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Best Diving in the World

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The Chinchorro Banks are one of the last unspoiled dive destinations this side of the world, and certainly in the Caribbean. They benefit from being both remote and inaccessible with access requiring special permits from the Mexican Federal Government. 

They are located approximately 19 miles (31 km) off the coast of Mahahual, which is about a 4 hour drive south of Playa del Carmen. It is part of the Meso American reef system and covers an area of approximately 300 sq. miles (800 sq. km) of which less than one percent is above water.  

This is the largest atoll in the Northern Hemisphere, and the only atoll in Mexican Waters. It is approximately 9 miles (15km) wide and nearly 30 miles (48km) long. There are 95 different species of coral and over 200 different species of fish. Jacques Cousteau once referred to it as the "best diving in the world".

The atoll is a continuous reef with six entries to the inside of the reef. The shallow inside of the atoll is up to 5 meters deep, on the outside of the atoll the dive sites vary from 3 to 40 meters in depth.  The formation of the reef at Chinchorro consists of both vertical walls and sloping walls.

Visibility is generally 80 to 100 feet (25-30 m) and currents are slight but constant bringing many nutrients to the flourishing reef.  The best dive spots can be found on the east side of the atoll. The reason for this is that this is the place where the numerous Spanish colonial ships and steam ships stranded on the coral.

Marine Life

The reef is home to a spectacular diversity of marine life, endangered sea turtles are abundant in the inner lagoon, anemones are found on Chinchorro in great numbers (anemones are related to polyps, but are larger). They are found in bright colors and have tentacles from which tube worms open plankton-trapping "umbrellas" that resemble the plumage of exotic birds.

Sponges are also found in abundance on the reef in a variety of species, the largest are the giant barrel & elephant ear sponges. The sea urchin most commonly seen at Chinchorro is the Diadema antillarum, which has long, dark, pointy spines. A shorter, thicker-spined species is just as prevalent, but because it prefers the underside of rocks and the nooks and crannies of hard coral, it is rarely seen. Spiny lobsters and star snakes also like to hide in rocks. Star snakes are similar to star fish but have longer appendages and are covered in spines.

Other reef dwellers include various kinds of crab, shrimp, snail, conch, and worms. Many reef creatures are nocturnal and are seldom active during the day, others, if out, are cautious. Of the 200 species identified so far, the majority are colored tropical fish that tend to swim in schools: parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, baloonfish, sergeant majors, surgeonfish, damselfish, blue angelfish, tangs, wrasse, jacknife and many others. These bits of color flit among the coral, apparently unperturbed by man or beast, certainly not by the barracuda and moray eel, both of which feed on their species.

Species of infrequently seen bat fish and the enormous, yet rare, goliath grouper are also found at Chinchorro. The barracuda grow to over 1.8m/6 foot, and there are copious amounts of queen trigger fish. Dolphins, Eagle Rays and Stingrays are also commonly spotted while diving.  Chinchorro is truly an underwater paradise.

Wrecks

On the windward side of the banks, there are a variety of wrecks from all time periods—everything from tankers to (rumor has it) a sunken German U-boat and XVII-century Spanish galleons.  The remains of at least 18 ships that sank between 1600 and 1800 have been discovered, and the reef has proved just as treacherous to modern ships. Near Cayo Centro there is a wreck called the Glenview, a British cargo ship with a 120-meter draft that went down in 1960 not far from the Ginger Scout, which preceded it four years earlier.

There are anywhere between 30 and 200 wrecks in total at Chinchorro (depending on who you ask), the list of ships that have ended their days on the reef is long and includes the Cassel, Far Star, Tropic, Huba, San Andres, SS Caldera, SS Escasell, SS Ginger Screw, SS Glen View and SS Penelopez just to name a few, and others so torn up, only their canons and the river rocks they used for ballast are left. At one spot a line of anchors, obviously dropped one after the other in a desperate attempt to save the ship, is all that remains.

As so many of the wrecks are in 30’ of water or less, there are quite a few whose upper structures can be seen well before arrival at the site. Because of the shallow depths you can get more than an hour bottom time on each tank and many wrecks are suitable for snorkeling as well. That spells a whole lot of wreck exploration.

 

Currently we are only able to offer diving at Chinchorro Banks as a private trip for groups of 8+ people and a minimum of 2 days diving.  We hope to be running a regular schedule of trips by the end of 2012.  If you are interested, please click below and give us your feedback.

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Chinchorros Banks
Chinchorros Banks is located off the Riviera Maya coast and is accessed from Mayahuel

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Underwater Video
From various sites at Chinchorros

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Photo Gallery
Just a few photos from this remote place!

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Chinchorro Banks Dive Sites
More information about specific dive sites

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