Cozumel, a small island off the coast of Playa del Carmen is a true gem for divers and snorkelers alike, with its crystal clear waters and rich marine life. But, for those more adventurous divers who are looking for a thrilling break from the reef dives, blackwater diving is an absolute must!
Blackwater diving is a relatively niche type of diving and is only offered at a handful of dive sites around the world. Some of the most popular blackwater diving destinations include the waters around the Philippines, Fiji, Palau, and Hawaii. So, it’s a pretty special experience if you get the chance to do it! But it’s not for the faint-hearted.
What is Blackwater Diving?
Blackwater diving is a particularly special type of scuba diving where you head out into the open ocean at night time, far away from the shore and reef where the ocean floor is hundreds of meters below you. As you descend into the water you are surrounded by darkness, with only the buoy line as your reference point. You are literally surrounded by black water and all you can see is what your flashlight illuminates in front of you when you swim away from the buoy line.
As tiny pelagic critters hatch, they get swept out to the depths while they grow and develop before finally returning to the reef. Each night, they make their way up toward the surface to feed. Blackwater diving gives you the rare opportunity to these creatures during a life stage you would never get to see otherwise. You can find anything from fish to crabs to jellyfish, even anemones, squids, and shrimp, plus plenty of others in between. If you thought the underwater world was full of bizarre creatures, wait until you see them as babies! Most are unrecognizable compared to their adult versions and it feels like you are swimming through space, surrounded by tiny little aliens. You might even get a chance to see other open ocean creatures, like flying fish, that you wouldn’t see on a typical reef dive. These are pretty spectacular to see up close!
Who Can Do Blackwater Diving?
Blackwater diving is a bit more advanced than regular diving with limited visibility and unpredictable currents, so you should be an experienced diver with previous night diving experience to do it. Plus, with only one visual point of reference, the blackwater can be quite disorientating. Sometimes you feel like you’re going up when you’re actually going down or vice versa, so having good buoyancy is a non-negotiable!
How Do I Sign Up for a Blackwater Dive?
Blackwater Cozumel is currently (early 2023) the only company running blackwater dives on the island. It was actually started by our friend Robert, a very talented marine photographer who is also super passionate about underwater life. In my opinion, these are the best kind of people to dive with because they’re just as excited as you are to find some cool critters!
You can also check out his Instagram, @cozumelblackwater to check out what kind of weird and wonderful creatures you might come across on the dive.
What It’s Like Doing a Blackwater Dive in Cozumel?
Once the sun sets, everyone hops on the boat and you start to make your way out to the dive site, past the reef, and into the channel between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, where the sea floor lies at around 1640ft (500m) deep. As you get closer to the site, the anticipation builds as you gear up, knowing that you are about to embark on a pretty wild adventure. If, like me, your nerves start to get the better of you as you look out into the deep, black sea and wonder what the hell were you thinking, chuck on a few extra weights than you usually would. If you’re breathing heavily, it’ll be harder to get under. Then, it’s almost time to jump!
Unlike other blackwater dives around the world, in Cozumel, you aren’t attached by a line to the boat. You are absolutely free to go wherever you want. Each diver is responsible for their own dive and your max depth and dive time are completely up to you! Before you start your dive, the crew will throw in a buoy that has a line attached to it with three huge lights on it. These lights not only help attract the blackwater creatures, but they also act as a depth guide for you. The lights sit at 5m, 10m, and 15m deep (or 16ft, 33ft, and 50ft). You can choose to swim as close or as far away from these lights as you feel comfortable and unlike traditional dives, there is no one guiding you.
As you start your dive and begin your descent into the dark water, the eerie feeling of being in such an unfamiliar and disorientating environment can be overwhelming, but as you start to settle in, the water begins to come alive with an incredible array of tiny, alien-like creatures. The sight is truly mind-blowing, with your dive light illuminating the path and attracting all sorts of strange and beautiful creatures. If you start to look closely, you might get to see some tiny squid or fish putting on a dazzling light show as colors ripple through their bodies. It really feels like an entirely different world down there and the way they move and light up in the water is really mesmerizing. You can spend half your dive just watching one of these minuscule critters, but the more you start to look around, the more you will see!
As you get low on air, you then make your way back to the surface (safety stop included of course!) and head back to the boat. Once everyone has finished their dive, it’s time to head back to the island. With a boatload of people high on the adrenaline rush that this dive brings, the ride back is full of chatter and excitement as people share photos and descriptions of the bizarre and wonderful marine life they encountered!