The island of Cozumel lies just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It is known for its incredible coral reefs, its massive quantity of cruise ship visitors (over 1 million passengers every year), and for lingering 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. In my opinion, it has some of the best scenery of anywhere in the Riviera Maya, and it’s the ideal spot on the coast for ocean lovers to spend a few days (or longer!).
During our time living in the Riviera Maya, Héctor and 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 our sense of adventure, and we’re always up for a visit, no matter how far we have to travel to get there!
- 1 What to Pack For Cozumel
- 2 What to Do In Cozumel
- 3 Cozumel Transportation Tips
- 4 How to Get To Cozumel
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. 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 the harmful UV rays while protecting the sea life from the harmful chemicals found in many commercial sunscreen brands!
- Mask & Snorkel – It’s easy enough to rent snorkel sets on Cozumel, especially at prime snorkel spots, but if you’re a keen snorkeler you’ll be much more comfortable in your own. If you happen to have your own mask and snorkel at home, I’d definitely recommend bringing them along, as the snorkeling around Cozumel 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 nice and tiny in my luggage and dries in a matter of minutes. It’s the perfect item for an impromptu 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 polarized shades 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 20 °C or 68 °F. While these temps are hardly anything to run from, you’ll be glad to have at least one warm layer.
What to Do In Cozumel
The story goes that Jacques Cousteau visited Cozumel in the 1950’s and deemed the local coral reefs some of the most impressive in the world. If they’re good enough for the Godfather of Scuba (does anyone call him that? I don’t know), they’re definitely fit for a casual snorkeler!
It would be a shame to travel to Cozumel without going scuba diving or snorkeling, it really, really would. Cozumel has plenty to offer on the surface, but it’s truly magical under the sea. 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.
A typical snorkel tour lasts about 4 hours and takes you to visit 3 different 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!
There are tons of different diving tours to choose from as well, depending on your skill level and interests!
Punta Sur Eco Park
This park is one of my favorite spots on 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 which 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 bird life you continue along the road to one of the park’s highlights: a lighthouse!
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!
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 9am to 4pm and admission costs $14 USD per person.
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 work out to be 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 it’s 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
You definitely can’t visit a tropical island without spending some time at the beach! Fortunately, Cozumel has 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 local hangout. 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!
Veg Out at a Beach Club
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 drink, and pool access as well!
Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club and Playa Mia Beach Club are two of the most popular spots to spend the day frolicking in the water.
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 drink. 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 Beach Club 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, this isn’t my typical MO when I’m traveling, but friends of ours 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 your feet up and enjoying some tropical drinks by the pool (for once)!
Visit San Gervasio
The San Gervasio archaeological site was an important place of worship for Pre-Columbian Mayan women. They would travel to Cozumel 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. Sadly, 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, 8am to 4pm and admission costs $9.50 USD.
Explore San Miguel de Cozumel
If you find yourself needing a break from sun and sand, why not explore Cozumel’s only town, San Miguel?!
Compared to the other towns in the Riviera Maya, San Miguel is bursting with 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 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 in a destination, but a rental vehicle really comes in handy on 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.
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 Héctor and I sprung for a Jeep because we thought it added a Jurrasic Park-vibe, minus the rampant blood-thirsty dinosaurs of course.
We thought the Jeep was pretty fun until we 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 we weren’t unique at all.
I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s important to make a statement with your rental vehicle.
In the meantime, I’ll share a few car rental tips for 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 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.
How to Get To Cozumel
If you’re not arriving to Cozumel onboard 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 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). We’ve taken both ferries and had a perfectly pleasant experience. The trip is only 40 minutes long and it usually goes by super quick since you’ll likely be enjoying the scenery.
If you are someone that is prone to motion sickness, I have a few suggestions 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 every day!
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!
I like to use Skyscanner to compare rates when I’m planning an adventure!
Have you been to Cozumel before? Share your favorite memory from your trip! If you haven’t been to Cozumel before, it’s time to start planning!