Diving around Playa del Carmen
We chose to dive with the highly recommended Scuba 10. The crew was rad; Gerardo hooked us up in the shop, Irene taught the Open Water while I tagged along on a refresher dive and Chino took us deep into the cenotes (sinkholes and underwater cave systems).
A standard two-tank dive package will set you back US$78 (£50) and includes all park fees and lunch on board the boat. A night dive will cost you US$68 (£45). Two cenote dives in the same park will cost US$125 (£82) and includes all park fees and lunch, while two dives in two different parks will cost US$158 (£103).
The reef dives we did were a bit disappointing after diving in Thailand, maybe because it was an Open Water Course, but I’ve heard that there are some amazing spots off the coast of Isla Cozumel. Definitely do your research beforehand. If you’re on a budget then save your money for the cenotes!
The cenote dives were on a whole other level. There are plenty to choose from across the Yucatan Peninsular, but I would 100% recommend The Pit and Dos Ojos. They both offer a unique and mind-blowing experience that will push you to the edge of your comfort zone if you’re not a confident diver.
Our first dive was to The Pit, so named because it’s one of the deepest in the area at 120m (400ft). It’s also one of the most challenging and rewarding cenote dives.
It’s a long drive into the jungle before you pull into a dusty car park and get your kit together. You skirt the edge of the sinkhole and look down 6m (20ft) to the bright blue water, looking out for bubbles from other divers. Thankfully there are now steps going down to a platform so you don’t have to jump in.
The water is so clear and the sunbeams light the part that you’ll be diving into. You pass a blurry halocline layer at 18m (60ft), where the fresh and salt water meet before reaching your maximum depth and a layer of thick cloud formed from the decaying trees that have fallen in years ago.
It’s pretty terrifying to look down, beneath you it’s so dark that your torch cannot penetrate it. It’s said that this cenote was used in Mayan rituals, the bottom is littered with bones, along with a few random household objects that probably got dumped in years ago.
Once you’ve circled through the cloud you slowly spiral back up towards the light, exploring the smaller caverns off to the side, pointing your torch at the stalagmites and stalactites around you, marvelling at how huge the whole thing is.
Our surface time was spent driving to the next cenote dive site, Dos Ojos, named for the two caves that are connected by a very long underwater cave system. It’s a shallow dive, the maximum depth is 8m (26ft) so you can dive for a long time if you can handle the darkness and the cold.
It’s easily accessible from the car park and both pools are also used for swimming and snorkelling. Again, the water is unbelievably clear, the light shines deep into the caves, but not deep enough.
You slowly follow the guideline deep underground, through narrow tunnels and deep caves. It can feel very claustrophobic and when you reach the furthest point you can turn all the torches off and feel completely weightless as you float in the darkness.
It’s another slow meander through passageways, always following the guideline, back to the original cave where you can climb out of the water and relax in the pool once your equipment has been put away. It’s a surreal experience and one that should definitely be combined with The Pit!
Swimming with turtles in Akumal
I took a solo mission by colectivo from Playa del Carmen to the very small town of Akumal. Getting to the beach from the highway is a mission, but once I arrived I was floored by this beach. It is stunning. A proper piece of paradise. White sand, turquoise water, palm trees.
And you can swim with turtles. Turtles are great. I love turtles. Who doesn’t love turtles? I borrowed a snorkel, mask and fins from the dive shop in Playa del Carmen, ignored every tour operator telling me to pay them money and went into the ocean by myself.
When Gerardo told me about this beach I was sceptical, but within minutes I was swimming alongside a green sea turtle. I spent an hour floating around, following one turtle for a while (at a respectable distance, DO NOT TOUCH THEM) and I would turn around only to spot another one a few feet away, and another, and another.
It was magical.
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