My annual Mexico migration starts with a 9 a.m. liftoff from Colorado. I'm drift diving in Cozumel by midafternoon. Come evening, I'm downing icy cervezas with amigos I've known for years all this and not even 12 hours from home.
The Mexican Caribbean, aka Riviera Maya, stretches from Isla Mujeres south to the Chinchorro Banks. It's the
perfect compilation of spicy culture, welcoming people, wide-ranging accommodations and euphoric diving.
And it's better thanks to the Great Maya Reef, the world's second largest, which winds into neighboring Belize.
Isla Mujeres' underwater landscape can go head to head with much of Cozumel's. You can sample at least eight shallow reefs and just as many deep dives, including four wrecks. One not to miss is Cave of the Sleeping Sharks: Enter at 70 feet to survey the phenomena Jacques-Yves Cousteau filmed.
Farther south, Playa del Carmen is a growing resort town with some of the Caribbean's prettiest waters. A requisite site is Tortuga Reef, which crawls with turtles and flashing schools of tarpon. For a Yucatán diving exclusive, there are eight regularly visited freshwater cenotes inland from Playa del Carmen Chak-Mool, Taj Mahal and Dos Ojos, to name a few that can only be described as otherworldly.
Way south sits Mahahual, the access point for the pristine Chinchorro
Banks. It's the Northern Hemisphere's largest atoll a 300-square-mile bathtub with more than 200 fish species.
And naturally, there's Cozumel, Mexico's world-class dive destination. Most of its 30 reef sites on the leeward side are within a 10-minute boat ride from shore. The usual underwater arrangement has brilliant-white middepth sand flats spilling around coral heads alive with a hit parade of Caribbean reef fish. Then comes
a dramatic, abrupt wall where divers typically level out at around 80 feet and then hitch a ride on Cozumel's
famed northbound current.
More than 100 named Caribbean dive sites, enchanting cenotes, Latin American sizzle, resorts of all stripes: It's all within a few hours from your front door. Viva el México until next year.