Cozumel Is Not Just For Beginners Anymore
by Betsy Archer
(reprinted from the October issue of Scuba Times)
Like so many divers, I got my sea legs in Cozumel.
After the cold and murky lake in Atlanta that served as the location for my checkout dives, it was a
welcome change. The reefs and walls in Cozumel opened my eyes to a world I
had only imagined-- a far cry from that cold lake. I was entranced by the
coral caves, huge moray eels and my first night dive. As the years went by,
my diving experiences matured. I thought Cozumel was just for beginners ----
a place to earn your flippers and move on to more exciting things. I was
wrong. There was so much I had missed in Cozumel. Reefs, like Punta Sur and
Barracuda, can make any diver's heart race. These reefs, reserved for advanced
divers, spice up the diving. And, along with the rest of the diving community,
Cozumel is maturing. Technical diving, in the form of cave and mixed-gas diving,
is now available to those who want to push their limits its or just try
Punta Sur, Devil's Throat, Barracuda, Maracaibo Deep and Maracaibo Shallow are some of the advanced reefs in Cozumel. They earn that distinction
due to their depth or, in the case of Barracuda, the strong current. At
Devil's Throat, the water was crystal clear, and the sandy bottom was visible
from the surface at about 90 feet. We descended to 60 feet and then headed
over to the top of the wall. Just as we reached the wall, I noticed a green
eel, completely out of its hole and unconcerned with our presence. We swam to
the coral caves that give Devil's Throat its name. The entrance to the caves
was at 90 feet, and we descended through them and emerged at about 120 feet
on the wall over a bottomless sea. My flashlight turned the dark caves
into an explosion of colors--- neon orange and yellow corals, bright green
and red sponges. Unfortunately, our bottom time was cut short by the depth. We
slowly drifted back up and watched the reef fish from our 15-foot safety stop.
Drift diving is the only diving in Cozumel. Even the shallow reefs can be subject to the strong currents which constantly sweep the island. These
currents keep the water clear and the food chain rich. With the protection of
a marine sanctuary, the underwater life has florished --- VW-sized grouper,
huge eels and lobster look like they're on steroids. On my first trips to
Cozumel, I was overwhelmed by the animals that I floated past. More recently,
I found myself poking around the reefs, attracted to the smallest things. A
tiny fish seeking refuge in an anemoneïs toxic arms or a C-shaped juvenile
drumfish captivated me. On a visit to Cedral, our Divemaster Roberto found
a splendid toadfish. The elusive toadfish, found only in Cozumel, stays
tucked deep in its hole during the day.
Many of the reefs are also perfect for nitrox. Technically illiterate
divers, like myself, can learn all the intricacies of nitrox in one day and
be poking around on the reefs with more bottom time, the next. With a
state-of-the-art nitrox fill station and training facility, Cozumel now
provides safe mixed gas diving. Dive operators are offering nitrox dives to
their customers, and there is talk of dive boats dedicated to nitrox divers.
Besides extended dive times, I was impressed by the lack of after-dive
fatigue with nitrox. Surely, all that extra energy could be put to good use.
With our newly found energy, my dive buddy Natalie and I decided to
explore the other side of the island. We found deserted, windswept beaches
and hammock-laden bars perfect for relaxing. We climbed the lighthouse in
Punta Celarain for sweeping views of the island's north coast. The lighthouse
was tended by a family who cooked us a lunch of fresh fish over a wood stove.
Only a half-hour drive, the windward side of Cozumel was a world away from the
tourist-filled town of San Miguel.No trip to the Yucatan peninsula is complete
without a visit to one of the Mayan ruins. Chichen-Itza, Coba and Tulum are
each an easy day trip from Cozumel. We explored Tulum early in the morning
before the tour buses arrived from Cancun. Not necessarily the most significant
of the Mayan sites, Tulum was the most picturesque. The main building, the
Castillo, sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sapphire sea. With the
early morning sun and waves crashing against the cliffs, our visit to Tulum
was like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Sometimes, while in Cozumel, I
forget I am in a popular tourist destination. In spite of the cruise ships
and steady influx of divers, Cozumel is able to retain its quiet island charm.
The locals are friendly, the food is good and the off-gassing activities are
better than most dive islands. Before I left Cozumel, I heard of even more
exciting dive sites to visit...
This Article is Reprinted by Permission from Betsy Archer