Playa del Carmen, the world-famous seaside resort in Riviera Maya, is practically a must-see for visitors to the region. Its vast sandy beach and nightlife have made its reputation. Contrary to received opinion, you can do some snorkeling from the center of Playa del Carmen on a small reef lying about 150 yards from the beach. Here you will find a nice range of fish in surprisingly well preserved coral beds.

How to get there?

If you visit the Yucatan peninsula, it is quite likely that Playa del Carmen will be one of the places you stay (or perhaps your main destination) during your trip. This large town, about 40 miles (65km, 1 hour by road) to the south of Cancun international airport, is the main access point to the island of Cozumel and the seaside resorts of the Mayan Riviera.

Sea fans at Playa del Carmen - Mexico snorkeling

Once you’ve arrived in the center of Playa del Carmen, head for the sea front. Walk north along the beach (to the left as you are facing the sea), until you arrive at a spot where a few dozen fishing boats are moored. This is about 0.6 mile/1km north of the quay for ferries to Cozumel. The snorkeling spot is on the reef that you can see about 200 yards from the shore, beyond the mooring area. A good landmark to look for on the beach is the Reef Coco Beach Hotel, which is across from the snorkeling spot.

Playa del Carmen snorkeling map, Mexico

Water entrance

You enter the water from the sandy beach facing the mooring area. Swim between the boats towards the reef, keeping an eye out for boats sailing nearby. Keep alert and signal your presence until you reach the reef.

Exploration

Don’t miss out on the area where the fishing boats are moored (↕3-6ft/1-2m), since the buoys have given rise to small islands of interesting marine life. Juveniles from many different species (surgeonfish, sergeant major fish or grunts) have found a home there.

French grunt at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Then swim towards the reef. As you move forwards, the sandy seabed gradually gives way to coral rocks covered in sea fans (↕6-10ft/2-3m). Stay on the inner side of the reef, which you move along at right angles to the beach.

The coral covering is not exceptional but relatively well preserved for an urbanized area. Impressive shoals of grunts and surgeonfish move along the reef. You might see dozens of other species at this spot, particularly boxfish, needlefish, butterflyfish and, with a little luck, French angelfish.

Smooth trunkfish at Playa del Carmen

The spot has surprisingly few visitors. If you stay alert (the boats being the main potential danger), you can explore it in complete safety. If you are staying in Playa del Carmen, don’t hesitate to pay it a visit, as this is a spot that is accessible, free, and anything but disappointing.

Restaurants & accommodation

In Playa del Carmen, there is a whole host of restaurants, snack bars, supermarkets and accommodation. But you should take your own snacks and drinks because the snorkeling spot is in a hotel area where choice is limited.

Species you may spot while snorkeling Playa del Carmen
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME ABUNDANCE FISHBASE WIKIPEDIA
French angelfish Pomacanthus paru  
Sergeant major Abudefduf saxatilis  
Banded butterflyfish Chaetodon striatus  
Foureye butterflyfish Chaetodon capistratus  
Smooth trunkfish Lactophrys triqueter  
Doctorfish tang Acanthurus chirurgus  
Atlantic blue tang Acanthurus coeruleus  
French grunt Haemulon flavolineatum  
Venus sea fan Gorgonia flabellum  
Purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina  
  • Level required Intermediary
  • Maximum depth10ft/3m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersBoats
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersLow
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.