fbpx

Playa del Carmen Snorkeling Guide

October 21, 2021 2 Comments
Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

With its close proximity to some of the most incredible coral reefs in the world, Playa del Carmen is an amazing destination for snorkeling and underwater activities. As a Playa del Carmen local, I’ve been able to personally experience most of the snorkeling spots in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya. Read on for my complete Playa del Carmen snorkeling guide.

About Snorkeling in Playa del Carmen

Mexico’s Caribbean coast is home to the second largest coral reef system in the world known as the Mesoamerican Reef. Only second to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the reef system starts north of Cancun near a remote island called Isla Contoy and spans for over 600 miles south all the way to Honduras.

If you’re like me and not scuba certified, then snorkeling is a great option to get up an up close view of the underwater marine life. Here’s the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about snorkeling in Playa del Carmen:

What is the snorkeling like in Playa del Carmen?

The snorkeling in downtown Playa del Carmen is not really the best and you need to venture a little further away to visit some of the best snorkeling spots. The best snorkeling spots can be found around the nearby islands and coral reefs.

Can you snorkel off the beach in Playa del Carmen?

While Playa del Carmen is known for its incredible beaches, most of the beaches are not really suitable for snorkeling. This is especially true of the beaches in downtown Playa del Carmen, which are often very crowded and congested. You may see a few tiny fish but it’s not really worth it to try snorkeling right off the beach.

However, if you’re staying at a resort in the Riviera Maya that’s not located in downtown Playa del Carmen, it’s possible it might be located on or near a coral reef. Check with the resort as they might offer complimentary snorkel gear that can be used during your stay.

What will you get to see?

It’s never a guarantee what kind of marine life you will see on a snorkeling tour as visibility can change based on the sea conditions. But snorkeling near Playa del Carmen you can typically expect to see colorful coral reefs, tons of different fish species of all shapes and sizes, sea turtles, stingrays, starfish, barracudas, and much more.

Sea Turtle

Should I book a snorkeling tour?

As I mentioned, you won’t see much if you try to snorkel off the beach so I would definitely recommend booking a snorkeling tour to get to experience some of the most impressive snorkeling spots.

A snorkeling tour will take you by boat to the best places for snorkeling with an experienced tour guide. It’s really the only way to access the coral reefs.

Playa del Carmen Snorkeling

About Playa del Carmen Snorkeling Tours

Here’s the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about snorkeling Playa del Carmen tours:

What are snorkeling tours like?

Snorkeling tours in Playa del Carmen are great because they offer an all inclusive booking option that usually includes hotel pickup, boat transfers, life jackets, snorkeling gear, and a knowledgable guide. It’s normally a half day or full day tour with some meals included.

Depending on which tour you choose, some even include additional activities and attractions like visiting cenotes, the Tulum Ruins, beaches, and party boats or catamarans.

Playa del Carmen Snorkeling

What’s included in snorkeling tours?

There’s a range of snorkeling tours but most will include roundtrip transportation with hotel pickup, boat transfers, snorkeling gear, life jackets, snacks and beverages. Some of the higher end tours might also include professional photos, full meals, and some alcoholic beverages.

How much do snorkeling tours cost?

There are snorkeling tours available for every budget. Snorkeling tour prices vary depending on the location and experience but typically range from $50-$150 USD per person. Keep in mind it is usually a full day experience with transportation included, which can be costly in the Riviera Maya.

Travelista Tip: If you have a group of 6 or more, consider booking a private snorkeling tour as the price is usually equivalent to booking individually.
El Cielo Snorkeling

Best Places to Snorkel Near Playa del Carmen

Below are the locations for the best snorkeling near Playa del Carmen:

Cozumel

In my opinion, Cozumel is probably the best spot for snorkeling in the Riviera Maya. The water is just so unbelievably clear and the island is home to some of the most impressive coral reefs in the world.

Cozumel is located about 30 minutes from downtown Playa del Carmen by ferry, which makes it an easy day trip from the Riviera Maya.

Best Cozumel Snorkeling Tours

You can find many tour options in Cozumel for snorkeling, snuba, catamaran sails, and even glass bottom boats. The best snorkeling can be found on the west and southwestern side of the island which is where the majority of the coral reefs are located.

One of the most popular snorkeling tours in Cozumel is visiting El Cielo (“Heaven” in Spanish), which is a sandbar where you can snorkel in clear turquoise water and see an abundance of giant starfish.

On the El Cielo tour, you’ll also get to snorkel at 2 different coral reefs–Palancar and Colombia–as well as visit a super gorgeous beach called El Cielito. And when I say gorgeous I mean SUPER gorgeous 😍

I’ve personally done the El Cielo tour twice and it was such an unforgettable experience and probably my favorite tour experience in Riviera Maya. I really can’t describe how pretty the water is! You can find my complete guide to visiting El Cielo here.

Find more information and book the El Cielo tour online here. Or check out some of these top rated snorkeling Cozumel tours below:

El Cielo Cozumel
El Cielo Cozumel Starfish
Cozumel Snorkeling

Puerto Morelos

Another top option for snorkeling in Playa del Carmen is to head to Puerto Morelos, which is home to one of the best coral reefs in the area. Puerto Morelos is about 30 minutes north of Playa del Carmen (half way between Playa del Carmen and Cancun).

Not far off the beach in Puerto Morelos, you’ll see colorful coral reefs, sea turtles, and other marine life. It’s also one of the most shallow snorkeling spots in the area, which makes it very easy to get an up close view of the reefs.

Best Puerto Morelos Snorkeling Tours

I visited Puerto Morelos on a small group snorkeling tour and it was really impressive. On the tour, we got to see tons of different fish, sea turtles, sting rays, and even a baby shark. You can find my complete guide to snorkeling in Puerto Morelos here.

Check out some of these top rated Puerto Morelos tours below:

Sea Turtle
Puerto Morelos Snorkeling

Isla Mujeres

Located just 15 minutes off the coast of Cancun, the island of Isla Mujeres is another great option for the best snorkeling in Riviera Maya. It takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Playa del Carmen but it’s definitely worth the trip as you’ll be floored by the clear turquoise water and tropical island views.

Best Isla Mujeres Snorkeling Tours

There are a few different options for Isla Mujeres snorkeling tours depending on what kind of experience you’re looking for:

  • Whale Shark Tour: If you’re visiting during the months of May-September, I would highly recommend swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres. It’s an unforgettable experience and whale sharks are actually gentle giants so it’s not as scary as it sounds. You can find my full guide to the whale shark tour here.
  • Catamaran Sail with Snorkeling: Catamaran tours are usually a little more party oriented and often include a quick snorkeling stop in Isla Mujeres. It’s a good option if you want a fun boat experience with a little snorkeling too.
  • Isla Mujeres Snorkeling Tour: You can also book an Isla Mujeres tour just for snorkeling, which includes a visit to the Manchones reef, the biggest coral reef on the island.
  • Underwater Sculpture Museum: Isla Mujeres also has an underwater sculpture museum known as MUSA, which is full of giant underwater artificial habitats including art installations, human statues, and even a house and a car. While it’s best suited for scuba divers, you can still get a cool experience on a snorkeling tour too.

When booking your tour, be sure to check the transportation options and departure points. Some may depart directly from Cancun or Isla Mujeres so you’ll need to factor in getting there from Playa del Carmen.

Whale Shark Isla Mujeres
Underwater Museum of Art Isla Mujeres

Akumal

Located half way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal is a small beach town where you can swim with sea turtles in their natural habitat directly off the beach.

The bay at Akumal is abundant with sea grass, which is what the sea turtles feed on and attracts them to the area. There are so many sea turtles in this area that it’s almost a guarantee you will get to see at least one but in most cases you will see many more.

Best Akumal Snorkeling Tours

From my experience, the best way to visit Akumal is to book a snorkeling tour which includes roundtrip transportation, all of your snorkeling equipment, a boat which takes you closer to the coral reefs, all entrance fees and taxes, and certified guides.

It’s possible to visit Akumal on your own and snorkel off the beach, but you’ll have a more all inclusive experience with a tour, as everything is included and some areas of the reefs are restricted to certified guides only.

I recently visited Akumal on this tour and it was such an incredible experience getting to swim alongside sea turtles of all sizes right off the beach. It has been one of my favorite excursions in Riviera Maya.

Akumal Sea Turtle
Akumal Snorkeling

Sian Ka’an

If you’re willing to travel a little further away, Sian Ka’an is probably one of the most remote snorkeling destinations in the region. Officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico and offers the unique opportunity to explore a tranquil nature reserve.

Best Sian Ka’an Snorkeling Tours

Due to its remote location, the easiest way to explore Sian Ka’an is through a guided eco-tour, which is a full-day wildlife expedition offering a small boat tour, snorkeling, and nature observation. On the tour you’ll encounter a variety of wildlife including crocodiles, dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, starfish, and native birds—all in their natural habitat.

I visited Sian Ka’an on a small group tour and found the snorkeling to be some of the best I’ve done in the region. Because it’s so remote, you won’t find an obnoxious amount of other tour boats, so you really get the feeling that what you’re seeing is more preserved and unspoiled by mass tourism.

Sian Ka'an snorkeling
Sian Ka'an snorkeling
Sian Ka'an sea turtle
Sian Ka'an reef

Playa del Carmen Snorkeling Map

Here is a map of the best snorkeling spots near Playa del Carmen:

What to Bring on a Snorkeling Tour

Here are a few items I would recommend bringing on Playa del Carmen snorkel tours:

Must Haves

  • Biodegradable sunscreen: The number one thing to bring on a snorkeling tour is biodegradable sunscreen. It’s so so important to use biodegradable sunscreen in order to protect and preserve the coral reefs. Most tour operators actually prohibit the use of regular sunscreen so if you need sun protection then it is a must have. You can pickup some on Amazon here.
  • Beach towel: Don’t forget to bring a beach towel to dry off after you get out of the water. It actually can get a little cold when you’re wet and cruising on the boat. These microfiber beach towels are great options because they are super light weight and dry quickly.

Nice to Have

  • Go Pro or waterproof camera: I would highly recommend bringing a GoPro or waterproof camera to capture your underwater experience. I always bring my GoPro and am constantly amazed by the picture quality.
  • Snorkel Set: If you’re concerned about cleanliness, you can always bring your own snorkel set instead of using the one provided on the tour. Sometimes the snorkel equipment is not the best quality and may not fit well so having your own will ensure the best comfort and a good fit.
  • Rash guard: I would also recommend bringing a rash guard, which is like a swim shirt to stay warm and also protect you from the sun without the need for sunscreen. Some snorkeling spots actually don’t allow the use of any type of sunscreen so a rash guard is essential if you need sun protection.

What to Wear on a Snorkeling Tour

  • Swimsuit: Whenever I go on a snorkeling excursions in Playa del Carmen, I always wear a one-piece swimsuit. It’s just so much more comfortable and provides much more coverage when you’re dealing with your lifejackets, putting on your snorkel gear, and getting in and out of the boat.
  • Swimsuit coverup: You’ll also want to wear a lightweight swimsuit coverup or shorts that can be easily removed when you’re ready to get in the water.
  • Flip flops: You’ll want to wear flip flops or sandals that can be removed easily as the tour guides will usually require you to take off your shoes as soon as you get on the boat.
  • Sun hat: I would also recommend wearing a hat but makes sure you have one that fits very securely on your head as the wind will be strong on the boat.
  • Change of clothes: You’ll also want to bring a change of clothes so you can change out of your wet swimsuit before the ride back to your hotel or resort.

Playa del Carmen Snorkeling Tips

  • Book in advance: I would definitely recommend booking your Playa del Carmen snorkeling excursion in advance. Tours can fill up quickly and most tour companies offer flexible booking options so you can cancel or change your plans if necessary.
  • Book a private or small group tour: If you can, I would recommend booking a private or small group tour. It can be a little more expensive, but I’ve always had a better experience with smaller tours where you really get to bond with the guides and other tour goers. Plus, there’s nothing worse than being in a huge mob of snorkelers bumping into you, scaring off the fish, and ruining your perfect underwater photo.
  • Bring biodegradable sunscreen: As I mentioned, don’t forget to bring biodegradable sunscreen. It’s absolutely essential if you need sun protection.
  • Bring cash for tips: This is something I often forget then feel terrible when I don’t any cash on hand to tip the tour guides. Make sure to bring some extra cash (dollars or pesos) to give the tour guides a little something extra. They work hard to deliver great experiences.
SHARE THIS:
By vivalatravelista

You May Also Like

2 thoughts on “Playa del Carmen Snorkeling Guide”

  1. First of all, you have to do better than just non biodegradable sunscreen to save the reef. Please do your homework on this. Secondly, you can absolutely not see turtle at Akumal without a guide. It’s a protected sanctuary but judging from the extreme number of tourists hovering over the poor turtles, is best NOT to do this. At this point, it’s essentially animal abuse. The turtles are getting sick from the stress of the tourists and the sunscreen. Please don’t promote this. The Sian Ka’am tour sounds great!

    1. Hi Joe, thanks for reading. You are able to snorkel off the beach in Akumal but I believe it’s best to go with knowledgable guides that can educate snorkelers on the importance of conservation, train them on the proper snorkeling techniques, and who have a responsibility to monitor and correct any inappropriate behavior. I personally visited with a small group tour company who I felt was committed to conservation and kept a close watch on all snorkelers. Biodegradable sunscreen is a good start for tourists and the mandatory conservation fee also contributes to keeping the bay area preserved. Hope you get to visit Sian Ka’an – it’s an incredible experience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *