Just a few miles off the coast of Cancun, Mexico are the tropical island gems of Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy. These two islands are part of the northern border of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. Called, The Great Mayan reef and it is the second largest in the world. The reef holds many underwater treasures for snorkelers of all skill levels.GARRAFON NATURAL REEF PARK
Garrafon Natural Reef Park garnering its name for the incredible reef formation. The water here is shallow, and the currents are very mild making the water crystal clear. Snorkelers of all ages and abilities can enjoy the multitude of sea life and coral formations. The park has an admission fee, but it gives you full use of the pool, sea platforms, and deck chairs. There are other activities in the park such as a dolphin swim, zip lines and guided tours.WHALE SHARK TOURS
Snorkeling with the whale sharks is a great opportunity without flying to South Africa. This magnificent opportunity only happens during the months of May-October. The whale sharks migrate to area off Isla Mujeres (actually Holbox, Mexico) to feed on plankton. The tours run from June 1st to September 15th and they will take you in a boat to the feeding spots of these gentle giants. Once you are outfitted with your snorkeling gear you will get to swim with the school bus sized fish!MUSA, THE UNDERWATER MUSEUM
This location has a collection of over 400 sculptures made of a special material to promote the growth of coral. All the pieces were created by Jason deCaires Taylor merge art with environmental science. The statues will change as marine life grows on and around it. This project was started to take some of the human impact pressure off of the other heavily visited reefs in the area. There are snorkel tours available to this unique place.ISLA CONTOY
Isla Contoy is a small island about 15 miles north of Isla Mujeres and is a wildlife refuge protected by the Mexican government. Only a few tour companies have access to the island and only allowed to bring 200 guests a day for a few hour excursion. One tip to note, make sure to charter one of the larger charter boats since a lot of the trip is over rough, open ocean and this is a better way to avoid seasickness. (Read our article on Seasickness). The boat will stop at the beautiful Ixlache Reef on the way if the weather is acceptable. When you get to the island there are several reefs and white sandy beaches.
There are many other smaller snorkel spots around Isla Mujeres. You can take off into the water at any point on the island and expect to see some sea life. You need to watch out for strong currents on the Caribbean side of the island. One of the smaller, low key snorkel locations is El Farito. This is a shallow, easy place to snorkel making it ideal for beginners to see many beautiful fish. A more challenging place would be Los Manchones with its 35-40 foot depth. There are many coral formations here, but you would need to be an advanced snorkeler to get down to the good stuff. A couple of other spots worth noting for snorkeling would be the Underwater Cross and The Virgin of the Bay.
By Roy Jamason
Written March 19, 2015