Before we started our cruise to the southern Caribbean, I hadn’t heard of the Mesoamerican Reef system. I’m still no expert, but I’ve seen the northern and southern ends of the reef up close and personal. Readers of last week’s Travel Tuesday post “rode along” with us in a glass-bottom boat. This week, we go as low as 100 feet (30 m) underwater in the submarine Atlantis. As I noted last week, if you wish to visit the reef only once, my recommendation would be via this submarine. For more on the specifics of the reef and its treasures, and view some more undersea images of the Mesoamerican Reef, my original post is here. This post is all about the excursion.
The excursion started with a ride to the dock where, after a briefing on basic submarine safety procedures, you will board a ferry boat that will transport you to the submarine which is on-site near the Chankanaab underwater park. They load the front half of the ferry with up to 40 passengers. The rear of the ferry has room for forty more passengers. Those guests will be returning to shore from their submarine excursion.
As we neared the location of the submarine, we could see another boat in the area. This boat is the support boat for the submarine and is in constant communication by radio with the submarine below. You may note that in the image above, there is an area in the water that is a lighter blue than the surrounding water. This was our first underwater view of the submarine. It won’t surface until the support boat confirms there are no vessels or other obstructions in the water immediately above the submarine.
As you can see in the image above, the ferry boat on the left first allows passengers exiting the sub to board the ferry and have a seat in the rear seating area. The support boat on the right is also attached closely to the other side of the sub to provide more stability during the passenger transfers. Once all of the passengers from the sub are loaded, it was our turn to board.
After climbing single-file down a 7-foot (2.1 m) ladder, each passenger, in turn, sat on a bench with form-fitting seats each in front of their own viewing window. Though not spacious, it felt far roomier than the glass-bottomed boat we were on at Isla Roatan. Once everyone boarded, the ferry headed back to port with their load of returning passengers, the support boat moved away and the sub started the journey to the underwater park.
Guests, cellphones and cameras at the ready, look intently as the tour guide describes the sights outside the sub. If you enlarge the image, you’ll see the red depth gauge readout showing the sub at 52 feet (16 m) below the surface. That was the nominal height for viewing the reef at its base. At one point, we reached a dropoff that marked the undersea edge of the island of Cozumel. From there, the depth was described to be about 2000 feet (600 m) below the surface.
The last minutes of the tour found us at 112 feet (34 m) below the surface. This depth marked the lowest descent on our excursion. We went that deep to see a scuttled ship that was purposely placed in the underwater park to act as a home for the reef dwellers. For this and all of the underwater attractions, the sub was maneuvered so that people on both sides of the sub could see. Of course, wildlife swimming nearby might not be visible from both sides, nor could the sub turn fast enough to allow both sides to view. Still and all, there were enough attractions on either side so that I don’t believe anyone felt like they missed out because they were “seated on the wrong side” of the sub.
Too soon, it was our turn to disembark. We climbed up the ladder, one by one and each found a seat at the rear of the ferry for our ride back. As the cruise ship dock was closer to the sub’s working area, the ferry took us directly to the cruise ship dock saving us a shuttle ride back from the sub’s home terminal. Looking online, I see the major travel review sites all give the excursion at least a 4/5 rating. I would certainly have given it a 5.
As this was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, please check to be sure this attraction is available before making specific travel plans.