The Mesoamerican Reef is a natural wonder and hosts an insane amount of marine life. If you love scuba diving as much as we do, you’re going to be blown away by this top 3 dive destination in the world. It’s the second largest barrier reef and is located in the Caribbean Sea (also known as the Great Mayan Reef). This large reef extends for more than 1,100 km (700 miles) past Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The best diving in the Mesoamerican Reef can be done in Mexico, Belize, and Honduras so we are going to focus on those countries in this article.

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Top reasons to go scuba diving in the Mesoamerican Reef

There are many reasons to dive the Mesoamerican Reef system – it’s hard to narrow down. This reef is home to over 65 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and 5 species of turtles – on top of whale sharks.

Best Reef Dives

The best reef dives in Mexico include the Manchones Reef in Cancun. This tropical reef is home to many tropical fish, colourful corals, sea turtles, and nurse sharks. Some of the best reef diving in Mexico is at Cozumel Island. The most popular reef diving spots in Mexico include the Columbia Reef, Punta Sur, and Palancar Gardens Reef (between Cozuel and Tuum).

If you’re looking for reef dives in Belize, Half Moon Caye is the place to go. The Mesoamerican Reef in this area has a wall dive that drops more than 900 meters (3000 ft). You’ll see many corals, sponges, and sea fans as well as a wide range of fish, turtles, and sharks.

Utila, in Honduras Bay Islands, has many great reef diving areas such as La Chimenea, La Poza, and El Faro. You’ll be able to experience everything from turtles to sharks to manta rays, even some rare black coral trees. If you’re up for exciting diving there are narrow canyons, swim-throughs, and tunnels in this area.

Best Wreck Dives

If you are looking for wreck diving you have a few great options. 

In Mexico, you have the famous Cancun’s C58 Minesweeper shipwreck, a WWII navy boat that sunk in 2000 when a hurricane swept through the area. It lies 25 meters (85 ft) below sea level and has lots of old gun turrets and cabins to explore.

Near Tulum Mexico, you can also dive the Mama Viña wreck, an old shrimp boat that sits 27 meters (90 ft) below sea level. This boat sunk in 1995 and is a great place to see octopuses.

Off the coast of Mexico nearby Belize you will find the Chinchorro Reef. This is an 800 square km (300 square miles) epic dive spot for advanced divers looking for a unique area. There are more than 70 wrecks in this protected biosphere reserve. You’ll also see a diverse marine system of reefs, turtles, sharks, crocodiles, and a large array of tropical fish.

If you are diving in Honduras El Aguila in Roatan is a 70 meters (230 ft) cargo boat that sunk in 1997 when it was hit by a hurricane. The boat lies 30 meters (100 ft) below sea level and is split into 3 sections: the cargo holds, engine room, and bridge.

Another wreck dive in Roatan is The Odyssey. This is a 91 meter (300 ft) cargo ship that sunk in 2002 and is one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean. It lays on the bottom at 33 meters (110 ft) below sea level and you can swim through the impressive wreck to explore all the life that has flourished here.

Best Shark Dives

whale shark

Scuba diving with sharks is one of the best, most unique, and ethical animal encounters you can have. The Mesoamerican Reef is home to many different species of sharks including nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, tiger sharks, bull sharks, and whale sharks.

  • If you’re wanting to dive with whale sharks, you’ll be happy to know that this reef is full of them. The best place to do so is in Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun. Whale shark season is between June and September.

  • If you’re visiting in the winter and want to try diving with bull sharks, you can do so in Playa del Carmen between November and March. 

Why the Mesoamerican Reef is popular for scuba diving?

The Mesoamerican Reef is a system of reefs that extend from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, around Isla Mujeres, to the Bay Islands in Belize. This area is world renowned for its large concentration of whale sharks and diverse coral reef systems. Spanning through this area are many reefs and protected parks.

Quick facts about diving in the Mesoamerican Reef

underwater statue while scuba diving

Diving season in the Mesoamerican Reef

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef’s tropical location makes it an epic year round dive site. Due to tropical storms rolling through, the best diving season is between the months of November and May when the water is warm and clear.

Cost of diving in the Mesoamerican Reef

The cost of scuba diving in the Mesoamerican Reef depends on which of the 4 countries you choose to dive. In general, scuba diving in Mexico will be more expensive than diving in Belize and Honduras. It also depends on your level of Scuba diving certification. It’ll cost more if you’re getting your Open Water Scuba Certification than if you already have it and are looking for fun dives to explore the reef.

Scuba diving in Mexico typically costs around $150 CAD ($110 USD) for a 2 tank dive for experienced divers. A Discover Scuba Diving course for those who want to try diving for the first time costs around $110 CAD ($80 USD) from the shore and $200 CAD ($150 USD) from a boat. A PADI Open Water Certification costs around $610 CAD ($450 USD) which doesn’t include accommodation.

A 2 tank dive in Belize costs around $200-270 CAD ($150-200 USD). Discover Scuba Diving costing around $340 CAD ($250 USD) and PADI Open Water Certification costing around $760 CAD ($560 USD).

The cheapest place to scuba dive the Mesoamerican Reef is in Honduras. A 2 tank dive will be around $122 CAD ($90 USD) with a 10 dive package costing about $488 CAD ($360 USD). Discover Scuba Diving training will cost about $375-440 CAD ($275-325 USD). Open Water Certification costs about $475-610 CAD ($350-450 USD).

Where to get certified in the Mesoamerican Reef

scuba dive shop

There is no bad place to get scuba dive certified in this area. If you’re looking for the best deal, Honduras will be your best bet. Utila, Honduras is one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba diver certified. The PADI Open Water Certification costs between $540-610 CAD ($400-450 USD). A SSI Certification is always a bit cheaper at around $475-540 CAD ($350-400 USD).

Diving conditions in the Mesoamerican Reef

The exceptional diving conditions in the Mesoamerican reef are a huge reason so many people love diving in this area. The reef is spread out over a large area and the diving conditions are pretty amazing no matter where you choose to go.


Water visibility will vary based on the area and time of year you visit. On average you will have an underwater visibility of between 15-30 meters (50-100 ft) or more. This makes for exceptional snorkeling and scuba diving.

Water temperature

The water temperature will vary depending on the time of year you visit. Between December and February, the water will get as cold as 25℃ (77℉) while summer months, between July and September, will have water temperatures of around 30℃ (86℉).

What you’ll see diving in the Mesoamerican Reef

The Mesoamerican Reef is famous for a wide array of large marine life including:

  • Sea turtles: Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Olive Ridley sea turtle
  • Whales: Humpback, Minke, Whale Sharks, and Sperm Whales
  • Rays: Manta Rays, Eagle Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, and Stingrays
  • Manatees
  • Crocodiles
  • Dolphins: Bottlenose, Spinner, Spotted, Rough-Toothed, and more)
  • 20 different species of sharks. 

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is world renowned for its large concentration of whale sharks. These gentle giants have their annual migration through this area between mid May to mid September. One of the best areas to snorkel and scuba dive with whale sharks is in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. You can book a snorkel trip to have an ethical encounter swimming with whale sharks.

Where to dive in the Mesoamerican Reef

The Mesoamerican Reef is one of the most diverse and spectacular coral reef systems in the world. It stretches for over 1,000 kilometers along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert diver, you’ll find something to suit your interests and skills in this amazing region.


The Great Blue Hole is one of the most popular and recognizable dive spots in the world. It’s a circular sinkhole that plunges to a depth of over 120 meters, where divers can admire ancient rock formations and encounter various sharks. Advanced divers who can go much deeper will see lots of cool looking stalactites and stalagmites as well as sharks (reef, giant hammerheads, and bull sharks).

Ambergris Caye (Isla Bonita) is another popular dive area home to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the area’s oldest. It’s the largest island of Belize and its history dates back to the Maya civilization.

Turneffe Atoll has lots of great dive sites with patch reefs and vertical walls and is known for its large concentration of sharks, turtles, and dolphins. It’s the largest atoll in Belize and the Mesoamerican Reef System. Its history includes being inhabited by the Maya and pirates.

An atoll is an island that is shaped like a ring with a lagoon in the center.

catamaran boats with a nice sandy beach and storm


The beautiful Bay Islands include 3 islands famed for amazing scuba diving: Guanaja, Roatán and Utila. Each island has its own charm and attractions, and you can find a variety of dive sites, from reefs to wrecks, from caves to walls, and from shallow to deep. You can also encounter amazing marine life, such as whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and more.

Utila is the smallest island of the three and is one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba diving certified (around $400 CAD/$300 USD). It also has some of the most amazing diving in Coco Seamount. This is a submerged volcano that attracts large schools of fish, tuna, barracudas, manta rays, and whale sharks (February to April is whale shark season). Halliburton Wreck is great for those who want to explore a sunken cargo ship.

Roatán Island is home to some of the best diving in Honduras. This is the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands and offers more facilities and services for tourists. It also has some of the most diverse and spectacular dive sites in the region. 

  • Mary’s Place, where you can dive in narrow canyons and crevasses filled with corals and sponges
  • El Aguila Wreck, where you can swim around a 230-foot long ship that lies on the sandy bottom. 
  • Other top dive sites include Hole in the Wall and Half Moon Bay Wall

Guanaja is the least visited island in the Bay Islands, and it offers a more secluded and pristine diving experience. It has over 50 dive sites, many of which are unexplored and untouched. You can dive sites like Black Rock Canyon, where you can see huge black coral trees and walls covered with colourful sponges, or Jado Trader Wreck, where you can see a 240-foot long freighter that sank in 1988.


Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to stunning turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea. Its east coast is lined with the stunning Mesoamerican Reef system making it one of the most popular dive regions in the world. This is just one of the many draws to the tourist hotspots of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel. This region is famous for its whale shark migration and colourful coral reefs with an abundance of marine life.


The tourist hotspot of Cancun Mexico is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. It has some of the best diving year round with peak dive season between May and September. Expect to see lots of marine life including moray eels, barracudas, and sea turtles. This is also whale shark season in Cancun and nearby Isla Mujeres.

beach with canopies

The most popular dive spots in Cancun include:

  • MUSA Underwater Museum (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) has over 500 sculptures submerged to swim through.
  • The Manchones Reef, a great place to see turtles, rays and moray eels.
  • C58 Shipwreck is a sunken navy vessel that is home to barracudas, groupers and lobsters.

If you don’t have your scuba diving certification but want to give it a try, you can book a beginner scuba diving class. You’ll get some instruction before doing a 2 tank dive at both the MUSA Underwater Museum and the Manchones Reef.

If you’re already dive certified, you can book a scuba diving day trip from Cancun to see the top diving sights in the area.  

If you don’t have your scuba diving certification but want to give it a try, you can book a beginner scuba diving class. You’ll get some instruction before doing a 2 tank dive at both the MUSA Underwater Museum and the Manchones Reef.

Playa del Carmen

Another popular Mexican tourist destination is Playa del Carmen. It’s located south of Cancun and is one of the best places to dive with female bull sharks. They migrate to the area between November and March to have their young.

For those looking to get PADI Open Water Certified in Playa del Carmen is a great place to do so. If you’re looking to try diving for the first time a Discover Scuba Diving is a great option. If you’re already certified and just want to enjoy all the best of Playa del Carmen scuba diving, a 2 tank dive is for you.

One of the most famous dive sites in Playa del Carmen is Mama Viña, a shrimp boat that was sunk in 1995 and acts as a stunning artificial reef, home to lots of octopuses.

Tortugas is another popular Playa del Carmen scuba diving site, especially for beginners, where you can see lots of different sea turtles.

Playa del Carmen is also a great place to go cenote scuba diving. Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with freshwater. Some can be hundreds of feet deep and filled with stalactites. This should be reserved for scuba divers who are certified, advanced, and comfortable in tight spaces.

swimming in a cenote


For a small island, scuba diving in Cozumel packs a punch with 40 epic dive sites around the island. Cozumel Island has made a name for itself as one of the top snorkeling and scuba diving destinations in the world. You can dive year round with December to April being peak dive season. You can expect to see a large concentration of tropical fish, eagle rays, sea turtles, and sharks (nurse and reef sharks).

The most famous dive site here is the Columbia Reef, a wall dive with cliffs, tunnels, and drop offs. Palancar Reef and Santa Roas Wall are other popular dive sites.

Top Cozumel scuba diving sites include:

  • Palancar Caves feature tunnels, caves and arches you can swim through. It also comes with the chance to see rays, turtles, and nurse sharks.
  • Santa Rosa Wall is one of the most famous dive sites in Cozumel. This area features a steep wall that drops from 15 meters (50 feet)  to over 60 meters (around 200 feet). There are also huge sponges, coral formations and overhangs.
  • Columbia Reef is the largest reef and has a shallow, normal and deep section making it great for any level of scuba diver.

The C-53 Shipwreck is an old navy vessel that was intentionally sunk in 1999 to create a reef. It sits on the bottom at 25 meters making it a great place to scuba dive.

How to dive in the Mesoamerican Reef

scuba diving boat

Much of the Mesoamerican reef lies along the coastline of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. Visiting any one of these countries, especially the islands just off the coast, will give you access to all the best dive sites in a small area.

If you want to scuba dive the Mesoamerican Reef, the most popular option is to book day dives. Typically you’ll do a 2 tank dive where you are out on the water for a few hours with 2 dives at different sites. These can be either shore dives or boat dives. Some places, especially if booking through resorts,  will offer larger dive packs of 10+ dives for a better deal.

Looking for the best diving experience? You can book an overnight liveaboard dive excursion where you can have a multi day scuba diving adventure.

Snorkeling in the Mesoamerican Reef

If you’re still not sure about scuba diving you can get your feet wet with snorkeling. It’s a great starting point for those interested in diving but don’t want to commit to a full dive certificate.

One of the best ways to start snorkeling is by doing it while you’re on vacation. This is where Samara’s love for everything water and ocean began. You can rent snorkel gear for cheap almost anywhere and go at your own pace. 

snorkeling in mexico

If you’re on a Mexico vacation in the Yucatan Peninsula Cancun is a great place to snorkel. Many hotels and resorts will even include snorkel gear in their packages.

  • Manchones Reef is a shallow option that is great for beginner snorkelers. You’ll be able to see corals, sponges, and fish with an opportunity to see turtles, rays and moray eels.
  • The Cancun Underwater Museum has 500+ underwater sculptures that you can see from the surface of the water. Or you can be brave and dive down to try to get a closer look.

If you want to try snorkeling in Belize, we’d recommend checking out Silk Cayes. This is a marine reserve full of beautiful coral gardens that are full of life. Snorkeling in Silk Cayes will have you swimming with nurse sharks, lobsters, sting rays, and sea turtles and costs around $200 CAD ($150 USD) for the day trip.

Planning your trip to the Mesoamerican Reef

The Mexican part of the Mesoamerican Reef is outstanding. All the best places to sleep and eat, and top things to do are in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

Thanks for stopping by!

Some of the most sought after dive sites in the world are found throughout the Mesoamerican Reef is one of. This barrier reef sits in the tropical Caribbean waters meaning warm, clear water that is full of life. You’ll find everything from thriving colourful coral reef systems full of tropical fish to beautiful sharks, turtles, and rays. The Mesoamerican Reef offers something for every diver.

This huge reef system is great for first time divers who want shallow reefs to experienced divers looking for deep walls and sunken shipwrecks, you’ll find it here. The Mesoamerican Reef is one of our favourite places to scuba dive in the world and we highly recommend it to anyone who loves diving.

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scuba diving the mesoamerican reef
scuba diving the mesoamerican reef
scuba diving the mesoamerican reef

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