Cozumel Underwater

Megan and Chris

Cozumel is one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. People have been scuba diving here as long as people have been scuba diving.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy used the island as a base for planes on U-Boat hunting missions. Navy personnel discovered how pleasant the water was and started using it as a training base for frogmen, the first scuba divers. In the early 1960's, when diving was becoming a popular sport, Jacques Cousteau featured the island in his documentaries and made its rich coral reefs famous.

We had frequently heard about Cozumel from other divers and seen it featured in Rodale's Scuba Diving magazine. Rodale's readers consistently rank it as one of their favorite destinations. So we had to give it a try.

However, we suspected that Cozumel's popularity was as much due to its being an hour's flight from Texas as due to anything else. We were wrong. The coral reefs are even more healthy and colorful than what we saw in Bonaire, and the marine life is incredibly abundant.

GruntsCoral head
Dive shop

We stayed at the Fiesta Americana hotel and used their house dive shop called, creatively, the Dive House. That's pictured above. The pier was beautiful.

We did two days of boat diving with Dive House. Most of the diving in Cozumel is what you call drift diving. A dive boat takes you out to the reef (the trip for us was usually a half hour to an hour, on nice calm seas) and you dive with a divemaster. The divers and divemaster drift with the current until the first person runs low on air (which could be 20 or 30 minutes if you're deep, or more than an hour if you're shallow). Then the dive boat picks you up. You generally make two dives like this and pay $30 to $50 per person.

We had mixed experiences with our boat dives through Dive House. On one of the days, the boat was just too crowded. We had more than a dozen divers in our group, ranging in experience from someone who had done hundreds of dives to a few people who just got certified. The divemasters were insistent that the group stay close together. Since the current was fairly rough, we spent most of our time trying to stay close to the others, but not so close that we were bumping into each other. We bumped into each other anyway. It wasn't always pleasant.

Divemaster GilmerMegan blowing bubblesDivemaster Gilmer
Megan following GilmerMegan framed inside a Cozumel coral head

After having an unpleasant dive boat experience, we decided to do some casual shore diving on our own. We loved the freedom and privacy of the shore diving we did in Bonaire so we figured this would be a good time, even if the sea life wasn't as rich.

The most popular place for shore diving in Cozumel is Chankanaab Park, somewhat of a little eco-Disneyworld. We didn't get to see many of the topside attractions, and they had some hokey manufactured underwater attractions (e.g., concrete faux Mayan statues) but we were pleasantly surprised by the flora and fauna. It was wonderful down there. And since we were never deeper than 20 or 30 feet, we had more than an hour of "bottom time."

Our guide at the park was a young PADI-certified divemaster named Gilmer Helguera. You can see him in the pictures above.

We liked diving with Gilmer so much that we asked him if he can arrange boat dives. He set up two days of diving for us. They were private dives: just the two of us, Gilmer, and the boat captain. We paid $100 each per day, so it was a little pricey, but it was definitely worth it. We had a wonderful time each day. It was exponentially more enjoyable than the crowded boat dives.

If you're going to Cozumel and are interested in contacting Gilmer, e-mail him at (remove the "832-REMOVE-THIS-981" — that's in there to prevent him from getting lots of spam).

Megan in the cavern
Cavern fish
Grunts in the cavern
Megan and tarpon butt

The underwater highlight of Chankanaab Park is a cavern that's fed by freshwater tunnels. The pictures don't really do it justice.

The big silver fish are tarpon. They were at least three feet long, and rather tame. Chris managed to touch one.

By the way, can you find Megan in the picture above?

P.S. Many of the fish in our pictures will appear to have glowing white eyes. This seems to be the equivalent of "red eye" in people. We were using inexpensive rental cameras with the flash on the camera body.

Barracuda swimming between Gilmer and Megan

This big, bold, beautiful barracuda swam between Megan and Gilmer.

SquirrelfishSea fans

This spiny red fellow is a squirrelfish. His big eyes help him see at night.

Yellow stingrayYellow stingray

A yellow stingray. He's well camouflaged, but this is when he's not trying to hide. To hide, he covers himself in sand up to his eyeballs — which he does with a few graceful waves of his body.

Chris diving
Coral Toadfish

This is a coral toadfish. He's a close relative to the frogfish and toadfish you see elsewhere, but this particular species is only found in Cozumel. (Here's one of those cases of "white eye." His eyes are actually black.)

DurgonCoral Toadfish
Queen AngelfishSpotted Eel
ParrotfishSpotted Eel
Megan and Chris divingFilefish feeding
White-Spotted Filefish and Queen Angelfish

A white-spotted filefish and queen angelfish.

Queen Angelfish
Black Durgon

This is a black durgon, a beautiful species of triggerfish.

Megan diving
Cozumel reefCowfish
Cowfish and Divemaster Gilmer

This is a cowfish. That's Gilmer in the background.

Chris scuba divingCozumel coral, puffer, and yellowtail damselfish (we think)
Chris OKYellowtail damselfish (we think)

The guy with the blue spots and yellow fin is a damselfish. The guy with the blue stripes and yellow fins is Chris.

Spiny lobsterSpiny lobster

A spiny lobster. He threatened to fight us if we got any closer.

Megan bubbles
Triggerfish, I think
French Angelfish
Dragonet or sanddiver?
Reef colorSponges
Corals and vase sponge
Some sort of sea plume?
Blue TangCozumel coralRock Beauty
Filefish, angelfish and coralReef formation
Tiger Grouper matesCozumel wrasse

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Around the Island of Cozumel

Cozumel Turtles & Octopus