Table of Contents
- Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico: A Complete Guide
- When to Go Diving in Cozumel
- Best Dive Sites in Cozumel
- Cost of Diving in Cozumel
- How Deep Are the Dive Sites in Cozumel?
- Where to Stay When Diving in Cozumel
- Cozumel Dive Shops
- How to Get to Cozumel
- Diving in Cozumel from Playa del Carmen
- Hyperbaric Chambers in Cozumel
- FAQs About Diving in Cozumel
- Ready to Go Diving in Cozumel?
I was certified in 2008, and in 2021 I spent a week diving Cozumel with Scuba Tony. I spent more than 12 hours underwater around the island. I met up with some local Padi Instructors and spoke with the owners of dive shops to make sure I had all of the information correct for this post.
I’ve spent a lot of time diving in Mexico, particularly around the Yucatan Peninsula, and I have to say that (in my opinion) Cozumel diving is some of the best in Mexico.
Scuba Diving in Cozumel, Mexico: A Complete Guide
The island of Cozumel is definitely one of the best places for scuba diving in Mexico. Here you can go diving in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef system.
It’s part of a protected marine park with impressive walls of coral and more than 500 species of fish. You might see turtles, sharks, and eagle rays here in addition to all the tropical fish like the endemic splendid toadfish.
Even renowned explorer Jacques Cousteau declared the island of Cozumel to be a world-class diving destination when he visited back in 1961. Diving in Cozumel really is an incredible experience!
Read on for a detailed guide to scuba diving on this stunning island in the Yucatan. I’ll cover the best time to visit, average costs, typical marine life, some of the best dive sites, top scuba company and a lot more.
When to Go Diving in Cozumel
Cozumel scuba diving is great year-round.
I visited Cozumel in the shoulder season of late April and early May, but you can really come here for diving any time of the year. There really isn’t a bad time to go scuba diving in Cozumel!
That being said, some months are definitely better than others depending on what you want to see.
The water is quite warm and pleasant in all seasons, usually between 78 and 82ºF (25 and 28ºC). While the water is always nice, the temperatures on land can be downright stifling during the summer months.
July to October is also hurricane season here, so you should take that into consideration.
The risk is lower in the summer months but much higher in September and October. One benefit of traveling to Cozumel in the offseason is that prices are lower and crowds are much smaller.
The peak season for diving Cozumel is between December and March. While this is a great time to be on the island weather-wise, it’s also expensive and crowded. Definitely be sure to book in advance at this time, especially between Christmas and New Year’s.
A sweet spot for scuba diving in Cozumel is between March and April, when crowds start to thin out but the rain has yet to arrive.
Cozumel Diving Seasons
|January – April||May – August||September – December|
77°-79°F / 25°-26°C
78°-86°F / 26°-30°C
77°-84°F / 25°-28°C
January – February is still mainly clear skies and cooler temperatures. It starts warming in March-April.
May and June the weather starts heating up and in the summer you can expect quick bursts of rain.
August to October have the highest likelihood of hurricane, but December has great weather.
This is a great season to see sharks, particularly from January to March when you can also see bull sharks (closer to Playa del Carmen).
July and August are other high months for shark spotting! You won’t see bull sharks at this time, but there are plenty of reef sharks.
From November to December the bull sharks return and give you the opportunity to dive with them.
Between the months of January to April, you can see the most eagle rays. You always have a high chance of seeing brown stingrays in the sand.
July & August are also the second-best seasons to see the beautiful eagle rays. As always you’ll see plenty of other rays too.
September – December isn’t the best months to see eagle rays, but you’ll still see plenty of brown spotted rays and other species.
You can’t really dive in Cozumel without seeing turtles!
May to October is Loggerhead breading season in Cozumel.
Yep. You’ll probably still see a green turtle on every dive in this season!
Every month of the year is great for diving and seeing the incredible Coral formations and this season is no different.
The coral pinnacles will still be fantastic in May-August and the sea is warm enough to dive without a wetsuit.
The water starts to cool again in October but the fish and coral remain the same, all brilliant, healthy, and vibrant.
Best Dive Sites in Cozumel
Cozumel scuba diving is so popular because there are so many dive sites to choose from. There are over 20 sites around the island for divers of all levels. You could easily plan your entire trip around diving on this amazing island.
Cozumel dive sites typically have quite a bit of current, but generally you can flow with the current (together with your group) and the boat will pick you up at the other end of the reef.
Beginners will enjoy the shallow sites featuring colorful reefs, while more advanced divers can opt for some exciting drift diving with swim-throughs. Even non-divers can enjoy the beauty of the underwater world here by tagging along as a snorkeler.
The dive sites here range in depth from 4.5 meters – 36 meters, however, the best ones max out at 25 meters. Divers with an Advanced Open Water certification are able to enjoy all of the best dive sites in Cozumel.
Here are some of the best dive sites in Cozumel that you can’t miss:
1. Palancar Reefs
- Depth: 9 meters – 36 meters (30-120 feet)
- Experience Level: Beginner-Intermediate
- Current: Mild-Strong
This is considered to be the star of the diving scene in Cozumel. It’s actually divided into four sections — caves, bricks, horseshoe, and gardens. These different sites offer something for divers of all levels.
Between the four different sites, you can experience depths of between 9 meters – 36 meters (30 to 120 feet). There are plenty of amazing coral formations, colorful sponges, and lots of fascinating marine life. You may spot sea turtles, nurse sharks, angelfish, and more here.
On my recent trip diving Cozumel, I dove all the sites here and overall the Palancar reefs were probably my favorite on the island. Particularly Palancar Caves where you get to swim through enormous caverns in the coral reef itself.
If you ask your dive shop what the best Cozumel dive sites are, they’ll likely list Palancar first.
2. Columbia Wall
- Depth: 18 meters – 36 meters (60-120 feet)
- Experience Level: Intermediate
- Current: Unpredictable
Huge coral pinnacles are a highlight here, some rising more than 60 feet (20 meters) from the bottom. You can enjoy some deep swim-throughs and wall diving here. Look out for grouper, turtles, and maybe even nurse sharks at this excellent dive site.
I dove the Columbia Wall as a twilight dive which was fantastic because as the sun sets it reflects off of the wall and creates some spectacular colors.
If you dive the Columbia Wall, I recommend doing it as a 2 tank night dive, so the first dive is on the wall for sunset, and your second dive can be a nearby night dive (highly recommended).
3. San Clemente
- Depth: 10 meters – 30 meters (30-98 feet)
- Experience Level: Advanced
- Current: Strong
This was my second dive of the 2 tank twilight and night dive and it was fantastic. You can go down to around 30 meters on this one but we stayed at about 20 as it was our second dive of the day.
I highly recommend doing San Clemente as a night dive. The animals come out to play on this reef and it is a spectacular show!
We saw 3 octopus, a nurse shark, eels, brown spotted stingrays, and best of all, a massive eagle ray “flew” by us at the end of the dive!
If you get the chance, ask your dive shop to take you on the 2-tank San Clemente and Columbia Wall twilight & night dives. These were a couple of my favorites.
Note: Like many spots for diving in Cozumel, there is current here. When I did the San Clemente night dive it was quite strong. If you’re not used to powerful currents, let your dive shop know so that they can check the conditions before taking you here.
4. Columbia Pinnacles
- Depth: 9 meters – 30 meters (30-98 feet)
- Experience Level: Beginner-Intermediate
- Current: Mild
Like Palancar, there are quite a few dive sites all around the Columbia Reefs. The Columbia Pinnacles were another one of my favorite dive sites because, like Palancar, they had fantastic coral crests jutting up from the seafloor.
There are plenty of swim-throughs and it’s a relatively easy dive.
On the day I went, there was no current at all and even if there was, there are plenty of places on the leeward side of the pinnacles to rest and regroup, making it a great place for beginners.
5. Columbia Shallows
- Depth: 8 meters – 14 meters (26-50 feet)
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Current: Mild
I dove the Columbia Pinnacles and Columbia Shallows in one day as part of a 2 tank dive day and it was fantastic.
We had a bit of current in the shallows but it wasn’t bad and it was super relaxed to just drift over the corals at a shallow depth; the perfect shallow dive after the deeper pinnacles.
We saw lots of turtles on this dive, too many lobsters to count and I found a small reef shark sleeping under a coral overhang which basically made my day on the water.
6. Punta Sur Reef
- Depth: 27 meters – 39 meters (90-130 feet)
- Experience Level: Advanced
- Current: Unpredictable
This next one is for more advanced divers. It reaches down to depths of 130 feet (30 meters) and is split into two sections. The southern part has an amazing chamber called the Cathedral while the northern part features a cave formation known as the Devil’s Throat.
7. Chankanaab Reef
- Depth: 10 meters to 15 meters (35-50 feet)
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Current: Mild
This is an excellent spot for some diving in Cozumel for beginners. It’s an easy, shallow dive that’s usually completed as a 2nd dive on a trip.
All the cracks and crevices in the coral here mean lots of interesting marine life — lobster, spotted moray eels, crab, and even the endemic splendid toadfish.
8. C-53 Shipwreck
- Depth: 15-30 meters (50-98 feet)
- Experience Level: Intermediate to Advanced
- Current: Moderate
The C-53 isn’t an enormous wreck, but it is one of my favorite shipwrecks I’ve done and it is definitely the best (most popular) on Cozumel. What I loved about it was that it was completely upright, making it easy to navigate the dark hallways.
That’s right, you get to penetrate this wreck and it’s amazing!
If you’re a beginner to an intermediate diver, you’ll only be able to enter the upper level of the ship which sits at about 20 meters (65ft), but for advanced deepwater divers, you can go a level deeper into the vessel at around 30 meters (98ft).
If you’re scuba diving Cozumel and you want to visit a wreck dive, the C-53 should be at the top of your list.
9. Paradise Reef
- Depth: 10-18 meters (32-59 feet)
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Current: Moderate
This was the second dive that I did right after the C-53 Wreck and it’s one of the most popular dive sites in Cozumel thanks to the shallow, easy-to-follow reef system here.
In my opinion, Paradise Reef has some of Cozumel’s best soft coral formations with vibrant colors and lots of sea life. Check under every little nook and cranny to find hiding fish, lobsters, and sometimes nurse sharks.
- Depth: 15-18 meters (50-60 feet)
- Experience Level: Intermediate-Advanced
- Current: Strong
Tormentos is another one of the most popular dive sites in Cozumel thanks to its bright colorful coral and abundance of turtles snacking on the reef. I think we spotted 3 turtles during my dive at Tormentos.
Out of all of the dive guides I talked to, quite a few of them said that Tormentos was their favorite chilled dive site and I could see why. Most agree that Palancar is the best overall, but Tormentos often comes as a close second.
The current can be quite strong here, so be prepared for that, but when I visited it was quite calm that day.
If it’s too strong and you find yourself getting pushed ahead of your group, just find one of the many coral mounts and hide behind it to avoid the current until your group catches up with you.
Keep your eye out for black grouper, massive barracuda, and the occasional nurse shark that may grace you with its presence at Tormentos.
Cost of Diving in Cozumel
When scuba diving in Cozumel, 2-tank morning dives or afternoon dives are the standard. You can hop on a 2-tank fun dive trip for about $90 if staying on the island or a bit more if staying in nearby Playa del Carmen.
It’s possible to find single-tank dives, but these are rare during the day. Most dive shops in Cozumel offer a single-tank night dive trip for around $60-65. These usually only run between October and February.
You can also sign up for special 2-tank twilight dives during certain times of the year for around $100. These typically don’t run in the winter months. It’s best to ask the dive shop that you sign up with if they have such a trip available when you’ll be on the island.
It’s typical for dive shops here to offer the basics (mask, snorkel and fins) for free but charge extra for gear rental.
You can get a full set of gear for $20-25 a day or get a discount if diving for multiple days. Most shops offer Nitrox tanks for an additional $8-10.
Want to capture your experience diving in Cozumel? Many shops rent out GoPros for around $40 if you don’t have your own. Some even offer videography services so you can let them do the work of documenting the dive so you can just enjoy it.
If you’re not yet certified to dive, Cozumel is a great place to check that off your list. You can do a Discover Scuba course for as low as $80 from the beach or $140-150 from a boat.
You can complete your Open Water training in Cozumel for $430-450 or $340-380 if you choose the e-learning option. Many shops also offer Advanced Open Water for just under $400 and Rescue Diver courses for $380-410.
With so many amazing dive sites to choose from, it’s worth it to sign up for several days of diving. Sticking with the same shop for the duration of your trip will definitely get you a good discount on the diving and rental gear.
For example, some shops offer 5 days of diving for $80/day as opposed to their normal rate of $90. That’s $50 more that you’ll have for fish tacos and margaritas on the beach when you get back from diving!
Many dive shops can also arrange stay & dive packages with hotels and resorts. This is a great way to save some money and take care of your diving and accommodation in Cozumel in one fell swoop.
Scuba diving Cozumel isn’t always cheap, but believe me… it’s worth every penny.
How Deep Are the Dive Sites in Cozumel?
15-30 meters (50 – 100 feet)
Most dive sites in Cozumel range from 15-30 meters (50 – 100 feet) with some being as shallow as 8 meters (26 feet). This makes Cozumel great for all levels of divers, from absolute beginners doning scuba gear for the first time, all the way to advanced divers with 100+ dives.
Where to Stay When Diving in Cozumel
You can stay pretty much anywhere if you’re a diver. However, if you stay central, you’ll be able to quickly get to the dive shops for a morning under the water. If you stay around the marine park, many dive companies will even pick you up at your hotel’s jetty.
Cozumel Dive Shops
For a small island, there are several choices of dive shops in Cozumel. You can sign up for day trips, night dives, and PADI courses at most dive shops on the island.
Since diving is such a big part of life on the island, there are several dive shops here on Cozumel. That being said, they definitely range in quality. This is true for dive shops in Mexico and any other country where diving is popular.
Most of the dive shops in Cozumel are located on the west coast of the island. Some have an actual shop while others don’t and just take reservations online. Overall, the dive centers here offer great value and quality.
Here are some of the best:
⭐️ Scuba Tony (My Pick)
This is the dive shop I went with and I highly recommend it. While I was working with them on this trip to help them promote the beautiful diving in Cozumel, that doesn’t mean that I would recommend them if I didn’t think they were a great shop.
Picking the best dive shop in Cozumel is definitely subjective, but in my experience and from what I heard on the island, Scuba Tony is the best around.
I loved diving with every member of the team here, particularly with Martin and Pedro. Also, Carlos (aka “Paco”) was a great boat captain and such a hilarious character.
Tony has been running his dive shop on the island for over 15 years and has earned the reputation of being one of the best. He and his team have near-perfect reviews all across the web, so they’re definitely doing something right.
They don’t actually have a shop and just handle reservations online, which actually works quite well in my experience. I didn’t get to meet with Tony (he was off-island), but I met with the new part-owner and manager Adam and he’s a great guy.
Scuba Tony offers their divers a “rent-to-own” dive gear model which helps ensure that their gear is always new. Every day on the water I had a brand new BCD, great regulator, an excellent mask and fins, and a dive computer.
As a bonus, they also offer pickups by boat from many of the jetties on Cozumel!
Overall, this is a well-run dive shop and will go down as one of my favorite dive experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a great shop in Cozumel, look no further.
Scuba Life Cozumel
- Address: Sur Marina Cozumel, Carretera Costera Sur km. 6.5, Zona Hotelera Nte
- Reviews: 5.0 (72 reviews)
- Web: Visit Site
This 5-star PADI dive center makes safety and comfort their top priorities. They’re all about hassle-free diving here and take care of everything so you can just enjoy your trip.
Maple Leaf Scuba
- Address: Av Lic Benito Juárez 273, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel
- Reviews: 4.9 (126 reviews)
- Web: Visit Site
If you prefer small groups, this is a great dive shop to go with. They limit groups to six per divemaster and sometimes bring two along if the group isn’t so experienced. They can also help you arrange an underwater proposal.
How to Get to Cozumel
Although many people fly to Cancun, you can fly directly to Cozumel via the island’s international airport.
There are a few options for direct flights from the US and Canada year-round and several more in high season (December-March). Just remember that it’s recommended to wait at least 24 hours after diving to take a flight.
The island is also a very popular destination for cruise ships.
While you don’t get a lot of time there during a stop, it’s enough to enjoy some Cozumel scuba diving. Many dive shops are happy to accommodate cruise ship passengers. Just be sure to book this excursion in advance to avoid disappointment.
Most visitors to Cozumel fly into Cancun International Airport first. From there, you can make your way down to Playa del Carmen. Be sure to read our guide on how to get from the Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen as there are several options.
Cozumel is only a few miles offshore from Playa del Carmen and is easily reached by ferry.
Currently, there are two different companies running ferries from the pier and there are around 9 sailings a day. One-way tickets cost 250 pesos ($12.50) for adults and 200 ($10) for children. Visit Winjet and Ultramar to get the current prices and departure times.
Diving in Cozumel from Playa del Carmen
Basing yourself on Cozumel will allow you to spend more time in the water and less money on your dives than if staying in Playa.
However, many people choose to base in Playa for a variety of reasons. There are more options for things to see and do, accommodation, dining, and nightlife, and it’s also easier to reach the cenotes in the area.
Dive shops in Playa del Carmen organize dives in Cozumel too. You’ll take the ferry by yourself, and your dive guide will meet you at the Cozumel ferry terminal. Then after your dive, you’ll take the ferry back.
Most dive shops recommend a morning dive so you won’t have to worry about taking the last ferry of the day back to Playa. That means after your dive you’ll have the afternoon free to explore Cozumel and get something to eat there.
So, diving in Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is basically the same experience in the water as when you stay on Cozumel, except you’ll have to get up early to catch the ferry. (It’s about a 1-hour ride.) It’s a good option if you’re staying in Playa del Carmen anyway and only have time for one dive on Cozumel.
There are many dive shops in Playa del Carmen, and they all arrange dives in Cozumel. I went with Phantom Divers and highly recommend them.
Hyperbaric Chambers in Cozumel
Diving is a safe sport, but things can and do go wrong.
Thankfully, there are hyperbaric chambers on the island in case of an emergency. The Cozumel Hyperbaric Chamber and Clinic is a part of the Cozumel International Hospital and is the place to go if you have a diving-related emergency.
They have a staff of full-time professionals here ready to help you deal with issues like Decompression Sickness (DCS) and Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE). They use a multi-place decompression chamber that allows the technician to go in our out without interrupting treatment.
These kinds of treatments certainly aren’t cheap, so it’s important to make sure you have the right type of insurance when diving in Cozumel (or anywhere, for that matter).
The DAN (Divers Alert Network) comes highly recommended. Click here to learn more about their policies.
FAQs About Diving in Cozumel
Have a quick question about scuba diving in Cozumel? Read on for some FAQs.
Absolutely! And if you don’t believe me, then listen to Jacques Cousteau, who said that Cozumel was one of the top ten dive sites in the world.
Diving in Cozumel is good all year. November to March is best for seeing sharks and eagle rays, but also these months also have the most tourists. There are fewer tourists in summer but also the chance of hurricanes.
The reefs off of the southwest shore of the island have the best diving in Cozumel. Some of the top dive sites are Palancar and the Columbia Wall. The C-53 shipwreck is also excellent.
The diving is definitely better in Cozumel, with big walls and deeper dives. You can stay in Playa del Carmen and dive in Cozumel, however, by taking the ferry. Also, if you’re a beginner or intermediate diver, Playa del Carmen does gave good diving too.
Although I loved diving in Belize, and the Blue Hole is amazing, I have to say I liked Cozumel better. It’s so much easier to get to the dive sites. In Belize sometimes the boat rides were several hours long. They’re as short as 10 minutes in Cozumel.
Ready to Go Diving in Cozumel?
I’ve been scuba diving in Isla Mujeres, Playa Del Carmen, and all up and down the Yucatan Peninsula, and without a doubt, my favorite diving in Mexico was on Cozumel.
The coral here is so incredibly healthy. It’s no wonder why Cozumel frequently makes the top of the list of the best diving in the world.
The best diving in Cozumel is probably around the Columbia and Palancar reefs, but really you could go to any dive site on the island and be amazed by the coral and sea life.
Very few places in the world have been able to protect such enormous towers of colorful reefs. While there aren’t as many fish like some other parts of the world, if you’re a person who loves healthy coral and great visibility then Cozumel is the place to come.
Come here in December – March and have a chance to dive with Bull Sharks, in the summer months there are loads of Eagle Rays and throughout the year you can spot countless turtles, stingrays, and eels.
If you’re an avid scuba diver, Cozumel should definitely be high on your list. This stunning island in the Yucatan Peninsula is hands down one of the top diving destinations in North America.
With over 20 unique sites for divers of all levels and an abundance of marine life, Cozumel really is an amazing place to visit for scuba divers.
Best of all, after a big day of diving, you can kick back in your chair on some of the best beaches in Mexico and enjoy some tasty cuisine with a cold cerveza or margarita!
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