1.UNDERWATER MUSEUM (MUSA) 

Depth: 9 meters. Suitable for beginners.

One of the most famous and amazing places on the entire Riviera Maya coast. It is an underwater sculpture museum created by artist Jason Taylor and consists of five hundred sunken statues of people, furniture, cars and much more. The museum’s statues are located in 3 locations: near Punta Cancun, near Punta Nisuk and Isla Mujeres. The main installation of the statues was completed in 2013, although the creators plan to install more than 1,000 more statues around the entire coast of the city. Diving tours to this place are offered by almost all tourist and specialized companies in Cancun, so it is not difficult to find a suitable offer.

It is important to note that this place has not only a recreational purpose, but also an ecologically beneficial one. First, it creates an artificial reef where corals can also grow and various sea creatures can live. And second, it directs some of the tourist traffic away from the natural reefs, thereby contributing to their preservation.
The main site, Silent Evolution, depicts 400 statues of humans and their positive and negative interactions with nature. It aims to draw people’s attention to the destructive effects that human activities have on underwater life and to teach them how to live in harmony with the world around them.

The peculiarity of this place: a unique underwater museum, which has no analogues in the world.

Tip: The museum can only be reached by ship, so reserve the service in advance at the diving center. Also keep in mind that the place is extremely popular with tourists.

2.MANCHONES REEF

Depth: 10 m
Suitable for beginners 

According to many divers, this reef is the most beautiful and rich in marine life in the region. Its vibrant colors and large colonies of tropical fish surprise and fascinate even experienced divers.

Manchones Reef is part of the National Marine Park and is located south of Isla Mujeres, closer to Cancun. The reef is incredibly rich in marine life and gives home to many species of corals and fish, as well as lobsters, crabs, sharks and rays. In addition to these, you can see turtles of the caretta species here, but only at certain times of the year. Besides sea creatures, the reef is also home to two sculptures from the Underwater Museum: «Man on Fire» and «Ernest Hemingway’s Writing Desk».

This is a relatively shallow area (8-10 m) 800 m long, so it is also ideal for beginners. In addition, there are no currents here, which makes the place especially easy for first dives.

Its shallow depth and richness of marine life also make it an ideal place for underwater photographers, who can add to their collection of photos of underwater flora and fauna.

A special feature of this place: Here you can see the unusually beautiful parrotfish, angel queen and spotted trout fish.

Tip: Often companies offer combined dives to the Underwater Museum and Manchones Reef, so check with your guide for specific tours.

3.CHITALES REEF

Depth: 6-11 m 
Suitable for beginners

Another very popular diving spot near Cancun – Reef Chitales, also great for beginners, because it has excellent visibility – more than 30 meters, and a shallow depth – an average of 8 meters.

However, it will also be of interest to experienced divers, because this shallow reef is a place with a large variety of corals and colorful fish. For example, barracudas, moray eels, spinorrhoids, sea bass, and many others live here. You can also see a variety of jellyfish, clams, and even stingrays. And there is a «sea pasture» near the reef, where you can often find green sea turtles feeding.

It’s also a good place for drift diving because there is a constant southeasterly current almost year round.

Despite the fact that the reef is very close to the city, Chitales can also be reached only by ship.

Feature of this place: Because of the shallow depth Chitales Reef is suitable not only for diving, but also for snorkeling

Tip: A tour to this reef may not include the price of the National Park area ($5 per person). Bring money with you or check with your tour operator.

4.BANDERA REEF

Depth: 12 m
Suitable for intermediate level of training

Another place near Cancun that divers should not miss is Banderas Reef, which is located inside the bay. It consists of two large coral mounds and is usually circled in a figure of eight. These coral formations are home to a variety of reef inhabitants including barracuda, angel fish, morays, lobsters, and crabs. There are also many colorful sponges and staghorn corals.

What sets this place apart is that the shallow reefs provide ideal conditions for night diving with excellent visibility, moderate currents, and, most importantly, an abundance of marine life. At night, these reefs are transformed when nocturnal animals such as octopuses, eels, squid, lobsters and crabs emerge from their homes to actively hunt.

This place is also suitable for drifting. However, the current here can be a bit difficult for not very experienced divers, so they will have to wait for its intensity to decrease in order to experience the pleasure.

The peculiarity of this place: The possibility of night diving and observation of those animals that you do not see during the day.

Tip: Be sure to check for currents during your planned dive. Strong currents can be dangerous for inexperienced divers.

5.EL GRAMPIN REEF

Depth: 16 m
Suitable for intermediate level of training

Another interesting reef to explore, El Grampin, also located in the National Marine Park, has excellent visibility and is only 15 minutes from Cancun. It is of average depth by local standards and has a huge variety of marine life. It has a moderate current that fills the water with nutrients that attract flocks of medium-sized fish such as barracuda and yellowfin caranx (trevally). Sea bass, sea scorpionfish, and many parrotfish and wrasse can also be found here. That said, it’s a good place to watch for larger marine life such as turtles and stingrays.

A special feature of this place: Here you can swim through tunnels in the coral.

Tip: Do not use sunscreen as it is harmful to corals.

6.PUNTA NEGRA REEF

Depth: 18 m
Suitable for intermediate level of training

Punta Negra Reef is another beautiful coral reef of short length. The current here usually runs parallel to the reef, which makes for a nice drift along the coral.

Here you’ll find a variety of marine life, from small reef fish like angelfish to larger marine animals like feeding sharks, stingrays, turtles, and eels. And you can spot lobsters and crabs on the reef ledges. It is here that the largest number of species found in the Caribbean are represented.

This place also suits photographers not only because of the variety of marine life, but also because of the unusual and picturesque location of corals. The light here penetrates the water well and the colors are bright and saturated.

Feature of this place: There is a «hole» in the corals through which you can swim.

Tip: There can also be strong currents here, so check with your operator or guide.

7.SLEEPING SHARK CAVE 

Depth: 20 m
Suitable for professionals

The cave of the «sleeping sharks» is a little away from the town, closer to Isla Mujeres. About 50 years ago, a sailor from this island discovered a cave and in it sharks that seemed to be sleeping. This fact stumped biologists for years, because sharks must be in constant motion to breathe normally. Eventually, scientists concluded that these caves have reduced salinity and increased oxygen content, which apparently makes it easier for the sharks to breathe without movement. Even Jacques Yves Cousteau explored this famous diving spot and documented an amazing phenomenon: sleeping sharks absorb freshwater bubbles seeping from below.

Now many divers choose this place to see with their own eyes such a unique and amazing phenomenon. The types of sharks that can be seen here are the lemon shark, the dumb shark, and the blacktip shark. However, because of the constant encroachment of humans into this nature reserve, the chances of seeing sharks are now 50/50. In addition to sharks, reef fish, barracudas, and sea bass live in and around the caves.

This place is special: where else in the world can you see sleeping sharks?

Tip: Sharks are not always in the caves, so check with your guide if they are there at the moment before you dive.

8.C58 MINESWEEPER WRECK DIVE 

Depth: 27 m
Suitable for professionals

A boat from Cancun takes you to an amazing place, a sunken minesweeper (a warship for finding mines) located 27 meters under the surface of the sea. It is an old World War II ship that was given to the Mexican Navy in the 1960s. In 2000, it was sunk to create an artificial reef. And in 2005, Hurricane Wilma broke it in two and now divers can swim through the resulting rift and even swim inside the ship. There are also sea bass, barracudas and manta rays. And sometimes you can even see sea turtles and moray eels. But the most unusual sight is the migration of eagle rays, which takes place during the winter months.

This dive site is recommended only for experienced divers, because in addition to the fact that diving to shipwrecks is dangerous in principle, the currents on the way to the ship can be quite strong. And even so, companies only organize dives to the ship under good weather conditions.

A special feature of this place: After many years underwater, the sunken minesweeper has become an artificial reef, which will definitely be of interest to those who are used to natural reefs only.

Tip: Wear a wetsuit, especially during the winter months. Even though the water temperature in this place is about 27°C, it can be cold because of the current.

9.ULTRAFREEZE WRECK

Depth: 30 m
Suitable for professionals

The Ultrafreeze is another wreck, also known as the El Frio, one of the most popular dive sites around town. It is 110 meters long and about 30 meters deep. The ship sank in 1979 after it caught fire and was destroyed by a fire. This ship was also broken in half by a hurricane, but it was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. That said, both wrecks are now upright, making it easy for divers to explore its holds.

After 40 years on the ocean floor, Ultrafreeze is home to many marine life. Here you can see turtles, sea bass, barracudas, and even mantas swimming by. And dolphins sometimes swim in here, too.
Strong currents are also possible here, especially on the descent and ascent from the ship, so diving in this place is recommended only to experienced divers.

The peculiarity of this place: In spite of the rift, the hull of the ship is practically undamaged.

Tip: The place is located in the middle between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, so be prepared for a short drive from the city (about 30 minutes).

10.MANTA VALLEY 

Depth: 30 m
Suitable for professionals

The jewel of the Riviera Maya coast among scuba diving sites. The Manta Valley is a chain of underwater mountains 96.5 km from the coast, north of Cancun. Giant mantas gather here and use the tops of the mountains as places for their cleansing. The dive site will be the underwater mountain, which is 20-30 meters deep.

You have to be patient to get to the dive site, as it takes about 3-4 hours to get there by ship. But it will all be worth it once you see the huge swarms of mantas.

There are strong currents and difficult diving conditions, so only experienced divers are recommended to dive here. Most tour operators require that you make a minimum of 40-50 dives before they will allow you to go down to the Manta Valley. In addition, this is the best place to dive with Nitrox, especially since you tend to make two dives here.

However, despite all the challenges, if you are going to do some diving in Cancun and you have enough experience, the best thing you can do is not to miss the Manta Valley.

A special feature of this place: Mantas and more mantas! During the dive you will just go down and enjoy being in the company of giant mantas.

Tip: The best time to visit this place is late fall, when the mantas are most numerous.