Mexico is a popular destination for a variety of reasons; sandy beaches, great food, and an incredible history are a few of the main draws. But, ask any diver and they will tell you that scuba diving Mexico is the real highlight.
From cenotes to the open sea, there are plenty of dive sites and opportunities to explore the underwater world of Mexico. Whether you are interested in interesting geography, big marine life, or just want to see it all, this guide will highlight the best scuba diving in Mexico, allowing you to get the most of your Mexico diving vacation.
– NOTE: The locations on this list are indeed the best in the country, but are not ranked from 1-8. The list is random. Number 8 might be just as good as number 1. You decide.
ULITIMATE GUIDE TO SCUBA DIVING MEXICO
1. Cancun and Isla Mujeres
Located on the northeastern section of the Yucatan Peninsula, this sea-side city is probably the most popular tourist destination in Mexico. Idyllic white sands, tropical resorts, and renowned beach parties make it a hot spot. It’s also considered to be the gateway to the Mayan World as several important archaeological sites are nearby. But, even if parties and ruins aren’t your thing, Cancun, including the nearby Isla Mujeres (best known for whale sharks), is worth a visit for the diving alone, and theres a good reason its listed on the top 100 best diving in the world!
How to get to Cancun
Cancun has its own airport, less than 10 miles from the downtown core. It’s the second busiest airport in the country and receives many international flights from around the world. Tickets for authorized taxis can be purchased at a podium just outside the arrival doors. Make sure you take an official taxi, don’t get cajoled by a friendly local offering a driving service- you will be severely overcharged. An authorized taxi will probably cost somewhere around $50USD
It is also possible to take a public bus into the city centre. This is a much cheaper option (11 USD return, or cheaper if you pay in local currency). Bus tickets can be purchased on the bus from the driver. The two main bus companies to look for are ADO or Riviera.
Dive sites in Cancun
- MUSA: MUSA is Cancun’s underwater museum. It consists of over 500 statues, all of which were created using materials to promote coral life and, therefore, help attract various species of marine life. It was created in 2009 and remains one of the largest underwater attractions in the world.
- Ultrafreeze Wreck: This 200 foot long cargo ship wreck was purposefully sunk to create a dive site. This site attracts all types of marine life including turtles, manta rays, barracuda, and more. For this reason it is a great spot for those interested in underwater photography. The wreck lies at 100 feet (30m) so is more suitable for advanced divers.
- Sleepy Shark Caves: Shark lovers: this site is for you. Once investigated (and documented) by Jaques Coustea himself, Sleepy Shark Caves are one the best sites for Cancun diving. Sleeping sharks rest here; soaking up fresh water bubbles from below. Lemon sharks, bull sharks, and blacktips are just some of the shark species you may see. However, given how popular this site has become, the chances at seeing sharks is about 50-50.
- Punta Cancun: Punta Cancun’s main highlight is it’s healthy coral reef. There is a large wall filled with vibrant and colorful sponges, and a variety of marine life including sharks and rays.
- Pared Verde: A drift dive that will take divers around a spectacular wall. Brightly coloured fans and corals, moray eels, turtles, and more can be seen here. The reef is located in a sandy plain, so be sure to keep an eye out for larger species as well.
- C-58: A former US navy vessel, C-58 was once a mine sweeper during WWII, but today is a favourite dive site. It was split open in a 2005 hurricane, making all of the rooms accessible to divers. Manta rays, barracuda, and grouper are a few of the species that are regularly seen on this dive site. C-58 is recommended for advanced divers as the currents can be quite strong.
Other things to do in Cancun:
Cancun diving is amazing, but it’s worth it to have a couple days in the area to explore the area as well. If you are interested in ancient history and the Mayan civilization, a visit to the nearby Chichen Itza is a must. Chichen Itza has been declared by UNESCO as one of the new 7 ancient wonders of the world, and is an easy day trip from Cancun. There are also several other archaeological sites in the area including Coba, El Rey and El Meco.
2. Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Cenotes
Playa Del Carmen and Tulum are about an hour or so from Cancun. Both are smaller cities, but offer unique diving experiences, as well as some interesting historical sites. Perhaps the biggest highlight in these areas are the cenotes, many of which you can explore by scuba diving. Cenotes are one of the highlights for scuba diving Mexico. This guide will list a couple of the most popular cenote dive sites, but for more be sure to check our cenote guide.
How to get to Playa Del Carmen:
The closest airport to Playa Del Carmen is the Cancun airport, which is about an hour drive. Playa Del Carmen is also accessible by public bus. There is a bus run by ADO that travels between the airport and the central bus station in Playa Del Carmen every hour (sometimes more often during busy season). Tickets can be purchased on the bus or at the ADO booth. Tickets will be cheaper if you pay by soles over US dollars.
How to get to Tulum:
Tulum is located past Playa del Carmen, so the closest airport is Cancun. Private shuttles and taxis can be arranged, but the best option is to take the bus to Playa Del Carmen (see above), then transfer to a second bus (run by ADO, AU, or Mayab) to take you the rest of the way. The second bus will cost less than 5USD one way. It is important to note that there are three Tulum: Tulum peublo (the town), Tulum playa, and Tulum ruinas. Make sure you know where to go based on your accommodation.
Dive sites closer to Playa Del Carmen:
- Cenote Dos Ojos: One of the most popular cenote dive sites in the area, Cenote Dos Ojos is a cavern dive with lots of stalactites, columns, and crystal clear water with visibility usually at 30m. The deepest it gets is about 16m, making it great for divers of all levels. Good bouncy, however, is a must.
- Sabalos: Originally named for the schools of sabalos fish (also called tarpoon) that can be seen here, this dive site is a beautiful reef dive. Lots of healthy and colourful hard and soft corals, plenty of starfish, and a small cavern to explore at the end.
- Mama Vina: A former fish boat sunk to create an artificial reef in the 1990s, this wreck has been almost completely taken over by corals. Diver can explore part of the inside of the wreck, and should be sure to keep an eye out for barracuda near the mast. Mama Vina is deep and has strong currents, so is not suitable for novice divers.
- Mamitas: One of the biggest thrills of scuba diving in Mexico, is visiting Mamitas dive site between the months of November and March for bull shark season. Los Arcos and Mo Che are two other sites where you can see commonly bull sharks during the winter months. * Please do your research ahead of time and do not use a dive school that baits the sharks.
- Tortugas Reef: Best known for, as you probably guessed, turtles. Tortugas reef is also home to angelfish, nurse sharks, king crabs, and plenty of colourful corals.
- Playa Verde: A unique wall formation; this dive site is almost split in several locations by slopes of sand. Plenty of marine life here including spiny crabs, rays, sharks, and turtles. Towards the end of the dive there is also a cavern with a chimney exiting at the top of the reef.
Dive sites closer to Tulum:
- Tank Ha Deep: At 30m, this dive site isn’t an option for open water divers. But, the deep coral formations, and variety of large fish make it a favourite among advanced divers.
- Sting Ray: An easy dive around a number of pinnacles home to plenty of different fish species.
- La Piscina and Coquitos: Not far from the Tulum ruins, la Piscina and Coquitos, which are beside each other, are beautiful reef dives. Lots of natural light and an array of marine life makes them perfect for photographers.
Other things to see and do in Playa del Carmen:
The main attraction in Playa del Carmen is the scuba diving and cenotes, but it’s a fun place to explore as well. Relaxing beach clubs, shops, and spas line the streets of this town. It’s also quite popular for golf enthusiasts and those interested in eco tourism. During the summer tourists can participate in night walks to keep an eye out for turtles laying eggs on the beach.
Other things to do around Tulum:
Aside from diving, the main highlight here are the Tulum ruins. Also nearby are the Coba ruins and Muyil archaeological site. And don’t forget the white sand beach!
Cozumel is a Caribbean island located off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Its safe streets, beautiful beaches, and friendly people make it a popular spot among tourists. However Cozumel diving is the main attraction, with some of the best sites in the country. During my entire last visit I both dove with Salty Endeavors Dive center, as well as took advantage of their own nice apartment rentals they have there in Cozumel. Not only would I highly recommend diving with Henry and crew at Salty Endeavors, but their accommodation in Cozumel is awesome too!
How to get to Cozumel:
Cozumel does have its own airport, but it is significantly smaller than that in Cancun. Some major north American cities offer direct flights, however most travellers fly into Cancun then catch a bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa del Carmen you can take a ferry to Cozumel. The ferry departs hourly and costs less than $15USD per person (one way). If you have some extra money to spare and are looking for a unique experience, you can fly from Cancun to Cozumel. Tickets are about $75USD and the views are stunning.
Dive sites in Cozumel:
- Palancar Reef: Three and a half miles long, this large reef is perfect (and loved) by divers of all levels. A variety of corals interspersed with bright orange and purple fans, are home to plenty of colorful reef fish. Pair that with calm waters, it’s a perfect site for photographers.
- Colombia Wall: A 90 foot high wall covered in coral, and riddled with caves, tunnels, and caverns, Colombia Wall is a fun dive. Expect to find lots of big fish here including turtles and eagle rays, along with some unique 60 foot tall coral pillars.
- Santa Rosa Wall: Another great wall to dive, Santa Rosa starts at 50 feet so is best for advanced divers. Similar to the Colombia wall, there are plenty of overhangs, swim throughs, and tunnels to explore.
- Paradise Beach: A shallow reef dive perfect for open water or newbie divers. Lots of crustaceans, angel fish, and other tropical species. It’s also one of the spot for night dives.
- Barge Wreck: This barge sank in the 1970s, and has now completely become part of the reef. Numerous fish call this wreck home, including a bunch of different types of grouper. A perfect site for photographers, and great for night dives.
Other things to see and do in Cozumel:
The main reason to visit Cozumel is for the snorkelling and diving, but the island is home to some impressive archaeological sites. If you have extra time consider visiting San Gervsio, El Caracol, and Carretera Costera Sur. For those looking to relax, Cozumel is also home to beautiful beaches and beach clubs.
4. Costa Maya: Mahahual and Chinchorro
Mahahual used to be a small, quiet fishing village on the coast, although thanks to a cruise ship port, it has become significantly busier over the past few years. About 35km off the coastline is Chinchorro; an atoll reef and nature reserve known for the surrounding shipwrecks. Mahahual has some nice dive sties, but for those with more time, Chincorro is the real star. If you are looking to experience the best scuba diving Mexico, it’s a must.
How to get to Mahahual:
The closest airport to Mahahual is Cancun, but it’s still a few hours away. If you plan on renting a car, Mahahual is about a 4 hour drive from Cancun. If you prefer public transportation, the ADO bus runs between the two cities, leaving once per day at 3:30pm. The bus also picks up passengers from Playa del Carmen and Tulum if you happen to be staying at either of those locations. If you are in the market for some of the more remote locations for scuba diving Mexico, this is it.
Dive sites around Mahahual:
- Escalones: A reef site with plateaus, sandy patches, and small canyons. You will likely see plenty of turtles here along with eagle rays and, if you are lucky, nurse sharks.
- Curarenta Canones (40 Cannons): Thought to have originally been from a Dutch ship, or perhaps even pirate ship, the ocean floor here is covered in parts of cannons dating back to the 17th century. An ancient anchor also rests here. Combined with the colourful reef and abundance of fish (especially angel fish) it’s a great spot for photography. A depth of 12 feet of water and no strong currents makes it ideal for divers of all levels.
- Copper Clad Wreck: Dating back to the 18th century, the remains of this wreck are mostly nails, copper sheeting, and traces of hull timbers. It’s thought that the ship was on fire before it went down.
- SS Far Star: A 1970s cargo boat that went down while carrying sugar. A large anchor, winches, steel plating, smoke stacks and a massive screw over 7 feet in diameter are a few of the interesting remains you can find. The site is home to many yellow tailed snapper, blue tang, and a variety of coral. Be sure to look into the blue as well, if you are lucky you may see sharks, including hammerheads.
- The Cut: A sloping wall dropping to 40 feet covered with all types of corals including antler, black, and some gorgonians. Lots of tropical reef fish as well.
- Punta Isabel: A drift dive among large sponges, corals, and a variety of marine life including turtles, eagle rays, lobster, groupers, and barracuda.
- La Boya: Alternating sandy flat surfaces and sloping reefs, La Boya is home to some massive corals and sponges, including some elephant ears that are about 10 feet wide. This is a popular spot to see sting rays and eagle rays.
Other things to see and do in Mahahual:
Unsurprisingly, there are several Mayan ruins nearby including Chacchoben, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Ichkabal. Other popular activities in the area include sea kayaking, sailing, and for those interested in conservation, you can visit GVI (Global Vision International) which is about 35km away, where you can learn (and even volunteer) about marine conservation around the area.
5. Revillagigedo Islands: Soccoro
Socorro island, one of the Revillagigedo Islands, is a small volcanic island 600km off the Pacific coast of Mexico. It’s an incredible spot for diving, best known for the surrounding pelagic life in the area. It’s been referred to as the Galapagos of Mexico, and is considered to be some of the best of scuba diving Mexico.
How to get to Soccoro:
Soccoro has a navy base, and a small village to hold military members, but there is no public airport or access point. For this reason the only way to visit Soccoro for diving reasons is by doing a liveaboard.
Best time of the year to visit Soccoro:
The best time to dive in Soccoro is between the months of November and May when the weather and seas are calmer. November to January and April/May are best for sharks and rays. January to April offer a better chance of seeing humpback whales.
Dive sites in Soccoro:
- Roca Partida: A 50m high pinnacle
- Punta Tosca: A good spot to find dolphins and silky sharks
- Cabo Pearce: A reef jutting off into the current, great place to see dolphins.
- The Canyon: Off San Benedicto Island; schools of hammerheads, manta rays, silky sharks, and Galapagos sharks.
- El Fondeadero: A cleaning station for pacific mantas, and if you are lucky, humpback whales.
- The Aquarium: A Macro dive site.
* Soccoro and the Revillagigedo Islands are not suited for beginner or open water divers.
What to expect to see diving in Soccoro:
Soccoro is famous for its pelagic life. Don’t expect coral reefs here; it’s all about the big stuff. Divers in Soccoro can expect to see dolphins, sharks, manta rays, and even whales.
6. Puerto Vallarta and Islas Marias
Puerto Vallarta is a popular vacation spot on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Beautiful beaches, jungles, and hidden waterfalls add to the attraction of this tropical holiday destination. It is also one of the best scuba diving destination in Mexico.
Off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, 62km away, is an archipelago made up of four islands called the Islas Marias. The area is a wildlife sanctuary with some fantastic diving.
How to get to Puerto Vallarta:
Peurto Vallarta is served by Gustavo Diaz Ordaz international airport, which offers direct flights to many major north American cities. To take a taxi into the city, visit the official taxi kiosk in the main airport atrium. Anyone that may approach you before then is not an official taxi and it is advised not to use them.
If you don’t have too much luggage, you can also take a bus. The bus stop is located on the left side of the main exit, under the pedestrian overpass. You can take a bus marked ‘Centro’ or ‘Zona Romantica’ to the city center. The bus will take about 20-30 minutes.
Dive sites in Puerto Vallarta:
- Los Arcos: Characterized by caves and large granite structures, Los Arcos is a popular sit for both say and night dives. During the day you may see manta rays and eagle rays along with plenty of tropical fish including puffers, angelfish, and possibly turtles. At night you can find lobsters and octopus hiding among the crags. It’s a calm dive suite, and suitable for divers of all levels.
- El Morro: Lots of caves and pinnacles make up the landscape for El Morro. Dolphins, turtles, and sailfish can be seen here as well as whale sharks during the months of May, June, and July. Currents are strong here so it is not recommended for novice divers.
- Los Anegados: Caves, and interesting rock formations provide shelter to eagle rays, nurse sharks, and moray eels. Occasionally, giant mantas can be seen here as well.
- El Sequial: A large plateau that drops off into the deep, this is a good spot to see sailfish, larger shark species, and tuna. The current can be strong here, so it’s not recommended for novice divers.
Dive Sites by Islas Marias
- Colomitos: A scenic dive great for both day and night diving. Colomitos is in a protected cove with plenty of coral and schools of fish. At night you can see the coral unfurling, and hunting octopus.
- El Chimo: Sandy slopes and big drop offs characterize this site, along with strong currents which make it a hotspot for large pelagic species. If you are lucky you will see whales and their calves from April-December, or whale sharks between May and July.
*On your way out to the dive sites closer to Islas Marias, keep your eye out for dolphins (year round) and humpback whales during whale season.
Other things to see and do in Puerto Vallarta:
Puerto Vallarta is worth spending a few days to explore. The nearby jungle and waterfalls are great for adventure seekers. Whale watching, kitesurfing, surfing, golfing, horseback riding, and sailing are all popular activities in the area. Animal lovers should also consider participating in one of the turtle watching programs.
7. Baja Peninsula: Los Cabos and Cabo Pulmo
A large Peninsula dividing the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Cortez, the Baja Peninsula offers some fantastic sites for those interested in scuba diving in Mexico. While there are sites up and down the coast, the best sites can be found Los Cabos and Cabos Pulmo.
Los Cabos is made up of two towns: Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo. Cabo San Lucas is a popular resort town while San Jose Del Cabo is known for its historical city. Both are popular with tourists interested in a beach vacation.
Cabo Pulmo as been a marine reserve since 1995 and has been described as being ‘the most robust marine reserve in the world’.
How to get to Los Cabos:
Los Cabos has a regional airport just outside of San Jose Del Cabo, and about 30-40 minutes from Cabo San Lucas. For those looking to go to Cabo San Lucas, there is a paid shuttle bus to the resorts, or you can take Ruta del Desierto bus. A ticket for the local bus will cost about $5USD.
While the airport is the most popular way of arriving, it is also possible to drive to Los Cabos down Highway 1. However, this is only recommended for those that speak Spanish and are experienced with driving in Mexico.
How to get to Cabo Pulmo:
Cabo Pulmo is a small town, about 60 miles North of Cabo San Lucas. If you are planning to stay in the area, you can drive or take a taxi from Cabo San Lucas (or the airport). It is also possible to visit Cabo Pulmo with a dive shop as a day trip; check with local operators for more information .
Dive sites in Los Cabos:
- Land’s End: The underwater geology of this dive site almost mirrors that above the water; ridges, walls, and crevices extending into the deep. Plenty of colourful corals on the walls.
- Santa Maria: A bay dive that is said to be better on the left side (looking out to see) rather than the right. Small gullies provide hiding spots for all kinds of fish including rays, snake eels, and lobsters after dark.
- Chileno Bay: Rocky reefs with plenty of coral and hiding reef fish.
- Palmilla Shore: Small rocky pinnacles great for the little things; plenty of hermit crabs, shrimp.
- Gordo Banks: A deep, dark dive, this is where you might find sharks, rays, tuna, and eels. it’s recommended to bring a flashlight.
- The Wreck: Broken into three parts, the most interesting part is the hull, which is covered in fan worms and home to numerous little fish who will peep out at you through holes and cracks.
Dive Sites in Cabo Pulmo
- Cabo Pulmo Rocky Reef: The current can be strong here, making it a fun drift dive. A garden of eels, shoals of fish, schools of tuna, coral, fans, starfish, and more make it a great dive site.
- Cabo Pulmo Caves: A bright dive with lots of swim throughs and caves. Expect to see soldier fish, squirrel fish, and angelfish among plenty of sea fans and corals.
- Cabo Pulmo Coral Reef: A coral covered cliff and sandy slopes below make this a very pretty dive. Towards the end the current picks up, making it a fun drift.
Other things to see and do in Los Cabos:
Los Cabos is very much set up to be a vacation spot, so activities like ATV adventures, sailing, surfing, and boat cruises are very popular.
Whale watching is another popular activity in Los Cabos. The season runs from January to March with the best times being early March. Another must-do activity is to go to Land’s End for some photos; it’s a collection of unique rock formations and home to some sea lions.
Other things to see and do in Cabo Pulmo
Cabo Pulmo is best for diving and snorkelling, but it is also a great place for those just looking to relax away from the crowds as well.
8. Isla Guadalupe
Isla Guadalupe is a small Volcanic island located 150 miles off the coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. It’s famous for one thing only: being one of the top four places in the world to cage dive with great white sharks. If this is a dream of yours, then add Isla Guadalupe to the list, because it’s one of the most unique experiences for scuba diving Mexico.
How to get to Isla Guadalupe:
Isla Guadalupe is only accessible by liveaboard. Some companies offer a start in California, where a bus will take you to the boat in Mexico. Others start from the Tijuana Mexico.
Best Time of Year to Visit Isla Guadalupe:
Isla Guadalupe is accessible from August to November. The colder water temperature during these months is part of what brings the sharks to the island. Keep in mind that this is also hurricane season, so make sure to take out travel insurance just in case.
Dive sites in Isla Guadalupe:
There are no actual dive sites at Isla Guadalupe. The biggest choice you had to make i what liveaboard to go with. Each company offers different cages; some are fully enclosed, some are motorized, and some have open tops. The choice is up to you.
*It is important to note that chumming (baiting the sharks) is illegal at Isla Guadalupe. Many liveaboard companies will drop the cages to the 30m mark where the sharks congregate naturally, no baiting needed. However, while the laws exist they are lax and some operators do entice the sharks with food. We recommend you do not advocate this practice.
Best times of year to scuba dive Mexico:
Mexico as a whole has agreeable diving conditions year round. However, if you have your heart set on a certain destination, or want to increase your chance of seeing sharks, whale sharks, or whales, then you need to plan ahead of time.
As indicated in the sections above, the remote islands of Revillagigedo and Isla Guadalupe are only accessible during certain months of the year. Whale shark season is from May-July, bull shark season runs from November through March, and humpback whale season takes place from January to April.
If you are planning on diving the Cenotes, consider visiting during the summer months (May and September) for the best lighting.
For general diving, the best time around the Sea of Cortez is June- November. On the Caribbean side, July and August tend to be the best months in terms of visibility, though peak season is December through March.
Mexico is an amazing country with a beautiful landscape, friendly people, a fascinating history, and an incredible underwater world to explore. Whether you prefer the lure of large pelagic creatures, or the unique experience of denote diving, scuba diving in Mexico is an experience every diver should add to their bucket list.