Why is Scuba Diving in Playa del Carmen so great?
One of the best things you can do in Mexico is scuba diving in Playa del Carmen and elsewhere on the Riviera Maya. We discovered this during the three months we spent living in this lively city on the Yucatan peninsula. But you don’t just need to take our word for it. The famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau declared the reefs between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen to be some of the most spectacular diving sites in the world.
And he is absolutely right! A scuba dive down to the coral reefs of Playa del Carmen will reward you with a huge variety of colourful fish, corals, and other lifeforms, like turtles and rays, which swim graciously in the warm water of the Caribbean sea.
But diving is not only limited to the beautiful coral reefs of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. There are other dive spots like sunken wrecks, the Cenotes, (which are primarily found in the Yucatan Peninsula) and the spectacular underwater museum MUSA waiting to be discovered by you.
When is the best time to go scuba diving in Playa del Carmen?
One of the most awesome things about scuba diving in Playa del Carmen Mexico is that you can do it year round. The water temperatures in Playa del Carmen vary throughout the whole year between 25 and 28ºC (77 and 82ºF). This makes diving in the Caribbean Sea an absolute joy, no matter which month you choose for your holidays. You can roughly divide the year into two different diving seasons: May to November and December to April.
May to November
The months between May and September are your best bet if you want to visit Playa del Carmen specifically for some cenote diving. During this time you’ll have the best light conditions in the caves. This leads to a better overall experience and more spectacular photographs.
The summer months also offer the best visibility for reef dives. Just make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast during this time. An occasional hurricane might hit the region during this time. Otherwise, the weather in summer is humid and hot with sporadic rain showers. This time of the year is also one of the cheapest for booking your diving holidays in Playa del Carmen. Because it’s low season, you’ll find the best deals for accommodation and dives. Also, the dive sites (and everywhere else) are a lot less crowded than in winter.
In case you’re interested in wildlife, there is great news if you visit Playa del Carmen between late spring and mid-autumn. During the months May to September, you have the best chances to see whale sharks near Isla Mujeres and between May to September loggerhead and green turtles arrive to lay their eggs along the Riviera Maya.
December to April
From December to April is the best time to visit Mexico in general. This also includes Playa del Carmen. While it is cold and wet in the northern hemisphere, the weather in Playa is warm and sunny. The prices normally go up and it’s more difficult to find accommodation. Make sure to book early enough if you want to stay in a good hotel or resort, especially if you plan to spend Christmas or New Year’s Eve in PDC.
Many pelagic species are drawn toward this area because the water is slightly cooler in the winter months. Amongst others, this also includes sharks and dolphins. One of the absolute highlights between November and March is a dive with bull sharks.
Where are the best spots to scuba dive in Playa del Carmen and surroundings?
Reef Diving Playa del Carmen
The Tortuga Reef is one of Playa del Carmen’s most popular dive sites. One of the reasons for this is a large number of sea turtles who live in this area. The reef itself is covered by sponges and corals and sights of nurse sharks, king crabs and angelfish are not rare. The plate extends between 18 and 40 meters (90 and 120 feet).
The Barracuda reef is traditionally the second dive after the Tortuga Reef. It has a hand-like form with five outstretched fingers. Its depth is about 15 metres (49 feet). The reef is very rich in marine life like eels, angelfish, and boxfish. On a good day, you can actually see some barracudas, which give the reef its name. One one of our Playa del Carmen dives we saw five of them!
This famous wall in Playa del Carmen goes 30 metres deep and is a 25-minute boat ride away from the harbour. It’s full of spectacular coral formations, sponges and sea fans. Common sea creatures you can spot here are stingrays, moray eels, turtles and colourful fishes. At around three quarters of the way through a dive, you’ll come across a cavern with a chimney that leads to the top plateau of the reef.
The Sabalos reef is only a 10-minute boat ride away from Playa del Carmen. With a maximum depth of 15 metres, it is the perfect dive site for a beginner. You can find a lot of healthy soft and hard corals of all variations. Amongst the sea-life you can find here are also green eels and starfish. Towards the end of your dive, you can find a small cavern for exploration.
The Jardines reef is one of my personal favourite dive sites in Playa del Carmen. This shallow reef (maximum Depth 12 metres / 39 feet) is called Jardines (garden) because of its abundance of life. It’s only a 5-minute boat ride from Playa del Carmen. On my dives there I saw there stingrays, flounders, moray eels, lobsters and large schools of fish who were surrounding me. It’s the perfect dive site if you want to test your underwater dive camera!
Cenote Diving Playa del Carmen
The Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) Cenote has a documented underwater extent of 61 km, making it one of the ten longest underwater cave systems in the world. The water temperature is approximately 24°C (77 Fahrenheit) throughout the year and the average depth is about 10 meters (33 feet). The water is exceptionally clear. You can also find a Bat Cave in the Dos Ojos Cenote. Because of its size, there are two routes through the caverns. For many people, this particular cenote is one of the favourite places to scuba dive in Playa del Carmen.
The Chac Mool Cenote has three different water entrances, the main entrance, the Little Brother entrance and the Kukulkan entrance. If you enter the through the main entrance, you’ll get directly to one of the highlights of this cenote dive: The Dome Room. In this cavern, a part of the ceiling has collapsed, which offers a great opportunity to ascend and marvel at the beautiful stalactites and some fossils.
El Jardin del Eden
This cenote is the perfect spot for first-time cenote scuba divers. The cavern area of El Jardin del Eden is spacious and offers many small and large rooms and passages. You will also find some incredible light conditions and a halocline at about 10 meters. Once you’re done scuba diving, you can also just relax or snorkel a bit at the large open pool of the cenote. The rich aquatic plant life and the variety of freshwater inhabitants make sure that this cenote is not called “Garden Eden” for nothing.
The Pit Cenote is one of the absolute highlights in the Yucatan Peninsula for anyone who loves cenote diving! With a depth of 119 meters (390 feet), it is the deepest cenote open to the public in the Riviera Maya. The highlights are the fantastic light display in the clear water, the halocline, a sulfide cloud and some remaining animal bones from the ice age. Due to the depth, the Pit is recommended for experienced divers.
The Car Wash Cenote got its name because taxi drivers used to wash their cars with the water from this cenote. It is a relatively shallow cenote (max. Depth 16 meters / 52 feet) which is perfect for beginners. You’ll find a lot of underwater vegetation and if you’re lucky, you can even see a shy crocodile. Because of the rich underwater vegetation, this cenote is also great for underwater photography. Make sure that you don’t forget your underwater camera.
Diving in Cozumel
Punta Sur Reef and Caverns
Punta Sur is home to the widely acclaimed Devil’s Throat, an underwater cave formation located offshore at Punta Sur. Diving here is absolutely spectacular and you can see a variety of beautiful sponges, corals, and caves. Because of the depth and the fact that the current can be quite strong here, it’s only recommended for experienced divers.
This shallow reef (around 15 meters / 50 feet deep) is perfect for beginner and novice scuba divers. The colourful coral reef is filled with cracks and holes. This makes it a perfect shelter for a variety of sea creatures like eels, sand rays, scorpion fish or the indigenous splendid toadfish. You also have the chance to find large lobsters and octopus on a night dive.
The Palancar reef consists of many different sections, making it the perfect place for scuba diving in Cozumel for every level of expertise. A beginner should head to the Palancar Garden, more experienced scuba divers head to Palancar Horseshoe and Palancar Caves and Bricks. Amongst the things to see in the Palancar reef, there are sponges, eagle rays, turtles, sharks, and various colourful fish.
Wreck Diving Playa del Carmen
The Mama Vina is a former boat used for fishing shrimp. It was intentionally sunk near Playa del Carmen in 1997 to create a wreck for corals, sea-life and divers. The bottom of the boat lies 30 meters deep on the ocean floor and its hull is completely covered with sea fans and corals. Because of the sometimes strong current, this dive is recommended for more experienced divers. Keep also an eye out for eagle rays and other fish around the boat.
The C-56 Juan Escutia is a former minesweeper ship that was sunk in 1996 in front of Puerto Morelos as part of an Artificial Reef Program. The wreck is completely covered in corals and sports a great amount of marine life all over it. The bottom of the wreck lies at 27 meters deep. Usually, you can spot some beautiful spotted Eagle Rays who hang around the boat. There is also the chance to see barracudas and big snappers. The wreck can be entered through the engine room and the staterooms. There is no Wreck Diving Certification needed to explore this fantastic wreck.
MUSA in Cancun
The Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) is an underwater museum between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. It’s one of the absolute scuba diving highlights when you’re on vacation in Playa del Carmen. About 500 sculptures have been sunk here to create an underwater exhibition. They are now mostly covered in corals and build a dreamlike display.
The whole project has the aim to create a new artificial coral reef, draw visitors away from other reefs to protect them and creating a spectacle for divers of every kind. You can visit the MUSA in three different ways: As a scuba diver, as a snorkeler or as a passenger in a glass-bottom boat.
Scuba diving with Bull Sharks
If you are looking for the ultimate scuba diving thrill in Playa del Carmen, then you have to visit in the winter months. Every year a huge number of female Bull Sharks are drawn to Playa del Carmen to spend the winter there and give birth to their offspring. A dive with these majestic sea creatures is an experience you’ll never forget again. To do a Bull Shark dive you need to have either an Advanced Open Water certificate, an Open Water certificate and 25 logged dives, or confirmation from a PADI instructor that you are fit and skilled enough to do this dive.
We heard that some dive shops feed the sharks to draw them in. This is a dangerous practice and you should absolutely avoid such dive centres! Feeding the sharks could compromise the dive safety and alter the feeding patterns of the sharks. Make sure you’re booking a no-interaction dive with the sharks.
How can you test whether you like scuba diving?
Some years ago, there was only one way to go scuba diving: With a PADI Open Water certificate. For this certificate, you had to do a multi-day course without even knowing whether you’ll enjoy it or not. With the Discover Scuba Diving, this changed. The one-day long Discover Scuba Diving Course consists of 3 parts: A short theory session, a practice session in a pool and then two dives in the actual sea. You can comfortably book the Discover Scuba Diving course online. We booked exactly this course and were blown away by how awesome it was!
This is the perfect way to find out if you want to invest all the time and money in a full Open Water course. We personally did this course in Playa del Carmen. We weren’t sure whether we’d like scuba diving or not, but after that day we were so excited that we immediately booked the Open Water course.
How can I learn scuba diving in Playa del Carmen?
If you want to learn scuba diving in Playa del Carmen, then the easiest way is through a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified instructor. This worldwide organisation already certified more than 25 million scuba divers and they have more than 6’500 dive centres around the globe. A lot of the dive centres in Playa del Carmen work with PADI.
One of the most popular courses to learn scuba diving is the PADI Open Water Course. It certifies you to scuba dive to a maximum depth of 18 meters (60 feet) once complete this 3-day course. The certificate is valid for life, all over the world. During this course, you’ll have one day of theory, a morning session in the pool and then four dives in the sea, where you’ll apply your freshly learned skills in the open water. We both did the course and enjoyed every minute of it!
After the PADI Open Water course, the ways to improve your scuba diving skills are almost endless. PADI offers further courses which range from underwater photography, rebreather courses over various technical courses to dive instructor courses.
Which dive shop in Playa del Carmen should you choose?
There are so many dive centres in Playa del Carmen that it can be difficult to choose one. The first step in your selection process should be to check the reviews on TripAdvisor and Google Maps. Often you’ll get already a certain feeling for the dive shop through the reviews. Then, when you’ve chosen, you should visit the dive centre and get a feeling for the staff and the gear they are using. There are factors which can give you a hint that the dive centre is not good:
- The staff is unenthusiastic about the local Playa del Carmen dive sites
- The gear is old and/or badly maintained
- You just have a bad feeling about the place (listen to your guts)
Dune Mexico Blue Dream
We personally recommend Dune Mexico Blue Dream as the best dive shop in Playa del Carmen. We both did our PADI Open Water certificate there and have several reasons to recommend the place. This 5-Star PADI dive centre was for us a big reason why we loved scuba diving in PDC so much! We didn’t get paid or rewarded for this recommendation in any form. We just like this dive centre and the people who work there.
- The staff is very friendly and it feels like the whole team is one big family. This shows that the divers like to work in this Playa del Carmen dive shop, which is always a good sign
- The staff is enthusiastic about Playa del Carmen scuba diving. They do it because they love it, not because they have to do it. This enthusiasm sparks over to the customer and makes diving a lot more fun
- The gear is very well maintained and of good quality. We went for one dive with another company and their gear was more poorly maintained
- Safety first. While diving with the instructors of Dune we never felt in danger. Safety checks are carried out often and thoroughly. We trust every employee of Dune with our lives.
How to get to Playa del Carmen?
The closest airports to Playa del Carmen are the Cancun International Airport and the Cozumel International Airport. If you land in Cancun, you can get yourself a private transfer, a taxi or a rental car directly to your hotel in Playa del Carmen. A cheaper alternative is to take the public ADO Aeropuerto bus which brings you for less than USD 10 (around 200 pesos per person) to Playa del Carmen. If you arrive in Cozumel, you can take the ferry to the mainland, the port is right the centre of Playa del Carmen.
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Final Words on scuba diving in Playa del Carmen
For me, scuba diving in Playa del Carmen will always have a special meaning. Before I visited PDC, I was always slightly afraid of being under the water. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn scuba diving. My aim was to face my fears and not be afraid of diving anymore. My world was completely changed after my first day of diving. I suddenly felt comfortable underwater. Heck, I even loved being underwater. You can discover such an amazing new world which you only previously saw in aquariums or on TV.
Scuba in Playa del Carmen is spectacular and versatile. With reefs, wrecks, walls, underwater museums and cenotes you can be sure never to be bored.
Do you have favourite dive sites in Playa del Carmen? Do you know any other great dive spots around the world? Let us know in the comments. We’re looking forward to hear from you!