As one of the most diverse and stunning countries in Central America, Mexico boasts incomparable natural beauty, a rich culture, and delicious cuisine that make it a top destination to visit year-round.
It’s no surprise that its largest Caribbean Island, Cozumel, enjoys the same beauty and cultural richness. Yet, Cozumel adds its own little charm to give you a unique experience that blends the Mexican identity with a Caribbean flavor.
Like most Caribbean islands, Cozumel has no shortage of palm-lined white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, but Cozumel is much more than that; it offers a well-rounded destination that can keep you busy and entertained for weeks!
With a size of roughly 30 miles by 10 miles, Cozumel is small enough to be able to visit almost every part of the island, even on a short visit, but large enough to host a vibrant town and a variety of activities.
So, here I’ll share with you some of the best things you must do to experience the best of Cozumel.
Getting to Cozumel
Cozumel is just 12 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen, which is the closest hopping point by ferry.
The cheapest way to reach Cozumel is by flying to Cancun’s International Airport, and from there taking the 1-hour ADO bus to Playa del Carmen, and then the 45 minutes Ultramar or Winjet ferry to the island.
If coming from Cancun, I recommend buying the combined ADO bus and Ultramar ticket from the airport (or from Cozumel when returning), as usually the ferries and buses are scheduled to connect almost seamlessly. The current cost is MX$428 or around $22.00
Alternatively, you can also fly to Cozumel, but of course, this is a more expensive option – though an easier one.
How Long to Stay in Cozumel
How long you stay there depends on what you want to do, but I highly recommend staying there for a week (at least) – especially if you’re diving (more on that soon).
Cozumel is a tranquil island, so everything happens slowly. This is the perfect place to relax and have a chill and relaxing time.
Should you not be able to spend a week there, at least try to stay there for 3 to 4 days.
While most travelers visit Cozumel for half a day as part of their cruise ship itinerary, I highly recommend spending more time on the island on a separate trip, because half a day is not enough to even scratch the surface there.
The Best Time to Visit Cozumel
One of the beauties of being in the Caribbean is that you can enjoy Cozumel and its warm tropical weather year-round. But of course, as with any destination, there are optimal times.
December through early June are the best months to visit, as they fall outside the hurricane season (June to November). August and September are usually the hottest months.
December to February are the peak of the high season, so March to June are the sweet spot.
For divers, while you can dive year-round too, the best times to dive there depend on what you want to see. If you’re hoping to see the stunning Eagle Ray, you should visit from December to April, when they roam the reefs in the hundreds.
Have in mind, though, that this is when the water is at its coldest (around 73 degrees Fahrenheit) – so you’ll need a 3mm wetsuit during these months.
Having said that, when I dove with ScubaTony during May, and still managed to see an Eagle Ray! Lucky, maybe?
Other big or unique sea-life like nurse sharks, hawksbill turtles, loggerhead turtles, green turtles, green moray eels, blacktip reef sharks, seahorses, and many others can be seen year-round.
Where to Stay in Cozumel
I highly recommend staying at Fulvio Cozumel Rentals. Fulvio’s home, which has been fitted with four rooms for rent, is a very charming and tranquil spot to stay at.
Fulvio is extremely welcoming and helpful in every way possible. His place is just outside the touristy center, but still accessible by a 5-minute bike ride.
Alternatively, there are plenty of really good Airbnb options you can choose from. Location wise I suggest staying in the city center, closer to the waterfront, but you could also choose to stay closer to the cruise port if you’d like more “Americanized” amenities nearby.
If you’re looking for some seclusion, there are several guesthouses peppered throughout the island.
This link will show you some of the best Airbnb in Cozumel.
Don’t Miss Diving, or at least Snorkeling
As you noticed, I included a diving mention in the “when to visit” section because diving is one of the best, if not the best activity you can do in Cozumel.
The island has been blessed with some of the most stunning reefs in the world, which are part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), known as the Mesoamerican Reef or the Great Mayan Reef. It extends over 600 miles from the north of Yukatan, at Contoi island to the Bay of islands in Honduras.
Most reefs in Cozumel are in fact of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, so they are protected and kept as pristine as possible. From my experience, I can say that the sites in Cozumel are among the most beautiful and diverse I’ve dived to date.
As I mentioned previously, I dove with ScubaTony, which I highly recommend as they’ve been one of the most professional dive shops I’ve experienced to date. Not only are they excellent at what they do, but they also allow you the flexibility of choosing your dive spots if your fellow divers are also cool with the idea of diving that particular spot.
This happened to me on one dive when I really wanted to do the WWII shipwreck known as C-53 or Felipe Xicoténcatl. I asked my divemaster if we could do it, he told me to share it with the group to get a consensus. Once I did, everyone was happy with the idea!
But, since ScubaTony groups are small, not more than 6 divers per boat, probably the odds will be on your favor. And, small dive groups are much better than huge groups, especially when you’re diving one of the many caves, tunnels, and swim-throughs found all over the Reef National Marine Park.
One last thing, I did eight dives with ScubaTony, and while all their staff and dive masters are excellent, I highly recommend diving with Mark. He’s funny, extremely professional, and one of the best people to dive with (no matter if you’re an amateur or a pro).
Head to the Beach
Naturally, going to the beach is one of the best things to do in Cozumel. There are many public beaches open to the public, as well as “private” beaches reserved for certain beachside businesses, resorts, and clubs that you can access by either being a customer or getting a day pass.
Usually, the beaches on the western side of the island are calmer and cleaner (with no sargassum), while the ones on the eastern side get all the gulf currents, so they tend to be a bit rougher, with bigger waves, and in some cases, with some sargassum.
Actually, most beaches in Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum, among others, are full of sargassum at the moment, which makes the west coast of Cozumel sort of a hidden gem thanks to the currents that keep the sargassum away from this coastline.
Paradise Beach (on the west) is a really nice one to visit. It is part of the Paradise Beach Club, where you can relax at the beach and its pool, and have a fun day at its floating water park, kayaking, snorkeling, and grabbing a bite at its restaurant. You can buy the fun pass in advance to have an all-inclusive experience there!
Normally, beaches on the eastern side tend to be less crowded, so these are better to relax mostly by yourself in nature. The beaches north of El Mirador are really nice to lay on the sand, relax, and swim if the water is calm.
Walk its City Center
While the town of San Miguel (Cozumel’s downtown) is quite big, its touristy city center is really small, so it’s easy to walk. The main square, Benito Juarez Park, serves as the epicenter where every tourist goes, especially because it is located right across the ferry pier.
Take a selfie with the “Isla Cozumel” sign and its clock tower, and walk along 5ta Avenida Norte, where you’ll find several cafes and local shops.
Also walk along the waterfront avenue, where you’ll enjoy the esplanade, its shops, cafes, and even a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Do a Road Trip Around the Island (or Do a Quad Tour)
I highly recommend renting a motorbike or a car not only to move around the town and the beaches but also to do a road trip around the island. Outside of town, Cozumel has mainly a loop road that circles two-thirds of the island. This road takes you to some of the best beaches there as well as some really cool bars off-the-beaten-path.
El Mirador and Freedom in Paradise Reggae Beach Bar are two of those bars you can visit on this road trip. They are located along the beach on the eastern side of the island, which make them much more secluded and relaxed than the beach bars on the west.
At El Mirador, you’ll also see some beautiful rock arches and formations carved by the sea over millennia. It’s a stunning place to relax without the crowds usually found on the western side of the island.
On this road trip, you can also visit the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins, the Punta Sur Eco Park, as well as many other beaches.
Alternatively, should you not want to rent a motorbike or car, you can do a guided jeep tour that’ll take you to some of the best beaches on the island, do a tequila tasting, and have a delicious taco lunch!
Visit its Maya Ruins
As small as it may be, Cozumel played an important role in the Maya empire back when it ruled this region. The ruins of San Gervasio, named after its location in the former “San Gervasio” ranch, is considered as the center of pilgrimages where the Mayan worshiped the Goddess “Ixchel.”
Since Ixchel is the goddess of fertility, medicine, and weaving, the Mayan –especially women– visited the complex to make offerings at least once in their lives.
The ruins complex, while small compared to Chichen Itza and other major sites, offers an interesting view on how the Mayans developed their religious and administrative centers, as well as how they lived their daily life.
Go to the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park
For a small island, Cozumel has a decent amount of beach parks you can visit, but one of the most popular ones is the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park.
Chankanaab is an eco-archaeological park by the beach where you can do a tequila tasting tour, hang by the beach, see its underwater statues, snorkel, dive, ride its zipline, do the Seatrek, and other family-friendly activities. You can even do a spa there!
The Seatrek is a “helmet diving” tour. In it, you wear a fully enclosed helmet from your shoulders up, which allows you to walk the bottom of the ocean at around 20 to 25 feet in depth. It’s almost like diving! You can book your tour directly on their website.
Chankanaab has an entrance fee, but it is worth it. You can actually skip the line by purchasing your tickets online.
About Chankanaab, I must mention, though, that the park has a sea lion show as well as dolphins and manatees in captivity. I personally don’t condone any tourism activity that involves animal or promotes their captivity. In their case, I’d visit the park for its other activities.
Enjoy Nature at the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
The Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is a reserve with over 1,000 hectares filled with a variety of fauna, flora and a lagoon system. This park is ideal for nature lovers and bird watchers.
There you can see crocodiles in their natural habitat, snorkel its reefs, see its sea turtles, and even relax on a hammock. The park also has a lighthouse that offers spectacular 360-degree views of the entire island of Cozumel – you just have to climb its 127 steps!
The park also has a small Mayan ruin called El Caracol. Make sure not to miss it.
Punta Sur also has an entrance fee, but again, worth it. You can purchase your tickets online to skip the line.
Go Deep in the Jade Cavern
Head to the heart of Cozumel by exploring the Champitas Cenote and Jade Cavern. You’ll get the thrill of driving off-road vehicles in the jungle for about 30 minutes until you reach the Jade Cavern, where you’ll see this natural sinkhole filled with beautiful jade-colored water and decorated by stalactites and other rock formations.
You can relax and float on the water with a water-tube, snorkel under the formations, and even jump off the 20-foot cliff. I recommend this tour if you want to do it with the Xrail off-road vehicles or this tour if you want to do it with an ATV.
Ride the Atlantis Submarine
Remember the C-53 wreck I mentioned above? Well, if you’re not a diver, you can still see it and many of the beautiful reefs bordering Cozumel thanks to the Atlantis Submarine. Since these reefs are so rich and alive, you’ll probably see hundreds of fish, a few turtles, sharks, stingrays, lobsters, and more.
At the moment it departs at 10:00am, 12:00pm and 1:00pm. You can buy your tickets in advance here.
Do a Catamaran or Small Cruise Trip
Hop aboard a catamaran or small cruise to relax aboard while you enjoy drinks, snacks, and in some cases, even a lobster dinner! Along the way, you can swim and snorkel some of the best shallow reefs where you can spot stingrays and turtles, as well as many other sea life.
Go to a Chocolate Farm
The Mayans were excellent at making chocolate, and fortunately, Cozumel still keeps this chocolate-making tradition alive in its Mayan Cacao Company.
You can take their tour where you can see the entire process of making chocolate from fermenting the beans to grinding them into a paste, and more. And of course, you will taste the original Mayan chocolate recipe!
Go to the Cha’an Ka’an Planetarium (if with Kids)
Cha’an Ka’an in Maya means “to observe or enjoy the sky,” so why not do that, especially if you’re traveling with your kids? This is the first 3D full-dome planetarium in Latin America where you can enjoy a celestial image in real-time. They also have a Mayan Room where you can learn about the Mayan astronomy as well as many other topics. It is closed on Mondays.
Go Deep Sea Fishing
As expected, fishing enthusiasts can enjoy one of the top deep sea fishing locations in the Caribbean, which is done outside of the protected marine park protecting the stunning reefs west of the island.
You can catch Mahi Mahi, triggerfish, barracudas, tuna, blue marlins, and many others depending on the season.
Hunt for the Sea Walls Street Art
Curious about all the beautiful street art all over the town of San Miguel? They are all part of Sea Walls; a public arts initiative to give the oceans a creative voice.
Every two years Sea Walls invites dozens of local and international artists to create some stunning street art that brings awareness to the pollution and overfishing that’s killing our oceans. Walk around town and spot your favorite art.
I love many of them, but one of my favorites is the one next to the Mega Soriana Supermarket.
Enjoy its Delicious Food!
I may not be a foodie, but I can certainly say food in Cozumel is delicious!! For breakfast, I highly recommend going to Panaderia El Maple (they have two locales), where you can get fresh local pastries as well as some international favorites. Corazon Contento is another excellent spot for a more wholesome breakfast.
Taqueria El Pique, on the other hand, is my favorite for dinner. This taqueria mostly frequented by locals, so its food is both delicious and cheap. It has a wide variety of traditional tacos served in both corn and wheat tortillas. Try their chicken tacos and tacos Al Pastor, among many others.
Lastly, Cerveceria Punta Sur offers delicious pizzas and a selection of locally brewed and foreign beers. Another great spot for dinner.
Hang out at Night with a Margarita in Hand
Start your night at El Palomar, where you can watch the sunset while enjoying a drink. El Palomar is located just 5 minutes north of the ferry pier.
Other places worth visiting for a drink and live music are Agave (located in the main square) and Viva Mexico. For Viva Mexico, it is recommended going on a Saturday night, and it is also recommended to reserve a table ahead of time to get a good seat.
Lastly, for a more casual hangout, head to Wet Wendy’s, where you’ll enjoy live music and huge margaritas almost the size of your head, and Dick’s Dive, which has a similar ambiance. In fact, they are located just across the street from each other on 5ta Avenida Norte.
Just because you’re on an island doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the best sights in mainland Mexico. Cozumel is close enough to Playa del Carmen and Tulum that you can do a day trip to the Tulum Mayan Ruins and to the cenotes.
As you can see, Cozumel might be small, but it is packed with tons of things to do for a fun, active, and even relaxed trip.
Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.
Book Your Accommodation
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Airbnb offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices.
For hotels, guesthouses, and other types of accommodation, I also recommend Booking.com. They usually have the cheapest fares for guesthouses and hotels. I always book my hotels with Booking.com.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I use World Nomads and highly recommend it.
Other Travel and Money-Saving Tips?
Check out my resource page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!) this page will help.
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