Banco Chinchorro is the northern hemisphere’s largest atoll reef about 35km (21.7 miles) off the coast of Majahual. It is 40km (25 miles) long and 16km (10 miles) covering an area of 800km2. The area has three islands: Cayo Norte, Cayo Central and Cayo Lobos with a total of only 6.7km2 in land area. In 1996 it was converted into a Biosphere Reserve.
The islands are uninhabited so there’s nowhere to stay on the atoll but it’s easily reached for a diving or snorkelling tour from Majahual or Xcalak. Over 200 local fishermen have made their home in the waters surrounding the atoll so seeing the stilt houses in the middle of the water is quite a sight! There is some dive centre which can organise overnight trips staying in the village.
The Chinchorro Bank is known to fishermen as ‘the ships graveyard’. Many ships have sunk here over the years but due to deterioration, most aren’t recognisable anymore, but 9 or so are still in good condition including a passenger ferry that was stranded after Hurricane Wilma (and is half sticking out of the water), and two Spanish Galleons. Be sure to snorkel the site 40 cannons. Due to the fact that the wrecks are so shallow, only snorkelling is permitted on most of them.
The reef diving is wonderful here though. At Punta Isabel or Dos Primas you can do a drift dive or the Aquarium I or II a more shallow dive and expect to see loads of colourful coral, groupers, snapper, a turtle or two, lobsters, eagle rays and barracuda. The sites are teaming with life and a photographer’s paradise.
There are special fly-fishing tours to the flats near Cayo Centro and it’s a great experience for any fishing enthusiast. The best time to visit is in the summer months when the seas are calm, as tour operators won’t go in rough conditions (they don’t want to become another shipwreck!).
(By Kelly Luckman)
Banco Chinchorro is 36 nautical miles far from Xcalak, the oldest town on the Mexican Caribbean coast. Getting to Chinchorro is not easy and the best months are during the summer. There are three small keys, Cayo Norte, Cayo Centro, and Cayo Lobos. There are no towns or settlements on the island. Only the marine park protection with guards and fishermen saying for several weeks or months