Coz is Coz for things down there, not up here,” Scuba Du’s Aldo Mejia says as we relax along a pretty stretch of Cozumel’s malecon, a seafront promenade that parallels busy, bustling Avenue Rafael E. Melgar, where margaritas and cervezas flow with the tides. He points toward the 12-mile channel between Coz and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, home to some of the best diving on the planet. “The visibility is amazing.”
Grounded for a day by wind and rain, I’m dying to find out. We finally head over Coz’s famous wall with guides from Scuba Club Cozumel at Palancar Gardens, part of the 3-mile Palancar reef system, a favorite of local divemasters. “Garden” isn’t exactly the right word for these monumental, mazelike structures with tunnels, swim-throughs and wide, sandy passages that make it easy to explore high and low.
We spiral down from 25 feet to about 80 on a gentle magic-carpet ride — Coz currents, commonly around 2 knots, can reach a ripping 6 knots — gliding through formations stuffed with gigantic sponges, elephant ears glowing a neon orange, and so many rope sponges that it gives new meaning to the word “festooned,” strung like crepe paper at a high school dance. Sensory overload sets in in room-size domes under every overhang, plastered with more sponges everywhere you look.
Beginning our meandering ascent, we spot every sort of reef fish at a multitude of cleaning stations as we follow our divemaster in and out, here and there, over coral hills and sandy dales, where huge grouper patrol the pathways, each new turn revealing something beautiful or fun, or both.
Eventually the formations drop away as we start a long, slow safety stop looking down on the world’s biggest, friskiest free-ranging lobsters skittering about, so large they’re almost grotesque. Hilariously homely splendid toadfish — endemic to Coz — also begin to show themselves in large numbers.
Our second dive, at nearby Tormentos Reef (at right), is entirely different in character — who knew Cozumel had muck diving? Along a sandy bottom at about 55 feet, we find dragonets, snapping shrimp, pipe seahorses, sailfin blennies in courtship display, and more pouty-faced toadfish than we can count, rounding out a morning that’s splendid indeed.
IT’S TOUGH TO CHOOSE BETWEEN STAYING WET AND EXPLORING THIS BELOVED ISLAND PLAYGROUND