Planning to dive in Cozumel? This post on the best dive sites in Cozumel will help you pick the best dive places for your need and experience. It’s written by a local dive instructor so you can go wrong with her tips!
Cozumel is world-famous for drift diving along its dramatic walls and coral formations.
Working as a dive instructor, I have spent the last several years exploring every crevice of these reefs and can tell you that they never ceased to amaze me.
From thrilling wall dives to relaxing shallows, there is something for every type of diver in Cozumel.
Here is my guide to the best dive sites in Cozumel.
➢ Do I need travel insurance in Mexico? Yes, you do! I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens, I am covered. I have been using Safety Wing, and I find it quite fair, covering a lot for its pricing level. Depending on your needs or you can compare different insurance companies on this useful site, TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase. If you are undecided yet, you can read my post on the best travel insurance for Mexico for more clarity.
Diving in Cozumel: an overview of what you will find
The island of Cozumel is located just west of Playa del Carmen, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
The reefs of Cozumel are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System and the crystal clear water and amazing marine life have made it a top dive destination.
The middle section of the island is characterized by sloping walls and shallow reefs, and the southern part has large coral formations and dramatic walls.
In my guide to the best reefs, I will work my way down the island, giving you some information on my favorite sites so you can plan your best Mexican dive vacation.
If you are undecided about diving in Cozumel vs Playa del Carmen, I have got you covered as well.
Mexico dive sites map
THE BEST DIVE SITES IN COZUMEL
The best dive sites in Cozumel
1. Paradise Reef
The majority of dives in Cozumel take place in Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, a protected area that begins south of the main town of San Miguel de Cozumel, on the western side of the island, and extends past Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island.
These protected sites are the best places to see a variety of sea life and Cozumel’s famous coral formations.
As you head into the marine park the first dive site you arrive at is Paradise Reef.
This colorful, shallow reef has a maximum depth of 45 feet and is a great spot for beginner divers to spot a variety of sea creatures.
The generally mild current makes it a great location for divers who like to take their time and look for juvenile fish.
Paradise Reef is a popular night diving spot and is home to lobsters, crabs, eels, and many octopuses.
2. Felipe Xicotencatl wreck
As we head south, one of the first sites we come to is the Felipe Xicotencatl wreck, also known as the C-53.
The C-53 is an artificial reef, intentionally sunk in 80 feet of water in 1999, it now has beautiful coral growth on it and is home to lots of marine life.
I like to begin my dive on the C-53 by cruising around the outside of the ship, taking my time to peer into the holes cut and look at the schools of glassy sweepers and search for the resident green moray eel.
Large holes were cut into the ship, and divers who are comfortable with swim-throughs can tour the inside of the C-53, enjoying how the light streams into the different rooms.
Further south from the C-53 wreck you will come to Punta Tunich, a dramatic wall dive.
Punta Tunich is a beautiful, steep wall that is known for having swift currents but is a great spot for seeing a variety of marine life, such as hawksbill turtles and nurse sharks.
Depending on the conditions the current here can be very fast, but for divers who are comfortable with swift currents, it is an exciting ride as you fly past hawksbill turtles, nurse sharks, and large rainbow parrotfish.
The wall occasionally curves, giving divers a place to hide from the current and look under ledges for small creatures such as splendid toadfish and spotted drums.
3. Reefs of Yucab and Tormentos
Divers who prefer shallow reefs and mild currents should ask to go to the nearby reefs of Yucab and Tormentos.
These shallow reefs sit between a beautiful sandy patch and are a treat for divers of all experience levels.
I like to visit this area either as a second dive or even a night dive because the area is full of a variety of corals and fish.
Here we get a break from the strong currents and can move slowly, looking for flamingo tongues, fireworms, and a variety of small shrimp as well as keeping our eyes open for sea turtles and nurse sharks cruising on the reef.
4. San Francisco and San Clemente
Further south from here we come to San Francisco and San Clemente, two gently sloping walls covered in sponges with beautiful orange and purple colors.
The top of these reefs is shallow, making it a great spot to take new divers. Divers of all experience levels can visit these walls because the top of the reef is shallow.
I love to take students on the last dive of their open water certification here because we can go down on the shallow top of the reef and slowly make our way out onto the wall.
The gentle slope allows new divers to experience the feeling of peacefully floating over the endless reef for the first time while looking out into the blue for groups of large barracuda.
5. Santa Rosa Wall
No dive trip to Cozumel would be complete without visiting the famous Santa Rosa Wall.
Santa Rosa is a steep, nearly vertical wall with many swim-throughs to explore.
Divers can explore this wall as a first dive reaching maximum depths of between 80 and 100 feet, with many of the swim-throughs between 50 and 80 feet.
These swim-throughs take us back and forth between the wall and the sandy area. For me, there is nothing more beautiful than exploring the swim-throughs on a sunny day and seeing the sunbeams shine through crevices in the swim through.
Although Santa Rosa is a wonderful first dive, for divers who frequent the island and want to have a different experience, I recommend doing Santa Rosa as a second dive or shallow dive.
The top of the wall is between 40 and 60 feet and is home to many fish and creatures, including rays swimming in the shallow sandy areas.
From the top of the wall, divers can look out into the blue abyss hoping to see large grouper swim by and enjoy the activity of the reef fish, such as blue tang and parrotfish.
Just south of Santa Rosa Wall is Cedral. Cedral reef covers a large area and it has it all – steep wall, sloping dunes, a shallow reef, and a great variety of marine life.
Coral and sponge cover the dramatic wall as far down as you can see in the crystal clear water, the dune slopes up from a sandy bottom around 65 feet to 40 feet, and the colorful shallow reef is between 50 and 30 feet, making it a great dive site for a multilevel dive, either as a first or second dive.
The shallow reef has a long swim through that takes divers from side to side of the reef. The topography of Cedral is strikingly beautiful and there are countless ledges and crevices to explore.
In addition to its beautiful topography, Cedral is known for having active fish and marine life.
The current in this area is generally moderate to fast and as divers fly over the reef they are treated to a buzz of activity, including filefish, triggerfish, trumpetfish, and groups of large rainbow parrotfish.
Cedral is a great place for divers to spot hawksbill and green turtles, they can often be found here munching on sponges.
It is common to see nurse sharks cruising around this area and in the winter months, it is common to see Eagle Rays swimming between the wall and shallow reef searching for food.
As you sail down the reef you will find several large coral heads that you can tuck behind and look for resident green moray eels.
7. La Francesa and Dalila reefs
Continuing south in the marine park we will come to La Francesa and Dalila reefs.
The top of these colorful reefs is around 35 feet and has a maximum depth of 65 feet, surrounded by bright white sand.
La Francesa and Dalila reefs are great for divers of all experience levels and are some of the best places to watch the fish activity.
As you glide down these reefs take a look over your shoulder onto the sandy areas and you may be treated to views of nurse sharks swimming along.
On the shallow tops of the reef, you should take your time and look for small creatures such as flamingo tongues and the Cozumel splendid toadfish.
8. Palancar Reef
► suitable for all experience levels
Just south of La Francesa and Dalila we arrive at Palancar Reef and the reefs begin to look much different.
Until we arrive at Palancar Reef the areas are characterized by sloping walls and colorful shallow reefs. Starting in Palancar, and extending to the southern tip of the island, we will see Cozumel’s famous, large coral pinnacles.
Beginning at Palancar Reef until the southern tip of the island the topography of the reefs changes from the shallow reefs and sloping walls and we begin to see Cozumel’s famous large coral pinnacles.
The further south we go on the island the coral formations get larger, deeper and further spread apart.
Palancar Gardens is the first reef in the area to find these beautiful formations with coral pinnacles reaching from the sand between 60 and 80 feet up to 30 feet against the beautiful blue backdrop of the wall.
This dive is great for divers of all experience levels.
Beginner divers can jump in 20 feet of shallow sand and slowly work their way across the top of the reef until they are on the top of the coral formations.
From depths of 30 to 40 feet, they can look down in the crystal clear water and see the impressive coral heads rising up from the deep.
The top of Palancar Gardens is home to many hawksbill turtles and in the shallow areas, you can find all sorts of reef fish, including juvenile damselfish.
Divers who stay in the shallow section of Palancar Garden will often see bubbles floating up from the cracks in the reef from divers deeper below who are touring the many swim-throughs.
Palancar Gardens has countless swim-throughs between 40 and 80 feet, a great place for divers with good buoyancy control to tour around between the coral formations.
In the swim-throughs divers can find groups of glassy sweepers, lobsters, and the occasional moray eels hiding in the dark.
Palancar Gardens is a very popular dive site and can get crowded during the high season, so I recommend asking your dive operator to take you there in the afternoon – not only will the site be less crowded but the afternoon light will illuminate the colorful corals.
9. Palancar Caves
► recommended for advanced and intermediate divers
Further south within the Palancar Reef system we come to Palancar Caves, where the coral formations are even more dramatic than at Palancar Gardens.
Palancar Caves is a must-visit dive site for advanced and intermediate divers who love swim-throughs.
In this area large coral pinnacles reach from depths and divers can find protection from the current slowly winding their way around the coral formations and through the tunnels that take them through the coral formations.
Divers can tuck into these formations to hide from the current. Often these tunnels take divers from a sandy area out onto the majestic vertical wall.
Although Palancar Caves is a famous dive site for experienced divers, new divers can also enjoy a great dive along the shallow top of this reef.
The top of the reef is as shallow as 30 feet in spots and is home to splendid toadfish and small eels.
From the top of the reef, divers can spot Spotted Eagle Rays flying between the wall and the shallow sand as they look for a meal of conch shells.
10. Palancar Bricks
Palancar Bricks is the furthest south section of the Palancar Reef. Here divers find large heads rising from the sandy bottom along the wall.
The biggest coral heads have canyons cutting through them, with large arches and swim-throughs for divers to explore – often with beautiful rays of sunlight shining down, the rays creating dramatic contrasts on the interior of the swim-throughs.
Regardless of how many times you have dove Cozumel, this is an area that you do not want to miss.
There are countless routes dive guides can explore with their divers, cruising through arches and tunnels to explore between coral formations.
Occasionally divers will see large grouper swimming out over the wall or a sleeping nurse shark under a ledge.
11. Columbia Reef (shallow)
The next area we arrive at is Columbia Reef, which is divided into three distinct sections: deep, regular, and shallow.
Columbia Shallow is a great spot for new divers or ones still working on completing their, it is a shallow reef sitting on sand around 30 feet.
This shallow area is busy with reef fish activity with lots of trunkfish, small pufferfish, and small rays cruising on the sand.
12. Columbia Reef (normal)
The area known as Columbia Normal has a shallow reef that runs parallel to the wall. The shallow reef starts at 40 feet and slopes down to the wall and coral formations.
The top of the wall is around 50 feet. This topography allows divers to decide how they want to explore this site, going deep along the wall, looking to a swim through between 60 and 80 feet, or staying shallow on the top of the reef.
Regardless of what depth you want to go to, Columbia Normal is a beautiful dive that I recommend to all divers who visit Cozumel because of the incredible coral formations.
There are areas of Columbia that have deep white sand with enormous coral pinnacles reaching between 80 – 100 feet up with colors popping in contrast to the blue waters.
It is truly an amazing experience to navigate yourself between the coral formations all the while keeping an eye out for loggerhead turtles or eagle rays.
13. Columbia Reef (Columbia deep)
The last section of Columbia is Columbia Deep.
True to its name, this section of Columbia is deeper than the other two, here the top of the coral is between 50 and 60 feet.
There are enormous coral formations along the wall that are separated by deep white sandy stretches. I recommend Columbia Deep for experienced divers because of the depth and the need for good buoyancy control to navigate between the formations.
For advanced divers, this is a strikingly beautiful site with pristine coral growth and the chance to spot large marine animals such as reef sharks and eagle rays.
14. Southern Point (Punta Sur)
Punta Sur, or Southern Point, is a reef far in the south of the island of Cozumel, and a spectacular dive site for advanced divers.
Punta Sur is a deep dive, the top of the coral formations is 60 feet, with swim-throughs from 80 feet and deeper.
For divers who are comfortable with current and depth, Punta Sur has beautiful coral structures to enjoy.
The southern section of Punta Sur, often referred to as Punta Sur Sur is full of tunnels that lead divers from the dramatic blue wall across to the sandy side of the reef and back out to the wall.
In the winter months, it is possible to see eagle rays and blacktip reef sharks in the blue over the abyss.
In the northern section of Punta Sur is the famous swim through known as Devil’s Throat – a narrow, nearly vertical swim through that starts in a chamber around 80 feet and ends on the wall at 115 feet.
Devil’s Throat is a thrilling dive for advanced divers who are comfortable navigating in tight swim-throughs, make sure you take a dive light for this swim-through as it is dark in the tunnel.
After emerging on the wall after Devil’s Throat, divers can either slowly work their way up the wall or work their wind their way up to more swim-throughs.
If you are interested in diving at Punta Sur, talk to your dive operator to organize an advanced dive boat to visit this site.
The best dive sites in Cozumel in the north of the Island
The majority of dives in Cozumel will take place in the marine park; however, experienced divers may have the opportunity to visit dive sites in the north of the island.
15. San Juan and Barracuda Wall
These dive sites are located north of the town of San Miguel, and the most famous are San Juan and Barracuda Wall.
The north of the island is known for unpredictable and fast currents, so I recommend that only advanced divers visit these areas.
Barracuda Wall is a deep, dramatic wall that begins around 90 feet. Here divers get the chance to fly past large barracuda and jacks. If you are interested in exploring the north, talk to your dive operator.
Is Dive Insurance necessary?
The short answer is: yes! Although we all hope that nothing bad will ever happen to you, you never know.
I always prefer to be safe than sorry and a small investment today can save you tons of dollars tomorrow.
Hyperbaric chambers and hospitalization, in general, are outrageously expensive in Mexico
🔽 Get a free Dive Assure quote here 🔽
THE BEST DIVE SITES IN COZUMEL
When it’s the best time to dive in Cozumel?
You can plan your trip to dive in Cozumel anytime throughout the year, with each season having its own advantages.
Diving in Cozumel in the high season
The high season for diving in Cozumel is during the winter months, from November until March.
In addition to the obvious appeal for many northerners to escape their coldest months and come dive in warm Cozumel, the winter months are a great time to dive Cozumel because it is the season to see the spotted eagle rays.
The spotted eagle rays arrive on the island around mid-November and stay through spring, making it common to see individuals or groups of them on your dives.
Small blacktip and reef sharks are also common to see during the winter months.
Aside from the exciting possibility to see larger marine animals, the winter usually provides crystal clear water and good current conditions for divers.
The water temperatures in the winter are usually between 78 and 80 degrees, with air temperatures in the 80s.
For divers who are prone to get chilled, I recommend a long wetsuit either 3mm or 5mm for those who are really sensitive to the cold.
This time of year many divers also bring an extra layer of a hooded vest or hood, as well as a windbreaker or jacket for the boat.
These layers are especially helpful for divers who plan to dive several days in a row and can start to feel chilled.
During the winter months, it is possible for strong winds from the north to blow in.
These wind storms, called Nortes, can bring rain or just strong wind that makes the western side of the island very rough.
When the conditions get too rough the port captain will close the port to recreation activities.
These winds can last from one afternoon to a few days.
For divers who come in the winter months, I recommend they schedule as much of their diving as possible at the beginning of their vacation, that way if a Norte blows in and the port is closed for a few days they can still reschedule their dives at the later end of their vacation.
The high season winter months provide great diving; however, some divers feel the disadvantage of coming during these months is the sheer volume of divers on the reef.
During high season any given reef will have multiple dive boats and groups, making it very important for divers to pay attention and stay close to their guide.
If you want a chance to experience the reef without lots of other groups talk to your dive operator about scheduling your dives at some of the most popular reefs in the afternoon since most groups go out diving in the morning.
Diving in Cozumel from April through October ( low season)
While not considered high season, the months of April through October still offer great diving in Cozumel.
These months are technically the rainy season, with the most rain falling in September and October. Despite being the rainy season, it is uncommon for it to rain all day.
During the months of May to August, it is usually sunny and hot, with a brief and sometimes strong rain shower during the day, but not enough rain to interrupt your vacation plans. T
here are a few dive sites that get sediment runoff after strong rains which affects the water visibility. Your guide will be able to help you pick dive sites that have clear water despite the rain.
Generally, the months of September and October get the most rain and have the greatest risk of a hurricane hitting the island.
These months have the least amount of divers visiting the island, but if you are willing to take a chance on more rain or the unlikely possibility of a hurricane you will be rewarded with dive sites that feel almost empty of other divers.
During the summer months, both the air and water temperatures are quite warm and many divers are comfortable diving without a neoprene wetsuit.
If you choose to dive without a wetsuit I would still recommend a rashguard or skin to protect from any small jellyfish stings and sun while on the surface.
THE BEST DIVE SITES IN COZUMEL
The Average Cost of Diving in Cozumel
The average cost of diving in Cozumel is between 90 and 100 USD for a two-tank dive.
Single tank and night dives are generally between 60 and 70 USD.
If you are planning to dive for several days, check with your dive operator to see if they offer a discount plan for several days of diving.
Many shops also offer group discounts for those who are traveling with a group, check with them before your arrival.
Full gear rental is generally between 20 and 30 USD per day.
For divers who will be going into the marine park, there is a 5 USD park entrance fee per diver per day.
I suggest that divers confirm with their dive shops if they include taxes in these costs. Most shops include all local taxes; however, it is best to check with each shop.
THE BEST DIVE SITES IN COZUMEL
Hyperbaric Chambers in Cozumel
Cozumel has several hospitals with hyperbaric chambers to treat dive accidents.
Since Cozumel has a high number of divers, both recreational and fisherman, there are also several chambers to treat them should they suffer an accident.
Most divers who need hyperbaric treatment will go to the International Hospital, San Miguel Hospital, or CostaMed Hospital.
These hospitals offer great medical care for all types of accidents a diver could experience.
Costs for hyperbaric treatment can reach up to hundreds of dollars an hour, with total treatment costing several thousands of dollars.
I suggest all divers invest in dive insurance before their dive vacations. No one thinks they will have an accident, but it is important to plan ahead.
Companies such as DAN and DiveAssure offer great coverage for divers and work with local hospitals.
THE BEST DIVE SITES IN COZUMEL
The best diving sites in Cozumel: final thoughts
Cozumel diving is world-famous for its crystal clear water, drift diving, and coral formations.
Whether you are looking for thrilling dives with fast currents and dramatic walls or easy drifts over shallow reefs, Cozumel reefs will give you the best dive experience in Mexico.
Talk to your dive operator in Cozumel to help you plan the perfect dive vacation.
More about Cozumel
► Amazing things to do in Cozumel
► Top All-inclusive resorts in Cozumel
► The most gorgeous Airbnb in Cozumel
► The best Dive Shops in Cozumel
► Cancun vs Cozumel: which one is better for a great vacation?
► 8 Fun Facts about Cozumel
► How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum
► The best sites to go snorkeling in Cozumel
More pictures of Cozumel
Meet the Author: Adrienne Banka
Adrienne Banka is a Michigander and fell in love with diving at 16 years old. Now she is an island living dive instructor turned brewmaster, turned mom. When she is not in the water she enjoys riding her bike and chasing after her dog an eight-month-old.
✨ Mexico Travel Planning Guide ✨
👉 Do I Need Travel Insurance to Travel to Mexico?
I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out SafetyWing which I have used and find it affordable and comprehensive and also Travel Insurance Master which is great because you can insert all your information and what kind of insurance you need and their system will pull out the best insurance for your need.
🚰 Can I Drink Tap Water in Mexico?
No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.
🚗 Is It Safe to Drive in Mexico?
The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I recommend Discover Cars because the site offers the option to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.
Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.
📱 Will My Phone Work in Mexico?
It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!
🤕 Is It Safe to Travel to Mexico Right Now?
The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around.
Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunting expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keeping a low profile.
Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:
💉 Do I Need Any Vaccine to Travel to Mexico?
No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico
🇲🇽 Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Mexico?
If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form that you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine.
Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards.
It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa
💸 Where Do I Find the Best Travel Deals for Mexico? 💸
A trip to Mexico can be expensive if you love to travel with all the comforts (like I do). There are a few tricks that will help you find the best deals. Here are my tips:
👉 DON’T travel in the high season, which is Holy week, Christmas and winter in general, and August.
👉 Book months in advance to find early booking discounts
👉 Use aggregators such as Discover Cars to find price comparisons and VRBO for vacation rentals!
👉 Look for packages flights+hotels on Expedia.
👉 Check on Booking.com or Hotels.com for hotel deals