Mexico: Sea Lion
A sea lion at Los Islotes
The Caribbean’s most popular drift-diving destination, Cozumel excels in offering divers the most in-water bang for their buck. Riviera Maya, just a ferry ride away, is known for international hot spot Playa del Carmen, the quieter beaches of Tulum and, among divers, its Swiss-cheese limestone foundation — an underworld of limitless cavern diving. The quiet seaside town of La Paz in Baja is in direct contrast to Mexico’s flashier coastal destinations. Don’t let the tranquility fool you though — La Paz is also the jumping-off point for amazing diving adventures just offshore.
For the Drift Diver
Your C-card is entry into the park — after that, you choose the intensity of the roller coasters. Cozumel’s currents are swift across the entire southwest coast. Those with more experience should target the Punta Sur area near the island’s southern tip: Reefs here average 80 to 130 feet in depth. Named tunnels such as Devil’s Throat test your mettle in the dark. Green morays, lobsters and more tuck into the lairs, so shine a wide path. Ocean diving in Riviera Maya is primarily drifting — a milder version because the current is less intense.
For the Cenote Diver
Open-water divers need enough buoyancy control to keep from bumping ceilings or floors of the delicate cenote ecosystems scattered throughout the Riviera Maya. Otherwise, at the majority of these freshwater cavern dives, light is always within sight, so those with no specialized training can experience sites such as Dos Ojos and Chac Mool. The reward is centuries-old stalactites and stalagmites in gin-clear water. More training grants you access to deeper sites like Angelita, notable for its halocline — a chalky cloud where fresh water meets the sea.
For the Night Owl
Playa del Carmen’s draw is its anything-goes appeal. The main drag, Quinta Avenida, is two miles of restaurants, shopping and dance clubs; it’s the sort of town with multitier clubs and hole-inthe- wall bars with a couple of stools. Alux Restaurant serves lobsters and cocktails inside a cave — it’s also got dancing and a swimming pool. At Hotel Deseo’s rooftop bar, lounge on beds or in the pool; entertainment alternates between spinning DJs and black-and-white movie screenings; for something even hotter, check out a fire show on the beach.
For the Wannabe Local
Pack in lesser-known sites on Cozumel by hiring a driver: He can also bridge the communication gap. Guided or not, you’ll want to take in the on-the-beach tequila tasting at Mr. Sanchos, which includes eight varieties. Other highlights include the 2007-opened Chocolates Kaokao factory tour and the Punta Sur Ecological Park and Lighthouse, home to healthy reefs and a pond where visitors can kayak alongside crocodiles.
For the Kid at Heart
One of the world’s best encounters — whether you’re a snorkeler or a diver — is only one hour from La Paz. Los Islotes, two large rocky islets, is home to a 200-strong colony of California sea lions. They’re there year-round, so you’re guaranteed an inwater encounter. Interactions with the sea lions are entirely on their terms, but if you’re lucky, you’ll have fins tugged by rambunctious juveniles, and enjoy as the adults perform circus-worthy underwater acrobatics. — BM