Cozumel, the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean and most populous in Mexico, lies 12 miles off the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Mexican State of Quintana Roo. The island is approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide.
Cozumel has been a “must visit” destination for divers ever since Jacques Cousteau brought the island into the limelight in the early 1970’s. 40 years later, the Cozumel dive experience is still as thrilling as ever. Dive here once, and the reasons are obvious: crystal clear water, world class reefs, steep walls that plunge into the deep, an extensive system of limestone caves and interconnected tunnels, swaying coral gardens, waves of countless tropical fish and Cozumel’s trademark effortless drift diving. Water temperatures ranging between 78 – 82 year round make the experience all the more enjoyable.
Nestled in the protected lee of Cozumel’s west coast, the island’s 40+ dive sites are found all along the 20 miles of coral reefs that line the Yucatan Channel, which separates the island from mainland Mexico.
The warm, two- to three-knot current that flows south to north feeds and cleanses the thriving reef systems. This gentle drift is easy for divers of any experience level to master as it moves the dive group along at a leisurely and relaxing pace.
Santa Rosa, Columbia and Palancar Reefs, the latter located just offshore the Occidental properties - are three massive reef systems that come close to Cozumel’s shore, with depths ranging from 50 – 120 feet. For more experienced divers, the spectacular coral covered tunnels of Punta Sur and Maracaibo (Barracuda) rim the southern tip of the island where the reefs descend to depths of 130 feet or more.
All of these reef systems share the same basic topography in that they include three distinct zones: a low-profile coral garden reef area closest to shore changing over to an area of enormous coral pinnacles at the edge of the drop-offs, cascading into vertical walls that plunge steeply into the 3000-foot Yucatán Channel.
The near shore coral gardens range in depth from 20 – 50 feet and are generally visited as the second dive of the day. They are also ideal sites for new divers and junior certifications. Though they may not have the dramatic topography of the walls or pinnacles, the shallows offer light infused coral vistas packed with grunts and other schooling fish. Eagle rays are also commonly sited, and the gardens are the only place you can hope to find the splendid Toadfish – a species found only in Cozumel. Turtles are common as well, though quite frankly it is hard not to see a turtle on a dive in Cozumel! Palancar Gardens, Columbia Shallows, Santa Rosa Shallows, Yucab, Tormentos and Paso del Cedral are just some of the coral garden dive sites frequented by Dive Palancar.
The areas of coral pinnacles are some of the most popular sites as they range in depth from 30 – 130 feet, but in place of vertical walls, have a series of towering coral plateaus woven together by archways, swim-throughs and tunnels. Favorite pinnacle sites include Palancar Horseshoe, Columbia Pinnacles and Punta Sur. A dive at Punta Sur is nothing short of a right of passage for most Cozumel divers. Situated between the reef systems of Columbia and Maracaibo, the site has a central funnel through the reef called the Devll’s throat – (Garganta del Diablo.) It begins in only 50 feet of water but then leads the diver deeper and deeper through a long cave with a sandy bottom, incredible visibitily, and walls plastered with colorful sponges, finally spitting the diver out of an exit that hovers over the abyss at 130 feet. It is a truly otherworldly experience. There are more than 10 caves in total along Punta Sur, but none have the draw of the Devil’s Throat.
Vertical walls such as Maracaibo Deep, Columbia Deep and Santa Rosa Wall range from 70 feet to 130 feet plus and offer an adrenaline boosting deep blue water experience. Santa Rosa Wall is one of the areas most popular, offering a sheer drop of cliffs pierced with cuts in the wall housing enormous sponges and harboring giant grouper. Maracaibo Deep: one of the most southern areas not easily accessible by in town operations, but making it an ideal site for Allegro Cozumel guests diving with Pro Dive Mexico and Grand Cozumel guests diving with Dive Palancar. This is a fairly advanced dive, where the wall, beginning in about 90 feet of water, is covered with black coral and huge orange elephant ear sponges. It is also a great place to keep an eye on the deep blue for sharks and rays.