Mahahual has terrific diving on the coral reef just offshore, with dozens of sites a short boat ride away. It’s also one of two jumping-off points for trips to Chinchorro Bank, the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. The other departure point is Xcalak, south of Mahahual.
Don’t be deterred by the slew of cruise-shippers who crowd into Dreamtime Dive Resort (Av. Mahahual Km. 2.5, cell. tel. 983/124-0235, www.dreamtimediving.com , 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily)—the shop is an indie operation at heart and sends its students and “regular” guests on separate boats in groups of six divers or fewer. On non-cruise-ship days, instructors may take small groups to unchartered portions of the reef for exploratory trips. Fun dives cost US$50 for one tank, US$75 for two, and US$20 a day for rental equipment. Open-water, advanced, and other courses are also available.
Bucanero del Caribe (Av. Mahahual Km. 4, tel. 983/120-5306, www.divemahahual.com , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) offers personalized service for independent travelers. Dive trips run $55 for one tank, $85 for two, including all equipment and a guide. Sites vary from local ones to Chinchorro.
Blue Ocean Safari (Av. Mahahual Km 1.6, cell. tel. 983/130-7315, www.blueoceansafari.com , 9 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$55 one tank, US$75 two tanks, US$10 gear rental) frequents more-remote areas of the reef and allows extended bottom times if you’ve got the air.
You can rent snorkel gear for around US$5–15 a day from the dive shops or from the kiosks that pop up on cruise-ship days. Swim or kayak out to the reef for a do-it-yourself experience, or join a guided tour, where you’ll likely see more sealife, plus have extra safety and convenience. Mahahual’s dive shops all offer guided snorkel trips for US$20–30 per person, including gear and about 90 minutes in the water.