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Guide to great snorkeling in the Riviera Maya

Summer means it’s time for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya. Lazy days spent swimming through crystal-clear waters and an ever-changing parade of colorful marine creatures of all shapes and sizes. Dive right in on your next vacation; snorkeling is easy, fun for all the family and you’ll soon be hooked. Try it once and you’ll never want to stop! There are plenty of shallow water reefs, sheltered bays and inlets along the Riviera Maya coast where you can indulge your passion. Here’s a guide to some of the best spots for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya:

Cancun-Isla Mujeres Area
Protected by a marine reserve, the chain of shallow water reefs in the bay between Isla Mujeres and Cancun and off Punta Nizuc, the southern tip of Cancun island, is an excellent place to start exploring the Mesoamerican Reef, the second longest in the world. Trips are available to the reefs off Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc in Cancun and El Farito and Manchones Reef in the bay between Cancun and 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 coral reefs and brain coral formations to gardens of sea fans gently waving in the currents. They are a habitat for a variety of fish from sergeant majors, grunts and porkfish to damsel and angelfish, jacks, rays and moray eels.


Cancun Museum of Underwater Art
The Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park has another attraction to offer snorkelers, the world’s largest underwater museum of art (MUSA), inaugurated in 2009. Around 500 statues by British sculptor Jason deCaires-Taylor and other sculptors have already been submerged in different locations in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Reef Park, including Punta Nizuc and Manchones Reef and more are planned.

Apart from their artistic appeal, the figures are a habitat for marine life. Corals, sponges and sea fans, small fish and even lobsters are colonizing them. New reef communities are being created and this will give popular coral reefs in the area a chance to recover.


Puerto Morelos
Our guide to great places for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya starts in Puerto Morelos, 20 minutes to the south of Cancun Airport. Protected by a national marine park, the reefs are home to species such as angelfish, trunkfish, snappers and octopus and are some of the most beautiful and pristine along the Mesoamerican Reef.

The biodiversity of reefs in the Puerto Morelos area has attracted marine biologists for many years and the fishing village is the site of two marine research centers: the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) field station and a Mexican Fisheries Institute facility.


Xel-Ha Park
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 caleta or inlet of crystalline waters fed by cenotes in the surrounding mangroves and jungle.

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 where fish shelter and further into the lagoons and you’ll see even more marine life. There is a floating bridge over the mouth of the lagoon and it is here that larger fish such as snappers and jacks congregate.


Located just to the north of Akumal Bay, Yalku is a smaller caleta than Xel-Ha and is also a great snorkeling spot. Look out for parrot, surgeon and butterfly fish, blue tangs and sergeant majors. Take the coast road north from Akumal Bay past Half Moon Bay and follow the signs, it is a five to 10-minute drive.


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. You’ll need reef shoes here because the seabed is rocky.

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 often sighted. 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.


The reefs girdling Cozumel’s west coast and southern tip are world-famous in scuba circles but the island offers plenty of spectacular snorkeling spots too and is just a short boat ride from the Riviera Maya. Start with snorkeling in Chankanaab Park and book trips to other shallow water reefs. Another attraction is El Cielo, a stretch of seabed off the north coast of the island that is inhabited by thousands of starfish.

Reef Tips
If you decide to go snorkeling in the Riviera Maya, please follow these guidelines and help preserve the reefs for future generations.
* Do not apply sun lotion or any kind of lotion or perfume if you are going snorkeling, wear a t-shirt to protect your skin instead. Sun products and the oils and chemicals in creams and cosmetics 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!

Booking your Riviera Maya snorkeling trip
Want to go snorkeling in the Riviera Maya or the Cancun-Isla Mujeres area this summer? Thomas More Travel offers a variety of trips to great snorkeling spots. You can even charter a boat with your own crew and escape fellow swimmers on your own adventure.

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