With iridescent waters and one of Earth’s best reefs just offshore, it was no coincidence that we choose to spend a week on Cozumel immediately after obtaining our scuba certifications. The Caribbean island has long been regarded as one of the world’s premiere diving destinations.
There’s an almost unlimited variety of diving possibilities at Cozumel, with spots along the reef that are suitable for any skill level. Although we had been invited to join an advanced dive, descending to 30 meters with the goal of watching a migrating group of spotted eagle rays, we decided on a much more shallow excursion. This would be our first real dive, and we wanted to take it easy. And besides, this easier dive was to a place called “Paradise Reef”. With a name like that, it’s hard to go wrong.
Stretching from the tip of the Yucatán all the way to Honduras, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the world’s second-longest reef system, behind only the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. And Cozumel is home to a great section of it, protected since 1996 as the “Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park”. The number of possible dives around the island is amazing; just take a look at Reefs of Cozumel, an excellent online resource which describes 38 of the most popular sites.
After a short boat ride, we dropped into the water and sank to the ocean floor. Jürgen and I were the only newbies among a large group of lifelong divers, and I had been worried that they’d be bored at this “beginners” section of the reef. But the minute I saw the coral formations, those fears vanished. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there; something as beautiful as this reef simply can’t get old.
How many fish did we see? Hard to say… hundreds? Thousands? There were large, colorful fish that seemed content to float along with us, a school of snappers performing a synchronized dance, moray eels and big black groupers. And what’s that whiskered beast hiding under a rock? A splendid toadfish! Totally endemic to Cozumel, I had never even heard of it before. And there… hovering comfortably in the distance with a school of smaller fish swimming around him, a barracuda, at least a couple meters long and terrifying to behold.
We stayed down for about 45 minutes before our tanks ran low. Not bad for our first real dive, though I was shocked to learn how much air the experienced divers still had left in their tanks. We’ve still got some learning to do. But it was a memorable day out; and we didn’t have to wait long before the decision to become certified divers paid off.