My diver friends frequently ask me, “what is the best way to dive the Blue Hole and the Belize Islands”, and I tell them, ” through Mexico, of course”. Flying into tiny Belize provides far fewer options and is much more expensive, almost double from some US cities, than the cost to fly to a higher volume destination, like Cancun. The Belizian islands of San Pedro and Caye Caulker are just a 4 hour bus ride and a 1 hour water taxi from Cancun. I suppose saving a few bucks is never a bad reason to fly into Cancun, but an even better reason, especially if you are a diver, is that between Cancun and the Belize islands, there is some incredible world class diving, that, if you are in the neighborhood, you really need to stop and enjoy along the way. Not to mention there is nothing in Belize like a night or two in Playa Del Carmen, one of Mexico’s most glamorous and international cities, and a great place to use as an airport shuttle destination as well.
When you arrive in Cancun, don’t bother with the car, just jump on the hourly ADO shuttle ($12US each) and head south, toward Belize, to Playa Del Carmen. There are great hotels, restaurants, shopping and easy transportation for the rest of your trip, all right next to the bus station where you will be dropped at the 5th Avenue terminal. 5th Avenue is PDC’s pedestrian only strand that runs about 30 blocks, parallel to the ocean, and is home to hundreds of international boutique hotels, restaurants, galleries, shops, clubs, … you name it. Really a unique and wonderful place, and yes, much nicer than Belize City!
In the PDC area there are many dive shops within a five minute walk of the bus station where you can first easily explore the waters of the Cozumel area, as well as the coastal water of the northern Yucatan Peninsula if you have not done that. This area is however, also home to some of the most incredible cenote diving anywhere. Cenotes are inland, semi-fresh bodies of water, that connect to the ocean via holes in the subteranian limestone below. The result are spectacular cavern dives with unique marine life and geological features you’ll see no place else. Many are even lit up with underwater lighting and they are safe and set up for commercial use. Cenote diving is unique, and if you can add it to your dive vacation, you should!
As you continue toward the Belize Islands, a few more hours south via ADO ($25US each) you can stop and dive Mahahual and Banco Chinchorro, the crown jewel of Mexican ocean preserve areas. This is an area of islands, shallow reefs, steep and deep walls and lots of old submerged wrecks, all heavily regulated and protected by the Mexican government with preservation the main goal. Limited tourist activities are allowed, like diving, fly fishing and even some rustic overnight fishing camps allowed, but very few. Take the time to visit this area and you’ll find one of the worlds most prestine reef ecosystems. Mahahual has very nice little hotels and restaurants, and again, like PDC, is cheaper than Belize. Enjoy a night or two in Mahahual along the way!
When you are ready to finally go to Belize, you can taxi from Mahahual to Chetumal in a little over an hour and the cost is about $15-$20 a person and they will drop you right at the city peir, where the water taxi leaves for San Pedro/Caye Caulker each day at 3:00 PM. The round trip for that service is about $70 US per person. There is a Customs and Immigration entry point at the peir and the process is fast and easy.
When you are ready to return, you water taxi back to Chetumal, take a $3 taxi to the bus terminal, and then a comfortable ADO back to Playa Del Carmen ($25 US each) where you can often still catch a late afternoon flight out from Cancun, or just spend another evening enjoying the nightlife of Playa Del Carmen. Hey, it’s a dive vacation, so dive back into 5th Avenue for one more night of fun before you shuttle back to the airport in the morning. Now that is a great dive vacation!