Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Isla Mujeres

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Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

Most local dive spots are described in detail in Dive Mexico magazine, available in many local shops. Coral reefs at El Garrafón National Park have suffered tremendously from a variety of factors, some unavoidable (hurricanes) and some all-too-avoidable (boats dropping anchors onto soft coral, a practice now outlawed). Some good snorkeling can be found near Playa Norte on the north end.

Isla is a good place for learning to dive, since dive areas are close to shore. Offshore, there is excellent diving and snorkeling at Xlaches (pronounced ees-lah-chayss) reef, due north on the way to Isla Contoy. One of Contoy's most alluring dives is a cave full of sharks off the northern tip. Discovered by a local fisherman, the cave was extensively explored by Ramón Bravo, a local diver, cinematographer, and Mexico's foremost expert on sharks. It's a fascinating 150-foot dive for experienced divers only.

At 30–40 feet deep and 3,300 feet off the southwestern coast, the coral reef known as Manchones is a good dive site. During the summer of 1994, an ecological group hoping to divert divers and snorkelers from El Garrafón commissioned a 1-ton, 9¾-foot bronze cross, which was later sunk here. Named the Cruz de la Bahía (Cross of the Bay), it's a tribute to everyone who has died at sea. Another option is the Barco L-55 and C-58 dive, which visits World War II boats just 20 minutes off Isla Mujeres' coast.

Dive Shops

Most dive shops offer a variety of packages with rates depending on the time of day, location, and the number of tanks.

Sea Hawk Divers. Sea Hawk Divers runs reef dives from $50 (for one tank) to $65 (for two tanks). Special excursions to the more-exotic shipwrecks and the MUSA underwater museum cost $75 to $95. The PADI courses taught here are highly regarded. For non-divers there are snorkel trips that depart at 9:30 and 2:30 daily. Av. Arq. Carlos Lazo, just before Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, 77400. 998/877–1233. www.sea-hawk-divers.myislamujeres.com.

Carey Diving. This popular PADI dive shop also offers whale-watching, fishing, and snorkeling excursions. One-tank reef dives begin at $55, deep dives at $75, and two-tank cenote dives at $140. Av. Matamoros #13-A, off Juárez, Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, 77400. 998/877–0763. www.careydivecenter.com.

Squalo Adventures. One of the more official dive shops on the island, this PADI-certified outfit offers full scuba courses, as well as one-tank ($59) and two-tank ($69) dives to local sites including the MUSA underwater museum. Madero 10, off Hidalgo, Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, 77400. 998/877–0607. www.squaloadventures.com.

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