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The main attraction here is the coral reef rising in front of town about 1/2 kilometer offshore. It tops out so close to the surface that divers have nothing over snorkelers here; everyone gets a close-up of the convoluted passages and caverns burgeoning with fish and sea flora. Fishing and boating restrictions make this the most pristine stretch of reef on the north coast. Dive shops in town offer snorkeling tours for $30 to $45, but one of the best is the local Fishing Cooperative (tel. 998/121-1524) at the foot of the pier. Its members are national park-certified guides who rotate tour gigs to supplement their fishing income. The 2-hour trip visits two snorkeling sites and costs 350 pesos. Tours leave approximately every half-hour Monday through Saturday from 9am to 3pm.

The excellent dive shops around town charge $50 to $75 for one-tank dives; basic two-day PADI certification courses cost $285 to $300. Enrique Juárez of the long-established Almost Heaven Adventures, on Javier Rojo Gómez a block north of the plaza (www.almostheavenadventures.com; tel. 998/871-0230), limits groups to five divers and is known for thorough briefings and attentive boat crews. Also recommended: Aquanuts (www.aquanautsdiveadventures.com; tel. 998/206-9365), Dive In Puerto Morelos (www.diveinpuertomorelos.com; [tel] 998/206-9084), and Wet Set Diving Adventure (www.wetset.com; tel. 998/206 9204 or 646/736-7726 from the U.S.). These outfits will also book fishing excursions.

Ruta de Cenotes

The road heading inland from Hwy. 307, across from the Jardín Botanico, is lined by cenotes, or natural swimming holes, along the 17km (10[bf]1/2-mile) stretch between Puerto Morelos and the village of Central Vallarta. An enormous arch marks the turnoff, and the cenotes are also well marked along a paved section of the road. Some have been turned into “adventure parks,” with ATV tours, zip lines, aerial walkways, and parachute jumps that draw streams of tour groups from Cancún. Selvática, at Km. 19 (www.selvatica.com.mx; tel. 998/898-4312 or 866/552-8825 (U.S.), is the most popular and expensive (starting at $99 adults/$49 children); Boca del Puma, at Km. 16 (www.bocadelpuma.com; tel. 998/241-2855), not only costs less (from $75 adults/$39 kids), but its ATV and zip line tours place greater emphasis on the environment and local culture. Facilities include a chicle camp and history museum.

Some truly beautiful, remote cenotes lie farther off the main road. The well-tended Cenote Las Mojarras (www.facebook.com/ParqueCenoteLasMojarras; tel. 998/848-2831; half day 150 pesos, full day 300 pesos), at Km. 12.2, looks like a large pond, and the park has a double zip line and double tower to jump from, as well as restrooms, hammocks, a picnic area, and a campground. It added horses, ATVs and a new zip line in 2014. Among the less developed cenotes is Siete Bocas at Km. 15.5, consisting of seven “mouths” to an underground river. Three are large enough for stairways straight down into the cool, clear water, and the others funnel light into the underground chamber—the effects are especially dramatic around midday. At Km. 18 is the gorgeous Cenote Verde Lucero. Jagged rock walls scored by massive tree roots enclose a crater holding clear, seemingly bottomless turquoise water. There’s a zip line and a safety rope across its 100-foot diameter. You can descend a stairway or plunge about 20 feet into the water from a rock ledge, but there are no services.

South of Puerto Morelos

The beaches, bays, mangrove lagoons, and jungles between Puerto Morelos and Tulum are constantly undergoing transformation. Punta Maroma, home to the coast’s first exclusive hideaway, now has several resort and residential compounds. Massive all-inclusives loom above beaches where campgrounds once thrived. Mayakobá, a master-planned resort just north of Playa del Carmen, is a fine example of an ecologically responsible development, though some other resorts use the land without much thought to conservation.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.