Exotic Cozumel Dives

All of the dives described in the Cozumel Dive Sites page of this website are generally considered the standard resort dives and are available from most dive operators. However, as you might imagine, the coral doesn’t end at Punta Sur in the south or at the Ferry Pier downtown. And neither does the diving. “Exotic” may not be the right word to describe these dives but we use the term to describe dives that most visitors to Cozumel may possibly have heard about but have never had the chance to experience.

There are several reasons most dive operators don’t usually go to these areas. Two big considerations are the distance (and as a result the time and fuel required) and the surface water conditions of some of these sites. Unless the wind is blowing out of the north, the water usually gets rougher and rougher after passing Palancar Caves and the same goes for the north end of the island as well. While the dives listed in this section that are on the north end of the island are fairly close to the town, it can take a very long time to reach the sites listed below on the south end and even longer to reach those on the Other Side of the island.

Another concern is depth. While some sections can be dived shallower, some of the following go deeper than what is generally considered recreational diving limits. For several, a very swift current coupled with the open ocean environment combine for difficult conditions. And finally, in the case of the north end of the island, on occasion (usually due to weather) the Captain of the Port simply bars recreational diving there.

All of these concerns suggest that the following dives are for self-sufficient divers only.

While not on most dive shops regular list of trips, many operators are willing to organize trips to at least some of these areas if competent divers request it. If you can present your own group of four to six qualified divers, your chances of being able to go to these sites is greatly enhanced.

On the north end of the island are the legendary San Juan and Barracuda Reefs and the lesser known Cantarell. Because of the sometimes rough surface and always fast underwater currents and the resultant difficulty for the boat crews in following diver bubbles, some of the trips to Barracuda will include snorkelers who act as spotters for the boat captains. The importance of this should not be lost on the reader, as once you drift past the north end of Cozumel the next stop is Cuba. This area is best dived very early in the morning as the current tends to quicken as the day passes.

The attraction of Barracuda is a swift (and not always flat) current pushing you along a deep wall and the chance to see large numbers of fish of large size. In addition, December and January are the height of mating season for spotted eagle rays in Cozumel and these northern reefs are where the rays gather to socialize. In those months, it is not unusual to find groups of 10-20 of these beautiful creatures winging down the walls.

Most dives begin over a sandy bottom, which gives way to a small ridge on top of the wall. It’s not uncommon to see several species of sharks, turtles, jacks, barracudas and during the mating season, schools of spotted eagle rays.

Both Cantarell and San Juan are shallower dives in the same general area and with a current that is almost always present but usually is not as strong as you’ll find at Barracuda. On both you’ll see lots of fish, sponges and lower profile coral.

To the south the legend is Maracaibo. The wall, at what is known as Maracaibo Deep, begins at around 120 feet but is really best at 145-160 feet. You will see large coral buttresses, lots of caves and fish and on occasion, a pretty strong current. If you’re lucky you might see a variety of sharks, spotted eagle rays and other large animals.

Just inside the wall is a reef dive known as Maracaibo Shallow. At a depth of 95 feet you will find abundant and very colorful hard and soft coral and lots of fish. Unlike many dives in Cozumel, you are more likely to experience a slight back and forth surge than you are to find the straight current that is typical of most Cozumel dive sites.

You need to pick the right weather conditions to dive Islelotti (Little Island) as you actually go past the south end of the island and follow the coast around past the southern lighthouse. Just off a small island you will drop into water with a bottom of 150-250 feet but with coral that tops out around 90 feet. What fish and turtles you see tend to be large but because this area is outside of the national park and is visited by fishermen, there is not a huge abundance of fish. But you will see broad ridges of pristine coral separated by sandy channels that stretch further than the usually good visibility.

Traditionally, very little recreational diving has occurred on the eastern Ocean Side of Cozumel. Prevailing conditions usually produce rough seas and a fast current and this reputation has left the diving on the eastern side of the island to local fishermen. However, if you pick the right dive operator and can be flexible enough to wait for the right weather conditions, you can experience moderate currents and some truly undefiled reefs that compare favorably to dive sites anywhere in the world. And, because you aren’t in the National Park, you can also spear fish. Most dive operators taking divers to the Ocean Side have their own special spots picked out. One area that is particularly impressive is just off the shore from the beach club at Playa Bonita. Typically, the boat will meet divers at the beach saving them a two to three hour boat trip around the island. From Playa Bonita, a five-minute ride will put you on top of rows and rows of virginal coral heads surrounded by a sandy bottom, sometimes separated by narrow channels. The tops of the coral in this particular area range from 60 to over 100 feet deep. Because the area is fished, you tend to see very few grouper and other popular eating fish, but are likely to encounter other smaller reef fish (including some interesting species like lizard, porcupine and pipe fish), lobster and the occasional shark. The attraction here is the untouched coral, large plants, fans, sponges, and lacy sea plumes.

In Cozumel, the first operator making regular cavern dives was Chuck Jones at Discover Cozumel Dive Shop who takes divers to Aruelito Cave. At last report, there was roughly 7,000 feet of line and some speculation that the system leads eventually to Chankanaab. Yucatech Expeditions offers cenote, cave and cavern diving for certified divers on both Cozumel and the mainland.

If you ask around, you will likely hear both good and bad comments about Cavern or Cenote Diving on the Yucatan mainland. As you drive up and down Highway 307 in either direction from Playa del Carmen, you will see signs for various cenotes. A diver without special cave certification can arrange for the equivalent of a cavern resort course or take the 14-dive week long cavern certification course with Mike Madden’s Cedam Dive Center in Akumal. The easiest way to get to Akumal from Cozumel is the ferry to Playa del Carmen and then a taxi or bus down the coast. There is ocean diving in Akumal but it’s not as good as on Cozumel.

Dos Ojos is another cenote dive center located near Tulum.