Riviera Maya - Top 10 Dives | Scuba Diving

Riviera Maya - Top 10 Dives

By Nick Lucey

For many years, this area on Mexico's Caribbean coast primarily served as a jumping-off point for divers flying into Cancun, who then would take a cab or colectivo (shared minivan) to Playa del Carmen, then a ferry to Cozumel. But over the last decade or so, many divers have opted to stay in Riviera Maya to spend their dive vacations. With a mix of standard-fare Caribbean reef diving and intriguing cenotes (subterranean sinkholes), there's something for everyone in this up-and-coming Mexican tourist mecca.

Top 10 Dive Sites

Dive Site Ratings Key

| Don't Even Think About Going Home Until After This Dive| |

| Worth the Airfare Alone| |

| Dive at Least Once|

Gran Cenote Island

Gran Cenote, part of the Sac Actun system, is a popular site on the road heading north out of Tulum toward the Mayan ruins at Coba. Here you'll find a nice big parking lot and a stairway that leads to a large, crescent-shaped cenote. There's enough surface area here to make it popular with divers and snorkelers. Giant stride off the large platform and you enter the shady, cool world of the cenote, beneath the lily pads and into an ethereal underwater ballroom, which leads to endless passageways and chambers.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner

Car Wash

At the surface, this site near Gran Cenote looks like little more than a mud puddle. Cabbies from Tulum used to wash their taxis here and the name took hold. Beneath the surface of the pond, the water is either a common sapphire in winter or a dazzling emerald in summer and early fall. A greenish slime covers branches and tree roots, creating an eerie, surreal landscape. Seeing this sight after reemerging from the stalactite-and stalagmite-riddled cavern is an experience unlike any other in Yucatan diving.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner

Dos Ojos

This site, whose name in English means "two eyes," is one of the most famous and oft-visited of Riviera Maya's cenotes. It's part of the Dos Ojos system, the deepest and among the longest of the Yucatan's cave networks. Take a quick tour of the bat cave, then cool off by diving into the mid-70-degree water. The main cavern is huge, so if claustrophobia is your excuse for not diving in cenotes, you're out of them. This is a popular spot with day-trippers from Akumal and Playa del Carmen, so plan accordingly.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner

Pared Verde

One of Playa del Carmen's signature reef dives, Pared Verde is marked by a 10-foot ledge that punctuates an otherwise flat seafloor. The mini-wall lies in 90 to 100 feet of water, is stuffed with coral and sponge life, and hosts a population of fish seeking refuge from the vast sandy plain that lies offshore from the beach. The reef is surprisingly healthy.
Recommended minimum skill level: Intermediate


Diving here is an Indiana Jones-style adventure--park near the road leading north out of Tulum, and hike in full gear a few dozen yards down a jungle path to a clearing perforated by three holes--one 30 feet in diameter and two smaller ones--that give the sunlight flooding into the cenote a skull-like ambience. Your entry is a giant stride from a 10-foot drop that ends in the cool, clear water. Calavera is known for its halocline at about 50 feet, where fresh and salt water meet. You have to exit the dive in full gear up a rusty metal ladder, so this dive clearly isn't for everyone, making it even more special.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner


This popular cenote is part of the Jaguar system. Chac-Mool has a nice, large entrance, which leads to fascinating chambers with interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations. Here, you'll experience the halocline in relatively shallow water, at around 30 feet.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner

Tajma Ha

This nice little cenote is actually four interconnected sinkholes with big stalactites and stalagmites. It's a perfect place to examine the bottom for fossils.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner


It's a quick 20-minute boat ride north of Akumal to get here, where a nice little reef is punctuated by fissures thick with corals, sponges and gorgonians. You're likely to find a turtle or two here.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner


This shallow, pretty reef in 30 to 40 feet of water is where you'll find small coral mounds and archways packed with grunts and snapper. It's similar to Cozumel's shallow coral gardens.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner


This site, just a five-minute skiff ride from the beach at Akumal, is an aptly named reef in shallow water. Here, turtles, morays and barracuda populate a vast plain of coral mounds.
Recommended minimum skill level: Beginner

Pre-Dive Check

Country: Mexico.
Primary Language: Spanish (English widely spoken).
Currency: Mexican Peso (U.S. dollars accepted, but change will be in pesos).
Cultural Influences: Maya, Spanish
Signature Dishes: Cochinita pibil tacos--slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus juice, colored with annatto seed and roasted in a banana leaf.
Signature Marine Life: Nearly three dozen crustacean species in the cenotes.
Topside Sporting Pastime: Futbol (soccer).
Topside Trinkets: Silver jewelry, textiles.
Travel Savvy Tip: Take time to explore Fifth Avenue, the cobblestone main drag in Playa del Carmen, where European-style cafes and authentic Mexican eateries abound.

Taking the Plunge

Getting There: Many North American airlines frequently fly nonstop from major cities to Cancun, your gateway to Riviera Maya. From the airport, take a colectivo (shared minivan) to your dive resort.
Weather: Year-round, the temperatures range from 77 to 86 degrees. Rainy season is from May through November.
Dive Conditions: Water temps in the cenotes average about 76 degrees year-round. On the Caribbean coast, expect temps between 78 and 84 degrees. Visibility in the cenotes is 120 feet and up to 95 feet off the coast.
Price Tag: Accommodations range from rustic ($55-$80 per night for room only) to small and basic hotels ($80-$150 per night for room and meals) to luxurious, all-inclusive oceanfront hotels (from $350 per night for room, meals and diving).
More Information: To learn more about planning your Riviera Maya dive vacation, log on to rivieramaya.com or scubadiving.com/travel/caribbeanatlantic/rivieramaya.