Whether you are brand new to freediving or have broken world records, Mexico is a freediving destination with untold marvels and beauty at every depth. With sunshine almost every day of the year and clear waters, Mexico’s Caribbean coast is a diver’s dream. And that’s before considering the luminous cenotes hiding across the map.
When I booked my flights to Cancún and reserved a spot in a Level 1 Freediving Course, I had no idea what to expect. I was a brand new scuba diver at the time and spending prolonged time underwater still caused me discomfort and anxiety. I booked a freediving course in hopes that I’d have a different experience. What ensued ended up changing my life forever.
I reached depths on one breath that I never thought possible, built confidence and, most importantly, discovered new depths inside myself. The support, training, and patience I received from my instructors and the magic I experienced in the cenotes had me planning a return trip for my Level 2 as soon as I arrived home. After completing both my SSI Level 1 and 2 courses in Mexico, I can confidently say it’s the ideal destination for learning to freedive.
Mexico — Playa del Carmen, specifically — is heaven on earth for backpackers, budget travelers, and anyone who throws all their money at diving. Hostel beds run $4-15 per night or entire apartments on Airbnb (and we’re talking fancy apartments) rent for under $50 per night. As far as dining goes, you can eat for between $4-15 per meal if you stay away from the more touristy restaurants on and near Quinta Avenida.
You can’t talk about Mexico and not talk about tacos and authentic Mexican cuisine. Playa del Carmen has food from possibly every nationality on earth, but Mexican food and Israeli food tend to be the most common.
Walking the streets of Playa and wandering into whichever restaurant calls to your senses is part of the fun, but there are a few you don’t want to miss. El Fogon serves up authentic Mexican just a few blocks away from Quinta Avenida—further from all the action—but it’s always packed with hungry locals and tourists. Falafel Nessya’s falafel wraps and plates make the perfect post-dive snack and it’s located right next to Amancay. And finally, La Cochi Loka doesn’t look like much, but the tacos are under a dollar and must come from another, more delicious planet.
Diving in the Cenotes
The most significant aspect of learning to freedive in Mexico is getting to dive in the cenotes. Cenotes are deep pools in limestone caverns that have collapsed, creating natural swimming holes all over Mexico. These mysterious, glistening pools are filled with water from underground rivers and represent a significant aspect in ancient Mayan civilization. They were believed to be passages to the underworld, known as Xibalba.
Whether you believe the ancient tales or not, the magic and sacredness of cenotes are undeniable. In the heart of the jungle, you’ll dive into depths of undisturbed blue with beams of light piercing through and magnificent rock formations on limestone walls surrounding you. Plus, the light beams reaching well into the empty deep offer an otherworldly, space-like backdrop for your freediving photos that will be the envy of your newsfeed.
The lack of sea creatures in cenotes makes for an easy learning environment for otherwise anxious new divers that may be concerned with ocean life on top of their dive skills.
You Will Connect With Yourself
Above all, learning to freedive in Mexico was a deeply personal experience. Not only did I push myself to my physical and mental limit, but I did it all in an unfamiliar country, far away from home. In freediving, there is no lying to yourself—especially when you’re brand new and out of your comfort zone. Holding your breath takes you right to the present moment and whatever you are thinking about or going through comes to the surface, forcing you to face it.
While my Level 1 course presented its own challenges, completing my Level 2 required a level of mental resilience and courage I honestly did not know I had. At the end of every day, I’d head back to my room on cloud nine, still astonished by what I’d just accomplished in the water. But as soon as I’d sit down alone and was quiet, I would burst into tears. Why was I crying if I was living my dream and feeling so proud of myself? Honestly, it’s because I knew I was changing and growing. To reach new depths in the water, I had to leave behind pains I’ve hung onto, face down old fears, and believe that I was capable of anything I set my mind to.
Editor’s Note: You can read more from the author here.