Summer means snorkeling for many a visitor to the Mexican Caribbean. Lazy days spent swimming through crystal-clear waters and an ever-changing parade of colorful marine creatures of all shapes and sizes. Take the plunge on your next vacation, it’s easy, fun for all the family and addictive. Try it once and you’ll never want to stop! There are plenty of shallow water reefs, sheltered bays and inlets along the coast where you can indulge your latest passion.
Thomas More Travel offers a variety of trips to great snorkeling spots in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. You can even charter a boat and escape fellow swimmers on your own adventure. Here are some ideas.
Cancun-Isla Mujeres Area
Protected by a marine reserve, the chain of shallow water reefs in the bay between Isla Mujeres and Cancun and south to Punta Nizuc, is an excellent place to start exploring the Mesoamerican Reef. Trips are available to the reefs off Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc in Cancun and El Farito and Manchones Reef approaching Isla Mujeres. Snorkeling is also a popular activity in El Garrafon Park on the southern tip of Isla Mujeres.
Marine life ranges from elk horn and brain coral and gardens of sea fans to sergeant majors, jacks, grunts, damsel and angelfish, rays and moray eels.
Cancun Underwater Sculpture Museum
The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park has another attraction to offer snorkelers, the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum, inaugurated in 2009. More than 400 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor have already been submerged in different locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Reef Park, including Punta Nizuc, Manchones Reef, Aristos and La Carbonera and more are planned.
Apart from their artistic appeal, the figures provide a habitat for corals and sponges to colonize, in time attracting small fish and crustaceans and creating new reef communities. This will give popular coral reefs a chance to recover.
Spend a day on the beach and snorkeling in Puerto Morelos, 20 minutes to the south of Cancun Airport. Also protected by a national marine park, the reef is home to species such as angelfish, trunkfish, snappers and octopus.
Always a good place for a family outing, Xel-Ha is hailed by locals as the world’s largest natural aquarium. It is an enormous inlet of crystalline waters fed by underground rivers flowing through the surrounding mangroves and forest.
Rainbow-colored fish from nearby reefs feed and breed in the inlet and swimmers will see shoals of sergeant majors, blue chromis and one of the park’s emblems, the parrotfish, as soon as they venture into the water. Snorkel over to the rocks and further into the lagoons and you’ll see even more marine life.
Paths wind through the jungle around the inlet leading to secluded pools and cenotes, and attractions such as the Lazy River, the Cliff, the Mayan Cave and the dolphin area. For a breathtaking view of the turquoise waters, walk back across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet. Larger fish such as snappers and jacks congregate around the bridge.
Like its larger cousin, Xel-Ha, Yalku is a natural aquarium frequented by a variety of colorful fish from the offshore reef. Look out for parrot, surgeon and butterfly fish, blue tangs and sergeant majors. The inlet is located to the north of Akumal, a five-minute drive along the coast road.
This picturesque bay has a palm-lined beach and an offshore reef for diving and snorkeling. You can also walk or drive north along the coast road to Half Moon Bay or Bahia de la Media Luna where the corals are much closer to the shore (reef shoes required here).
Marine life is varied and abundant in Akumal, even in the shallows. Royal grammas, spotted drums and damselfish dart through the corals and parrotfish and eagle rays are frequently observed. The greatest thrill of all, however, is to spot a green or loggerhead turtle grazing on the sea grass. Watch from a distance, do not approach her or make a noise and she may swim past you, giving you the chance to see her beautiful markings. A vacation memory to treasure, no wonder Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Maya.
If you decide to go snorkeling, please follow these guidelines and help preserve the reefs for future generations.
• Do not apply sun lotion if you are going snorkeling, opt for eco-friendly biodegradable brands or wear a t-shirt instead. Sun products damage the coral and pollute the water.
• Do not touch the coral or stir the sand up in the vicinity of the reef. The slightest touch can cause damage that will take the coral centuries to recover from.
• Do not remove shells or other marine creatures from the reef.
• Watch your step; spiny sea urchins can cause nasty wounds.
• Don’t forget your underwater camera!