Spectacular drift diving and fine reefs
Season: Year-round diving
Visibility: 30-40m/100-130ft, sometimes up to 60m/200ft
Water Temperature: 26-29°C/77-84°F
The island of Cozumel is perched off the shoulder of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and offers spectacular and effortless drift diving all year. Although some luxury hotels have been built and cruise liners now use Cozumel as one of their staging posts, little has altered the superb quality of the diving, the warmth of the people and the charming atmosphere of this friendly little island. Remarkably clear water, friendly locals, a very pleasant climate (especially in the European winter), good accommodation, interesting food and some of the Caribbean’s finest diving make Cozumel an excellent diving holiday choice.
From deep in the South Atlantic, a current of water flows northwards until it reaches northern Brazil, where just less than half of it splits off and forms the Guiana Current that flows into the Caribbean Sea. Eventually some of this mass of water is forced through the Yucatan Channel, which divides Mexico from Cuba, and the resulting constriction gives rise to currents which sweep past the island of Cozumel and force away suspended sediments. Corals thrive in these currents, which can range from half a knot to over 2 knots on occasion, and some really spectacular sponges can also be found at Cozumel’s dive sites. The superb water clarity allows more sunlight to penetrate the water and subsequently the reefs are exceptionally healthy.
Effortless drift diving in Cozumel is very rewarding, most enjoyable and yet quite remarkable We have taken great care to work with a very well established operator who knows the reefs and currents and yet understands that most divers do not want to play follow-my-leader on a dive.
Happily, one can still enjoy the true flavour of Mexico in Cozumel, which should not be confused with its near neighbour, the sprawling resort complex of Cancun, so near in geography and yet so far in ambiance and atmosphere! The small, but busy, seaside town of San Miguel offers a remarkable choice of places to eat and drink, from small cafés and bars, tucked behind the main plaza and specializing in sizzling fajitas flavoured with avocado, barbecued chicken, grilled vegetables and, of course, a little chilli washed down with a cool beer or a zing of Margarita, to more elegant establishments, like Pepe’s Grill on the waterfront where waiters ‘perform’ nightly and prepare flambé dishes for you at your table. Those with energy to spare after diving will also find some flashy nightclubs in San Miguel. Try to make it into town on at least one evening!
There are some truly fabulous long, powder-soft sandy beaches to enjoy on the east coast of the island and a few restaurants which offer wonderful seafood meals. Try the garlic lobster, or shrimps Cajun style and, for the brave, Pico de Gallo (a delicious yet very hot salad seasoned with much garlic and chilli). Naturally, chilli sauce will be offered with everything! Enjoy a long lazy lunch in the shade of an umbrella, sipping a chilled beer and gazing at the sunlit ocean.
Cozumel makes a superb choice for couples who want a romantic holiday, groups of friends who can seek out the more lively bars and nightclubs in San Miguel, and families who can enjoy the superb facilities of a fine hotel. Everyone will enjoy exploring the island, which is very easy to do with a rental car (roads are good and uncrowded away from San Miguel). Live it up, or live it down, the choice is yours. Cozumel offers a great combination of varied and interesting diving along with a wonderful Mexican ambience – perfect for a relaxing holiday.
At Santa Rosa Reef divers are usually dropped at a sand flat, at around 15 metres, which gives way to a coral buttress that rises up from the top of the wall and forms a ridge only about 12 metres from the surface. This tall column of coral is cut by channels which slope downwards from the sand flat to the seaward wall. The almost vertical wall supports superb sea fans and amazing sponges. In the middle section of the wall are caves and overhangs with tunnels that are big enough to swim through with ease. The ceilings of the tunnels are covered with interwoven rope sponges, encrusting sponges and barrel sponges. This is one site where wide-angle photographers should have an excellent choice of subjects with divers silhouetted in grottos or caves, or disappearing into the narrow slots between walls. Fish life includes large Black Groupers, barracudas, moray eels which frequently swim freely inside the tunnels, Queen Angelfish and schools of Creole Wrasse and parrotfish. Look out for cleaning stations, where with luck, you may find a friendly cleaner shrimp to give you a manicure.
Perhaps the most famous reef on Cozumel is Palancar Reef which comprises a three-mile long section of reef along the southwestern edge of the island. Palancar Shallows is an area that can be dived or snorkeled as the depth of the reef top can be as little as 5 metres from the surface. The reef is around 12-24 metres wide and cut with miniature canyons, valleys and tunnels, the walls of which have many orange rope sponges and some very impressive tube sponges. You may find that you are not alone at Palancar Horseshoe. Angelfish, Bermuda Chub, Creole Wrasse and Yellowtail Snappers have been known to follow divers as they explore the amazing ‘U’ shaped cut in the reef. In 1985 a 4 metre bronze statue of Christ was placed here, but Hurricane Gilbert (1988) knocked over the statue, which was later moved to Chancanab. Today only the base of the statue remains.
Chancanab lies within the Cozumel National Marine Park and is usually done as an afternoon dive, due to its shallow profile. Notable for some really enormous lobsters (up to 9 kilograms!), this area is honeycombed with a maze of tunnels hiding much marine life. Pairs of Grey Angelfish will watch as you encounter crabs and shrimps. Under the ledges, expect to see the fish that enjoy lurking in dark corners: bigeyes and schools of squirrelfish. In addition, margates and grunts can be found in small schools.
Situated near to the southernmost tip of the island is the incredible Punta Sur Reef. Above and over the lip of the drop-off, at around 23 metres, are huge buttress-like formations where the coral has built up. These are honeycombed with caverns and a complex of interconnecting tunnels, some of which are suitable only for qualified cave divers as they are deep and lightless passageways without access to the surface. This is the place to find pelagics such as Horse-eye Jacks, sharks and Spotted Eagle Rays. At deeper levels, the superb sponges and corals are in pristine condition as few divers venture so far.