Xcalak is a small fishing village located in Mexico, next to the border with Belize. Located on the Mesoamerican reef, Xcalak Reef National Park is still one of Mexico's best kept secrets. I have dived and worked as a diving instructor all over the world and I do not understand how this place is not yet known worldwide. Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, between the Caribbean Sea and the Bay of Chetumal, the spectacular biodiverse ecosystem around Xcalak includes wetlands, lagoons, mangroves, rivers and incredible coral reefs. Diving on Xcalak's healthy coral reefs, divers have immense swims, walls and caves to navigate, often seeing dolphins, sharks, rays and a variety of species of game pelagics.
Our favorite place to dive in Mexico and the best dive I did in the Caribbean. Xcalak doesn't compare to the explosion of life and color that you find when you dive into the best of Southeast Asia, but there are three incredible highlights of Xcalak; the huge resident school of great tarpon, the large population of manatees often found on dives and saltwater crocodiles You can dive with your skin at Banco Chinchorro. In my opinion, if you can see one of these, it's worth the trip and all three are possible.
Diving from Xcalak is not cheap, a day of diving with 3 tanks costs US $ 165 and goes to Banco Chinchorro US $ 185. Equipment rental costs an additional US $ 25.
Xcalak Mexico – the small fishing village
Located on the Costa Maya, in the southern part of Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, Xcalak is just 20 km (7 miles) from Belize. This rustic village, with only 375 permanent residents, has hardly been touched by tourism and is home to world-class fly fishing and bird watching. The quiet, small rural town of Xcalak is not the prettiest city with little activity and a little rubbish washed up on less than perfect beaches. Away from resorts, tourist beaches and international franchises, Xcalak is surrounded by unreal natural treasures and visited by more adventurers and explorers than ordinary tourists. The city is the starting point for excursions to the indescribable coral atoll of Banco Chinchorro. This legendary dive site, visited by a few, is home to spectacular coral reefs, small islands, over 200 shipwrecks and is probably the best place in the world to dive with saltwater crocodiles.
Xcalak is not a tourist dream on the beach, but it is a great Caribbean city to explore, drink rum, eat beer and organize diving and fishing activities that you only dream of.
Diving in Xcalak
Scuba diving is generally not cheap and going to remote locations can be difficult and complex. Excursions to these places off the beaten path should really offer something special to make time and effort worthwhile. Xcalak is one of the few spots in the Caribbean that I felt was worth the time and money we spent to get there specifically for diving.
Located on the Great Maya reef, Xcalak offers a variety of incredible dive sites, steep walls, canyons, swimming and unique geographic formations to explore inhabited by a huge variety of sea creatures. Diving in Xcalak expects to see turtles, rays, sharks, dolphins and a wide variety of fish swimming on the beautiful reef with hard and soft corals, large fans and some beautiful and interesting nudibranchs.
The reefs closest to the coast and the lagoons have a large population of resident manatees that are often seen at dive sites. The most famous inhabitants of the reefs that surround Xcalak are the huge school of large tarps.
From Xcalak, head to the famous Banco Chinchorro atoll with some of the most pristine reefs and spectacular dives anywhere in the northern hemisphere. This is also the place to dive with saltwater crocodiles.
Dive training in Xcalak
With incredible facilities and a huge variety of dive sites, this is a great place to do scuba training. The XTC Dive Center is a 5-star PADI IDC center that offers the full range of courses, from one day Discover Scuba Diving to instructor courses. Many people stay here for a few days to do their training in open and advanced waters. I recommend that you read some TripAdvisor reviews before making a reservation.
This is also a very popular location for technical diving training, offering the full range of courses Sidemount, Tec and Rebreather.
Scuba diving sites in Xcalak
Maximum depth: 22m Average depth: 11m Temp: 25C Size: 20m
La Poza is the most famous dive site in Xcalak, known for encounters with schools of tarpon, manatees are also often seen here. The place is located close to the coast, a quick boat ride from the pier. It is a very shallow dive, suitable for all levels. It is common to see snappers, barracuda, trevally, groupers and rays diving on this site. The tarpon crosses gaps in the reef to find shelter against strong currents. It is an incredible diving experience with big fish swimming in these incredible prehistoric fish. There are hundreds of fish in the big schools and some of these giant fish are about 2 m long and I estimate more than 100 kg. Definitely the site should not miss Xcalak's dive.
Maximum depth: 30m Average depth: 17m Temp: 25C Size: 20m
Pleasant dive site located near Xcalak. Fantastic views of the coral spurs. Some interesting nudibranchs on the reef. Many invading lionfish on this reef, our dive master caught them with a hawain sling spear at the restaurant, you can order the lionfish at the restaurant, which is delicious! We had a dolphin school at the security stop.
The descent next to a 13 m fall about 35 m from the sloping bottom of the sand is deeper. Nice coral garden with many parrot fish. Swim to La Catedral about 28 meters away, a large cave with a large crumbling stone in the center. Turtles, morays, large groupers, tarps, barracudas and schools of silver sides are often seen here. Swim in a canyon for a long swim, climbing up the chimney.
Advanced divers only. Maximum depth 35m
The dive site drops from 5m to about 30m, with lots of nice swimming and beautiful coral reefs. Manatees are often seen on this site.
Diving Bench Chinchorro
Banco Chinchorro is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the largest coral atoll in the Northern Hemisphere. It is famous for the excellent diving that hosts immaculate coral reefs, huge barrel sponges, lots of wreckage and incredible marine life. The coral atoll is located about 30 km from Xcalak and it takes approximately one hour to get here by boat, depending on the weather and the boat you are boarding. It is a long journey and permission from the government is required, so diving here is not cheap.
Expect to see untouched reefs full of life. Marine animals frequently seen diving in the warm, clear waters of Chinchorro include large groupers, napoleon wrasse, lobsters, barracudas, crabs, green turtles, rays and reef sharks. Stop at one of the simple fishing houses on stilts and see the large iguanas and thousands of hermit crabs on the small island. With any luck, you can see one or two crocodiles over lunch.
Snorkeling at Banco Chinchorro
Banco Chinchorro is known for its excellent snorkeling in the wonderful reefs, with many fish, reef sharks and other marine life easily accessible by snorkeling. Some of the shipwrecks are very shallow and great for exploring the dive. Check out the wreck site of a wooden ship called 40 Cannons, to see the best dives in the area.
Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro
Diving with the American crocodile (Crocodylus Acutus) is a unique and exciting activity that you can do at Banco Chinchorro. These animals can grow very large, up to 6m in length and weigh 900kg.
To interact with crocodiles, the XTC dive center in Xcalak combines diving at Banco Chinchorro with a meeting of American crocodiles. You will stay in the atoll for 3 days and two nights, dive some of the debris and reefs around the atoll and spend 3 to 4 hours a day in shallow water (1 – 1.5 m / 3-5 feet) around the hut of a fisherman diving with the crocodiles.
Croc expeditions run from June 1st to September 30th (depending on the weather).
The American crocodile inhabits mainly salt and brackish water, such as rivers, ponds and swamps, has a high tolerance to salinity, similar to the saltwater crocodile. This species of crocodile is not seen as very aggressive towards a species of crocodile and does not always attack humans. We are not part of their diet, but American crocodiles were responsible for 36 attacks on humans from 1995 to 2017 in the Cancun area of Mexico.
Xcalak offers great snorkeling. Diving from the pier where the diving boats launch in the village, it is a very shallow sandy bottom with small spots of reef, but we saw some eagle rays, a barracuda, a turtle and other fish. For the best snorkeling excursions, the XTC Dive Center offers 2 or 5 hour trips to the coral reefs, where you can see a wide variety of fish, sometimes even the great tarpon. The boat stops at points on the reef that are shallow enough for a comfortable dip in the clear, warm water. On snorkeling trips to The Recife Xcalak Marine Reserve, the manatee reserve and the mangrove forest manatees are often seen. After a snorkeling excursion, the boat usually stops to watch birds
More Activities in Xcalak
Fly fishing – This iconic fly fishing site is home to large residential schools of bonefish, licenses, tarps, jacks, tails and more.
Fishing trips – Chetumal Bay, just 15 minutes by boat from Xcalak, offers some of the best fishing licenses in the Caribbean.
Bird Watching – Xcalak is a hidden gem for bird watching in the Caribbean with pelicans, herons, frigates, grackles, interesting local birds like Ocellated Turkey and most often seen here.
Excursions on the Island of the Birds – take an excursion in Chetumal Bay driving through the boat canals, stop for snorkeling. Great bird watching and maybe bump into the manatees that live in the mangroves.
Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) – rent a kayak and explore the bay or take a guided kayak or SUP trip in the mangroves and lagoon to see birds, fish and even crocodiles or manatees!
Cycle – Hire a bicycle and explore the small Caribbean town.
Getting to Xcalak
It is not easy to reach this destination outside the most popular routes. Xcalak is about 400 miles / 650 kilometers from Cancun, a five to six hour trip or a long day or two on public transport. The easiest way is to rent a car. Driving from Cancun airport, it's about a 5 hour drive. Look to Rented car for a comparison of car rental from various agencies at the best prices.
To get to Xcalak by public transport, you must first reach Chetumal, the city has an airport or you can arrive by Ado bus from Cancun, Playa del Carman or Tulum, this can take all day.
There are two daily buses from the Caribbean from the main station in Chetumal to Xcalak, taking about 4 hours to reach Xcalak. `The Caribbean bus will drop you off at Xcalak city pier
Accommodations in Xcalak
Xcalak is a small place, so there are not many accommodation options.
Costa De Cocos Nice bunglows on the beach, great location, great reviews, check it out.
There are some private apartments for rent in Xcalak, consult AirBnB or ask the dive operator you are using.
Xcalak is a remote location, diving is risky, make sure your health and equipment are covered, read the fine print. World Nomadic Diving Insurance
Updated July 2020