Scuba Diving the Manchones Reef in Cancun & Isla Mujeres

The Manchones Reef in Cancun is a great place for scuba diving. The reef itself is located just off the coast of Isla Mujeres, about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) away from Cancun. The area around the reef is teeming with vibrant marine life, making it an ideal destination for underwater exploration and discovery.

manchones reef dream catcher isla mujeres

The reef consists of a variety of different habitats, such as coral gardens and sandy patches. It is also home to various species of tropical fish, eels, sea turtles, stingrays, and other marine animals. At depths ranging from 10 to 35 feet (3 – 12 meters), the Manchones Reef offers divers an incredible experience with plenty of opportunities for exploration and photography.

About Manchones Reef

Manchones Reef is the starting point of the Mesoamerican Reef System. The Mesoamerican Reef System spans over nearly 700 miles (1130 km) and stretches through Belize, Guatemala and Honduras – making it the greatest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.

Manchones is an underwater paradise with a size of over 8 football fields (875 yards/800 meters) of diverse and captivating coral reefs, like elk horn, stag horn and brain coral. Moreover, this site also houses two famous sculptures from the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA), including the “Man on Fire” and “The Ernest Hemingway Desk”. Manchones Reef is also home to the Cruz de la Bahia (Cross of the Bay).

The name Manchones comes from the word Manchas which means stains in English. From an upside perspective, looking down on the reef, it looks like stains of coral and rocks in a sandy ocean.

For both amateur and experienced divers alike, the breathtaking beauty of the reef’s spectrum of colors is only further enhanced by its stunning variety of sea life. Divers can see schools of blue tangs, wrasse, grunts, large parrotfish, queen angel fish, spotted trunkfish, and snappers drift gracefully in unison around the reefs. Sandy bottoms and hole formations offer a hospitable home to stingrays, nurse sharks, king crabs, and lobsters.

Dive plan for Manchones Reef in Isla Mujeres

Manchones Reef has multiple dive sites, as the national park stretches over 7.5miles (12 kilometers). The most visited dive spots are the Manchones 1 and Manchones 2 areas, as well as the Cross Bay and Jardines.

Just short boat rides from Cancun or Isla Mujeres, most dive centers operate with smaller vessels. Divers usually enter the water by rolling backward off the boat.

Manchones 1

Spanning expansively, this reef can be divided into many divisions before one can even begin to observe the entire area. At 33 feet deep – or 10 meters – it also provides ample opportunity for divers and snorkelers alike. The mounds stretch up to 16 feet (5 m), showcasing an abundance of marine life that make these waters perfect for exploration. Boasting rich colors with a variety of vibrant species, shallower depths offer astonishing marine life.

manchones reef

Manchones 2

Bursting with activity, Manchones 2 presents a different underwater experience than its counterpart. It’s characterized by distinct outcroppings and coral mounds that stretch closer to the surface, inviting explorers on an intriguing journey of swim-throughs and zigzagging pathways. Furthermore, turtles seem to be more plentiful here.


Located at the foot of Manchones 1 reef, this incredible area is surprisingly untouched, and divers can frequently explore here without another scuba group in sight. The vibrant coral splits off into two directions.

Cross of the Bay

The statue Cruz de la Bahia – or Cross the Bay – it’s part of the Manchones reef since August 1997. It’s not a dedicated dive site. The cross is at a depth of 10 to 16 feet (3 – 5 meters). Dives often continue to El Farito or The Lighthouse – dive sites of Isla Mujeres.

Manchones Reef Dive Site Brief

  • Access: From boat
  • Avergae depth: 26 feet/ 8 meters
  • Maximum depth: 40 feet/ 12 meters
  • Avg. visibility 66 feet/ 20 meters
  • Max Visibility: 115 feet/ 35 meters
  • Dive time:  40 – 60 minutes 
  • Certification level: Beginner/Open Water
  • Water temperature: 82ºF/28ºC
  • Current: Low
  • Type: Shallow reef dive

Best time to visit Manchones Reef

Divers can explore the beauty of the Manchones Reef year-round. However, the best time of year to visit the Manchones Reef is from March to June, when the waters are warmest and most clear. If you’re looking for a unique scuba diving experience, then this is definitely a destination you should consider visiting. Not only will it give you an unforgettable experience of the underwater world, but it is also a great place to observe and photograph some of the most vibrant marine life that Cancun has to offer.

What certification is required to dive at Manchones Reef in Cancun?

Divers need to obtain the Open Water certification to dive at Manchones Reef in Cancun and Isla Mujeres. All dive spots are Manchones Reef are shallow with a low current. Therefore, it’s great for beginners and experiences divers alike. 

How much does a dive cost at Manchones Reef?

The cost for a two-tank dive at the Manchones Reef in Isla Mujeres and Cancun starts at $100 – $120. Prices vary depending on the dive center and also the location: Cancun vs Isla Mujeres.


Manchones Reef is one of the best dive sites in Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Combined with the MUSA it’s a must-see dive site in the area. If you can spend two days with water activities, go diving one day and swim with whale sharks the next. You can thank me later.

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