The island of Cozumel lies just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. It is known for its incredible coral reefs, its massive quantity of cruise ship visitors (over 1 million every year), and for being in the backdrop of all of my photos from Playa del Carmen.
Cozumel is like that person at every party that you don’t really know yet somehow manages to appear in every single one of your photos until one day you just decide to become friends with them because it seems inevitable.
Six months into living in Playa del Carmen and Héctor and I threw up our hands, like, Okay FINE Cozumel! If it means that much to you…
Just kidding! We’d wanted to go for ages, but kept putting it off because “we can go anytime!”
Finally, my birthday came around, and it seemed like the perfect excuse to go on a Cozumel island getaway!
Getting to Cozumel
We wanted to make the most of our two day, one night visit to the island, so we set out early on the morning of my birthday (December 10th, for your reference). We bought our ferry tickets from a booth on Avenida Juarez, just four blocks from the ferry dock.
The friendly ticket salesman, Martín, even sang me a few bars of Las Mañanitas (the traditional Mexican birthday song), so we were feeling festive, despite the early hour of 9 AM.
We took the Mexico WaterJets ferry and paid MXN 140 per person.
There is another ferry option, UltraMar, which leaves from the same pier, and costs MXN 300 round trip (or MXN 70 for locals).
Both ferries have similar schedules. UltraMar miiiight be a slightly fancier option (they offer the option of VIP tickets, whatever that means), but we had no complaints about the service with WaterJets.
The ferry ride over to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is about 40 minutes. On the 9 AM sailing, which we were on, the sea was flat, and the ride was painless, however…
If you are someone that is prone to motion sickness, here are my suggestions for maintaining your quality of life:
- 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 (Héctor can attest to this; the journey home was unpleasant)
- Candied ginger is an excellent aid for seasickness (and a yummy snack)
Getting Around On Cozumel
Upon arriving on Cozumel, we set out to rent a car. The island isn’t thaaat big (only 185 square miles), but you really do need a vehicle to explore it. Your options are:
- A scooter — definitely the most economical
- 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!
I did see a collectivo (a local shuttle bus) in various parts of the island, but I didn’t investigate it any further. If you’re not qualified/interested in renting a vehicle, definitely look into this option!
We went for the Jeep. I’m not sure how we landed on that decision, but in the moment it felt like the most exciting option. We wanted to feel like we were in a Jurassic Park movie, or (in my case) closer to Lorelai Gilmore.
And speaking of Lorelai Gilmore…
But first, coffee
On our quest for coffee, we quickly realized that the town of San Miguel is just like any other typical Mexican town. Everything stems from the town square, which is served by a large pedestrian street and connects to the malecon along Cozumel’s shoreline.
We also quickly realized that there is no parking, anywhere.
Finally, we found a parking lot and set out to find some breakfast. We ended up eating at a restaurant right next to the square.
In my rush of hanger and thirst for coffee, I couldn’t be bothered to remember (or even notice) the name, but they certainly had delicious enchiladas. It was right next on the Zócalo, beside the Cozumel sign, so if you ever go, try it!
Side note: you can expect to pay the same amount for food on Cozumel as you would in the more touristy areas of Playa del Carmen or Tulum; about MXN 150-200 per entree.
This was, surprisingly, the only meal that we ended up eating outside of our hotel, The Westin Cozumel. We got too distracted by exploring to even think about food (really out of character for us) other than when we were at the hotel (the food there was AMAZING though, just FYI).
After eating breakfast (or maybe brunch, because by then it was like 11:30 am), we set to find one more cup of coffee, for the road. We needed a buzz after waking up at the ungodly hour of 8:00 AM.
I’m not going to lie; this may have been the first day that I actually experienced the morning in the Mayan Riviera. It was nice!
After picking up coffee at the most bougie coffee shop we’d ever been to (are you listening, every coffee place on Abbot Kinney?), we headed back to the Jeep and set out to explore the island.
You can drive all the way around Cozumel in about 40 minutes (but you shouldn’t, because you’ll miss a lot). The town of San Miguel (which you may be surprised to learn has a population of around 100,000 people), is located on the west side of the island, and it is really the only populated part of the island. The highway loops around the southern half of Cozumel, and the northern half is an undeveloped jungle.
We drove south out of the town of San Miguel, past the cruise ship ports. As soon as you leave the cruise ship ports behind the properties transition into to farms, rather than resorts and shopping complexes. As soon as the highway begins to curve east, you’ll see nothing but the typical low jungle of the Yucatán peninsula.
Punta Sur Eco Park
Upon arrival, we were met with a chained gate.
It turns out many of Cozumel’s attractions are closed on Sundays. As we let out our frustrated sighs, I suddenly remember reading this in my guidebook. Whoops!
Thankfully we had time to go back the next day!
Punta Sur was a wonderful experience, probably our favorite from the entire trip.
The park admission is about 14 USD (If you’re a Quintana Roo local there’s a discount though), and it is well worth it.
The eco park contains pristine, virgin beaches with reefs to go snorkeling. There’s also a historic lighthouse you can climb for views over the entire southern tip of Cozumel. And there is a massive mangrove called the Columbia lagoon where you can spot all kinds of birds, and even crocodiles!
I could go on and on about it, but I’ll save it for a separate post!
Continuing along the coast from Punta Sur, we made our next stop at a site called El Mirador (Spanish for “lookout”) to snap a few photos. 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 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. If you visit, be cautious.
On the day we were there the tide wasn’t very high and the ocean was pretty calm. We had fun clamoring around on the rocks and taking photos!
The east coast of Cozumel is basically just a long stretch of undeveloped beaches. Sure there a few (maybe 6 in total), restaurants and coconut stands scattered along the coast, and a couple of hotels, but for the most part this coastline is completely untouched, which is such a novelty, especially in such a popular travel destination as the Caribbean.
If it hadn’t been so windy and chilly during our visit, we definitely would have made a beach day of it. As it was, we were thanking our lucky stars that we’d even brought our hoodies over to Cozumel with us!
We stopped randomly in a few different places along the highway to take photos of the beaches, and at one of these stops, a man on his bicycle stopped to let us know where we could go to spot a crocodile he’d just seen. We thanked him for the tip and carried on.
Sure enough, a couple of miles down the road (next to one of the few enclaves of restaurants), was the crocodile. He was sunning himself on the banks of a pond and didn’t seem too bothered by all the photographers flocking to him. We snapped this shot and carried on.
Our next stop was supposed to be the San Gervasio archaeological site, another park owned by Cozumel Parks (the same company that operates Punta Sur). Like Punta Sur, it was closed on our first day; sadly we didn’t have time to visit on our second day because we got so caught up in Punta Sur. It’s definitely on the list for next time, though!
San Gervasio was an important site for Mayan women, as they were obligated to make a journey there at least once in their lives to make an offering to the fertility god, Ixchel. Can you imagine?! There were no ferries in those days!
After concluding our sightseeing tour of the island we were pretty wiped out, so we headed to the hotel for a late lunch and ended up relaxing for the rest of the day. I had hoped to explore the town of San Miguel a little bit more, but once I put on my hotel robe there was NO WAY I was changing back into real clothes. You can read all about our stay at The Westin Cozumel, here.
On our second day, we knew we wanted to head straight to Punta Sur to explore the beaches. We had hoped to have time to visit San Gervasio and maybe tour around the city a little bit in the evening, but we ended up spending the ENTIRE day at Punta Sur!
After a long day of exploring the beaches and mangroves of the eco park, we were starving, and set out to visit one of the restaurants on Cozumel’s eastern coast. What we hadn’t really expected was that everything was SUPER busy! We should have expected as much as just that morning we’d been gawking at the four MASSIVE cruise ships that had arrived in port overnight! We didn’t put two and two together until we were starving and searching for food.
I remembered seeing a sign for ceviche somewhere on the northern section of the east coast, and I had my heart set on it. I was hoping to find a chair in the sand under a palapa where I could enjoy a cold beer and a bowl of ceviche! I had a picture in my head, and I didn’t really want to compromise.
We spotted a restaurant on a bluff overlooking the ocean and, miraculously, a parking space to go along with it. It looked promising!
As we made our way up the palm-frond-lined stairway to the Coconuts restaurant, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to find this though…
The MOST KITCHY restaurant I’ve EVER seen. The decor and ambiance seemed like such an over-the-top gringo-ized stereotype that I wasn’t sure whether to be delighted or offended. There were parrots with names like Chimichanga, and little dogs running around, while people ate deep fried food and drank Sol.
It was busy! And everyone was having a great time.
We managed to grab a table with a view thanks to a friendly patron who informed us he was leaving and encouraged us to take his table. Soon we were sipping cold beer (Dos XX, but hey, you win some, you lose some), and enjoying an incredible view of the coastline.
Coconuts wasn’t the breezy beachfront palapa of my dreams, but it was a decent place to regroup over a cold beer! And, I’ll probably never forget seeing it for the first time!
What We Missed
Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time for exploring that second day. We were exhausted from our adventures in Punta Sur, and a little chilly from the wind, so we headed home to Playa del Carmen not long after our Coconuts experience.
We thought that two days would be enough time to explore the island, but in the end, we left with even more items on our “to visit” list than when we arrived. Cozumel was a pleasant surprise for us. We knew we would love it, but we didn’t realize how much it had to offer. Before our trip, we’d only really thought of it as a snorkeling destination, but now we know it’s much more than that.
Much of Cozumel is undeveloped, so it’s a haven for birds and other wildlife. The beaches are incredible — in fact, we even saw surfers on one of them!
Of course, the snorkeling is a must, but there are also archeological sites to visit, and even tequila distilleries to try out!
And we can’t forget about the town of San Miguel! I’m sure there are some charming places to be found within the city limits. The architecture is beautiful, the streets are colorful and lined with street art. It’s a lovely place.
We can’t wait to go back!
Have you been to Cozumel? Tell me about your experience!
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