You may know that Isla Mujeres is a diving and snorkeling destination of the highest caliber, and that our waters mark the northern section of the world’s second-biggest barrier reef, the mighty Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (also called the Great Mayan Reef).
What you may not know is that our Yucatan depths, shared with Cancun, shelter what some regard as the largest artificial reef on the planet—and certainly one of the most unique. The Museo Subaquático de Arte (MUSA)—often called the Cancun Underwater Museum—is, without question, a must-see sight.
The installation, which falls off Isla Mujeres’s southwestern coast within the Cancun-Isla Mujeres National Marine Park, is no gimmicky tourist trap: It’s a beautiful experiment in the fusion of art and environmental conservation. More than 500 sculptures, including a full-size model of a VW Bug and hundreds of life-size human forms, compose two seabed galleries that are equally attractive to swim-finned tourists and native reef critters.
A Singular Museum
Originally conceived of by the marine park’s director Jaime González Cano, the sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, and the former president of the Cancun Nautical Association, Roberto Díaz Abraham, the Underwater Museum both expands reef habitat and aims, by drawing divers and snorkelers to its marvels, to lessen the negative impacts of over-visitation on the area’s wild coral reefs.
Anchored to the rocky seafloor and rendered from a pH-neutral concrete specially designed for the marine environment, the museum’s sculptures offer inviting substrate for corals, algae, and other organisms. And even as they’re colonized by reef life, the artworks comment on humankind’s relationship with the underwater world: Taylor’s “Silent Evolution” presents human sculptures (modeled after local residents) in poses and scenes symbolizing different ways people perceive and treat coral reefs.
The Cancun Underwater Museum is divided into the Salon Manchones, some 26 feet deep and mostly accessible to divers, and the shallower Salon Nizuc, viewable by snorkelers as well as those on glass-bottom boat tours. Besides the striking drowned artwork, you’ll likely enjoy glimpses of reef fish and other sea creatures happily setting up shop in the new eco-friendly real estate.
Whether you’re taking in the galleries in scuba or snorkel gear or through the windows of a glass-bottom boat, you’re sure to come away impressed by the Cancun Underwater Museum: beautiful and a little surreal, and undergoing a fascinating transformation into a biologically busy reef ecosystem. Use Privilege Aluxes as your launch pad for taking in one of the Yucatan’s most incredible spectacles!