The reefs and Whale Sharks of Mexico’s Mayan Coast

Season: Year-round diving

Visibility: 20-35m/65-115ft (best in summer).

Water Temperature: 26-30°C/79-86°F

Diving at Chnichorro can be a fishy affair! (Explorer Ventures)

Diving: Wrecks, walls, sea mounts, coral gardens, swim-throughs, critter diving

Nitrox available at Reef Resort


Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has for many years been a favourite with American visitors who travel in droves to the ever-growing resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen seeking warm sunshine and coral sand beaches.

Quintana Roo, the most easterly state in the Yucatan Peninsula, holds a treasure chest of attractions for the visitor. Here can be found the most stunning (and in many cases, deserted) Caribbean beaches, literally hundreds of Mayan ruins and some fine diving. Quintana Roo became a state only in 1974, after the Mexican government of the time had ambitious plans to create a Caribbean holiday resort. Their dreams became reality and Cancun was developed from a tiny fishing village into the busy and commercialized resort it is today. Away from Cancun, the rest of Quintana Roo remains unspoilt and mostly covered in thick forest.

The Mayan ruins at Chichen-Itza (about 3 hours by road, just over the Merida border) or Kohunlich (about 2 hours by road) can be visited in a day trip. But to really appreciate the wonders of the Mayan world, it may be better to hire a car and spend few days exploring the region. The well-preserved ruins at Chichen-Itza stands out impressively from the jungle. Built around the 10th century, this is one of the most famous Mayan cities and is certainly a fascinating place to visit. Arrive early to avoid the crowds, if possible, and climb the huge pyramid if you dare. Stroll around the spacious ritual ball courts, where it is said the losers (or possibly even the winners) were sacrificed! Kohunlich in southern Quintana Roo, perhaps the more romantic of the Mayan ruins, has some lovely, fern-clad palaces and temples.


Playa del Carmen has for years offered fun seekers a quieter option to its ‘noisy neighbour’ Cancun further north. A small yet lively and friendly town, Playa del Carmen also offers divers some easy, attractive and accessible diving off  the world’s second largest barrier reef; the Mesoamerican Reef, which extends south all the way down to Costa Rica. The waters are concentrated with nutrients due to the island of Cozumel acting as a natural buffer to the open Gulf. This means that the region enjoys good fish life, to the extent that in the summer months, Whale Sharks are almost guaranteed!

Most of the diving here is boat diving along a reef system comprising drop-offs, pinnacles and patch reefs. A few small wrecks dot the area, providing a haven for a plethora of Caribbean reef fish. The most well known must be the Mama Vina, a 30 metre long ferry purposefully sunk over ten years ago. Divers can penetrate the wreck which is guarded by large barracuda. Hard corals are profuse and many sites are named specifically after corals that grow there, for example Cerebros, or ‘Brains’. Other fishy sites such as Los Arcos attract Tarpon, Horse-Eyed Jacks through the deep swim-throughs. At Sabalos, the walls are home to moray eels, octopi, seahorses and tarpon. Eagle Rays often sweep through.

The area is also famed for its sizeable population of very friendly and cooperative Green Turtles, who always seem to enjoy posing for a photograph! The dive site Tortugas  is home to Green Trutles, Loggerhead Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles. Even hammerhead sharks have been found here! Other must-see attractions are the Bull Sharks which migrate through the region between December and March, and the Whale Sharks which breeze through Mexican waters in the summer months and in recent years have numbered in the hundreds!



Spotted Eagle Rays (Reef Resort)

Bull Shark (Reef Resort)

Whale Sharks get friendly (Reef Resort)

Diver with turtle (Gary Clarke)

Angelfish on reef (Reef Resort)

Wreck of the Mama Vina (Reef Resort)

Schooling Tarpon (Reef Resort)

Whale Shark (Reef Resort)

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