What to do on the island of Cozumel (Mexico)?
To visit Cozumel is to discover the third largest island in Mexico, declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and renowned for being one of the best diving destinations in the world!
Even if it is located only 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen and receives cruise ships, it conceals wild and little touristic places.
This is very surprising for the Riviera Maya!
You can just as easily stay in a luxury hotel or spend the day in a comfortable beach club as find a virgin beach or go on an adventure in the jungle.
To help you organize your stay, here is my complete guide to Cozumel with all the activities to do and attractions to see, as well as my hotel recommendations for all budgets.
I’ve also included my top tips and suggested itineraries for visiting Cozumel in 1, 2, or 3 days to make the most of it!
So what to do in Cozumel?
1. Punta Sur Reserve
Punta Sur, located on the southern tip of Cozumel, is a 1000 hectare nature reserve that stretches between white sand beaches, lakes and palm trees.
It is the largest ecological reserve in Cozumel which is home to a multitude of amphibians, reptiles, exotic birds and mammals.
The star of the place is the crocodile, which can be observed from a watchtower or with a guided boat tour which is included in the entrance fee.
There is also the El Caracol archaeological site (1200-1400) and the Celerain lighthouse at the top of which you can reach by climbing 133 steps to have an exceptional 360 degree view of the beaches and the sea.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a gorgeous white sand beach , with calm, crystal clear water!
It is one of my favorite beaches in Mexico because even if it is practically virgin, there are all the facilities to enjoy it: hammocks, chairs, toilets, rental of snorkeling equipment and snack bar.
- Entrance: 19$usd, children from 4 to 12 years old 13$usd
- Open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I recommend this jeep excursion to Punta Sur with a visit to the Celarain lighthouse and the El Caracol Mayan site, lunch in a beach club (water and beer included), snorkeling and free time on the beach. There’s even a tequila tasting!
This magnificent park and beach club is one of Cozumel’s main attractions!
It is the ideal place for the whole family because it allows you to enjoy both nature and the beach, with a cultural aspect.
You can easily spend a day there because there is a lot to do and see:
- Snorkel in one of the most beautiful reefs in the region and see its submerged statues of the Virgin and Christ
- Admire the crystal clear water of the Chankanaab lagoon with its 60 species of tropical fish and corals.
- Discover the 60 replicas of Mayan, Aztec and Toltec sites including El Caracol which is located in Punta Sur
- Stroll through its botanical garden with 350 species of tropical plants
- Relax on the white sand beach under the shade of palm trees
- Embark on one of the three zipline circuits
- Kayaking and paddleboarding …and much more!
- Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, a taxi costs 300 pesos from the center
I recommend this entry which includes access to the entire park as well as a diving session with a certified instructor to explore the magnificent seabed of Cozumel!
You can buy your tickets for Chankanaab directly here.
3. Go Scuba Diving
Of course, the best activity to do in Cozumel is diving!
For what? Quite simply because the island is renowned for being one of the best places for diving and snorkeling in the world.
Cozumel Reef National Park covers southern Cozumel and is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the 2nd largest in the world.
There is an impressive biodiversity (turtles, 26 species of coral and 300 species of fish!) and water that offers very good visibility.
It is here that we find some of the most famous spots on the island, for all levels: the reefs of Palancar, Columbia, Paraiso, Punta Tunich, Chankanaab, Santa Rosa, the Garganta del Diablo (a cave under -marine) and the wreck Felipe Xicoténcatl.
-To snorkel in Cozumel safely, I recommend this 2-hour excursion that takes you to discover 3 reefs.
You can just as well swim or stay on board enjoying the view and the drinks offered.
A perfect excursion for beginners and families, book here.
-For a much more complete experience, here is another option where you will tour Cozumel on an electric bike.
You will first discover a cenote in the jungle, then visit a Mayan botanical garden before arriving at Sky Reef Beach.
You will do a 50 min snorkeling session in the Tormento reef which is not very touristy, enjoy free time at the beach and participate in an introductory workshop on artisanal tequila, with tastings!
4. Enjoy the Best Beaches in Cozumel
The island is mainly known for being a snorkeling destination, but its magnificent beaches are also one of Cozumel’s must-sees!
You can enjoy a real paradise of white sand, little developed, which is rather rare for the Riviera Maya.
The big challenge will be choosing, but here are the ones worth checking out:
- Isla de la Pasion : it is a small private island of barely 2km with mangroves, magnificent reefs and long white sand beaches. It is reached by boat (15 min from Cozumel) and I recommend arriving early in the morning to enjoy all the facilities quietly.
- Chen rio : it’s a well-kept local secret! There is lush vegetation, pools of warm, crystalline water formed naturally by rocks and a good seafood restaurant.
- Playa Palancar : this is one of the most pristine beaches in Cozumel, even though there is a beach club there (no entrance fees or minimum consumption!). It is quite touristy because of the beauty of its waters and its proximity to the reefs of Palancar and Colombia.
- Playa San Francisco : A popular beach for families. There is a beach club where you can rent kayaks, paddle boards, personal watercraft, snorkeling equipment or enjoy floating games. As a bonus, the piña coladas are very good!
- Playa Encantada : a quiet beach with golden sand and calm water, it is located near the south of the island near the Punta Celarain lighthouse from where you can get a very nice view of the beach.
5. El Cielo
El Cielo is one of the most beautiful places to see in Cozumel!
It is an 800m sandbar that lies on the coast of Cozumel, surrounded by beautiful transparent and shallow water.
In order to protect this little paradise, it can only be accessed by boat or catamaran, by taking an organized excursion of about 4 hours.
The excursion takes you first to Palancar Reef to snorkel and observe marine life.
Then we arrive at El Cielo with its crystal clear water of barely 1m where we can see rays, turtles and several starfish. Hence its name, “The Sky”!
You can book here the excursion to El Cielo with pick-up from your hotel in the Riviera Maya, snorkeling equipment, snacks and drinks (beer, water, margaritas).
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
Be responsible: it is very important not to touch the starfish!
6. Go on a Jungle Adventure
If you like adventure with a dose of adrenaline, here is your chance to explore another side of Cozumel, driving your quad on the narrow paths of the jungle!
On the program for the day: tequila tasting , visit to the Mayan village of El Cedral, cave exploration and swimming in a cenote with magnificent stalactites.
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
Bring a change of clothes because you will get dirty! 😉
7. Saint Gervasius
San Gervasio is Cozumel’s main archaeological site.
Before the arrival of the conquistadors, San Gervasio was a place of pilgrimage dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. It was as important to the Mayans as Jerusalem!
People came here mainly to honor Ixchel, but it was also a strategic commercial and political place.
Today you can see several structures dating from the 7C to the 17C , buildings, squares and temples.
Sure San Gervasio isn’t as impressive as other known Mayan sites, but it’s also a lot less touristy and has a wild side to it which I love!
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
I recommend taking a guide to have access to all the interesting information, but since they don’t cover the whole site, don’t forget to do the rest on your own!
- Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Sunday
- Admission $188 Pesos/ $10.50 USD, free for children under 3 years old
8. Take a Food Tour
If you like to discover authentic addresses while traveling, I really recommend taking this guided tour.
The guide takes you to discover the market and its products, as well as several small places that are not touristy.
This is an opportunity to see the local life of Cozumel, learn more about the history and culture of Mexico, interact with its inhabitants and of course taste several specialties of the island.
Personally, it was one of my favorite activities in Cozumel!
9. Cozumel Museum
It is a small museum dedicated to the history, culture and ecosystem of Cozumel.
There are also two temporary exhibitions that present local and international artists as well as a room dedicated to the Carnival of Cozumel.
I also recommend checking out the gift shop which has good prices on jewelry (surprisingly!) and the restaurant on the 2nd floor with a view of the sea and the boats.
- Open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday
- Admission $11, children under 3 free
- Explanations in English and Spanish
10. Visit a Pearl Farm
Here’s an off-the-beaten-track activity in Cozumel that few tourists know about!
Cozumel Pearl Farm is a family project that was created to study and sustainably cultivate the Pinctada Radiata, an oyster capable of producing pearls.
Over the years, the project began to attract curious people and today they offer exclusive excursions for a maximum of 8 people.
You must first go by boat (45min) to the barn which is located on an islet of white sand between the Caribbean and the Laguna de Bahia Ciega in the north of Cozumel.
Once arrived, the visit begins with the presentation of the project, where we discover the process of cultivation, research, etc.
Then the guide takes you snorkeling in the crystal clear sea to see the oysters and the beautiful reef formations.
Then you can enjoy the virgin beach and the hammocks, beer and hamburger included!
Notice to amateurs, there is even a small jewelry store on site that offers objects with pearls.
Cozumel Pearl Farm
- Outings from Monday to Saturday, departure at 10 a.m. return at 4 p.m.
- Maximum 8 people per excursion (per day), so it is very important to book in advance
- It is also possible to sleep on site (camping)
Cozumel with family
There is so much to do and see in Cozumel with kids and teens!
Here are some of the activities the whole family will enjoy:
11. Playa Mia Grand Beach Park
Impossible to miss this water park on the beach!
You can easily spend half a day or a whole day there because there is so much to do, in addition to the bar in the pool, the beach and the restaurant.
Basic access includes the pirate-themed children’s pool, water slides, whirlpool, floating park, as well as kayak, catamaran and water bike rentals.
There are even replicas of Mayan structures submerged at 5m to explore while snorkeling!
And to stay dry, there is also a ping pong table, a volleyball court and a football pitch.
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
Next to Playa Mia is also The Mayan Cacao Company, a museum dedicated to cocoa. You can join the tour with tasting, the chocolate making workshop, or the chocolate and margarita workshop!
12. Corn Town
It is a pre-Hispanic themed village that allows you to discover Mayan culture, history and traditions.
This is a fantastic activity to do with kids in Cozumel, but no matter how old you are, I can guarantee you’ll love the tour as it’s both very informative and interactive.
We dive into the Mayan world, to discover the rituals with dance and music, in addition to the importance of different products such as maize , cocoa and henequen , a plant that made Yucatán rich in the 19th century.
There is even a representation of the Mayan ball game, an important ritual sport practiced by many peoples of Mesoamerica.
- Admission 16$usd, includes the one-hour visit, activities and tastings
- Page Facebook
13. Dive aboard a Submarine
Here is an extraordinary activity to do in Cozumel: dive 30m underwater in a submarine!
The Atlantis XII takes you to explore the Chankanaab Reef which is part of the 2nd largest coral reef in the world.
Seated comfortably, you can admire through your porthole a multitude of colorful fish, manta rays, turtles, corals and the Felipe Xicotencatl wreck, with explanations in English and Spanish.
It is an experience accessible to young children (min 4 years old, height 91cm) as well as to the elderly, and ideal for all those who would like to discover the seabed without having to dive to such a depth.
I suggest booking in advance as places are limited. You can do it directly here.
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
No need to worry about safety : the submarine receives certification from the American Bureau of Shipping every year and it is piloted by a professional crew who is in constant communication with the surface.
14. Discover Mexico Park
It’s an interactive open-air museum with scale models of all of Mexico’s most important iconic landmarks: Chichen Itzá, Tulum ruins , Mexico City Cathedral , and more.
This is a visit not to be missed in Cozumel since it allows you to have an overview of the most important sites in Mexico!
There’s even a performance by the Voladores de Papantla, an impressive ritual dance that has been declared a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site.
15. Cha’an Ka’an Planetarium
Cha’an Ka’an means to observe the sky, and this is what this immersive 360° show offers , some of which are in 3D!
It presents different concepts of the universe and the Mayan cosmovision. There is also an interactive space, special activities for children, a restaurant (good and affordable).
In addition, it is very close to the ferry, so it is an interesting stop to make while waiting for your departure time while resting in the air conditioning!
- Entrance 157 pesos, child 131 pesos from 4 to 12 years old. 3D shows are reserved for ages 6+
- Show in English and Spanish
- Website of planetarium
How long to visit Cozumel?
There are so many things to do and see in Cozumel!
The ideal is to spend 3 days in Cozumel to have time to explore its magnificent beaches, snorkeling spots and large ecological parks.
In order to make the most of your stay, here are my suggestions for 1, 2 and 3 day itineraries in Cozume l:
1 Day Cozumel Itinerary
If you only have one day in Cozumel, you can’t miss the most beautiful diving spots in Cozumel!
I recommend this day trip which includes pick up from your Riviera Maya hotel, lunch, snorkeling in Palancar Reef as well as El Cielo, known for its starfish.
2 Days Cozumel Itinerary
If you have two days in Cozumel, I suggest you do the snorkeling excursion on day 1, then on day 2 focus on Punta Sur.
I recommend this jeep excursion which will take you to visit Punta Sur and the Celarain lighthouse, with snorkeling, free time on the beach, lunch in a beach club and tequila tasting !
3 Days Cozumel Itinerary
If you have 3 days in Cozumel, follow the program above then the 3rd day, you can explore the many beaches like Isla de la Pasion, Chen rio, Playa San Francisco or Playa Encantada.
If you are traveling with the family, Chankanaab Park is a very good choice since the park brings together many activities in the same place (snorkeling, beach, zip line, botanical garden, etc.)
You can buy your entry to the park here.
Accommodation in Cozumel – The best hotels
Sleeping in Cozumel is a very good idea if you want to enjoy the island in a privileged way because the majority of visitors only come for the day.
- Hacienda Boutique Mi Casa tu Casa B&B: a hacienda-style house with authentic Mexican charm, colorful, with outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi. Very good traditional breakfast and an excellent welcome from the hosts. From just 73 euros per night!
- Villas El Encanto Cozumel: for more comfort, here is a hotel that offers air-conditioned apartments and bungalows with a small kitchen and terrace. Nice garden, swimming pool, hammocks and deck chairs. At only 100 euros per night, it offers excellent value for money!
- Allegro Cozumel All-Inclusive: here is an all-inclusive hotel in Cozumel ideal for families! Located on San Francisco beach, you can do many activities (Beach volleyball, yoga, diving, kayaking, etc.). It also offers a playground and a children’s club, in addition to 3 swimming pools, one of which has slides. From 180 euros per night with all-inclusive formula!
- Melia Cozumel All Inclusive: for more tranquility, here is an all-inclusive hotel with a magnificent private beach, large rooms, complete spa, two swimming pools, one of which is reserved for adults with a bar. I recommend the ocean view room, from 240 euros per night with all-inclusive formula!
Cozumel without Sargassum
The problem is that no one can predict when and where they will drop off, to the great despair of hotels, agencies…and of course travelers!
So it’s a bit of a matter of luck, but some destinations are much less exposed than others.
This is the case of Cozumel, where there is never any sargassum!
To be more precise, there is no sargassum on the west coast of Cozumel , therefore on the beaches facing Playa del Carmen.
Sometimes there are a few elsewhere, for example in Punta Sur and the east of the island.
Cheap Cozumel: all my tips for saving!
In general, the island is quite expensive but there is always a way to save a few precious dollars to take care of your budget in Mexico!
Here are my top tips for saving money in Cozumel:
- Buy the ferry ticket online : in fact, it is cheaper by buying on the Ultramar website rather than on site
- Bring your snorkeling equipment : an equipment rental costs about 90$mxn or 5$usd. Yet you can easily find them on Amazon, or on site (Walmart, Soriana) and the investment quickly pays for itself!
- Choose the beach club wisely : some like Sky Reef and Palancar do not require entry fees or minimum consumption. It makes the difference!
- Don’t pay for the beach : head to the free public beach, right next to Playa Mia
- Eat cheap: there are several inexpensive restaurants like La Pacifica (opening at 3 p.m.), Fondita Don José, Crazy King Burrito or the Cozumel market. Better to stay away from the restaurants near the wharf which are always more expensive.
- Find a cheap bar : I loved the Money Bar with its terrace facing the sea, no minimum consumption and 2×1 promotions on alcohol from 5pm with music. Or buy beers and go to the public beach right next to the bar. It’s the same view, with palm trees!
- Prices in Cozumel are almost always displayed in $usd and pesos. Know that if you pay in pesos, you will be a winner on the exchange.
How to get to Cozumel
The island of Cozumel is about 14km from Playa del Carmen and 60km from Cancun.
Here’s how to get there by ferry, by car, and by plane:
The most common way to get to Cozumel is by ferry from Playa del Carmen, 60 minutes from Cancun.
Departure is from Terminal Maritima Navega (Avenida Benito Juarez, next to Parque de los Fundadores).
The trip lasts 45 min-1h and you will have the choice between 2 companies:
- Ultramar : it is the most comfortable ferry. One-way ticket $200mxn, $160mxn child (6 to 11 years old), free for 5 years old and under. Departure every hour, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 1 piece of luggage allowed up to 25kg (45cm + 70cm + 27cm).
- Winjet Fast Ferry : it is cheaper than Ultramar, at 160$mxn one way or 125$mxn for children under 18 (be careful, it’s cheaper to buy it online than on site!). Departure every hour, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Tips for your Cozumel itinerary:
Be careful not to miss the last ferry because you will have to stay on the island!
Visiting Cozumel by rental car is a very good idea because the island is big and taxis are very expensive.
You can rent directly in Cozumel or when you arrive in Cancun since it is possible to board the ferry with your car.
Two companies offer the service:
- Transcaribe : they accommodate all kinds of vehicles (max 4.15m high, 3.60 wide). – See timetables and fares on Facebook
- Ultramar Carga : 3 outings during the week, 2 outings on Saturday and Sunday. $400 per vehicle (compact, family, van, suburban, pickup), including up to 4 passengers.
The airport in Cozumel receives international flights and domestic flights.
The only company that operates the direct flight Cancun-Cozumel (20min) is Mayair which also operates Mérida -Cozumel (1h).
Other flights from Cancun to Cozumel all stop in Mexico City, so check the route when booking as the layover can be very long.
If you leave from the capital, the direct flight Mexico-Cozumel lasts 2 hours, with Interjet or Volaris
Cozumel also receives several flights from North America, some year-round, others only during tourist season. The direct Montreal-Cozumel flight lasts 5 hours with Air Canada Rouge, Air Transat or Sunwing Airlines.
If you are not planning to rent a car and are staying on the island, you can take a taxi to your hotel or book the air- conditioned shuttle service from the airport.
How to get around Cozumel
Some of Cozumel’s attractions are close to the center, but the island of Cozumel is large and it’s impossible to do everything on foot.
Here are the different ways to get around Cozumel :
- By taxi : taxis are expensive on the island (more than elsewhere in Mexico) so it is better to avoid them as much as possible, unless it is for a direct trip, to get to the hotel for example.
- By car : This is the most comfortable way to see Cozumel. As mentioned above, you can board the ferry with your rental car or rent a car in Cozumel.
- By scooter: Renting a scooter in Cozumel offers a lot of flexibility and driving is very easy since the landscape is flat.
- By bike : Ideal for those in good shape (distances are long, windy and hot), but bicycling is a very pleasant way to see Cozumel. Around 20-25$usd for the day.
- By bus : a fleet of 17 Uniper Cozumel vehicles (air-conditioned vans with wifi) travel the island on 11 different routes. It takes about 40 minutes to cross Cozumel. C onfortable and inexpensive.
Is Cozumel Safe?
Cozumel is a quiet and generally safe island.
There are no serious crimes against tourists on the island, but you should always take precautions as in any tourist place:
- avoid walking around with a lot of money or valuables
- keep valuables in a safe if possible
- never leave your bag unattended (e.g. on the beach)
- do not walk on the beach at night
When to Visit Cozumel?
Cozumel’s temperature is quite pleasant year-round.
To fully enjoy the island, it is still important to know what to expect (climate and tourist side) and choose the best time to visit Cozumel.
November to February : this is the best time in terms of climate with sunny skies and temperatures that are not excessively hot.
On the other hand, it is the high tourist season so there are more tourists than the rest of the year and some prices may increase.
March to June : it’s the low season, but it starts to get even hotter with a few rainy days.
The advantage is that there are fewer tourists, the prices are more accessible and finally, it rarely rains for several days in a row!
July to October : these are the months to avoid because it is the rainy season so there is a lot of precipitation, sometimes even storms.
Not only is it hot and humid, but you can’t enjoy the beaches and the seabed if it’s raining!
Cozumel or Playa del Carmen?
More and more people prefer to move away from Cancun to other destinations in the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen has emerged as the main choice.
But Cozumel is a big island where it also has a lot to do, with hotels that allow you to spend a very comfortable stay there.
So what are the differences between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel?
Playa del Carmen has become very touristy in recent years, with a multitude of hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, beach clubs.
What I like the most about Playa del Carmen is that it is in a strategic place to visit the other must-see places of interest in the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan, whether by car, bus or in collective.
Cozumel is still relatively undeveloped , at least compared to Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
It is a magnificent island which offers a beautiful diversity of landscapes, between rocky coasts and virgin beaches, and which has established itself as one of the best places in the world for diving and snorkeling !
In my opinion, the beaches of cozumel are much more interesting because the whole coast has not been invaded by hotels and bars like in Playa del Carmen, and the water is really transparent .
For restaurants, Playa wins hands down with greater variety and a more economical price (on average).
The party in Cozumel is mainly concentrated around the beach clubs in a more relaxed, tropical atmosphere. In Playa del Carmen, people come to party so there’s plenty to choose from, including big, well-known clubs like Coco Bongo.
To learn more about Playa del Carmen:
- Playa del Carmen: Top 30 things to do and see!
- 1 Day Playa Del Carmen Itinerary
- 2 Days Playa Del Carmen Itinerary
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