In a place well-known for over-indulgence, an all night party scene, and beach lounge recovery, as well as a coastline crowded with soaring, expansive hotels, you wouldn't expect there to be good diving within shouting distance of shore. Cancun's dive sites, including wrecks and reefs, are action-packed with marine life. Wrecks are typically washed with a little current, and it's not uncommon to have 20 spotted eagle rays lolling in the current. The reefs flow with rivers of snapper and grunts, and small hawksbill sea turtles find Cancun's reefs the perfect places to munch on a sponge or two among the clouds of fish. These reefs have surprised many a professional photographer. Nearby, the island of Isla Mujeres has a sculpture garden that seems to grow every day. Above the water, Cancun really needs no introduction to its long list of sybaritic pleasures. Suffice to say, you will eat well, drink enough to loosen your tongue for tall tales, and dance all night to celebrate a great week of diving.
When to go:
Year-round, but the hurricane season runs hurricane season lasts from June through October.
Marine Life Seasons:
Whale sharks can be seen here from June through September.
When to Get the Best Deals:
June to November.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, party and nightlife attire, sturdy shoes if you decide to hike the Mayan ruins nearby, such as Tulum. DAN card.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/78°F in winter and 28°C/84°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 20-27°C/63-82°F in winter and 24-33°C/76-93°F in summer.
Mexican Peso. Credit cards are widely accepted at resorts and tourist areas.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Usually included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Besides all the great Mexican favorites - tacos, burritos, fajitas - try some of the local Mayan dishes, such as Cochinita Pibil (suckling pig baked in banana leaves with annatto sauce), Papadzules (tortillas stuffed with eggs in a pumpkin seed sauce), or Panuchos (open tortillas topped with black beans, chicken and pickled onions).
What to Drink:
The local beer is Montejo and you'll see Corona bottles everywhere. Of course, tequila - as shots, in margaritas or mixed into other cocktails - is a classic Mexican holiday choice. For a refreshing adventure on the street, try tuba - coconut milk and palm sap with little chunks of apple and nuts, served over ice.
There's a bullring in Cancun, which is an interesting diversion, otherwise you'll need to take a day tour to the local Mayan ruins of Tulum or Chichen Itza;
Customs and Culture:
Cancun is famed for its party scene and the local culture supports it in every way.
Cinco de Mayo; Day of the Dead celebration in November; and Viva Mexico in September, which celebrates Mexican culture.
Electricity and Internet:
Electricity in Mexico is 120 volts, 60 cycles. Internet is widely available.
Drink the water?
Bottle water is recommended.
Spanish, but English is widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
Almost see through cleaner shrimp. If you put your fingers close to it, you'll get a manicure.
This dappled ray, which grows up to a meter/several feet across, can be seen soaring over most of the wrecks, especially when the current is running.
These brilliantly colored fish do, indeed, possess remarkably parrot-like beaks that they use to grind coral structures so they can eat the soft coral animals inside.
These predatory pelagic fish are often seen on the reefs. They can swim at incredible speeds and can grow up to two meters/six feet in length.
Wily and secretive, the octopus is often found in holes and crannies of reefs and wrecks.
Hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
While the "whale" reference in its name refers to its mammoth size (up to 12 meters/40 feet), this spotted goliath is actually the world's largest fish.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
Blue Striped Snapper:
Huge schools of these colorful fish roam the reefs off Cancun.
Top Dive Spots
Manchones Reef, Isla Mujeres:
This site is most noted for its installations of the Underwater Sculptural Museum, sunken sculptures by the artist Jason Taylor among the elkhorn, staghorn and brain coral. Flitting around the statues you'll find blue tangs, wrasse, grunts, snappers, parrotfish, queen angel fish, and spotted trunkfish.
Cenote Dos Ojos:
Recommended for advanced divers, these caverns are full of dramatic formations and shy marine life. The pair of cenotes, or caverns, are relatively shallow, allowing for lengthy bottom time.
Featured in the IMAX Film Journey into the Amazing Caves, this site boasts large stalagmites and stalactites as well as smaller, more delicate speleotherms. Surfacing within the cavern, a diver can gaze upward at dangling stalactites and the bats for which the cave is named.
Sleeping Sharks Cave:
The discovery of this cavern in 1969 caused puzzlement among scientists, who had previously posited that sharks could only breathe while actively swimming. In this location, however, currents of water move over the sharks' gills, allowing the sharks themselves to stay still. Look for bull sharks, lemon sharks, schools of amberjacks, manta rays and turtles.
Cenote Taj Mahal:
This cavern dive is notable for the play of light through overhead openings, for fallen stalactites littering the sediment, and for hidden fossils. Haloclines (abrupt changes in the water's salinity) create mirror-like effects as divers penetrate the layer of salt water beneath the fresh water. Also look for the "Chinese Garden."
This 36-meters/120-foot shrimp boat sank during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and rests now in 21 meters/70 feet of water. Look for green moray eels, nurse sharks, rainbow parrotfish, cobia, groupers, amberjacks and snappers.
The interior of this wrecked Navy minesweeper can be thoroughly explored, from the engines to the office to the guns.
This topographically diverse site features arches, channels, bridges, and caves. A wealth of marine life adds color to the dramatic background of these features.
Descend 30 meters/100 feet through clear fresh water into a mystical hydrogen-sulfide layer that looks like a cloud with trunks and branches reaching protruding from it. The salt-water layer begins beneath the hydrogen-sulfide cloud. Slowly ascend along the walls of the cavern to admire the stalagmites and rock formations.
Noted as the beginning of the world's second-largest coral barrier, this 18-meter/60-foot dive features a vibrant range of corals and colored sponges.