Bathed by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of California, Mexico introduces snorkelers to an extraordinary diversity of underwater environments. The Riviera Maya, in particular, offers an unequalled diversity of snorkeling spots. Lose yourself into the clear emerald green waters of a cenote near Tulum, experience the wonder of swimming with a majestic whale shark off Cancun, and finally relax with green sea turtles in the shallow waters of exquisite Akumal Bay… If you are looking for snorkeling adventure, look no further.
The hotspots for snorkeling in Mexico are the Gulf of California (which Jacques-Yves Cousteau called “the world’s aquarium”), the islets and reefs opposite Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico (known as the Sistema Arrecifal Veracruzano), and above all the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula (the “Mayan Riviera”, in Quintana Roo state), bathed by the Caribbean Sea.
The Mayan Riviera boasts some of the most beautiful snorkeling spots in Mexico. Most of them are concentrated on the coast which stretches from Puerto Aventuras in the north to Tulum in the south.
It is in this region that Akumal Bay, the most famous – and busiest – snorkeling spots of the Riviera, is located. This bay, covered with seagrass protected by a coral reef, is a top location for snorkeling with green sea turtles and southern stingrays. Access conditions are however restrictive, and you must hire a guide to go snorkeling with the turtles.
In the same area, several reef spots can be snorkeled. Xcacel, 5 miles south of Akumal, and Xpuha, near Puerto Aventuras, are some of the best reef snorkeling options. Both are accessible from the beach. It is also possible to get into the water at Tankah Bay, at Bahia Principe, or at Tulum Reef (which can only be reached by boat).
However, if you want to explore the most beautiful reef on the coast, head to Puerto Morelos, between Playa del Carmen and Cancun. The local reef, covered with corals and sea fans, and protected by a National Park, is still very preserved. This spot can only be reached with boat trips, and wearing a floating vest is mandatory.
While the reefs of the Mayan Riviera are worth a visit, don’t leave the region without exploring a cenote. These mythical natural water holes, hidden in the jungle and linked to underground caves, are unique snorkeling spots. With their crystalline waters, their atypical aquatic fauna (including freshwater turtles and fish), they will leave you with unforgettable memories.
Some of the most recommended cenotes for snorkeling include Casa Cenote, Cenote Pet Cemetery, and Cenote Dos Ojos, but there are many other options.
The Quintana Roo is also home to one of the most important underwater museums in the world, the MUSA, which features more than 500 artworks in three locations. The two most important are Manchones Reef (close to Isla Mujeres) and Punta Nizuc, near Cancun. Gradually colonized by underwater life, the sculptures also play an important ecological role.
The Mayan Riviera is also considered one of the top destinations in the world for snorkeling with whale sharks, which are found in numbers offshore from mid-May to mid-September. You’ll find many local companies that offer tours to snorkel with these giants of the seas.
On the other side of the country, the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is another great region for snorkeling in Mexico. You can get in the water in the hundreds of coves that border the Baja California peninsula, still wild and unspoiled. The Cabo San Lucas region, very popular, is home to some of the most visited spots. If you are visiting the area, try Playa Empacadora, Playa Santa Maria, or Chileno Bay.
The Caribbean Sea and the Sea of Cortez are two different ecosystems, with 99% distinct fish and invertebrate species. On the Caribbean side, you’ll mostly explore coral reefs, while the seabed is rocky on the Pacific coast.
While snorkeling on the Yucatán Peninsula, you may see French angelfish, queen angelfish, nurse sharks, several species of grunt and surgeons, butterflyfish, and many wrasses. Encounters with stingrays, spotted eagle rays and green sea turtles are pretty common, especially in Puerto Morelos and Akumal.
The Sea of Cortez also has its emblematic species, rather easy to see along the coasts. Some of the most colorful are the king angelfish, the Cortez angelfish, the Cortez rainbow wrasse, butterflyfish, and yellowtail surgeons.
If you are planning a trip to Mexico and want to take a fish ID guide with you, we recommend the excellent Reef Fish Identification – Florida Caribbean Bahamas (also available in ebook) for the Caribbean Coast, and Reef Fish Identification – Baja to Panama (available in ebook too) for the Gulf of California. These two books are the reference guides to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling in the country.
The best season for snorkeling in Mexico is between October and April. In the Yucatan peninsula, the rainy season (from June to October) accounts for 90% of the annual rainfall.
The coolest period goes from November to January (72-79°F/22-26°C, water at 79°F/26°C on average) and the warmest from June to August (79-86°F/26-30°C, water at 84°F/29°C on average).
In the cenotes, the water temperature is at a constant 75°F/24°C. On the coasts of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, cyclones are common in September and October.
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Unmissable in Akumal Bay seagrass meadows; frequently sighted in Puerto Morelos; rare elsewhere
Unmissable in Akumal Bay seagrass meadows; occasional sightings along the Mayan Riviera
Massive and healthy colonies at Puerto Morelos reef
Frequent on all reef spots of the Caribbean coast
On all the spots of the Caribbean coast, but uncommon
Common on sea fans, particularly in Playa del Carmen, Akumal Bay, Xcacel and Puerto Morelos
On all the spots of the Caribbean coast, commonly in large schools
On all the spots of the Caribbean coast
Freshwater pools and caves
Large offshore area visited by whale sharks
Shallow seagrass beds with turtles and stingrays
Freshwater pools with rocks, algae and fish
Rocky, sandy and coral beds with a great diversity of fish
Free shore access
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