I keep getting asked more questions about diving Mahahual, so I decided it was time to do a blog with all the answers to those basic dive questions all seem to have. We are a dive destination, with miles and miles of both, deep and shallow, still pristine and unspoiled reefs. Our world famous Banco Chinchorro, along with the neighboring Blue Hole of Belize, make up the crown jewels of diving in this hemisphere. Banco Chinchorro is about 12 miles off our shore line here in Mahahual, and worth the long ride if you are a hard core diver, and wanting to try the champagne of dives for this area. Between there and Mahahual are also many miles of great reefs and marine habitat. Lots of great dive shops too and I’ll even give a few of those as well. All you need to know about diving here in Mahahual, and were afraid to ask.
As I said, the the dive everyone talks about here is the Banco Chinchorro dive. This protected area is nothing short of spectacular, with at least 9 wrecks, walls and some of the most pristine, deep and shallow water diving you will find anywhere in the world. The only problem with diving Banco Chinchorro, is the 2 hour boat ride out and of course two hours back. Be aware, the boats in Mahahual are smaller wooden “panga” style boats, so the ride there is not in the most comfortable of rides. If the ocean is rough, the ride can be no fun at all. The ride back is usually about 15 minutes less, but if the ride out didn’t sit well with you, the ride back is really going to suck! But if you want to do what will be one of the most spectacular dive experiences you will ever do, this dive is a must. Pristine and as unspoiled of dive destination you will find anywhere in the somewhat easily gotten to diving world.
If you are visiting on a cruise ship, this trip is, most likely, not for you. The return trip can be late, and missing the ships departure is never an easy, or cheap, thing to fix. The only person who might do this trip off the cruise ship is someone who has Cozumel or Progresso as your next stop. Both of these ports are a simple bus ride to get to, should you miss the boat. It would require you bus the next day, but at least you can easily walk back onto the same ship and not have to deal with all the problems of flights and exit visas and such, that are always a problem if you miss your ship and need to fly back. This trip is best done if you are staying at a local hotel, and not from a cruise ship.
If you do not want to do the long ride to Chinchorro, no problem. There is lots of good diving very close by. I frequently tell people, if Banco Chinchorro were the Playmate of the year, everything else here is like Miss May. How bad can that be? The Costa Maya area is a low environmental impact development area, with the goal being reef and mangrove preservation. What this means is that our development has been very gentle on the local reefs, with still very incredible marine habitat throughout the area. Shallow reefs in the heavily developed Riviera Maya to the north have been decimated, making it necessary to go to much deeper water to see the things we have here, at much shallower depths. There are great reefs between Mahahual and the Banco Chinchorro for those who are like me, and don’t do well in small boats for long rides.
Cruise Ship Visitors
Diving is one of the most popular excursions for passengers visiting Mahahual/Costa Maya on one of the many cruise ships that port here. Lots of good shops and there are a couple ways you can do it. Most local dive shops have web sites and prefer you book your dive in advance. This helps them plan their business day and makes their job much easier. However, many do not want to pay deposits with companies they know nothing about, fearing that bad weather might prevent them from diving, and then unsure about their refund. For those, the best thing is to just get off the ship as fast as possible and you will almost always be able to join a group if you get into town early. Most dive shops like to get out with their guests about an hour and a half after the ship docks. On multiple ship days, they wait even longer, as docked ships are not allowed to disembark passengers while another ship is parking. The town is very small and the dive shops are very close to one another, so you can easily check with several before they leave out and one will have room. This is especially true for those wanting to dive two tanks that day. If you just want a single tank dive, you can often just walk up and get on one of the many boats going back out for a second tank dive. If your ship is an all day ship, your options are even greater. However, if you want a specific shop, it is best to reserve ahead, because some of the shops with good followings, can fill ahead.
So what shops should you look at? There are lots of good ones here and I’m not aware of any that are considered bad. I send people to places when asked and I only send them to places that I personally have never had a complaint about from a tourist. I know some good people, with pretty good operations, but if I’ve heard anything bad they have done, I do not recommend them. They might be good and perhaps had a bad day and that does not mean that they can’t provide a quality experience, but for my recommendation, especially about something like a dive service, I prefer stick with the ones that are batting 1000 with me.
In terms of safety, most shops are about the same and follow procedures as required. However, some are better at general business professionalism and some know the area waters better than others. Dive operations are a lot like fishing services, they have their favorite spots and some even know places that others do not. Some prefer to dive with the same company several days in a row to get a better rate, which shops do for hotel guests staying several days. However, some like to dive with a different shop each day, hoping to find that shop’s secret spot that none of the others know. My guess is a company with a good history and good local divers that have been with that company for a while, can put you in a different spot all week, and about half of the spots will be places nobody else knows about. Many of the shops are staffed by seasonal divers that move around a lot, with just the dive master being a real local, and the rest of the staff seasonal help from someplace else. Doesn’t make them bad, but they might not know the local reefs nearly as good as someone who is from the area.
As I said, there are several good shops in town and I do not claim to know them all. I do know a few that I share every day and will tell you about those. One of the oldest operations in town is called Bucaneros http://www.divemahahual.com/english/ and they are time tested and do a good job. They have good equipment and the dive master has been with them forever. Dr Dive http://www.doctordive.com/ has been providing very high quality service and has only their own local dive staff that has been with them forever. A somewhat new place, they have been here for just a couple years, is Buceando Mahahual. http://www.buceandomahahual.com/index-en.html What they might lack in long time local knowledge, the dive-master is from Spain, they seem to make up for with high quality and personal service. This is a company that has been getting really good comments from the people I have sent them. Take a look at these and if you want a few more names, I can send you more. These are the three I recommend because they are the ones I hear all positive reports back on.
Yes, the local dive shops can certify you while you are here on vacation. Most even allow you to do your theory and study portion on the internet before you arrive, making the only thing you need to do here is the fun part, in the water. Most also offer shallow water, non-certified dives, called discovery dives, for those who have never dove and want to try a small sample of what it is like. Dive masters give you a quick lesson in basics and safety procedures, and then take you on a guided shallow dive at a depth that is safe for a no decompression return to the surface at any time. Try it and you’ll be hooked for life.
Finally, since most who visit us in Costa Maya/Mahahual fly in through Cancun, guests also have the opportunity to do some unique diving in that area on the way down or the way back to the airport. Reef diving is not anything I would tell people to bother with up there. Ours is just much better here. But they do have something that we do not have to offer divers here; cenote dives. If you want to do some diving that is different, take a day on the trip and dive one of the local cenotes. Several have fully lighted and safe caverns that are so well developed, they do not require special cave certification to dive. These caves are full of incredible marine ambiance that you just will not see in the open ocean. There are not many places divers can find such unique and do-able dives as the cenote dives in the Riviera Maya, so if you want to add something a little different to your diving resume, take a day to do a cenote dive.
Okay, if I left it out, send me a note and I’ll find the answer. Be sure to check my other blog on how to dive Belize too as part of your dive trip. If you are coming to this part of the world to dive, you might as well do all the diving you can. So if you want to do the very best diving in this hemisphere, check us out here the Mexican Caribbean. Hurry too, we’re keeping your drinks cold!