Playa Las Casitas: Pier Rubble & Forgotten Shipwrecks | Shore Diving in Cozumel
Shore diving in Cozumel can be challenging because of the usual currents that we dive in year around. Diving from Playa las Casitas is no different, but for the adventurous diver this relatively shallow shore dive offers a fascinating combination of pier rubble, two largely unheard of sunken ships and healthy transplanted live rock from Paradise Reef.
“Playa las Casitas” is the stretch of beach located directly across Melgar from the naval barracks just north of downtown San Miguel (Centro Cozumel) and south of the north hotel zone. It is especially popular with locals on Sunday. It is important to know that the current here typically runs from north to south, which is opposite the usual prevailing current, and it can be fairly strong. The best entry point for this dive is directly in front of the bar at the Cafe de Mare and there is plenty of parking on the street and numerous easy exit points to the north of this restaurant if you prefer not to kick against the current and make this a drift dive.
There can be a lot of boat traffic here, if you are diving from the shore you should definitely tow a dive float with a flag in this area.
Just a short surface kick from the entry is a large field of rubble that was removed from the Puerta Maya pier that was destroyed during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The large concrete sections, which lie in about 20 feet of water on a sandy bottom (an area devoid the soft corals and barrel sponges found on our reefs and wall dives), were put here as part of an ongoing artificial reef program established for this area. Diving through this area really gave me the feeling like I was diving among sunken Egyptian ruins; our dive clients say the same thing. There’s very little growth on these blocks of cement but you can find the typical underwater inhabitants here: grunts and small snappers, pufferfishes, butterflyfishes, damselfishes and triggerfishes.
This Cozumel dive site is PERFECT for those who want to go scuba diving but aren’t certified yet.
A short 10 – 12 minute swim over sand and grassy bottom brings us to the first of two shipwrecks intentionally sunk in 2006 as part of Cozumel’s artificial reef program. The first wreck is the Laguna de Mandinga, an 85 foot (26 meters) long Mexican navy patrol ship, sits in 38 feet (12 meters) of water and is pointed with her bow pointed north. It is marked by two mooring balls; the stern, is marked by a red ball, and white mooring ball is attached to her bow.
From the Laguna de Mandinga’s bow, in line with the prevailing northbound current, there is a line of live rock approximately 40 yards long transplanted here from the section of Paradise Reef that was removed to make room for Carnival Cruise Lines’ new cruise ship pier at Puerta Maya. The rock was placed here in 2014 and is remarkably healthy with a lot of growth and reef fish. I cannot recall a Cozumel dive site on which I’ve seen as many trumpetfish and sand divers!
Following this line of reef, you will arrive at the stern of the Laguna de Pátzcuaro, the second of the two sunken wrecks in this area. She is a 42 foot Mexican patrol boat, 36 feet (11 meters) deep, also pointing due south, and is showing some tremendous coral growth!
Both wrecks are penetrable to some extent and we do find lionfish to hunt inside on occasion. The Laguna de Mandinga has short sections to get into and the Laguna de Patzcuaro can be penetrated in a “no mount” sidemount gear configuration but I’d really not recommend it; the openings are small and the new coral growth is fragile. There’s a lot of fire coral and we regularly pull lionfish out of the wrecks. Anything you might want to find inside can be seen from the outside through holes cut into the hulls or numerous hatches, doors and other openings.
Please remember that wreck diving is inherently dangerous and divers should be properly trained and certified before attempting penetration of any sunken ship.