Where to go Snorkeling in Playa Del Carmen and Nearby
One of the major delights of Playa Del Carmen is the abundance of marine life found just below the surface of the waves. A mask, a snorkel and a pair of fins are all you need to explore the coral reefs, swim among schools of tropical fish, hang out with the turtles or even, if you get your timing right meet with whale sharks. Some of the more accessible cenotes including Dos Ojos and Casa cenote are also suitable for snorkelling.
With so many options, the only thing you need to decide is what you most want to see when you snorkel Playa Del Carmen. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular destinations and adventures available to snorkelers in and around the resort.
Just 15 minutes drive up the coast from Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Morelos is a quiet beach town that has the unique advantage of being the place where the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef comes closest to the shoreline. Walk straight off the beach, and the reef is just 2 meters below the surface. This is a great place to see mantra rays, barracuda, sea horses, maybe a lobster or two and of course the corals themselves, including the brilliantly hued fire coral.
Since 1998 The Mesoamerican has been a protected marine reserve. Independent travellers are welcome so long as they obey the rules that apply within the protected area. This includes the requirement of wearing a life jacket and paying the entrance fee which goes towards the conservation work needed to protect the reserve. Alternatively book a tour. You’ll be dropped off from a boat and be able to explore further out into the reef where the marine life is even richer and more varied.
Akumal is just 25 minutes from Playa Del Carmen and is famed as a home to giant green sea turtles. As at Puerto Morelos you can swim straight off the beach, You’ll spot the turtles themselves, along with eagle and mantra rays close to the shore. Head a little further out and you’ll be in amongst the sea fans, anemones and corals.
If you don’t have your own snorkelling equipment there are plenty of places you can hire everything you need in Akumal. You’ll also find guides and conservation experts to hand if you have questions or want some insider knowledge to help you get the very best out of your time here.
There are strict rules about swimming with turtles. Their breeding grounds are out of bounds, you should never touch one and certainly never ride one. A tour guide will be able to give you further advice on making sure that you enjoy this memorable experience without danger or damage to the beautiful creatures you’ve come to see.
The bay is about 40 minutes drive from Playa Del Carmen, just a few kilometres north of Tulum. The beach here is very beautiful, uncrowded and framed by mangroves. The coral reefs are just a couple of meters beneath the surface and home to rays, barracudas, sea turtles and nurse sharks. Small crocodiles sometimes sun themselves near to the dirt track that leads to the beach and there’s an abundance of bird life including pelicans and marine eagles here too.
Whale sharks love the plankton rich waters off Playa del Carmen and can be found here every year between June and September. These are the largest sharks found in the oceans, reaching up to 12 metres in length but they really are gentle giants, eating only plankton and generally appearing to have no interest in snorkelers or divers around them. If you want to snorkel with whale sharks it’s best to do so as part of a reputable tour where your guides will ensure that you follow the rules and guidelines in place to ensure that the sharks are not stressed by your presence.
Snorkelling around Playa Del Carmen doesn’t have to be done in the ocean. Freshwater snorkelling brings the option to meet a different range of fish and plant life.
Jardin del Eden
The Garden of Eden is a popular freshwater snorkel site where you’ll swim with tetras, mini catfish and damselfish. The cenote is also home to garra rufa fish, the species used at exclusive spas to deliver a unique pedicure experience. There is no coral of course, but like many cenotes, the Jardin del Eden has beautiful rock formations and stalagmites.
This, the most filmed and photographed cenote of the Riviera Maya is located just 50 kilometres south of Playa Del Carmen and in many ways it’s the perfect freshwater snorkelling site. There are stairs from the wooden decks around the cenote making access easy, the water is clear offering high visibility with some striking light effects, and the water temperature is a comfortable 24-25°C year round.
Under the water you’ll see both stalactites and stalagmites these are spectacularly beautiful but also very fragile so you’ll need to swim with care to make sure you don’t knock and break them as you pass. The cenote itself is not rich in fish life but the surrounding jungle is home to numerous animals including bats, birds, lizards foxes and many more.
Many regard Dos Ojos as a must visit location and it’s somewhere you can visit independently or as part of an organised tour.