Cozumel (“Coh-zoo-mel”) is Mexico’s original “Caribbean” destination; an island about 40 miles (64km) south of Cancun and Mexico’s largest Caribbean island with a total land area of approximately 308 square miles (798 sq km).
Cruise ships make regular stops at the port, and as a result of this, the island itself ranks among one of the most visited tourist places in the world.
There is only one main town on the island—San Miguel de Cozumel. During the daytime when the cruise ships are docked, the town becomes quite busy; at night, when the cruise ships pull away, the feel and atmosphere of Cozumel changes remarkably.
Less than five percent of the island is developed; and most of the undeveloped land is rugged jungle with quiet, deserted beaches.
The main beaches and beach resorts are about 10 miles (16km) outside of the town on the south side of the island. When you choose where to stay in Cozumel, there are two broad choices: you can either stay in or near the town center, or you can go out of town and stay at one of the resorts along the beach.
Besides quiet relaxation, a few small Mayan ruins and some general water sports, diving and snorkeling are the main attractions here, and this is directly attributed to the fact that there are around 100 dive sites that are recognized as being of world-class standard—some deep enough for SCUBA divers and some shallow enough for snorkeling.
Without doubt, Cozumel is a diver’s paradise, and if you are a diver or you want to learn how to dive, Cozumel should feature in your Mexico itinerary.
If you’re seeking non-water based activities, then Cancun or Playa del Carmen on the mainland will probably be a better base, although boat excursions to the mainland archaeological parks in the area are available from Cozumel.
If you want to spend your holiday diving, snorkeling and relaxing away from the commercialized resort scene of Cancun, with occasional easy access to more active pastimes a short ferry ride away on the mainland, the island of Cozumel may be just what you are looking for.
Even if you don’t stay on the island, excursions or short stays on Cozumel are available from Cancun and Playa del Carmen; you can read about these in the Getting There and Around section on this guide.
Beaches on Cozumel
There are many great beaches and beach clubs on the island of Cozumel, such as Chankanaab National Park (see below), Paradise Beach, Playa San Francisco and Playa Palancar. These beaches can be found about 5-10 miles (8-16 km) south of the main town and cruise ship piers.
The east side of the island has a more rugged coastline and offers miles of quiet windswept beaches. See ‘Eastern Shore of Cozumel’ below.
If you’re looking for water sports equipment (e.g. sailing boats and windsurfing) then head out to east side of the island to the Playa Bonita Beach Club where you’ll find operators providing what you’ll need. See Diving and Snorkeling, below.
Diving and Snorkeling
If you want to SCUBA dive or just snorkel in the clear shallow waters and see the coral and fish, Cozumel has some of the best waters in the world to experience this activity! If you have never SCUBA dived before, then Cozumel is a great place to learn. There are hundreds of dive operations offering well-priced and well-organized courses here. See Also: Water Sports in Mexico.
The Eastern Shore of Cozumel
You can’t swim on this side of the island – not safely, anyway. The waves pound the rocky shoreline and curl back, creating powerful undertows.
The view, however, is magnificent, and the road that hugs the edge of the coast is a great scenic route, begging to be seen, experienced and enjoyed!
People who drive along here often pull over and park to gaze out across the shore and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the area. There are some restaurants along the route too, waiting to serve you the fresh catch of the day or a refreshing fruit juice cocktail. You will see and hear wildlife everywhere in this area; exotic birds and big iguanas greet visitors on their tour along this amazing shoreline.
Boat Cruises from Cozumel
Touring boat trips are available for those who want to explore some of the waters around the island. Some tours can include stops that allow you to dive off and snorkel around the luscious waters; others stop at beautiful remote beaches and serve a nice lunch. Glass hulled boats are also on offer; these cruise around the shallow reefs and give you a window into the marine world surrounding Cozumel.
Sports Fishing Experiences
Cozumel is one of Mexico’s top destinations for sports fishing – especially deep sea fishing! See Also: Sports Fishing in Mexico.
Chankanaab National Park
At the center of this park—and the pride of the island’s local people— there is a land-locked pool (cenote) connected by an underground tunnel to the sea. The name Chankanaab loosely translates to mean “little sea”, named after the natural pool.
You can snorkel in the sea and the beach at the park is wonderful—one of the best on the island; it’s perfect for sunbathing. Entrance to the water is by means of stone steps. You’ll find restaurants, toilets and a few shops here, too.
Some natural gardens, home to sub-tropical plants from over twenty countries (450+ species), surround the lagoon, and nice pathways have been constructed, along with some replica Mayan statues and ‘ruins’, to complete the setting. The park is open every day from 8am and closes around 5pm.
The San Gervasio (pronounced “Her-vah-sio”) ruins, which date back to 100 BC, can be found on Cozumel; they, like all of the other archaeological sites in the area, are very popular with visitors from all over the world.
Mayan women made a pilgrimage to the temple here as it was thought that Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, resided locally and would help them to conceive if they trotted across to visit the island from the mainland. All Mayan women tried to make at least one pilgrimage here from the mainland at some point in their life.
These ruins have more symbolism than majesty about them, unlike some of the mainland Mayan ruins which have both. Half of the fun of this excursion is getting there. Don’t expect to see the most amazing ruins ever—you won’t. What you will see is a modest temple that was extremely significant to women, especially during the days of the Mayan civilization.
You can pay a tour guide to show you around, or you can buy a guidebook locally and walk around yourself. If you don’t want to drive to the ruins (or you don’t have transport) you can rent a cab for a fee; he/she will wait while you tour and take you back to San Miguel.
Day Excursions to the Mainland
Trips to Playa del Carmen and Xcaret and Xel-Ha water parks and the ruins at Chichen Itza, Tulum and Coba are easily accessible and very popular. Day trips can be arranged in advance and tend to start at around 9am, returning you back to the Island in time for dinner at around 6pm.
By Air – A limited number of domestic and international flights, as well as some smaller charter airlines, fly into here. Flights to Cancun are more plentiful and often cheaper. The Cozumel airport is about 2 mile (3 km) north of downtown San Miguel de Cozumel. Take the airport colectivo vans (buy your ticket at the terminal) into town; they drop off at the two main “hotel zones” in Cozumel. Connect to the Mexperience Travel Center for Airlines in Mexico. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.
Airport Transfers: If you’re arriving in Mexico by airplane, you can book your airport transfer in advance. Airport Transfer services are available from all of Mexico’s key airports and offer the choice of either a Standard or VIP service level. Standard shuttles will transport up to ten people and their baggage in a modern and comfortable suburban van to/from local hotels; the VIP service provides transportation exclusively for your party, taking you and your belongings directly to/from your local hotel. Connect to the Mexperience Travel Center for details and to reserve your Airport Transfer.
By Bus – From Cancun International airport, you can take a bus to Playa del Carmen then take the passenger ferry to Cozumel. See By Ferry, below.
By Car – The Car Ferry from Puerto Morelos (a few miles north of Playa del Carmen) is less frequent and takes longer to cross. Car parking is difficult in Cozumel, so unless you really have to, leave your car on the mainland and take the passenger ferry.
Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s provincial towns and cities — including its beach locations and the scenery and attractions nearby them — consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.
By Ferry – You can travel to Cozumel on a passenger ferry from Playa del Carmen, or if you have a car, drive to Puerto Morelos for the Passenger/Car Ferry (limited services – check locally). During daytime hours, passenger ferries from Playa del Carmen depart just about every hour. Check locally on timetables as they are subject to change and also check the time of the last ferry back. The ride takes around 45 minutes each way.
By Foot – Most of the San Miguel downtown area is accessible on foot; but if you want to visit other areas of the island like the natural park, the beach clubs and the ruins, you’ll need to hire a taxi or rent a car.
Taxis – Taxis in most of Mexico’s beachside towns and cities are not metered, so agree your price before you get in. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.
Warning About Mopeds – Mopeds can zip you around Cozumel, but beware – they can be dangerous too. We strongly recommend you consider the alternative: an open air Jeep, which will only be a little more expensive, but much safer.
Cozumel is host to a lively, colorful Carnival near Easter each year, when locals compete in the festivities for coveted prizes which recognize best costume, best dancers, etc. This is a busy and popular time on island, when “carnavaleros“, parades and other festivities take over the town and create an atmosphere of fun and festivity. The event takes place around Easter, climaxing with three nights of parades and dancing leading up to Ash Wednesday. The Carnival is usually in February or March, depending on what date Easter arrives on and may also be subject to other slight date changes locally.
Also see the guide to Cancun for other local events in the area.
Telephone: Cozumel’s telephone area code is 987. Connect to the Communications in Mexico page on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes
Exchanging Currency: Most of Cozumel’s Banks with ATM machines are found within the commercial center of the main town. During business hours, they and the Casas de Cambio will buy traveler’s checks and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Diver’s Certificate: If you’re planning to dive beyond the depths of novice diving (i.e. beginner’s course), make sure you bring your diver’s certificate with you.
Recompression Chambers: Cozumel has several – inquire locally for details.
Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace–from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in some defined public spaces.
Cozumel has a wide range of restaurants and eateries offering traditional Mexican food as well as international menus. For well-priced local food try La Choza or Pancho’s Backyard. Guidos also offers excellent pizzas and Italian food, or try Chi if you are looking for some Asian flavors.
As well as the larger tourist food places there are many smaller taco restaurants where you can savor traditional maize tortillas filled with a variety of local specialties such as Mayan marinated pork (conchinita pibil) or breaded fried shrimp.
La Cocay. European-Mediterranean. Calle 8, between Av. 10 and Av. 15. Tel: (987) 8725533
Cozumel is not such a big party center as neighboring Cancun, but offers a good selection of bars and clubs nonetheless.
Carlos’n’Charlies, Señor Frogs and Fat Tuesdays are loud and popular with tequila slamming tourists. If you are looking for live music you could try the Hard Rock Cafe, Mis Charros, Tiki-Tok or Kelleys, all usually have a band playing on weekends.
If you’d like to dance all night with locals, try Neptuno’s disco which blasts out salsa and reggaton music until the small hours. They sometimes charge a cover fee.
Shopping in Cozumel features a lot of duty free items; clothing, jewelry, plus other ‘duty free’ goods are sold in abundance here, targeted principally at cruise ship holiday makers. If a cruise ship stays late (most leave early evening), these shops stay open until late. You can also find a few Mexican arts and craft shops here.
The climate in Cozumel is very much like that of Cancun: hot and humid, but the humidity is not as drenching as it can be in some other places in Mexico because of the island breezes. August through October is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.
The rainy season is May through October. November through February is the high season and becomes quite hot, although evenings can be cooler, so a warm pullover may be a useful item to pack with you during these months.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico