My first dive trip to Cozumel Island in 1980 was very enjoyable. Clear water, tropical fish, coral walls and reefs—it is was all there and exceeded my expectations in fun and beauty.

I went again in ’81 but, unfortunately, over two decades lapsed before I could get back again. While Cozumel was a diving destination back in 1980, tourist hotels, cruise ships and non-diving tourists were few and infrequent.

After 23 years I returned to Cozumel with full knowledge that the tourist trade had exploded. While diving services improved, including more and better boats and hotels, would the diving itself be the same? Would Cozumel’s reefs be just as good or suffer from the treadmarks and footprints of too many visitors?

I am happy to report that has not. As a matter of fact, it is actually considerably better than 20+ years ago.

Jacques Cousteau, one of the first to explore Cozumel’s underwater wonderland, first visited the island in 1961, declaring its reefs some of the most beautiful in the world. But local fishermen were still working the island and as tourism and local population grew here and at nearby Cancun, the pressure increased. It was not until 1996 that much of Cozumel’s reefs became fully protected with the creation of a Marine National Park. When I first saw Cozumel’s reefs in 1980, fishing had already gone on for many years. In retrospect, although the diving was beautiful, fish, lobster, turtle, and conch population, all heavily harvested, did seem thin in 1980.

After only a few years of complete protection, the marine life is in a state of full vigor. So when I hit the water last summer, I was more dazzled than ever! Schools of fish formally popular for the dinner plate, are back in large numbers, including snapper, jacks, and barracuda. In 1980 and 81, I did not see a single turtle in a total of 10 days of diving. Last summer we saw turtles on nearly all dives. Grouper and crab were abundant and friendly. Cozumel is not just a dive for clear water and coral vistas but also for a cornucopia of colorful marine life. It is a model of marine protection.

Cozumel is one of most popular dive destinations in all of North America, with good reason. Its clear waters are unparalleled. Here also are some of the Caribbean best coral drop-offs and canyons. Now knowing that the fish, turtles and other marine life are more prolific than ever, you can bet I will be back.

And getting back is easy and affordable. In addition to being one of the Caribbean’s most spectacular dive destinations, it is one of the least expensive. A large variety of accommodations and packages are available. Most of the hotels are right on the beach, many with shore diving and dive boat pickup. Direct flights from the U.S. mainland are frequent and inexpensive. For even cheaper transportation, fly to the Island with a quick stop in Cancun or take a short ferry ride from Cancun to Cozumel, only 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.