underwater art museum

This Art Museum Is 40 Feet Below Water

Break out your snorkel mask to peek at these underwater statues
underwater art museum

Fish and coral make their home amid the artificial reef created by the underwater art.

Just a short ferry ride off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, is Isla Mujeres, a thin wisp of an island filled with colorful shops, white sand beaches, and plenty of restaurants serving lobster rolls. However, just offshore and approximately 40 feet below the water lies one of the world’s most artistic artificial reefs.

MUSA, the underwater museum of art, began in 2009 and currently comprises 500 sculptures that can be viewed by scuba diving or snorkeling through Isla Mujeres’ clear Caribbean waters.

Artificial reefs can be built with anything from scuttled boats or submerged subways to cinder blocks or old tires and are intended to “mimic some of the characteristics of a natural reef,” according the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These ocean-floor structures are designed to prevent the erosion of sand and provide protection to sea life. The sculptures of MUSA serve the same purpose – with just a touch more flair.

Colorful fish dart between the sunken statues at the three different “galleries.” Ranges of figures stare up at the surface in an installation called “The Silent Evolution” at Manchones, the dive site near the barrier island. Closer to Cancun’s hotel district, Punta Nizuc offers snorkel views of its “Gardener of Hope” and “Inertia” and Punta Sam’s sea grasses attract turtles amid the “Blessings.”

The 425-square-mile island features more than a dozen dive shops, so an outfit is sure to be close. In keeping with the relaxed island vibe, reservations are mere suggestions; instead, wander up to the typically open-air buildings to chat with a dive leader.

Unfortunately, these trips are often dependent on the weather, so if, for example, a tropical depression forms off the coast and creates rough seas, the harbormaster could require all the vessels to remain docked. If a storm keeps the boats in the marina, head inland to explore the region’s hidden swimming holes.