Sit in on a post-dive happy hour at most any dive resort and you will inevitably hear tales of the good old days a magical time of near-virgin reefs teeming with fish life and charming seaside villages unsullied by crowds or commercialism.
The island of Cozumel is especially fertile ground for "remember-when stories" if for no other reason than because so many visitors come back time and again. Depending on the date of their first visit, they may even be able to reminisce about that simpler time when you could hire a fisherman's panga right off the beach to take you diving for 10 bucks a day.
The one thing these stories typically lack, however, is the lament that "the diving isn't what it used to be." In fact, most Old Cozumel Hands will concede that in many ways, the scuba experience is better today than in years gone by.
Granted, there are more divers than in the early days, but there are also more fast, first-class boats traveling to a wider range of sites, which means that divers have more choices than ever.
| Maya Respite
No trip to this part of the world would be complete without a visit to the seaside Maya temple of Tulum.
|1 Palancar Reef (Cozumel)
2 The C-53 (Cozumel)
3 Columbia Reef (Cozumel)
4 Dos Ojos (Maya Riviera)
5 Herradura (Cancún)
Thanks to the life-giving currents that sweep Cozumel's shores, the reefs remain vibrant and the fish life abundant. Divers today enjoy an underwater scene that is largely unchanged from the pioneer days of scuba except there are more big fish now than then, thanks to a longtime ban on spearfishing and the establishment of a coastal marine park. The whole vivid undersea show plays out in visibility that often exceeds 150 feet. Dive sites like Palancar Reef, Tormentos and Columbia Reef seem to improve with the passing years.
Topside, change has been kind to the community, and the addition of several new luxury hotel and beach clubs and have added to the island's small-town feel. Indeed, the combination of prime dive sites, first-class support and a wide range of topside options provides visitors with what must truly be the best of both worlds. Pierce Hoover
Think Cancún, and immediately round-the-clock partying comes to mind. Lately, though, even well-traveled and jaded divers have started to show up along these fabled beaches to climb aboard dive boats and immerse themselves in the lively marine environment off Cancún.
At sites like Herradura, Octopus and the C-35 wreck, huge aggregations of blue striped snapper, grunts, tangs, porkfish and other schooling fish crowd the step reef. Nearby, Isla Mujeres hosts whale sharks in season and is home to the famous Cave of the Sleeping Sharks and Manchones Reef (check out the photogenic Cruz de la Bahia sculpture). TS
The Rivera Maya has now come into its own. From the funky Euro-beach culture of Playa del Carmen to the low-key yet upscale properties tucked along highway 307, it is a region that is drawing interest from both the adventurous and the sybaritic.
For divers with a sense of adventure, the attractions lie not offshore, but in the jungle. This is a land where streams flow underground, carving extensive networks of flooded tunnels.
The Mayans named these openings "cenotes" and believed them to be portals to the underworld, known as Xibalba.
You don't have to be an intrepid explorer, though, to experience the magic of the Mayan underworld. Without ever venturing far from light and air, divers can witness the magnificent formations and galleries that have made the Yucatán's caves and caverns famous. PH