Cozumel, Mexico is an island packed with natural beauty, coral reefs, luxury hotels and world class restaurants, but how does it compare to other options in the Caribbean and is Cozumel worth visiting? The answer to this question is quite clearly, yes! But what are the main reasons so many tourists flock to this little piece of paradise? and what sets it apart from its competitors?
Located off the Eastern coast of Mexico, in the Yucatan Peninsula, just a 40 minute ferry from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel has seen a significant rise in popularity and is now considered as one of the best diving spots in the Americas. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (also known as the Great Mayan Reef) is situated just off Cozumel and many cruise ships port here so tourists can explore the underwater metropolis which is home to over 1,000 species of marine life.
There are many reasons to visit Cozumel, but in this article we will outline the top 7 to show why it is considered one of the best holiday destinations in Mexico.
Take in the Coastline via Paddle Board
There are numerous tour operators in Cozumel who can arrange for you to Paddleboard along Cozumel’s crystal clear coast, with most trips departing from the island’s many beach clubs, where changing facilities are available. Paddleboarding trips will be guided and a brief tutorial will be offered to get you used to standing up on the board, although it is perfectly fine to kneel if you are concerned about your balance. A 1 hour tour or lesson will usually cost around $35 on average, although some operators offer full-day hire for $60, allowing you to go at your own pace.
This is one of the best ways to admire the island and see a wide variety of marine life swim below, a unique experience that you will remember forever. In certain sections you can paddle along side Sting Rays and Nurse Sharks, while drifting past new parts of the island, giving it a brand new perspective.
Spend an Afternoon Deep Sea Fishing
Deep Sea Sport Fishing is very popular in Mexico and a wide variety of species can be caught as you navigate past the coral and enter deeper waters. This past time is especially recommended in the summer months when you can hook Tuna, Marlin, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi and Sailfish who migrate to the warm Caribbean Sea. The sea can drop to 2 miles in depth just minutes from the marina with the reefs acting as a natural barrier, meaning you can start fishing as soon as you like. This area is also a popular place to catch Bonefish who occupy the lagoons to the north of Cozumel.
In the colder months, you can expect to catch fish such as; Red & Yellowtail Snapper, Mackerel, Barracuda, Amberjacks and Grouper. Most trips last for six hours which makes it possible to include a spot of fishing while your cruise ship has docked on the island – all providers allow guests to book ahead to guarantee their spot. The price is usually inclusive of; lunch; beer; soft drinks & snacks, plus cleaning and filleting if you wish to take your catch back to grill on the BBQ.
Visit the Capital, San Miguel
Plan a fun day trip from the resort by visiting Cozumel’s capital, San Miguel de Cozumel, the largest town on the island with over 77,000 citizens – this is also where the main port is situated to return to Playa del Carmen by ferry. Here you can find quaint and colourful streets where you can grab a bite to eat, or enjoy a beer in the afternoon sun at the main square, Plaza del Sol. It’s also a great place to pick up a souvenir, with the town home to plenty of shops and amenities if you are looking for something specific.
San Miguel is also a good place to book activities, with many tours operating out of the town. Tours include; Catamaran sailing, scuba & snorkeling, ATV quad biking, Jeep tours, Mayan cooking classes, & cultural experiences. Visitors can also see local landmarks such as the Coral Reef monument and Capila Santa Cruz Church. San Miguel is highly recommended for any keen photographers due to its rustic charm, colourful buildings, great coastline and friendly locals.
Seafood and Traditional Mexican Cuisine
Seafood lovers will not be disappointed with Cozumel’s restaurant offerings, serving freshly caught produce, with a Mexican twist. One of the islands’s most famous eateries is the Lobster Shack, a must-visit on the island for its shrimp or lobster burritos – a real gem of a restaurant for its unconventional takes on one of the ocean’s finest ingredients. Alberto’s Beach Bar is also a popular spot to sample some local seafood, wowing customers with its large and varied platters which can be enjoyed while taking in the stunning sea views. Alberto’s also serves tasty dishes such a Red Snapper, Mayan Shrimp and Lobster tails.
Cozumel also has many traditional Mexican restaurants for people who would prefer to eat food which hasn’t been caught on a line, or in a net. Burritos Gorditos has a reputation for the best Burritos on the island, a small, family-owned establishment with very affordable pricing. If you are looking for a more up-market experience then Buccanos at Night offers a culinary evening that you will not forget, combining the best of Mexican flavours with impressive panoramic views.
Learn about Mayan History
Remnants of the ancient civilisation of the Mayans can be found on Cozumel, the largest site being San Gervasio in the north, with the smaller complex of El Cedral in the South. The Mayans were far more developed and sophisticated than the rest of the world at this time and scientists are still amazed to this day in regard to the accuracy of their mathematics and astronomy. A day trip with a guided tour at such ruins can be a fascinating experience and can teach you things you never knew about this incredible civilisation.
San Gervasio is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, unlike its smaller counterpart, El Cedral. It was an extremely important site for women, who would make pilgrimages there to pay homage to Ixchel, the goddess of birth and fertility. It is comprised of nine temples and is home to many Iguanas, surrounded by thick jungle. The smaller El Cedral ruins date back to 800 AD and consists of a single temple which was used for ceremonies and said to improve fertility for anyone who paid homage. This temple can also be combined with a trip to the Mayan Culture Centre.
Relax on World Class Beaches
On any side of the island you can stumble across perfect sandy beaches and warm, clear waters, one of Cozumel’s main selling points and a reason why it is visited by a wide range of tourist groups, from families, to couples, to remote workers. The mostly undeveloped coastline of Cozumel offers secluded, peaceful spots to relax in the sun, a level of tranquillity that you won’t find in resorts like Playa del Carmen or Cancun. It is easy to find a stretch of shoreline that hasn’t been impacted by commercialisation, away from the crowds and no noisy jet skis in the water – this is why beach lovers rate the island so highly and come back year-on-year.
On the East coast you have the following beaches; Punta Morena, Playa Bonita & Playa Chen Rio. Playa Azul and Playa San Juan are located to the north west, with Passion Island to the north. Western beaches include; Dzul Ha, Playa La Palapita Den Medio, Playa Palancar, Stingray Beach, Playa Corona, Mr Sanchos Beach, Paradise Beach, Playa Uva Norte and Uva Sur. The largest beach on the island is Playa Mia Grand Beach Park, although it is heavily commercialised and often busy, it is a great place for kids to have fun and enjoy an array of activities, with many bars and places to eat in close proximity.
Scuba Diving and Snorkelling
The number one reason Cozumel welcomes as many as 4 million cruise passengers every year is because of its fantastic scuba diving opportunities at some of the best coral reefs in the world, a worthy alternative to spending the vast sums of money required to visit the prime spots in the South Pacific. If deep water scuba diving isn’t for you then the island’s shoreline provides an unbeatable snorkelling experience, with amazing visibility, warm waters and untouched marine life. If you want to get to the deeper waters and explore the incredible barrier reef system and exotic creatures, then there are a large number of instructors and operators on Cozumel who can provide a safe and memorable experience, including full hire of equipment.
Palancar Reef is one of the most accessible dive spots off the island and a great place for beginners, or anyone who wants to go at their own relaxing pace. Barracuda Reef is a much more challenging location and many operators do not take tourists to this spot due to its strong currents. However, if you are an experienced diver and want to see species such as; Hammerhead Sharks, Black-tip Reef Sharks, Eagle Rays and huge Barracuda, then this could be the a once in a lifetime opportunity. Please seek advice from local dive centres before making any preparations.
How many days do you need in Cozumel?
Many tourists stay on Cozumel for around 3-4 days as part of a bigger vacation on the Mexico mainland. The island is small and many parts are undeveloped, with most travellers choosing to stick to the main resorts and town of San Miguel. However scuba diving enthusiasts can stay on the island for much longer and are able to sample a new and unique dive spot every day.
Is Cozumel worth a day trip?
Just 40 minutes away from Playa del Carmen by boat, Cozumel is of course a recommended day trip for anyone staying in the Yucatan Peninsula. Day trips usually consist of a hearty breakfast and lunch at some of Cozumel’s best eateries, snorkelling, a visit to the Mayan ruins, or the capital San Miguel, followed by evening drinks by the beach. The size of the island makes it very easy to get around, allowing you to cram as much into the day as possible, especially if you hire a scooter.
What is the best month to go to Cozumel?
The best month to visit Cozumel is usually May but the high season is between March & June, so any of these months promise great weather and perfect diving conditions. The winter months are much cooler and it is advised to bring extra layers for the evenings as it can get chilly at night. September & October typically see high levels of rainfall, with the Caribbean Hurricane season falling between the start of June and the end of November.