Cozumel, in addition to having clear water, excellent marine life and mountainous walls, is very close and convenient to the U.S. mainland. This creates a diver demographic that runs the gamut from student divers on their first open-water dive to intermediates who are moderately experienced in Caribbean diving, to the bona fide Cozumel expert who has dived what he or she thinks is every nook and cranny of the 20-plus miles of the western fringing reef at least twice. If you think you are in this latter category, as I once did, think again--there’s more than you ever imagined.
The lady and her iguanas.
Mystery diving is the antidote for the very experienced, possibly jaded Cozumel diver. This is exactly what a handful of close friends on the island and I have been doing on recent dives over the past few years. Mystery diving is loosely defined as diving between named, established dive sites and even some uncharted territory off the popular reef tract. These dives have produced some of my fondest memories, many unexpected pleasures and more than a few great experiences.
You can’t expect every mystery dive to be a mindblower. I describe it as a lot of looking around with occasionally spectacular results. A good example of this are several spots that I especially like outside of the Tormentos and Yucab reefs. This is fairly deep, often dark diving, usually between 100 and 125 feet. Two-thirds of the dive is a succession of moderately-profiled rolling hills of coral leading to a sloping wall. But then, just before boredom sets in, the wall gets decidedly craggy, breaking into extremely undercut ledges and decorated by a pristine and varied display of huge, irregular sponges.
Here are giant Buff Tube Sponges and violet mushroom-shaped sponges twisted into fantastical shapes by the current. On one section of the deep wall is one of the largest Elephant Ear Sponges I have ever seen; it is 10 to 12 feet high and almost that wide. Schools of Blue Chromis and Creole Wrasse flutter over the sponge and coral bouquets like butterflies.
In the twists and turns of Cozumel's reef systm, there are still new 'finds' and sites to explore—even for the most experienced Cozumel diver.
Other mystery ledges can be found off the charted reef sites of Villa Blanca Wall southward to Paseo el Cedro. They are informally known as Tormentos Deep, El Castillo Wall, Tom’s Wall and Juan’s Wall, names that you won’t generally find on the reef site maps.
Some mystery dives require a higher level of experience and comfort with depth and current. The rewards at Maracaibo, on the southern end of Cozumel, include a deep wall cut into half-moon sections of sheer cliff. There is also a shallower section of reef mounds and pinnacles that are spectacular in color and shape. Schools of Tarpon often glide through the channels between ridges of coral. At Barracuda, towards the north, a ripping current propels divers along a spectacular wall and reef ridge, often harboring several sizable Hawksbill Turtles.
A calm, easy mystery dive, actually a pleasant snorkeling excursion, awaits divers with minimal experience at the shallow garden reefs adjacent to two saltwater bays, one at each end of the island. These are usually all-day or three-quarter-day picnic dives, complete with a cooler of food and drinks. In addition to well-formed garden reefs capped with Elkhorn Coral, there is magical mangrove-lined island scenery. Two final categories of Cozumel mystery diving are east coast diving and inland blue hole diving. East coast diving is entirely dependent on weather but offers a soft coral-coated reef shelf sometimes punctuated with the ballast rock of old shipwrecks. Inland from the shore are a number of blue holes, locally called cenotes, that offer truly adventurous freshwater diving for those who are cave qualified and horseback experienced.
Where to Stay, Play and Dive
The resort offers 240 rooms, all with air-conditioning, color TV and much more. There are two restaurants, many bars, two swimming pools, beach activities and entertainment. The resort sits on the largest extension of beach on the island.
For more information, call Tropical Adventures at (800) 723-4530, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.divetropical.com.