There are many robust reef ecosystems to explore in Mexico. To help you plan your trip, we put together a list of the top 8 places to snorkel. The options below include unique and diverse snorkeling locations, whether you’re traveling as a family or going solo, have lots of experience or none. We’ve also included some honorable mentions at the bottom.
Top 8 Places to Snorkel in Mexico
Cozumel is a beautiful, mostly undeveloped island in the Caribbean Sea–just off the Yucatan Peninsula coast–that gets quite a bit of cruise ship traffic. It is known for its crystal blue waters and is home to the Mesoamerican reef, which has more than 500 species of fish and is one of the most extensive coral reefs in the world.
At Cozumel, you can visit the Punta Sur and Chankanaab National Park, where you can not only snorkel, but swim with dolphins, walk trails, sit down at a restaurant or bar, and enjoy a lagoon with a large iguana population too.
Visit dive shops across the island if you don’t already have the equipment and need assistance. You can hire a guide to take you out on the water and show you where the best underwater viewing conditions are.
If you want to snorkel along the shore, ensure the conditions are safe. The best way to do this is to check the beach warning flag to see if the currents are strong. If you want to see lots of fish, look for beaches with lots of rocks and seaweed, which shelter reefs or protected areas where fish seek shelter.
You can get to Cozumel by flight or ferry, frequent to and from Playa del Carmen (a coastal resort town).
2. Akumal Bay
Akumal Bay is a lovely and quiet bay in the Riviera Maya between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is best known for the many turtles who visit the shallow bay to feed on seagrass. People love to take photos with them!
You will find many dive shops along the beach. Inquire here about a guide or going out in a group if you would like.
Don’t worry about startling the turtles–they are used to seeing swimmers. Swim alongside them for a fantastic experience!
Because the turtles are endangered, the government has set some limitations to minimize human impact on them, including restricting snorkeling hours to 9 AM-5 PM. They also request that swimmers maintain a distance of a few meters from the turtles at all times, do not wear flippers (as you could accidentally kick the turtles), and in general, just be careful not to disturb them as they feed and rest.
While at Akumal Bay, you may also see stingrays. While string rays are beautiful and awe-inspiring, keep in mind that they can cause you a lot of grief.
3. Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos (Spanish for two eyes) is located north of Tulum on the Yucatán Peninsula’s Caribbean coast.
Snorkeling at Cenote Dos Ojos is a unique experience that gets rave reviews on Tripadvisor and typically receives a hundred or more tourists per day. It features freshwater snorkeling in a flooded cave system, which introduces you to unique species that you won’t find in the ocean.
If you’re not already aware, a cenote (pronounced Se-Noh-Tay) is a natural sinkhole in limestone rock that exposes water. People in this area of Mexico are very familiar with them. While there are many cenotes for snorkeling, Cenote Dos Ojos is one of the best ones.
You can also swim in the “Bat Cave.” It’s accessible by swimming through a dark, narrow cavern when water levels are just right. If you’re afraid of bats and small spaces, you may want to skip this. It’s not for the light-hearted!
4. Museo Subacuático de Arte
Museo Subacuático de Arte is an underwater museum in Cancun with over 500 life-size sculptures (most by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor). Diving in this area and getting up close to these statues is very popular and something you won’t forget.
You will notice coral and seaweed grow freely on them, creating a habitable artificial reef and protecting the display from currents. To see the sea life make these statues their home is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Sunken ships or something similar usually creates artificial reefs. However, people have obviously found more creative ways to encourage coral growth! Natasha Geiling wrote in a 2014 article for the Smithsonian that the display is a means for art to save the oceans. And soon enough, Geiling believes the statues will be covered and their figures barely visible.
To keep the display intact, snorkelers should not touch it and be respectful in general.
5. The Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of California, is a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve famously called the “world’s aquarium” by renowned ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. The 700-mile-long body of water rests between mainland Mexico and Baja California.
There is much more than just snorkeling at The Sea of Cortez. You can swim with sea lions and whale sharks, kayak, deep-sea fish, sail, and paddleboard too.
Nearby is La Paz, a relatively untouched beach town. It is undoubtedly a hidden gem and often overshadowed by Cabo, two hours south. There are many marine biology students in La Paz studying at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur. You will find people here care deeply about the environment and sea life.
Keep in mind that if you do want to see whale sharks, you’ll have to join a tour led by an authorized tour operator. It’s illegal for snorkelers to go unaccompanied to visit the whale shark areas.
Huatulco, located on a stretch of Mexico’s southern Pacific coastline, is a string of lovely, unspoiled bays famous for ecotourism. You can take a snorkeling tour, go river rafting, or hike through the jungle. It is undoubtedly the place for people who loved the great outdoors!
The Huatulco National Park is a large protected area perfect for snorkeling. On the average Huatulco snorkel tour, you can expect to see turtles, many fish species, rays, eels, octopi, and sometimes even dolphins and humpback whales.
One of the main reasons snorkelers choose Huatulco is its crystal clear, unpolluted waters and beaches. It consistently receives a high score for cleanliness by SEMARNAT, the government agency that monitors the beaches’ water quality in Mexico.
If you’re new to snorkeling, the most comfortable spot to snorkel is La Entrega, a small bay where you can swim in calm, blue waters.
7. Playa Las Gatas
Playa Las Gatas (named after cat-whiskered nurse sharks that once lingered there) is a protected cove in Guerrero, México. Its high fish population, and calm, shallow water, make it an ideal site for beginner snorkelers and kids.
Interestingly, according to urban legend, the Playa Las Gatas has a reef that was built by a Tarascan king to form a haven from the waves and create a sheltered area for his daughter. However, you can sometimes see surfers catching waves around the entrance to the bay.
Playa Las Gatas is also known for its massive, sunken Jesus statue. You will find many taking underwater photos with “Jesus.”
If you get bored of snorkeling, you can kayak or parasail. The beach has many seafood eateries, and you can rent equipment and hire a guide nearby. Overlooking the beach is a beautiful lighthouse. Ask for help getting there as the path is not apparent. It’s worth it, however, as the view of the coastline is spectacular!
You can get to Playa Las Gatas either by footpath or by water taxi. It is easily accessible, and taxis run often.
8. National Reef Park Of Puerto Morelos
The National Reef Park Of Puerto Morelos is located in the Riviera Maya’s heart (halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen) in the Puerto Morelos fishing village. Its coral reef stretches for miles and is possibly the best preserved in the Riviera Maya.
Here you will find a variety of beautiful coral and fish, as well as sharks, turtles, and rays. Choose between dives through shipwrecks or more effortless snorkeling experiences through shallow reefs.
Keep in mind; you can’t snorkel freely here. You have to take a snorkeling tour with a guide. Also, keep in mind that the turtles in the area are timider than in other places, so approach them cautiously.
Many taxis stop at Puerto Morelos, and there is one every five minutes or so, so you won’t have trouble getting there!
(Best Resorts in Mexico for Snorkeling; you will find it worth reading)
A Few Other Snorkeling Spots Worthy of Mention
- Isla Mujeres – Whale sharks and underwater sculpture display
- Cabo San Lucas – Underwater sand waterfalls
- Mahahual or Majahual – Snorkel from the beach
- Isla Espiritu Santo – Swim with a sea lion colony
- Puerto Aventuras – Government-built faux reefs
- Jardin del Eden – Freshwater cenote
There are so many magical reefs and underwater adventures in Mexico. Whatever option you choose, it will be an incredible opportunity to witness hundreds of species of colorful fish and even swim with sea lions or turtles.