The world’s largest reef, the Great Barrier Reef, borders Australia – a continent that tempts me from the top of my bucket list. The second largest? That would be the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a 620-mile long, 11,000-acre protected coral reef system. Conveniently, it runs along the eastern coast of Mexico, specifically the island of Cozumel. Our big trip this summer just so happened to be to Cozumel, so we set our sights on seeing the reef.
Cozumel has become one of the world’s most popular scuba diving and snorkeling destinations, thanks to the highly-publicized praise from Jacques Cousteau in the 60’s. We’re not scuba divers, but in Cozumel, that’s not a deal breaker. You can see the reef just as well–without having to breathe through a tube–in the Atlantis Submarine.
The Atlantis Submarine in Cozumel
Our adventure began in the gift shop, where we assembled and were given initial instructions. Then we boarded a tender to take us on a ten-minute ride along Cozumel’s west coast to the site where the 65-foot long Atlantis was docked. We were the second stop, joining a group of people who were taking a day excursion off of the cruise ship in port. On board the boat, we heard from our captain in both English and Spanish, along with the requisite marine-themed jokes and music.
At the dive site, you climb out of the boat and down into the submarine. Inside, the vessel seats 48 people plus three crew members, and it’s completely climate controlled. There was little room to move around, and I could see that people with claustrophobia issues might not love it.
Once the hatch was sealed, we began our descent. It was exciting, as the beginning of any new experience is, and the kids were pointing to everything with glee, even seaweed. Within 20 minutes, the pilot had slowly descended 110 feet, which we tracked on the digital counter.
The crew will explain, in both English and Spanish, what you’re seeing during the 45-minute excursion. There are also illustrated cards hanging near each window with pictures identifying the most common fish that live in these waters.
We watched through the circular windows, and it felt like we were gliding through an immense fish tank. We saw colorful fish like Red Snapper, Queen Angle Fish, and Yellowfin Grouper, eels, and many different types of corals. Depending on the season, you may see sharks and stingrays.
We even saw huge hermit crabs, prompting a moment of silence for The Girl’s two pet hermit crabs which she brought home from school last month. After only two weeks in our home, “Luke” and “Darth” passed on to a hermit crab galaxy far, far away.
The visibility under water is amazingly clear, although tinted with blue. It was darker when there were clouds in the sky, but this was a mostly sunny day, and the light penetrated the clear water all the way to the bottom. It was much darker as we approached El Pared, or “The Wall,” a drop off where the depths reach 2,000 feet.
We turned around at this point, and soon passed the shipwreck Felipe. We saw streams of bubbles, realizing that these were coming from the oxygen tanks of a group of scuba divers exploring the ship’s interior. I felt a twinge of envy for their freedom of movement around the ship, and almost wished I was scuba diving instead.
But it was an exciting first for us to ride in a real submarine, a vessel which we were told cost $7 million. The Girl has fixated on this figure. Her mantra to be a millionaire someday has been replaced – now she wants to be rich enough to buy herself a submarine.
As we climbed out of the sub and back onto the boat, we were greeted by a crewmember cheekily welcoming us to Cuba. Sure, he says this to every guest, every day, but I still chuckled.
Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Carretera a Chankanaab Km 4, Zona Hotelera Sur
Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77600