A huge snorkeling destination, stretching from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of California

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 the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula (the “Mayan Riviera”, in Quintana Roo), bathed by the Caribbean Sea.

Akumal Bay, Mexico
Akumal Bay is one of the world’s best places to snorkel with green sea turtles.

Snorkeling in Yucatan and the Mayan Riviera

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 spot 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.

Green sea turtle in Akumal Bay.
A Green sea turtle in Akumal Bay.

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, Bahia Principe, or at Tulum Reef (which can only be reached by boat).

School of Caesar grunt at Xcacel
Xcacel‘s reef is pretty fishy (here, a shoal of Ceasar grunt).

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.

Casa Cenote.
The numerous cenotes sprinkled along the Riviera Maya are atypical snorkeling sites, don’t miss them if you happen to visit the region (here, Casa Cenote).

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.

Small freshwater fish hidden in roots at Casa Cenote.
Small freshwater fish hidden in roots at Casa Cenote.

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 Mayan Riviera is home to one of the largest Underwater Museums in the world, the MUSA, which features 500 sculptures in three different galleries. The two most important are at Manchones Reef (off Isla Mujeres) and Punta Nizuc, near Cancun. These sculptures attract a multitude of fish and invertebrate species.

Anthropocene sculpture at Manchones Reef
Anthropocene sculpture is one of the most remarkable in the MUSA Gallery at Manchones Reef.

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.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in Cancun.
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in Cancun.

Snorkeling in the Baja California Peninsula

On the other side of the country, the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is another great region for snorkeling in Mexico. Snorkeling is excellent year-round and allows encountering abundant sea life.

Chileno Bay, Mexico.
The rocky coast of the Cortez Sea has many snorkeling locations, like here in Chileno Bay, halfway between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo.

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, where the rocky outcrops to the south of the beach create some spectacular underwater scenery.

Cortez damselfish in Mexico
The Cortez angelfish, also known as the Cortez damselfish, is a common sighting in the Sea of Cortez.

Which sea life is likely to be spotted when snorkeling Mexico?

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.

Yellow stingray in Akumal Bay
A Yellow stingray in Akumal Bay, Quintana Roo.

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.

School of Threebanded butterflyfish in Mexico
The Threebanded butterflyfish is pretty common on Mexico’s west coast (here, in Chileno Bay).

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.

Juvenile Queen Angelfish
The Queen angelfish is one of the most beautiful fish species in the Caribbean. In this picture, a juvenile individual, photographed in Bahia Principe.

When to go snorkeling Mexico?

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).

Tankah Bay, Mexico.
Tankah Bay, Mexico.

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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