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12 Things to KNOW Before Going Scuba Diving in Cozumel

12 Things to KNOW Before Going Scuba Diving in Cozumel

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Welcome to Cozumel, Mexico’s premier scuba diving paradise! With its crystal clear waters, stunning marine life, and out-of-this-world dive sites, this island is a bucket list destination for anyone looking to scuba dive in Mexico. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, grabbing your gear and immersing yourself in Cozumel’s scuba scene is an experience you’ll never forget – we sure won’t be anytime soon.

When Dan and I visited last, we were blown away by all the things to do in Cozumel, I didn’t realize that it’s actually Mexico’s third-largest island, with tons of history and culture to explore too. On top of that, you’ll also find some of the best beaches in Mexico here – what more could you want from a holiday destination like this?

So, after coming back from one of my favorite scuba trips of all time, I felt really inspired to write this guide on all the things you need to know to have a great time diving here. From the best time of year to the top diving sites and more, I hope this guide helps you when planning your next big trip!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Cozumel is an amazing place for all scuba diving enthusiasts. If you’ve wanted to try scuba diving but haven’t made the leap, we recommend this 3-hour private course to get your fins wet – see what I did there?

1. About scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo underwater while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
What a beautiful place to dive!
Daniel at the catalina islands scuba diving off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico
So many fish!

If you’re planning a scuba diving trip to Cozumel, get ready for a seriously good time! This tropical island is world-famous for its excellent diving conditions and amazing marine life. In fact, you can dive here pretty much year-round, around 300 days or so per year on average.

The Mesoamerican Reef off the coast of Cozumel is the second-largest barrier reef system on the entire planet! You really have to see it (or a small part of it!) to believe it.

One of the best things about scuba diving in Cozumel is the incredible visibility. The crystal clear waters offer visibility of around 80-115 feet (24-35 meters). That’s what we divers refer to as “good viz”! Good conditions and visibility can make or break a diving trip, so it’s amazing to visit somewhere where you’re almost guaranteed a great experience.

The water temperature also stays a comfortable 24 – 29°C (75-84°F) all year. In fact, it’s a bit like taking a warm bath, something I definitely won’t complain about!

Cozumel’s tropical waters are absolutely full of marine life, it’s difficult to know where to begin! Once you’ve strapped on your fins, keep an eye out for green sea turtles, nurse sharks, lobsters, manta rays, and even whale sharks! The variety is just out of this world, no wonder we keep coming back.

One of my favorite parts about diving in Mexico is that they take eco-tourism seriously, especially when it comes to precious coral reefs and protecting them from damage. The Cozumel Reefs National Park is a massive area of protected coastline along the southern side of the island – we’re talking around 12,000 hectares (29,600 acres), housing all kinds of amazing coral and fish!

Related Read: If you’ve never tried scuba diving in a cenote before, you just HAVE to try it. The photos we got while exploring the cenotes in Tulum were so magical, and the experience of cenote diving in Tulum was next-level!

2. Why do I love scuba diving in Cozumel?

Bailey and Daniel look under a rock for fish while diving Cozumel, Mexico
The warm waters and great visibility are other reasons!

Dan and I have been to a fair few dive spots around the world, some good and some not so good!

We can easily say that Cozumel is one of our all-time favorites, not only is the island itself super easy to visit by plane, boat, or on a tour from Playa del Carmen, but the diving here is also incredible value. I’m talking about world-class dive sites for prices that are a lot more affordable than you’d think.

The gorgeous sea life here is also another huge factor. I’ll easily say it a hundred times, but there’s nothing quite like swimming among colorful coral while sea turtles, manta rays, and nurse sharks glide by overhead. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a pro, scuba diving here will be a memory you’ll treasure forever – it was for us!

Then there’s also the super high quality of the diving instruction here. If you’ve heard of PADI before (the most recognized diving certification in the world), then you’ll be pleased to know there are plenty of dive operators with PADI certification and tons of experience to back it up. I was so impressed with how professional all the divers were each time I dove here, and I’m sure you will be too!

3. When is the best time to go scuba diving in Cozumel?

Interesting fish swims through the water while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
That’s one long fish!

With stunning diving conditions pretty much year-round, you can afford to be pretty flexible when planning your dive trip here in Cozumel. However, there are still some differences between the dry and rainy seasons that are worth mentioning!

For the highest levels of visibility, I’d suggest visiting in the dry season from November through to April, with the clearest water and calmest seas happening around November, February, and March. Plus, if you avoid traveling in December and January, you’ll also skip the crowds that rush in during the busy holiday season.

If you’re a thrill-seeker at heart, between November and March you can also go swimming with bull sharks for one heck of a thrill! I’ve heard great things about this bull shark scuba diving tour from Playa del Carmen, but we haven’t quite worked up the courage to try it just yet.

The summer rainy season takes place from May to September, and you can expect much smaller crowds at this time of year. The conditions can be a little bit more difficult with less visibility due to the rain and stronger currents, but there are still plenty of good days for diving if you’d prefer to swim at this time of year.

It’s also peak sea turtle and whale shark season at this time of year! Swimming with whale sharks is such a magical experience – definitely in my top three diving experiences of all time – these gentle giants can actually grow up to 12 meters (almost 40 feet). If you’d like to give it a try, then I’d highly recommend this full-day whale shark swimming experience that includes pickup from Playa del Carmen (about a 45-minute ferry).

No matter when you visit, Cozumel offers some seriously world-class diving!

4. What can you see when scuba diving in Cozumel?

Two fish on the ocean floor while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Lots of cute fish!
A puffer fish while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Puffer fish!

Whenever you’re scuba diving here on the island, no two dives ever feel quite the same. The reason? Every time you dip beneath the waves, it’s like you discover a whole new species, there’s that much marine life down here!

I was really surprised by just how many manta rays I saw when I last went diving here, they’re a LOT bigger than I expected too, they can grow up to almost 20 feet (6 meters). No fewer than 10 different species of shark have also been recorded here, from the tiny reef sharks up to the huge (but gentle) whale sharks.

There are also three species of sea turtles – loggerheads, hawksbills, and greens, which call Cozumel home. Hawksbills are notoriously rare, so keep your eyes peeled for these. And then there’s also the fish, which makes the reefs in Finding Nemo look almost empty in comparison – angelfish, groupers, parrotfish, you name it!

All that said, this is pretty much just scratching the surface, so for the full experience, you’ll have to come by and give it a try yourself. Just don’t forget the waterproof camera!

5. What are the best dive spots in Cozumel?

Bailey swims past a huge school of fish on a scuba diving trip from Cozumel, Mexico
Paradise Reef!

Columbia Shallows Reef

There are tons of great reefs for beginner and novice scuba divers to explore while gaining their confidence, and the Columbia Shallows Reef is one of my favorites! The reef here has a depth of 30-50 feet (9-15 meters) which is perfect for finding your feet (or fins!). It’s also really common to see turtles, barracudas, and even snappers passing through.

Palancar Caves

If you’re already pretty familiar with scuba diving and want to experience some of the best that Cozumel has to offer, then the Palancar area should definitely be on your radar. There are four different Palancar sites in all, but my favorite has to be the Palancar Caves, which, as you can guess is full of awesome swim-through structures and unique drop-offs!

This 3 to 4-hour diving tour for certified divers includes two dives at famous reefs like Palancar and Columbia, with plenty of time to relax between dives and take in all the amazing sights. At just $101 USD per person (not including scuba equipment), this is great value for those with prior diving experience.

Paradise Reef

Another great stop for beginner and intermediate divers, Paradise Reef is pretty much what it says on the tin, with absolutely TONS of fish and some really incredible coral formations. Divided into two different reefs, it’s a popular spot, especially in the dry season, so I’d advise diving in the morning if possible to avoid most of the crowds.

C-53 Wreck

No one can deny that there’s something super cool about diving down and discovering shipwrecks, which have been claimed by schools of colorful fish and maybe even a starfish or two. The C-53 was a former minesweeper that was purposely sunk for marine conservation off the shores of Cozumel, and now you have the chance to explore it under the waves!

If you love wreck dives, then you’ll also want to check out the wrecks of the C-55 and C-58 minesweepers on a day trip from Cancun with this 2 tank scuba diving wreck experience. Lasting around 4 hours, this experience also includes a dive at a local reef, so you’re really getting to see a lot for just $115 USD per person!

Colombia Deep

Last on our list (but certainly not least!) we have Colombia Deep, which is a gorgeous shelf around 60-140 feet down (18-43 meters) that shelters a surprising amount of marine life. It’s definitely one for the advanced divers out there, but the fact that it’s a bit more remote does mean there are generally fewer divers, which means total immersion!

6. Is scuba diving in Cozumel safe?

School of tropical fish while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Yes!

Absolutely! There are so many reputable dive operators here in Cozumel so you can feel safe in Mexico when you head out. Scuba diving here is just as safe as anywhere in the world.

The local divemasters here hold certifications from globally recognized organizations like PADI, so you know they’ve put in the hours and the reviews say it all. Feel free to also ask the diving schools about their safety standards when you book – they’ll be happy to give you the low-down!

7. What is a Discovery Dive in Cozumel?

Diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Discovery dives are shallow and with an instructor.
A school of fish while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
But even in shallow waters, you can see so many fish!

If you’re a complete beginner to scuba diving, you’re probably asking yourself – just where do I begin?

That’s ok! We all have to start somewhere, which is where Discovery Dives come in. These dives offer a complete diving experience with an experienced instructor, where you’ll learn the gear and safety basics you’ll need to have an amazing time.

These dives are typically between 2 to 4 hours long, and you’ll start off with a dive in a pool or shallow area before heading out towards the reefs, which is where the magic really is! Don’t worry though, you won’t be going particularly deep, and there are plenty of reefs here in Cozumel which are close to the surface.

Cozumel is also a great place to learn to dive, thanks to the fact that much of the reef is sheltered from the stronger currents. There are also tons of trusted dive shops that offer beginner courses too, so you know you’re in safe hands from the start.

Honestly, if you’ve never been scuba diving before, I say go for it! It’s also a lot more affordable than going for a full certification course straight away, and you’ll get to see if scuba diving is for you (chances are pretty high that it will be!).

This private 2.5-hour introductory scuba course is highly rated, as you’ll be getting private instruction the entire time – only your group will participate! Their amazing team does all they can to make sure you’re feeling safe and comfortable, going at your own pace. With tickets at $85 USD per person, it’s also an amazing value, so don’t forget to secure your spot in advance.

For something a little longer, this 3.5-hour discover scuba experience starts you off in a shallow section of water by the beach before heading over to the shallow end of Paradise Reef. Once you’re feeling comfortable, you’ll then head on over to the Paradise Reef deep section which is around 12 meters (40 feet). With plenty of snacks in between dives, you can book this experience for just $145 USD per person.

8. What are the best scuba diving tours in Cozumel?

Private Discover Scuba Diving Tour

If you’ve always dreamed of going scuba diving but have never gotten around to it, this private discover scuba experience might just be what you’re looking for! Over three hours, your PADI-certified instructor will guide you through all the basics before you head out for an unforgettable underwater adventure at their house reef on Tikila Beach.

Tickets for this experience cost $85 USD per person, which includes rental for all the equipment you’ll need – you’ll soon be walking away with some amazing memories and some neat new skills too! You can secure your slot online here.

4-Hour Two-Tank Scuba Tour

For those with a certification under your belt, this 4-hour two-tank scuba tour is just what you need to see some of the best sites Cozumel has to offer. After a short 10-minute boat ride out to the reefs, you’ll strap on your gear and enjoy two unique dives.

A spot on this tour costs $101 USD per person, however this doesn’t include scuba gear, which can be rented separately if needed. There’s also a $6 USD marine park fee that all divers need to pay whenever they head out to the reefs – this goes directly back to reef conservation though, so it’s all for a good cause! You can book your place on the tour online here.

Cozumel Mini-SUB Diving Adventure

Now for something a little different! This Mini-SUB experience isn’t your traditional scuba diving experience, instead, you’ll use a high-tech swimming device that allows you to breathe naturally underwater without a mask or tube. All you need is a little safety briefing and that’s it, you’re away exploring the colorful reefs and seeing some of Cozumel’s incredible wildlife! The tour operators even bring sea creatures to you to hold in your hands!

It’s great for those who might not feel so comfortable with traditional scuba diving, but who still want to experience what it’s like to be able to breathe naturally underwater. Tickets for this experience are $80 USD per person and can be booked here on Viator.

Full-Day Cenote Trip to the Mainland

I absolutely adore the reefs around Cozumel, but if you get the chance, I highly recommend you try scuba diving in a cenote too! These are basically underwater sinkholes that are partially full of crystal-clear freshwater, with lots of interesting caverns and passageways just waiting to be explored.

This full-day cenote trip starts with a ferry trip from Cozumel to the mainland, where you’ll then visit two unique cenotes in the Yucatan jungle. You’ll need an open-water certification for this one, and they also offer photography too! This experience costs $180 USD per diver and can be booked over on their website here.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

9. Can you learn to scuba dive in Cozumel?

Tons of tropical fish swim in the ocean while scuba diving off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico
So many tropical fish!

Absolutely! Cozumel has some of the best diving schools we’ve seen, with instructors who know their stuff inside and out. These schools offer different certifications like PADI, which is the most widely-recognized scuba diving certification in the world. The open-water courses are typically between 3 and 4 days long, with plenty of dives and tuition along the way.

At the same time, the island is such a gorgeous place to learn, that by the end of the course, you’ll not want to leave! But that said, you’ll then walk away with the certification to explore dive sites up to 18 meters (59 feet) deep anywhere in the world, so it’s not all bad, is it?

If you’re on the island for a few days (or weeks), then why not consider learning a whole new skill? It’ll be something to tell the folks back home, and who knows, it might just open up doors you never knew were there!

This 3-day open water course is ideal for anyone serious about getting their PADI diving certification. The instructors here are really thorough, and you’ll have plenty of one-on-one time to get to know all the equipment, the safety theory, and the finned locals! The course itself costs $500 USD per person when you book online and includes all the equipment you need, as well as lunch and plenty of snacks too.

Related Read: Looking for somewhere quiet to spend some much-needed time away, but still want to try out some scuba diving? I’d highly recommend Puerto Morelos, which is also super close to Cancun!

10. Is scuba diving in Cozumel suitable for children? 

Bailey and Daniel scuba dive in Cozumel, Mexico
Me and Bailey exploring!

Under the watchful eye of qualified dive professionals, scuba diving is a safe and fun activity for kids visiting Cozumel! Here in Mexico, kids can dive starting at age 10, so if you’ve got an eager beaver in the double digits, they can totally give it a go.

There are guided Discovery Dives which children can join, and if they fancy going for their certification, they can grab their Junior Open Water certificate which is tailored for their age group! Kids who are 10 or 11 can then dive under supervision up to 12 meters (39 feet), while 12 to 14-year-olds can go up to 18 meters (59 feet), which is actually the same depth as a certified adult.

I couldn’t think of a better place for kids to start learning about scuba diving. The shallow reefs keep beginner divers close to the surface, and there are tons of marine life to capture their imagination from the start!

11. Scuba diving vs snorkeling in Cozumel

a huge coral while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Scuba diving is way better!

Personally, I’m a big fan of both scuba diving and snorkeling in Mexico, but if I had to pick one, I’d probably say I prefer scuba diving here in Cozumel!

Why? Well, while snorkeling in Cozumel is a ton of fun, you are restricted to more of a surface-level view than really getting down and discovering all there is to see under the waves. That’s not to say that snorkeling is a worse experience, far from it. Snorkeling is really easy to get into and requires very little gear. Plus, you don’t need any training (apart from swimming experience) before you try it out!

On the other hand, scuba diving is a bit pricier, but you do get to go much deeper, exploring hidden coral grottoes, shipwrecks, and even caves that you wouldn’t know were there from the surface. Feeling weightless underwater really is a magical feeling – the payoff for learning the skills is totally worth it!

If you’re tighter on time, or simply fancy trying out an activity that’s easy to pick up and go, then snorkeling can also be an absolute blast.

This invisible boat snorkeling experience lasts just under 2 hours and is a wonderful introduction to the shallow reefs surrounding Cozumel. In fact, these boats go way beyond the traditional glass-bottomed boats, the entire boat is actually transparent! Groups are also limited to a maximum of 16 people on board, so the waters won’t feel crowded when you hop overboard for a swim and snorkel. Tickets for this cost just $59 USD.

If you’ve got a little bit more time on your hands, you can combine snorkeling with a Jeep tour on this 5-hour adventure experience. With loads of stops for photos along the way, including a tequilera for your very own tequila tour (which may or may not be my favorite part about the entire trip) as well as a beautiful cenote, this is a ton of fun for couples and groups! Tickets cost just $87 USD per person.

12. Is scuba diving in Cozumel worth it?

Daniel and Bailey swim past some corals while scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Yes!

If you’re lucky enough to be stopping by for some time on the beautiful island of Cozumel, scuba diving is one of the most incredible things you can do here! There’s a staggering amount of gorgeous sea life here, and the diving community is one of the friendliest I’ve ever been a part of. In short, scuba diving here goes a 10 out of 10 from me, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Other Activities to do While You’re in Cozumel

Bailey takes a photo with a Cozumel Sign on Cozumel Mexico
Cozumel is so beautiful!

Scuba diving is one of my all-time favorite things to do in Mexico, but once you’ve taken off your flippers here, there are still tons of things to do in Cozumel! I’ve been back to the island a few times now and can honestly say I’ve still got plenty more to see.

Here are a few fun activities I’ve come across from my adventures in Cozumel so far:

  • Spend the day at Paradise Beach Club – If you’re traveling with family or friends, then the Paradise Beach Club is well worth a visit. This resort has its own private beach, plenty of beach umbrellas for relaxing in the shade, as well as its very own floating waterpark – sounds like a ton of fun! You can grab your all-inclusive 8-hour pass online here.
  • Visit the Museo de Cozumel – If you’re a big fan of history (and Mexico has a lot of it!), then you’ll want to stop by Museo de Cozumel. There are all kinds of amazing permanent exhibits here, like the one dedicated to the ancient Mayan goddess Ixchel, as well as temporary exhibits from local and international artists! Entrance costs $9 USD per person and can be booked on their website.
  • Take a private jeep tour – For an intimate experience exploring the best spots the island has to offer, I’d recommend grabbing your friends and family and heading out on a private island tour, like this 5 to 6-hour Jeep excursion! This is a self-operated tour where you’ll follow your guide in a separate vehicle, and you can totally customize your itinerary to whatever you wish to explore.
  • Explore Cozumel on two wheels – If exploring the island at a slower pace is more your thing, then why not rent out a bike while you stay? I’ve found that the hotels and resorts around the island offer better rates than the standalone rental shops. But if you prefer cycling as part of a sightseeing experience, then this 3-hour Cozumel E-bike tour would be right up your street.
  • Try out an authentic cooking class – Cooking classes have to be one of my all-time favorite things to do when I’m traveling – it’s such a great way to get to know the local culture and take some new skills back home with you! This 3-hour farm-to-table cooking experience will teach you how to cook some authentic Mexican dishes, right from the farms where the ingredients come from.

Where to Stay in Cozumel

El Cozumeleno Beach Resort
Photo credit: El Cozumeleno Beach Resort

Scuba diving can be pretty tiring, so when the day draws to a close, you’ll need somewhere nice to rest your head for the night and call it a day! Cozumel has tons of great hotels and hostels for all budgets, and I’ve listed a few of my favorites below:

Caribo Cozumel – $

Located in the heart of San Miguel de Cozumel, Caribo Cozumel is just a short walk from the main square and the ferry terminal. The rooms are simple but clean, and the staff are also very friendly!

This hotel is a great option for budget travelers who are looking for a clean and comfortable place to stay in a central location. You’ll also find a fully-equipped kitchen with free coffee for guests, free Wi-Fi, a small pool with a terrace and patio, and it’s within walking distance from the supermarket, many restaurants, and diving shops!

One night here in a double room starts from $35 USD per person, and you can check availability and reserve on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Playa Azul Hotel – $$

Playa Azul is located only a minute from the beach, so you can enjoy stunning ocean views from the comfort of your room. The rooms are spacious and air-conditioned and come with a private balcony or patio. This hotel also features an outdoor pool and on-site golf course that guests can use for free throughout their stay.

The hotel has an on-site restaurant and bar, as well as a sun deck, spa, and complimentary breakfast buffet every morning. All rooms at Playa Azul include a private balcony with views of the Caribbean Sea, satellite TV, and free Wi-Fi.

The staff is very friendly and helpful, and the service is excellent. The prices start at around $195 USD per night, which is very reasonable considering the location and amenities! Book Playa Azul Hotel online on Booking.com.

El Cozumeleno Beach Resort – $$$

If you’re looking for a luxurious resort experience, look no further than El Cozumeleno Beach Resort! This all-inclusive resort is located on one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Cozumel, with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and sparkling blue waters.

The resort offers a variety of on-site restaurants and bars, as well as water sports, including snorkeling, kayaking, boogie boarding, and scuba diving. There is also a spa, fitness center, and kids club.

The rooms are spacious and beautifully decorated, with private balconies or patios that offer stunning views of the ocean. The prices start at around $270 USD per night, which includes all meals, drinks, and activities. You should book El Cozumelo Beach Resort online in advance as it’s a popular one that can be fully booked!

Renting a Car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie while driving around Mexico
A rental car means freedom to go to the beach whenever you want!

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car. 

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. Read my honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper! 

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico
Thanks for reading!

With its friendly dive community and mind-blowing reefs, there’s no doubt in my mind that Cozumel is one of the top places to go scuba diving in Mexico and probably the world too! Everyone that I’ve met here has been so incredibly welcoming – Cozumel really does feel like a home away from home.

Feel free to let us know in the comments what you’re planning to do on your trip to Cozumel, we can’t wait to hear about it! I’ve also hand-picked a few articles below that I think you’ll find useful before you leave.

21 BEST Mayan Ruins in Mexico and How to Visit Them

33 FUN Things to do in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

10 BEST Tours in Mexico City + 5 Things to Know!