Cozumel is a world-famous dive destination for good reason. The warm, clear water and miles of reefs provide dozens of top-quality dive sites.
Cozumel is a small Caribbean island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It has only one town and can be circumnavigated by car in about an hour.
But its small size doesn’t mean there aren’t a wide variety of things to do and see; there are mangrove forests, Mayan ruins, secluded beaches, and top-notch seafood restaurants to experience.
Tourism is Cozumel’s main economic activity, so the entire island is easily accessible and affordable for tourists.
The tropical weather, friendly locals, fresh seafood, and excellent scuba diving make Cozumel a warm and welcoming destination year-round.
- Diving in Cozumel
- Best Diving Spots
- How to get there
- Where to stay for Scuba Divers
- Dive shops
- Diver’s guide to the Island
Diving in Cozumel
Cozumel is famous for scuba diving because it sits along the world’s second-longest barrier reef – the Mesoamerican barrier reef.
The visibility is consistently some of the best in the world, often exceeding 30 meters (100 feet) throughout the year.
Tropical mexican caribbean species abound in Cozumel, from colorful nudibranchs to spotted eagle rays.
Green and hawksbill turtles are residents of the reef, and nurse sharks frequently rest within the corals.
Seahorses can be spotted in the sandy areas, while spiny lobsters hide in coral crevices.
Brightly-colored fish you’re sure to see include angelfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, and trunkfish. If you know what to look for, you can spot the shy splendid toadfish peeking out from its burrow.
Snappers and grunts gather in small schools in crevices and caves. Giant green morays look ferocious but are quite calm and used to divers.
Depending on who you ask, Cozumel has up to 40 dive sites. Most dive sites are within the National Marine Park, so they’re protected from fishing.
The most commonly dived sites are about 20 located on the northwest side of the island facing the mainland.
Dive sites usually feature either shallow reefs covered with corals and tropical fish or dramatic walls that plunge hundreds of meters deep. Many sites have stunning coral pillars and canyons that create dynamic landscapes for divers to wander through.
There is a steady current that flows from south to north, making most dives in Cozumel drift dives.
This is great for low-effort diving and longer bottom times since you won’t have to expend much energy finning.
In general, the boat will drop you off, float along as you drift over the reef, and pick you up when you surface.
Cozumel is a must-see diving destination in our list of the best diving sites in mexico, it is probably one of the best places in the world to go diving.
From the complete first-timer to the experienced adventure diver, there is something for everyone in Cozumel.
Best Diving Spots
Here are some of the best dive sites in Cozumel listed from north to south.
Barracuda is located at the north of the island and isn’t a typical site for dive shops to visit.
The currents are strong and unpredictable, so it’s a site for more advanced divers and underwater photographers looking for a unique dive spot.
Its more remote location and isolated status make it a hangout for larger species like black-tip reef sharks and barracuda.
If you can find a dive operator to take you there, you’d have a unique Cozumel dive experience that few other divers know.
Tikila is a lovely shore dive located next to the Tikila Beach Bar. It’s an ideal spot for training or a long and relaxing shallow dive with a maximum depth of 11 meters (36 feet).
There are various coral restoration structures to explore, as well as small marine life like blennies and nudibranchs to spot among the corals.
This shallow dive spot with a maximum depth of 15 meters (50 feet) is great for training, second tank dives, and night dives.
Coral heads dot the sandy bottom, and divers with a sharp eye can spot seahorses.
It’s possible to do a shore dive here, but the current pushing you towards the cruise ship port would make it difficult to swim back to shore.
It’s better if a boat is there to pick you up. At night you can spot lobsters on the hunt and squids roaming around in squads.
Shipwreck C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl
The 56-meter (184-foot) long C-53 ship was modified for divers and sunk in 2000 to create an artificial reef.
The ship sits upright on the sandy bottom, making it a great place for “Titanic” style photos.
It’s a site for intermediate divers, since the bottom of the ship sits around 24 meters (80 feet), and any current could make exploring it more difficult. It’s an ideal spot to earn your wreck certification.
The inside has been made safer for divers to explore, so bring a flashlight and look for the eels hiding in the ship’s crevices.
I’ve heard that this dive site gets its name from the massive rounded coral heads that look like balloons.
The sandy areas between the coral heads are a good place to look for peacock flounders.
The mild currents and maximum depth of 12 meters (40 feet) mean it’s a good site for beginners.
There is a tourist submarine that passes by this site that you might spot on your dive!
Yucab Reef is great for open water certified or advanced divers on their second tank. The maximum depth is 18 meters (60 feet) and the current makes it a great drift dive.
The current will take you over an area of sea turtles grass, where you can look for rays, seahorses, and other spectacular marine life. The reef section features coral heads and the occasional turtle.
Santa Rosa is one of the most popular dive sites in Cozumel due to the impressive wall.
Novice divers can remain in the shallows, which vary from 6-15 meters (20-50 feet) while the santa rosa wall drops off hundreds of meters into the deep.
The coral and sponges create overhangs and tunnels along the santa rosa wall diving site. The current and depth make the wall a good spot for intermediate divers.
Paso De Cedral
This reef features rolling hills covered in corals and sponges. You can choose to drift over the reef or the wall, which drops off from around 18 meters (60 feet) of depth.
Nurse sharks, moray eels and green morays abound in the corals at El Cedral. The current is usually moderate, so you might only spot them for a brief moment as you drift over the corals.
There are many dive sites in the same area named Palancar, including Palancar Horseshoe, Palancar Gardens, Palancar Caves, and Palancar Bricks. Palancar Reef stretches over 3.5 miles, and each site has its own special features.
- Palancar Gardens is an easy dive for beginner divers and intermediate divers that varies from 15-24 meters (50-80 feet) and features a wall.
- Palancar Horseshoe is named after a U-shaped feature in the wall that looks like an amphitheater. The corals form interesting pillars, spires, and caves. The site is best for intermediate divers and varies in depth from 15 to 27 meters (50-90 feet).
- Palancar Caves is great for intermediate to advanced divers as the wall drops to 36 meters (120 feet). The dynamic coral formations create caves, tunnels, and canyons to explore.
- Palancar Bricks gets its name from bricks that fell from a barge in the 1950s. The dramatic coral formations create a variable landscape of canyons and towers. The formations will block some of the current, but it is still a drift dive. The formations start around 12 meters (40 feet) and the depth of the top of the wall varies. Advanced divers can explore the wall for a deep dive.
Columbia features a wall and shallows for divers of all ability levels. The columbia shallows range from 9-15 meters (30-50 feet), while the wall drops more than 30 meters (100 feet).
Giant coral pillars dominate the reef, creating swim-throughs and tunnels along the wall. The current is generally moderate, making for a classic Cozumel drift dive.
This great dive site at the southern end of the island is for advanced divers due to surface swells and more unpredictable currents.
The depth stays around 21meters (70 feet) for the whole dive. There is a coral arch swim-through and a variety of soft corals and sea fans.
Punta Sur (Devil’s Throat)
The Devil’s Throat is a legendary site reserved for advanced divers. Located at the southwestern tip of the island, it’s not a site that every operator goes to due to rougher conditions and currents.
There is an enormous tunnel that divers enter at 25 meters (83 feet) and exit along a wall around 40 meters (135 feet).
The tunnel is completely dark, so a flashlight (and backup, like a night dive) and a fearless attitude are required.
How to get there
Cozumel has its own international airport. Visitors can fly in from a few U.S. cities year-round, like Dallas, Miami, and Atlanta.
During the winter high season, other airports in Charlotte and Chicago also offer flights to Cozumel. From Canada, flights leave from Montreal and Toronto.
Within Mexico, you can fly in to cozumel international airport from Mexico City, Monterrey, Cancun, or Merida.
If you have some extra time or want to see the mainland, it’s also fun to fly into Cancun and take the ferry across the channel to Cozumel.
You’d just need to bus or taxi down to Playa Del Carmen and take the ferry from there. The ride offers beautiful views of the coastline and only costs about $10 US each way.
Cozumel is a major cruise ship port, and popular cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival stop there.
Cruise lines can usually organize your dive for you, but you can also coordinate directly with a dive shop.
Many dive shops on the island cater to cruise ship passengers and will have no problem getting you in the water on your ship’s schedule.
Where to stay for Scuba Divers
Cozumel is a small island with only one town called San Miguel. Ferries, airplanes, and cruise ships all arrive at San Miguel, and the town is where most of the shops, restaurants, tour operators, and hotels are.
There are more isolated and luxury resorts along the coastal road heading southwest, and many resorts include scuba packages.
Below I’ve listed some options for high-quality hotels both in and outside of town. No matter where you stay, there are plenty of taxis for getting around.
You also have the option of renting a car and exploring the beaches and ruins of the island, which can be accomplished in less than a day.
There is an abundance of 5-star dive shops to choose from on Cozumel.
Many dive operators offer a full range of courses and most dive shops have multiple dive trips to choose from per day.
If there is a specific dive site you want to visit, all you need to do is call around to find a dive shop that will take you there.
Cozumel Dive School
Cozumel Dive School is a PADI 5-star Instructor Development Center that offers boat diving at the most popular sites, training in a private pool, and certification courses up to the professional level.
CDS also offers affordable accommodation and packages that include lodging and diving. Their service is friendly and the divemasters will be sure to show you a good time.
Blue Magic Cozumel
Blue Magic Cozumel is a PADI 5-star dive center with a special valet dive service, where your divemasters set up and wash your gear for a hassle-free experience.
They offer budget dives and private charters depending on what you’re looking for.
Scuba Life Cozumel
Scuba Life Cozumel is a PADI 5-star dive center and a Project Aware partner, meaning they are committed to conservation and reducing their environmental impact.
They offer nitrox tanks and trips to specialty sites like Devil’s Throat.
Diver’s guide to the Island
What’s the best time of year to dive in Cozumel?
The dry season from November to April is the most pleasant time to visit Cozumel, as the skies are clear and there is less humidity. However, the winter months and spring vacation season usually bring an influx of tourists, so the island will be more crowded, and prices will be higher.
Cozumel’s warm air and water temperatures make it an ideal place to dive year-round.
The water temperature drops a few degrees from November to February, but always stays between 25-30°C (77-86°F).
The rainy season from May to October is hotter and more humid. It does rain daily, but rainstorms pass by quickly, and there is still plenty of sunshine.
This is also the hurricane season, which means that prices are lower, but you’ll have to keep an eye on the forecast.
Although hurricanes rarely make landfall directly on the island, winds and rains from nearby storms can still be dangerous.
Do you have to be certified to dive in Cozumel?
You don’t have to be certified to dive in Cozumel! It’s a great place for beginners to learn to dive.
There are many shallow reefs and shore dives where you can get an easy introduction to diving.
The clear water, warm temperatures, and colorful sea life make Cozumel ideal for your first breaths underwater.
What dive courses can I take in Cozumel?
Many dive shops and schools teach open water, advanced, rescue, specialty, and professional courses. Some of the most popular specialties include wreck, deep, nitrox, and photography.
Whether you decide to get certified or you want to level up your dive skills, you can find a course in Cozumel.
If you want to take your scuba journey a step further, dive schools and dive operations offer the professional divemaster and instructor certifications as well.
Cozumel is where I spent two amazing months getting divemaster certified and learning to guide certified divers safely underwater.
Is it safe to dive in Cozumel?
Because Cozumel is a small island with limited tourist activities, the dive shops there mostly just focus on diving.
I’ve found as an instructor that this is a recipe for a dive industry with better care and regulation.
Cozumel is internationally recognized as a premium dive destination and the dive community there is strong.
That means there are plenty of high-quality dive shops to choose from with experienced instructors and divemasters.
The diving conditions in Cozumel are generally mild.
While there is a current that lends itself to drift diving, there is not much surge or choppy water that would make conditions rough above or below the water.
The high visibility makes it easy to navigate, stay with your buddy, and find the boat.
The diving cozumel dive sites at the extreme north and south ends of the island have the strongest current and are reserved for advanced divers.
There are urchins and sharp rocks when walking out to some shore dives, so dive boots and a careful eye should keep you from stepping where you shouldn’t.
Because boats come to pick you up from drift dives, it’s very important to always use a surface marker buoy when you ascend and never get near a boat’s propeller.
How much does scuba diving cost in Cozumel?
Diving in Cozumel is very affordable. The variety and competition among dive shops mean that you can get a quality dive experience for even less than other locations in Mexico.
A discover dive (discover scuba diving program) for beginners can be as low as $75, and certified divers can easily find 2-tank dives from $75-150 including gear rental. 1-tank night dives are cheap at $55 and up.
If you want a luxury experience, you can charter a private dive boat for $400 or more.
Many dive resorts offer all-inclusive dive packages with unlimited shore diving and daily boat diving.
Depending on the length of your stay, resort packages can cost as little as $600 or upwards of $1000 per person.
Cozumel is a must-visit dive destination for beginners and experienced divers alike.
Is there another amazing best scuba diving site I didn’t mention? Leave a comment with your questions and recommendations!