Diving and Snorkeling in Cozumel
In Cozumel diving is one of the most popular activities - and no wonder. The area has been described as having the best diving in the Western hemisphere, and visitors admiring the beautiful coral gardens and remote reefs will think that this claim is justified. The main spots to visit are the Palancar Reef, the Santa Rosa Wall, the San Francisco Reef and the Yucab Reef. If you've come to see beautiful coral, you should head to either the Yucab Reef or the Santa Rosa Wall (which also has interesting sponges). Palancar Reef has underwater caves and canyons to explore, as well as plenty of fish. The San Francisco Reef also has lots of sea life.
Diving in Cozumel is drift diving; this means, quite literally, going with the flow. The currents in the water have shaped Cozumel's reefs, determining their size and appearance. The currents will also shape your diving experience. However, drift diving can be a little frightening for first-timers, as the speed of the current varies depending on the depth, and you may be caught unawares.
Cozumel diving operators are plentiful; there are around 50 in the town. You should be able to hire or buy equipment as well as going on organized tours with operators. Expect to pay around USD$55 for a morning trip including two dives. Some shops offer a discount on shorter afternoon dives if you've already gone on a dive that morning, so you might be able to get an additional afternoon dive for around $10. You can sometimes save money by getting a diving package with an all-inclusive resort. Many of the resorts offer these, including the Melia Cozumel, the Allegro Cozumel and the Iberostar Cozumel. However, you should always compare the price of a diving package to the price of a stay without diving, to see how much extra money the diving part of the package is actually costing you, as it may actually be cheaper to book diving expeditions separately.
Although most Cozumel diving is drift diving, it is possible to go snorkelling too. Some dive shops organize boat rides to the reefs. They will charge about USD$30 for a few hours. Palancar shallows are a lovely snorkelling spot. Another popular diving activity in Cozumel is cenote diving. These basin-shaped sinkholes lead to a network of underground caverns.
There are safety precautions to take into account before you will be allowed to begin diving. If you are already a certified PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) diver, you will need to bring along your dive card and dive log, as well as medical certification that you are fit to dive. Dive shops won't take you out on a boat until you have provided the right documents; call your dive operator before you set off on holiday, to make sure you've packed all the right information. If you don't know how to dive, many of the dive shops offer courses for beginners. By the end of the course, which takes four to five days and should cost around USD$350, you will be certified as an open water diver. You will need to check:
- whether the dive operator is PADI certified; they should hold a C-Card (diving license) in full cave diving
- exactly what documentation to bring along and whether or not you need a medical check-up first
- what safety precautions the dive operator takes - is there oxygen available on the boat? Is there a qualified First Aider on the boat?
- whether it is possible to hire equipment there (it almost certainly will be)
Cenote diving has a slightly different set of safety requirements. If you stay within the cavern area (within sight of daylight) you will only need an Open Water diving certificate. No additional certification is needed if you go with a trained guide. You should always go with a guide, not just for safety reasons, but also because you will get more out of the experience with a professional on hand.
Bear in mind that cavern diving is very different from cave diving. Cave diving means leaving the cavern area of the cenote and losing sight of daylight, and requires a different set of safety precautions. Firstly, no dive operator will be qualified to take you cave diving unless you have first completed a cave diving course. This training usually takes a week. Secondly, you should use an operator that is fully qualified to take you cave diving - don't be shy about asking to see the paperwork that proves this. Thirdly, you should have the right equipment. A good dive operator will be able to advise you on the right equipment and rent it to you. Once you conform to all the cave diving safety requirements, you will be able to explore the beautiful underwater world of the cenotes. Gliding through the subterranean caves and underwater limestone formations is a unique experience. Once you've ensured your safety, it's time to dive in!