Cozumel is the kinda Caribbean island that many dream of: with miles and miles of powdery white sand, spearmint blue water and multi-colored reefs. Add to that, it’s got ancient Mayan ruins and mangrove lagoons teeming with wildlife, and so much more!
We’ve recently returned from our second trip to Cozumel (our first was more than 10 years ago) and the island is every bit as gorgeous as we remember it. Our days on Cozumel were spent driving from one pristine beach to another, snorkeling over colorful reefs, eating fish tacos and seeing wildlife in the mangroves.
If you’re looking for a back-to-basics island escape, I’m sharing a comprehensive Cozumel travel guide with plenty of details on how to get around, where to stay, and things to do in Cozumel.
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Cozumel
- 1. Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling
- 2. Take a Jeep or E-bike Tour
- SOUTH COAST OF ISLAND
- 3. Explore Punta Sur Ecological Park
- EAST COAST OF ISLAND
- 4. Have a Drink at Rasta’s Reggae Bar
- 5. Drive along the Rugged East Coast
- 6. Take in the Views at El Mirador
- NORTH OF ISLAND
- 7. Visit the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
- WEST COAST OF ISLAND
- 8. Explore San Miguel de Cozumel
- 9. Visit Museo de la Isla
- Visiting Cozumel Island with Kids
- 10. Ride the Atlantis Submarine
- 11. Visit Cha’an Ka’an Planetario Cozumel
- 12. Visit the Mayan Cacao Company
- 13. Hang Out at Money Bar Beach Club
- 14. Visit the Cozumel Pearl Farm
- 15. Sail on a Catamaran
- Cozumel Mexico Travel Requirements
- How to Get to Cozumel
- How to Get around Cozumel
- Best Time to Visit Cozumel
- Where to Stay in Cozumel
- What to Pack for Cozumel
- Packing List for Cozumel
- Further Reading on Mexico
Where is Cozumel Island?
Located off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is the biggest island in the Mexican Caribbean. Cozumel Island is just 12 miles (20km) off Playa del Carmen, where we currently live. Since moving to Mexico, we’ve decided we’re going to visit Cozumel as often as we can!
In contrast to commercialised coastal cities like Cancun and Tulum, Cozumel Island is wild and relatively unspoiled. Most of the island is covered by lush tropical forests, nature reserves and empty beaches. Yes, it is a popular cruise destination — but time your visit to avoid the cruise ship and you’ll have the island to yourself.
There are resorts dotted all along the island’s west coast, so you won’t have to sacrifice creature comforts. But if you’d rather stay somewhere in a simple beach shack, you also have that option of living the beach bum’s dream here on Cozumel. If you’re doing a Yucatan road trip, make sure you add Cozumel island to your itinerary!
Things to Do in Cozumel
1. Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling
Cozumel is well known as one of the world’s best places to go scuba diving. The island is fringed by the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second-largest barrier reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). It extends over 600 miles from the north of Yucatan to the Bay of islands in Honduras.
Of all the dive sites dotted around the island, the most popular is perhaps the Palancar Reef. This is a great area to dive for beginners since currents are not strong. A spectacular site to dive is the C-53 shipwreck, a WWII minesweeper built by the US in 1943. It was sank to create an artificial reef. Book your dive here.
2. Take a Jeep or E-bike Tour
Jeeps and buggies are very common on Cozumel island, and renting one is one of the best things to do in Cozumel. Buggis and jeeps will allow you to drive off road into the jungle. Check for car rental prices here.
If you can’t drive or don’t feel confident on the road, you can also book a jeep tour that’ll take you to some of the best beaches and Mayan ruins on the island. Alternatively, cyclist enthusiasts can also rent an e-bike to explore the island on two wheels.
Driving on Cozumel Island
It’s easy to drive in Cozumel — there’s very little traffic outside of San Miguel city and the road is relatively smooth and free of potholes. Note that the northern road is closed off to cars (rental companies make it clear that you’ll be void of your insurance if you drive that road).
Most cars are manual transmission, so make sure you know how to drive a stick before you rent one. You don’t need an international drivers license to drive here.
SOUTH COAST OF ISLAND
3. Explore Punta Sur Ecological Park
A visit to the Punta Sur Ecological Park is my personal favorite thing to do in Cozumel. Located at the southern tip of the island, this natural reserve sprawls across 1,000 hectares (2500 acres) of lagoon systems, tropical rainforests and wild beaches. It’s home to sea turtles, various species of birds, and over 350 crocodiles.
Punta Sur is a big reserve and there are quite a few activities to do here — we spent a full day at Punta Sur and felt like we barely scratched the surface! Here are some sites worth visiting in the reserve:
Cost: US$18 per adult, $11 per kid (4-12 years old) and includes entry to all the sites below
Admire the El Caracol ruins
First make a stop at the Mayan ruins of El Caracol. It may be small, but it’s said to be the first hurricane-predicting instrument in the New World!
Dedicated to the moon goddess Ixchel, this structure was built between 1200 and 1400 A.D. Archaeologists claim that El Caracol acted as a whistle when strong winds funneled through the seashell. That sound would warn people to prepare for bad weather.
Catch the Views from the Lagoon Tower
Across the road from El Caracol is an entrance to the Colombia Lagoon. The lagoon systems are a critical element in the park’s ecological mission to protect native flora and fauna.
Head up to the top of the watchtower for an elevated view of all the wildlife — we saw three crocodiles from the platform! You can also catch glimpses of flamingos, herons and spoonbills plus several indigenous species.
Climb to the top of Celarain Lighthouse
Continue driving along the wild, rugged coast and you’ll reach the Celarain Lighthouse, constructed to warn sailors off the southern coast of Cozumel. The lighthouse now forms part of a maritime museum, which tells the naval history of the Caribbean.
For 360 degree views of the Island, climb the 133 steps to the top. You’ll see where the lagoons meet the sea, and lush greenery for as far as the eye can see!
Take the Boat trip to Lagoon
Driving further into the reserve, you’ll find the embarkation point for the boat trip around the Colombia Lagoon. You’re not guaranteed to see crocodiles but you do see many bird species and learn about the ecosystem from a wildlife guide.
This 40-minute boat tour is included in the entrance fee. It leaves at 1pm and 2pm everyday. Right by the embarkation point is a beach with great snorkeling — it’s one of the best beaches in Cozumel here!
EAST COAST OF ISLAND
4. Have a Drink at Rasta’s Reggae Bar
Right outside of the Punta Sur gates is a prominent reggae bar splashed in green, red and yellow colors. You won’t miss it!
Grab some ice cold beer and enjoy the sea breeze while listening to Bob Marley classics. Rasta’s Reggae Bar is a simple beach shack, but we love the laidback vibes and delicious seafood. The fresh-from-to-sea fried snapper was huge and delicious, and only cost 300 Pesos ($15).
5. Drive along the Rugged East Coast
The island’s west coast is lined with resorts, but the east coast cannot be more different. Overlooking the open sea, the rugged east coast is fringed by wild beaches and choppy waters. Swimming isn’t allowed, but you’ll still see people frolicking in some of the calmer beaches.
The coastal drive is a spectacular one, as you weave your way along the road that hugs the east coast. Be sure to stop at the numerous beach shacks and viewpoints along the way. This is definitely high up on my favorite things to do in Cozumel.
6. Take in the Views at El Mirador
One of the scenic spots you’ll find along the east coast road is El Mirador. The rocky beach has natural arches and tidepools created over thousands of years.
The sea has carved an arch in the rock which you can climb on top of for great views. There’s also a small bubbling natural pool that resembles a jacuzzi, which you can swim in.
NORTH OF ISLAND
7. Visit the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
The most important archaeological site on Cozumel, San Gervasio, was once considered a pilgrimage center. The Mayans would travel to Cozumel at least once in their life to pay respects to the Goddess “Ixchel”. Besides being a Mayan sacred center, San Gervasio was also a strategic site for the economic development of the area.
There are 6 groups of architectural structures and other isolated temples joined by a network of ancient roads called “sacbés”. There aren’t many explanations or signs at this site, you might want to hire a local guide at the entrance.
Cost: $188 Pesos/ $10 USD (Children under 3 Enter Free)
WEST COAST OF ISLAND
8. Explore San Miguel de Cozumel
If you arrive in Cozumel port via the ferry from Playa del Carmen, you’ll step off directly into the heart of downtown San Miguel. San Miguel is the main town of Cozumel, where most locals live. It’s a very safe and easy place to explore on foot, with a large Zocalo park, surrounded by restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and shops.
Check out the town’s central plaza, where you’ll find a statue of Benito Juarez (the first indigenous Mexican president) and a large orange clock tower. Overlooking the clock tower is the art deco building of Palacio Municipal, and next to it is a narrow alley covered with beautiful mural art.
9. Visit Museo de la Isla
When in San Miguel, be sure to visit the island’s museum, which was fully renovated in the year 2020.
El Museo de la Isla takes visitors through a series of galleries that gradually introduce the island’s natural history, as well as the history of the Mayan people, Spanish explorers and colonial settlers.
You’ll find displays of original artifacts from ancient Mayan pilgrimage sites, along with originals and replicas of other historic periods, including Spanish navigation materials, tools, and weapons.
Cost: 220 Pesos (US$11)/adult (Children under 3 enter free)
Visiting Cozumel Island with Kids
On our first trip to Cozumel years ago, we visited Cozumel on a scuba diving trip and didn’t really get a chance to explore the island properly. This time, we traveled Cozumel with our 6.5 year old daughter and discovered that the island’s great for kids.
Traveling Cozumel with kids is easy — the island is filled with nature, with lots of pristine beaches and green spaces for kids to run free. Outdoorsy kids would love going inside a submarine, trying scuba diving, or seeing wildlife on the island.
There are also lots of family-friendly resorts, as well as beach clubs fully equipped with aqua parks and over-water trampolines (such as Playa Mia and Mr Sanchos) on the west coast. It’s extremely hot though, so make sure to hydrate your kids regularly and pack some essentials (Scroll down for my packing list).
10. Ride the Atlantis Submarine
If you’re not a scuba diver, you can still see the World War II C-53 wreck I mentioned above! Onboard the Atlantis Submarine, you can also see the colorful reefs surrounding it, as well as fish, turtles, stingrays, and more.
The submarine is located south of San Miguel, within a 10-minute drive from the center. At the moment it departs at 10:00am, 12:00pm and 1:00pm. Get your tickets online here.
This is slightly expensive, but it’s a great activity for those visiting Cozumel with kids!
Cost: 2365 MXN ($115) per adult
11. Visit Cha’an Ka’an Planetario Cozumel
We didn’t get to visit this planetarium, but definitely hope to the next time we visit Cozumel.
The Cha’an Ka’an Planetarium is said to be the first 3D full-dome planetarium in Latin America. There’s an observatory and a “science museum” area focusing on Mayan astronomy and local flora and fauna. If you get the chance, come here for the nightly astronomic evenings!
Cost: 70 Pesos ($3.50)/adult and 50 Pesos ($2.50) /kid (3-12 years old)
12. Visit the Mayan Cacao Company
Chocolate played a central role in the ancient Mayan society — they used cacao beans as currency, and prepared chocolate for the royalties.
At Mayan Cacao Company, you can learn all about the ancient Mayans prepared chocolate and of course, you will taste the original Mayan chocolate recipe! They also run workshops, that teach you how to make a chocolate bar yourself with the cacao seeds the Mayans used in rituals and ceremonies to honor their gods.
Cost: 285 Pesos ($15) per adult and 171 Pesos ($9) per kid for general admission
13. Hang Out at Money Bar Beach Club
If you’re looking for a spot to snorkel and hang out at without spending too much money, I recommend the Money Bar Beach Club. It is touristy, but it’s become somewhat of an institution thanks to the epic sunsets here!
There’s actually no beach here, just a rocky deck and pier. Jump right into the clear spearmint waters and you’ll know why everyone loves it here. The shallow waters are clear and calm, and you’ll see live corals, sting rays, eels and all kinds of fish here.
14. Visit the Cozumel Pearl Farm
Another interesting activity to do in Cozumel is a visit to the Cozumel Pearl Farm, located on a secluded part of the island with deserted beaches. The farm is family-run and they use knowledge from the South Pacific to grow the pearls. Explore the pearl farm and lab, and snorkel in the pearl hatchery to see how pearls are grown. You’ll also learn about the reef system and see the underwater life-size Virgen de Guadalupe statue. Book your tour here.
15. Sail on a Catamaran
One of the best things to do in Cozumel is sailing on a catamaran, especially if you love snorkeling. Most boats will bring you out to the reef surrounding the island and provide snorkeling equipment. Either relax on board with drinks, or dive in the sea and see starfish, turtles, and stingrays.
The waters at El Cielo bay are particularly rich in marine life and are safe for swimming and snorkeling. We booked this snorkeling catamaran trip and had an excellent time!
Cozumel Mexico Travel Requirements
Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane or ferry. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. It is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
How to Get to Cozumel
The most common way to get to Cozumel is to catch the ferry from Playa del Carmen. To get to Playa del Carmen from Cancun airport, I recommend booking a shuttle as it’s the fastest and safest way.
There are two ferry companies that run the route: Ultramar and Winjet. Currently, Ultramar runs on even-numbered dates, and Winjet on odd-numbered dates. Both companies have comfortable ferries that air-conditioned and punctual, and take 45 minutes each way. You can book tickets online directly on their websites (links below).
Ferry ticket prices are as follow (per person):
*Car Ferry: There is also a car ferry to Cozumel, but it leaves from Punta Venado, outside Playa del Carmen. The ferry takes 1.5 hours each way and you need to be there at least 1 hour before departure. Tickets can only be reserved through Whatsapp. Check out the Ultramar Carga website for rates.
Alternatively, Cozumel has a medium sized international airport. Flying is of course more expensive than taking the ferry. You can fly directly into Cozumel from Cancun and Mexico City as well as major cities in US like Chicago, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
How to Get around Cozumel
The best way to get around Cozumel is by hiring a car. The island is relatively large and you won’t be able to explore without a car. Taxis are expensive — a taxi ride to any resort on the west coast would cost US$20 each way.
We hired an open-roof Nissan hatchback for 800 Pesos ($40) per day from HTL Rentals, a block away from the ferry terminal. It worked well for us, although we did get pretty wet whenever it rained. Alternatively, you can book your car rental online to ensure availability.
Here are the rental prices from HTL Rentals:
- Scooter — 500 Pesos or $25 a day
- Normal sedan — 1000 Pesos ($50) a day
- Jeep — 1200 Pesos ($60) a day
- ATV/quad —1500 Pesos ($75) a day
Best Time to Visit Cozumel
With its location in the Caribbean Sea, Cozumel is definitely a year-round destination that can be visited any time of the year.
In general, it’s best to travel Cozumel between March to June, when temperatures are slightly more pleasant and there are less crowds. Avoid the hurricane season (June to November) and the peak season (December to February) when prices are higher.
We visited in October on both trips to Cozumel, and it was the rainy season. While it rained quite a bit, the sun always came out afterwards and didn’t affect our trip in any way.
Where to Stay in Cozumel
We stayed at Allegro Cozumel, an all-inclusive resort with water slides and lots of amenities for kids. Sadly we didn’t have a good experience and wouldn’t recommend the resort. It wasn’t cheap (US$140/night), and the quality of food and accommodation were terrible.
That said, it has a good location near the best beaches on the island. The area around Palancar offers the best snorkeling and diving. Here are a few other resorts in the area that are worth considering:
Budget: Albatros Suites by Bedsfriends
With a great location near San Miguel, this budget hotel has simple, modern suites decorated with a tropical feel. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Westin Cozumel
With surprisingly reasonable prices, this new hotel is a high-end resort with a small beach on the north end of the west coast. It looks more upscale than where we stayed and was just $30/night. Check rates here.
Luxury: Secrets Aura Cozumel
This is one of the few adults-only resort, perfect for those looking for a more exclusive experience. Check rates here.
Luxury: Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa
Lauded as the best resort on Cozumel, the Presidente is swanky and modern (pictured). It’s not cheap of course, but you’ll be guaranteed the best digs. Check rates here.
What to Pack for Cozumel
For this trip to Cozumel Island, you’ll be spending most of your time in the sea, so definitely pack lots of sun-proof gear. KEEN footwear or normal sandals are also really useful to walk on beaches strewn with seashells or corals.
Snorkel mask and fins will come in useful as you’ll be using them alot here. We were glad we brought our snorkel masks!
Packing List for Cozumel
- SPF 70 Sunscreen
- Mosquito repellent
- Snorkel mask and fins
- UPF50+ rash guard swim shirt
- Dry bag
- Quick-dry towels
- KEEN covered sandals
- GoPro for waterproof photos/videos
- Quick-dry t-shirts
Further Reading on Mexico
A trip to Cozumel is a dream come true for beach bums and active travelers who love underwater adventures. I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Cozumel to be useful. It’s definitely worth adding Cozumel to your Yucatan itinerary. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- 10-Day Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
- 35 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- 20 Things to Do in Valladolid
- 5-Day Mexico City Itinerary
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
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