Located eight miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a gorgeous Mexican island with all-inclusive resorts, day parks, Mayan ruins, and a turtle sanctuary. It’s the perfect place for a vacation, set to help you unwind and experience the beauty of the coast of Mexico.
Isla Mujeres is well known as one of the top snorkeling destinations in the area, as it rests upon The Great Mayan Reef, offering snorkeling opportunities not found anywhere else in the world. Whether you’re a beginner or someone with a lot of experience, you’ll find the best places to go surrounding this little gem in the sea.
From beachside snorkeling to day-long excursions, we’ve put together a list of eight must-see places and two ways to see them all, though you're always welcome to pave your own way and experience everything at your own pace!
1. Manchones Reef
Location: 1 km Southwest of Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico | Hours: Varies on Booking | Approximate Cost: $35-$100
Manchones Reef is a beautiful snorkeling spot off the coast of Isla Mujeres, with over 2500 feet of stag horn, elk, and brain coral. You’ll find gorgeous fish species, like blue tang, grunts, wrasse, and snappers, alongside two of the Museum of Underwater Art Sculptures (MUSA), “The Ernest Hemingway Desk” and “The Man on Fire.”
It’s great for beginners, and you’ll be able to see everything from the water's surface while snorkeling. It’s best to book one of the many available excursions because the reef is half a mile out into the water. Thankfully, it’s such a popular spot that you’ll find dozens of options as inexpensive as $35 for a quick trip with dozens of others or something more private for $100+.
Many of the hotels on Isla Mujeres offer an excursion to Manchones Reef, and it’s a fantastic idea to double up and find one that also goes to the MUSA off the coast of Cancun. If you do, the trip will take about two hours total.
2. Garrafon de Castilla
Location: 77403 Quintana Roo, Mexico | Hours: Varies on Booking | Approximate Cost: Contact for Cost
Garrafon De Castilla is a charming hotel on Isla Mujeres that offers access to some of the best snorkeling in the world. It’s located right on the beach, so you can step off the sand and into the water, delighting in the schools of fish. You’ll see parrotfish, French angelfish, blue-striped grunt, sergeant majors, and more. While there isn’t a famous reef within swimming distance, there are plenty of underwater plants and wildlife to keep you entertained.
Staying at Garrafon de Castilla and snorkeling off the beach is the best option for newbies and children since you’ll be able to take frequent breaks, and the only cost is the room and a snorkeling mask. The waters stay calm enough for even the youngest children to enjoy, and you won’t have a time limit like you would on an excursion.
This hotel is also the perfect launch for seeing other snorkeling sights that might be of interest. They can help you book a trip to the MUSA or even an excursion to Cancun. Just be sure to take plenty of sunscreen!
Related Read: 10 BEST Cozumel Snorkeling Spots
3. MUSA (Museum of Underwater Art)
Location: 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico | Hours: 9 am to 2 pm | Approximate Cost: $50+
Located off the coast of Cancun near Isla Mujeres, the Museum of Underwater Art is a must-see attraction. There are a few exhibits spread out across the local reefs, but the majority are in a designated area, surrounded by beautiful coral and home to many fish species. The entire museum is only 30 feet deep with hundreds of life-sized sculptures, making it perfect for a day of fun in the water.
The artificial reef was built in 2009 to help the wildlife in the waters off the coast of Cancun and has been wildly successful. It’s best to go on a guided tour so that you know where to look and what you’re seeing. The tours generally cost about $50 for a group setting, but private tours with lunch or dinner included are not hard to find.
Near the museum, you’ll also find turtles and a shipwreck, so it truly is a must-see when you’re in the area. You can snorkel as a beginner or experienced diver on any of the tours, though those more experienced may want to find a private tour to spend extra time in the water.
4. El Meco Reef
Location: West of Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico | Hours: Varies on Booking | Approximate Cost: $70
El Meco Reef, located by the El Meco Mayan Archeological Site, is a shallow snorkeling experience with beautiful sculptures, Spanish shipwrecks, soft coral, and abundant sea life. You’ll find rays, barracuda, turtles, and tons of small fish that call this reef home. You’ll also find a few MUSA sculptures there, intended to bolster the reef and help it grow.
El Meco is best planned as a two-for-one excursion, so you can see the area's history inland and better understand the past within the water. In fact, it’s believed the El Meco Mayan Pyramid was meant to act as a lighthouse of sorts, helping them ply their sea trades.
The reef itself is between 15 and 18 feet deep, so you’ll be able to explore the entire area with a snorkel mask. Of course, as always, it’s best to go on a guided tour for maximum impact. Just be sure to bring a change of clothing or swimsuit coverup to explore the nearby Mayan ruins.
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5. Great Mayan Reef
Location: Off the Coast, 77976 Chetumal, Q.R., Mexico | Hours: Varies by Booking | Approximate Cost: $50+
The Great Mayan Reef, also known as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, is hundreds of miles long and helps protect local communities from tropical storms and waves. It is a natural barrier with many smaller reefs to explore, housing thousands of species of fish and other sea life. It stretches along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala.
The Great Mayan Reef isn’t a destination within itself. You’ll want an experienced guide to take you on a day trip to explore parts of the reef close to Isla Mujeres for a quick trip or further out if you charter a whole day. Many of the subsections along the reef are protected wildlife areas and parks.
A tour of The Great Mayan Reef is the perfect choice if you’re in Isla Mujeres to experience snorkeling. You can spend days exploring the reef and some of the protected parks if you plan your trip and contact one of the local guides.
6. El Farito (Lighthouse Reef)
Location: 77403 Isla Mujeres, Q.R., Mexico | Hours: Varies by Booking | Approximate Cost: $26+
El Farito is one of the most beautiful reefs in the world, teeming with fish and sea life. It’s only a five-minute trip via boat from Isla Mujeres. In fact, if you look closely from the island, you’ll be able to see the lighthouse that marks the reef out in the water.
There are many tours that will take you out for a quick jaunt, but it’s best to find one that lasts over an hour and lets you snorkel from one end of the reef to the other. There are so many fish species and coral to see along the route that you don’t want to feel rushed. Still, if you’re looking for one of the cheaper options for snorkeling in Isla Mujeres, you’ve found it. Hour-long trips cost about $26 and go out many times daily.
At El Farito, you’ll find yet another sculpture from MUSA, one of the Virgin Maria. If you’re heading to Isla Mujeres, and you only book one snorkeling destination, make it this one!
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7. Playa Norte
Location: Rueda Medina 130, SM 001, Centro, 77506 Isla Mujeres, Q.R., Mexico | Hours: Sunrise to Sunset | Approximate Cost: $70
Playa Norte is a public beach with several hotels along the water. It’s the perfect place to stay and play while in Isla Mujeres and has everything you need for solo snorkeling or a guided tour. The area isn’t deep, and the water is calm, allowing beginners to have a fantastic time exploring the underwater world.
One of the best things about Playa Norte is you can spend the morning and afternoon snorkeling at your leisure and then head inland for a bite to eat or a quick nap. Just keep in mind that it’s a very popular tourist destination, so you won’t be exploring the water with the clearest view unless you go early in the morning.
If you have your own snorkeling gear, it’s entirely free to snorkel off the beach, but you can still join a guided tour for the full experience. This is very close to Garrafon Natural Reef Park and the perfect place to meet up for a trip to El Farito.
8. Garrafon Natural Reef Park
Location: Kilómetro 6 Carretera Garrafón Lt 9, 77400 Q.R., Mexico | Hours: 10 am to 5 pm | Approximate Cost: $89
Located off the beach from Garrafon de Castilla, Garrafon Natural Reef Park is a full day of fun, with zip lining, snorkeling, swimming, and kayak rentals. It’s one of the best and most economical options on the island for snorkeling while doing other fun activities.
Packages start at $89 per day for adults, $59 for ages 6-12, and free for 5 and under. However, you can get a decent discount by booking online ahead of time. The price includes access to every part of the island, as well as snorkeling gear, the buffet, lockers, and drinks. You can add additional excursions such as swimming with dolphins or upgrade to a VIP package for a more luxurious and worry-free experience.
They’re open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm. The park is only accessible by ferry, so be sure to book your tickets for the ferry and be ready to pay a $15 docking fee per person.
Related Read: 20 Best Beaches in Mexico for Families
9. Isla Mujeres Unlimited Snorkeling Tour
Book Here | Hours: Varies by Booking, 8h Duration | Approximate Cost: $69 per Adult
To truly experience the beauty of snorkeling in Isla Mujeres, you’ll need a great tour! The Isla Mujeres Unlimited Snorkeling Tour by Contoy Adventures is one of the best, especially if you’re staying in Cancun. It’s eight hours long and includes pick up and drop off from your hotel, breakfast, snorkeling gear, a buffet lunch inland, a domestic open bar, and a tour of Isla Mujeres.
This tour is the perfect option for those staying nearby who still want a chance to experience Isla Mujeres without staying on the island. You’ll also visit two different snorkeling reefs, Punta Sam and Playa Norte, allowing you to see the sights and have a fun and carefree day of snorkeling and shopping.
This tour offers some off-the-beaten-path experiences, giving you a peek inside the culture and aesthetic of Isla Mujeres that you won’t find elsewhere. They provide National Geographic snorkeling equipment for the best underwater view, too!
10. 3 Hours VIP Semiprivate Tour Isla Mujeres Full Snorkeling Experience
Book Here | Hours: Varies by Booking, 3h Duration | Approximate Cost: $84 per Adult
Another great option for snorkeling tours while on Isla Mujeres is the 3 Hours VIP Semi-Private Tour Isla Mujeres Full Snorkeling Experience by Island Adventures Mexico. The entire three hours are all about snorkeling in and around Isla Mujeres.
It costs $84 per adult and includes the snorkeling equipment, ceviche on board the boat, margaritas, beer, and the use of a GoPro Camera. They only take groups of seven on the trip, so it feels private compared to most of the tour options available.
This tour is perfect for those who want to see it all. After you board, you’ll explore El Farito, Sac Bajo Reef, MUSA, and Manchones in a whirlwind adventure of sea life and coral beauty. Your guide will be very well versed in local wildlife, too, helping you identify everything you see so you can tell people once you get home with your GoPro video.