The Best Way to Snorkel Isla Mujeres
Booking With The Right People
As we travel through countries that have impoverished areas it is important to ensure you are supporting local communities by spending your money with local businesses. Too often we book our accomodation, our tours and our transport online with foreign companies where money is syphoned away from the very culture you might have hoped to support.
Because of this I recommend booking with a company on Isla Mujeres (who’s name I don’t even know) but I can give you a rough location. As you exit the ferry building and turn left towards Playa Norte, you will come across a bunch of guys hovering around trying to sell you snorkelling tours. They will be holding a laminated paper showing different spots they will visit. The cost at the time of writing is USD50 but can be negotiated based on what you want to see and how many in your group.
Each person there earns money based on being able to fill their boat. This is important to note because they will only leave if their boat is full. Therefore you should aim to book with someone who already has a group of people waiting to go. This technique is common in Mexico. Even in the boat tours of Canon del Sumidera a boat will not leave until it is full. This means if you show up too late in the day you will not be able to go.
If you are travelling with elderly or small children be sure to check which boat they are using. Although all the boats carry a maximum of twelve people the floor is a little different in some of them which could make it awkward to get in and out, or stabilise in the boat. Important to note for those with young babies, we saw a family of twelve take a little pram onto their boat, so this could be an option for you.
What to Expect About How They Operate
Because you are booking with a locally operated group, don’t expect safety waivers or proper procedures. Having said that these are well experienced guys who will look after you very well and ensure your safety. You will have an English and Spanish speaking tour guide who will take you on the snorkelling trips and the captain of the boat will speak enough English for a basic conversation.
Because most people who book this snorkelling trip do not know how to swim, everyone must wear a life jacket. You will be given one before the boat undocks. A warning, they do not have life jackets for under six year olds. There is usually local marine police that are there to enforce this rule. This includes wearing one while snorkelling. Because it is difficult to wear one while snorkelling, your guide will show you how to tie it around your waist.
The snorkelling equipment is not the best quality but it does the job. When you first hop into the water give it a salt water rinse before putting on the mask and snorkel. They do provide flippers which is great for when you snorkel the underwater art museum area since it’s up to 9m deep. Each snorkelling trip is designed so that you move with the current and the tour guide will ensure you all stay together. The boat drops you at one point then picks you up at the other end.
It is a small boat that takes only twelve people. My concern before booking was that the boat would be too small for my little two and they would be driving me nuts before an hour was up. But actually this boat was perfect for them. The boat itself was small enough to be bumpy on the water when it was in high speed which kept them excited about being on a boat. It was also small enough that it would rock when heavy people got on or off the boat which they loved because they would try to stand and balance without falling to one side or the other. Plus when everyone was snorkelling it was big enough to run up and down the boat.
What Your Trip Will Actually Look Like
When they are selling you the trip they will tell you all sorts of spots they will visit but the “sell in” they give you on the street is not quite accurate. So to prevent any disappointment here’s what your trip will actually look like.
In summary, here is the whole itinerary. There are three snorkelling spots, the Lighthouse known as El Farita, the Manchones Reef and the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA). On the way to Manchones Reef you will be able to spot the Turtle Farm and they will stop outside the Dolphin Discovery for a minute. Lunch is provided at the end of the snorkelling trip. The cheapest trip is the doing the Lighthouse snorkelling and having lunch. I recommend doing the full package if you know how to swim.
Hubby and I decided we would take turns snorkelling. He snorkelled the Lighthouse and I snorkelled the Manchones Reef. Our older two snorkelled at all three spots and our younger two happily waited and played on the boat.
The first spot you visit is the Lighthouse Reef which is five minutes off shore. All the boats anchor in a sheltered shallow bay that is waist deep. For those who are not comfortable snorkelling they can hang around in this area. There are plenty of fish to see here. You are reminded not to touch the reef. Unlike the reefs of New Zealand’s cooler waters, coral reef is very delicate and takes hundreds of years to recover from someone kicking it with a flipper accidentally. The coral around here is quite damaged from the hurricanes and tourism.
All those who want to see more will join the tour guide and snorkel from this area to the lighthouse which is a distance of about 100m. The reef itself is very shallow, maximum two metres in depth. You will see a wide variety of fish including young barracuda. As with anyone, as long as you don’t antagonise the barracuda they will not harm you. It’s about a 100m easy swim.
Next we head up the coast and pass the turtle farm, fortunately we didn’t stop here even though we were told we would. It was simply pointed out to us. The boat passes the Dolphin Discovery and stops for a minute here so we could see the dolphins. Our older two were not interested in seeing this and only our 4yo was interested in spotting dolphins. It was pretty heart breaking to see. It looks like a huge enclosure for the dolphins until you realise there are lots and lots of dolphins caged in a very shallow area. The worst part is people are allowed to ride the dolphins and you can pay to ride two dolphins at once. We met an Israeli couple on our boat who also did not want to see this attraction because of how unethical the practice is.
We carried on to Playa Tiburon to drop off anyone who only paid for the Lighthouse snorkelling. We would rejoin them later for lunch.
We carried on to Manchones Reef which is between five to nine metres deep. Interestingly a Columbian couple came on this snorkelling part of the trip and they couldn’t swim but knew how to float. They relied on the life jackets to snorkel. In this spot we saw a wide variety of bigger fish and bigger schools of them. Because the life jackets were so restrictive and our guide could see that my kids and I could swim, he let us take our life jackets off so we could free dive down a little. He dove down about nine meters to point out a big puffer fish.
The third stop was the underwater museum. These structures hadn’t yet developed much sea life but the statues were still interesting. They saw a car and frogs and people.
The tour ended with lunch at Playa Tiburon in a big food hall. Everyone from your boat sits at one table and your tour guide serves you a plate of food that includes salad, rice, plain spaghetti and Tikin Xic style fish plus fresh calientias. This experience alone was worth choosing this company because it allowed me to see the huge variety of different ethnicities within Mexico. Most of the tourists were Mexican and there were so many different faces.
This small beach has some souvenir shops and a penned shark that you can take a photo with. We didn’t go see the shark although the kids would’ve enjoyed it.
From here if you live on this side of the island you can catch a taxi back to where you are staying or head back on the boat to Playa Sol where you departed from.
Find the snorkelling company that is between the ferry building and Playa Sol, you’ll be supporting a local company.
They will take you to three different snorkelling spots and then for lunch.
The cost is maximum USD50 but can be negotiated depending on how many in your group and what activities you would like to see