As a serious dive destination, Cancún is often overlooked due to its reputation as a spring break party hot spot, not to mention being overshadowed by neighboring Riviera Maya and Cozumel. But Cancún’s location on the Yucatan Peninsula makes it an ideal jumping off point for a huge variety of dive adventures. From here, divers can stay local to hit wrecks such as the Barrera and Anaya — a pair of navy minesweepers that lay just a short boat ride from the city — and wander the offshore reefs perforated by fishy tunnels often circled by eagle rays and occupied by nurse sharks.
For a change of scenery, day trips can be arranged to plunge into the overhead environments of Riviera Maya’s cenotes or drift the lush walls of Cozumel. And the newest adventure, breaking mainstream at this classic vacation hot spot, is the biggest yet: whale sharks. Up the coast from Cancún, the waters between Holbox and Contoy islands host one of the largest seasonal populations of whale sharks in the world — an estimated 500 animals. Just like at most whale shark hot spots around the world, encounters here are snorkel only; but unlike at those other destinations, sightings in these waters are so common they come with a money-back guarantee during the season. — TM
Need to Know
Getting There: Flights to Cancún depart daily from all major American airline hubs. Check with the resort to see if airport transfers are provided. If not, taxis or shared vans are easy to find at the airport’s passenger services area.
When to Go: The reefs of Cancún and Cozumel offer top-notch diving year-round, as do the nearby cenotes, but the whale shark excursions are available only during the summer months, from June through September.
Dive Conditions: During the summer the water is calmer and water temperatures can climb to the mid-80s. Surface conditions can be rougher during the winter months, with water temps dipping to the high 70s. Viz on the deeper reefs averages 80 feet but is less on shallow sites. At Holbox, where plankton clouds the water, viz is only 20 to 40 feet.
Operator/Accommodations: Most of Cancún’s dive centers offer a wide range of services, from local dive trips to jungle excursions. Manta Divers (www.mantadivers.com), for example, offers dive packages that include local dives, cenotes and day trips to Cozumel, as well as snorkeling trips, land-based tours and whale shark encounters. You can snag a great deal at the five-star Luxury Beach Resorts (www.luxurybeachresorts.net) properties if you’re in the time-share market and willing to sit through a 90-minute presentation. Otherwise, check out the Gran Meliá Cancún (www.solmelia.com).
Price Tag: At Manta Divers, local five-dive packages start at $175 per person, while a nine-dive package, including day trips to the cenotes and Cozumel, costs $447 per person. Whale shark encounters departing from Cancún cost $175 per person. If you choose the Luxury Beach Resorts option, you can book an all-inclusive four-day package for $249 per couple (two children under 11 stay free), but diving is off site and not included in the price. Rooms at the Gran Meliá Cancún start at $89 per night. Prices referenced accurate as of January 19, 2010.
Inside Tip: When not diving, get out of the hotel zone and explore the modern Mexican metropolis of Cancún proper. When taking a taxi, always establish the price before driving away — better yet, the local bus system provides transport from the hotel zone to practically any part of the city for 6.50 pesos (about 50 cents).