Mexico's Route 307

A Scuba Diver's Pilgrimage
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A scuba trip to Mexico's Yucatan doesn't have to be a lavish affair with four star hotels, gourmet cuisine, and playboy divemasters. You can set out on your own, dive the same reefs, and spend less than $500 for an entire week. In campgrounds, nothing more than a hammock is needed, and local restaurants serve authentic Mexican cuisine for only a few pesos.

Along a coastline where large resorts are being slapped up like Lego houses, there are still a few small, local owned dive shops, way stations on a pilgrimage from Tulum to one of the world's scuba diving Meccas, Isla Cozumel.

The Great Belize Reef System, sometimes called the Yucatan Reef System, stretches from the Gulf of Honduras to Playa del Carmen. It's the second largest living organism in the world, a vibrant ecosystem teeming with technicolor flashes from schools of tropical fish. With 150-foot visibility in the blue-green Caribbean, thousands of novice and expert divers come each year to famous sites such as Isla Cozumel and Xel-Ha.

Each of three sandy plateaus—at 30, 60, and 120 feet—can be dived. Long bands of coral run across the white sand. Divers relax in the current and drift northward, rising 10 to 15 feet up the side of one reef, then sink back down again, floating across the sandy bottom until encountering the next reef.

Diving with the local, unadvertised outfits reveals lesser known parts of the reef. With fewer people going out on each dive than in the large resorts, not only is the attention more personal, but damage to the reefs is minimized. The reefs surrounding the small dive shops are therefore less damaged, remaining closer to their pristine state.

Besides, the hidden places are where the more interesting folks tend to congregate. In the uninhabited coves and near the less crowded beaches, you might cross paths with a Greek couple, here to compare the Caribbean to the Med, or an Aussie on her way around the world solo.

Probably the most rewarding way to dive the Yucatan is to begin in Tulum, just north of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve—1.3 million acres of rainforest with limited access to the shoreline—and travel northward on route 307. Towns are no more than 10 miles apart from each other, and with a tent, accommodations are easy to come by.

Talking with locals and other travelers to find the next dive spot to the north, instead of relying on a guidebook, is more of a pilgrimage than a vacation. To journey up the Yucatan, stopping every day to pay homage to mother ocean, bathe in her clear, warm waters and continue slowly northward, is to prepare for Isla Cozumel, one of the world's most esteemed dive sites.

Daniel Kaplan  is a lecturer at the University of Maine and an avid diver and traveler.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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