Columbia Reef is famous for its complex architecture of caves, arches, and coral spires. Here you can find schools of snapper, barracudas, sea turtles, scorpion fish, and even the rare passing nurse shark. With both shallow coral gardens and deep ocean-floor caverns, the reef is accessible to snorkelers and scuba divers alike.
Depths rarely exceed 40 feet (12 meters) in the Columbia Shallows, making this portion of the reef ideal for snorkelers, photographers, and novice divers. Columbia Deep, with an impressive drop-off of 80 feet (24 meters) is better suited for experienced divers looking to explore caves and tunnels.
Because of its proximity to Cozumel, Columbia Reef is best explored on a snorkeling or diving tour from the island’s downtown marina. Most excursions visit Columbia Reef along with Palancar Reef and El Cielo Marine Park, and sometimes include hotel pickup and drop-off.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Columbia Reef is a must-see attraction for nature and wildlife lovers.
- Remember to bring sun protection and water. It’s also a good idea to wear a wetsuit or rash guard to protect your skin from rough coral and jellyfish.
- Evidence of scuba diving certification is required for certified dives.
- Be careful not to touch or disturb the wildlife.
- To maximize your chances of seeing wildlife, minimize your motions and let the fish come to you.
How to Get There
Columbia Reef is located off the southern coast of Cozumel, near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. You can get there by guided tour or private charter boat—although the reef may be hard to locate on your own.
When to Get There
You can visit Columbia Reef year-round, but it’s busiest from December through April, when the weather tends to be sunny and warm. There are fewer crowds during hurricane season (May through October), but be sure to check the weather for storms.
Cozumel’s Coral Reefs
Cozumel’s expansive coral reefs are some of the largest in the world. Paradise Reef and Palancar Gardens are ideal spots for novice divers and snorkelers due to their shallow depth, and offer a chance to glimpse sea turtles, colorful fish, towering coral spires, and gently waving sea fans. The Palancar Caves are probably the most famous dive site, with huge brain corals and swim-through tunnels. Palancar Horseshoe, a natural underwater amphitheater made entirely of coral, is another must-see.