Diving on the reef of Cozumel, with Sergio Sandoval. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.

Colourful dives on Cozumel reef


  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

The Caribbean Sea is a change from Asia! In Mexico, I couldn't miss the island of Cozumel, a famous diving spot.

A Mexican summer

July 2014: new exotic place, new underwater world. This summer, I chose to discover the Caribbean coast of Mexico, that of the state of Quintana Roo. The region attracts me for its fabulous cenotes - these submerged caves revered by the Mayans that can now be explored by scuba diving - and  its spectacular gathering of whale sharks, off Cancún, which I dream to see for years ...

Between the cenotes and the whale sharks, I couldn't pass up the island of Cozumel, explored by Cousteau in the early 1960s. It is THE diving spot of the Yucatán Peninsula, the most famous of the area! Thanks to Cozumel and diving, I met Sergio, a great character...

Diving on the reef of Cozumel. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
Diving on the Cozumel Reef. (Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014)

Sergio Sandoval, pioneer of diving in Cozumel

His full name: Sergio Sandoval Vizcaíno. A pioneer of diving in Cozumel, where he has lived since 1979, he celebrated his 74th birthday in early 2015 and is still blowing bubbles underwater!

UPDATE - OCTOBER 10, 2018. I just learned, via Facebook, the passing of Sergio, four years after our meeting in July 2014... He was 77 years old. I have not been to Mexico since. Never again will I have the opportunity to dive again with Sergio, who made me discover the magnificent reef of Cozumel. I let you re-read or discover below what I wrote at the time.

Sergio Sandoval. Cozumel, July 2014.
Sergio Sandoval. Cozumel, July 2014.

The man is an inexhaustible storyteller, picturesque as can be. Concerned about his physical condition, he avoids alcohol and drinks sea water regularly, convinced that "it's good for your health" !

He often demonstrates it on his boat, to impress the customers he takes diving... But in fact, he doesn't drink it pure! He just dilutes a little sea water in a bottle of fresh water.

Sergio may be a scuba diver, but he never discards his snorkel, which is attached to his mask, because it saved his life long ago. Lost at sea after a dive, he drifted for several days in the middle of the sea before being rescued. His snorkel allowed him to breathe on the surface without swallowing water and to avoid drowning.

A former automotive mechanical engineer, Sergio is also a passionate underwater photographer and a patient do-it-yourselfer: he makes the waterproof housings for his cameras himself, in his workshop, at home! Finally, this septuagenarian is obviously not "digital native", but since he discovered GoPro and social networks, he publishes a lot of small underwater films on Facebook.

Above all, Sergio is particularly familiar with the dive sites of Cozumel and the fearsome currents in the strait between Playa del Carmen and the island. Day after day, on each outing, he monitors the health of the corals and fish, takes underwater photos and, back on land, praises the beauty of the underwater world to the tourists.

He is a passionate and exciting man, warm, multilingual, extraordinarily friendly. I am delighted to have discovered the Cozumel Reef with him.

Sergio Sandoval, with his tuba and his home-made box. Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.
Sergio underwater, with his snorkel and his home-made box. (Cozumel, Mexico, July 2014)
On the dive boat of Sergio Sandoval. Cozumel, July 2014.
Sergio gives advice on how to film better with a GoPro to young Belgian divers. (Cozumel, Mexico, July 2014)

A very aquatic Mexican family

Sergio's house, in San Miguel, the big city of the island, is known by all taxi drivers under two names: Aquarama, which is now the children's swimming school run by her daughter and granddaughter, whose lessons take place in the garden swimming pool (Aquarama is also the name of one of his ships); and Aquatic Sports, which refers to the small diving structure he runs with the help of his wife Lolita.

Long involved in the preservation of the sea bed, Sergio Senior (to distinguish him from Sergio Junior, his son, who bears the same name and also organizes diving and deep-sea fishing trips) is today one of the oldest diving operators in Cozumel. He is also one of the pillars of the Scuba Fest annually, in December.

It's time for a small swimming class at Aquarama. Cozumel, July 2014.
It's time for a small swimming class at Aquarama. Cozumel, July 2014.
Sergio's little boat, with which I dive in July 2014 on the reef of Cozumel.
In the port of la Caleta, theAquarama...Sergio's little boat, which I used to dive on the Cozumel Reef.

At Sergio's house, a Virgin Mary watches over the pool from her alcove and newspaper clippings, framed and hung on the walls, salute the aquatic exploits of her daughter and granddaughter, both named Beatriz.

The first, in 1985, at the age of 14, swam the 45 kilometres or so that separate Cozumel from the coast in 10 hours and 55 minutes.

A generation later, in 2009, the second one, nicknamed "Betty", then 13 years old, tried to beat her mother's record, but unfortunately the currents carried her too far from the island, preventing her from reaching her goal. The little girl still swam nearly 13 hours in a row... At the Sandoval's, we really like water, it's in the family!!!!

The fabulous reef of Cozumel

For the underwater photographer that I am, who enjoys diving "à la carte" and preferably in small groups, Sergio's family structure is ideal. As he also takes pictures, I often finish the dives in pairs with him, while Cristobal, his young dive-master, supervises the rest of the dive.

Between two immersions, it's a "salsa-guacamole-ham-cheese-fruit" picnic on the boat Aquarama. The atmosphere is relaxed and international.

During this week spent in Cozumel, I dive, depending on the day, with a young Belgian couple, an American, a German and a Japanese couple, with whom I discover common knowledge in Indonesia - they often dive in Asia, like me. They are great friends of Sergio and Lolita, they regularly come on holiday to Cozumel.

On the dive boat of Sergio Sandoval. Cozumel, July 2014.
At lunch time, Sergio always has a good story to tell.
Souvenir Photo with Cristobal and Sergio (left).
Souvenir Photo with Cristobal and Sergio (left).

Underwater I discover an environment different from what I am used to in Asia. The species of rays, for example, are not at all the same. There is also an abundance of large angelfish (of the family Pomacanthus, says a reader of the blog) that reminds me of the Asian batfish.

And then, in these waters, the flying scorpion fish ("lionfish") is an invader: these fish, which originate from Asia, were introduced into Mexican waters of the Caribbean Sea, where they have no predators. They are voracious and proliferate to the detriment of other species, unbalancing the ecosystem. Professional divers are allowed to kill them when they see them.

Update - May 3, 2015 : AFP has just published an infographic on the subject, which sums up the situation well. I insert their picture below.

AFP infographics on the proliferation of scorpionfish.
AFP infographics on the proliferation of scorpionfish.
Red Lionfish, harpooned not during my stay in Cozumel, but in Isla Mujeres, a few kilometers away. Mexico, July 2014.
A flying scorpion fish (harpooned not during my stay in Cozumel, but in Isla Mujeres, not far from there). Here, it is allowed to hunt this fish even by scuba diving, as it is considered an invader threatening the local underwater ecosystem. (Mexico, July 2014)
Line. Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
It's a change from the Asian blue-spotted stingrays! (Cozumel, Mexico, July 2014)
A Mexican cousin of the batfish. Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
A Mexican angelfish, which reminds me of the Asian batfish. (Cozumel, Mexico, July 2014)

The Cozumel reef is much more beautiful than the sites opposite, on the coast around Playa del Carmen. I had a great pleasure to explore it, even if I found it less exuberant and full of life than the Indonesian or Malaysian spots I like so much.

The "usual" tropical fauna is very present, but the density and diversity seems to me to be less... Which doesn't prevent us from making some nice encounters, the proof!

Shark and moray eels. Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.
A solitary barracuda, surrounded by photographers. Cozumel, Quintan Roo, Mexico. July 2014.
Diving on the reef of Cozumel. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.

My favorite sites on the Cozumel Reef are in the area called Palancar, where there are huge and spectacular coral formations. Their yellow and pink outgrowths are at their most beautiful under the glow of the flash.

For divers, it's a fantastic playground: there are cavities to explore, arches and passages to squeeze through and lots of life to observe.

Diving on the reef of Cozumel, with Sergio Sandoval. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
Sergio and his camera against a backdrop of bright yellow tubular sponges in the waters of Cozumel. (Mexico, July 2014)
Diving on the reef of Cozumel. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
In Palancar, there are countless species of sponges with colours ranging from pink to orange. (Mexico, Cozumel, July 2014)
Diving on the reef of Cozumel. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.
(Cozumel, July 2014)

To learn more about diving with Sergio Senior in Cozumel, I refer you to these links:
The Aquatic Sports Center website
→  His Facebook page

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

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  1. Always beautiful pictures that made me completely want to go diving. I intend to throw myself this summer in the Canaries. What do you recommend for a first approach, knowing that I already practice snorkelling.
    Diving baptism or immediately past the different levels?

    Thank you Corinne.

    1. @Chrissand: I think it's always better to do a baptism to discover the sensations of diving. Not everyone is comfortable with a regulator and oral dissociation. The fact of having to breathe only by the mouth, to know that we have several meters of water above the head and that it is not allowed to go back to the surface at full speed, is not necessary. obviously obvious at first ... If after a first try, you feel that it's your thing, it will still be time to register for a training in stride. According to the centers, baptism can also be included in the training as a dive counting for validation ... Good bubbles !!! 8)

  2. Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. We were in Mexico at the beginning of the year, and I was a little frustrated not to be able to dive, due to advanced pregnancy! I'm going to browse a bit more of your blog because since my trip to Indonesia and my first dive, I've never seen anything so beautiful and I can't wait to do it again and/or find new ideas of beautiful destinations for diving and snorkeling. I think I will find my happiness here! 😀

  3. As usual, a pleasure to read you and look at your photos, really.
    Too much lionfish in Mexico? and I'm always ecstatic whenever I meet one in Indo!
    Your character Sergio reminds me of Christiane du Froggies in Bunaken, no doubt do you know her?
    Bubbles-bizzzzzz 😉

    1. @Pit: delighted that you still like so much on my Little Bubbles Elsewhere !!! 8)
      Yes, I met Christiane in 2007 (she is not the one who keeps Froggies today), I talk about it here:
      France 3 had even devoted a report in 2008 on the show Thalassa:
      I do not know what has become of her since ... A character, she too, for sure.

  4. The photos are beautiful, it is true that there are fewer fish but cons photos are super sharp no?

    Cozumel-07 is really impressive!

    1. @Brice: the visibility was overall very good, so it can make beautiful pictures of atmosphere. But I have not changed anything in my way of taking pictures or in their treatment ...
      I'm glad the barracuda made an impression on you 🙄

  5. @Corinne: After having taken some time to "thaw", and having tasted by bad luck the icy water 😡 (yes, I'm the only one to have gone through the ice pack, proof that I miss diving 😉 a little bit of heat through your pictures, will do me the greatest good!
    Beautiful pictures anyway, in this beautiful place! Sergio! What character!

    1. @Didier: What?? You went through the ice???!! Ow, ow, ow... If I dared, I'd say: "Wherever you go, you don't miss a beat..." 😆
      I'll go on with warming pictures, then! Can't wait to read about your adventures on your blog 🙄.

    2. @Corinne: More fear than harm! But yes, I admit, strange things always happen to me! 😳
      Can you imagine what could have happened, if I had had the pleasure to be one day your diving buddy!! 😀 (and your model for the photo, hey, hey 😉).

  6. At each of your travels you meet a sacred character. Your stingray is superb and I love the coexistence of the moray eel with the nurse shark. Cozumel will be a great memory too for me if we avoid the American stopover cruise. Diving in the limpid sea in the footsteps of Cousteau ... .I am missing from Raja Ampat!

    1. I love your site, I revisit some of my travels. Me it was in September 2013 El Carmen Beach, Cozumel, Grand Cenote and Angelina. A lot of rain late August, September. I have a photo where we are in Grand Cenote on a platform where there are benches. We sit regulator in the mouth and there is 1 m of water above our heads. Sea conditions with current (washing machine) worthy of some dives Bali. Automatic distribution of anti seasickness on the boat. Scares sometimes!

  7. Well, as usual, you make people envious! Or let's rather say you're adding dreams to our already long lists! Thank you for this beautiful report 🙂

  8. The photos are beautiful ! If I understand you're a journalist, is that it?
    I myself am studying journalism (I already work a little in my area) and I dream of traveling around the world like you to report!
    Waiting to leave ... I'm looking at your blog, it's a dream!

    1. @Solandtrips: thanks for your little note! In "real life", yes, I'm a journalist. But contrary to a widespread myth, it is not my job as a journalist that makes me travel around the world to photograph fish... 😆 " Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs " is my personal blog, dedicated to my passion for underwater photography and travels, and what I publish there has nothing to do (or very rarely) with my daily work... To know more about me, it's here :