Great Snorkeling Spots in the Mexican Caribbean
With the world’s second longest reef hugging the Mexican Caribbean shoreline and easily accessible from Cancun and all points along the Riviera Maya, warm, crystal-clear waters, abundant marine life and the promise of untold wonders below the surface, you’ll soon be reaching for your snorkel mask and flippers. Here’s a guide to some of our favorite snorkeling haunts along the coast of Quintana Roo, why not try them all.
Snorkeling is Fun for the Whole Family
The great thing about snorkeling is that if you can swim, you can snorkel and even the little ones can join in when wearing life jackets, making it a wonderful activity for the whole family.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a life jacket if you are not a confident swimmer. You can just float and gaze into the depths and watch the fish swim by. You may hear strange clicks below you and wonder what it is. Do not adjust your mask unless it is leaking water, what you are listening to is fish nibbling coral, rock and algae!
Getting Started, Where to Go Snorkeling in the Mexican Caribbean
Choose your destination, put your mask on, rubber reef shoes or flippers and a white t-shirt instead of sun block which is harmful to marine life and now you are ready to take the plunge. Wherever you decide to go snorkeling you’ll see a variety of fish and other marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, from tiny shrimp and crabs hiding among the elk horn corals to conch, lobster and octopus.
Cancun-Isla Mujeres Area
Protected by a marine reserve, the chain of shallow water reefs in the bay between Isla Mujeres and Cancun and south to Punta Nizuc, is an excellent place to start exploring the Mesoamerican Reef. The reefs are extremely accessible and a variety of snorkeling trips are available to the reefs off Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc in Cancun and El Farito and Manchones Reef en route to Isla Mujeres. Snorkeling is also a popular activity in El Garrafon Park on the southern tip of Isla Mujeres.
Marine life ranges from elk horn and brain coral and gardens of sea fans to sergeant majors (see photo above), jacks and other fish, rays, sea turtles and moray eels. Dolphins can sometimes be spotted near the small reef off Playa Norte, also on Isla Mujeres.
Cancun Underwater Sculpture Museum
The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park has another attraction to offer snorkelers and divers, the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum, inaugurated in 2009. More than 400 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor have already been submerged in different locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Reef Park, including Punta Nizuc, Manchones Reef, Aristos and La Carbonera and more are planned.
Photo by Jason deCaires-Taylor
Many of the life-size statues depict real people in the Cancun community such as fishermen, women and children and one of the most recent additions was a model VW beetle!
Apart from their artistic appeal, the figures provide a habitat for corals, sponges, sea fans and algae to colonize, in time attracting other creatures such as small fish and crustaceans and creating new coral colonies. The sunken galleries are an alternative for snorkelers and divers and will alleviate some of the visitor pressure on some of the most popular local reefs, giving coral communities a chance to recover.
Protected by a national marine park, the Puerto Morelos reef offers several fine snorkeling spots where you can see schools of fish such as jacks, grunts, porkfish, Atlantic spadefish and snappers, in addition to loners such as groupers and trunkfish. Sea turtles, barracudas and rays sail by and tiny fairy basslets, squirrel and butterfly fish shelter in the corals. Bottom feeding nurse sharks and lobsters can also be spotted and octopus and eels hide in crevices in the reef.
Local dive operators and the fishing cooperative offer snorkeling trips to the Puerto Morelos reef.
First discovered by the international dive community in the 1950s, the reefs in the Akumal area are some of the finest in the Mexican Caribbean. A barrier reef hugs the shoreline and the sheltered waters of Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay further north and Caleta Yalku, an inlet of crystal-clear waters fed by underground springs, are perfect for snorkeling. Outside the reef, in open water, a series of coral ridges and terraces lie at depths of between 30 and 100 feet, stretching away from the coast. Marine life is abundant: you’ll see schools of blue tangs and pork fish, gaudy parrotfish, puffer fish, rays and sea turtles.
Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Maya (ak is a turtle) and they are never far away. Green and loggerhead turtles are a common sight on local reefs and you can often come across them grazing on beds of sea grass in the bays. If you see a turtle, don’t shout, make sudden movements or pursue it, you will cause it unnecessary stress and disturb its lunch! Keep still and if you are lucky it may swim past and check you out.
Follow the coast road north from Akumal Bay past Half Moon Bay to the shores of Yalku, a turquoise-colored inlet of crystal-clear waters constantly replenished by cenotes and underground rivers, hence the refreshingly cool temperature.
Yalku is a natural aquarium frequented by a variety of colorful reef fish that come inshore to feed or breed among the mangrove roots and submerged rocks. Sergeant majors and damselfish patrol the shoreline, queen angelfish cruise by and lone barracudas guard their territory. Listen and you will hear the sounds of parrotfish gnawing at the rock and look carefully and you may see the camouflaged peacock flounder emerge from the sand. This is a lovely spot, especially early in the morning before it fills up. After a couple of hours in the water you’ll definitely be ready to swap fish notes with the dive crowd!
A local cooperative manages Yalku and charges a fee for admission. Life jackets are available and there are restrooms and a little open-air cafe.
Hailed by many as the world’s largest natural aquarium, Xel-Ha is one of Mexico’s wonders. It is a chain of turquoise inlets, lagoons and crystalline cenotes fed by underground springs, surrounded by emerald green forest and mangroves. More than 90 species of fish of all shapes and sizes from the nearby reefs seek food and shade among the rocks rimming the caleta (inlet). You’ll find yourself surrounded by schools of fish such as sergeant majors that are just as curious about you as you are about them. Diminutive butterfly fish, damselfish, beaugregories and spotted drums hover around outcrops, multicolored parrotfish – one of the park’s symbols – nibble at the limestone and algae, and angelfish and blue tangs glide regally by. There are graceful southern stingrays in an area near the north bank of the inlet.
Reef balls have been submerged in different areas of the inlet to provide an additional habitat for fish and are already being colonized by corals and algae. On a recent trip we saw more fish clustered around them than in a more crowded area where more people were snorkeling. The park also has a project to replenish fish populations in the lagoon and to raise the endangered Queen conch.
Venture further into the forest and swim in the cenotes or sinkholes where Cialis 100mg you’ll see different species of freshwater fish.
Walk across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet for a breathtaking view of the lagoons and the Caribbean. Watch the waves break and larger fish such as groupers, barracudas, red, mutton and yellow tail snappers and horse-eyed jacks as they swim under the bridge.
Spend a day at Xel-Ha with the family. Apart from snorkeling, you can float down the waterways in oversized inner tubes, swim with dolphins, try snuba (a combination of snorkeling and diving) and sea trek your way across the seabed (additional charges). Leap into a pool from a cliff, explore caves and learn about Mayan culture, the tradition of bee keeping and local flora and fauna such as the manatee.
Mexico’s largest inhabited island is famous for its chain of 25 magnificent coral reefs, which were first brought to international attention in the 1960s by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Divers flock here to explore reefs such as Palancar, Santa Rosa, San Francisco and Punta Sur. Plunging into the ocean depths, these spectacular coral walls teem with marine life – including 250 different species of fish, sponges, turtles, eels, and even seahorses – and visibility is up to 200 feet, making the island one of the world’s top dive destinations.
Photo: dancingchimes (Flickr)
Yet, it’s not all diving on Cozumel, some of the shallower reefs offer spectacular snorkeling too. Island dive shops offer a variety of snorkeling trips to shallow areas of Palancar Gardens, Colombia, Villablanca, Paraiso and Dzul Ha reefs. Snorkeling
is also possible from Playa Bella Vista, Playa Uvas Sur (admission charge) and Playa Corona.
Many avid snorkelers head to Chankanaab Park, five minutes to the south of island capital San Miguel. “Chankanaab” means “small sea” in Maya and refers to the offshore reef and a cenote or lagoon connected to the sea by an underground watercourse. The tunnel enables salt and fresh water to mingle and coral colonies and reef fish to flourish in the inland lagoon.
Common fish include blue tangs, sergeant majors, jacks, snappers, trunk, butterfly and angelfish. There are several submerged statues such as a bronze cross.
For an additional charge, visitors can swim with dolphins, sea lions or manatees and go on organized snorkeling, snuba, seatrek and scuba trips.
The Riviera Maya is peppered with cenotes or sinkholes that have formed in the limestone rock after millions of years of erosion and the collapse of cave roofs. These natural wells (the word cenote actually comes from the Mayan word dzonot or tz’ono’ot which means “well,“ and can also be translated as flooded cave,” “abyss” or “depths) are filled with cool crystal-clear waters, which couldn’t be more inviting in the steamy midday heat. Swimming and snorkeling is permitted in some of the cenotes along the Ruta de Cenotes in the jungle to the west of Puerto Morelos and the Puerto Aventuras area and in cenote parks such as Hidden Worlds.
Look down into the depths and marvel at Mother Nature. You’ll see schools of tiny silver fish, pillars and columns that look like a submerged city and caves leading into the unknown.
If you visit a cenote, make sure that swimming and snorkeling are permitted before jumping in and always swim with other people. Stay in areas of the cenote designated as safe for swimming and do not venture into caves or tunnels. It is a good idea to wear a life jacket and on organized cenote trips you’ll find that this is obligatory.
Seasonal Snorkeling Highlights
Eco snorkeling trips to see turtles and rays are available year-round but there are also seasonal excursions coinciding with the migration of larger marine species. From January to March you can sign up for a sailfish snorkeling trip in the deep waters to the east of Contoy Island and watch from a distance as these swift ocean predators hunt sardines. In mid-May, the largest fish in the world, the whale sharks gather in the same area between Isla Mujeres and Contoy and north to Holbox and Cabo Catoche to feed on plankton and fish roe. To see these gentle giants, also known as domino fish because of their dappled skin, is an unforgettable experience.
Please respect these rules when snorkeling and help us protect the reefs.
• Chemicals and oils in sun products contaminate the water and are harmful to corals and other marine life. As an alternative to sun creams, wearing a t-shirt while snorkeling helps protect you from the sun’s rays.
• Keep your distance from coral reefs when snorkeling and diving. Corals are very slow growing and the slightest touch can cause damage that it will take the reef hundreds of years to recover from.
• Avoid stirring up sand with your fins, it clogs coral polyps blocking life-giving sunlight.
• Do not touch or remove shells or any other creature living or dead from rock pools or coral reefs.
Book your Snorkeling Trips Today
Snorkeling trips can be booked through Thomas More Travel, visit www.thomasmoretravel.com for trip ideas. And if you enjoyed your first glimpse of the underwater world of the Mexican Caribbean and are eager for more, why not learn how to dive. Scuba resort courses, PADI certification courses and dive trips are also available.
Tell us about your Favorite Snorkeling Spot
We’d love to hear about your favorite snorkeling adventure and the marine life you came face to face with. Drop us a line with your stories and photos and we will publish them on this blog.