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As the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere, Banco Chinchorro is home to several shipwrecks, healthy coral reefs and excellent drift diving.

Highlights

Drift Dives on the West Side

At Punta Isabela, Dos Primos or Punta Gonzalez on the west side of the atoll, divers can drift, spotting colorful fish and eagle rays along the way.

Abundant Soft Coral at Aquarium

Throughout the atoll, but especially in the site of Aquarium I, Banco Chinchorro is filled with brain coral, black coral and huge barrel sponges.

Snorkeling at 40 Cannons

A 17th century Dutch galleon lies wrecked in water along the eastern shore of the atoll. Today, you can easily spot 16 of the original 40 cannons.

Diving in Banco Chinchorro

Quick facts

The diving in Banco Chinchorro is some of the best in the Northern Hemisphere. This Biosphere Reserve hosts easy drifts, colorful reefs and intriguing shipwrecks. All these sites feature excellent visibility and warm waters, but some are more difficult than others. Advanced divers can head for the eastern side of the atoll where heavy surf makes diving difficult or, as is the case of several wrecks in the area, impossible. Intermediate and novice divers should stick to the west side of the atoll where the reefs are protected from open ocean currents.

Operators in Xcalak, Majahual and Costa Maya use speedboats to travel the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to reach Banco Chinchorro from the mainland. Keep in mind, a 16% tax is levied on all diving activities in Mexico.

When to go

Diving in Banco Chinchorro is possible during every month. For uncrowded sites, book between May-Nov. For the perfect weather, book from Dec-Apr.

December to April

There is no bad time to dive Banco Chinchorro. In fact, the water temperatures remain constant year-round and cool only slightly during the winter months.

December to April is considered the best time to visit Mexico and therefore is the most popular time to dive in the Caribbean. If you enjoy a good balance between topside temperatures and great underwater conditions, the winter months are the best time to dive Banco Chinchorro. Because the winter months constitute high season, you should make sure to book as early as possible in order to secure the best rate.

On average, water temperatures vary between 78 and 82ºF (25 and 28ºC) in Banco Chinchorro.

May to November

Diving in the Caribbean and at Banco Chinchorro is possible year-round. Simply keep an eye on the forecast during the summer and early fall. These seasons do see the occasional hurricane. When there isn’t a hurricane, the weather during the summer is hot and humid with the occasional rain shower.

As an added bonus, the summer months are low season throughout Mexico. At this time, you’ll find the best deals on diving and accommodation. If you enjoy uncrowded, Caribbean dive sites, May and September is the best time to dive Banco Chinchorro.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

The sites along the inner reef are perfect for novice divers while Dos Primas is a great drift dive. Snorkelers should explore the atoll’s 9 shallow wrecks.

    Snorkeling in Banco Chinchorro

    Snorkeling in Banco Chinchorro is nearly as good as diving on the atoll. You’ll be treated to wonderful reefs and plentiful colorful fish to follow. In fact, many of the atoll’s wrecks are better snorkeled than dived due to their shallow depths. Check out the site wreck site called 40 Cannons for the best snorkeling in the area.
    Dive sites in Banco Chinchorro can be separated into two different geographical areas. On the east side of the atoll, you’ll find most of the shipwrecks. For the same reasons as these boats sank, diving here is difficult. The surges and shallow depths make many of these sites impossible. The few remaining and approachable sites, including 40 Cannons, may only be snorkeled by order of the Mexican government. On the west side of the atoll, there are several dive sites for all levels of scuba diver. Easy reef dives include Kai Ha and Aquarium I and II. For a safe and simple drift dive, head to Punta Isabela, Dos Primos or Punta Gonzalez.

    What to see

    As one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in North America, your log books will be full of interesting creatures after your time at Banco Chinchorro.

    The healthy atoll reefs play host to a variety of tropical species. Vigilant divers may spot lobsters, groupers, stingrays, sergeant majors as well as hundreds of colorful fish. French Angelfish and Queen Angelfish are among the many fish you’ll spot. Nurse sharks relax among the tunnels and caverns and barracuda stalk their prey in and out of the colorful corals.

    Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill turtles are frequently seen in the area. And grouper live among the reefs and wrecks.

    As a real treat, you may also have the opportunity to dive with American crocodiles and manatees in the shallows.

    Calendar

    For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

    Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

    Location

    Banco Chinchorro holds the title for the northern hemisphere’s largest atoll reef. Off the far southeast coast of Mexico, this atoll covers a total area of 300 square miles (800 square kilometers) and is 25 miles (40 kilometers) long by 10 miles (16 kilometers) wide. Three major islands, namely Cayo Lobos, Cayo Central and Cayo Norte, constitutes only 2.6 square miles (6.7 square kilometers). This healthy marine area was named a Biosphere Reserve in 1996.

    Today, the atoll is uninhabited except for a few stilt houses local fishermen use.

    Other attractions

    As Banco Chinchorro is uninhabited and the three islands represent a tiny landmass, there are really no other major attractions in the area except for scuba diving and snorkeling. On your day trip, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the stilt houses of the 200 fishermen who have made their home on the atoll. Some dive shops can arrange overnight visits to this village. Outside of Banco Chinchorro, you’ll find hotels, restaurants and several attractions in the towns of Xcalak and Majahual.

    Getting there

    To access Banco Chinchorro, you’ll first need to fly into Cancun International Airport or take a bus into the Riviera Maya region. Then, hop in a taxi, bus or rental car to either Xcalak or Majahual near the Belizean border. These are the two setting off points for day trips to the Banco Chinchorro atoll.

    UTC-05:00

    Time zone

    MXN

    Currency

    +52

    Calling code

    127 V

    Electric volt

    A, 

    B

    Plug type

    CUN

    Main airport
    x

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