Cozumel Island, off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the best chances to see large marine life in the Eastern Hemisphere. The protected reefs just off the coast are home to eagle rays, sharks, octopi, sea turtles, and more. Cozumel dive trips are among the world’s best underwater adventures.
Cozumel dive sites are geared toward beginner and advanced divers alike. So strap on your BCD, zip up your wet suit and get ready for an underwater adventure!
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Choosing Cozumel dive shops
As soon as you step off the ferry or land at the airport in Cozumel, you’ll be surrounded by people trying to sell you a diving trip. There are at least 45 5-star PADI dive resorts on Cozumel, and it can be extremely difficult to narrow down your options.
Obviously price is a major consideration when diving Cozumel. But the shops on the island offer generally consistent pricing — expect to pay about $80 for a two-tank dive. Cozumel diving packages generally don’t include equipment, so if you don’t have your own, add $15-$20 for rentals. You’ll get a discount if you book multiple days of diving with the same shop.
Equipment is another big consideration. When you visit a shop, check all their gear. Is it in good condition? Is it stored properly? Another thing that can distinguish Cozumel dive shops from one another is whether they give you a free dive computer to use during your dives.
Additionally, the range of trips available is worth asking about. Do you have your heart set on particular Cozumel dive sites? Do you want to do a night dive? Find out if these options are offered by any company you’re talking to.
I can personally and highly recommend Deep Blue as the best scuba diving company in Cozumel for a few reasons. Their equipment was top-notch and they gave every diver a dive computer for the day. When the weather wrecked havoc on my diving plans, they improvised and found a way to get me on the water safely without massively disrupting my schedule. And they offered the “twilight dive” option — a two-dive trip including one evening and one night dive.
Cozumel Dive Sites: How to find the sharks and rays
Most of the best dive sites on Cozumel are located off the west coast of the island, not far offshore.
The two sites everyone on Cozumel dive trips should do are Palancar and Santa Rosa Wall. Palancar is shallow, but Santa Rosa Wall is 20+ meters.
The coral at both sites is stunning — Palancar Gardens has an especially vivid display. You’ll also see sponges and endless varieties of small fish, including angelfish and groupers. Turtles are extremely common. I got extra-lucky at Palancar and saw an enormous eagle ray, lots of sting rays and an octopus.
If you have the time and the cash, I’d highly recommend doing at least one night dive while you’re diving Cozumel. Unlike in other popular diving destinations, you have a good chance of having the entire site — and maybe even the entire coast of the island! — to yourself.
Paradise and Chankanaab are the best night dive spots, and they are spectacular. I was lucky enough to get a moonless night, so the big critters came out early and were very active. I got several minutes with a shark at Chankanaab, where there are large overhangs for them to hide in. And at Paradise, I saw three (active) octopi and more eels than I could count, all with neon-colored coral and bio-luminescent plankton as a backdrop.
Want to learn more about the reefs of Cozumel and which sea life you’re likely to see? Check out this guide.
What to expect on Cozumel dive trips: Drift diving for beginners
The waters off the coast of Isla Cozumel have strong currents. All the diving here is drift diving — you jump into the sea in one place, coast down the current for a mile, and get picked up by the boat down-current.
It can be a little unnerving the first time you try it — you sacrifice a good amount of control. I wouldn’t recommend doing swim-throughs if it’s your first time drift-diving, as it’s pretty easy to mis-gauge how fast you’re going and hit something you could damage.
But once you get comfortable with the currents, it’s great fun. The current affects the animals, too — so you could be swept along the coastline alongside an octopus or sting ray!
Additionally, be prepared for strong winds and cold air temperatures. December through March is the best season to be in this part of Mexico weather-wise — but the winds can wreak havoc on your diving. When I was there, the port closed down for two days and they wouldn’t let dive boats out at all. When it finally reopened, a couple people on my boat got seasick.
Even though the water is warm, the air can be absolutely frigid — so much so that we just floated alongside the boat during our surface interval. If you’re even remotely sensitive to the cold, insist on a full-length wet suit.
Practicalities for visiting Cozumel
How to get to Cozumel
Cozumel is an hour-long ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. The docks are right on the beach. Buy a one-way ticket with whichever company is leaving first — and don’t get duped into a round-trip ticket, it’s totally unnecessary. (Have a few extra days? You can try diving Playa del Carmen too — it’s especially good for bull shark sightings or diving in caverns.)
It’s also possible to fly directly to the island from the U.S., but flights are pricey. You’re better off flying to Cancun and taking the bus/ferry.
If your Cozumel dive trips are the main reason you’re visiting the island, you don’t need to rent a car. Just stay in the main town of San Miguel and walk to the dive shop each day. However, the east coast of the island, with its beautiful and isolated beaches, is only accessible with your own wheels.
Where to stay during your Cozumel dive trips
There are a handful of hostels on the island, with dorms for $10-$15 a night. Hotels are pretty pricey — they mainly target the resort crowd. If you have serious cash and are planning splash-out Cozumel dive trips, all-inclusive diving resorts are the way to go.
I recommend Amigos Hostel Cozumel. It’s a little outside the main town of San Miguel, in a more local neighborhood, away from the cruise ships. The owner has tons of travel advice. It’s spotlessly clean. And you can get authentic Mexican food in her neighbor’s living room for about $2 a plate.
Where to eat on Cozumel
Since Cozumel dive trips aren’t cheap, you may want to seek out more affordable meals while staying on the island. This can seem hard at first glance, but really the key is to just avoid the area immediately around the cruise ship docks.
There are a bunch of good taquerias on Ave. Coldwell. Taqueria el Pique is especially good for cow’s head tacos (they also have options that appeal to less adventurous eaters).
Los Otates — just a few blocks away from the main square — is a good, affordable option for classic Mexican fare. A few quesadillas or an order of enchiladas won’t cost you more than $5, and the atmosphere is relaxed.
It’s definitely geared toward tourists, but Crazy King Burritos is maybe the best food deal in town. For just 60 pesos, you can get a huge and delicious vegetarian burrito — heaven after you’ve been burning off the calories on your Cozumel dive trips.
Extend your trip
Cozumel is part of the Mayan Riviera — a stunning stretch of Caribbean coastline heading south from Cancun all the way to the border with Belize.
Once you finish your Cozumel dive trips, consider spending a few days relaxing on the beach in Tulum. If you’re not sick of diving yet, you could give cenote (cavern) diving a try. Or, spend a few days hopping between towns — my five-day Riviera Maya itinerary can give you some ideas.
For more information about planning a trip to Mexico, check out my budget Mexico travel guide.
Without a doubt, Cozumel dive trips are among the top underwater experiences you can have in the Americas — and in the whole world, for that matter. So whether you’re on a quick beach holiday or a long-term backpacking trip, don’t miss out on diving in Cozumel!
Have you been on a dive trip in Cozumel? What did you think? Leave a comment!
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