- When to Go Diving
- Scuba Diving in Mexico
- Best Dive Locations
- Marine Life
- Diving Conditions
- How To Get There
The scuba diving in Mexico is some of the most varied of any country in the world.
Very few countries offer the opportunity to explore a tropical Caribbean paradise, unique and extensive underwater cave system as well as exhilarating pelagic diving.
As if that wasn’t enough, the cultural side of Mexico is an attraction all of its own.
Blending a history of Spanish colonization, ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations and rugged natural beauty, few places can match the rich culture that Mexico offers.
Because Mexico has got a treat for you!
- Cenote Diving – Dive into the labyrinthine world of freshwater caves in the Yucatan Peninsula
- Socorro Island – Get up close and personal with a host of pelagics in the “Mexican Galapagos”
- Great White Sharks – Try cage diving with these apex predators in Guadalupe
- Baja California – Dive in the Sea of Cortez, one of the richest seas in the world
- Caribbean Sun – The pristine Caribbean Sea has a host of attractions including bull sharks, sea lions and stunning coral reefs
When To Go Diving
Generally speaking, Mexico is a tropical country with year-round warm weather. Though, as a large country, the weather conditions vary widely depending on your location.
Many diving locations in Mexico are excellent all year round, some have optimal seasons or are only accessible in certain months.
We go into more detail for each destination below but here’s a quick overview.
November to May
- Calm seas in the Pacific mean this is the liveaboard season for Socorro Island. Whale sharks are most common in November and December, whilst winter brings breeding and birthing humpback whales. Mantas can be seen year-round.
- It’s also the best time of year for diving with bull sharks in Playa del Carmen.
- This is the busiest time of year for most of Mexico so book early to avoid disappointment!
May to September
- This is the best time of year for cenote diving and for photographers to capture the stunning sunbeams. The high position of the sun in the sky produces the best light shows in the ancient sinkholes.
- This is the best time to see whale sharks on Isla Mujeres.
- Tourism wise, this is Mexico’s quietest time. The dive sites are less busy and there are some great deals to be had.
July to November
- With the water at its coldest in Guadalupe, this is the best time to encounter great white sharks. Better wrap up warm!
- Conversely, it is the warmest and calmest time of the year in the Sea of Cortez and is the best season to jump on a liveaboard. Along with the calm dive sites and good deals that come with offseason, it’s also the best time of year to see hammerheads!
- Though it is possible to dive year-round in Cozumel and the Yucatan Peninsula, August and September bring the best visibility.
- Whilst the weather is often fine, it is worth noting that this is hurricane season and trip or dive insurance is a very good idea!
Scuba Diving in Mexico
Best Dive Locations
The scuba diving in Mexico really does have something to suit everyone. It’s so varied, that you’re sure to find something to suit you!
Let’s dive in.
1. Socorro Island (Pacific)
Sometimes referred to as the “Galapagos of Mexico”, Socorro Island (and the rest of the Revillagigedo Archipelago – San Benedicto, Clarion and Roca Partida Islands) offer some of the best diving in Mexico and the world.
Sitting over 400km from Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, Socorro Island is only accessible via liveaboards with a 24-hour boat crossing from the mainland. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best locations in the world to dive with big pelagics.
Diving on Socorro Island is not for the faint-hearted. The chilly waters, fierce deep ocean currents and dramatic weather systems that batter these islands create some challenging, adrenaline-fueled diving.
But for the experienced diver, this exciting and demanding location yields big rewards, a fact evident from the moment you enter the water.
The dive sites of Socorro Island are teeming with life. Very few other scuba diving locations offer such an array of large marine species. Giant oceanic manta rays, whale sharks and hammerheads can be seen year-round and during the winter months, hundreds of humpback whales fill the waters as they migrate here to breed and give birth, resulting in breathtaking encounters.
The best months to visit are between November and May when the seas are at their calmest. It’s also the best time of year to spot humpbacks. From May to July, large bait balls of small fish swirl around the archipelago, drawing in predators like silky sharks, hammerheads and enormous tuna.
Visibility is excellent and usually exceeds 20m, though it can vary with plankton blooms, which occur most frequently around the full moon and attract the biggest fish. Water temperatures range from 21°C in February to 28°C in November, though the exposed location means that dramatic thermoclines are common and we recommend a good wetsuit!
There are numerous sites scattered across the islands but perhaps the best known is “The Boiler”. It combines excellent visibility and one of the best opportunities to see multiple giant oceanic mantas.
2. Guadalupe (Pacific)
Guadalupe is located 260km west of Mexico’s Baja California region and is known for one thing – great white sharks.
Along with California, Australia and South Africa, Guadalupe is one of the only places in the world where you can reliably dive with these apex predators.
From July to November each year, dozens of courageous divers make the pilgrimage to this tiny volcanic island deep in the Pacific Ocean. The summer months bring groups of excitable males, while the end of the season brings the larger females in from the deep.
The only way to get in the water in Guadalupe is to cage dive. Some operators lower the cages into the water, which requires participants to hold a scuba diving qualification. Others simply have the cage at the water surface, which also allows complete beginners and snorkellers to get in on the action.
You’re not allowed to dive without a cage!
The water can get chilly, ranging between 19 and 22°C, so a good wetsuit is required. Visibility is normally good – between 30 and 40m, though it can sometimes drop to around 15m. The most popular dive site is Discovery Bay, though the only attraction is the sharks and their prey, a colony of fur seals.
3. Los Cabos (Sea of Cortez)
Los Cabos is a municipality in the southern Baja California region of Mexico. It comprises of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo and the 20 miles of “resort corridor that links them. It also commonly refers to Cabo Pulmo, just a little further up the coast. It is a popular tourist destination, particularly amongst Americans, and hides a wealth of excellent scuba diving.
The diving options around Los Cabos are extensive, from simple beginner dives to exhilarating dives only suitable for experts. Most dives are accessed by speed boat but there are also some shore dives. There are rocky reefs which lead to dramatic walls, as well as pinnacles, wrecks and drifts.
Los Cabos is situated where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet, capturing a wide array of both tropical and more temperate species. Cabo San Lucas is especially popular for its protected bays and reefs which hold a wealth of tropical fish and macro critters, as well as some mischievous sea lions!
Further offshore at Gordo Banks and the El Bajo Seamount, you are more likely to spot big pelagics as they migrate. Huge bait balls form and you can see huge gray whales and humpbacks feasting, as well as other giants like scalloped hammerhead sharks, schooling mobula rays (see the video below!), tuna, marlin, mantas, dolphins, seals and even the occasional whale shark.
Conditions can be challenging, with strong deep-sea currents and choppy surface conditions.
Cabo Pulmo is a protected National Marine Park and features the northernmost hard coral reef in North America. The shallow, tropical waters are fantastic for snorkellers as well as scuba divers.
Though the months between June and November offer the best underwater conditions (and the best sightings of mobula rays), the best time to spot big pelagics in the waters around Los Cabos is between December and May. Water temperatures range from 27°C in the summer months and can drop as low as 20°C in the winter.
4. La Paz (Sea of Cortez)
La Paz is known as the gateway to the Sea of Cortez, an area famed for its marine biodiversity. It is the capital of the Baja California region of Mexico and is popular amongst nature lovers for its stunning mountains, deserts and ocean vistas, as well as scuba divers for being the “aquarium of the world”.
One of the most popular attractions is Isla Los Islotes, which features large colonies of sea lions. The playful creatures, nicknamed the puppies of the sea, create a unique diving opportunity, though you can also choose to snorkel.
The best time of year to dive with sea lions is between December and May, and the colonies are closed to visitors between 1st of July and the 31st August each year for breeding.
La Reina is another excellent site, where you can get up close and personal with giant oceanic manta rays. There are also opportunities to see giant hammerheads sharks, as well as whale sharks during October and November. If you keep one eye on the blue, there is always a chance you will also see grey or humpback whales.
They don’t call La Paz a pelagic paradise for nothing!
The best season for a liveaboard is between August and November when the Sea of Cortez is at its warmest. The water is around 27°C at this time and visibility is good. The weather also transitions from extremely hot and humid to pleasantly cooler with a little rain.
Though the weather is usually good, it is hurricane season and purchasing dive insurance is a very good idea! It is also the best time of year to spot hammerheads.
There are also other places to explore around La Paz, such as artificial reefs and shipwrecks. Though most sites in the Sea of Cortez are well protected and suitable for beginner divers, some sites are more advanced.
The renowned El Bajo Seamounts are an excellent place to spot all sorts of oceanic pelagics like schools of mobula rays, hammerheads, dolphins, marlin and tuna, but beware that they can experience challenging conditions.
5. Cancún (Yucatán Peninsula)
Cancun is synonymous with Mexico’s party lifestyle, drawing thousands of tourists and “spring breakers” to its sunny beaches each year. But underneath the sparkling waters, there is also some of the best scuba diving in Mexico which includes reefs, wrecks and other notable sites.
Just offshore is the Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA) which is also known as Manchones Reef. This underwater art exhibit, created by English artist Jason de Caires Taylor, features over 500 permanent, life-size sculptures.
The statues can be a little eerie and make for a great, and unusual dive. The sculptures serve a dual purpose – it provides a base to aid in the regrowth of corals in the area and relieves touristic pressure on reef based dive sites.
6. Isla Mujeres (Yucatán Peninsula)
Close to Cancun lies Isla Mujeres, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea. From June to September each year, it becomes busy with hundreds of whale sharks, especially around the small island of Isla Holbox, who come to feed on large schools of krill.
It is thought to be one of the biggest congregations of whale sharks anywhere in the world with sometimes over 100 individuals sighted in one day. Whilst you are almost guaranteed a sighting, the whale shark diving industry in Mexico is heavily regulated so check out your dive operator before you book.
Another attracted of Isla Mujeres is the chance to dive with intimidating looking sailfish during the winter months. They patrol the waters, feeding on dense bait balls which creates an adrenaline-fuelled and unforgettable dive.
7. Cozumel (Yucatán Peninsula)
Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island and it lies 10 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a popular scuba diving destination and weekend getaway, easily accessed by sea or air. Cozumel maintains a more laidback and relaxed vibe than the bigger tourist destinations on the mainland.
The diving in Cozumel is some of the best in Mexico. It is part of the Great Maya Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world. Between the island and the mainland is a deep oceanic trench which acts as a funnel for nutrient-dense currents. This constant influx of nutrients ensures both the quality and quantity of marine life.
Marine life is tropical and very vivid. You can expect clouds of colourful reef fish and plenty of macro life to keep keen photographers happy. You don’t want to forget your camera! There are also lots of eagle rays, nurse sharks, turtles and other animals to see.
The dive sites feature swim-throughs, drop-offs, vibrant coral gardens and long peaceful stretches of sandy bottoms, glimmering in the gin-clear water. The dive sites are generally shallow and serene, making them excellent for beginners. The visibility is excellent all year and the temperature wavers between 25 and 29°C.
Though Cozumel is a year-round dive destination, December to March is considered the best (and busiest) time of year for scuba diving.
One of the most popular sites is Palancar Reef. This gentle slope, populated by coral bommies, drops off to a wall with a gentle current. You can weave through swim-throughs as you go and see thousands of tropical fish. There are dozens more dive sites to explore, including Devil’s Throat and Colombia Wall.
8. Playa Del Carmen (Yucatán Peninsula)
Sitting on the pristine Caribbean Sea is the popular holiday destination of Playa del Carmen. It is a key tourist attraction on the Yucatan Peninsula as it is centrally located close to international airports.
There are many scuba diving opportunities around Playa Del Carmen. Many dive sites are based upon vibrant, tropical coral reefs whilst you can also explore the labyrinthine cenotes. The colours are vivid and are havens for reef life. But the biggest draw is the large population of bull sharks.
Each year between November to March, dozens of these enormous predators gather in the sandy shallows offshore. No one really knows why they gather here – though there are theories that it is something to do with birthing patterns or the freshwater flowing from the inland cenotes.
Though getting up close and personal with the sharks is a technically simple dive, it is definitely not suitable for beginners. While they are used to people, they can become aggressive in response to quick movements.
It is also vitally important to dive with certified dive professionals who know the area (and the sharks) well. Many dive companies are hand-fed by tour operators and they can get a little, ahem, feisty if they don’t get the food they want!
The water is usually tropical and varies between 25 and 29°C. The visibility is often excellent – exceeding 30m. It is possible to dive year-round in Playa Del Carmen, with 300 good weather days each year. However, bull sharks are only present from November to March.
9. Cenotes (Yucatán Peninsula)
Across the tropical Rivera Maya region of the Yucatan Peninsula stretches a labyrinthine network of sinkholes, tunnels and caves that create some of the best scuba diving in Mexico. These are the cenotes.
These subterranean waterways are famous for their crystal clear visibility, breathtaking sunlight shows and fascinating topography. Perhaps the most famous is the Cenote Dos Ojos or Two Eyes Cenote. With sun-dappled caverns and gin-clear water, this is a great cenote for both beginner divers and more experienced cave divers.
There are two very distinct cave systems, which emerge as two sinkholes – like two eyes staring at the sky. One of the most popular dive options is The Barbie Line. It is a well lit, 500m circuit with lots of time to explore interesting rock formations.
Another is called the Bat Cave Line and leads divers to an air-filled cavern, which has little light penetration. This option is best suited to experienced divers!
The twisting passageways form the largest underwater cave system on earth. Over 600 freshwater cenotes are accessible to all, with difficulty levels ranging from advanced cave divers to snorkelers.
The water temperatures are an average of 27°C, dropping to 25°C in winter and rising to 29°C in summer. Though they can be good to dive at any time of year, the best light displays in the caverns can be found between May and September – you don’t want to forget your dive camera here!
The Cenotes can be accessed from all over the Yucatan Peninsula. It is possible to drive from Playa Del Carmen, but Tulum is closer and offers a more chilled out, backpacker vibe which many scuba divers prefer. It is also considerably closer to the main cenotes such as Gran Cenote, Dos Ojos and The Pit.
Other inland options which are a little more off the beaten track than the coastal resorts are the towns of Merida and Valladolid which are rich in ancient Mayan history and close to numerous cenotes.
10. Banco Chinchorro (Quintana Roo)
Banco Chinchorro is a stunning coral atoll found 25km off Mexico’s southern Costa Maya coastline, close to the Belize border. It is the largest coral atoll found in the western hemisphere and its remote location and protection from the Mexican government have ensured that it has kept its wild heart.
Oh, and you can dive with crocodiles.
The marine life in the atoll is pristine and the exquisite visibility means that you can fully appreciate the diversity on show. The large area (over 800 square kilometres) is a protected Biosphere Reserve (Sian Ka’an) and only 1% of it is above water. You can enjoy vibrant reefs, thrilling drift divers, plunging walls and over 200 wrecks – a relic of the shallow shoals.
The marine life is typically tropical, with some spectacular coral life, including huge barrel sponges, brain corals and even the rare and valuable black coral.
Perhaps the most famous residents of Banco Chinchorro are the American saltwater crocodiles which patrol the waters. Though these encounters are carefully managed and not dangerous – it is still adrenalin pumping!
The best time of year to dive in Banco Chinchorro is between May and November when the ocean is warmest, between 25 and 29°C, though it is possible to dive all year round. The area is well hidden, around a 5-hour drive south of Cancun and then a boat ride from Majahual or Xcalak.
Diving in Banco Chinchorro is suitable for all levels of divers. The gin-clear visibility, gentle drifts and shallow reefs are ideal for beginners.
One of the best-known sites is Aquarium I and II. They are packed with so much diversity that it is like diving in a, well, an aquarium!
As you’ve probably figured out by now, Mexico has a lot of marine life! And most of it is fully dependent on the area you are visiting, but we will attempt to sum this up succinctly.
Macro life thrives in calm conditions. When scuba diving in Mexico, most of the best macro spots are found on the warm, tropical Caribbean side. Locations like Chinchorro Banks and Playa del Carmen are optimal for spending long, shallow dives looking for tiny critters!
There are good macro opportunities found on the Pacific Coast too, but mainly in the sheltered, rocky bays around the Sea of Cortez.
Mexico is the place to be if you love pelagics!
On the Caribbean side, you can see many, warm water-loving pelagics. These include manta rays, whale sharks, turtles, eagle rays, manatees and dolphins.
The Pacific Sea is the real haven for pelagic lovers. In this rich water, the meeting of two oceans, there is a huge variety of species.
You can witness gray and humpback whales mating on their yearly migrations.
Giant oceanic manta rays swooping past Socorro Island. Huge schools of mobula rays and hammerhead sharks in the Sea of Cortez.
Huge bait balls form around offshore seamount which attracts predators like marlin, yellowfin tuna and countless others.
There are also many different species of sharks here. Many reefs will feature small reef sharks and you can also encounter some of the biggest fish in the ocean – bull sharks, whale sharks and lemon sharks.
And, of course, in Guadalupe, you can encounter Jaws himself – the great white shark.
Though the Pacific coastline does feature numerous more relaxed dives suitable for beginners, it is generally considered to have the most challenging conditions.
Many of the most renowned dives are open sea or blue water dives which can feature strong currents, cold water and choppy surface conditions. However, the visibility is usually excellent and brave divers will be rewarded with spectacular pelagic encounters. It is best suited to experienced divers with equipment suitable for cold water.
Gulf and Caribbean Coasts
Scuba diving in Mexico’s Caribbean Sea is generally considered to be a little more relaxed. The water is consistently warm, diving is usually based near the shoreline and features plenty of coral reefs. It is also a much more tourist region which is more beginner-friendly.
The water is warm enough for bikini diving, the marine life is diverse, currents are minimal, surface conditions are calm and the visibility is great – what’s not to like!
The cenotes have conditions all of their own. Diving through freshwater caves can be a surreal experience. The water is very calm and still and visibility is some of the best you will ever experience as a diver.
However, some passageways are tight and claustrophobic and in the areas without natural light, you will be reliant on your diving light. This can be intimidating for many divers. Another point to consider is your
buoyancy capabilities. If you are kicking up a lot of silt, you will not get on well with the divers behind you!
Liveaboards in Mexico are big business, but they’re not as prevalent as you might think.
Whilst the Caribbean Sea is stunning, calm and sunny, basically ideal liveaboard conditions, most of the dive sites are within easy reach of the shore. As a result, there are few liveaboards operating.
There are also many draws to staying on dry land in the buzzing towns and resorts of the Yucatan Peninsula. And, obviously, there are no liveaboards to dive the cenotes!
The Pacific side of scuba diving in Mexico is a different story – for many of these locations, a liveaboard is essential. The only way to reach Guadalupe and Socorro Island is via a liveaboard. Fortunately, we’ve put together a few of the best Socorro Island liveaboards to help you out!
A liveaboard can be a great experience for divers of many levels. They can help boost your confidence, improve your diving skills and help you make diving friends from all over the world. Check out our ultimate guide to liveaboards here!
How To Get There
Mexico is a large country which is easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Depending on your location, the easiest route is to fly. Mexico City, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta all have international airports.
It is also possible to drive into Mexico, across the US, Belize or Guatemala borders. Please ensure that you have all the requisite paperwork and visas available before crossing borders as they can be unyielding.
Travel across the country is easy, either by private car, taxis or buses, as well as internal flights. If you’re staying at a well-known town, hotel or resort, there will almost always be a bus available from the airport.
Scuba diving in Mexico is some of the most diverse of any country in the world. You can experience heart-pounding open water dives, surrounded by pelagics or chilled out reef diving in the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
A country of rich culture, incredible landscape and scuba diving variety, it really is a dream scuba diving destination.
Get out there and explore!