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12 Things to KNOW Before you go Snorkeling in Cancun

12 Things to KNOW Before you go Snorkeling in Cancun

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Cancun’s amazing marine life is one of the best reasons to visit this vibrant resort town. Honestly, snorkeling in Cancun is even better than partying and hanging out in luxury resorts (although of course, you can do a bit of each while you’re here).

The water here is super clear so you have fantastic visibility while snorkeling, and there are lots of incredible species to spot, from whale sharks and manta rays to turtles and barracudas. Honestly, I’m blown away every single time I visit! 

Unfortunately, not all snorkeling in Cancun is great, because there are quite a few sham tour operators around who won’t give you the best experience. That’s why we’ve put together this guide containing everything you need to know about snorkeling in Cancun. If you know your stuff before you go, you can choose the best experience and spend more time discovering everything that Cancun’s crystal-clear waters have to offer.

Don’t have time to read the full article? There’s a reason Cancun is such a hotspot for locals and tourists alike, and one of those reasons is the awesome snorkeling here! Our favorite snorkeling tour is this specific one because it visits 5 different snorkel spots in one day!

1. About snorkeling in Cancun

Bailey snorkeling in Cancun
Hey!

Cancun is the ultimate tropical playground. You’ll never need a wetsuit to go snorkeling here because the water temperature ranges between 24-29°C (75-84°F) all year round. Meanwhile, the warm, clear waters offer visibility ranging from 80-115 feet (24-35 meters), which is just as well because the marine life here is straight out of a National Geographic documentary. There’s a reason we keep on coming back here! 

Another thing that we love about snorkeling in Cancun is that the authorities take marine conservation very seriously here. Lots of the waters around here are protected to preserve the ecosystem, and the government has taken steps to prevent overfishing and over-tourism.

Related Read: Make sure you have a plan on how to get from the Cancun Airport to the Hotel Zone before you go. The Cancun Airport Shuttles are your best bet as the taxis will try to rip you off big time!

2. Why I love snorkeling in Cancun

Long thin fish swims past while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
GoPro 11 takes fantastic underwater photos!

Cancun has calm waters and shallow reefs, which make it an ideal place to snorkel, as you don’t need to go super deep to see all of the glorious marine life around here. There are lots of beautiful and accessible snorkeling spots around Cancun, so pretty much anyone can enjoy all of its underwater wonders, without needing a diving certification.

With that being said… You NEED to make sure that you book the right tour. 

Snorkeling in Cancun is really popular and so there are a lot of less-than-stellar tour operators there who will rip you off and give you a pretty lousy experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic tours in Cancun, but a lot of the snorkeling around is a complete tourist trap and will leave you disappointed. We found this out the hard way one year!

3. When is the best time to go snorkeling in Cancun? 

A Turtle swims in Akumal Beach, Mexico
Turtles at Akumal Beach
A turtle and a fish swim together at Akumal Beach
A turtle and a fish swim together at Akumal Beach

The best time to go snorkeling in Cancun is during the dry season, which is between November and April. This is when the Yucatan Peninsula receives the least rain and the most sunshine, which means that you get the best visibility. 

If you snorkel during the dry season, you also have the opportunity to see bull sharks, as they tend to migrate between November and March. 

However, there’s no need to fret if you’re going to be in Cancun during the wet season because it’s still worth going on a snorkeling trip – just make sure you choose one that departs in the morning, as the rain tends to start in the afternoon. This is also the best time of year for seeing whale sharks in Cancun!

And in terms of the best time of day to snorkel in Cancun, the morning tends to provide the best visibility because there’s generally less cloud and wind, which means optimum visibility. Most tours have the option to go in the morning, and this is what we recommend you do. 

4. What can you see when snorkeling in Cancun? 

A sting ray while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
How cool!?

Sooooo much! 

Cancun is basically a hotbed of marine marvels. Sea turtles are a big draw because three different species live here: green turtles, rare hawksbill turtles, and loggerhead turtles. 

There are also lots of different types of sharks here, but don’t worry, they’re all pretty docile! Reef sharks are famously curious and might hover around you to say hello, but there’s no need to be scared. You can also spot whale sharks during the wet season, and nurse sharks throughout the year. 

And of course, there are stunning, rainbow-colored coral, a kaleidoscope of tropical fish, and tons of rays including manta rays, sting rays, and eagle rays. Honestly, there’s so much to see here and we spot something new every single time that we go snorkeling in Cancun! 

5. What are the best snorkeling spots in/near Cancun?

MUSA reef in Cancun on a snorkeling tour
MUSA reef in Cancun on a snorkeling tour

MUSA

MUSA (Underwater Museum of Art) is one of the best-known snorkeling spots in Cancun and for good reason. It’s located between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, and it features almost 500 underwater statues that act as a home for tons of vibrant coral, tropical fish, and even turtles. Lots of people come here to dive, but you can also go snorkeling at MUSA on this tour, which will also take you to a shipwreck and a cenote.

Great Maya Reef (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) 

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is one of the largest reefs in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It stretches along the coasts of four different countries, and it’s home to more than 500 species of fish, 65 types of stony coral, four types of sea turtles, crocodiles, and manatees. Basically, it’s like a metropolis of marine life.

Technically, this reef is accessed from Puerto Morelos, but this is a small fishing town that’s not super popular to stay in. Cancun is the closest city to Puerto Morelos and it’s 38.4 kilometers (23.8 miles) away, which is about a 40-minute drive. It’s best to visit the Great Maya Reef as a day trip from Cancun, as there’s just too much driving involved if you’re coming from other cities like Tulum or Playa del Carmen

You can take this snorkeling tour of the Great Maya Reef for $45 USD. It leaves from Puerto Morelos and you get two 45-minute snorkeling sessions. We were blown away by all you can see when snorkeling near Puerto Morelos! Plus, you’re typically only in water that’s 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) deep, so you can get really close to all the marine life. You can also scuba dive in Puerto Morelos and there are great options for first-timers or certified divers.

Whale shark swims near a group of people snorkeling off the coast of Cancun, Mexico
The coolest underwater experience I have had to date!

Whale sharks 

Swimming with whale sharks is a bucket list experience and we were absolutely wowed when we went. If you’re in Cancun during whale shark season (May-September), this tour will take you to spot these gentle giants (which aren’t actually sharks, but actually the world’s largest species of fish).

Plus, you’ll be guided by a marine biologist who can teach you all about whale sharks and other creatures that you spot throughout the day. It’s a small group limited to just 10 people, so make sure you book your spot online if you want to go on this one!

Related Read: You can also swim with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, and Tulum!

Isla Mujeres 

Isla Mujeres is famed for its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, but be careful when booking snorkeling trips here! If you book one that leaves from Cancun, you’ll be taken to a very average place to snorkel and it’s really not that good.

If you want to be wowed, book a tour that leaves from the island itself, like this one! You’ll visit three snorkeling spots around Isla Mujeres including that incredible underwater museum I still talk about seeing. Plus you’ll get a yummy lunch and margarita on board!

A turtle swims past people at Akumal Beach in Mexico
Akumal!

Akumal Beach

Akumal Beach is famous for its turtles, and we had a blast when we went. Honestly, you can spot dozens of beautiful turtles when you go swimming here, and we like that the local authorities work hard to protect them. One of the measures they’ve taken is making it mandatory for you to be part of a tour if you want to swim with the turtles.

To be honest, though, it’s pretty difficult to find a good tour from Cancun to Akumal, so we think it’s best to just travel there yourself and book a tour like this private snorkeling tour at Akumal. We personally took this tour and it included all the equipment we needed and our local guide was so great. 

If you don’t want to rent a car in Mexico and still need transportation, this small group tour to Akumal Beach is our pick. It includes three hours of swimming at Akumal along with a visit to the spectacular Tulum Ruins set on a cliffside overlooking the water. So if you want to see those, this tour is a great and very convenient option to choose! 

Punta Nizuc Reef Area

Punta Nizuc is a stunning reef in the south of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, and it’s another amazing snorkeling spot to check out while you’re in town. You can visit as part of this tour, which also takes you to the MUSA underwater museum. The waters in Punta Nizuc are very calm and sheltered, so we think it’s perfect for snorkelers of all ages and swimming abilities. 

6. Is snorkeling in Cancun safe? 

Bailey above the water with a snorkel on during a tour in Cancun
Bailey above the water with a snorkel on during a tour in Cancun

Yes! The waters around Cancun are very calm, especially during dry season, and despite the abundant marine life that you can find here, there aren’t really any ocean predators. If you’re nervous in the water, I’d say it’s the perfect place to build your confidence.

Related Read: Check out all our Cancun safety advice here where we cover everything from common travel scams to solo travel and more!

7. Can beginners snorkel in Cancun?

Bailey dives down around a manmade coral in Cancun, Mexico while snorkeling
I’m certainly no pro!

Yes, the calm water here means that Cancun is a great place for beginners to dip their toes in the water – pun fully intended.

Lots of areas have a mandatory life jacket rule anyway to protect both you and the reef. This means that everyone will be in a life jacket, which means that there’s really no need to worry if you’re not quite a Michael Phelps-level swimmer. 

Related Read: Take a break from the water to check out all the best Mayan Ruins to see in Mexico! Of course, you won’t want to miss the famous Chichen Itza and there are some great Chichen Itza tours from Cancun to hop on!

8. What are the best snorkeling tours in Cancun?

Fish swim under a rock that we saw while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
Fish swim under a rock that we saw while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico

Amazing Snorkeling Experience in Cancun

We love this Cancun snorkeling tour because it gives you such a well-rounded experience of all that Cancun’s waters have to offer, from the MUSA underwater museum to a shipwreck and local reefs. The water gets no deeper than 13 feet/4 meters and you’ll snorkel in four different locations which means a huge variety in what you’ll see!

It’s a 3-hour experience that costs $90 USD, including hotel pickup and drop-off and an underwater welcome photo, but you will have to pay an extra $15 USD dock fee on the day. We also like that it’s a small group tour with a maximum of 15 people, so it doesn’t feel too crowded. You can easily book this tour online through Viator.

5-in-1 Cancun Snorkeling Tour

We think that this snorkeling tour is perfect for families and first-timers. It’s 3.5 hours long and you’ll get to visit five awesome snorkel spots, including a WWII shipwreck, the underwater museum, and a beautiful cenote.

It costs $75 USD per person including transport from Cancun hotels, and you can choose from a few different departure times. We recommend going at 7 am, as the water will be really nice and quiet! You can check all the available times and book your spot online.

Small-Group Eco Friendly: Whale Sharks tour in Cancun and Riviera Maya

Swimming with whale sharks is really a phenomenal experience, and it’s one of the best things we have ever done in Cancun. For a full-day adventure, this whale shark tour takes you to see these fascinating creatures, although you’re also likely to spot dolphins, turtles, and plenty of other marine life as you go. 

Honestly, we think it’s totally worth the $175 USD price tag (which includes Cancun transportation) as snorkeling alongside whale sharks is not the kind of experience you forget in a hurry! Plus, you get to have lunch on the boat just off the coast of the stunning Isla Mujeres, which is a really nice bonus. You can book this once-in-a-lifetime whale shark tour online here!

Reef and Shipwreck Snorkeling Tour in Cancun

There are two WWII shipwrecks off the coast of Cancun which are fascinating to snorkel around. Not only are these wrecks an interesting part of Mexico’s military history, but they also attract a ton of beautiful fish and turtles, so there’s lots to explore here. 

We think that this shipwreck tour is a really great choice for families and beginners, although pretty much anyone can enjoy it. Groups are capped at 10 people which is great as overcrowding really takes the fun out of snorkeling tours! It costs $75 USD per person (plus the $15 USD reef preservation fee) and lasts for about 3.5 hours, so you get to see lots but it’s not too tiring. You can choose from morning or afternoon departure times when you book online with Viator.

MUSA reef statue as seen while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
MUSA reef statue in Cancun, Mexico

2-Hour Snorkeling Paradise Reef in Cancún Underwater Museum

This 2-hour tour is budget-friendly at $50 USD (plus the reef fee). You’ll get to see the gorgeous Punta Nizuc reef as well as parts of the MUSA underwater museum, so even though it’s a fairly short tour you’ll still experience some of Cancun’s best snorkeling spots.

At the Punta Nizuc reef area, we liked that the boat took us right to a floating platform. You get to put on all your snorkel gear here and it’s an easy spot to enter the water or come up to take any breaks you may need. It’s perfect for kids or beginners in the water and if you want to take a break, the beers on the floating platform are free! We thought this was a stellar deal, so make sure you book a spot online so you can join too!

Moonlight Bioluminescence Snorkeling Tour in Cancun

Going snorkeling after dark is a super fun and atmospheric experience, so we say take advantage of the chance to do it while you’re in Cancun! Seeing the bioluminescent plankton light up as you move through the water on this evening snorkeling tour really is magical. 

This tour will take you for a 1.5-hour underwater adventure after dark, and you’ll be led by an expert guide who will help you to spot sea urchins, octopuses, and fish. You see a whole different cast of underwater characters after dark, so we recommend doing this tour in addition to a daytime one!

It costs $75 USD including hotel pickup and underwater lights, and you get to explore 3 different sites. Even though it’s dark, it may just be the highlight (ha!) of your trip! Book a spot on this night snorkeling adventure here and you can always reserve now and pay later with Viator.

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. Is a trip to Isla Mujeres worth it for the snorkeling?

Fish and corals while snorkeling in Cancun
This is the best I saw on the day trip to Isla Mujeres!

Not really. Snorkeling tours to Isla Mujeres on cruises that depart from Cancun take you to deep spots that aren’t that suitable for snorkeling, because it’s more convenient for the tour operators. You don’t get the best experience this way and miss out on the best that the waters around Isla Mujeres have to offer. 

However, all is not lost. We recommend visiting Isla Mujeres from Cancun on a day trip and booking this tour which departs from the island itself, as you will visit way better snorkeling spots. This tour literally has hundreds of 5-star reviews and the guides are top-notch. I would never turn down a free margarita or the delicious ceviche the crew makes either! Plus, the island itself is gorgeous and a beautiful place to spend the day.

10. Is snorkeling in Cancun suitable for children?

A boat drops a group of snorkelers off in Cancun, Mexico
Everyone has life jackets and the boat stays close!

Yes, as long as they’re able to swim and feel comfortable in the ocean. Life jackets are provided (and mandatory), and the waters in Cancun are calm and predator-free, so snorkeling here is a very family-friendly activity. Plus, kids will love seeing all of the colorful fish and fantastic array of marine creatures! 

11. Scuba diving vs snorkeling in Cancun

Bailey and daniel scuba dive past a huge coral in Cancun, mexico
Scuba diving in Mexico is overall better!
A school of fish while scuba diving in Cancun
So cool!

There are plenty of reasons to go snorkeling in Cancun instead of scuba diving. For one thing, it’s much more accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. People with heart conditions and asthma can’t go scuba diving, whereas snorkeling is available to anyone with a basic swimming ability! 

You also don’t need to do a course to go snorkeling, whereas you need to do a 3-day open water scuba course to become a certified diver. This costs hundreds of dollars – and that’s if you get a good price. Plus, snorkeling excursions are also cheaper in general because you’re not paying for oxygen tanks and other specialist equipment. 

However… I have to admit that I do way prefer scuba diving in Cancun to snorkeling. Don’t get me wrong, snorkeling is so much fun, and in Cancun, you can still see a ton of amazing marine life, but diving feels more adventurous and you can explore in more depth. 

But if you’re not keen on diving, then definitely go snorkeling! It’s still an amazing experience, and a lot of it comes down to personal preference and what you’re most comfortable with. 

Scuba diving in Cancun, Mexico
MUSA

This is the scuba diving tour that we did last time we visited MUSA and the Manchones Reef, and we loved every second! It was an epic adventure and we saw so much sea life, it was like being in a real-life aquarium. The tour costs $115 USD, and it includes the $15 USD reef preservation charge. You get two dives and complimentary bottled water, and a wetsuit if you need it.

If you’re looking to do some diving in Cancun, then we think that this scuba diving tour is an excellent option without having to commit to a pricy diving course. It’s very highly rated and the instructors are excellent. The theory lesson covers a lot and then you get to dive at the MUSA underwater museum and the Manchones Reef, so we bet that you’ll be hooked on scuba diving by the end of the day!

This discovery dive costs $173 USD per person, and you get lessons in the morning including practice in a pool, followed by two 30-40 minute dives in the afternoon. There will also be snacks and bottled water along the way, since diving requires a lot of energy. You can get your feet wet in scuba diving by booking these beginner dives online!

Related Read: If you’re ready to take the jump into scuba diving, the dive sites in Cabo and scuba tours in Cozumel are both awesome places to start!

12. Is snorkeling in Cancun worth it? 

MUSA coral reef in Cancun
Yes!

Yes, absolutely. Cancun is home to some of the most amazing sea life that I have ever seen, so don’t miss the chance to witness it for yourself! Snorkeling here is one of the best things to do in Mexico and there are just so many incredible creatures to see. 

Related Read: For top beach recommendations and more snorkeling spots, these are the absolute best beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula!

Other Activities to do While You’re in Cancun

Daniel stands in front of the main temple at Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito in Cancun, Mexico
The main temple at the San Miguelito Ruins!
Bailey looks out the window of the Cancun Scenic Tower in Cancun, Mexico
Views for days at the Cancun Scenic Tower!

After your epic snorkeling adventure, there’s so much more to see and do in Cancun! I’ve been coming to Cancun since I was a kid and I never get tired of visiting. So if you’re looking for even more activities, check out some of my favorites below!

  • Eat, eat eat! – Calories don’t count on vacation right? The restaurants in Cancun deliver on amazing food – especially the Mexican restaurants of course. Mextreme has the best tacos and I always order the Aztec soup! If you want to try a bunch of different dishes in an evening – this taco and beer food tour will take you to five popular spots for a fun night you’ll want to arrive hungry for!
  • Cancun Scenic Tower – As if Cancun wasn’t scenic enough, there’s another way to enjoy the views here! The Cancun Scenic Tower gives you amazing views of the Caribbean! The entire viewing deck lifts up, so you won’t even need to climb any stairs to get this view.
  • Swim with whale sharks – For a totally unique and memorable experience, jump in the water to swim with whale sharks near Cancun! These gentle giants feast on plankton and fish, so you can relax on this whale shark tour and just admire these giant fish (they aren’t actually sharks!). Whale shark season is from May to September, so if you’re here at a different time of year, this half-day sailing trip is another way to get out on the water and cruise the beautiful ocean!

Where to Stay in Cancun

Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun
Photo credit: Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun

If you’re going to be snorkeling around Cancun, then you’ll need a place to stay! Below are some of the best hotels (for every budget) in the Cancun Hotel Zone.

For budget travelers, the Selina Cancun Laguna Hotel Zone is a great choice. It doesn’t have the greatest reviews, but I really enjoyed my stay and for the price and fun atmosphere, you can’t go wrong! You can book this hostel on Hostelword or Booking.com.

If you prefer something a little nicer, I love the JW Marriott Cancun Resort. It’s not all-inclusive, which I enjoy because there are so many delicious restaurants in Cancun! The hotel is located right on the beach and has a huge pool. Rooms are typically $300-$500 USD depending on the time of year.

Of course, we all love a luxury all-inclusive stay and for that, I always book either the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun or the Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun Adults Only. Both are not cheap (typically $700-$1,000 USD nightly) but are equally as luxurious with fantastic oceanfront locations, delicious food, quality alcohol, and more.

More of a luxury traveler? Learn about the absolute best resorts in Cancun!

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!

Bailey under the water while snorkeling in Cancun, Mexico
Thanks for reading!

Well after writing all that I’m eager to get in the water again and do some snorkeling in Cancun! This beach paradise has so much to offer in the water that you won’t want to miss adding a snorkeling tour to your trip. It’s a great way to take a break from the heat and see the incredible underwater world that exists here.

Hopefully, this Cancun snorkeling guide has helped you get ready for your trip! If you need any more travel inspiration, have a peek at our other Mexico blogs. We’ve lived and traveled across Mexico and are happy to help you plan your own amazing getaway.

15 BEST Beaches in Cancun, Mexico

12 Things to KNOW Before Going on a Cancun Catamaran Cruise to Isla Mujeres

10 BEST Tours in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

33 FUN Things to do in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Ed

Tuesday 12th of December 2023

Excellent article, it was well written and thorough. Thank you for sharing with us.