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The Best Diving Spots In Cozumel And How To Prepare

Located in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is the small island of Cozumel. The majority of the economy relies on tourism, most notably the tourism from scuba diving - and for good reason. 

The best diving spots in Cozumel and how to prepare

The turquoise waters and white beaches are quickly becoming vastly popular across the world as an ideal diving location. Not only are the diving conditions close to perfect year round, but Cozumel’s waters are home to an abundance of marine wildlife and reefs. 

If you’re looking to go diving or snorkeling in Cozumel, here are the best diving spots in Cozumel and how to prepare for them!

The best diving spots in Cozumel

Here are the 7 best diving spots in Cozumel! These diving spots have been chosen out of a range of spots to give you a range of coral reefs, sandy areas, and even a shipwreck to suit a variety of skill levels. 

It’s worth mentioning that the majority of these diving spots require at least some experience in diving due to the varying current strengths. 

1. Santa Rosa Reef Wall

Skill level: Intermediate

Santa Rosa is possibly Cozumel’s most popular reef wall diving spot. As a result of this, there can be quite a lot of diver traffic if you go at the wrong time. Guides say that diving at the Santa Rosa reef wall is best in the afternoon, both for visibility and quieter diver traffic. 

The standout feature of this diving spot is the iconic Santa Rosa reef wall. Divers can go to depths between 50-130 ft depending on their skill level, bravery, and visibility. Guides generally say that this is the best diving spot for intermediate divers due to the currents that can appear near the wall. 

The reef wall is very unique to dive around and into, with hidden troughs and swim-throughs for the brave divers. The wall also features overhangs, ledges, sandy areas, and rugged areas that feel like you’re about to jump (or swim) off a cliff. 

What you will see

Due to the popularity of the Santa Rosa reef wall, high driver traffic is believed to have driven some of the fish and marine mammals away.

This is why some guides will recommend visiting the reef during the quiet times of the day, as this is when wildlife will feel more confident to swim around. 

If you’d rather stay in the shallow area (50 ft from the water surface), you’re more likely to find fish and local wildlife. Divers are very likely to see giant parrotfish, groupers, sea turtles, French and queen angelfish, and even some toadfish if you’re lucky.

If divers are feeling particularly brave amongst the crevices of the reef wall, some might even be lucky enough to see a giant green moray eel. 

2. Punta Sur 

Skill level: Intermediate to experienced

At the southernmost point of Cozumel is the Punta Sur reef, and features one of the largest reefs in the area. Punta Sur is somewhat of a natural paradise, filled with endemic birds, fauna, flora, wildlife, and stunning lagoons. 

The reef itself features two main parts: the southern part features swim-throughs and a spiraling chamber known as the Punta Sur Cathedral, and the northern part has the infamous Devil’s Throat; a legendary rite of passage cave for experienced, daredevil divers.

Make sure to bring underwater lighting with you, because it gets very dark in the depths of the Devil’s Throat cave!

The Punta Sur Cathedral is the most common part of this reef, especially for less confident divers. With depths of up to 21 meters and fairly strong currents, divers will need to have a certain amount of skill to do this dive. Still, it’s an exciting dive that encompasses everything a thrill-seeking diver would want from a reef!

What you will see

As the Punta Sur reef is in the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, the entire reef is highly protected within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. This is the second-largest coral reef system in the world. This means that divers are very likely to see an abundance of protected wildlife. 

Punta Sur Cathedral is the best place to spot stunning wildlife at this diving spot. While the visibility is still clear, divers are very likely to spot barracuda, reef sharks, parrotfish, turtles, spotted eagle rays, damselfish, and tons of other marine creatures. 

3. Shipwreck C-53

Skill level: All skill levels

Who said that diving spots have to be purely about finding colorful reefs? Shipwrecks are underrated diving spots for divers of all levels. This particular diving spot only features the occasional current, but it’s a fairly easy dive for all skill levels. 

The C-53 shipwreck is an 184 ft. long Mexican Navy Minesweeper that sank in 2000. This is an awesome World War II shipwreck that can be easily explored by divers.

The visibility is pretty good for depths of between 30-60 ft. Plus, divers are allowed to explore inside the shipwreck if they desire thanks to the designated large holes that have been cut for this purpose. 

What you will see 

As you can imagine, divers aren’t likely to see as much wildlife or color as they would in a coral reef. However, that doesn’t mean that divers won’t come across some marine creatures in the C-53 shipwreck! 

Sponges and coral have begun to form on the wreck, allowing for a new home to starfish and cleaner shrimp. Peacock flounders and mantis shrimp can be found near the sand outside the wreck. Inside the ship itself, if divers are particularly quiet, they might spot the head of a giant green moray eel! 

Of course, the shipwreck is the main feature of this dive. Photographers and history enthusiasts alike make up for most of the divers who visit the wreck just to explore what is left of the WWII ship. 

4. Palancar Gardens 

Skill level: All skill levels

This diving spot is all about the wonderfully colorful reef that Cozumel has to offer! With depths of up to 25 meters and moderate currents, Palancar Gardens is an ideal diving spot for beginner to experienced divers alike. 

Palancar Gardens features a nice reef wall with plenty of swim-throughs, providing a great amount of variety for divers to explore. One minute you’re looking at towering cliff spires, the next you’re amongst sandy ledges and brightly colored coral and sponges. 

This is the best diving spot for marine fauna and floral enthusiasts, as well as photographers and people who want to get to grips with diving. 

What you will see

Palancar Gardens doesn’t offer as much wildlife compared to the other diving spots on our list, but where this diving spot lacks in marine creatures it makes up for in colorful scenery. From bright coral to uniquely shaped sponges, divers are in for a real treat - hence the name of the reef!

However, just because there might not be as much wildlife as other diving spots in Cozumel, doesn’t mean you won’t see anything! Turtles are the most common creature at Palancar Gardens, as well as octopuses, angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, and green moray eels within the cracks in the reef wall. 

5. La Francesca 

Skill level: All skill levels

Next to the Palancar Gardens in the shallow area is the La Francesca diving spot. This reef diving spot is popular amongst all skill levels for its moderate current, and is especially popular for night divers due to the clear visibility and lack of risks from reef walls. 

La Francesca consists of a large sandy area with multiple reef heads, allowing for an easy diving experience.

This diving spot also features one of the easiest and most breathtaking swim-throughs in all of Cozumel’s diving spots, which is great for divers with a bit more experience and nerve. Plus, with depths of between 40-80 feet, this diving spot offers something for everyone. 

What you will see

La Francesca is a wonderfully open diving spot that is home to an abundance of wildlife. Amongst the coral and the sponges are tropical fish, moray eels, octopuses, lobsters, and crabs who like to linger in the darkest corners. 

Out in the open, divers are most likely to swim beside sea turtles, angelfish, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, urchins, and more. As La Francesca resides next to Palancar Gardens, where diver traffic tends to drive the wildlife away, the marine creatures seemingly reside over in this reef. 

6. Chankanaab Reef 

Skill level: All skill levels

Chankanaab reef is possibly the best diving spot in Cozumel for beginner divers for its mild currents and not-so-daunting depths of 12 meters. This diving spot is located from the shore of the park that has the same name, and can be easily accessed from the shore. 

The Chankanaab reef is a vastly sandy area with a current running from north to south. The water is often slightly cooler when the fresh water from the Chankanaab lagoon is swept into the current. 

This diving spot is split into two distinct sections, both of which sport reef heads from the sandy floor. The north section is the deepest part, while the south section is shallower and better suited for night diving.

Nighttime is often the best time to dive at the Chankanaab reef, as the creatures who usually hide from diver traffic during the day come out to play. 

What you will see

The Chankanaab reef is home to some of the most colorful small marine creatures in Cozumel. It’s unlikely that divers will come across larger marine animals like nurse or reef sharks, but this is ideal for people with shark phobias! 

The northern part of the reef is usually teeming with lobsters, crabs, and seahorses, while the shallower southern section is home to an abundance of tropical fish.

Cleaning stations are filled with French angels cleaning groupers and bar Jacks, sting rays and peacock flounders sweep the sea floor, and the occasional lionfish will emerge from the coral heads. If you’re lucky, you’ll probably see a green moray eel or two. 

7. Paso del Cedral Reef (Cedral Pass)

Skill level: Intermediate

Paso del Cedral reef is one of the most unforgettable diving spots in Cozumel. This is certainly the diving spot best suited for the photographers and marine wildlife enthusiasts who love sharks, eels, and turtles. The best time to go to this reef is in the morning as your first dive, as the diver traffic increases in the second dive of the day. 

The reason this reef is best suited for intermediate and experienced divers is because the current is moderate to strong. Most divers find themselves swimming closer to the sand, 60 ft. from the surface.

The current is strongest at the south of the reef, but this is where hidden caves can be explored where you’ll find the most exciting wildlife. 

If you’re going to dive in Paso del Cedral, make sure to bring a camera! 

What you will see

Paso del Cedral reef is teeming with wildlife. Throughout the majority of the reef (but particularly the sandy areas of the south entrance), divers will see a mixture of moray eels, turtles, and sharks. These animals are fairly used to swimming amongst humans so they won’t be inclined to attack, but be careful nonetheless. 

When you reach the reef itself, it can be tricky to navigate through the roaring currents. You’ll want to take your time, though, so you can look into the crevices and small caves to find lobsters and schools of tropical fish. 

Divers are also likely to see spotted eagle rays, sting rays, barracuda, and schools of snappers in this reef. 

Types of risks

The main risk when it comes to diving in Cozumel is that people don’t understand the power of currents. Currents aren’t easy to navigate around even on beaches for beginners, let alone when they’re covered in heavy diving gear.

Diving guides should only take beginners to areas with mild currents, but it’s worth remembering that some diving spots will simply be too risky for some divers. You don’t want your diving vacation to go wildly wrong by drifting away from your group in a current!

Another risk when diving in Cozumel (and anywhere, for that matter) is the risk of disrupting the ecosystems.

Not all diving spots are protected by wildlife authorities, which means that some divers might want to touch coral, sponges, and marine creatures. It is vitally important to not do this, as any new bacteria or damage to the coral can ruin the entire ecosystem. 

This goes without saying, but it’s essential that divers do not get overly friendly with the marine creatures. While most sharks and stingrays aren’t inclined to bite or sting, it doesn’t mean they won’t defend themselves if they feel threatened.  

Best time to go diving in Cozumel

Fortunately, there is no bad time of the year to go diving in Cozumel! Cozumel’s waters remain fairly consistent throughout the year, with specific diving spots sporting their own specific currents that don’t generally change in strength. It is estimated that divers can go diving in Cozumel 300 days out of the year. 

In terms of temperature, Cozumel’s waters remain between 78-82 °F throughout the year. The temperature dips slightly in winter, which is why some divers like to wear thicker wetsuits. 

If you have a particular enthusiasm for sharks, the best time of year to dive in Cozumel is between November and March. This is when bull sharks swim through the reefs, which is an unforgettable sight. 

The consistency of the water does not change during this time, and as Cozumel doesn’t experience a hurricane season like other tropical countries, the water isn’t likely to get particularly dangerous. Of course, only go diving when the weather conditions seem appropriate! 

The diver traffic in Cozumel’s diving spots varies depending on the spot. Popular diving spots like the Santa Rosa reef wall or Palancar Gardens tend to have the highest diver traffic, which can limit the amount of wildlife seen.

As most people like to go diving when the waters are warm, Cozumel is busiest during the summer months. Still, the Caribbean water doesn’t get too cold in winter, so there isn’t a wrong time to go diving here!

Anything else you need to know

Cozumel is the ideal diving vacation location for divers of all skill levels and passions. Some divers love to go to Cozumel for the photography opportunities, some love to get up close and personal with the teeming wildlife, some love to go to explore the coral reef structures and shipwrecks, and some just like to swim around.

Whatever you want from a diving vacation, Cozumel has it all. 

However, it is worth mentioning that due to Cozumel’s range of currents, this isn’t the ideal place for snorkeling. 

The key things to bring with you to Cozumel are (of course), appropriate diving gear and a great underwater camera. Cozumel’s waters offer unforgettable sights, but divers will want to keep their favorite moments forever in picture form.

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