Banco Chinchorro

Top choice dive site in Mahahual

Image by jchauser Getty Images

Divers won’t want to miss the reefs and underwater fantasy worlds of the Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral atoll in the northern hemisphere and known for its shipwreck sites, coral walls and canyons. Some 45km long and up to 14km wide, Chinchorro’s western edge lies about 30km off the coast, and dozens of ships have fallen victim to its barely submerged ring of coral.

The atoll and its surrounding waters were made a biosphere reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Banco Chinchorro) to protect them from depredation. But the reserve lacks the personnel and equipment needed to patrol such a large area, and many abuses go undetected. Consequently, Amigos del Mar is one of only several dive shops authorized to run scuba trips to Chinchorro.

Most dives here go to an average of 18m as there are no decompression chambers for miles. And with a ban on wreck dives lifted, there are plenty of shipwreck sites worth exploring. Along the way you’ll also spot coral walls and canyons, rays, turtles, giant sponges, grouper, tangs, eels, nurse sharks, and occasionally, tiger and hammerhead sharks.

There’s good snorkeling as well, including 40 Cannons, a wooden ship in 5 to 6m of water. Looters have taken all but about 25 of the cannons, and it can only be visited in ideal conditions.