Costa Maya, Xcalak and Mahahual (Majahual) Visitors pages - Diving on Banco Chinchorro |
Diving at Banco Chinchorro

Reef system Goto top

Banco Chinchorro mapBanco Chinchorro lies on the most southern tip of the Mexican Caribbean coast. Before current times the atoll could only be dived at from Belize, but now from the much nearer Xcalak. It's geographic position is 18o ' - 18o 23 ' of North 47 latitude and 87o 14 ' - 87o 27 ' of length the west. The area's possession is totally federal.

Banco Chinchorro is the largest atoll in the northern hemisphere and is part of the Meso American reef system. Banco Chinchorro has been declared an Archaeological Marine sanctuary by the Mexican government. Approximately 30 Km from the mainland lies Banco Chinchorro covering approx. 800 square Km, of which less than one percent is above water.
The atoll is a continuos reef with six entries to the more shallow inside. The shallow inside of the atoll is up to 5 meters deep.

Cayo Centro There are three keys; Cayo Norte (1 km2), Cayo Centro (5 km2) and Cayo Lobos (0.2 km2). On these islands there are no permanent inhabitants with the exception of a guard base, however a visitor center is foreseen by the Mexican government. On the outside of the atoll the dive sites vary from 3 to 40 meters in depth. For this reason Banco Chinchorro is the perfect place for divers and snorklers. The sea surrounding Banco Chinchorro is approx. 1000 m deep.

The best dive spots can be found on the east side of the atoll. The reason for this is that this is the place where the numerous Spanish colonial ships and steam ships stranded on the coral.

Animal life

The grass turtle is abundant in the zone of Cayo Norte Key and inner lagoons of Cayo Centro. Anemones are found on Chinchorro in great numbers, anemones are related to polyps, but are larger. They are found in bright colors and have tentacles from which tube worms open plankton-trapping "umbrellas" that resemble the plumage of exotic birds. Sponges are also found in abundance on the reef. They come in a variety of species, at least 20 of which live in Chinchorro. The largest is the sea tub (Xestospongia muta), so named because it often grows to resemble a bathtub. The sea urchin most commonly seen at Chinchorro is the Diadema antillarum, which has long, dark, pointy spines. A shorter, thicker-spined species is just as prevalent, but because it prefers the underside of rocks and the nooks and crannies of hard coral, it is rarely seen. Star snakes also like to hide in rocks. They are similar to star fish but have longer appendages and are covered in spines. Other reef dwellers include various kinds of crab, shrimp, snail, conch, and worms. Many reef creatures are nocturnal and are seldom active during the day, others, if out, are cautious. Of the 200 species identified so far, the majority are colored tropical fish that tend to swim in schools: parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, baloonfish, sergeant majors, surgeonfish, damselfish, blue angelfish, tangs, wrasse, jacknife and many others. These bits of color flit among the coral, apparently unperturbed by man or beast, certainly not by the barracuda and moray eel, both of which feed on their species.

Land life

The flora of Chinchorro is surprisingly diverse. Seeds are carried to the reef by sea currents or deposited in bird droppings. The plants are not just varieties that can withstand constant wind and high salinity. They include trees native to the inland jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula, like the Bursera simaruba, which can only have arrived via the intestines of the Vireo griseus, a migratory bird that feeds on the fruit of the tree on its way to Central and South America. The cays are covered with mangroves, a type of tree that flourishes in brackish or saltwater. The mangroves provide shelter and a feeding ground for many of the reef's animals, birds and fish. Yet the plants that attract the least attention are the most important: the sea grass on the sandy bottom of the lagoon, like the turtle grass and manatee grass (Syringodon filiforme). Turtle grass is slimy to the touch, and has narrow, flat, flexible leaves that look like green ribbons. Manatee grass is bright green or yellow-green and looks like uncooked spaghetti. These grasses fan out across the ocean floor like an aquatic prairie that feeds a host of animals: fish, mollusks, crustaceans and worms, which in turn nurture the larger grazers further up the food chain. The turtle and manatee grass are some of the few flowering plants that live in saltwater. The many varieties of algae that exist here have no roots and bear no flowers. What all forms of algae do have is a high concentration of calcium carbonate, which they release into the water as they decompose. This settles on the sea floor, is picked up by the tide, and eventually finds its way to the coast where it becomes the Caribbean's legendary white sand.

Colonies of frigates live on the cays where, during nesting season, the males guard the young. The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is another fascinating reef resident, a large raptor whose nests can be spotted in the branches of dead trees. It dives for its supper, aided by its powerful claws and beak. Visitors who watch the beaches of Cayo Norte and Cayo Centro at night during the summer months may catch a glimpse of sea turtles burying their eggs. Species of sea turtle known to frequent the region include the green, or white (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and giant loggerhead (Caretta caretta) turtle, the largest in the world. The reptiles most frequently seen are iguanas, lizards and crocodiles (Crocodylus moreletii); the latter now left in peace after being hunted for centuries for the sake of their hide.

Reef diving locations

The Garden has excellent soft corals and sponges in the shallower areas and another patch reef in 60-80 feet of water.

Aquarium I and Aquarium II
Aquarium I and Aquarium II, just south of Cayo Centro, are 16 meter anchor dives amid an abundance of sea fans and elkhorn coral. The sites frequently have large schools of blue tang.

Dos Primas
DOS Primas, a 30-35 meter drift dive site between Cayo Centro and Cayo Norte, features immense sponges, large-sized black coral trees, and, frequently, large grouper.

The Cut
The Cut is an 25 meter foot dive near the cut to Cayo Centro. It's located along a sloping wall that drops from 13 meter to 35 meter and is covered with antler corals, black corals, and gorgonians. This is a fishy site among big coral heads and canyons that has no significant current.

Punta Isabel
Punta Isabel is located in front of Cayo Centro. It's an 25-30 meter drift or anchor dive among large sponges, gorgonians, and corals. There are often snapper, grouper, and barracuda as well as sea turtles, eagle rays, lobsters, and conch

We have no information available concerning the Obi dive site.

We have no information available concerning the Mahawall dive site.

Paradise is a shallow dive in about 13-16 meter of water in front of Cayo Centro. This anchor dive has a lot of elkhorn and brain corals, and usually plenty of blue tang, hogfish, and pink conch.

Kai Ha
Kai Ha is a 35-60 foot dive just north of Punta Gonzalez that tends to be a very fishy site.

Punta Gonzalez
Punta Gonzalez is a 13-30 meter drift dive with immense sponges, many large gorgonians, and usually a chance to see sea turtles, eagle rays, and lobsters. It is located in front of Cayo Centro.

La Boya
La Boya is a great dive site with a flat sandy top at 10 metres, then a sloping reef wall with hard and soft corals that gives way at depth to another sand flat with some really enormous barrel sponges, yellow tube sponges and elephant ear sponges that must be about 3 metres across! Careful scrutiny of the beautiful crinoids will reveal small arrow crabs and squat lobsters. Lower still, at 30 metres, look out for Spotted Eagle Rays, which cruise this area frequently. Southern Stingrays can be found shuffling across the sand flats.

Wrecks Goto top

The Chinchorro Reef was known to sailors who dreaded it as early as the colonial period. Traveling from Cartagena, Colombia, to Spain by way of Havana, Cuba required ships to pass close to the bank. The winds and currents of the region worked against them, and many vessels went down at the reef. The remains of at least 18 ships that sank between 1600 and 1800 have been discovered. The reef has proved just as treacherous to modern ships. Near Cayo Centro there is a wreck called the Glenview, a British cargo ship with a 120-meter draft that went down in 1960 not far from the Ginger Scout, which preceded it four years earlier. The list of ships that have ended their days on the reef is long: the Cassel, the Far Star, the Tropic, the Huba, the San Andres, and others so torn up, only their canons and the river rocks they used for ballast are left. At one spot a line of anchors, obviously dropped one after the other in a desperate attempt to save the ship, is all that remains.

Currently the wrecks cannot be dived. This has been requested by the The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere and is followed by the diving schools. Most of the wrecks are very shallow and can best be explored snorkeling.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°25'44" Long. 87°25'26"

This wreck site contains a cargo of silver bars from Peru.

Angel, Location 18°24'29" Long. 87°23'64"

Spanish Galleon Anchors, Location Lat. 18°23'27" Long. 87°23'42"

17th century ship containing 2 anchors and a large quantity of river stones that were used for ballast.

SS Far Star (or SS Five Star), Location Lat. 18°263'79" Long. 87°21'66"

Far StarFar Star was a 1970s cargo boat laid down in 8 meter of water. A large steel-hulled transport ship, it was loaded with sugar when it ran aground on the southeast corner of Chinchorro. Starting just beneath the surface, the spur and groove reef structure is littered with a profusion of steel plating, winches, generators, a huge diesel engine, and immense smoke stacks. The brass and stainless steel screw is well over seven feet in diameter, and the equally immense anchor clearly weighs many tons. The light is perfect, highlighting the hundreds of yellow-tailed snapper that swirl around the wreckage - another diver's and photographer's delight.The wreck is on the southeast corner of Chinchorro just south of Cayo Lobos, and accessing it requires the calmest of days with gentle easterly or northerly winds. The middle of the boat is covered with fire coral, and the surrounding reef has many brain and elkhorn corals. There are often blue tang and ocean triggerfish as well as lots of barracuda, and the stronger current ups the odds of seeing sharks, including hammerheads, tiger sharks, black tips, bull sharks, reef sharks, and nurse sharks. Visibility on this dive is often in the 50 meter range.

Xuba (or Huba), Location Lat. 18°25'00" Long. 87°20'48"

Huba wreckCargo ship from the 20th century.

Pecio Ingles, Location Lat. 18°26'66" Long. 87°13'28"

Built around the 16th century. A canon, anchor, and money can be found.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°29'42" Long. 87°19'39"

Galleon containing a cargo of smoking pipes.

Tropic, Location Lat. 18°25'00" Long. 87°20'48"

Tropic wreckBuilt in the 20th century and run aground in 1965.

Kassel (or Cassel), Location Lat. 18°28'47" Long. 87°19'52"

Cassel wreckGerman ship constructed in the 20th century out of steel. Ran aground in 1955.

Emily Cheramie


Unidentified galleon containing 6 anchors.

San Andres

Gargo ship from the 20th century.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°36'17" Long. 87°16'14"

Large quantities of jade and construction wood.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°35'36" Long. 87°16'05"

Spanish galleon from the 17th century. Contains metal pots of approx. 60 cm diameter that were used by the crew.

SS Glen View

SS Glen ViewSize: 2681 Bruto Registered Tons (BRT).
Dimensions: 359' 4" x 50' 11'' x 20' 9'' (LxBxD).
Owners: Theo Naviera inc.
Shipyard: John Cockerill SA, Antwerp, 1947

The Liberian Steamship Glenview ran aground on Banco Chinchorro off Yucatan, Mexico in latitude 18 degr. 37' N - longitude 87 degr. 15' W on January 24th 1964. While on ballast voyage from Puerto Barrios, Guatamala to Tampico, Mexico.
The salvage tug 'Cable' reached the wrecked vessel 5 days later and found her resting on large rocks with nos. 6 and 7 double bottom tanks open to the sea. In spite of several attempts to try to refloat her, the Ss Glenview' remained firmly aground, with a heavy easterly swell making her pound heavily on the rocks. So severe was this vibration that the salvage master reported that he was unable to stand on her deck.
Having sustained extremely sever bottom damage refloating was considered to be nor feasible and the 'Glenview' was abandoned as a constructive total loss. Her crew was taken to Key West by the 'Cable'.

Source: Noman Hooke, 'Lloyds' Maritime Services Limited
'Modern shipping disasters 1963 - 1987' page 184
Lloyds of London press Limited 1989.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°39'13" Long. 87°13'90"

Wreck site contains construction wood, silver pesos, mercury and thermometers.

Penelopez (or Penelope)

Cargo ship from the 20th century. 35.000 tons.

SS Ginger Screw (or Ginger Scout), Location Lat. 18°39'44" Long. 87°13'83"

Shrimp boat from the 20th century. The original name is Inger Shoal.

Unidentified Galleon, Location Lat. 18°45'05" Long. 87°17'24"

The wreck site contains large quantities of river stones that were used as ballast.

Unidentified wreck, Location Lat. 18°45'27" Long. 87°20'06"

30.000 tons Cargo ship of the 20th century. Ran aground between 1961-63. The boiler can be seen at the surface.

Cuarenta Canones (40 Cannons)

The shallow bottom near Cayo Norte is littered with scores of brass cannon, some over ten feet in length. Dating to the 17th century, experts say these cannon suggest that this may be a Dutch wreck, or possibly even a pirate ship. There is also at least one very large cast-iron double-fluke anchor. Set in only 10-12 feet of water, this site is easily accessible to divers and snorkelers, and is surrounded with healthy corals and good fish life. As you might imagine, it is a great site for underwater photography.
With no significant current, this is a beautiful snorkeling site and a great dive. There is a wide assortment of corals on this site and often a lot of French angelfish and queen angelfish.

Copper Clad Wreck
Lying in 70 feet of water, what remains of the wreck are only the traces of the hull timbers, brass nails, and hand-hammered copper sheeting that once clad the hull to protect it against invasion by marine worms. This unusual cladding indicates that this wreck dates to the 18th century. The wooden remains of the hull suggest that the ship was afire when it went down.

Mary, Location Lat. 18°45' Long. 87°25'

The Mary sank in 1858. The Mary was a British cargo ship.

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