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As a jumping off point for Banco Chinchorro, Mahahual is an up-and-coming dive spot. Be sure to check out the barrier reef and cenotes here as well.

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.

Virgin Reefs of Mahahual Coast

Closer to shore than Banco Chinchorro, several dive sites exist along the little-dived Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Get here before the crowds do!

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.

Cenote Diving in Yucatan

Hundreds of crystal clear cenotes (caves) can be found throughout Mexico. Cenote Dos Ojos near Tulum is the most famous and is easily accessible to most divers.

Diving in Mahahual

Quick facts

The diving in Mahahual is two-fold. First, short-term divers can access several barrier reef sites just offshore of this small village. These are easy reef dives.

Second and much more famous, Mahahual is the main jumping off point for Banco Chinchorro which is home to some of the best diving 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 Mahahual use speedboats to travel the 30 minutes to an hour it takes to reach Banco Chinchorro from the mainland. They also use boats to access the reef sites closer to shore. Keep in mind, a 16% tax is levied on all diving activities in Mexico.

When to go

Diving from Mahahual is possible during every month. For the best visibility, book between May-Nov. For the more pelagic species, book from Dec-Apr.

December to April

There is no bad time to dive from Mahahual. 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 Mahahual. If you enjoy a good balance between topside temperatures and a better variety of pelagic species, 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 from Mahahual is possible year-round. However, May to November features the best underwater conditions including stunning visibility.

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 from Mahahual.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

Visitors arriving by cruise ship for a limited amount of time should dive at the reefs near shore. Those with more time, should head to Banco Chinchorro.

    Snorkeling in Mahahual

    Snorkeling in Mahahual is full of opportunity. Those not wishing to venture far should check out the shallow reefs from shore. Otherwise, snorkeling 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.
    Many of the dive sites off shore from Mahahual are easy to dive and accessible to all visitors to the village. These sites include colorful reefs such as Escalones, Flamenco and Rio Bermejo. 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 legally be snorkeled. 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

    You’re sure to see plenty marine species of note while diving from Mahahual.

    The healthy reefs and the atoll 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 on Banco Chinchorro.

    Calendar

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

    Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

    Location

    Previously a small fishing village, Mahahual has recently experienced rapid expansion with the introduction of tourism. It’s located on the far southern Caribbean coast of Mexico, just 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) south of Costa Maya, a popular cruise ship port. Today it’s famous as the access point to Banco Chinchorro, the Northern Hemisphere’s largest atoll reef.

    Currently a new development called New Mahahual is under development, inland from Costa Maya. It is hoped that this will relieve some of the pressure placed on the small village when cruise ships are docked nearby.

    Other attractions

    As with most Mexican diving destinations, there is plenty above the water to keep you busy when you aren’t diving. Popular things to do include relaxing on Maya Chan Beach, rediscovering childhood at Maya, Lost Mayan Kingdom Waterpark and taking a surfing excursion to nearby breaks. Further afield, you can venture to the well-preserved Mayan ruins scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula or schedule a deep sea fishing adventure. Don’t forget to schedule some time to relax in one of the city’s premier spas.

    Getting there

    Most visitors to Mahahual will arrive via cruise ship. These large ships dock at Costa Maya. From the port, you’ll need to arrange for a private transfer to the small village of Mahahual. It’s also possible to reach this destination through Cancun’s International Airport. A private transfer or rental car is necessary to travel the 219 miles (352 kilometers) between the airport and Mahahual.

    UTC-05:00

    Time zone

    MXN

    Currency

    +52

    Calling code

    127 V

    Electric volt

    A, 

    B

    Plug type

    CUN

    Main airport