banco chinchorro mexico dive spot

Banco Chinchorro: A treasure trove of life on huge reef

Banco Chinchorro off Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast is not to be missed for divers and snorkelers and adventure seekers. It’s an atoll reef, or a reef shaped like a ring. There are three small islands inside the reef.

My husband and I went on a day trip from Mahahual, and we are so glad we did.

As with any diving or snorkeling experience, go when the sea is relatively calm.

Most tour operators won’t want to take you when it’s too rough because the current for snorkelers can be too strong (and divers, too). Also, it’s a 60 to 90 minute boat trip out to the reef so really rough water would make the trip out less than enjoyable.

man stands on the boat to Banco Chinchorro from mahahual

Banco Chinchorro stops on a day trip

Stop 1 at Banco Chinchorro – underwater

Our trip out was great. We were in a dive boat with two engines. It took just over an hour to reach the reef, and another several minutes to find our first spot. Snorkelers got in first, then the divers geared up and went under.

There were two divers in our group and two snorkelers besides me. There were three crew members – the dive master, the snorkel guide and the captain. None of them spoke English. Talk about authentic!

The first spot was beautiful. The water was mostly clear, and the coral came close to the surface so there was enough light to get a few shots in with our old GoPro.

Overall, the water was pretty deep, and much of the fish and coral couldn’t be captured by my camera.

coral near the surface of the water at Banco Chinchorro
coral in shallow water at Banco Chinchorro
Colorful coral underwater at Banco Chinchorro

I have never seen so many fish and such intricate, varied coral in my life. I’ve been diving in Jamaica, and around Cancun, and snorkeling all over the place. Banco Chinchorro blows them all away.

I felt so small – so insignificant – to the greater world around me, above and below. I felt like a visitor to an alien world – grateful to be tolerated by underwater creatures.

Several fish curiously looked at me – as if they’d never seen a human being. And maybe they hadn’t – not many people snorkel around out there. It’s a protected area and people need a special permit to be there, the price of which was included in our trip.

I saw baby sharks (no mamas), lobster, barracuda and countless brightly colored fish of all sizes and shapes. It was about an hour and 10 minutes in the water. I was swimming against a current most of the time, and was starting to get tired. Once we were back on the boat, we jetted over to the divers to get them.

My husband said he was equally in awe at life underwater on his first dive down.

Stop 2 at Banco Chinchorro – Cayo Centro

After the first trip into the water, we went to one of the islands inside the atoll. We visited the largest, though still small, island – Cayo Centro.

This map is courtesy Google. Bancho Chinchorro is where the red pin is. Cancun (not pictured) is 90 minutes by car north of Tulum.