Mexico offers some of the finest diving and snorkeling opportunity around the world, thanks to the Mayan Reef Barrier, which stretches from the Northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Cancun all the way south to the Bay Islands of Honduras. In this post, we are going to unravel the best snorkeling from the beach in Mexico, including road access, tips for entering the water and in-water descriptions.
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Mayan Reef Barrier: A Snorkeler Treasure
At 1100 km (or 700 miles), the Mayan Reef Barrier is the 4th largest reef in the world. It is not a small feat, as the Greet Reef Barrier of Australia is 2300 km long (1400 miles). The area located in Mexico is known as the Riviera Maya. Other greats destinations can be found throughout Mexico’s extensive shoreline. As the sites are so numerous, many of the best shore snorkeling can be done in Mexico.
Snorkeling in Mexico can be divided in 3 mains areas, all of them can be entered from the shore.
1.Riviera Maya with its fantastic reef barrier, which is the is the most visited area as a mass tourist destinations. But it’s also very accessible and filled with underwater marvels.
2. Islands and atoll around Veracruz: Very appealing location with prime Most spots would actually require a boat.
3. Gulf of California, located between Baja California and the West Coast. This is such a fantastic and underrated area that the famous oceanographer and biologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau called it “the world’s aquarium”.
While the Mayan Reef Barrier is not in perfect shape, the Mexicans are putting their attention on preserving and improving this important and magnificent ecosystems. As always, make sure to keep them alive by respecting snorkeling best practices.
Cozumel island is located in prime snorkeling territory: it boasts some of the most incredible coral heads and with crystal clear visibility often over 50m (200ft). It is a flourishing island which has become a favorite with travelers with its marine park, both in group or independent. Its unique turquoise water is one of the key reason for returning travels by snorkelers. And its protected island status with lively corals makes it an easy choice for a drift snorkel from the beach in Mexico.
The island is about 50km long and 15km wide (10 by 30 miles), meaning that they are numerous snorkeling sites to be found. The West shore is free of seaweed and mostly covered by corals, reefs,
Although there are exceptions, most locations
Cozumel – Cozumel Palace
Cozumel Palace is a large resort located straight on the waterfront. Its beach area has the typical loungers around. While the reef as not large, the area is easily accessible and there is plenty of fish, ranging from barracuda, eel, and stingray. Cozumel Palace can offer great accommodation opportunity but it is possible to access the area without
The dolphin pen that collapsed in 2005 is located North past El Cantil. Fishes are very abundant in this area and it is easy to enter the water to snorkel from the beach.
Cozumel – Villa Blanca Beach
Yet another hotel with its beach club, the Villa Blanca Wall is truly awesome and dive operators regularly visit this site. For snorkeling by yourself, enter thru the “La Palapita” and hang out at their beach club.
It’s possible to enter the water for snorkeling by jumping off the pier and going down the staircase. The water is about 3–5m deep (15–25ft) and the depth falls rapidly around the wall, which makes it an impressive snorkeling site. Seahorse, starfish,
The Villa Blanca is certainly one of our favorite snorkeling site that can be entered from the beach!! Mornings are crowded but afternoon tends to be less popular.
Cozumel – Sunset & Sand Dollar Sport Beach
Another entry point for the marine park. The access and snorkeling experience at Sunset and Sand dollar is similar to Villa Blanca Wall. The entry from the shore can be done from a staircase for convenient access for snorkeling from the shore. It possible to put on your mask, fins,
Cozumel – Paradise Reef
As its name says, the Paradise Reef is one of the most gorgeous
Cozumel – Fiesta Americana Hotel
The beach in front of the Fiesta Americana Hotel has been completely remodeling in 2014. The reef is very lively and hosts to parrotfish, eel,
Cozumel – Chankanaab Beach Park
Chankanaab is outstanding for novice snorkelers and to explore coral heads as shallow as 6m. Another highlight is the 3 statues that were placed in the area. The Christ statue is actually 4m tall and stands out from the surrounding corals.
Cozumel – Palancar
Palancar is located in the south of the Cozumel island far from the city, meaning that the beach not crowded by cruise line excursions.
Palancar is deeper than nearby Punta Sur Eco, having the ocean floor around 8m (30ft) and the top of the reef at 3m (10ft). It is a great snorkeling spot to snorkel from the shore for enthusiasts: its depth and current don’t make it the easiest, but the uniqueness of its towering rock spires and cliffs covered with sponges largely compensate for. It is a gem worth discovering.
Cozumel – El Cielo
El Cielo is known for its extremely clear water (el Cielo stands for “the sky”) and perfectly clear white sand. The water is very shallow, usually about waist deep but the spot can only be accessed by boats. Less a snorkeling spot than an interesting piece of land to swim to.
Cozumel – Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
The south point of the Cozumel is hosting a large reserve which is home to crocodile natural habitats in lagoon as well as a sea-turtle nesting area. But don’t worry, the snorkeling is done far away from these beasts! The entrance fee is 3$ or 14$ if you want access to all the area of the park. The 3$ access fee allows you to snorkel from the shore.
Punta Sur site is a fantastic snorkeling environment with loads of fishes and colorful coral nested in reef. It’s a great location to escape the crowd. The center of the reef is barely underwater (1m) while the distance going to the reef is around 3–5m (10–15ft). The reef itself is far from the beach at about 200–300m (200–300 yards). So, although swimming from the shore is possible, it is clearly not for everyone. Once at the reef, nice and quiet drift snorkeling is possible. The snorkeling area is delimited by yellow buoys. It’s mandatory to wear a life vest as the snorkeling is practice within the park’s limit.
An easiest access is with locals with their kayak or raft. Kayaks are great to hang yourself and relax while catching your breath. It’s best to head from the beach kayak, snorkel to the north of the park and them back to to the beach.
Cozumel – La Francesa Shallow
At the depth of 5–12m (20′-40′), La Francesa Shallows is a superb reef which is closer to the shore than the main Las Francesa reef wall, which is too deep to snorkel to. It’s often visited from snorkelers from the shore and by scuba divers as well. If exploring from the shore, expect a long swim or have a local’s raft accompany you. Current is heading north to Columbia shallow.
The ocean floor rises to about 5m (20ft) to floor a nicely defined ridge which slowly mixes into the sandy ocean floor. This creates a concentration of fish like blue tangs, snappers and grunts as well as Boga fishes.
Cozumel – Columbia shallow
Columbia Shallow is another magnificent reef. Being located further away from the city helps protecting it, it gets visited only by more proficient snorkelers and divers. The reef bottom is about 8m deep (30ft) with coral structures climbing up to 4m deep (12ft). The reef is shallower than nearby Palancar and the corals are equally vivid.
Cozumel – Punta Celarain snorkel
The Punta Celarain point can also be snorkeled but be aware that the currents and the waves are stronger as the tip of the Cozumel is more exposed to the environments.
Isla Holbox is best known for the diving tour with whale shark. Still, it is possible to snorkel from the beach. It’s advised to enter the water away from town as sewage issues were reported. There is no reef, but the ground is sea grass.
Isla Mujeres offers a prime snorkeling destination just outside Cancun. Overall, the reefs are located on the south-west side of the island. The best snorkeling spots are available by boats and we recommend Casa Del Buceo.
Still, it is possible to enter the water from the beach and the best entry point is Garrafón Park. Beware that the current can be strong.
The Western part of the island offers some magnificent reef. Sadly, they are located further away from the shore so accessing this one does require a boat. But on the upside, fewer people visit them and the reefs are in better shape. 😉
Cancun or Whale Shark Snorkeling in Open Sea
If you want our advice, Cancun is not the best snorkeling destinations as the beach is crowded, their is strong wave and the coral reefs have been heavily damaged. There are so many other greats snorkeling destinations around Cancun to choose from…
The only one of those interesting destinations is actually the Cancun underwater museum (Museo Subacuatico de Arte).
Visiting underwater statue while snorkeling
Last, one of those awe inspiring opportunity is to snorkel with whale shark. Ok, it is not possible to swim with whale shark from the shore, but it is such incredible adventure. The best season to snorkel with whale shark is from whale shark from June to September. It is advised for strong swimmer only as the encounter takes place into the open water. We’d also advise participant to take motion sickness medication as it’s very easy to get sea sickness and it would ruin your outing.
Puerto Morelos’s shore and reef enjoys to be protected within a marine park since 1988. And it shows: the reefs are still in very decent shape and the fishes are plenty and large. As always, make sure to keep them alive by respecting snorkeling best practices. The reef barrier is about 400 m (1200ft) from the shore). The water is calm most of the time within the reef barrier shelter close to Ojo de agua. The water can be choppy and the visibility degraded close to the reef if it’s windy.
The main area to snorkeling from the shore in Puerto Morelos is the “Ojo de Agua hotel and beach club”. This area is just north of the lighthouse with its dock. This area is named for a small cenote that vents just off shore, creating a mixture a fresh and salty water. The buoy line is quite far out so the area to which it is safe to snorkel from the shore is large. The buoi line provide nice resting floats. It also provides nice resting floats.
There is no requirement to wear a life jacket in that area: so it’s possible to dive and be close to the corals and fishes making them easier to see. The fishes are large and plentiful and this stop is well known for scores of barracuda. The water depth is enough to prevent contact but shallow enough to make diving easy.
It is not possible to swim to the reef barrier from the shore; it is about 400m away and is located within the park perimeter. Park bracelet must be worn to enter the park, as do life jacket in order to snorkel. The park guards are used to deal with crowds and want to avoid incident — sadly for the more experienced snorkelers as it prevents diving!
You need to hire an operator: 2-hours trip to the reef should cost between 20–25$ and include stopping at 2 points on the reef.
Playa Del Carmen
The city of Playa del Carmen itself offers limited snorkeling areas. Most travelers come here for resorts and hire boats to dive or snorkel. Still, it is possible to enjoy a nice drift snorkeling from the shore in Playa del Carmen.
Playa del Carmen – Canibal Royal Beach Club
When heading north of town close to the Diablito Cha Cha Cha Beach Club. (past the 46th Street). It was previously known as the Canibal Royal Beach Club. The boat parks right in front of the resort and the reef is located straight out from this location. It wise to carry a vest or dive buoy for visibility and flotation when snorkeling from the shore. Not the best location for beginners because of the boat activity.
Playa del Carmen – Mamitas Beach
Mamitas Beach is on 28th Street with 2 large beach clubs: Kool and Mamitas. It hard to miss this spot. Mamitas located at Calle 28 this beach offers two large beach clubs, Kool and Mamitas. (Expect loud music all day long…) The withe beach with its bright turquoise water is gorgeous. There are some surprisingly lively reefs which can be accessed from the beach.
If snorkeling close to beach clubs is not your cup of tea, Paa Mul is a small village which attracts families and people looking to escape the crowds. While not a long drive from Playa del Carmen, the protected bay has decent snorkeling spots with reefs with a more cozy setting for snorkeling.
Give it definitively a try if going around Playa del Carmen!
Xcacel and Xpu-Ha
The region surrounding Xcacel and Xpu-Ha is one of the least visited while it is truly a gem for nature lovers: pristine sand beach with coves offering the best that Mexico has to offer. Remote location, soft beach, a mangrove cenote and a sea turtle sanctuary make Xcacel the perfect location to snorkel from the beach.
Every spring, countless sea turtles hatch on Xcacel beach. This activity will last until October, so pay special attention during that period. The sanctuary is open to visit and request a donation (10–20 pesos) to enter the beach. Please be generous with them!
There are stretches of coral on both ends of the beach although the north ends is larger and best preserved. The snorkeling area can easily be accessed from the shore when the water is calm. Beware of currents which can be strong when venturing far away: kite boarding can be practiced close by when he wind is blowing.
And please remember not to touch any mounds of sand as they could be turtle nests…
Oh, a small mangrove cenote for fresh water swimming is accesibble by a trail into the forest. Don’t expect somethig too impressive as it is only 5m (15ft) wide.
Puero Adventuras could have been named by a marketer: it’s surrounding nature and seas offers countless opportunity for adventures, snorkeling and diving. But this small town reality is much more laid-back, making it a perfect town to enjoy the best : the white sand beaches outcrops into the turquoise Caribbean waters which is easily accessible by a marina.
As along the Maya reef barriers, nice corals formations can be found close to the coast which is visited by countless colorful fish. In addition, the government has added artificial reef for the local fish. These faux reefs attract many fish and are being colonized by many coral species as well. It’s already hard to tell that they are man-made.
Being a small town, Puerto Adventuras does not have as much equipment rental or dive shop as nearby larger town. However, these means that you can have the reefs for yourself and the artificial reefs have been strategically position to allow novice snorkelers to explore the area safely.
Cenote Jardin del Eden
Going further down the Maya Costline around Playa del Carmen, the countryside is doted with cenotes. Cenotes are those magical fresh water sinkholes build into limestone caves that are filled with mesmerizing shapes. Luckily, most they can be snorkelled easily and they make for a great alternative to the Maya Reef Barriers when the weather, or your mood, is not cooperating.
The prime appeal of cenotes is to swim surronded with uncrediable rock formations, caves of all sort and stalagmites falling from the roof. It makes for an uncommun snorkelling locations when addings the tropical plants and colourful fishes that inhabits cenotes.
The Cenote Jardin del Eden is especially wide and open, making a great initiation. The entrance fee is affordable (3–5$), and includes use of the restrooms and on-site first aid. Snorkel gear can also be rented on-site. Sure, it can be touristy at time, but the Cenote Jardin del Eden truly is a gem when it come to snorkeling with an easy access in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Cenote Azul, Cenote Cristalino and Casa Cenote
Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino are right next to Cenote Jardin Del Eden. These cenotes are equally beautiful with their crystal clear water. They are only slighly less roomy, but they still make for an incredible swiming experience.
Further down the coast toward Tulum is Casa Cenote which has very clear water and is large enough to have kayaks in. Casa Cenote is surronded with mangroves making it a uncommon place to snorkel. There is a restaurant across the stress to the cenote and it enjoys great views on the ocean.
Akumal: Awesome for turtles and access!
Akumal really offers the best snorkelling from the beach in Mexico. It boots one of the liveliest coral reefs in all the regions and it is home to score of green sea turtle that both nest and feed in the area. The sea is shallow for long distance before reaching to the protection of the reef – making it nice for beginners. The only downside is its popularity: there are as many snorkelers trying to see the turtles as there are touts trying to get there share of money. Still, it can be heaven on earth if you manage to avoid the crowds between 9:30 and 16:00. Note that the Akumal Bay has ben turned into a Marine Refuge in 2016.
Either as an independent diver or with a tour operator, we recommend that you arrive before 9h30. If you are shopping for a tour operator and they can’t agree to start before 10h30 or even noon, you’d better keep searching for a better operator – they are numerous.
Akumal’s bay is made of the finest sand from the beachfront up to the reefs. As the sea gets rougher during the day, the visibility can decrease significantly. The multitude of beginners diver scoop the sandy bottom does not help in the process… and you are better arriving early.
Entrance at Akumal’s Beach
The beach and the sea remain public and free of use. For your convenience, we recommend entering through the official CEA center, which will grant you access to its pleasant facility in exchange
Still, Akumal Bay is a protected marine area since 2016. Many rules have been put in place to protect the turtles. As the rules keep changing frequently, it causes confusion over what is allowed. We hope they will settle soon.
As of time of writting (January 2019), entrance to Akumal beach is free and does not require a snorkeling or a lifejacket.
Please respect some basic points while at Akumal Bay:
- Follow directive from people wearing a valid photo ID from the PROFEPA (Mexican Environmental Protection).
- Do not enter the area marked by buoy. They are use to limit the park and ensure proper turtle protection.