In search of forgotten shipwrecks in the Riviera Maya

Project type: Expedition
Dates: 18 – 25 May, 2018
Project language: English
Minimum age: 18

The archaeology project and the island

The Riviera Maya is a popular destination among tourists. From the vibrant nightlife of Cancun to the beautiful beaches of Akumal, the Yucatan peninsula has it all. However, this region still holds some hidden secrets, places far off the beaten path that most people have never even heard of. One such place is the Chinchorro Bank, a large, shallow coral atoll close to the Belizean border. During colonial times, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the Chinchorro Bank was notorious as its low-lying reefs were navigational hazards where dozens of ships found their final resting place. An entire range of ship types is said to be found on the Chinchorro Bank: from wooden-hulled vessels of which only cargo and cannons remain, to metal-hulled vessels that are still in good condition.

This expedition is aimed at discovering, exploring, and documenting these remote shipwreck sites on the Chinchorro Bank. We will start the project in the coastal town of Xcalak on the mainland, where we will stay in a hotel and prepare for the expedition. Here we will also make three dives on pristine reefs where we have a chance to see manatees and the famous wall of tarpons. Next, we will take a boat to the Chinchorro Bank, where we will spend three days and two nights, sleeping in a fisherman’s hut and diving every day to explore and document shipwrecks. After our stay in Chinchorro we will return to Xcalak where we will process the data and present the results to the local community.

The Expedition

The expedition will comprise an 8-day program focused on the exploration of remote shipwreck sites, for a total of 60 hours of fieldwork (including 9 dives), lectures, and data processing. As this is an exploratory expedition, there will be a heavy focus on underwater photography, videography, and photogrammetry (3D modeling). The expedition includes the following components:

Underwater fieldwork

  • Surveying techniques
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry and photomosaics
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons and anchors


  • Maritime archaeology
  • Underwater documentation using the latest imaging technologies
  • Advanced underwater photography and videography
  • Photo and video editing
  • Documenting cannons and anchors in their context

In the lab

  • Processing of fieldwork data
  • Editing photos, videos, and 3D models

Tours and excursions

  • Three dives on pristine reefs in Xcalak

Dissemination of results

  • Presentation of research results to the local community


The first night we will stay in the HM Hotel in Playa del Carmen, located right in the center of town at a stone’s throw from the famous fifth avenue. The second day we will travel to Xcalak where we will stay at the Flying Cloud Beach Hotel, a small 5-room bed & breakfast located on the outskirts of town. It is located right next to XTC dive center, which will be our logistical partner for all diving activities. Accommodation is based on double occupancy, and each hotel room has sea view. Single surcharge is $255, subject to availability. During our stay in Chinchorro, we will be sleeping in hammocks in a fisherman’s hut. Being in such a remote place, this is the only type of accommodation available. It’s what a true adventure is all about! The fisherman’s huts do have electricity through a generator we will bring ourselves.


We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food will be provided for the duration of the project. We will have a welcome dinner in Playa del Carmen on the first night. While in Xcalak, food is provided by the Coral Bar & Grill, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual, friendly atmosphere right on the beach. For our stay in Chinchorro, we will bring all food with us.


  • Participants to the expedition are required to be certified scuba divers and hold at least a PADI Open Water certificate or equivalent certification from another agency.


The total course fee is USD 2,450. This includes:

  • 7 nights accommodation
  • Food based on three meals per day (drinks are included while in Chinchorro)
  • Transfer from Playa del Carmen to Xcalak and back to either Playa del Carmen or Cancun Airport
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • All diving activities
  • Full dive equipment rental
  • Park fees

How to apply

Because of the remote nature of this expedition, it is limited to only 6 participants. Our programs tend to fill up quickly so it is advised to apply as far in advance as possible. An application form can be downloaded here, and once filled out, emailed to Once the application form is received, we will send you the payment instructions for a deposit to reserve your spot.

How to get here

Getting to Playa del Carmen is easy. Cancun airport is served daily by many destinations around the world. From Cancun airport, take a taxi or bus for a short 45-minute ride to Playa del Carmen.


The expedition is carried out in cooperation with XTC Dive Center in Xcalak. See their website for more information.