My experience of Mexican paradise!
My first trip to Cozumel, Mexico was with trepidation after all the negative press that Mexico receives. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but Cozumel exceeded anything I could possibly imagine. It still ceases to amaze even after hundreds of dives there. Going from newly certified to Divemaster in these pristine waters, Cozumel holds a special place in my heart and regular trips back only reinforces it’s beauty. So it was with sadness that we went out for our final dive of the trip. As always the best was saved for last.
We descended between towers of coral that seemed more like a mountain range than a reef. The visibility was more than 40 metres, which is normal there but after coming from New Zealand, it gives diving a newfound freedom. My dive instructor partner drifted away as we each became immersed in sea life; me with the camera focusing on a Nudibranch, him playing with garden eels peeking out from their homes hiding in the sand. This feeling of vastness and solitude is something that I don’t get diving in reduced visibility.
There were all the tropical fish and shoals that you come to expect; Blue tangs going from one rock to another, schools of Yellowtail Snapper hiding from the current behind mounds of coral and the odd Parrot fish munching on the coral. Off to the side of the reef several ominous Barracuda swim past. Out of the blue a spotted Eagle Ray appeared, gliding towards us as we try to stay as still as possible. Ultimately our bubbles gave us away and she veered off, disappearing into the depths. Our last notable sighting was just before we ascended for the safety stop when on we came across a Hawksbill turtle, swimming seamlessly against the strong current. These endangered species are regular sightings on dives in Cozumel and their nesting boosts the regional population for more generations.
With the dive over we ascended to the surface. However, the trip back to the marina became the day’s highlight when our captain called out DOLPHINS! He expertly manoeuvred right into their path and we leaped in. I heard them before I saw them. Then there they were passing directly underneath. I screamed with excitement when I saw the baby swerving between her protective parents. Experiencing these majestic mammals completely free in their natural environment is an incredible feeling.
Leaving this underwater world I only hope that nothing changes. More often than not we see the effects of human impact on the coral and reefs. However there is reason for hope. Cozumel is an example of how a community has banded together to promote catching and eating Lionfish. In earlier years Lionfish sightings on the reef were in overwhelmingly high numbers and they had a devastating effect on the reef, now they are almost eradicated. This is largely thanks to local restaurants endorsing the sale of Lionfish as a delicacy, and it’s tasty. You can try is in a ceviche (marinated fish dish) or as a fish taco both of which I highly recommend.
Cozumel also has many beautiful places to visit outside of the water and is home to many endemic birds that nest along its coastline. The beaches are exactly what you imagine when you think of the Caribbean; white sand and clear blue water. Cozumel still has its wild eastern side of the island where there is no electricity or houses so the beaches are untouched and you can enjoy it almost completely to yourself. If like me you’re a bit more daring, you can visit Punta Sur on the southernmost point to view crocodiles and then go snorkelling on the coral reef not too far away.
Historically Cozumel played a central part for the Mayan people as the most important place of worship to the Mayan goddess of fertility Ixchel. The temples on the island were a place of pilgrimage for women who worshiped Ixchel to bring them fertility and it was believed that they needed to make the trip to Cozumel at least once in their lifetime.
For me this sums up Cozumel’s desire. Although nowadays we explore its beauty, above and below the water, it is still a place that, like the Mayans, we all should visit at least once in our lifetime.