As an ancient, Mayan port city located along the sparkling, tropical waters off of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, the historic city of Tulum encompasses all of the attention-grabbing factors that make the Mexican Riviera Maya one of the world’s most sought after vacation destinations.
Home to well-known vacation spots such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel as well as other lesser known (yet equally impressive) destinations such as Isla Mujeres, Puerto Morelos, and Bacalar, Mexico’s Riviera Maya has everything that tourists are looking for: jaw-dropping scenery, lush nature, diverse wildlife, world-renowned beaches, adrenaline inducing excursions, a colorful history, warm culture, and last, but most definitely not least, a savory local cuisine.
While most destination spots along the Riviera Maya coast offer a diverse mix the region’s most impressive qualities, there is one particular place that truly has them all – Tulum, Mexico.
Situated just 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Playa del Carmen, the city of Tulum has what many consider one of the most optimal locations in all of the Riviera Maya. Why is that, you ask? Let us share some Tulum fun facts.
Did you know Tulum is in close proximity to ancient Mayan archeological sites, mystic cenotes (natural sinkholes), exquisite Caribbean waters and nature parks, providing guests to this amazing Mexican destination with an offer for ages and types? In fact, one of its largest attractions (if not its most popular) is its close proximity to the region’s top water activity sites – especially those for snorkeling. Sound too good to be true? Well, before you jump to any conclusions, check out these 10 spots that prove Tulum to be a true snorkeler’s paradise.
1. Cenote Dos Ojos
Something visitors to the region will quickly learn is that Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is home to thousands – yes, thousands – of underwater cave systems and natural sinkholes, known as “cenotes”. Populating the Peninsula for many millennia, the ancient Mayan civilization once believed these underground wells to be gateways to the underworld, and were often used as religious ceremonial sites, including human and material sacrifices. Yikes!
Today, these thousands of sinkholes and caverns make up the largest underground cave system in the world. Home to mesmerizing rock formations, stalagmites, stalactites, and vibrant flora and fauna, these once mystic gateways now offer visitors truly a once in a lifetime snorkeling experience. Luckily for visitors, there are plenty of cenotes near Tulum. The perfect place to begin: Cenote Dos Ojos.
Here, well below the surface above, visitors can experience a snorkeling experience unlike any other. Known as one of the most popular cenotes in Tulum (and probably Mexico), Dos Ojos is named due to its two 230-foot (70-meter) sinkholes connected by a 1,312-foot (400-meter) passageway, creating the appearance of two giant eyes.
Although you are unable to pass through the connecting passageway below, the “eyes” – or natural pools of water – act as the perfect place to go snorkeling. Prepare yourself to witness crystal-clear waters that give way to spectacular sights of dramatic rock formations, colorful marine vegetation, and lively schools of fish. Perfect for all ages and only a short 25 minute car or bus ride from Tulum, a trip to Cenote Dos Ojos is a must for all snorkeling enthusiasts.
2. Casa Cenote
If you’re a beginner to underwater exploration or the thought of diving into the waters of an underground cave system cause you a bit of anxiety, perhaps the remarkably calm and beautiful Casa Cenote is the option just for you.
An open cenote known locally as “Nohoch Na Chich”, Casa Cenote is a unique natural wonder in that it connects a long underwater cave system with the nearby Caribbean sea. With the rare presence of both fresh and sea waters comes the rare presence of both freshwater and sea creatures. This provides snorkelers a truly unforgettable experience that doesn’t occur in the traditional cave cenotes.
Similar to a large, natural swimming pool in the middle of a tropical paradise, Casa Cenote is the ideal location for numerous water activities, including swimming, paddle boarding, scuba diving and of course – snorkeling. Located just 20 minutes from Tulum, tours to this amazing natural wonder are easy to find and come highly recommended.
3. Cenotes Casa Tortuga
Okay – there is at least one more local cenote worth mentioning if snorkeling is the water activity you are looking for. As potentially some of the best off-the-path cenotes in Tulum, Cenotes Casa Tortuga offers visitors the unforgettable exploration of a series of three separate cenotes. Now, that’s a deal!
Accompanied by a professional guide, visitors will be lead through two underground cave cenotes as well as an open water cenote. Home to breathtaking rock formations, crystal-clear waters, extreme depth, and some special cave dwellers such as local bats and blind cave fish, participants are sure to be thrilled not only by their beauty, but also by the guaranteed interaction with their lively residents.
As guests make your way through the cenotes they will have the opportunity to learn all about the rock formations and interesting cave geology that brought these mysterious and awesome landscapes to life. As a perfect location for those just learning the ins-and-outs of snorkeling, Cenotes Casa Tortuga offers participants an in-depth introduction into the cenotes on a tour.
Located just a 15 minute car or bus ride from Tulum, this snorkeling site is one for the books. Plus, if you’re lucky, you just might capture a glimpse of resident turtles who call the open water centore home – now, wouldn’t that be a sight to remember!
4. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an – comprised of 2,038 square miles (5,280 square kilometers) of pristine nature, this regional Biological Reserve forms a part of the 34 UNESCO World Heritage Sites found within Mexico’s borders. One of the top Caribbean destinations in terms of its immense diversity of flora and fauna, this site has miraculously been able to avoid overcrowding, allowing its innate beauty to vibrantly flourish. Due to its protection as a preserved area, this is one of few destinations that allows visitors to get up close and personal with its abundant wildlife.
Home to what are referred to as the Riviera Maya “Big Five”, guests arrive ready to witness some of nature’s most popular inhabitants: dolphins, crocodiles, turtles, rays, and manatees. If that isn’t enough, guests who come to snorkel the reserve’s impeccable Carribean waters, situated along the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef), guests are sure to witness the likes of an array of both land and sea creatures, including some of the nearly 300 species of birds, 400 species of tropical fish, 100 mammals, and 40 local amphibians. Talk about abundance!
With unparalleled visibility, when snorkeling at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, you’re guaranteed one-of-a-kind sights illuminated by lush underwater vegetation, diverse marine life, and even a secluded sand bar. If this sounds like your kind of place, check out our Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve Adventure that departs directly from Tulum. This is an experience you won’t forget.
A true paradise for nature lovers and an unmatched natural aquarium, the all-inclusive nature park known as Xel-Ha located in the Mexican Riviera Maya is the ideal get-a-way for those looking to experience nature at its finest.
Since 1995, this majestic nature park has acted as a prime example of successful sustainable tourism development equipped with highly unique family attractions. One such attraction: its warm, lively waters.
This should come as no surprise, especially since the park’s Mayan name of “Xel-Ha” actually translates to “where the water is born”. As an incredible destination for exploring crystal-clear Caribbean waters, Xel-Ha is truly a natural wonder that houses over 90 marine species such as angelfish, surgeonfish, damselfish, snapper, parrotfish, grouper, sergeant major, a family of rays, pufferfish, barracudas, and the queen conch – a protected species that inhabits the parks many coves.
In additional, snorkels be presented with the special opportunity to witness the eye-catching phenomenon put on by the local halocline and thermocline effects – visual and temperature effects that result from the mixture of the dense Caribbean sea water with the park’s fresh river waters.
Located just 20 minutes via car or bus from Tulum, Xel-Ha is too accessible to pass up. Don’t miss out on this truly remarkable destination – grab your snorkeling gear, book that tour, and come witness Caribbean marine like never before. You won’t believe your eyes!
6. Akumal Bay
For snorkelers who look to explore Caribbean waters at a single location with superb barrier reefs that are well preserved and teeming with marine life, the quiet Mexican town of Akumal is the place to be. Located just 30 minutes via car or bus from Tulum, Akumal Bay is home to some of the most spectacular marine life that the region has to offer – making it one of the most sought after snorkeling spots in the entire Riviera Maya.
Home to white, sandy beaches lined with coconut trees, the Bay’s crystal-clear waters provide guests with a truly unmatched snorkeling experience. If the water’s purity was enticing enough, how about its diverse marine life?
Divided into two distinct areas: the seagrass beds and the barrier reef, snorkelers have the option to explore what appears to be two different underwater landscapes all in one place. With visits by the local Sea Turtles and Southern Stingrays, the seagrass beds are a fan favorite – where snorkelers get a truly up close and personal experience with some of the sea’s most famous residents. On the other side of the bay near the barrier reef – which forms a part of the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) – snorkelers will experience a landscape dominated by sea fans and several species of hard coral, where they are sure to come across an array of tropical fish such as the Atlantic Blue Tang, Parrotfish, and Butterflyfish that all it home.
Simply put – it’s hard to beat a snorkeling experience that provides visitors with what appears to be two distinct underwater environments all within one calm, Caribbean bay. This is what you will experience at Akumal. Our Turtle Snorkeling and Cenote Swim Tour is an excellent option for a guided tour to this remarkable Mexican destination.
7. Puerto Morelos National Marine Park
Similar to Akumal Bay but located a bit further north, at a distance from Tulum of approximately 60 miles (97 kilometers), the stunning and beautiful fishing town of Puerto Morelos is home to what is known as the Puerto Morelos National Marine Park.
Another superb site for snorkeling, this marine park offers visitors some pretty incredible marine landscapes, flora, and fauna. Due to the section of coral reef located within its waters being protected by park regulations, it is said that the Marine Park’s reef is one of – if not the most – well preserved in all of the Riviera Maya.
Just like at Akumal Bay, the Puerto Morelos National Marine Park stunts two very distinct underwater landscapes for those who wish to explore life below. One section, known as the barrier reef – is located approximately 1,312 feet (400 meters) from shore and home to a vibrant and lively marine life that includes creatures such as the Flamingo Tongue Snail, Sergeant Major fish, shoals of Grunts, Butterflyfish, and Parrotfish to name a few. If you look closely among the reef’s coral beds, you are sure to capture a glimpse of an ocean Triggerfish or the impressive Great Barracuda – yikes!
The other section is the portion of seabed located between the barrier reef and nearby shore. Referred to as the “bed of sea grass”, this spot is the best place to capture a look at the local Green Turtles and several species of Stingray, including Southern Stingrays, Yellow Stingrays, and Spotted Eagle Rays. While the water may be calmer here, the diversity is sure to leave you breathless.
Since visitors are no longer allowed to snorkel freely at the park, a tour guide is necessary when visiting this miraculously preserved underwater sanctuary. Not to fret – try out our Caribbean Reef Snorkel Tour that departs directly from Tulum and takes you straight to the park’s impeccable waters. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
8. Isla Mujeres
Oh, how incredibly stunning is the island known as Isla Mujeres. This now world-renowned Caribbean get-a-way located 92 miles (148 kilometers) from Tulum and just 12 miles (20 kilometers) offshore of Cancun, was once overlooked as one of the region’s great snorkeling sites. However, today the tropical island of Isla Mujeres is again on the map for water explorers looking to capture life below the surface. This is in great part due to a recent influx of visits each year from a particular sea creature. Known as the largest fish in the world, the Caribbean Whale Shark is now a frequent guest to Isla Mujeres’ shores.
This is great news for snorkelers who visit the island during the months of June through August, when brings in waves of Whale Sharks who come to graze among the plankton and small fish that call Isla Mujeres home. Try out our Whale Shark Snorkeling Tour to get a truly up close and personal experience with this massive marine creatures.
While the time frame to witness the presence of these ocean giants is limited, there are still an array of nearby snorkeling sites that make Isla Mujeres the ideal snorkeling destination.
Garrafon Reef Park and nearby Machones Reef are great snorkeling spots that offer visitors clear waters, mesmerizing reefs, and an abundance of tropical fish. In fact, Manchones Reef forms a part of the famous Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world. Home to a gorgeous plot of coral with vibrant sea life, this destination has quickly become a regional favorite. However, unlike most snorkeling sites, what draws crowds in by the numbers isn’t the life they find below the surface – but an underwater museum of art.
That’s right! The Manchones Reef is home to a portion of what is known as the Cancun Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA), which exhibits pieces of life-sized sculptures for divers and snorkelers to explore during their underwater adventures. Created with the intention to protect the already existing barrier reef and to encourage additional coral growth, the museum is now home to over 400 life sized sculptures, barracudas, angel and parrot fish, turtles, lobsters, stingrays, and more.
Don’t miss out on this incredibly unique, one-of-a-kind art exhibit below the sea! Join our Contoy Island and Isla Mujeres Boat and Snorkeling Tour or our Isla Mujeres Catamaran Sailing and Snorkeling Tour (both of which depart directly from Tulum) to experience all that this remarkable island has to offer.
9. The Island of Cozumel
One of our last stops on the list is arguably the most world-renowned and diverse snorkeling site in all of the Caribbean – the Island of Cozumel, Mexico.
With its name deriving from the Mayan word that translates to “The Island of the Shallows”, the Island of Cozumel is a marvelous Caribbean 50 miles (80 kilometers) and a short 20 miles (33 kilometers) from Playa del Carmen on the mainland. Considered by experts from around the world as a snorkeling paradise – and even comparing it to sites located at the beautiful Virgin Islands and French Polynesia (Tahiti) – Cozumel is best known for its gorgeous, white, powdery beaches and crystal clear waters.
However, the local tourism industry’s largest money makers are the multitude of stunning snorkeling spots unlike any others found around the globe. Equipped with nearly perfect visibility, snorkelers can easily observe life below as far down as 100 feet (30 meters). Now, that’s deep! We are talking about crystal clear views of marine species such as hundreds of tropical fish, dolphins, sea turtles, corals, sponges, gorgonians, shells, crabs and more. A lot more!
Visit Cozumel’s Palancar reef – one of the few protected reefs found near the island due to its locating inside the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. Or Paradise Reef – a system of 3 separate reefs closely situated to each other. You can’t forget El Cielo either, which is situated just half a mile offshore from mainland Cozumel, where a natural sandbar has attracted snorkelers from around the globe. Derived from the Spanish word which means “The Sky,” El Cielo literally captures the reflection of the sky – giving light to the majestic world below.
Regardless of where you choose to snorkel, one thing is for certain – you bill be surrounded by and swimming along hundreds of tropical fish including the Damselfish, Wrasse, Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, and so much more.
Less known sites that provide visitors up and close experiences with some of the sea’s most intriguing creatures, such as Dzul-Ha and Chankanaab National Park (where you can even interact with and meet the Mayans native to the land), are ideal places to get away from the crowds but closer to the Island’s vibrant marine life. Here you can witness Sea Crabs, Lobsters, and Dolphins. That’s right – Dolphins!
Sign up for amazing Cozumel snorkeling tours to ensure that you don’t miss you on this otherworldly, Caribbean experience. Such excursions include our unique Tulum Catamaran Tours, such as the Cozumel Catamaran Sailing & Snorkeling Tour, Cozumel Nature Reserve & Beach Park Tour, and our Cozumel Stingray Snorkeling Adventure, all of which leave directly from the wonderful city of Tulum.
The last place to make the list – Tulum itself, of course! Now, before you say anything just think about it – what makes Tulum so great and one of the top destinations for snorkelers from around the globe is, well, Tulum itself!
Offered guests an unparalleled proximity to the Caribbean’s (and arguably the world’s) most spectacular snorkeling sites, this should be a no brainer for anyone searching for the perfect tropical destination where they can enjoy pristine Caribbean beaches, warm sun, and yes – the occasional snorkel tour.
With options ranging from underwater cave systems, national marine parks, barrier reefs, lagoons, and open sea waters, it just doesn’t seem likely that you will find anything else equipped with Tulum’s special touch.
Don’t wait any longer – plan your trip to day!