You may have already taken your children to the Puerto Morelos Reef for a morning of snorkeling. How about taking them further south to discover more underwater treasures? Here are three great options for a snorkeling trip.
An hour to the south are two Riviera Maya snorkeling parks, Xel-Há and Yalkú and Chankanaab Park on the island of Cozumel is only a short boat trip from Playa del Carmen. They all make a perfect day out with the family.
Spend a day at Xel-Ha Park with the family. A chain of turquoise inlets, lagoons and crystalline cenotes fed by underground springs and surrounded by emerald green forest and mangroves, Xel-Ha is one of Mexico’s wonders and a huge natural aquarium.
More than 90 species of fish of all shapes and sizes from the nearby reefs seek food and shade among the rocks rimming the caleta (inlet). You’ll find yourself surrounded by schools of fish such as sergeant majors that are just as curious about you as you are about them. Diminutive butterfly fish, damselfish, beaugregories and spotted drums hover around rock outcrops, multicolored parrotfish – one of the park’s symbols – nibble at the limestone and angelfish and blue tangs glide regally by.
Submerged concrete reef balls in different areas of the inlet provide an additional habitat for fish and are being colonized by corals and algae. The park also has a project to replenish fish populations in the lagoon and to raise the endangered Queen conch.
Venture further into the forest and swim in the cenotes or sinkholes where you’ll see different species of freshwater fish, butterflies and dragonflies.
Walk across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet for a breathtaking view of the lagoons and the Caribbean. Watch the waves break and larger fish such as groupers, barracudas, red, mutton and yellow tail snappers and horse-eyed jacks as they swim under the bridge.
Apart from hours of snorkeling there is much more aquatic fun to enjoy. Float down the “river” and into the lagoon on oversized inner tubes. Leap into a pool from the cliff of courage; try zip lining and test your balancing skills on a rope bridge. You can even go for a bike ride along a jungle trail. Explore caves and learn about Mayan culture, the tradition of bee keeping, the mangrove forest and local wildlife. And be sure to climb the 30-meter-high lighthouse for panoramic views of the Riviera Maya coast before descending with a splash on the spiral water slide.
Children’s World adventure playground is just the thing for younger children. They’ll have fun in the paddling pool and on the water slide; the rope climbs and swings, seesaws and a crocodile tunnel. They can meet the turtles and give rein to their inner artist with painting and drawing sessions. When they get tired there are hammocks in the shade for a family siesta.
Xel-Ha has restaurants, bars, gift shops, rest rooms, showers and lockers. For an additional charge you can swim with dolphins, manatees or stingrays, try snuba (a combination of snorkeling and diving in a cenote) or sea trek your way across the seabed. Other optional activities include zip biking, a thrilling ride on a super fast jet boat or a massage at the spa.
Located just to the north of Akumal, Yalkú is a smaller turquoise caleta that is another incredible snorkeling spot.
Follow the coast road north from Akumal Bay past Half Moon Bay to the shores of Yalku lagoon and the park entrance. A local cooperative manages Yalku and charges a fee for admission. The use of life jackets is obligatory and there are changing rooms, showers and an open-air cafe.
As you explore the cool, crystal-clear waters of this inlet you’ll soon have an impressive list of fish sightings. Sergeant majors, porkfish and butterfly fish patrol the shoreline; there are puffer and triggerfish, angelfish, shoals of blue tangs and jacks. Looming out of the shadows are solitary barracudas guarding their territory. Listen carefully and you can actually hear the sounds of parrotfish gnawing at the rock and you may see the camouflaged peacock flounder emerge from the sand.
After snorkeling, sit on the rocks and take in the view. Yalku is a lovely spot, especially early in the morning before it fills up.
Chankanaab Park, Cozumel
Visitors to Chankanaab Park on the island of Cozumel have the chance to explore Chankanaab Reef in the sheltered waters of the lagoon behind the reef crest. As you swim through coral gardens festooned with sea fans, algae and sponges, you’ll have your own close encounters with queen and French angelfish, several species of parrotfish and shoals of blue tangs, sergeant majors, grunts and jacks.
Other Chankanaab attractions include a cenote or sinkhole connected to the Caribbean by an underground river, a botanical garden and dolphin swims.
If you would like to explore more of Cozumel’s underwater world but are not a diver, there are glass-bottomed boat trips and the Atlantis submarine, which takes you down to a depth of more than 100 feet to see the glory of the island’s reefs.
At a depth of 50 feet you’ll see a shipwreck, the Felipe Xicotencatl, now a home for myriad species of fish. Keep a look out for sea turtles and manta rays swimming by. Finally, the submarine will hover over the Wall, the drop off which plunges to a depth of 1,800 feet below you.
Planning your trip
Ask the Concierge to help you plan a trip to Xel-Há, Yalkú and Chankanaab Park on Cozumel. If you would like to book a ride on the Atlantis submarine, the following restrictions apply. Passengers must be at least three feet in height and be able to manage seven steps backwards on their own into the vessel. Moms to be may take the tour up to the sixth month of their pregnancy. Visitors weighing more than 220 pounds should check seat availability and weather conditions beforehand.