Tourists can easily reach some of the best snorkeling spots here without having to pay for an expensive snorkeling tour in Playa del Carmen. Along this Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico lies the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which stretches for over 700 miles, from Cancun, down past Belize, and to Honduras. It is the second largest coral reef system in the world, behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
While Playa del Carmen, on the Riviera Maya is abundant in the number of coral reefs they have for scuba divers, there actually aren’t a ton of spots that are accessible to snorkelers. We’ll round up the best snorkeling in Playa del Carmen which is accessible for free, before sharing some different locations that a great for a half-day tour.
One of the closest snorkeling spots to downtown Playa del Carmen is called Moc Che Snorkel. This location is located around a 15-minute swim straight out from the shore of Coco Beach. To access this beach, you follow a dirt track that runs along the side of the Reef Coco Beach Hotel, located at the bottom of CTM Avenue.
This shallow snorkeling spot is great for spotting colorful tropical fish and, corals. In some places, the reef is less than a meter under the surface, so you can see the vibrant coral action super close!
For this location, you do need to be a strong swimmer, as it is quite a way out from the shoreline. We also recommend taking a dive flag, or dive float with you, so that you remain visible to any passing fishing boats, as this area can have quite a lot of water traffic.
Located on the northern end of Playa del Carmen, you can find a small cenote by the Punta Esmeralda beach that is made of freshwater flowing into the sea. This beach is more popular with the locals, who like to take their kids to paddle in the shallower and calmer cenote pool.
You can go snorkeling here, as some smaller patches of the reef are swimmable from shore. Be sure to look out for lobsters that like to hide in crevices underneath the coral reefs, and the many colorful fish, including butterflyfish, and grunts, who call this place home.
This lovely little beach town located around half an hour’s drive south of Playa is a haven for snorkelers who long to see sea turtles. The waters here are abundant with sea grass, which the turtles love to eat. The beaches here are turtle breeding grounds, which they return to year after year to lay their eggs.
Technically, you are permitted to swim in the seas in Mexico, as all beaches are public. However, in Akumal, (and many of the other areas along the coast) it is access to the beach that can be difficult to find for free.
As you get closer to the beach zone, you will see a whole host of tour guides with life jackets. They will approach you and explain that this is a protected area and only swimmers with guides can enter the water to see the turtles.
In our opinion, it is totally worth paying the additional fee asked for by the knowledgeable local guide, as if not, you risk being stopped and pestered by the guides when you swim. Some may even stop you from entering the water. Each guide will try and charge a different fee, so you can try to barter a little with the price, especially if you have a group.
From July to September, you can snorkel with whale sharks who arrive in the region to feed on the plankton-rich waters. These gentle giants are the biggest fish to live in the ocean, and only a small group tour can take you to see them in their natural habitat.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience can only be accessed as a full-day tour, as the whale sharks stay in the deeper waters, far from the shore of Isla Mujeres, towards the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on the sea conditions, it can take up to 2 hours to get to the area where the whale sharks are.
If you’re lucky, you might also see manta rays during Isla Mujeres snorkeling tours, so keep your eyes peeled! We recommend booking this tour close to a full moon, as this is when the plankton blooms the most, and more sharks are in the region.
A short ferry ride that you can catch by Playa Incluyente will take you to the island of Cozumel. Famed for being home to some of the best parts of the Mesoamerican reef system, you’d be silly to take a day trip to the island without your snorkeling equipment.
A word of warning – the second you arrive in Cozumel, you will be hounded by tour guides offering to take you on various snorkel excursions. The guided tours have a small fee and do take you to some sites that are not accessible from the shore. You can, however, find plenty of great snorkeling places by swimming out from any of the great beach clubs that line the west coast of the island.
The name for this shallow sandbar located off the coast of Cozumel translates as heaven in Spanish, and anyone who visits here knows why. The area is known for its crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life, making it one of the best places for snorkeling.
Due to its location, El Cielo is only accessible by boat, but many catamaran tours will take you to this area. As you enter the turquoise blue water, you will be surrounded by schools of colorful fish, including angelfish, parrotfish, and sergeant majors.
You may also spot sea turtles, sting rays, and even nurse sharks swimming around. During the eagle ray season, from December to March, you may even spot an eagle ray, but they do generally prefer deeper waters.
One of the highlights of snorkeling at El Cielo is the opportunity to see the starfish that inhabit the area. But be aware that the area is a protected marine reserve, which means there are rules to follow, such as not touching the marine life, and not damaging the sea fans and coral reefs.
Need to Know
The waters in this area are protected, and for most of the marine parks, and cenotes, it is not permitted to wear anything but a biodegradable sunscreen.
To preserve the eco-system, it is s a great option to ditch the sunscreen completely and instead opt to wear a long-sleeved rash guard that contains a high factor protection built in.
Traveling with your own snorkel gear can take up valuable room in your luggage, especially if you’re only flying with a carry-on. For a short vacation in Playa del Carmen, try visiting one of the many PDC dive shops for a snorkel equipment rental. If you play on staying a while, you can buy some decent gear at CressiMexico and have it delivered to your hotel or long-term rental.
Self Guided Tours
As many of the cenotes for snorkeling are closer to Tulum, you can combine a snorkel tour with a trip to the Mayan Ruins. Using local transport is very doable, even without the support of a tour guide.
It gets extremely hot at the ruins in the midday sun, so the best plan would start at the ruins in the morning, before heading on to a cenote in the afternoon to cool off in the fresh cenote water.
There is only one main road that connects all of the towns along the coast of the Riviera Maya, so it’s quite easy to get to the best spots for snorkeling using public transportation.
The most expensive option will be taking a taxi, but other options include the ADO bus and locals prefer to take a smaller mini-van, known as a collectivo. These shared van rides can be pretty crowded, but you only pay a few pesos per person for the ride. They will drop you along the side of the highway. To get back, just flag another white van on the opposite side of the road.