San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico is one of the most sought-after tropical islands in Mexico. Each week, the developed Cozumel Port receives cruise-loads of international tourists eager to spend some time soaking in the sun rays on Cozumel’s famous beaches.
The island of Cozumel is largely untamed and wild, but as soon as you step off (or drive off) at the Cozumel Port, you know you are in a town full of things to do and see. Think of it this way, Cozumel Mexico is to paved highways and shiny shopping plazas as Isla Holbox is to sandy roads and boho shops!
But of all the things to do in Cozumel, the island precedes itself as being one of the best locations in the world for scuba diving! Many people flock to Cozumel’s turquoise waters to see what all the fuss is about. I myself went scuba diving for my first time in Cozumel and loved it! Read more about my Cozumel scuba diving experience below.
Here is my ultimate travel guide for things to do in Cozumel, Mexico. It includes what to do in Cozumel, where to stay, how to get around, best spots for snorkeling and diving, and more!
Getting to Cozumel
How to get to Cozumel: There are two ways to reach Cozumel – by flying into the Cozumel International Airport, or taking the ferry from Playa del Carmen.
There is no ferry service from Cancun to Cozumel, only from Playa del Carmen. You can either rent a car and cross with your vehicle on the Transcaribe lone car ferry or take the Winjet/Ultramar ferries and cross as a passenger.
Cozumel ferry prices:
- Car fee including all passengers one-way = 500 pesos (takes 1hr 15 mins)
- Passenger fees per adult one-way = Winjet 135 pesos and Ultramar 200 pesos (takes 45 mins)
As you see, it’s a better deal to travel by family in one car than it is to cross as separate passengers. Renting a car for Cozumel is ideal if you need to come back to Playa del Carmen and want to explore the Riviera Maya more.
Playa Palancar in Cozumel Mexico
10 Best Things to Do in Cozumel Mexico
Whether you have only a couple of days to spend in Cozumel or a whole week, here are some of the best Cozumel activities including the best non-touristy and free things to do in Cozumel Mexico.
1. Discover the Punta Sur Eco Park
At the southern tip of the island sits a natural reserve, the Punta Sur Eco Park, which boasts a variety of wild fauna and flora native to the island. You can enjoy a beautiful, secluded beach, climb up the Celerain lighthouse, bird-watch from the observation tower, hang out in hammocks, walk along a nature trail, kayak in the lagoons, snorkel on the Cozumel reef, and observe crocodiles and other fauna and flora in their natural habitat.
Entry costs for Punta Sur Eco Park: $16 USD/adult. Book your tickets ahead of time here.
2. Snorkel in Cozumel’s turquoise waters
Snorkeling in Cozumel is a must! Plus, if you already have your own gear, snorkeling is one of the best free things to do in Cozumel (unless you go with a tour).
The best places to snorkel in Cozumel will be at the Palancar and Colombia reefs, Playa Mia, Punta Sur Eco Park, Buccanos, Paradise Beach, Sky Reef, Tikila, among others.
3. Scuba dive in the Cozumel reefs
Unless you’re a master diver, you likely won’t be going scuba diving on your own in Cozumel. So no need to worry about choosing the best scuba diving location in Cozumel as your scuba dive guide and PADI master will take you to the best spots.
You will likely dive at one of the locations:
- Palancar Reef and Horseshoe, Colombia and the Santa Rosa Walls, Punta Tunich, Paradise Beach, Barracuda Reef, etc.
If it is your first-time scuba diving, make sure to book your trip in advance. Also, plan for a second dive (in case you LOVE it) so you have enough days in your trip left to book that, too. (More on my diving experience and the best dive shops in Cozumel below!).
4. Explore Cozumel’s best beaches
Unless you are at a beach park, it is hard to find the best beach in Cozumel that has public access, is big and sandy, and isn’t too far away. We found this out after the fact, as we drove around Cozumel in search of the best beaches.
In truth, it all depends on what you envision by “beach.” There are many beaches near the Cozumel Port on the west side of the island. But lots of them have little sand and rocky waters (which is great for snorkeling, but not for lounging), while others are not free or are owned by hotels.
The best public sandy beach we found where you can lay in the sand or swim in shallow and snorkel in turquoise water was Palancar Beach. Driving there from Cozumel Port will take about 20 mins.
Alternatively, you could seek out the beaches on the east coast of Cozumel. The east coast has long stretches of sandy beaches and surfable turf, and it’s less crowded. Of the entire east side of Cozumel island, the best idyllic (and free) beach we found was Playa Chen Rio.
5. Road trip the scenic east coast of Cozumel
Simply take a drive down the east coast of Cozumel for an escape from the center. It’s one of the best relatively free things to do and the road isn’t at all crowded. There are beaches, small rock pools, waves for surfing, and there are also several vistas (miradors) to stop at along the road. Most of the road trip is wild and untamed, with only a few restaurants and stores at either end, so pack a snack and lots of water.
Mirador Chumul on Cozumel’s east coast
6. Eat your way around Cozumel Port
You’ll find a cluster of restaurants around both the Cozumel Port and the main downtown area (el Centro) – from big names like Hard Rock Cafe to local Mexican eateries. Of all the restaurants we tried, my favorite was by far the Cerveceria Punta Sur (microbrewery) for its homebrewed craft beers, wood-fired pizza, and delightful plates.
7. Visit the San Gervasio Ruins
The San Gervasio Ruins is your chance to see ancient Mayan ruins on an island! The ruins were once a strategic political and commerce hub for the Mayas and were connected by important sacbé (white roads).
Entry to the San Gervasio ruins in Cozumel costs around $10.75 USD. The opening hours are from 8 am – 3:45 pm.
8. Go off-roading in a Jeep
Off-roading in a Jeep is one of the more touristy things to do in Cozumel, but it is worth it if you want to see more of the island other than from the highway while also creating your own personalized itinerary.
Because the off-roading Jeep excursion tours are pricey, most will also include access to beach parks, snorkel gear and guide, private driver, beer and soft drinks aboard, lunch, and a tequila tasting. All of these are things tourists usually like to try or do in Mexico, so why not?
Though I personally wouldn’t immediately choose this option (as I prefer more non-touristy things to do), I can see why lots of people go for it! If you arrive in Cozumel via a cruise, you’ll likely get a pricier Jeep offer while onboard. Book in advance instead and save some money.
9. Explore and shop in downtown Cozumel
Similarly to the restaurants, you’ll find an endless list of name-brand stores and shops amid the sprawling streets and shopping plazas in Cozumel. In El Centro, there are tons of local vendors selling handicrafts. But if you choose to buy from these vendors, make sure what you’re buying has been sourced/made responsibly. For more tips on how to be a sustainable and ethical traveler, read my guide here.
10. Join a Cozumel excursion
Understandably, sometimes the best way to see an island is to go on an all-inclusive tour (especially if you’re short for days). From snorkeling to sailing or foodie tours, here are the best excursions in Cozumel!
- Cozumel Food Tour
- El Cedral Town & Jade Cavern Cenote Tour
- Catamaran Sail & Snorkel Tour
- Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club All-Inclusive Day Pass
- Snorkeling & Jeep Tour
- Private Personalized Sightseeing Tour
Whether you want to snorkel and explore the island, discover the local food scene, or lounge by the pool with bar access at your fingertips, there’s a Cozumel excursion for every type of traveler.
Cozumel’s east coast beaches
Best Hotels in Cozumel / Where to Stay
The best place to stay in Cozumel will definitely be around el Centro (if anything but for ease of access and walkability to shopping and dining).
We chose to stay at a local Airbnb, which worked out great for our family. But the downside was that we didn’t have immediate beach access.
As for the best hotels in Cozumel, here are some top favorites:
Alternatively, if you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort (beach access, pool, bar, food, etc.,) then these popular all-inclusive resorts in Cozumel are the way to go: Allegro, Mr. Sancho’s, Sunscape Sabor, and Occidental.
My Cozumel Diving Experience
Scuba diving has always been at the top of my bucket list. So finally, when I saw an opportunity to do a Discovery Scuba Diving course in Cozumel learning the basics in the open water, I jumped at it! After doing a bit of research, I decided to go with Cozumel Dive School.
Our little scuba diving discovery team and the only photo from our scuba trip!
Having one of the best-rated profiles, I was certain in choosing a safe and professional dive team. And I was right!
Price, suiting up, & training
Their Discovery Scuba Diving course costs around $65 USD and includes a morning-long training of around 13 scuba diving techniques. I went at the beginning of January 2018.
My diving guide Jack (the Aussie) had several hundred dives under his belt and was extremely laid-back and knowledgable. With help from two up and coming dive masters, we headed out and met up with one other beginner that day.
We first learned the hand signals and techniques from Jack on the ground. Then, we suited up and navigated into the open water until we were about waist-deep. Here, we practiced the techniques we just learned on land.
We then waded more into the water to practice the underwater breathing techniques; how to find your mouthpiece, how to freshen your mask underwater, and so on.
After we succeeded in these skills, we then went on a tour around a protected coral reef observation site. After the hurricanes, and due to coral bleaching from climate change, lots of the Cozumel coral reefs are in a regrowth stage which is being monitored 24/7.
Scuba diving with Minecraft creatures
The statues and figurines that were constructed to help regrow the coral were in the shape of large Minecraft figures. A large dome with a camera inside jutted out from the middle. We waved at the camera and continued on. At first, I had trouble depressurizing my ears. But Jack resurfaced with me and helped me go down slower.
We didn’t go lower than 5-6 m (16-19 feet). We apparently stayed underwater for around 30 minutes, which was perfect for my first time. But it definitely went by too fast!
The two assisting guides were also there to train, so they were constantly at our sides in case we panicked. But I loved the freedom of being underwater. Scuba diving felt natural to me, and I quickly escaped my assistant’s grasp without realizing it.
So, he just let me do my thing and navigate around. I was completely unaware that he wasn’t trailing me until he surfaced at the end and told me I was too quick to keep up with (oops!).
Best Cozumel Dive Shops
I would highly recommend the Cozumel Dive School for your scuba diving experiences in Cozumel. If I had more time, I would have booked a second trip and would have been on my way to get my PADI certification.
Although these guys really seem at the top of their class, I know there are other great Cozumel dive shops. Here are some other suggestions for well-rated dive shops in Cozumel:
- Maple Leaf Scuba
- Deep Blue Dive Shop
- Studio Blue
- Blue Magic Scuba
- Dressel Divers
Any of these guys offer PADI certifications and other Open Water classes, so you can advance further after your first class if you wish!
A popular beach shack for drinks and snacks
Cozumel Travel Tips
Before I wrap up this guide to Cozumel, I want to lay out some helpful Cozumel travel tips.
The weather in Cozumel is tropical year-round so you could visit virtually anytime. The winter months are ideal for vacationers escaping the winter in their home countries (plus, holidays), so you can expect heavier crowds. The low season (June-October) might be more hot and rainy, but the upside is there will be fewer people.
Getting around Cozumel
The best way to get around Cozumel, in downtown, is by walking. The streets are easy to navigate. And considering that the center isn’t that gigantic really helps too. You could also rent a bike if you want to skirt around downtown a bit faster. But you want to get around to other parts of the island, your best bet is to rent a car. Renting a car in Mexico is fairly cheap, although on the island it might be more expensive because of exclusivity. There’s a large store (MEGA) nearby downtown for those big grocery hauls.
Tipping in Mexico is generally expected and Cozumel is no different. As a foreigner, I’ve come to learn I almost tip too much compared to the local rate (which my friend pointed out). So now we usually tip around 15%, which is deemed great for good service. But since Cozumel sees so many international tourists, tipping like in the USA (18-20%) is fairly normal too.
Staying safe & avoiding scams
Is Cozumel safe? Like most parts of Mexico, it’s safe. Especially in tourist towns like Cozumel, you’re safe. But you’re still at risk of petty crime, such as theft. So be mindful of your whereabouts and secure your belongings. When you are walking in town, don’t stay out too late. Don’t walk the streets alone at night. And don’t flash your shiny phone or camera. Keep your valuables hidden and stay low-key.
Cozumel is such a great place to visit in Mexico. Even though I’ve been once, I can’t wait to go back! I promised those guys at the Cozumel Dive School I’d come and get my PADI with them. We’ll see! Who knows, maybe we’ll even think about slow traveling long-term in Cozumel one day!?
Have you been to Cozumel Mexico? If not, is it on your bucket list? Drop your thoughts or questions in the comments below! xx