Riviera Maya: Officially, this loosely defined region of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, south on highway 307 from Cancun, stretches from Puerto Morelos to Tulum and encompasses the lively town of Playa Del Carmen and the cenote center of the universe of Puerto Aventuras. If you want to know what it's like to float in thin air, the closest you will ever come is the diamond clear fresh water filled caverns, called cenotes that pockmark Riviera Maya. For cave divers, this region of the Yucatan is legendary, but everyday divers can explore the lightbeam filled caverns. Playa del Carmen mixes all the best elements of Mexican culture and nightlife and party savior afire with some big animal encounters. Mexico's best bull shark dive is just off this energetic town, and during most dives you'll be able to connect the dots of your dive from one sea turtle encounter to another. Tulum was the ultimate kingly beach house. This Mayan ruin, which sits right on the water, almost single-handedly defines this section of Mexico with culture, beach, sparkling water and a vigorous circus like atmosphere.
Playacar and Playa Del Carmen: Playacar is the region south of the dynamic town of Playa Del Carmen that is comprised of a string of all-inclusive resorts. With easy access to town and the famous 24-hour scene of Avenida Quinta, and the diving just offshore, Playacar makes for a great Riviera Maya adventure launchpad.
Puerto Aventuras: If you dream of dark, watery holes that wander deep into the earth, then you probably already know about Puerto Aventuras. Access to the renowned cenotes has made this corner of the earth legendary for cave and cavern divers (Great for cavern diving) too.
Puerto Morales: All the diving from Puerto Morales takes place within the National Part of Puerto Morales and includes caverns, wrecks, drift diving, shark caves and several other surprises that make up this quite unheralded region of Riviera Maya.
What to Eat:
For truly authentic Mexican fare, you should stop at any of the taquerias in the local towns. Don't hesitate to try Mayan dishes at some of restaurants including lima sopa (lime-chicken soup) or poc chuc (char-grilled pork marinated in sour orange). Chili peppers rule in this area, so try some hot salsas and the aguachile (a very spicy ceviche typically made with shrimp.)
What to Drink:
Montejo is the beer brewed in Yucatan and you'll find lots of it along with all the other great Mexican beers. Tequila flows in the bars as shots, in margaritas or mixed into other cocktails. Try Xtabentun - a famous alcohol of the Mayan lands that is made from honey and anise - often mixed into an after- dinner coffee.
In Playa del Carmen, you'll find bars, restaurants, shopping and nightlife on the pedestrian street of Avenida Quinta.
Customs and Culture:
The resorts and tourist areas are all about fun, but abide by the rules and regulations when visiting archaeological sites.
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.
When to go:
Although you can dive year-round, hurricane season runs from July to November.
Marine Life Seasons:
Green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles nest on beaches of the Mayan Riviera from May through September.
When to Get the Best Deals:
During the rainy season. July to November.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, sturdy shoes if you decide to hike the Mayan ruins nearby, such as Tulum or Chichen Itza, and booties for getting around the cenotes. DAN Card.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/78°F in winter and 28°C/84°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 17-27°C/63-82°F in winter and 24-34°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.
It's included in the airfare.
Amazing Marine Life
This round, brown-mottled little ray blends in easily on sandy bottoms.
With its long stick-legs and small body, this spider-like crab feeds on corals.
Can be seen during the day, but night dive, especially those off the Big Island, bring in up to 30 of these plankton feeding giants at a time.
Take a close look under ledges and around reef structures for nurse sharks.
Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
Mottled in scaly patterns of reds and browns, the scorpionfish can blend easily with polyp-encrusted rocks, but its venomous dorsal spines render this beauty a danger.
These predators can be found off Playa Del Carmen and planned feeding dives can be organized to get up-close to this thick-bodied shark.
These prehistoric-looking silver pelagic fish grow up to 2.5 meters/eight feet long and often feed on the reefs.
Look up when diving, these giant fish are frequently seen passing from March to May, but can be seen year-round.
These predatory fish are often seen on the reefs.
Top Dive Spots
The name (which means "garden") refers to the lush underwater vegetation. Look for sponges, hard coral, fan corals, sea whips, and the myriad of fishes and moray eels that swim among the vegetation.
This reef reaches out in finger-like extensions with holes and ledges to explore, as well as a shallow cave at the northern end, all patrolled by large numbers of barracuda.
Named for the numerous sea turtles found here, this drift dive reef also features king crabs, angelfish, groupers, tarpons, and nurse sharks.
Brain corals gave this site its name, but it is also notable for swim-through arches. Look for lobsters, king crabs, shrimp, moray eels, scorpionfish, and other reef fish. Visibility can be poor here when the ocean is rough.
Named for a pair of dramatic arches, this wall section is covered in corals, sponges, and sea fans. Look for turtles and stingrays, and in colder temperatures, bull sharks.
This sunken shrimp boat with its picturesque propeller is penetrable by experienced divers. Check out the lower decks and inside rooms, and pay a visit to the barracuda cruising around its mast. Be cautious of current.
This multi-level dive features nurse sharks, bull sharks, stingrays, turtles, schooling tarpon, and the occasional whale shark or manta ray.
The name translates to "tarpon," and schools of tarpon can sometimes be seen here. Look for a wide array of sea stars in sandy areas, and reef fish among the hard and soft corals.
Bottoming out at 12 meters/40 feet, this shallow dive allows for lengthy bottom time to enjoy the garden-like vegetation with coral overhangs and a number of coral caverns. Look for flounders, lemon rays, moray eels, shells and arrow crabs.
These freshwater-filled caverns are marvels of nature, their clear water pierced by dramatic shafts of sunlight on the stalactites and stalagmites. The Mayan Riviera boasts more than 3,000 cenotes, including the cave systems of Ox Bel Ha and Nohoch Nah Chich.