Diving in Cozumel

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Length of stay: 8 days
Visited: March 2017
Dives logged: 8
Dives to date: 14

Top Five Dive Sites:

  • Columbia Reef
  • Santa Rosa Wall
  • Dalila Reef
  • Palancar Gardens
  • Palancar Bricks

Mexico is one of the most visited countries in the world. With its warm climate, sandy beaches, mystical Mayan ruins and authentic Mexican cuisine, millions of tourists flock here each year to escape the coldest months of winter. While places like Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen are geared towards families and couples looking to relax along the beachfront in the safety of an all-inclusive resort, the small island of Cozumel boasts of being the safest part of Mexico and caters heavily towards divers.

Around this time last year we completed our PADI Open Water certification in Saint Martin. And ever since we’ve been itching to get back in the water. What better way than to go to one of the premier diving spots in the world: Cozumel.

Day 1: Hola from Mexico

When we were initially planning our trip to Cozumel we planned to stay in an Airbnb or a small villa–arrangement. But the only way we could get a (cheap) direct flight into Cozumel from Toronto was through an all-inclusive vacation package at a resort. So we thought, why not. Treat yo’self.

We arrived in Cozumel shortly after 1p.m (we were about 45min delayed because they had to de-ice our plane before flying out of Pearson). Apparently our vacation package included a free shuttle to our resort, but we were unaware of this at the time. We read ahead of time that there are no taxis at the airport and instead you can take a shared shuttle van to get to your accommodations. After clearing customs we passed by a herd of people trying to sell timeshares and headed to the ticket booth to purchase our ticket for the shuttle service. Prices are based on which zone you are going. We ended up paying $6 USD per person.

When we arrived at our resort we still had about an hour to kill before we could officially check in and get our room key. So we scoped out the pool area and headed over to the bar for a welcome beverage.

After getting our room key we dropped off our luggage in our room and donned our bathing suits. We then headed back down to get the lay of the land. Beach access from the resort is located across the street and can be accessed via an underground tunnel. There is also a restaurant here where breakfast and lunch are typically served. We ate some lunch, took a quick dip in the ocean followed by a leisurely swim in the pool to wash the salt off.  Apparently Hotel Cozumel and Resort has the largest pool on the island. And when Hurricane Wilma struck back in 2005 the resort’s pool was filled with salt water and housed a bunch of dolphins from the  Dolphin Discovery Cozumel to keep them safe.

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When we finished up at the pool we returned back to our room to get settled in. We weren’t there long until we had to set out again to check in with our dive shop. Our resort actually has a dive shop (apparently the largest on the island) in house. But we decided to go in another direction and went with Aldora Divers. They are a bit more expensive. But they cater to small group sizes – a maximum of up to six divers, and match groups of divers based on experience levels. They also use steel tanks to allow for more overall time under water. And once you factor in the extra air time, you’re actually getting a better bang for your buck with Aldora.

As an added bonus we just happened to arrive in Cozumel during the height of their annual Carnival (i.e Mardi Gras). There are a number of festivities during the month but their main events take place over three nights on Saturday (the First Grand Carnival Parade), Sunday (the Second Grand Carnival Parade) and Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday as it’s officially called for the Final Grand Carnival Parade). Tonight just happened to be the Second Grand Carnival Parade.

As we were walking to Aldora we saw a number of different floats lining up along the major strip and a bunch of dancers getting ready in preparation for Sunday’s parade. By the time we finished up at the dive shop (we had to get fitted for our rental gear), the parade had just started. We watched for about 30 minutes and then leisurely strolled back to our resort passing by the rest of the floats on the way back.

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When we returned to the resort we had at some dinner and then retired to our room. We didn’t stay up too late because tomorrow marked our first day of diving!

Day 2: Diving at Palancar Gardens & Yucab Reef

We woke up bright and early to get ready for our first day of diving. It became pretty clear that our resort caters to divers as (a) breakfast started super early at 6:30a.m, (b) there is a dock for boats to pick people up directly, and (c) so many people with dive gear were scarfing down their breakfast and/or getting their dive gear in order.

We ate a quick breakfast, returned to our room to throw our bathing suits and wet suits on and headed back down to the dock to wait for our boat. We gotta say, another nice thing about diving with Aldora – we were the first people to get picked up.

It took us a good 30 minutes to reach our first dive site at Palancar Gardens. Palancar Gardens, along with four other dive sites in this area are all part of the larger Palancar Reef. The coral formations here are dynamite. Which is probably why we saw so many dive boats on the surface. Prior to hitting the water our Divemaster provided a thorough and detailed dive plan and briefed us on the dive site and what forms of aquatic life to look out for. We then geared up and hopped off the boat.

Prior to coming to Cozumel we read up on some of the dive sites and diving conditions. And we heard that the current is usually moderate so we anticipated that we would be doing some drift diving. The idea is that you just go with the flow of the current and let it carry you along instead of fighting into it. The trick is just to focus on your buoyancy and breathing and to not thrash around, especially with your fins. Otherwise it can be pretty easy to separate from your group.

The dive itself was a little challenging. Mainly because we were a bit rusty as we haven’t been diving in a year so it took awhile to remember how to control your buoyancy with your breathing and to minimize the whole flailing around with your arms. And it’s hard to focus on all of that when you’re being bombarded with just phenomenal views of coral formations and tons of aquatic life. It was literally a buffet of sea life right in front of our eyes. It was incredible. We saw a seahorse, a hawksbill turtle, various types of angel fish (grey, queen, blue), parrot fish, cherubfish, and lots of blue tang. We reached a depth of about 80ft making this our deepest dive to date.

We were joined by three other divers where one of which, Andrew, was relatively new to diving too. We very much enjoyed having him in our group as he made us look like super stars. Our guide was having none of our beginner antics though and basically scolded us after we stumbled back onto the boat. He pretty much yelled at Andrew for all his thrashing around and for almost having joined another group of divers. And then he turned his anger towards me for going to K instead of him when I became too buoyant at our safety stop. Not the most ideal way to get back into diving.

We stopped over at Palancar Beach for an hour surface interval before our next dive. There is a nice restaurant here along a gorgeous stretch of sand that provided some relief from the sun and an opportunity to refuel for our next dive, which went significantly better than the first one.

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Our second dive was at Yucab Reef. And this time we took our camera. In all the excitement of getting into the water we left it up on the boat during our first dive. Turns out this was probably for the best as we descended to a depth of around 80ft. While our camera explicitly indicates that it is waterproof up to 82ft, we’ve read some questionable reviews of the durability of the camera at deep depths. So it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t risk it.

We saw so many creatures and critters during our (72 minute) dive. We saw a large spotted eagle ray, many angle fish, parrot fish, and so many other types of fish.

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Among our favourite creature sightings during the dive was this massive hawksbill turtle feeding on a sponge. There were a bunch of angel fish swarming it trying to get in the action. Our group was momentarily separated from our guide because we were all so fixated on watching this turtle go to town on this sponge that we weren’t paying attention to the fact that our guide kept going. Thankfully he backtracked (in the current) to come collect us.

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We also saw our first ever shark! This gentle little nurse shark just lazily swam underneath us for a few seconds before disappearing back into the blue.

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Near the end of the dive we also saw this cool honeycomb cowfish

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By the time we arrived back at our dock it was just after 1:30p.m. We headed straight for our hotel room to take off our wet gear before coming back down to have some lunch followed by a nap. For the rest of the afternoon we took it easy just hanging around the pool area, trying out different combinations of cocktails and beverages. We forced ourselves to stay awake to see the evening entertainment at our resort. And we’re sure glad we did because it was amazing – it consisted of some sort of blacklight show with music, dancing, and glow in the dark fabrics.

Day 3: Lounging around the resort

We had nothing planned for today, except to just lounge around. We first scoped out the beach area in front of our resort that can be accessed through an underground tunnel. In the below picture you can see the dock where divers are routinely picked up.

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There’s a little lagoon just out front that seemed to be a popular spot for guests to snorkel. While diving yesterday our mask kept fogging up. Our guide recommended that we take them back with us to swirl toothpaste around in the inside of the mask and let it soak in overnight. But before we did that we thought we’d have some fun with them in the little lagoon. I mean it wasn’t anything remotely spectacular to what we saw yesterday while diving, but there were some coral formations and little tropical fish meandering around. We also didn’t have a snorkel or fins, so that was a bit of a hinderance. But either way we still had fun.

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Afterwards we took a dip in the pool to wash all the salt off from our bathing suits. We thrashed around there for a bit before towelling off.

At this point we thought we’d take an afternoon nap because hey, it’s hard work lounging around all day. But when we returned to our room the tv from the room beside us was still blaring. It started at around 7a.m and we’re assuming it’s been on ever since. We didn’t think that much into it because we generally don’t spend a lot of time in our room to begin with. But when it’s interfering with nap time, that’s not right. We visited the front desk to see if they could ask our neighbour to turn the volume down. But when they called up to the room there was no answer. Weird. They said they’d leave a note instead. Fine.

So we skipped the nap and headed back down to relax around the pool area. Afterwards we decided to take a walk and head down to Aldora to sign up for an extra day of diving. Initially we signed up for three days because we weren’t sure how challenging the diving in Cozumel would be, but after having so much fun on our first day, we thought we might as well give it another go. Especially since that’s the main reason for our trip to Mexico.

On the way back from Aldora the crowds were assembling for the last and grandest night of Carnival for “Fat” Tuesday. We scoped out great spots and hung around for nearly an hour to see all the floats go by. The music was pumping, the dancers were working it and candy and Mardi Gras beads were flying all over the place. We started to head back to our resort for dinner by the time it get dark outside.

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By the time we finished eating it was around 8p.m. And when we returned to our room, guess what, the tv from the room beside us was still blaring. Given that we had to wake up at 6a.m to go diving the next morning we went back downstairs to talk to the front desk to see if they could do anything about the noise. They called back up to the room, but no answer. So they sent someone up to turn the tv off. Turns out there was no one even in the room. Kinda inconsiderate to leave your tv on (on max volume by the way) for the entire day and not even be watching it. But it didn’t matter because we now had some peace and quiet…for the time being.

But around 11p.m I guess our neighbour (drunkenly) stumbles back to his room. And I guess realizes that someone has been in his room because his tv is off. And then there’s the whole note thing that the hotel staff left about the noise. Buddy was not pleased. He starts swearing outside our door. Dropping some f bombs and saying things like “F*&$ you, you yapped”. This just didn’t seem like a very good situation. So we quietly tip toed to our door, took a peak outside the peephole to make sure he wasn’t in the hallway, and booked it to the lobby. We explained our situation and asked to switch rooms. This dude is obviously not in a good place and quite frankly we don’t want to deal with that nonsense. Turns out they didn’t have any more rooms with a king sized bed. Turns out we really didn’t care and settled for a downgrade for a room with two double beds. That’s fine. As long as it’s quiet. This just means we have to snuggle closer when we sleep. So they switch our rooms. But then they also called buddy to ask him to turn his tv down. Again. And then the person at the front desk tells us that they’ve had issues with this guest before. Sounds like a real winner.

So we used our cat-like reflexes and slinked back to our room trying to be all super quiet because we really didn’t want to run into this guy. We pretty much chucked everything in our suitcase and got out of there as fast as we could. We knew we made the right choice because a few minutes later buddy cranks the volume back up and starts swearing at what we’re assuming can only be us because it’s pretty clear based on what he’s saying that he’s trying to be as loud as he can to just annoy us. Well guess what buddy – our new room was even better than our last one. We ended up sleeping like babies for the rest of the night and the rest of the week for that matter because it was super quiet. So thank-you.

Day 4: Diving at Columbia Reef & Santa Rosa Wall

Despite our disturbance last night and the whole shakeup with our rooms, we woke up feeling pretty pumped to get back out on the water. An Aldora boat came and collected us bright and early at 7:45a.m. We were joined by a different group of four other divers and a different guide, but the same level of enthusiasm from everyone.

Our first deeper dive for the morning was at Columbia Reef. As soon as we descended and swam over to the reef we spotted a nurse shark just hanging out underneath a ledge. We saw so many turtles on this dive!! And a large spotted eagle ray graced us with her presence and floated above us causally drifting away against the current. We also saw some puffer fish, lots of angel fish, and so many other colourful tropical fish. The pinnacle coral formations were just out of this world. Best dive. Ever.

As with our first day, our boat took us to Palancar Beach for a one hour surface interval between dives. We ordered a cheese quesadilla. Best meal of the trip so far.

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On our second shallower dive was at Santa Rosa Wall. And it did not disappoint. The large coral formations along the wall were spectacular and bursting with life of various creatures.

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Our guide even led us through the Santa Rosa swim through – a pretty spacious cavern (although it didn’t feel that way when you’re carefully swimming through so as not to damage any of the surrounding coral) that is a few metres long.

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We didn’t spot any turtles along the dive, but we did see a bunch of other critters and creatures. We even spotted a flounder that was so well camouflaged at the bottom that I would have missed it entirely if it wasn’t for our guide pointing it out.

By the time we returned to our dock we went for lunch followed by a nap. For the remainder of the afternoon we just hung around the pool area to kick back and relax. We also took a stroll to Aldora to request to dive with the same guide for the rest of the week since we had so much fun. She was waaaaay better than our first guide.

Day 5: Diving at Palancar Bricks & Tormentos

When we are picked up at our dock we were pleasantly surprised to see the same faces as yesterday. We were also joined by a father and son who were relatively new divers and would be diving with their own Divemaster. Apparently this is proper protocal for new divers or divers that haven’t been diving in a while. Looks like we missed that memo. Oh well. We (literally) just dove right into it.

For our first dive we went to Palancar Bricks – another section along the Palancar Reef. Our guide led us through two swim throughs. The first swim through was pretty early on in the dive and was pretty straightforward. But the second was a little more challenging. And longer. I made the mistake of going first (after our guide). The space was a bit tight. And there was a diver right behind me that I kept kicking. So then I started to get nervous. And there was some definite thrashing around followed by an accidental bump of my tank along the wall. I felt incredibly guilty. And embarrassed. Especially since the whole group was following behind me.

As per usual we stopped at Palancar Beach for our surface interval between dives. We ordered another cheese quesadilla because it was so delicious yesterday and also because I was hoping the food would add some additional weight. I was a little light on the way up and had some issues staying down for our safety stop. One of the other divers in our group graciously held onto the back of my Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) so I wouldn’t (dangerously) pop up to the surface.

Our second dive was at Tormentos where the current was noticeably stronger. And I was noticeably colder. This was probably my least favourite dive of the entire trip. Not because the dive site was particularly disappointing or anything. I was just shivering throughout. It’s hard to control your buoyancy and breathing when you’re focusing on trying to stay warm. And it’s natural to want to move around to heat up. But when you’re in a stronger current, this works against you.

Despite feeling cold, we saw some pretty neat coral and aquatic life.

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Check out this flounder that is camouflaged with the sand:

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After returning to our dock we headed back up to take a warm shower. We then just mainly lounged around and ate and tried some different concoctions at the bar.

Day 6: Diving at Columbia Reef (again) and Dalila Reef

K’s birthday. And our final day of diving in Cozumel. We dove with more or less the same group as yesterday, but minus two of the divers. Instead the father and son who had their own Divemaster the day before were integrated with our group. Our guide also graciously brought an additional 3mm shortie for me to don overtop of my 3mm full wetsuit for extra warmth.

Our first dive was at Columbia Reef (again), which we were super pumped for. When we descended we immediately saw a little stingray with its buddy. We also saw a nurse shark just below a ledge when we reached the actual reef. And to our excitement we saw so many hawksbill turtles (K even saw a baby one). It was such an amazing dive.

In between dives we docked back up at Palancar Beach. But this time we stayed in the boat to chat with our guide and the couple we’ve been diving with since Wednesday. They’ve been on some interesting dive trips and we enjoyed listening to their stories. After about an hour we took off for our last and final dive of the trip.

Our guide took us to Dalila Reef, which is a pretty gentle dive site with little current but lots of sea creatures. We saw so many turtles!

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We also saw some lobsters (fighting), a crab, parrot fish, angel fish, blue tang everywhere and (above all) an elusive splendid toadfish that is native to Cozumel.

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And right when we were about to start our ascent we passed by these two nurse sharks. This was such a perfect way to end our amazing diving adventure in Cozumel.

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Day 7: Chichen Itza

We were contemplating whether to squeeze in an extra day of diving or make an excursion to the mainland to see some Mayan ruins. But we were a little worried that we’d be cutting our “no fly” time  (the recommended time to wait to board a plane after diving) pretty close. Besides, so many people that we met raved about how phenomenal the Mayan ruins are. So we signed up for a full-day tour of Chichen Itza – arguably the most famous of the Mayan ruins in Mexico, for our last full-day in Mexico.

We woke super early to get to the ferry terminal for 7a.m. The water was pretty choppy. But 45 minutes later we were back on stable land. It looked like we were the only people who were staying in Cozumel that signed up for this tour as no one else was waiting for our particular tour. It wasn’t until after some other guide approached us and offered to call the tour company that someone finally showed up to collect us 30 minutes later.

So we scampered onto this massive tour bus. We drove for about 45 minutes until stopping at some random gas station to rearrange everyone onto other buses depending on the type of tour they signed up for. After that it was a long drive to Chichen Itza. But first we made a detour at the Hubiku Cenote, which translates into “the great lord” or “iguana nest” (not sure how it could be either or) according to some sign. We had the option of swimming in the Cenote, but thought it was too much of a hassle to lug our (wet) bathing suits and towels around – especially since we arrived via the ferry. We scoped out the area and enjoyed the refreshing coolness from being underground, and then headed back up to the buffet restaurant for lunch.

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After that we were herded back on the bus and continued onwards to Chichen Itza. Our group was split up into two smaller groups for a guided tour of the grounds followed by an hour and a half leisure time around the ruins. It was hella hot outside. Unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. We tried to cling to the shadows as much as we could. Our tour around one of the largest Mayan cities was pretty interesting. And we defiantly enjoyed the free time to walk around the ruins at our own pace. As an added bonus, by the time we finished up there were hardly any other tourists around.

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See if you can spot the massive iguana in the below picture. These beasts were everywhere.

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We piled back onto the bus to make the long journey back to the coast. But first we made another detour at some town called Valladolid (not sure what its significance is) to take some pictures in a courtyard outside some church. As we’re getting ready to leave our guide brings these “students” onto our bus to see if any of us wanted to buy tequila from them. Get out of here. We just want to go home.

When we initially signed up to book this tour we were told we’d be back with plenty of time to catch the 8p.m ferry. Well, we didn’t. And we missed the 9p.m ferry. We managed to catch the 9:40p.m ferry with under 10 minutes to spare. By the time we arrived in Cozumel and made the walk back to our resort it was just around 11p.m. The drive back was super painful and it seemed like our guides didn’t have their shit together. We ended up making various stops and unloaded people onto different buses. But then we circled back to a hotel where we already were. It was just all confusing.

This was our first ever tour-bus-type-stype excursion. And it’ll probably be the last. Touring Chichen Itza was incredible. But we felt so much time was spent waiting for people to get on and off the bus. It was excruciating. Next time we’ll either rent a car or pay a bit extra and go on tour that is much smaller.

Day 8: Hasta Luego Mexico

One week in Cozumel is not nearly enough time. After talking with a few divers, we totally understand why so many of them are regulars and stay for upwards to a month at a time. After we get a few more dives under our (weight) belt, maybe one day that’ll be us. The diving is just that phenomenal.

We regrettably packed our suitcase and went for a final walk around the beach and pool area before piling into a shuttle van to get to the airport.

Until next time,
L & K

4 thoughts on “Diving in Cozumel

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