When is the best time of
year to go cave diving?
Short answer: Any time. Cave diving is, for the most part, not a seasonal activity. Whenever you want to go, there will be a place for you to go. Nevertheless, there are some seasonal factors affecting cave diving in both Florida and Mexico that you should be aware of.
The only thing that can really make north-central Florida caves undiveable is flooding. This occurs when rain rises water levels in the adjacent Suwannee or Santa Fe rivers to the point where the level of the rivers is higher than that of the water table. At this point, the springs reverse and become siphons, sucking dark tannic river water under ground. This makes caves undiveable for two reasons:
- You can’t see.
- Where diving into an outflowing current increases a diver’s safety margin, diving into a siphon decreases it.
Sometimes river water levels rise so high, you can’t even get close enough to the springs to see, first hand, what is happening to them.
So, what times of year do you have to worry about flooding? Statistically, the greatest likelihood of flooding appears to be between mid-November and mid-December, and from mid-January to mid-April. There is, however, no set pattern. Some years, none of the Suwannee River Valley caves "go under" at all. In other years, the caves can be flooded for months at a time. But, bear in mind:
There is almost always some place you can dive. Devil’s Eye, for example, tends to "go under" only once or twice a decade. When other Suwannee River caves are undiveable, Manatee is often at its best. During the Great Flood of 1998, cave divers flocked to Jackson Blue, in the Florida Panhandle, which was completely unaffected.
Because flooding is such a hard thing to predict, your best bet is to call ahead for the latest information. Any one of the area’s dive stores that specializes in cave diving will be happy to answer your questions.
One of the nicer things about Mexico’s cenotes is that, unlike their Florida counterparts, they never flood. In fact, the things that are most likely to affect your decision about when to plan your cave diving vacation to Mexico will have almost nothing to do with water conditions, which are constant year round.
- You will most likely want to avoid major holidays, when airline reservations, accommodations and rental vehicles are harder to get, and prices are higher. During the week between Christmas and New Years, for example, prices are often more than double what they are during other times of year.
- Summers tend to be very hot, and you are likely to run into more mosquitoes. However, bug spray is essential year round, and you can always cool off in the cenotes. (In fact, after a long, cool dive, the warm sun just might be a welcome companion.)
- Air temperatures will be more pleasant during the winter, but you have a greater likelihood of rain. (What the Hell? You were planning to get wet any way.)
If you will check the price lists for various Riviera Maya hotels and condos, you will see that certain times of year offer substantial savings. If these times mesh with your available vacation days, they may provide the best opportunity for you to go.