Why go snorkel when you are in Costa Maya? Mainly because we are one of the top dive destinations in this hemisphere, with a rich array of healthy, pristine and easy to reach, shallow reefs that are perfect for snorkeling as well as diving. So where are the best places in the area? Okay, I’ll tell you!
If you are in town on a cruise ship and only have an afternoon to snorkel, you are limited, but not at all without some very nice options. It is not necessary to travel far from the port or the downtown area to find shallow reefs and great snorkeling in the Costa Maya area. The best way to snorkel the area is to take one of the many small boats that take visitors about 10 minutes out of town and away from the high human impacted area of downtown. Each boat has their favorite spots, usually where they can anchor behind a shallow reef to knock down any ocean waves. These reefs, because of the limited and heavily regulated development of the area, are still healthy, plentiful and full of very vibrant marine eco-systems. These boats typically take 5-15 people per trip and the usual tour keeps you in the water on a very nice reef for about an hour. Cruise ships can arrange guest’s trips from inside the port or take the short 3 minute taxi ride into the downtown, where the local walk-up prices are much less.
For those who come into town and have their own gear and do not want to take a snorkel boat, you do still have some downtown options. The downtown Mahahual beach is one of the most beautiful beaches you will find anywhere. It’s just over a mile of white sand and clear blue water, always protected by a reef/sandbar that spans the entire city beach. The result is our perfect, always calm and undertow free waters. We say the downtown beach is like a giant swimming pool with coco trees!
However, that is also the reason we have very limited snorkeling inside the downtown area. The area is okay and snorkelers will see lots of fish that are of the sort less affected by human activity; sun screens, motor boats and too many Coronas, all affect marine life and especially the smaller and more colorful varieties. This, in addition to the shallow water inside the downtown reef, over time did not allow the formation of the sort of coral that is typically habitat for much of that same marine life. The downtown reef area is great for kids wanting to learn to snorkel in calm clear water but if you want to see the really good stuff, go outside the immediate downtown area, which in a place like Mahahual, is not very far.
A quick lesson of the area’s water is in order at this point so that guests can better understand how easy it is to find really good snorkeling close by. The location of the original fishing village that is now the downtown beach, was chosen so for several reasons. One was the protection the downtown reef provided during storms and hurricanes. Another reason was that at both ends of the town’s reef, are deep water natural inlets that became the route out into the ocean for the local fishermen. At both locations it makes sense that piers would be built and today you will find a private pier on the north end of town and the city pier at the south end. The private pier is owned by one of the pioneer restaurant beach breaks in Mahahual, the Tequila Beach Club, and is still today a popular destination and also host to several regional and national fishing tournaments each year. The pier on the south end is for larger commercial boats and military vessels that escort cruise ships in and out of Costa Maya. Those who want to walk to some very good snorkeling need only walk past these two piers to find the more developed corals, deeper waters and interesting marine life that those deep inlets provide. Just swim out to the reef and turn away from the downtown and the habitat changes completely. From the center of the downtown area, these piers are 5-6 minute walks. Take the short walk, what you find in those areas is worth it.
For those staying in the area longer than the afternoon, you are in for a real treat. Costa Maya is home to 75 miles of shore line and shallow reefs. There are no bad spots in the area. There are some that are better than others though. Ask a local and they can give directions to the best drive to spots. As a very general rule, the beaches to the south of Mahahual tend to be a bit more reef protected, which means better snorkeling on rougher days. It also means more sea grass, both in the water and along the shore. The heavier sea action in the less reef protected areas to the north, has prevented as much sea grass to grow, making the beaches usually less grass covered and less to deal with getting into and out of the water. As a local though, I can say you’ll find excellent snorkel water and marine habitat to the north or south of town. My rule is if the ocean is rough, I go to the south of town. If not, I go to the north, only because there are fewer opportunities to go there with the number of windy days we have here, not because there is better snorkeling. As I said, it is all great!
Anytime you find this much blue water, coral and sandy beaches, you’ll find some good diving and snorkeling. If you like to snorkel, come here and get certified as part of your vacation next time and become a diver instead. These days visitors do the classroom theory portion of the certification course at home on the internet before they arrive. Once here, they connect with one of the many PADI certified dive shops to do the fun part of certification, the water part! In just a couple days, you’ll be certified and diving these same reefs, except at depths that only diving can provide.
Come to Costa Maya to snorkel or dive some of the area’s best waters. Divers will find the best kept diving secret in this hemisphere and snorkelers will understand why. They might even become divers while they are here in the process. Saludos!