MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte)
Overall Score: A
Cost: $10 per person marine park fee (plus fees for Aquaworld)
Fun Potential: A
AQUAWORLD (Boat/tour group we chose for excursion)
Overall Score: B
Cost: $70 per person plus tax for a 2 tank dive (MUSA and Manchones Reef)
Fun Potential: A
Customer Service: B (both on and off the boat)
The waters around Cancun are some of the most popular places to scuba dive and snorkel in the world. Because of its popularity, the coral reefs and sea life here are greatly affected. Careless boating, people touching reefs, pollution, dropping anchors on reefs, and even sunscreen use hurts this delicate environment. As a way to promote the recovery of these reefs, the underwater sculpture museum known as MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) was created. By diverting visitors away from the reef and towards the sculptures, the reefs are allowed to heal and rebuild.
MUSA began its project in 2009 and as of now, contains over 470 life-sized statues. The statues within this artificial reef are made from marine concrete which allows algae to take hold and grow. Many of the sculptures underwater are covered in corals and algae which make some look rather creepy. Fish and other sea life are seen swimming through the formations and some make their homes there.
As there are different areas of the park, some are meant for snorkeling and others for diving. Although our tour of the “Silent Evolution” was only 30-35 feet deep, I can’t imagine anyone snorkeling it. It was a partly cloudy day for us and the visibility of the water wasn’t great. Scuba diving allows you to get up close and personal with the structures. There are other areas of MUSA that are shallower and more appropriate for snorkeling.
MUSA is also an excellent location for junior PADI divers since the maximum depth is around 35 feet. It was perfect for my 12 year old daughter, who must dive less than 60 feet.
We chose to scuba dive MUSA with Aquaworld, a popular company in the area that specializes in water activities. (This was not paid for with our Beach Palace Resort credits, which was explained in a previous post. However, Beach Palace was happy to book this trip for us.) We already had paid for our reservations, but we still had to pay a Marine Park entrance fee of $10 per person. Also not included in the dive cost ($70 per person, plus tax) were wetsuits, rented for $10 each. After filling out a bunch of paperwork and flashing our PADI cards, we were ready to hop on the boat.
Because of the delicate ecosystem underwater, we were instructed by Aquaworld to not put on any sunscreen before the dives. Our boat was a generic dive boat, with both roof seating and covered seating below. (I don’t think there was a bathroom on the boat.) We had about 6 dive masters/crew with us, in addition to the captain. While on the boat, we were offered water bottles or soda only.
I noticed that as we headed into the open sea, near Isla Mujeres, the water was very choppy. Since we were cruising pretty fast, the chop wasn’t too noticeable. However, as soon as we stopped, the boat swayed terribly. The seas were only maybe 3-5 foot swells, but for us midwesterners, that was too much. My daughter immediately got seasick and I was also feeling the effects of the waves. As a result, we all geared up quickly and jumped into the water, anything to get off of that swaying boat.
Once I got in the water, I had some issues with my buoyancy. Coupled with the nausea from the boat and a respiratory infection I was recovering from, I was helped by the crew back to the anchor ropes while the rest of the divers went down. The dive masters were very helpful and patient with me as we fixed my buoyancy issues and allowed me to cough, catch my breath, and reorient myself. After a minute at the surface, the dive master and I headed down to join the group.
Unfortunately, as our GoPro camera broke on this dive, we have no photos to share of our experience underwater. Aquaworld, however, did have a crew member taking underwater photos. The prices of those photos were kind of high so we didn’t buy them.
During our MUSA dive, we were able to see the following sculptures: (photos courtesy of MUSA website, musamexico.org)
Seeing these statues underwater, especially the ones of people, was eerie. The statues are life-sized and covered in algae and corals. Our dive master put his regulator into one specific statue and there were bubbles coming out of the statue’s mouth. We also swam through an archway and were surrounded by a small school of beautiful gray angelfish. The statues weren’t right next to each other, as I had guessed. We had to swim a bit before we could see new ones. It’s as if the artists wanted you to focus on the one sculpture only and not see multiples at once.
After the dive was over, we got back on the boat to swap out our tanks before beginning the second dive. The boat was still being tossed around by the waves and immediately I got nauseated. After a couple of minutes on the boat, I was completely seasick. I was not the only one. As we traveled the five minutes to the new dive site, the boat moved slowly, jostling back and forth in the waves. When we stopped moving and the rolling waves continued, it was clear that my youngest daughter was not diving the second dive. I knew that once we got in the water, the nausea would go away; however, I was so sick I didn’t even have the strength to sit up. So, while most of the group went back into the water for dive two to the reef, there were three of us that were too seasick to go. (This is when the crew makes the obnoxious joke about drinking too much tequila the night before.)
It was kind of unfortunate we got sick since we all paid for the second dive. I was a little upset that Aquaworld even took us out there when the water was so choppy, but on the other hand, only half of the divers got sick. It seemed like the crew was used to northerners being seasick, as they had small plastic bags on the boat. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t really do anything more for us (like offer Dramamine), but in hindsight, I don’t think there was much they could do.
While the rest of the group was scuba diving, we rocked back and forth on the boat another 45 minutes, laying down and keeping our eyes closed. Eventually we got used to the swaying. The rest of my family that dove saw various reefs and fish. They said Manchones reef was pretty, but the dive itself couldn’t compare to dives in Hawaii.
Overall, I was impressed with MUSA. I’m thrilled that such a touristy place enforced conservation to protect their reefs. The statues were cool to see and there were some beautiful fish around. When diving MUSA, be prepared to do some swimming between statues. According to my oldest daughter, the second dive at Manchones Reef lacked a variety of colors and a diversity of fish.
Aquaworld receives a B rating because the service both in the store, on the marina, and on the boat, was just alright. The crew was very relaxed, but only some crew members were friendly and helpful. I was disappointed I wasn’t offered Dramamine and disappointed we went out in the choppy seas. I was also a bit discouraged we were told to arrive at the marina at 7:30am, but the front desk wasn’t staffed until 8. So the start to our day was basically a “hurry up, get there, and wait” morning.
For Manchones Reef, I don’t recommend diving it, based on what I saw underwater (it was in the same location as MUSA) and based on my family’s opinion. Dive to see the statues only.
Despite the seasickness, it was a fun experience to see these statues transforming into artificial reefs. It’s a wonderful way to save the reef by diverting people to something they won’t see anywhere else.
Sources: aquaworld.com.mx/en/diving, musamexico.org
Cover photo from musamexico.org