Why dive in Cozumel? Because it’s awesome! Our detailed dive guide with over 35 dive sites will confirm Cozumel’s epic dive destination status. Cozumel has everything a diver looks for: clear warm water, beautiful structure, vibrant coral, diverse sea life, drift diving, and so much more. On land, you’ll find a well-supported dive infrastructure, tasty food, and enough attractions to fill your surface intervals. We’ve partnered with Scuba Life Cozumel to bring you this guide to one of the world’s premier dive destinations.
A Brief History of Cozumel: Why Cozumel Tourism is Built on Diving
To understand why the reefs of Cozumel are so pristine you have to go back to the beginning. There was never a large indigenous population here to overfish the reef or fishing fleet profiting from plunder. For a large portion of the last three centuries, Cozumel was more or less unpopulated until the explosion of dive related tourism. Modern Cozumel depends on tourism, particularly dive tourism to flourish.
In ancient times, Mayans revered Cozumel for the temple Ix Chel, goddess of fertility. Cozumel was the second most holy place behind Chichen Itza, and many young women would make the 12-mile ocean pilgrimage for blessings of familial abundance. The island thrived for hundreds of years until the Spanish arrived, bringing smallpox with them. The population collapsed, and Cozumel was left virtually deserted for the next 300 years, except as a pirate outpost.
In 1848, following The War of the Castes, Mestizos and Mayans found refuge on Cozumel. Small economic booms, like the gum trade and a WWII air and anti submarine base, spiked the local population, but nothing lasted until Jacques Cousteau introduced the world to Cozumel’s fabulous coral reefs. From then on, it was only a question of how many people could get to the island. The airport upgrade in the late ’70s and the deep water pier in the ’90s opened the doors. Now nearly 4 million people a year visit Cozumel by ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel or by plane. Many of these people come to enjoy scuba diving.
The North Equatorial Current Makes Drift Diving a Cozumel Special
The North Equatorial Current flows to the west just north of the equator. As it approaches the Caribbean Sea, water is funneled through the Yucatan Channel – where it narrows and gains strength. Right at the mouth of this channel sits the 30-mile x 10-mile island of Cozumel.
The current sculpted the limestone mound of Cozumel into the shape of a torpedo. The sharp, southern tip points directly into the northerly current. The flow splits to either side of the island and reconnects behind the blue, north end. A shallow recirculation zone is formed before the two streams rejoin and head into the Gulf of Mexico.
The current brings crystal clear water, feeds mountainous coral reefs, and propels divers along some of the most exquisite walls in the world. It can be a diver’s best friend or worst nightmare. Either way, come prepared for the MOADD – Mother of All Drift Dives.
Cozumel’s Has the 2nd Largest Coral Reef in the World
The Mesoamerican reef starts by Cozumel and extends south through the Caribbean. It’s the second largest barrio reef in the world. You can’t see the entire reef in one dive, but you can see 50’ high towering coral walls with complex canyons, and many swim through caves.
Coral reefs are built by invertebrate animals called Cnidaria. Related to jellyfish, but they secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard exoskeleton, which is what creates the reefs. They live in a complex symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, a single cell photosynthetic organism. These organisms provide the majority of the food to the corals, who in return build structure for them to find shelter and reach sunlight.
Coral reefs rely on warm, shallow seas and sufficient current to provide essential nutrients. In return, they provide food and shelter to nearly ¼ of the ocean’s biodiversity. No wonder Mexico created the Cozumel Reef National Marine Park to protect this resource. Part of your dive fees on Cozumel is for park entrance, which in turn protects this vital resource.
Cozumel Dive Map
Below is our Cozumel Dive Map. It’s compiled from multiple sources including first-hand visits, local dive shops, literary searches, satellite imagery, and boat traffic monitoring. It’s not intended for navigation, but for trip planning with a local experienced dive shop. We hope to inspire you to dive Cozumel for yourself. It tells the story of the top dives sites on Cozumel and what you might expect.
Currents, winds, the experience of the divers on board, or traffic from other shops might influence where your dive crew takes you. Understand that they are here for not only your safety and enjoyment but that of the entire boat you’re with, so always respect their safety decisions.
Below is our interactive dive map. If it is not visible be sure to refresh your browser 🙂
Cozumel’s Top Dive Sites
The naming of Cozumel’s dive sites can be somewhat interpretive since they are almost all drift dives. Cozumel Scuba Life often plans their dive days where they start halfway down one reef and finish on another. This reduces the total pressure on the reef and allows their divers to see a wider variety of critters. For the sake of communication, I’ll look for a significant dive site or geographic marker to communicate the general dive profile of the area.
Diving Barracuda / the North End
The north end of Cozumel is subject to heavy current and separation from the group means that the diver drifts past the island. Not for beginner divers, these sites feature large deep hog-back reefs and the opportunity for large pelagic sightings including the local reef’s namesake fish – barracuda. Dive sites include:
- San Juan
Skill Level: Advanced Depth: 60′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
San Juan is a difficult site on the northern end of the island. It is often a second dive on a Barracuda trip.
Skill Level: Expert Depth: 100′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
Barracuda features large deep hog-back reefs and the opportunity for large pelagic sightings including the namesake fish – barracuda.
Shore Diving Cozumel’s Hotel Zone
Hurricane Wilma pummeled Cozumel in 2005 causing significant damage to the shallow reefs and the famous airplane wreck in front of La Ceiba Hotel. Resorts have been putting in attractions like the Mayan Pyramid, so shore divers have something to see. Certain sites, like Paradise just south of the cruise ship pier, make for fantastic night dives.
If you love shore diving, you should look for a dive resort where your dive boat can pick you up at the dock. This is also a way to save on taxi services to and from the dive shop which will typically run about $10 a day USD. Scuba Life Cozumel is not only a top-notch dive shop, they offer additional 5-star services such as hotel dock pickup from the following resorts:
Shore Diving Sites
- Coral Princess
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 25′ Formations: ★✩✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★✩✩✩✩
Steps allow for easy entry but be careful of the current on the north end of the island. Swim against the current to start your dive.
- Scuba Club
Skill Level: Beginner Depth: 25′ Formations: ★✩✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★✩✩✩
An easy shore dive with plenty of fish in the habitat near shore. An excellent place for a night dive.
- Villa Blanca
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 35′ Formations: ★✩✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★✩✩✩✩
A shore diving spot close to town with good possibilities for a night dive. Look to find sea fans, eels, and sponges.
Skill Level: Beginner Depth: 40′ Formations: ★✩✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★✩✩✩
Paradise is a popular destination for snorkel tours because of its proximity to town and abundant life. There is plenty for divers to see here, especially on night dives.
Dive Description for the Western Walls and Reefs
Cozumel’s west side offers a little of everything to divers. Just inside of Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, there is a line of reefs in 60′ of water which are perfect for a second dive or beginner diver. More advanced divers can check out the outer walls at 90′ or some areas where the fast current keeps down the crowds (I’m looking at you Punta Tunich). Several dive sites are close enough for shore diving or searching for unique critters like elegant toadfish. Best of all, the shallow water makes for crystal clear photography without having to color correct, as long as you are not too deep.
The onshore support for diving in the Marine Park is incredible. Cozumel’s medics created a rapid response system so they can be at a hotel dock within minutes of your captain radioing for help, most likely before the dive boat can make it in. With docks located less than a Km apart up and down this coast, help is never far away. Cozumel International Hospital even has a hyperbaric chamber. You never plan for failure, but it’s good to know that support is available if you need it.
Western Cozumel Dive Sites
- Las Palmas
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 50′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Las Palmas is a good second tank dive in 50 ft of water. The current makes it a little more difficult than some other sites, but you will have ample opportunity to find sea life.
- Chankanaab Bolones
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 60′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
Chakanaab Bolones is a flat reef just outside of Chananaab park. It is an easy dive that features abundant life. One of the interesting features of this dive is the fresh water coming out of the caves and entering the lagoon. Be careful not to enter the caves unless you are properly certified.
- Chankanaab Shallow
Skill Level: Beginner Depth: 35′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
Chakanaab Shallows are filled with snorkelers during the day but makes an excellent night dive to see abundant marine life.
- C-53 Felipe Xicontenanti
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 80′ Formations: ★★★★✩ Marine Life: ★★✩✩✩
A 184 ft minesweeper sunk as an artificial reef in 2000. Penetration holes are cut in the side for easy access for certified divers. The Atlantis submarine tour visits this wreck so you might see two vessels on the same tank.
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 50′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
Tormentos is a shallow reef that has some of the best marine life in Cozumel. The reef structure is smaller in the south and grows denser as you head north.
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 50′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Yucab is a patch reef with intervals of sandy bottom. It is a great place to see a variety of sea life on the reef and in the sand.
- Punta Tunich
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 35′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Punta Tunich is an interesting combination of a shallow site with fast current. There is plenty of marine life to see as you rocket over the reef.
- San Francisco
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 90′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A smallish site often overshadowed by classic Cozumel dives. If it were anywhere else in the world it might be a local favorite. It is a great site to go to when the current gets heavy, and you are looking to take it easy. Just beyond Playa Mia Beach Park.
- Santa Rosa
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 90′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
This is a classic Cozumel Wall dive. The reef gets taller and denser as you glide northward until you exit off the north end of the reef over the abyss.
- Paso del Cedral
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 60′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
A beginner reef or second dive. The shallow water gives you long bottom times with great light for photography and abundant sea life.
- La Francesa
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 60′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Named in homage to Jacques Cousteau, this is one of the most popular dive reefs because of the abundant sea life and vibrant colors.
- Punta Dalila
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 50′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
A shallow reef with gentle currents. It is a great place to spot sea turtles or nurse sharks.
Dive Descriptions for the Southern Reefs
Cozumel Marine Park continues to the southern tip of the island. Here you find the massive coral cathedrals and swim through caves that made Cozumel a true dive destination. Famous reefs like Palancar, Columbia, and Punta Sur delight experienced divers with incredible structure. Some of the best snorkeling on the island can be found here too in the clear turquoise water of El Celio Lagoon.
Dive Sites on the Southern Reefs
- Palancar Horseshoe
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 90′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
Palancar Horseshoe gets its name from the horseshoe-shaped coral amphitheater at the start of the dive. The fabulous reef structure here is filled with channels and swim throughs.
- Palancar Gardens
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 90′ Formations: ★★★★✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Palancar Gardens is the farthest north portion of the Palancar Reef. Its still has decent structures and swim-throughs but, often times, it has good sealife too. It is a good first wall dive to introduce divers to Cozumel.
- Palancar Caves
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 90′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
Palancar Caves gets its name from the many tunnels and coral canyons at this site. Divers with good buoyancy skills will enjoy exploring the coral mazes through the exquisite structure.
- Palancar Bricks
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 50′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
Palancar Bricks gets its name from a load of bricks that was accidentally dropped there from a barge many years ago. It is the farthest south site on the Palancar Reef known for large coral pillars rising up from the sea floor.
- Columbia Shallows
Skill Level: Beginner Depth: 40′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Columbia Shallows is a wonderful second tank dive for the southernmost dive sites. The clear, turquoise bay is teaming with sea life to view while you ditch nitrogen.
- Columbia Deep
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 100′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Columbia Deep is a classic Cozumel drift dive complete with a couple of swim through coral formations. Drop lower or look for shelter behind coral outcroppings to slow your rate of travel down the wall.
- Punta Sur – Devil’s Throat
Skill Level: Expert Depth: 130′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
The Devil’s Throat is an iconic dive for expert divers. The throat opens at 80 ft down, taking you through a coral tunnel deep inside the magnificent pinnacles. You drop at a 45-degree angle until you reach the exit at 130 ft. Needless to say, you have to be spot on with buoyancy and breathing before you attempt this dive. Coral mazes abound on Punta Sur so you will have plenty to see while your air holds out.
- Punta Sur – Cathedral
Skill Level: Advanced Depth: 100′ Formations: ★★★★★ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
The Cathedral formation is a large coral chamber with skylights opening to the ocean above. Other mazes and passages twist through the tall coral pinnacles making this one of the best coral structures on Cozumel.
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 80′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
Chun-Chaab is unique amongst the southern reefs in that individual sections are separated by areas of sand. This gives the opportunity to see sand creatures, like southern rays and flounders, living between the reeflets. The reefs themselves are well formed and quite beautiful.
Skill Level: Expert Depth: 120′ Formations: ★★★★✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
This is the southernmost dive site on Cozumel. Proximity to the open ocean subjects divers to high seas and strong currents but offers the opportunity of large pelagic sightings. This site has beautiful structure including a large underwater arch with a base at 120.
Diving Cozumel’s East Side aka “The Other Side”
Cozumel’s Other/East Side is worlds away from the sheltered western port. Here, surfers take on waves that have traveled all the way from Cuba. It’s rough, rugged, and remote which makes for difficult diving with high consequences. Boats have to go a long way to reach these sites with all the support services located on the docks from which they came. You can find shore diving off the beach road that runs along the south-east side of the island, but be wary of the surf, current, and undertow.
The east side offers relatively undisturbed reefs and unique spots like cannons from a 1761 shipwreck. Every now and then the wind shifts and blows west to east. This makes the western dive sites rough and choppy while the eastern sites now enjoy the shelter of the island.
East Side Dive Sites
- El Islote
Skill Level: Advanced Depth: 80′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★✩
A large patch coral island near the Punta Celarain lighthouse. A great place to see parrot fish on the reef and sharks and rays in the nearby sand flats.
- Playa Bosh
Skill Level: Advanced Depth: 30′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A beach dive off the coastal road. Look for parking at the Rasta Bar and make sure you plan for current on this dive. Swim into the current to start the dive so you can drift back to the take out. Great site for moray eels and nurse sharks.
- El Mirador
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 35′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A beach dive off the coastal road. Look for parking in the free El Mirador parking lot. This dive features several small bays but be aware of surf in the bays and current during the dive. Dangerous undertow can be present.
- Playa Bonita
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 30′ Formations: ★✩✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A beach dive off the coastal road Playa Bonita features a bay on the north end of the beach for a little shelter on the dive.
- Chen Rio
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 60′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A beach dive off the coastal road that features a small bay sheltered from the surf and current on the inside and a drop off to the abyss on the outside.
- Punta Morena
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 30′ Formations: ★★✩✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
A shore dive off the coastal road that features a sheltered cove on the north end of the beach. It is still an intermediate dive, but it is easier than others on the east side.
Skill Level: Intermediate Depth: 40′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★✩✩
About a dozen large cannons and scattered cannon balls remain from a 1700s Spanish Galleon. The ship is rumored to be San Francisco De Sales, aka La Tetis which sank of Cozumel in 1761. A remarkable growth of elkhorn coral is here as well.
- Los Atolones
Skill Level: Advanced Depth: 100′ Formations: ★★★★✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
Beautiful coral formations rise to the surface here to form a small atoll (atolones in Spanish). Large schools of fish live in this sheltered and rarely visited dive site.
- Molas Shallows
Skill Level: Expert Depth: 80′ Formations: ★★★✩✩ Marine Life: ★★★★★
Beautiful coral and abundant sea life highlight this expert level dive. A strong current can be found on most days as the streams pass into Molas Bay on the north end of the island.
Dive Seasons of Cozumel
Cozumel is a year-round diving destination where water temperature average 25°C/77°F in the winter and 29°C/85°F in summer. December through April is the high season for diving in Cozumel. May and June offer a chance to visit the island before the summer heat (and rains) set in. July through September is rainy season where it’s hot and muggy. There will always be an afternoon shower with the chance of heavy storms. October and November is the perfect shoulder season to visit Cozumel where the skies are clear, the sea is still warm, and there are travel deals to be found. The Cozumel dive season is the same as diving in Cancun if you’re planning a Riviera Maya dive trip.
Cozumel is home to many sea creatures, but it has a few special seasonal visitors. During the winter months, divers might see eagle rays gliding over the sand. Loggerhead turtles come to nest from April through July followed by green turtles June through September.
Surface Intervals in Cozumel: What to do When You’re Not Diving
- Wine and Dine in Centro Cozumel – Cozumel is a thriving tourist town with fun restaurants, hopping bars, and plenty of shopping. We loved the taco plate at Machete and drinks at Wet Wendy’s (We came for the name and stayed for the specials). There is simply too much good food to mention it all.
- Parque Benito Juarez – Here you’ll find the quintessential Cozumel sign and a fountain that features a synchronized light and music show. Nearby San Miguel church makes a beautiful backdrop for pictures. What we loved about Benito Jaurez is that locals and tourists enjoy this park together and you very much get the feeling of being in small-town Mexico.
- Mega beach resorts- The south end of the island features hopping beaches with much more than just umbrellas. At Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, there are floating inflatable playhouses, boat rides, snorkel tours, and you can still sit under an umbrella drinking a drink with an umbrella.
- Scenic snorkeling tours– Why stop at one beach when you can take a snorkel tour. Take a scenic boat ride down the coast to enjoy snorkel of El Cielo Bay where you’ll see starfish gardens and the colorful Columbia Reef. Then head up to Playa Mia where you can have romping fun in the sun.
- ATV Adventures to the Jade Caverns – Ride ATV’s through the jungle to reach the Jade Caverns cenote, one of the largest in Mexico. You’ll swim in the cenote, travel through El Cedral Village, and see the Coral Cove cave system.
- Zipline Chankanaab Park – Start your day ziplining across the beautiful clear water. Chill after your thrills at the world-class Chankanaab Beach or explore the park’s botanical gardens and crocodile habitat.
- Atlantis Submarine Tour – Do you want to show your friends what diving is like or just can’t get enough of the water? The Atlantis XII takes you on an underwater adventure to the C-53 ( Felipe Xicotencatl) wreck and along the coral wall. The best way to see the water without getting wet!
- Explore the San Gervasio Ruins – Mayans lived on Cozumel long before the Spanish set foot on the island. Mayans took a pilgrimage to Cozumel to worship Ix Chel, the goddess of fertility. It’s an opportunity to see a less visited Mayan site with a unique history.
- Visit the Mainland – A 45-minute ferry ride gets you over to Playa Del Carmen and even more Riviera Maya trips. You can explore the town or try other scuba adventures like a bull shark dive or diving cenotes from dive shops that are walking distance from the ferry dock. A little outside of town you can explore Rio Secreto or snorkel year round with turtles in Akumal Bay. If you make it down to Tulum be sure to check out the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.
Parting Thoughts on Cozumel Scuba Diving
We were blown away by our experience scuba diving in Cozumel. We have traveled across the world to dive near Hikkaduwa Sri Lanka, Koh Tao Thailand, and Koh Phi Phi Thailand, but Cozumel rocked our world. The viz was A-MAZE-ING, and there was plenty to see between the colored coral and the huge fish.
Scuba Life Cozumel did a fantastic job. We wanted to partner with a first-rate dive outfitter, and we soon realized why Scuba Life Cozumel is the top-rated scuba shop on the island with over 550 5-star ratings! We loved the joy and enthusiasm of their entire staff. They didn’t just love diving, they genuinely loved working at Scuba Life Cozumel. The DM’s were professional and on point, and the equipment was high quality and in good repair. Even though they sponsored us on this trip, we can’t recommend them enough.
If you get a chance to dive in Cozumel – take it. If you get two chances – go twice. It’s just that good!
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