Diving Banco Chinchorro, the western hemisphere's largest coral atoll, is on most seasoned divers´ shortlist. It has earned a reputation as one of the last unspoiled dive destinations this side of the world, and certainly in the Caribbean. It benefits from being both remote, inaccesible and with access requiring special permits from the Mexican Federal Government.
There really aren´t words to describe what it feels to explore Banco Chinchorro, to know that you are probabbly the only dive boat diving an atoll that sprawls 600 square miles (less of 1% is above water) that has been witness to almost 200 wrecks dating back to the 16th century. It is one of those places whose sheer beauty and immensity is overwhelming.
Banco Chinchorro lies 36 nautical miles of open ocean from our pier in Xcalak, the oldest town on the Mexican Caribbean coast, making it a challenge to go to Chinchorro on most days, the summer months being the most suitable for the journey.
There are three small keys, Cayo Norte, Cayo Centro, and Cayo Lobos – ranging from less than one square km. to 5 sq. kms, however, there are no permanent settlements. There is a Ranger station on Cayo centro that we visit if time permits where one can visit crocodile-filled lagoons, admire endemic giant iguanas and hike trails specially designed for environmental interpretation.
The water inside the lagoon is 3 to 5 meters deep (10 to 15 feet); beyond the outer reef lie a variety of dive sites from 10 to 40 meters in depth (30 to 130 feet). It is the perfect place for divers and snorklers alike as most sites are along walls that offer shallow enough water for the snorkler and plenty of depth for the diver.
On the windward side of the banks, there are a variety of wrecks from all time periods—everything from tankers to (rumor has it) a sunken German U-boat and XVII-century Spanish galleons. It is against the biosphere reserve regulations to dive most wrecks as many have been vandalized by divers.
As of early 2010 the Natural Protected Areas Comission was in the process of re-allocating nucleus (completely off-limits), public use (diving, snorkeling, fishing) and transition areas as required by the management program (every five years). This is relevant since Banco Chinchorro was hit by Hurricane Dean in August 2007. Because of how the hurricane hit, the current public use areas were hit the hardest. Since the hurricane, the government has collaborated with all permit holders to locate new dive sites that weren´t hit and could be used for diving without interfering with any crutial biological process. As a result and also through a joint project with the National Anthropology and History Institute one wreck is now open to divers along with many other dive sites that were off-limits in the past, including a well-know “shark cave”, with more to come soon. Please check our blog and Twitter feed for updates.
Diving on the Chinchorro reef you will find a large variety of coral species, including black coral at unusually shallow depths and many other species of soft coral that are found sporadically and in small quantities on the Great Maya Reef that are vibrant and abundant in Chinchorro. All kind of tropical fish, rays, eels, conch (BC is the only place in Mexico where conch is harvested), and giant sponges. And being an offshore reef, a large animal encounter is always around the corner!
Come and enjoy the most pristine underwater sites the Caribbean has to offer! Besides being a critter and soft coral paradise to the trained (and not so trained) eye, you will most definitely notice how all marine life is oblivious to divers since they hardly see any, are very approachable and willing to interact, wich makes for fantastic photo opportunities.
XTC Dive Center offers a variety of ways to explore Banco Chinchorro, all leaving from out pier in Xcalak in our custom built 30’ dive boat the Tzimin-Ha (pronounced TSEE-MEAN-HA which means Sea Horse in Maya).
We offer day trips for either diving or snorkeling. We require 5 divers minimum or 6 snorkelers, or any combination. The best time of the year to dive Chinchorro is during the summer months when the seas are calmest and we have almost daily access. Normal departure time is 7:00 AM. Our trips combine diving or snorkeling with an onshore surface interval and on foot tour on Cayo Centro (Central Caye).
A two tank dive trip with a surface interval excursion to Cayo Centro is $239.00 USD per person. A full day snorkel trip with a surface interval excursion to Cayo Centro is $179.00 USD per person.
We also offer multi-day and custom excursions, part of the 2010 revision of the management program was to allow overnight or multi-day trips, which were illegal before. This allows us to visit areas of Chinchorro that were impossible to acess with the previous day-trip only rules. It also makes it plausible for us to interact with the fishermen and park rangers while out there, giving you the possibility to witness first-hand how an internationally-certified sustainable fishery works, talk with the park rangers and researchers and even participate in a concrete project with them. If this interests you, ask us about what is coming up in the future.
We are now able to organize specialized fly-fishing expeditions to the flats next to Cayo Centro that gives our anglers the opportunity to fish never-before-fished flats. We organize these trips with local guides and are organized case by case. Please drop us an e-mail for a quote.
Our prices include tanks, weights and weight belt, snorkel vest (in the case of snorkelers), snacks, sandwiches, soft drinks, water, and the biosphere entrance fee and bracelet. All our prices are in US dollars (we will convert to pesos if you would like to pay in national currency). All taxes are included. Prices subject to change without notice.