Nestled between the Caribbean coast and thousands of Cenotes is a divers paradise referred to as the Riviera Maya. I recently spent some time here for a family vacation/ dive trip and the area did not disappoint. As a family of divers with differing skill levels, we had a diverse set of goals for our trip. I wanted to se as many cave systems as possible, my wife wanted to explore the beautiful caverns and our daughter was excited to to see fish and turtles in the open water cenotes. We all wanted to check out that section of the Mesoamerican reef system as well.
Our basecamp was a jungle house North of Tulum near the Pueblo of Macario Gomez on the road locals refer to as “the Coba Rd”. Coba is a city North West of Tulum, famous for it’s ancient Mayan Pyramids. This location served us well as we wanted to be away from the touristy areas of Tulum.
The day after we arrived, I set out with a guide and we did 2 cave dives at Mayan Blue. At first glance, this reminded me of the springs in Florida except for the more tropical flora. After a thorough briefing of the site and dive plan, I was giddy as we geared up and headed to the water. We swam through the cenote over to the cavern area and descended into the cave. The guide was running a reel so we had a continuous guideline to the surface. After tying the reel into the main line of the cave, we pressed on and penetrated a halocline, the point where salt and fresh water meet . Haloclines can play tricks on your eyes and distort visibility since light refracts differently in salt and fresh water. Once we passed through the halocline, everything turns this amazing electric blue color. Our lights danced off of the white limestone formations, which were more incredible than anything Id seen underwater at the time. I was in awe. I knew right then, in the A tunnel of Mayan blue, 12 minutes after my head went underwater, that we had made the right decision coming here.
The next day I started the GUE Fundamentals course which was 5 days long. What a great class! A lot of it was review for me but I still learned a lot and I was able to overcome some weaknesses I had in my trim, buoyancy and propulsion techniques. I highly recommend this class for any diver. I estimate we spent 45 hours together during this class, 15 or so underwater. It was a blast, but I was ready to go dive for fun at this point.
We booked a guide for 3 days of family diving in the beautiful cenotes. We had come up with a great plan that would suit all of us and allow us to all see what we wanted to see. First, the guide and myself would go on a single cave dive while the family leisurely got their gear ready and maybe went for a swim in the water. After we surfaced, all 4 of us would then do either an open water dive or a cavern tour. This worked out great! Day 1 & 2 were at Cenote Carwash. Day 3 was at Cenote Ponderosa. Our nights were spent talking about the dives of the day over and over again. Everyone was blown away by the beauty of what we had seen.
Finally, some salt water! We booked a boat in Akumal, a short drive from Tulum. The dive center is located right at a Sea Turtle preserve, so there were snorkel tours going on just off the beach. This was slightly different than any boat diving I had ever done as we got completely geared up at the benches on the beach, walked down the small Panga style boats and climbed in. 8 minutes later we were back rolling into the water. The reef here is nice, its not Cozumel nice or Roatan nice but a bit nicer than S, Florida. We saw big grouper, rays, lobster and several sea turtles. This was our daughters first ocean dive and she loved it, can you say super proud dad moment?
It is worth mentioning that the Cenotes in this area provide some of the best snorkeling that ive ever experienced. Taj Maja, Grand Cenote and Nahoch come to mind, all incredible places where you can snorkel inside of a cave. Its a very unique experience.
A few days later, I did 4 dives at Naharone, which is an incredibly dark and eerie cave. Spectacular formations protrude from all directions as you meander back and forth through huge passage and smaller tunnels. I expected a monster to be waiting around each corner, but there was just wonderful dark decorated cave passage waiting there. A young girl was discovered here, click here for a truly interesting story about this archeological find.
Back to Akumal for some more reef diving. This time was with a larger group. Great dives, warm water, lots of life. Did I mention how nice it is to go from salt water diving back to fresh water? Forget about rinsing your gear, just go for a dive at the beautiful Cenote Corazon after you leave the marina. They serve delicious tacos and beer on site for after dive nourishment.
I managed to squeeze in a few dives with a new friend, which was nice as the guide fees were racking up substantially. Dive sites are limited without a guide, as many of them require credentials to gain access to the cenotes. Fortunately for me, my 2 favorite cave diving cenotes welcomed us in for a small amount of pesos. Dos Pisos and Nahoch Na Chich are breathtakingly beautiful caves.
Some friends came down from the states and we scheduled a cave photo shoot together. This was actually really fun. As a bonus, we got a lesson in underwater lighting, shooting logistics and lighting assistants. There were 4 of us so we broke off into teams, team 1 diving with the photographer, team 2 doing a different line in the same cave system. The teams switched positions and it was team 2’s turn to be in front of the camera. It’s a completely different scene when there untold lumens of video lights in a cave. Truly spectacular!
At this point, I had a few cave dives I wanted to do for a 2nd time so I booked a guide and we went back to Carwash. We tried out the “Satan’s Silthole Line” which was one of my favorite dives to date. As the name suggests, your trim and buoyancy better be spot on since the floor in this downstream section of cave is a very fine silt. An errant fin kick could reduce visibility to nil. We got into a tight section going up a hill and i was grinning ear to ear as the distance between my body and floor/ceiling closed in. Up ahead i saw a familiar site, tannic water. As we pressed on into the coca cola colored water the cave pinched down and got even tighter. I wanted to go on much farther but it was time to turn the dive. So it goes. We did another couple dives at carwash that day, but nothing stands out from them. I’m sure they were still amazing dives, so far this place has not delivered anything less.
Another site I wanted to hit again was Ponderosa. I was just about to call this my favorite dive site but the battle in my head rages on, maybe one day a winner will be crowned but not today. This place has an insane halocline. Its sharply defined and re forms just as fast as it mixes when you swim through it. The landscape is bright white with jagged rocks, huge boulders and otherworldly formations. When you’re under the halocline, the fresh water layer above you looks identical to the surface of the water. My brain was tricking me into thinking I was just a few feet below the surface when I was actually in a water filled cave with the closest air source several hundred feet behind me. Stalactites and formations that penetrate the halocline look like floating rocks or icebergs when viewed from underneath. The buoyancy shift when crossing the halocline line took some getting used to since you are +- 6lbs more buoyant in salt water than you are in fresh water.
Sprinkle in a few more cavern, open water, cave and reef dives here and there and I think this paints a pretty good picture of what our diving was like in this watery paradise. Were already making plans to return next winter. –