Last Updated on January 17, 2023 by Janine
Wondering about the best things to do in Cozumel? This Cozumel travel guide highlights the best of the island!
The island of Cozumel lies just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It is known for its incredible coral reefs, as a major port for cruise ships (they bring over 1 million passengers every year), and for showing up in the background of every single photo I took while living in Playa del Carmen.
Cozumel is principally renowned as a diving destination — the world-famous Palancar Reef is one of the largest in the world, and the crystal clear water of the Caribbean sea makes it easy to soak up the sights. There’s no doubt that snorkeling and diving are some of the top things to do in Cozumel, but they are just the beginning of all the island has to offer!
In my opinion, the island has some of the best scenery anywhere in the Riviera Maya, and it’s the ideal spot on the coast for ocean lovers to spend a few days (or longer!).
Traveling soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance for Mexico. Insurance gives you peace of mind knowing you can get the help you need if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is the provider that I recommend.
While living in Playa del Carmen, I loved hopping over to Cozumel for a relaxing beach day. Sometimes it was just nice to visit a coastline that wasn’t completely taken over by massive hotels, you know?! Whatever the occasion, Cozumel never fails to ignite my sense of adventure, and I’m always up for a visit, no matter how far I have to travel to get there!
Cozumel makes a fantastic day trip from Playa del Carmen, but to make the most of all the island’s attractions, I recommend that you stay in Cozumel for at least 2 full days.
Here are all the best things to do in Cozumel, Mexico.
The Best Things to Do In Cozumel
If you look at a map of Cozumel, you’ll notice that a highway wraps around the southern half of the island in a circle. Most of the northern half of the island is a natural preserve, and access is limited. You can drive north on the west side of the island, and you’ll find several hotels and a golf course, but the rest of the north side is mostly closed off.
That said, you’ll find plenty of compelling things to do around Cozumel’s south end. Keep reading for tips on some of the best things to do in Cozumel, Mexico.
I’ve plotted the top attractions on the map below to help you plan your visit.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
The story goes that Jacques Cousteau visited Cozumelin the 1950s and deemed the local coral reefs some of the most impressive in the world. If they’re good enough for the Godfather of Scuba diving (does anyone call him that? I don’t know), they’re definitely fit for casual snorkelers!
Cozumel’s reef system is part of the second-largest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Over 1,000 different marine species call this part of the underwater world home, making it a very desirable diving and snorkeling destination.
Needless to say, if you’re a diver, diving in Cozumel is an essential item for your itinerary. Cozumel has plenty to offer on the surface, but it’s truly magical under the sea.
But if diving isn’t your thing (it’s not mine either), snorkeling is just as good! I’ve never seen so many colorful fish (and other sea creatures) in my life.
The white sand bottom and clear water make it really easy to spot all the critters hiding out within the reefs! Whether you prefer to stick near the surface on a snorkel tour or explore the depths on a dive, there are plenty of great tour options.
Note: The Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park is commonly marketed as a great way to experience snorkeling and diving on the reefs around Cozumel. Unfortunately, this park also promotes dolphin and manatee encounters that I feel are unsafe and inhumane. If you’re keen to experience the marine life near Cozumel, book a snorkel or dive tour from one of the providers I mention below so you can encounter the marine life in its natural habitat.
For those interested in scuba diving in Cozumel, there are several professional companies to choose from that will show you all the best diving sites, from the Columbia reef to the Palancar reef and beyond.
- Discover Scuba Diving private course. This is a great opportunity for uncertified divers to get their fins wet. It’s a three-hour private course led by a PADI-certified instructor and includes one underwater dive. Click here to book your lesson!
- Certified Scuba diving tour with 2 tanks. This 3-hour diving tour includes 2 dives in Cozumel’s National Marine Park. You’ll visit famous dive sites like the Columbia and Palancar reefs and spot all kinds of incredible fish and other marine life, such as nurse sharks and sea turtles, on this excursion. The cost of dive equipment rentals is not included in the cost of the trip. Click here to book your tour.
If snorkeling is more your style, there are many options available. A typical snorkel tour lasts about 4 hours and takes you to visit 3 different coral reefs off of Cozumel: Palancar, El Cielo, and Columbia. You’ll travel between each location on a glass-bottomed boat, giving you a preview of what awaits you beneath the surface! Meanwhile, your tour guide will educate you on the different types of marine life you’ll see and the intricacies of the local ecosystems.
Whether you opt for diving or snorkeling, experiencing the underwater world of the elaborate reefs off the coast is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable things to do in Cozumel.
Punta Sur Ecological Park
Visiting Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is one of my favorite things to do in Cozumel because it has so much to offer: amazing scenery, animal sightings, a history museum, and incredible beaches! What more could you ask for?
Cold beer? Punta Sur has that too!
When you enter Punta Sur, you wind your way along a gravel road that is bordered on one side by Cozumel’s untouched beaches and on the other by a massive lagoon. After pausing at a lookout to spot flamingos, crocodiles, and other birdlife, you continue along the road to one of the park’s highlights: a lighthouse!
The Punta Sur lighthouse marks the southern tip of the island.
Here you can enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of the park, visit a small museum explaining the history of Cozumel and the lighthouse, and snap an IG-worthy photo in front of the directional sign.
After taking some time to appreciate the stunning vistas from the lighthouse, it’s time to move on to the final stop on your Punta Sur itinerary: the beach!
At this final stop, you’ll find comfy lounge chairs, a beach bar with bathrooms, snorkel rentals, and, most importantly, an absolutely pristine beach! This is a great place to spend the afternoon relaxing on the white sand beach and enjoying the view of the turquoise sea.
If you’re up for it, rent snorkel equipment and swim off the beach to spot tropical fish and other sea creatures. The last time I went to Punta Sur, I came face to face with a huge ray, totally by accident!
From this location, you can also take a complimentary boat tour of the lagoon, which gives you the chance to spot all kinds of birds and crocodiles!
As you can see, it would be easy to devote an entire day of your Cozumel itinerary to Punta Sur. The park is open Monday – Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm, and admission costs about $20 USD per person. Click here to book tickets.
Because the park is accessed via a long dirt road, you will need a vehicle to explore Punta Sur. There are tours that will bring you as well, but according to my research, they are quite a bit more costly than just renting a vehicle, especially if you’re with a group.
El Mirador Lookout
El Mirador (Spanish for “lookout”) is a rock formation on Cozumel’s eastern coast. The rocks at El Mirador have formed natural bridges and are porous, so in some spots, you can look down and see the waves splashing up from underneath. Sometimes this can create a blowhole effect, where the pressure of the waves crashing on the rocks will cause water to shoot up through the holes in the rocks.
It can actually be kind of dangerous if the surf is high, so be careful when you visit!
In addition to being a thought-provoking natural marvel, this spot makes a great photo opp. The beaches along the east side of Cozumel are completely undeveloped (a rarity in this part of the world), and it’s worth taking a few minutes to appreciate the natural coastline.
Paddle Out for a Surf Lesson
Trust me, the Caribbean was the last place I ever expected to see surfers too, but it turns out that Cozumel has its very own surf break! I confess I haven’t actually gone surfing on Cozumel, but I have watched enviously from the shore as others do it. If you’re keen to try surfing, the conditions seem pretty ideal on Cozumel. In my experience, surfing is 100% more enjoyable in warm water.
If you’re up for a sesh, you can book a lesson through the Cozumel Surfing School during your visit!
Frolic on the Beach
Spending time on the idyllic beaches is one of the ultimate things to do in Cozumel. Fortunately, there are plenty to go around. On the west side of the island, where the civilization is, beaches are scarce unless you pay to enter a beach club at a resort, which is a whole experience in itself!
For a proper beach experience, you’ll want to visit the east side of Cozumel. The beaches are undeveloped, except for the occasional restaurant or fruit stand (gotta have the essentials), and perfect for enjoying the gorgeous weather.
I recommend Playa Chen Rio, which is a popular destination for locals on the east side of the island. It has a scenic little cove with rugged rock formations and a tasty seafood restaurant which is perfect for grabbing lunch or a cold beer (or both!). The beach itself is as idyllic as they come, with soft white sand and crystal-clear water! The only hangup is that it can be tough to find parking, so get there early!
On one trip to Cozumel, my family and I ate lunch at this tasty restaurant right on the beach. The food was great (we opted for seafood), but they only take cash, so make sure you have some for your Cozumel adventures. We were running low by then and had to order our meals very strategically (skip beers) to ensure we had enough money for a tip.
Other beautiful beaches on Cozumel include:
- Playa Palancar on the southern end of Cozumel’s west coast.
- Playa las Rocas in the north section of the hotel zone on the west side of Cozumel.
- Playa Mezcalito on the east side of Cozumel.
To see even more beaches and attractions on Cozumel, view the Google map I created.
Veg out at one of the beach clubs
I know I already recommended a beach day, but trust me, this is different. A beach club has everything you can find at a public beach, with the added bonus of easy bathroom access, unlimited food and drinks, and pool access as well! Plus, beach clubs are often located in more exclusive areas, making them more relaxed that public beaches, with far fewer people trying to sell you things while you sunbathe.
Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club, Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, and Paradise Beach Club are some of the most popular spots to spend the day relaxing in the water on Cozumel.
Paradise Beach Club is located about 20 minutes south of downtown Cozumel. A day pass to this beach club includes unlimited food and non-alcoholic drinks plus unlimited Sol and XX beer. You also get access to sun loungers, a heated pool, and restrooms/changing rooms. There’s even WiFi on-site. Click here to reserve your day pass!
An All-Inclusive Day Pass to Mr. Sancho’s includes access to the beach, the pool (with a swim-up bar), and unlimited food and drinks. Get there early in the day to score one of the beachfront sun loungers and spend the rest of the day relaxing and sipping on icy cold beverages. They also have additional services and tours you can add on, such as horseback riding, an aquatic park, and more!
Meanwhile, over at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, a day pass buys more of a water park experience. Playa Mia is equipped with water slides, a floating obstacle course, and an underwater Mayan city, among other things! Of course, if you’d prefer to relax, you can just lounge on the beach or by the pool and munch on items from the unlimited buffet! The only caveat here is that you will have to purchase an upgrade for unlimited drinks!
Admittedly, beach clubs aren’t my typical MO when I’m traveling, but friends spent a day at Playa Mia and had a ton of fun! My trips always seem to be totally action-packed, but I can definitely see the appeal of putting my feet up and enjoying some tropical drinks by the pool (for once)!
Visit the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
If you’re interested in ancient Mayan culture, visiting the San Gervasio archaeological site is one of the best things to do in Cozumel! This Mayan ruin was an important place of worship for Pre-Columbian Mayan women. They would travel to San Gervasio from incredible distances just to leave offerings at San Gervasio for Ixchel, a fertility goddess.
Can you imagine what they must have gone through?! There were no ferries in those days!
These days San Gervasio is part of the Cozumel Parks system and is a popular tourist destination. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to visit this site myself, but I’m curious to see it in person! I always enjoy learning about the history of any destination I visit, and this site seems particularly intriguing. I have so many questions… Why did they choose this location for their temple? How did all of the Mayan women know about it? And how did they even get there?! I’m sure a visit to the park would answer all of these questions.
The site is open Monday to Sunday, 8 am to 4 pm, and admission costs $9.50 USD.
Explore San Miguel de Cozumel
If you find yourself needing a break from beach-related things to do in Cozumel, why not explore the island’s only town, San Miguel de Cozumel?!
Compared to the other towns in the Riviera Maya, downtown San Miguel has tons of character. Despite having a population of close to 80,000, San Miguel offers a laid-back vibe that encourages you to take things slow.
You’ll find colorful colonial buildings, delicious hole-in-the-wall eateries, eye-catching street art, and much more as you stroll through the city. You’ll also find some of the best restaurants in Cozumel in the town center.
You can also meander along the malecon and enjoy the views, or even pick up some duty-free souvenirs from one of the boutiques!
Cozumel Transportation Tips
I’m usually a big advocate for using public transportation, but a rental vehicle really is the best way to get around Cozumel. Most of the beaches are on the opposite side of the island from the village, and it’s nice to have the freedom to explore scenic spots along the way. This way, you won’t miss out on any of the top things to do in Cozumel.
When it comes to renting vehicles on Cozumel, there are all kinds of crazy options:
- A scooter — definitely the most economical choice.
- A classic Volkswagen Beetle (or Vocho, as the Mexicans call them) — certainly the most Instagram-friendly.
- A Jeep — also Instagram-friendly but not as culturally treasured.
- A regular rental car — but like, who needs A/C or a real roof?? We’re on vacation!
- Strange dune-buggy-looking things that look like they’re from Mad Max — I don’t know the advantages of these, but they sure look whacky… and breezy.
During my very first visit to Cozumel, I sprung for a Jeep because I thought it added a Jurrasic Park vibe to the experience (minus the rampant blood-thirsty dinosaurs, of course).
I thought the Jeep was pretty fun until I cruised past a row of 25 identical Jeeps and realized that every single other person visiting Cozumel had also rented the exact same vehicle, and I wasn’t unique at all.
I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s important to make a statement with your rental vehicle. Whatever you decide, use Discover Cars to compare rates and secure the best price.
In the meantime, I’ll share a few car rental tips for Cozumel. For even more info, check out The Roaming Nanny’s detailed post on jeep rental on Cozumel.
- Car rental agencies in Mexico will lure you in with attractive $1/day rates but then force you to pay for $25/day insurance policies, which may or may not actually be required by law. So, plan to spend at least $30/day on your rental car
- If you opt to rent one of the “alternative” vehicle options (Jeep/vocho/dune buggy), be prepared for it to have some quirks. Many of these vehicles are older, and that may show in the way it drives.
- If you visit during the high season (November – March), reserve a car in advance. It can be very busy on the island, and it would be a shame if you couldn’t find a vehicle to rent.
- Driving in Mexico can be pretty wild. Lanes and stop signs are seen more as a suggestion than a rule. Just be careful and try to go with the flow of traffic.
What to Pack For Cozumel
Packing for Cozumel is pretty simple. The weather is typically warm (or hot), humid, and sunny, which makes carry-on packing a breeze! Standard beach attire (whether it be shorts & t-shirts or sundresses) will be comfortable and totally appropriate anywhere you go on the island.
As always, think through the different things you plan to do on Cozumel before you pack, as it will help you select the appropriate items.
When it comes to footwear, sandals or flip-flops will serve you well. The streets and sidewalks aren’t always smooth, so I’d skip heels or wedges in favor of flat sandals. If you’re planning to do a lot of exploring on foot, a pair of lightweight sneakers might be more comfortable for you.
Though the wardrobe section of your Cozumel packing list is pretty straightforward, there are a few extra items that may help make your visit to Cozumel a little easier…
- Reef Safe Sunscreen – It would be a crime to visit Cozumel and NOT swim in the crystal clear water, so clearly, sun protection is a must. The reefs surrounding Cozumel are part of a beloved national park, and it’s important that we do our part to ensure that they stay healthy and safe for years to come. Reef-safe sunscreen will protect you from harmful UV rays while protecting sea life from the harmful chemicals found in many commercial sunscreen brands!
Related Reading: The Best Biodegradable Sunscreens for Mexico
- Mask & Snorkel – It’s easy enough to rent snorkel gear on Cozumel, especially at prime snorkel spots, but if you’re a keen snorkeler, you’ll be much more comfortable using your own. If you happen to have a mask and snorkel at home, bring them along, as the snorkeling around the island is some of the best in the world. It would be a shame to miss out due to a foggy mask! If you don’t own a snorkel set, no worries, you can rent a complete set (mask, snorkel, fins, and life jacket) on Cozumel for about $14 USD.
- Sarong – I never visit a beach destination without my sarong. It can work as a towel, a dress, or a shawl to offer additional sun protection. The best part is it folds up super tiny in my luggage and dries in a matter of minutes. It’s the perfect item for any beach visit!
- Polarized Sunglasses – Couple the bright sunshine with the sparkling white sand on Cozumel’s beaches and the gleaming turquoise water, and you’re bound to gain crow’s feet in a matter of hours. Regular sunglasses don’t quite cut it in a destination like this. Save your eyes and invest in some stylish polarized sunnies to cut the glare. You won’t regret it.
- A Sweater – I know, I know. It’s always warm on Cozumel. Except… not in the winter. While the climate is typically comfortable, especially compared to a frozen tundra like Canada, it can actually get a little nippy on Cozumel from time to time. In the winter, there can be windy days with temperatures as low as 68°F (20 °C). While these temps are hardly anything to run from, you’ll be glad to have at least one warm layer. The Patagonia Better Sweater is lightweight but extremely warm and great for layering. It also packs down well, so it won’t take up too much space in your luggage.
Related Reading: What to Pack for the Riviera Maya, Mexico
How to Get To Cozumel
If you’re not coming to Cozumel aboard a cruise ship, you’re probably visiting via ferry from Playa del Carmen or arriving by direct flight to the Cozumel airport. Or, maybe you have a private yacht to roll up on… but let’s address the most likely scenarios first…
Catch a Ferry to Cozumel
There are two ferry lines that run from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel every day. They both depart from the same ferry terminal on 5th Ave, next to Señor Frogs. (If you need directions just ask someone, “Dónde está el muelle?”).
Mexico WaterJets is the most budget-friendly option at MXN 140 ($7 USD) per person.
Your other choice is UltraMar, which leaves from the other side of the pier, and costs MXN 300 round trip ($14.50 USD).
Both ferries have similar schedules. UltraMar miiiight be a slightly fancier option (they also offer the option of VIP tickets, whatever that means). I’ve taken both ferries and had a perfectly pleasant experience. The trip is only 40 minutes long, and it should go by super quickly since you’ll likely be enjoying the scenery.
If you are someone that is prone to motion sickness, here are some tips for maintaining your quality of life during the short voyage:
- Travel on the earliest or the latest ferry possible; the ocean is typically calm in the early morning and late at night after the sun goes down
- Sit on the bottom level of the ferry, near the back. This is the most stable part of the boat, and on Mexico WaterJets, it is right next to the bathrooms in case of emergency.
- Pick up some Gravol at a pharmacy, just in case. It can take hours to feel okay again after experiencing motion sickness, so don’t take your chances
- Candied ginger is an excellent aid for seasickness (and a yummy snack)
Flights to Cozumel
It may be a tiny island, but Cozumel is served by its own international airport and receives flights from major carriers daily! Airlines that fly into Cozumel include Delta, United, Air Canada, West Jet, and more!
If you’re planning to spend your entire vacation exploring Cozumel, this is definitely an option to consider!
Use Skyscanner to find the best rates on airfare for your Cozumel trip!
Where to Stay in Cozumel
There are all kinds of great places to stay on Cozumel. It doesn’t matter that much where you stay on the island because you’ll likely need to rent a car or hire a taxi to take you to the main attractions anyway. If you want to explore the town of San Miguel de Cozumel, choosing an Airbnb in town is a great way to get a sense of the place. There are also several great resorts on Cozumel, most of which are located on the west side of the island.
Here are some options for travelers on any budget.
- Casa Samay Cozumel is a small, laidback hostel located 9 blocks from the ferry dock and less than 2 blocks from Cozumel’s municipal market. It’s the perfect option for travelers looking for the social aspect of a hostel without the wild party scene. There are three private rooms available and one 3-bed female dorm. The property has a full kitchen for guests to use, and bicycles and snorkel gear are available to rent. From here, you can walk or cycle to all the best things to do in Cozumel’s downtown core. Click here to check rates!
- Villas El Encanto Cozumel is located within walking distance of downtown Cozumel, many great restaurants, and the ocean. At the same time, guests praise its location for feeling removed from the bustle of touristy attractions while still being incredibly convenient. Rooms feature simple, contemporary decor and the property has a peaceful garden and pool area where guests can hang out. Click here to check rates!
- The Westin Cozumel is a beautiful resort located at the north end of the hotel zone. This is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for beautiful and luxurious accommodation at a reasonable price. Every room on the property has an ocean view, and the hotel is well-positioned to catch the sunset views! The rooms are decorated with tasteful neutrals, and their signature cloud bed is seriously SO comfortable. Check out my review of this property for more details! Or click here to check rates and availability!
Cozumel, Mexico FAQs
Is a day trip to Cozumel worth it?
Absolutely! You can easily visit Cozumel on a day trip from Playa del Carmen. After all, it’s only a 40-minute ferry trip. But you should catch an early ferry to make the most of your day on the island. Reserving a rental car ahead of time will save you time haggling with rental agencies once you arrive.
How many days is enough for Cozumel?
I think 2 or 3 days is a good amount of time to spend on Cozumel. It will give you enough time to see the highlights and join a diving or snorkeling tour to see the incredible coral reefs that the island is famous for.
When is the best time to visit Cozumel, Mexico?
The best time to visit Cozumel is between December and April. This is when you’ll find the most comfortable weather. Though it’s technically the “cool” season, daily highs hover around 82-84°F (28-29°C), while daily lows are around 70-72°F (21-22°C). Not bad, especially if you’re visiting from the North!
If you’re hoping to beat the crowds, April through October is the best time to come. The summer months are hot and humid as this is the rainy season. However, showers are typically isolated to an hour or so in the afternoon, so there’s no need to worry about rain derailing your trip. Average temperatures at this time of year are between 85-90°F (26-32°C). Keep in mind that June through October is hurricane season– watch the weather reports closely if you visit during these months, so you don’t get caught in a storm.
You may find the following posts helpful as you continue planning your trip to Cozumel and the Riviera Maya:
- Top Things to do in Riviera Maya, Mexico
- 26+ Amazing things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- The Ultimate Playa del Carmen Itinerary
Or you can click here to see all of my content about the Riviera Maya and Quintana Roo!
Continue Planning Your Trip!
Mexico Guide Books
This Mexico phrasebook will help you communicate, even if your Spanish skills are lacking.
This Mexico travel guide is packed with all the info you could ever need.
I use a combination of Booking, Airbnb, and VRBO to find accommodation throughout Mexico.
Some cities in Mexico have more listings on VRBO than Airbnb (or vice versa), so it’s best to check both to find the perfect place!
Rental cars add tons of flexibility to your travel plans. If you opt to rent one, I recommend using Discover Cars to find the best rates!
Skyscanner is my favorite tool for finding the best deals on airfare.
Never leave home without travel insurance.
SafetyWing offers super-affordable policies that cover things like medical expenses, trip interruption, and lost luggage. They even offer coverage for some expenses related to COVID-19. Their policies are particularly great for long-term travelers, making them a great option for Mexico.
There’s no question that knowing basic Spanish is wildly beneficial in Mexico. It helps you stay aware of your surroundings, solve problems, and make friends!
RocketSpanish has a well-structured program that will take you from bumbling to conversational in just a few modules. Start your free trial today!
Still have questions?
Join my Female Travelers in Mexico Facebook group, a supportive community of fellow Mexico travel enthusiasts, where you can find answers to all your travel questions!