorro's Cayo Centro. Punta Gonzalez is in 40-90 feet of water along a gentle ledge where you can drift and view the amazing coral formations and catch sight of eagle rays, sea turtles and lobsters. Nearby Kai Ha just to the north is in 30-65 feet of water, making it a relatively easy and enjoyable dive site where you will see many fish such as the delicate and colorful French Angelfish and Queen Angelfish.
The fishing village of Xcalak is found in the southern realm of Costa Maya southeast of Chetumal. Most dive sites near Xcalak are only 5-30 minute boat rides with a local dive shop captain. You will get to explore fantastic dive sites along the barrier reef that parallel most of the shore along Costa Maya.
The popular, but never crowded, dive site known as La Poza is less than a kilometer south of the village of Xcalek. There you can explore the remains of a sunken cenote wall and enjoy a mellow but amazing shallow dive perfect for beginners and advanced divers alike. The depth of La Poza is only about 20 meters at maximum. The dive site is also known as Tarpon Hole, where you can see schools of the large silvery tarpon that sports fishermen dream of.
There are many great dive sites in the area including the swim through dive site called La Pozeta just south of La Poza. For advanced divers check out La Chiminea with a maximum depth of about 30 meters, about 3 km south of Xcalek. The depth is not what makes La Chiminea advanced of course; it is the wall drop where you enter a cavern then a swim through up an underwater canyon. There are so many sites to explore along this amazing reef lined coastal area.
Getting to Costa Maya usually involves flying into the capital city of Chetumal. Chetumal International Airport (CTM) offers regular flights from Mexico City's Internacional Benito Juarez (MEX) if nothing else. Chetumal receives frequent flights from Cancun International to the north and taking this hop flight after enjoying a week in Cancun may be the best way to get to the Costa Maya area. The drive from Cancun is about 6 hours long, which is not bad for those who like to rent a car and explore as they travel.
Interested in scuba diving on the protected Banco Chinchorro? Contact the XTC Dive Center in the small fishing village of Xcalak near the Belize border if you are looking for a day trip out to Mexico's only coral atoll. If weather and circumstances permit, the shop's dive masters offer a day trip to the remarkable atoll and all it has to offer. XTC Dive Center also specializes in bringing divers out into the nearby Chetumal Bay and the barrier reef that lines the coast. The PADI certified shop offers dive trips, fishing expeditions, bird watching trips and snorkeling tours. Another dive shop and resort in Xcalak is Costa del Cocos. Tucked nicely away on a white sand beach, there is a small break in the reef where Costa de Cocos captains bring guests along the reef for diving. They offer scuba diving day trips along the barrier reef as well as specialize in amazing fishing trips.
Near the village of Costa Maya along the coast, there is the dive shop and resort Doctor Dive. This is a fun place to stay and explore with the many scuba dive trips they offer to explore all along the barrier reef that is just off shore from the resort. Doctor Dive offers scuba diving trips, of course, but also snorkel trips and fishing trips. Just south of Costa Maya and Doctor Dive is the dive shop called Nomad Divers. Nomad specializes in scuba diving expeditions and getting you to the best dive sites to view the healthiest reef and most marine life for the given day. They also offer extensive scuba certification courses as well as beginners lessons for those new to scuba diving. The areas dive sites are perfect for beginners due to the weak currents and warm sheltered clear waters of the Caribbean and the barrier reef. Advanced divers will not be disappointed either!
Down along the southern extent of Costa Maya, near the border with Belize, is the small fishing village of Mahahual. Diving off this coast along the shelter off the barrier reef gives great dive sites and clear waters. Dreamtime Dive Resort in Mahahual will not disappoint, this dive shop offers great day trip for scuba divers, snorkelers and fisherman. Dreamtime offers scuba diving trips to Banco Chinchorro for the adventurous. There is so much to explore offshore along Mahahual as well as inland where you will find cenotes and Mayan ruins. This is an unspoiled, under developed area where you can get a taste of the way the Yucatan was before the large resorts and cities in the north were developed.
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This was my second visit to Costa Maya while cruising the Caribbean. Last October I dived with the cruise line's excursion. It was enjoyable, but I was ambivalent about returning. This time, however, I met a fellow passenger who was going with Doctor Dive, an independent operator. It turned out to be well worth the effort to cancel my ship excursion in favour of Doctor Dive. My new friend and I took a 10-minute taxi ride south of the cruise port to the DD shop, which looks out on cozy Yaya Beach...
Pocna deserves no less than 5 stars. This was my first scuba diving experience so I chose the discovery dive course.The staff here is very skilled, didactic, passionate and fun. I was started off with a 20 minute video describing the experience, instructions, safety features and physiological effects of pressure on the body. This was followed by breathing and mouthpiece practice in shallow water prior to a 30min boat ride to open water. Diving isn't trivial and they were patient and sensitive to...
Banco Chinchorro, offshore from the southern border where Mexico and Belize meet, is an amazing and unique place to dive in Mexico. The Banco Chinchorro coral atoll is far wilder and more isolated com...
Getting to Costa Maya usually involves flying into the capital city of Chetumal. Chetumal International Airport (CTM) offers regular flights from Mexico City's Internacional Benito Juarez (MEX) if not...
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