This little island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was a sleepy little fishing village until 1961 when Jacques Cousteau visited and pronounced the reef to be one of the most beautiful in the world. That moment changed Cozumel former, and the island is now known as one of the premier diving spots in the world.
What makes it so special? Sure, there are lots of great diving areas in the Caribbean; however, as Cozumel became a popular dive destination, it was made clear that protections were needed, and the marine park was quickly established to help protect the vital coral reef. The island’s beaches are popular with sea turtles as nesting sites, so divers are often treated to multiple sightings of the beautiful turtles underwater. We recently were treated to an enjoyable swim with a turtle that an expert estimated was about 65 years old (they can live to between 85-102 years).
Because of the protected areas and the transition from sleepy fishing village to a tourist destination that attracts cruise ships throughout the year, it is common to see rather large fish here. For instance, in popular Utila, Honduras, midnight parrotfish are found fairly often on that island’s north side; however, it is rare to see any that are much larger than about 7 inches. But in the protected waters of Cozumel it isn’t uncommon to find these beautiful fish being as long as 4 feet!
Cozumel also boats waters that are crystal clear. If you are familiar with underwater photography, you know that by the time you’re at 40 feet or deeper, you generally will only see blue and green colors. However, the waters here are so amazingly clear that light is able to penetrate more deeply, and one can see vivid yellows even beyond 100 feet!
Obviously, being a huge dive destination means you have a large choice of dive shops. You can find everything from low-budget centers to larger dive operations that have a fleet of boats and their own all-inclusive resorts. What’s always nice to see is dive shops that not only run high-quality operations but that also believe in being involved in local conservation efforts and in giving back to the community, much like Dive Cooperative.
While there are areas that are calm enough even for snorkeling, the majority of diving in Cozumel’s turquoise waters is drift diving where you allow the relatively swift current to carry you along. Some areas have such great current that you enter one dive site and are picked up by your boat after having enjoyed three, separate and unique sites. If you haven’t enjoyed a great drift dive before, you’ll quickly fall in love with diving in Cozumel. You feel like you’re flying, and you barely need to move a fin.
If you’re a little more adventurous, the island is very close to some of the best cave diving in the world. Ask your dive center about diving in the caves of the subterranean river system known as cenotes. They are one of the things the Yucatan is famous for, like world heritage sites such as Chichen Itza, and being able to swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark.
Cozumel is very affordable, safe, an extremely good location, and offers some of the best diving you’ll probably experience. So what are you waiting for? Come on down!