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Make Cozumel your dive-in getaway

By Mark Vanek
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/11/10/20/NW8f9.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - MARK VANEK
    This very Caribbean view is from the Allegro Cozumel, on the island of Cozumel, Mexico.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/06/13/14/50/XqLQp.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - MARK VANEK
    A dive boat can take you to the best underwater sites off Cozumel

The small island of Cozumel, a short distance off southeast Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is understandably touted as one of the world’s safest – and greatest – diving destinations. Cozumel is very reasonably priced, serene and uncompromisingly beautiful. The water is transparent – and calm: The waves are too lazy to lap up on the beach. Just remember, a passport is required.

Getting there: Fly nonstop from Charlotte to Cancun. The “shared transfer” shuttle ride from Cancun International Airport to the Playa del Carmen Ferry ( www.olympus-tours.com) has no stops – no bathroom breaks, no convenience store, no sodas, chips or even cerveza – so plan ahead.

On the ferry ( http://bit.ly/Urp198), sit near the back or near an open access on the choppy, 45-minute water jet to Cozumel. The fresh air will do you good, though you still may want to bring along some Dramamine to combat motion sickness.

Stay swanky? Nestled on a secluded stretch of beach – a rarity on this small island – is the romantic and upscale Occidental Grand Cozumel ( http://bit.ly/1s3grvO). This elegant resort is on the island’s western side, which translates to tranquil and crystal clear waters – ideal for taking a dip, snorkeling and soaking up the sun.

This striking, all-inclusive property has a quiet, private feel to each building. You may want to familiarize yourself with the resort grounds or risk getting lost a time or two on the way to the pool or one of the many fine dining facilities.

Serious scuba divers tend to keep a tight schedule; you’ll appreciate the resort-provided dive coordinator, who will help keep you abreast of all the daily dive activities and resort happenings.

The Occidental Grand is considered by many to be the Cozumel’s most convenient location for diving: A majority of the island’s best dive sites are minutes from the property’s pier. (As an added foresight, there’s also an on-site paramedic in the event of any emergency.)

Stay within your means: For a more budget-conscious and family-type atmosphere on your dive-cation, consider staying at the neighboring Allegro Cozumel ( http://bit.ly/1uSBIq3), a sister property that maintains the same quality of cleanliness, fine dining and wide-ranging amenities.

The thatched roofs lend the buildings a Mayan-esque feel for your island vacation. The spacious, somewhat dated rooms are comfortable, but lack the stylishness at the Occidental Grand, Cozumel.

Allegro Cozumel takes your diving experience to a whole new level. You’re granted access to the same proficient dive coordinator as the Occidental Grand’s, but their affordable scuba package is complete with deluxe rooms, posh divers-only lounge, free boat dives and even a private pool.

Get wet: There are dives for everyone – easy diving, shallow reef, shipwrecks and more. Slowly descend into the pristine water and then effortlessly drift, letting the underwater current do the all work. You’ll be swept past myriad beautiful sights.

The fish have such distinctive personalities. There’s the clumsy puffer fish that seems to have trouble navigating the waters. There are beautiful yellow and purple fish that not even art can do justice. A sleeping nurse shark simply lies there, allowing for close scrutiny. Don’t forget the nefarious and menacing-looking barracudas that hang out over the sandy bottom flats. The way to experience these sights is through Pro Dive Mexico ( www.prodivemex.com), whose instructors are patient, understanding and come equipped with a wealth of knowledge.

Vanek lives at Lake Norman: http://flying-standby.blogspot.com.
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