When most new or casual divers think about diving Mexico, they most likely imagine Mexico’s Caribbean coast–destinations like Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
Here, at the top of the Mesoamerican Reef, waters are calmer, visibility is better, and, to be sure, here is where you will find the most impressive coral reef ecosystem in Mexico.
The rugged and surf-battered Pacific coast is inhospitable to large coral colonies. Here you will find mixed reef flats, volcanic sand and boulders with some coral cover–a beautiful seascape in its own right–but if you are expecting the typical coastal reef aesthetic of Cozumel on the Pacific coast of North America (or South America, for that matter) you will not get it.
The water off the Pacific coast also tends to be much colder–especially during the winter months. A 3mm wetsuit will be fine for much of the year, but you will probably want a hood and gloves if you’re going somewhere like Socorro (and definitely Ensenada) when the temperature drops.
But talk to experienced divers with a real passion for marine life and an understanding of just how special Mexico is as a global biodiversity hotspot, and you will undoubtedly be pointed away from the Mayan Riviera–both north and to the other coast.
While by no means “hidden” in the sense that the international diving community has yet to find out about and visit them, the places on the below list offer something quite a bit different.
They are a combination of Gulf and Pacific Coast sites, all of them offshore (there is really no shore diving to speak of on Mexico’s Pacific Coast), and offer some of the most spectacular diving in Mexico.
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Just over 100km south of Puerto Escondido, Huatulco is one of the places affluent Mexicans go when they want a domestic holiday but don’t want to deal with hordes of Gringos in places like Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta.
Aas far as Diving Mexico’s Pacific coast goes, it is not in the same league as the places in Baja California Sur when it comes to megafauna and pelagics–although you can still see Giant Manta Rays, Whale Sharks and the odd Humpback Whale.
What Huatulco is great for is Macro life.
The best macro diving (AKA “muck diving”) usually takes place where there is an abundance of nutrient-rich currents, a major river mouth in the area and a lot of seismic activity.
Oaxaca has all three.
Mexico is one of the most seismic places on the planet, and Oaxaca is one of the most seismically active regions in the country. 25 percent of all earthquakes in Mexico happen in Oaxaca–located in the Tehuantepec Fracture Zone, where the state collides with the Cocos, North America and Caribbean plates.
Because of this, the Oaxacan coast is awash in volcanic rock and fine volcanic sand–ideal habitat for snake and moray eels, frogfish, nudibranchs (e.g.) flabellinas, red porcelain crabs, seahorses, orangutan crabs, harlequin shrimp, mantis shrimp, and a variety of gobies and blennies.
No fewer than ten rivers drain into the sea along this stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coast, bringing with them sediment (as well as a ton of pollution), which also creates habitat for muck critters.
Add to this the strong upwelling in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, which floods the coast with the cold, nutrient-rich water required for large plankton blooms–food for the benthic zone filter feeders and the animals that eat them that macro divers come to see–and you’ve got an ideal macro diving destination.
In addition to the more specialized habitat, Huatulco also offers quite good Tropical Eastern Pacific diving and snorkeling.
How to dive Huatulco
The best way to dive Huatulco is to stay in either Huatulco (or the surroundings) itself and head out with a local dive shop or head to the larger town of Puerto Escondido (about 100km north), which has more dive shop options.
Veracruz: Shark Platform/Isla de Los Lobos
Veracruz, at the bottom of the Gulf, is not somewhere most dive tourists visit when they go to Mexico. There are no all-inclusive resorts here, and the Gulf Coast is certainly less picturesque than the Mayan Riviera in Quintana Roo (or the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and Baja California).
There is, however, some fabulous diving to be done here.
While there are coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, and Veracruz is home to the largest–the 11.14 square kilometre Veracruz Reef System National Park–it is the coast’s wreck and manmade structures that are the most exciting.
Shark Platform/Isla de Los Lobos
Shark’s Platform (aka Plataforma Tiburón), located around 16km from Isla de Los Lobos, is an abandoned oil platform covered in hard and soft coral and a fantastic place to see large pelagic fish like jacks, tarpon and barracuda, as well as White-tip Reef Sharks, and Whale Sharks (during the summer months).
This video does a great job of capturing the scale of the platform and how prolific life is around the abandoned rig.
A 4-hour drive from Mexico City to the coastal jump-off point of Tamiahua-Tuxpan, Veracruz, this is a popular dive site for local divers but not very well known in the international diving community.
The state of Veracruz itself was subject to some pretty drug war violence during the early 2010s, but things have largely cooled off since then.
How to dive Shark Platform (Plataforma Tiburón)
The best way to dive both Isla Lobos and Shark Platform is to stay at the Puerto Lobos Dive Camp, which is at the bottom of the Tamiahua Lagoon. From there, you take a boat to Isla de Los Lobos, as well as the platform.
The island itself is protected, and visitation is tightly regulated, so it’s not possible to stay overnight.
Colima: The Revillagigedos Islands (Revillagigedo National Park)
Known as the “Galapagos of Mexico,” Revillagigedos National Park is comprised of four volcanic islands–Roca Partida, Socorro, Clarion and San Benedicto–that lie 540 kilometres southeast of Baja California.
At 148,000 square kilometres, they constitute the large marine protected area in North America, home to the greatest concentration of tropical marine megafauna on the continent, including critically endangered Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Silky Sharks, Silvertip Sharks, Whale Sharks, Giant Manta Rays, Tuna and Humpback Whales.
These isolated islands are also home to some wonderful tropical Eastern Pacific and temperate species, including ten endemics–like the Clarion Angelfish, which travel in large schools–and support large colonies of seabirds like Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Nazca, Blue-footed, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, as well as Great Frigatebirds and Red-billed Tropicbirds.
This is the smallest of the four Revillagigedo Islands and is often ranked as one of the most beautiful dive sites in Mexico.
San Benedicto Island
The largest of the islands, Socorro, rises to an elevation of some 1,130 metres and is 24 miles long and 9 miles wide.
It was hard to find footage of Clarion Island (perhaps because it is 400km west of Socorro and, therefore, the hardest of the Revillagigedo Islands to reach).
I was able to find an excellent documentary on the island (it is in Spanish) that includes wonderful footage of both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
How to Dive the Revillagigedo Islands
Because of how isolated the islands are (it takes around 30 hours to reach the islands from Cabo San Lucas), the only conceivable way to visit them is by Liveaboard.
You can check out a list of the Revillagigedo Island liveaboard options here.
Most of these will depart from Cabo San Lucas San Jose del Cabo, and itineraries range from 7-10 days, depending on the boat.
Baja California Sur: Bahia de los Angeles and Bahia Magdalena
The coasts of Baja California Sur, both the Gulf of California and the North Pacific Ocean, boast some of the richest seas on the planet.
Bahia de Los Angeles Biosphere Reserve
The Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Sea of Cortez, is one of the most popular Whale Shark sites in Mexico.
The trenches and basins that line the ocean floor in this area–the two basins along Isla Angel de la Guarda and Isla San Lorenzo–produce upwelling phenomena that flood the Sea of Cortez with nutrients, creating massive plankton blooms, which, combined with strong tidal current and wind, facilitate some of the richest seas in the world.
Massive fish spawning aggregations and huge numbers of sardines and anchovies attract large pelagics like Whale Sharks, Sailfish, Tuna, Dolphin Fish, Green, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, as well as Blue and Humpback Whales, Orcas, Sea Lions and Common Dolphins.
How to dive Bahia de los Angeles
There are two ways to dive and snorkel the Bahia de Los Angeles Biosphere Reserve.
- A lot of the Pacific coast liveaboards will take you to popular divespots in the Sea of Cortez (which may include Bahia de Los Angeles)
- Or, you can book your dives through a local dive shop–Ricardos Diving Tours seems to be the most prominent local shop.
Bahia Magdalena offers some of the most spectacular diving in Mexico, far away from the ostentation and chaos of the tourist traps.
A world-famous Gery Whale overwintering ground and home to Mako Sharks, Blue Sharks, Sail Fish, Sea Lions, Humpback Whales and thousands of sea birds, Bahia Magdalena is a marquis destination for documentarians and professional wildlife photographers.
Two of the most popular marine wildlife experiences on the Pacific coast of Mexico over the last several years (not including Great White Shark cage diving off Guadalupe) are the Striped Marlin and Mobula Ray migrations that take place in autumn and from June to August, respectively.
How to dive Bahia Magdalena
There are a few options for diving in Mexico’s Bahia Magdalena.
You can either leave from Cabo San Lucas with a dive shop like Dive Ninja Expeditions (no affiliation, by the way, I just like their story/service).
You can stay in Bahia Magdalena itself and arrange to go out with one of the two-or-so dive shops based out of the town.
Or, you can visit Bahia Magdalena as part of a liveaboard experience. As far as I know, only Nautilus has a boat that goes there.
Most Baja California Sur liveaboards head straight to the Revillagigedos (i.e., Socorro).
Baja California: Ensenada
Ensenada, just 70 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico Border, is undoubtedly the site of the best temperate water kelp forest diving in Mexico.
This includes sites like Arco de la Bufadora
And Kenney’s Camp
Here Kelp Bass, California Sheephead, Garibaldi Damselfish, Señorita and even Seven-gill Sharks are seen relatively frequently.
And, of course, you are diving in the midst of some of the best remaining kelp forests in Mexico.
How to dive Ensenada’s kelp forests
The best way to dive Mexico’s kelp forests is to book a dive trip through one of Ensenada’s many dive shops.
Mexico’s most impressive dive locales are not in the Caribbean
In my view, the most impressive snorkeling and diving in Mexico are found outside of the Mayan Riviera.
Sure, the Caribbean coast has the Mesoamerican Reef and warmer, calmer water (typically with better visibility). But the mass tourism in places like Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel–the places you have to stay if you want to dive and snorkel Mexico’s Caribbean coast–make them unbearable.
Veracruz, further up the Gulf, while not somewhere set up for all-inclusive trips, offers one-of-a-kind Gulf of Mexico diving in a unique and threatened habitat, as well as terrific off-shore shark diving.
The more isolated parts of Baja California Sur–places like Bahia Magdalena and the Bahia de Los Angeles Biosphere Reserve–are still backwaters by Mexican tourism standards and provide access to some of the most prolific seas on the planet and unique opportunities to swim alongside large pelagics.
The Revillagigedos are, of course, in a league of their own–remote offshore paradises where the ocean’s threatened apex predators gather en masse.
And even Huatulco, which is typically not on the radar of most serious divers and snorkelers who visit Mexico, offers something unique.
If you are planning a diving or snorkelling-centric trip to Mexico and are looking for something outside of the Mayan Riviera, consider the places I’ve profiled on this list.