Enjoying Cancun's two main bodies of water, the Caribbean Ocean and the large freshwater lagoon on the west side of the island, is usually a big part of any Cancun getaway. Many of Cancun's activities involve being on or in the water, including swimming, fishing, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, kite boarding, kayaking, sailing or just wading into the water for a refreshing dip.
The good news is that most of the interactions that tourists have in Cancun's waters are safe and very pleasurable. But even though the odds are against having any kind of problem in the water, being aware of the potential dangers is a good way to keep safe.
In his quest to explore Cancun's waters, Carlos Fiesta has had one-on-one encounters with all of the water dangers listed below, including sharks. Most of these events are not life threatening, usually not unbearably painful, and they make great stories when you get home.
CROCODILES1-10 risk factor: "1"
Crocodiles can occasionally be found in the large freshwater lagoon on the west side of Cancun Island. There are not nearly as many now as there used to be.
These waters are usually not used for in-the-water recreation, except for Wave Runners and windsurfing. Rule #1 for avoiding crocks...keep your in-the-water-time to a minimum.
The south end of the lagoon, and smaller lagoons near the Club Med, seem to have a higher percentage of crocks. There are a couple of crocks that live along the shores of the Club Med full time. Hand's up!
JELLYFISH1-10 risk factor: "2"
Jellyfish can occasionally be found near Cancun, although usually not in great numbers. The larger jellyfish, often up to one foot or more in diameter, can be found occasionally well offshore.
The sting of a large jellyfish can cause significant pain, but the pain is usually temporary and rarely lasts more than a day or two. Since they are relatively easy to see in the water, jellyfish can usually be avoided.
Some of these animals are so small they can barely be seen. In the case of most of these very small jellyfish, the sting is almost unperceptive and causes not much more than an itching sensation in most people.
These very small jellyfish can usually be seen with a mask and snorkel. Since most people snorkeling tend to look down towards the floor of the ocean when snorkeling, it is important to remember to look horizontally when checking for small jellyfish.
It is a good idea to look for evidence of jellyfish while walking along the shore before going into the ocean. If the jellyfish are 'running' there are usually pieces of jellyfish or whole jellyfish laying on the sand between the low tide line and the high tide line.
If there is evidence of jellyfish along the shore there is a very good chance that they will also be in the water. Whether or not jellyfish can be seen on the shoreline, it's always a good idea to keep a look out for these slimy looking creatures once you have entered the water.
STINGRAYS1-10 risk factor: "1"
Stingrays are diamond shaped animals with flat bodies found in ocean waters on both the Pacific Coast of Mexico as well as the Caribbean side, usually in shallow warm waters with sandy bottoms. They tend to be more prevalent on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja, and usually hang out together in groups. The larger rays tend to stay in deeper water. They are not common in the waters off of Cancun
Most swimmers use the 'Stingray Shuffle' as the primary method of avoiding these marine animals if they are visiting a local beach. By simply shuffling your feet while walking forward in the water, most stingrays will do their best to get out of the way. Walking 'heavy' on the ocean bottom while shuffling provides the same desired effect...warning these critters that you are nearby.
Stingrays are brown or tan and tend to blend in with flat sandy bottoms. They are sometimes covered with sand, and will usually not spend much time in the surf zone where waves are breaking and where the sandy bottom is rolling from the constant wave action. However, in calmer water just a little bit deeper they can be found laying still on the bottom.
Stingrays have barbed spines near the base of their long whip-like tails capable of inflicting wounds on whatever part of the 'target' they strike. Since most people surprise stingrays with their feet, foot injuries are by far the most common with stingrays.
Once the barb of a stingray has been 'stung' into the foot of a person, venom enters the bloodstream. The pain is sharp and immediate, varying with the degree of the stingray 'hit'. It is important to address the wound as soon as possible. The main goals are to remove any barb that may have been placed by the ray, and suck out the venom from the wound. This is easily done with a small suction kit available for just such a job. Keeping the affected foot in extremely hot fresh water will do wonders to reduce pain until the poison is removed.
The good news is that stingrays are passive animals. They will only strike when they feel that their life is in danger. Such is the case when most people step on them. So whenever enjoying sandy waters that have been known to contain stingrays, walk slowly and heavily, shuffle your feet and keep your eyes open.
URCHINS1-10 risk factor: "1"
Urchins are found on the reefs offshore, although there are some urchins on the manmade jettys and reefs at the north and south end of Cancun. Their habitat usually starts just a foot or two below the ocean surface.
These purple spiny creatures are only found along shorelines that are made up of rocks or reefs. Urchins to not live in or even visit sandy beaches but may proliferate very close by on large submerged rocks adjacent to sandy beaches.
Urchins are usually not much bigger than a human fist, and many of them are smaller. They have hundreds of spiny (extremely sharp) pricks that protrude several inches from the center of their body in all directions.
Once a person had been stuck by an urchin it is important to determine if a part of the urchin needle is still inside the flesh of the victim. If the needle has entered the skin but not broken off inside, the wound will quickly heal and it's Margarita Time.
If the needle of the urchin has broken off inside the person, removing it from the body is the best way to minimize pain and infection. Unlike a stingray wound, there is no real urgency to remove the needle of an urchin, it just makes sense to do it as soon as possible.
Urchin pricks that have broken off inside a person's foot or hand will not desolve in the body quickly. It usually takes months for the human body to desolve the hard needles of an urchin. So if it is possible to remove the needle with a pair of tweezers that should be the goal. Sometimes the urchin needle will 'work its way out' by itself after about two weeks.
CORAL1-10 risk factor: "2"
Coral, the colorful creature that ads so much beauty to the underwater environment, is actually a collection of thousands of small microbic animals joined together, and not an underwater plant as it sometimes appears.
Coral needs an ocean water temperature of at least 70 degrees to live and thrive, which means most of the west coast of Baja does not have coral. Since Cancun is located in the Tropics where the water is warmer year round, coral is common on the reefs,
As beautiful as coral is to look at, you don't want to rub up along side of it when you are next to it. When in contact with human skin, most corals will cause a significant rash, and the rash can become inflamed. The pain is significant, but not unbearable. It usually subsides within 24 hours.
Just like urchins, coral is found on rocks and reefs, and is not found along sandy beaches. Coral thrives on ocean water with nutrients, so water with some degree of circulation tends to be a better environment for most corals to live long and prosper.
In some parts of the world where the ocean waters are very warm all year long coral grows so well that it actually forms coral reefs systems. Some of the best coral in the Caribbean can be found east and south of Cancun on the island of Cozumel.
SHARKS1-10 risk factor: "1"
Bad news, good news. The bad news in that there are sharks in the waters off of Cancun. The good news? Carlos Fiesta has been swimming, snorkeling, Scuba diving, kayaking, boating and flying over Cancun's waters for over 25 years and has only seen one shark. And that was on a shark-searching Scuba diving trip.
Sharks live in the ocean and Cancun is surrounded by oceans, so it makes sense that somewhere in those waters there are sharks swimming around. But these beautiful animals don't have much interest in the shallow waters near Cancun's coastline, so they are really a non-factor for Cancun visitors.
There are reefs located well off of Cancun's coast where sharks congregate. In fact some of the locations are so predictable that dive groups actually arrange tours to these reefs so people can 'dive with the sharks'.
Just in case you find yourself in the vicinity of a shark, don't freak out. Most sharks are relatively small and will leave you alone. As for larger sharks, stay calm, don't make any sudden moves, and if the big guy tries to take a bite out of you just punch him on the nose. Really.
Most sharks have no desire to take a bite out of a human being. Incidents where sharks have taken a bite out of people are often explained by the fact that the diver/surfer/swimmer was wearing a wetsuit, looked a bit like a seal (a tasty morsel for any shark!), and made movements that reinforced the idea that the leg/arm/torso in question might indeed be a seal.
In short, you/ve got a much greater chance of getting hurt in your car on the way to the airport than you do of having a close encounter with a shark in Cancun.