Cozumel's crystalline Caribbean waters, colorful coral reefs, dramatic walls and rich critter life are just a few of the reasons this tiny island situated off the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is known as the "Diving Capital of Latin America." Thanks to a constant northward current, it's also called the "Drift-Diving Capital of the World," where divers can experience the thrill and awe of "underwater flight." With more than 40 dive sites, many within reach of a short boat ride, and excellent visibility year-round, there's something for all levels of divers to enjoy. Topside, downtown San Miguel is home to a smorgasbord of dining options featuring regional recipes and fresh seafood, as well as a maze of shops and boutiques to browse. All this, plus convenient access - many airport hubs offer direct flights, including Miami, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Toronto - makes Cozumel an ideal diving destination for any length of stay, including a short getaway!
Day 1 - Head to San Francisco Wall
If you're among those who arrive by late morning and can't wait to get your dive on, head to San Francisco Wall for a single-tank dive. Of course, there are other dive sites and dive shops that also offer twilight- and night-diving experiences, but this one is not to miss. Great for all levels of divers, Cozumel's shallowest wall dive starts at about 30 feet and features colorful coral and tube sponges. Be on the lookout for rays, sea turtles and starfish.
Meet up at Jacinta Barra & Cocina for creative cocktails and fusion cuisine, or mix it up and move on to Colonial-style Casa Mission for traditional Mexican recipes. El Palomar Cozumel offers island-centric dishes in a historic setting that includes a waterfront view.
Day 2 - Drift Dive All Day Long
Spend your day drift-diving sites off the island's southwestern coast and exploring portions of the world's second-largest barrier-reef system. More-experienced divers will appreciate the unpredictable conditions of Colombia Deep, a wall dive ranging from approximately 60 to 100 feet. Strong currents and surface conditions can allow for pronounced visibility, and the dive features varied terrain, from coral forests to rock pinnacles, canyons and swim-throughs. Look for eagle rays, sea turtles and barracuda.
The extensive Palancar Reef system is a match for any level of diver comfortable with moderate currents at depths between about 50 and 110 feet. The southernmost sites, Palancar Brick and Palancar Caves, feature mazes of swim-throughs, with the latter having the added feature of a steep drop-off. Navigate through large canyons, cuts and channels at Palancar Gardens. An array of sea critters can be spotted around these sites, ranging from butterflyfish, grouper and parrotfish to manta rays, hawksbill turtles and nurse sharks.
Paso del Cedral's moderate to strong current takes divers along a relatively flat reef that ranges in depth from about 30 to 60 feet and features coral gardens, swim-throughs, ledges and hills. This site is noted for octopuses, sea turtles, green moray eels, stingrays and grunts.
Day 3 - Make a Deco Stop: Snorkel "Heaven"
8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Before ascending to the "heavens" to return to your destination of origin, there's more "heaven" on Earth to experience at sea level, allowing for the perfect deco stop to help ensure the recommended time between your last dive and departing flight. Join a morning snorkeling tour that includes El Cielo (Heaven). Known for its shallow, stunning aquamarine waters, powder-white sands and starfish, this spot is often described as "surreal" and "profound." Stops at shallow areas of Palancar Reef and Colombia Shallows are rich with sea life, including corals and sponges, grunts, turtles and barracuda, and sometimes moray eels, rays and octopuses.
2 p.m. to sunset
Unless you opt to catch a late-afternoon flight home, try a Mediterranean-style dish for lunch (or dinner) at Sal Del Mar. Watch the sunset from Pepe's waterfront open-air terrace while sipping a cocktail and sampling its fusion cuisine.
Explore downtown San Miguel's maze of craft markets, boutiques and galleries. Souvenirs from the region include woven baskets and handmade hammocks, intricately designed household linens and lacework, embroidered guayaberas and silver jewelry. Large, modern shopping spaces near the port include the open-air Punta Langosta Mall and the Royal Village Shopping Center.
For help with booking a Cozumel diving getaway, visit Isla Cozumel.
Please note that this is a sample itinerary only. Please contact onsite dive operators for more information and check restaurant websites or social media to confirm times of operation.
Jacinta Barra & Cocina was temporarily closed at the time of this writing but expected to reopen soon.