There are two reasons why you'll find yourself on a day trip to Cozumel. The first involves an unseemly cruise-liner plus a few thousand passengers elbowing their way off it to snag a subpar souvenir and mediocre margarita from Señor Frogs. The second (and infinitely better) reason is because you want to experience world-class scuba diving, away from the crowds. Situated on the Mesoamerican reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, Cozumel is host to some of the best diving in the Riviera Maya and entire Caribbean - come to think of it. Whether you're a novice diver or have tonnes of experience, everyone can enjoy the island's incredible visibility, dramatic walls, epic drift diving and plethora of flora and fauna. And even better, the island is super accessible from the mainland, making it the perfect location for a diving day trip.
Who can go diving in Cozumel?
Simply put, everyone. If you've never been diving before, it's a great place to test the water, which sits at an agreeable bath-like 30°C during summer and only 26°C during the winter months. The visibility often exceeds 30 metres, creating perfect swimming pool-like conditions for student divers to master scuba skills and train their eager eyes to search for marine critters. Whilst there's plenty of sites to enjoy as an open water diver, advanced divers will benefit from going beyond 18 metres to deeper parts of the Cozumel Wall, which are home to brighter sea sponges and a greater variety of marine life. Advanced wreck-heads can also explore the US naval vessel C53, an ex-minesweeper who served during the Second World War, which sits around 24 metres below sea level.
How do you get there?
Provided you're not already staying on the island, getting to Cozumel couldn't be easier. There are two high-speed ferries from Playa Del Carmen (a 45-minute drive from Cancun International Airport), which operate from eight in the morning to nine o'clock at night. The 45 minute crossing conveniently docks in Downtown Cozumel, within walking distance of plenty of bars, restaurants and shops. If time is of the essence, you can head directly to Cozumel's dive sites for two to three dives before heading back to Playa Del Carmen. While this means you won't be stepping foot on the island, it's a great option for divers with limited time.
What can you expect to see?
Once you're aboard, suited and booted, your guide will choose sites based on your experience levels and the day's sea conditions. Perhaps a two-tank dive will begin with the C-53 Shipwreck (15-25 metres), where giant moray eels and large groupers guard the sunken vessel, or at the Santa Rosa Wall (15-40 metres)? Experience the exhilarating thrill of drifting along its wall with coral reefs to one side, bright blue water the other and a drop to the deep abyss below. Take your time looking out into the blue too. You never know when you might spot a passing eagle ray and couple of dolphins. If it's swim-throughs you're after, the Palancar Caves (21-30 metres) showcases them at their very best. With complex coral structures that have formed a network of caverns, tunnels and canyons, it's the perfect site to delve a little deeper and spot snoozing nurse sharks under rocks. For shallower and less advanced dive sites head to Yucab (12 metres) or Palancar Gardens (ten metres), where you'll find feeding turtles - the island is home to green, hawksbill and loggerheads - as well lobsters, king crabs and myriad tropical fish swimming amongst corals sprinkled with sea fans and sponges.
So, if you do find yourself in the Riviera Maya, take a break from the margarita-sipping and taco-eating and make the journey to Cozumel for a day of diving. You won't regret it - promise.