< Back

Contact us

Our scuba travel experts are available 24/7 to assist you in planning and booking a fantastic scuba diving vacation

Located just north of the Belize Cayes, the quintessential fishing village called Xcalak offers up the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and Banco Chinchorro.

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.

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.

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.

Xcalak Reef National Marine Park

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

Diving in Xcalak

Quick facts

In its own right, Xcalak Reef National Marine Park is an epic dive destination for its pristine reef ecosystem. However, the fishing village known as Xcalak also has the unique advantage of being located less than an hour from Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. Between these two locations, you’ll find easy reef dives, intermediate drift dives and shallow wrecks for snorkelers.

Almost all of the diving in the area takes place by speedboat. Keep in mind that a 16% tax is levied on all diving operations in Mexico.

When to go

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

December to April

There is no bad time to dive from Xcalak. 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 Xcalak. 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) near Xcalak.

May to November

Diving in the Caribbean and from Xcalak 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 Xcalak.

Rain and temperature

Click to expand

Water temperature

Click to expand

Where to dive

Banco Chinchorro is suited to all levels. Closer to Xcalak, beginners should stick to the south. Tec divers can head to the deep walls in the north.

    Snorkeling in Xcalak

    Topside spotters will be treated to stunning underwater sights in Xcalak. You’ll see wonderful reefs and plentiful colorful fish in Xcalak Reef National Marine Park. In Banco Chinchorro, many of the 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. It’s worth mentioning that the barrier reef along the shore protects snorkelers from large waves, making for calm and easy snorkeling from the shore in Xcalak. Numerous coral heads are home to tropical fish, and they’re so close you can swim out to see them. You can snorkel right in front of your accommodation, no boat necessary! This is great for beginners.
    In Xcalak Reef National Marine Park, there are several unique dive sites worth exploring. La Poza (a.k.a. The Tarpon Hole) is a blue hole with a formation unique to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Another favorite is La Chimenea which ends with a narrow swim through leading to a round room with an open top. Further north in the park, Hob Na and Punta Gavilan are deep walls with stunning black coral colonies and fluorescent sponges dropping below recreational limits. On the other hand, 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

    Featuring a protected marine park and the Northern Hemisphere’s largest coral atoll, diving in Xcalak is sure to result in marine life encounters unique to your log book.

    The healthy reefs play host to a variety of tropical species. Vigilant divers may spot lobsters, groupers, stingrays, sergeant majors as well as hundreds of other species. 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 of Banco Chinchorro.

    Calendar

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

    Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

    Location

    Xcalak is a quintessential fishing village just one hour north of Mexico’s border with Ambergris Caye in Belize. For many years, this small village had better transportation connections with Belize than with the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, creating a culture more closely related to Caribbean island life than that of mainland Mexico. Today, road connections have improved and Xcalak is now only five hours south of Cancun by car. Still a hidden gem, most divers who arrive to this remote paradise are familiar with the Riviera Maya diving scene and have sought out the area’s pristine dive sites.

    Other attractions

    As a tiny fishing village, there is not much to do here outside of getting in the water. In addition to snorkeling and diving, many operators in the area offer fishing tours. Leaving the village for a day, it is possible to tour (or dive) a few cenotes as well as explore the area’s Mayan ruins. While there is no nightlife to speak of in Xcalak, this small village does host the greatest number of three-star restaurants per capita in Riviera Maya. This isn’t the place to come if you want lots of people around and a ton of attractions. But if you’re looking for a little solitude on a gorgeous beach, Xcalak is a great diving destination for you.

    Getting there

    Although there is a small airport in Xcalak, the closest international airport is in Cancun. The major city is a 6-7 hour drive from Xcalak. From the airport, you can rent a car or arrange a private transfer. I would NOT recommend taking the bus to Xcalak, as you need to do some transfers in small towns and it will take a LONG time to get there by bus. It is also possible to reach Xcalak by road or boat from Belize, just one hour to the south.

     The closest town is Mahahual.

    UTC-05:00

    Time zone

    MXN

    Currency

    +52

    Calling code

    127 V

    Electric volt

    A, 

    B

    Plug type

    CUN

    Main airport