Explore the best sites for diving in Mexico

As well as being home of luscious beaches, lime cocktails and unlimited natural beauty, Mexico also boasts some of the world’s best dive spots, awaiting just off the coast or inland as part of subterranean cave networks. Always a surprise, Mexico can bring divers up close to big marine species by way of the Sea of Cortez or simply into otherworldly spaces down in the depths of Yucatan’s jungle-side cenotes. The variety of Mexico’s waters is a big part of the wonder; go from coral-laden shipwreck to turquoise blue sinkhole and off towards the shores of Baja California’s pristine reef islands, coming up for air as the day cools and the sky turns pink.

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1. Socorro Islands

Those looking for experiences with Mexico’s largest marine animals should submerge themselves in the water surrounding the Socorro Islands where hammerheads share space with manta rays and dolphins, and humpback whales even make an appearance. Classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the four Socorro Islands are protected as part of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, just under 400 kilometres south of Baja California’s Cabo San Lucas. The islands are only accessible by liveaboard boat – a sometimes rough journey taking some 24 hours – but this simply adds to the Galapagos-style allure and helps keep visitor numbers down.

If you do brave the journey, there are numerous dive spots to consider. Try ‘The Boiler’ for sure sightings of giant manta rays, while pods of dolphins may also greet you at Cabo Pierce. Schools of large gamefish such as tuna, marlin and wahoo are commonly seen among reef sharks and hammerheads, while whale sharks and humpback whales honour some with occasional sightings. Diving season takes place between November and May, though whale shark enthusiasts should come early in the season (Nov-Dec), humpback whale watchers later on (Feb-Mar) while baitballs attract gamefish from May onwards. Strong sea currents and choppy waves make diving all the more challenging around Socorro, so consider your diving and fitness levels before booking.

Socorro Islands | Photo: Swanson Chan

2. Guadalupe Island

One for the extreme divers among us is Guadalupe Island shark diving, allowing for incredibly rare, up-close encounters with great white sharks. Travel 240 kilometres off the west coast of Baja California for this adventure, going by liveaboard to the island before switching vessels to a specialised shark-cage diving operator. Though cage diving has its limitations, the guaranteed sightings of apex predators, alongside Guadalupe seals and sea lions feeding on schools mackerel, are very much worth it for diving experts and beginners alike. Come between August and October to coincide with mating season, seeing lively young male sharks early on in the season before older males around late September, followed by the females towards the end of the season at peak breeding time. When not in the water, keep your eyes peeled for possible sightings of whales and dolphins as they gracefully skim the surface of the waves.

Photo: Elianne Dipp

Photo: Mael Balland

3. Cozumel

Next up is Cozumel Island just off of Mexico’s northeast coast near the party capital of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. As well as basking along paradise beaches lapped by the Caribbean Sea, Cozumel scuba diving is a go-to activity thanks to the tropical barrier reef that skirts the entire island. On basic drift dives, you’ll get to see Cozumel’s beautiful marine ecosystems, all protected by steep barrier walls of colourful coral, sponge and gorgonian to create the perfect backdrop for more impressive sightings. Of the 45 distinct Cozumel diving sites that are dotted around the island, the southern end of the island is considered to have the healthiest reef system (as a protected marine park) hosting 260 species of fish and 105 types of coral. As well as all manner of tropical fish, you can expect to see turtles, rays and the occasional reef shark, with the shallower reefs offering snorkellers and glass-bottom boats the chance to view hawksbill turtles, eagle rays and schooling jack alongside lobsters, moray eels and frogfish.

Towards the middle of the island, the dives get deeper allowing for drop-offs and unique topography, particularly at Palancar Reefs, Panta Sur and Columbia. Diving is an option all year round on Cozumel, though the peak holiday season running between December and April can get a little too busy. Wait until May and beyond for better experiences on land, enjoying watersports, spas and Mayan cultural tours with fewer crowds. Stay in style with our guide to the best hotels in Cozumel for gay travellers.

Cozumel | Photo: Jakob Owens

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The water in the cenotes is like none other, bright blue and as clear as glass to allow for snorkelling and swimming as well as more extreme dives into the underwater caves

4. Cenotes

Cancun diving with a difference takes us off the coast and into the jungle for an experience with Mexico’s best cenotes. Not in everyone’s vernacular, cenotes are freshwater pools formed through limestone sinkholes, featuring caverns and cave systems that often lead into vast networks of subterranean tunnels. As you might have guessed, cenotes bring the perfect diving opportunities, varying in difficulty and levels of extremes. The Yucatan peninsula is a particularly good region for cenotes, not far from the buzzing resort life on the Riviera Maya and Tulum but far enough as to find that otherworldly serenity in nature. The water in the cenotes is like none other, bright blue and as clear as glass to allow for snorkelling and swimming as well as more extreme dives into the underwater caves. Dos Ojos is perhaps one of the most famous diving cenotes, reaching a depth of 27ft and catering to all levels of ability at any time of year. For all the more secret cenote adventures, see our rundown of the 10 most beautiful cenotes near Cancun.

Cenote Dos Ojos | Photo: Roberto Nickson

Photo: Jakob Owens

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Isla Mujeres offers the chance to dive with hundreds of whale sharks in the summer months while earlier in the year vast schools of sailfish become the main attraction

5. Isla Mujeres

Just off the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres lures visitors with not one but two natural underwater phenomenon each year. A prime addition to your scuba diving Cancun trip, Isla Mujeres offers the chance to dive or snorkel with hundreds of whale sharks in the summer months (June to September) while earlier in the year (between January and February) vast schools of sailfish become the main attraction. The shallow waters around Isla Holbox are perfect for watching the whale shark as they feed on plankton and krill, though you should expect high tourist numbers during peak season. Snorkelling is the primary way to view the sailfish as they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico, feasting on sardines as they go, but diving is also an option to those who seek it out.

Photo: Jesse Van Vliet

6. Sea of Cortez

The Sea of Cortez, otherwise known as the Gulf of California, the 1,100 kilometre stretch of sea that comes squished between the Mexican mainland and the Baja Peninsula, is every diver’s dream come true. Sheltered from the adverse weather of the Pacific, the sea is warm, calm and rich with life, particularly in the areas around La Paz and Cabo San Lucas where sea lions, manta rays, whale sharks and dolphins can be seen on the regular. Cabo Pulmo National Park is especially worth your while as one of only three coral reefs in Western North America, protecting an abundance of marine life including sharks, turtles and over a hundred species of fish, some of which care to create a real-life “fish tornado” for your viewing pleasure.

To find the whale sharks you’ll have to go to the northern shallows of Bahia de Los Angeles during summer (July and August), taking a dayboat and donning a snorkel to swim with these placid giants. Otherwise, the Midriff Islands are renowned for their population of nudibranchs (a carnivorous and colourful sea mollusc) as well as blenny and jawfish which shine ever brighter come mating season.

La Paz | Photo: Pascal Van De Vendel

Sea of Cortez | Photo: Fabio Mondelli

7. Puerto Vallarta

Our favourite Mexico destination for partying and culture, Puerto Vallarta also happens to be the perfect place for diving. This gay-friendly resort town on the Pacific coast is just a day trip from myriad dive sites, such as those around Banderas Bay which offers shipwrecks, caves and underwater mountains for beginners and experienced divers alike. Scuba diving Puerto Vallarta style will take you into the diverse ecology of the Pacific Coast where you’ll find moray eels, rays and turtles easily, with sightings of dolphins also highly likely. Move to El Morro for giant moray eels or Marietas Islands for larger-than-life rays, El Chimo meanwhile – specifically between April and October – will allow you to go swimming with humpbacks.

8. Baja California

Last up on our scuba diving Mexico watchlist is Baja California itself. Up until now, we’ve jetted from its coast to discover distant islands, if time is restricted, however, you needn’t leave the peninsula. Instead, you can rest your lungs in the lively capital of La Paz, getting instant access to a range of diving experiences in the Southern Sea of Cortez. Between October and November, whale sharks gather in La Paz Bay to feed on the plankton-rich waters, while nearby the hammerhead shark nursery ensures the regeneration of a population decimated by commercial fishing. As La Paz Bay is closed from May through to early October, alternative sites can also satisfy year-round, such as those at Santa Maria, Chileno Bay and San Lucas Bay with its famous Sand Falls cliffs.

Photo: Geran de Klerk

Baja California | Photo: Ranae Smith

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