Just offshore from the beaches of Isla Mujeres is an underwater museum of more than 500 sculptures that sit on the ocean floor. Day and night, these gorgeous, ethereal statues lie by the hundreds among the sea life, coral, blue water, drifting sand, and shimmering light. They are MUSA, The Underwater Museum of Art, and they are why I got certified to dive.
I signed up with Aquaworld, a diving outfitter based on Cancun’s hotel strip. They offered two different tours of the museum – one for diving and one for snorkeling. Punta Nizuc is a shallow part of the museum, where at a depth of four meters is only available for snorkeling tours. We departed from the marina at 2 and went south. I drank cerveza on the boat, looking out at the thunderheads in the west. Could they end this tour?
I jumped in the water and followed our guide along numerous turns, as he seemed to know the way. Every few minutes I would look down and see the top of a sculpture amidst the sea grass and schools of fish. We swam right over Reclamation, an angelic sculpture of a woman with her arms raised to the heavens. My camera kept fucking up and I only managed to get one good shot of Understanding, where six men sat around a stone table near the water’s surface.
The next day was more promising. We took the boat out to Manchones, a dive site of eight meters and many more sculptures on the seabed. We got in the water and the other divers disappeared under the surface. As a young diver, I was still uncertain if I knew everything that I kind of learned in my classes. Can I equalize my right ear at this depth? It’s been stubborn before. It turns out that I can. If I start at the top and move my jaw as far as I can to the right, blowing out as I descend, then the air finds its way into my inner ear enough not to fuck up my vacation. And that’s good, because this was only my seventh dive.
We started at the Urban Reef, what would be characterized as an underwater town. There were little one room houses and a few sculptures of bombs and mines on the town’s edge. We swam through Seascape, a vertical ring of eight feet. I followed the other divers as the photographer waited for each of us to swim through.
There were the Bankers, a group of men with suitcases and heads buried in the sand. The divemaster told us that they were originally titled “Politicians” but had to change the name (The joke, I assume, being that politicians and bankers are pretty much the same fucking people.)
But perhaps the most spectacular exhibit of the day was Silent Evolution, a huge crowd of families, adorned already in years of flora. Eventually, they will be just another reef on the seabed. But for now, they watched us quietly as we swam by, marveling at their magnificence.
For the second dive, we explored the ridges of the Manchones Reef, an impressive 12km system along Isla Mujeres. There was abundant coral and sea life, and I was finally starting to get some decent buoyancy. I think I’m ready for deeper places in the sea.
There are many fantastic statues near the surface, but MUSA can only be fully appreciated when you can sit among the men and women of coral and stone. And for that, you have to go 25 feet down.
This story continues in the Dos Ojos Cenotes