If you’re in Playa Del Carmen, snorkeling should definitely be on your itinerary. The coastal town along Mexico’s Riviera Maya strip is known for its splendid white sand beaches, but to me, is just as beautiful underwater.
Travellers from all over the world flock to this Caribbean paradise to discover the area’s vibrant tropical marine life, and so should you!
So, without further ado, pick up your mask, snorkel, and fins, and check out our top spots for the best snorkeling in and around Playa Del Carmen:
Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling Spots
Playa Del Carmen is, contrary to popular belief, a great destination for snorkeling. Even though the main beach itself is not that special, you will find marvelous spots some walking or driving distance away from the center.
In fact, Playa Del Carmen, along with the rest of the Quintana Roo region in southeastern Mexico and all the way south to Belize, is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world, boasting majestic, vibrant life underwater.
Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling from Shore
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There really isn’t much to see along the main beach near the center. However, if you venture a little further north just past CTM avenue (otherwise known as 46th street), you will encounter, a beautiful coral reef that is still somewhat of a hidden gem.
Here, you will see coral beds covered with sea fans. There are groups of grunts, surgeonfish, smooth trunkfish, needlefish, foureye butterflyfish, and if you’re lucky, French angelfish. Stay on the inner side of the reef so that you’re swimming parallel to the beach.
This spot is not for first time snorkelers, it is quite far and deep. You have to swim for about 200 meters to reach the Chun-Zumbul reef, which is about 6–13 meters deep. For that, I would recommend you bring a float not only because the swim is quite long but also for visibility and to avoid any accidents with the boats that park there.
How to Get There
Once you are in the center of Playa Del Carmen, facing the sea, head north (left). Walk for about 2 kilometers until you arrive at a spot where fishing boats are parked, right in front of Reef Coco Beach Hotel. This is about 1 kilometer away from the quay for ferries to Cozumel.
Check out the area by the boats, where the water is shallower at 1–2 meters. There, the buoys fostered a suitable environment for marine life to thrive. You can find juveniles from different species like surgeonfish, sergeant major, and grunts.
In the other direction to the south of the center of Playa Del Carmen is another great spot for snorkeling. In this part of the beach, the many rocks provide shelter and a natural habitat for many tropical fish like crabs, octopi, and Caribbean spiny lobsters. You might even find stingrays here, although they aren’t as common as in other places like Akumal.
This is a good spot for snorkeling because the rocks bring marine life closer to shore, so you do not need to swim too far out to enjoy the beautiful, idyllic serenity of the underwater world.
Beware of the rocks and ideally wear protective shoes to avoid any injuries.
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Playa Del Carmen Turtle Snorkeling Best Spots
I find Akumal the best spot for snorkeling with turtles. The lovely little beach town is 25 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen.
Here, the seafloor is covered with unique seagrass that attracts these giant sea turtles year round. So, I can guarantee you will encounter the turtles any time of year really. They are not, however, the only fish you will find here. Other species like manta rays, spotted eagle rays, and needle fish also call this place home.
If you venture a little further out, you will also find bright vibrant corals, sea fans, and anemones.
The good thing is you do not need to carry your own bulky snorkel gear and can instead rent masks, snorkels, fins, and wetsuits from there. You will also find many guided tours and excursions.
Mind that you are swimming in the turtles’ natural habitat and should respect conservation efforts to protect them. Do not touch the turtles, and of course do not try to ride them. Also, there are certain breeding grounds where you are not allowed to swim.
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Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
Every year, between June and September, whale sharks rush to the plankton-rich waters of Playa Del Carmen. Although huge and intimidating, reaching up to 12 meters in length, these gentle giants – as they are often called – are harmless to humans.
They feed on plankton and generally show no interest in divers or snorkelers around them. Still, I would highly recommend booking a tour with a reputable local operator where your guides will ensure you follow the proper rules and regulations while creating a safe, comfortable environment for both you and the sharks.
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Nearby Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling Spots
Like Akumal, the best places to discover the underwater world are outside of (but still close) to Playa Del Carmen. Here’s a list of where to go for the best snorkeling near Playa Del Carmen:
Puerto Morelos is one of the best and most unique spots near Playa Del Carmen and across the Riviera Maya as a whole due to the reef being closest to the shore.
This sleepy little beach town will surprise you as soon as you step into the water, where life under the surface is nothing but, harboring a bustling world of life and color.
Here, you’ll encounter a seaworld dream of over 65 different species, including manta rays, lobsters, seahorses, barracudas, and vivid corals teeming with life. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might even see turtles as this is where they breed during certain seasons.
Although you can easily do your own thing and swim towards the reef, I recommend getting a tour from one of the local providers in the area. They will take you directly to the heart of the vibrant coral action.
Instead of a tour, you can also pay locals a small fee between $100 – 300 Mexican Pesos to take you out to the reef on their boats. You can snorkel for about an hour before they take you back.
If you are not the strongest swimmer, this spot is perfect for you as the water is so shallow here.
In 1998, Puerto Morelos officially became a protected marine reserve.
In the other direction, further south of Playa Del Carmen is another haven for snorkeling. The residential town of Puerto Aventuras is one of those hidden gems that keep you coming back for more.
From white sand beaches to turquoise waters and a picturesque marina, Puerto Aventuras also boasts a magical marine life. In fact, it is the only beach with faux reefs set up by the government to attract more fish. So, here, you can find so many colorful tropical fish, crabs, octopi, and corals.
Due to the faux reef protected area, Puerto Aventuras is perfect for both first-time snorkelers and experienced divers as well.
My advice is to pre-book with a tour, rent your gear from Playa Del Carmen, or otherwise bring your own since it’s a bit difficult to find equipment rental here.
Xpu Ha beach is one of my favorite beaches in the area. It has great beach clubs and the beach is one of the cleanest around. I always recommend it as an option for families looking to get some sun and explore life underwater.
The corals here are in patches, so you can explore the many different spots all around. Mind the parts where the coral is in shallow water, and be careful not to touch it or step on it.
Other than corals, you will also find colorful fish, and if you’re lucky, sting rays and the occasional sea turtle.
You can get here by taxi, private car, or colectivo, which you can take from Calle 2. The colectivo will drop you off on the main street, from where you can walk to the beach.
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Soliman Bay is another excellent spot for snorkelling near Playa Del Carmen. The beach, which is about a 40 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen, is just north of Tulum. It’s very beautiful, not crowded, and framed by mangroves.
What makes this spot special is the rich wildlife it attracts. You will find rays, barracudas, sea turtles, and nurse sharks. Visitors sometimes also spot crocodiles enjoying the sun near the dirt track that leads to the beach including many birds like pelicans and marine eagles.
Xel Ha Snorkeling Park
Xel Ha, the mother of all snorkeling, is a large open park where you can snorkel, swim, and unwind all day long. Situated in an inlet of freshwater flowing to the ocean, the park is a huge area full of tropical fish waiting to be discovered.
Upon reaching Xel Ha, you can start off in the river part in the mangroves area and head towards the caves around the inlet.
Usually, visitors stay for the entire day as the entrance covers a day ticket that’s all-inclusive. It is open from 8:30am–6:00pm and covers everything from food to drinks (including alcohol), snorkel and swimming equipment (fins, mask, snorkel, life jacket, and tubes), waterslides and observation tower, zip lines and cliff jumps, bicycles, and a walking trail to see cenotes.
To get to the park, you can drive, take a taxi, a colectivo, the ADO bus from Playa Del Carmen, or add transportation from your hotel or resort with the ticket (which is more expensive, but less of a hassle). Xel Ha is roughly a 40 minute drive from Playa Del Carmen.
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Last but not least, no guide on snorkeling is complete without the holy grail of aquatic sealife: the island of Cozumel.
Cozumel is actually the number one spot for diving in the Riviera Maya. The island, which is also fantastic for snorkeling, is considered one of the best in the world due to the excellent clarity and visibility of the water here.
You will always find colorful fish and colors, but some species are seasonal. For example, from December to March is eagle ray season, and you will likely find sea turtles for the rest of the year.
To go snorkeling in Cozumel, you can either take the ferry to the island and head to the beach yourself or take a snorkeling tour that leaves from Playa Del Carmen. You can find the fairy schedule here.
I recommend the Money Bar beach club from where you can swim out to the reef, but for an even better experience, I recommend taking a snorkeling boat tour.
The boat will take you to more spots than you can swim to, and you’ll be able to see more things. They will also keep you safe from other boats or drifting currents.
Cozumel is known for very strong currents, which you should watch out for if you are not a very strong swimmer.
Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling in Cenotes
For a change of scenery, I also recommend snorkeling in cenotes around Playa Del Carmen. Cenotes, which are essentially sinkholes filled with water, are characteristic of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
These enigmatic deep water wells are fed by the filtration of rain and the currents of underground rivers born in the heart of the earth. This is why when you swim in a cenote, you feel so much freshness.
Cenotes are sacred for the Mayans, once considered the portals to the underworld.
I personally like snorkeling in cenotes as the visibility is usually clearer than that of the sea, and I don’t have to worry about waves or currents.
There are actually so many cenotes in the Riviera Maya area that you will be spoilt for choice. Some offer better snorkelling opportunities than others. Here are the best cenotes for snorkeling in Playa Del Carmen:
Cenote El Jardin Del Eden
Often dubbed the best cenote in Playa Del Carmen, Cenote El Jardin Del Eden is conveniently located 10-20 minutes away from town. This cenote, which is one of the larger ones in the area, hosts a number of unusual and interesting freshwater fish and plants.
Here, you can expect to find bright colored tetras, wrasses, damselfish, and minicatfish swimming between deep caves and stalagmites. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get an exclusive and natural pedicure from the garra rufa fish (the doctor fish) who will feed on the dead skin of your feet.
This is one of the open cenotes, with lush surroundings and bright green moss growing on rocks. There is a 12 foot cliff that you can jump from, or an even higher up tree that people often climb to jump from as well.
If you are a diver, you can also discover the deep mysterious caves down below.
There is an entrance fee here. You can expect to pay anywhere between $80–100 Mexican pesos. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, you can rent fins, snorkels, masks, life vests, and underwater rock shoes.
You can get here by either private car or colectivo.
Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino
Cenote Azul and Cenote Cristalino are two other cenotes you should add to your Playa Del Carmen snorkeling itinerary. They are, however, smaller and less spacious than Cenote Eden.
They are located next to Cenote El Jardin Del Eden along the 307 highway. In fact, due to their proximity to each other, you can actually visit all three cenotes (Eden, Azul, and Cristalino) in one day.
Located further down from Playa Del Carmen towards Tulum is Casa Cenote. This cenote is bigger than usual cenotes. You can even kayak here!
It is set between mangroves near the sea, and is great for snorkeling due to the clarity of the water.
I also recommend winding down in the restaurant across the street for a bite after a long day in the water. The restaurant is on the ocean and offers unrivalled views.
Another cenote you can visit for snorkeling in Playa Del Carmen is Cenote Xunaan-Ha. On the way to Tulum, this cenote is small, open, deep, and surrounded by ferns and other tropical plants.
What makes this cenote special for me is the fact that it truly is a hidden gem. Other than a few divers and the 2 tour groups that visit everyday, you pretty much have the whole place to yourself.
The best time to visit is either early morning or late afternoon to avoid the tour groups that usually visit between those times.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos is actually the most filmed and photographed cenote in the Riviera Maya. The site, located 50 kilometers south of Playa Del Carmen is perfect for those with a GoPro seeking insta-worthy shots.
Access is relatively easy with wooden stairs leading to the water. The water is extremely clear, and the lighting is stark and dramatic, with sharp contrasts between light and shadow.
Though there aren’t much fish and life beneath the surface, the surrounding area makes up for this, boasting a lush jungle with bats, lizards, foxes, birds, and many other animals.
What’s special about snorkeling here are the lights, shadows, and stalactites and stalagmites, which are incredibly beautiful but also fragile. So try to swim and move with care to avoid breaking them.
You can visit Cenote Dos Ojos year-round, with temperatures averaging a comfortable 24–25 degrees throughout. You can do so as part of an organized tour or independently instead.
Conclusion – Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling
Now that you know the best Playa Del Carmen Snorkeling spots, all you have to do now is start ticking them off your list. As always, whenever you visit a natural habitat, remember you are in someone else’s home.
Respect, protect, and conserve the corals, fish, and organisms living there. You can do this by wearing biodegradable sunscreen and of course, not touching or stepping on anything.