Visiting Cozumel for the first time? (Or second or third time?) There are so many options, it's hard to decide which activities to pursue in this nature lover's playland.
If you have a few days in the Riviera Maya area, there's plenty to do on the southeastern mainland of the Yucatán Peninsula, ranging from Playa del Carmen toward the north to the ruins of Tulum when you head south. Whatever you choose, don't miss Cozumel, home to resorts, ecotourist parks and beaches that line unbelievably clear tropical waters.
Here are seven tips on the best places to go and things to see when you're visiting Cozumel.
Snorkel at El Cielo
Experience the amazing, secluded “El Cielo” (Heaven beach, also spelled Al Cielo), a large area of waist-deep, crystal clear turquoise water on the shoreline of southern Cozumel Island. Go swimming or snorkel with sea turtles and brilliantly colorful tropical fish — you'll also see hundreds of starfish. On a shore excursion with a local tour company you can feast on fresh shrimp and fish ceviche, cheeseburgers, freshly made guacamole and a cold margarita or glass of champagne. Popular options include shore excursions from Cozumel Water Sports, Riviera Elite Private Yacht Tours and many other operators.
Punta Sur Ecological Park (Parque Punta Sur)
At the far southeastern tip of Cozumel you'll find the 247-acre Punta Sur Ecological Park (Parque Punta Sur), a true natural treasure. Breathe in the fresh sea air and be dazzled by the environmental and historical wonders of Cozumel’s largest ecological reserve. The stunning ecological reserve is home to herons, sea eagles, flamingos, exotic birds, crocodiles, turtles and iguanas, all photo-ready. You won't run out of sights to explore, from the Punta Celerain Lighthouse and navigational museum to the ancient Mayan ruins surrounded by lush coastal jungles. On the west side of the park you can introduce children to snorkeling: Just put on a face mask and dive into the calm waters of the Mesoamerican Reef.
Visit the Pearl Farm
Visit the family-run Pearl Farm on Cozumel. (See the excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.) Isabel or one of her family members will give you a personal tour around the pearl farm and lab. After seeing how the farm works you can head out by boat and snorkel to see the pearl hatchery for yourself — this may be the only place in North America where you can snorkel on a pearl farm. You'll also get to see a growing reef and a life-size statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe underwater. As part of a tour, you can relax on the beach or in a hammock and cool off in the pristine turquoise waters before enjoying a lunch of burgers (veggie burgers are an option), beers or soft drinks on the pretty beach.
Go for a romp on Isla de la Pasión
Several tour companies offer all-inclusive daylong packages to Isla de la Pasión, a private island accessible only by boat. Choices include a jungle kayak through Laguna Ciega, a beach escape, a Jeep adventure or a romp on the Aqua Twister speedboat. If you're a nature lover, a biodiversity expert can point out exotic birds and native species while kayaking through Cozumel’s Protected Natural Area (be sure to sign up early). Following whatever activity you choose, you can pull up under a palapa on the relaxing beach, play on the watercraft and munch on a buffet of guacamole, fresh fruits, chorizo, fajitas, crab salad and more. It's kid-friendly, too. Fun fact: Corona's beach commercials are shot here.
A one-minute look at Playa Palancar.
Hit one of these beaches
You can't go wrong by just kicking back for a morning and afternoon on one of Cozumel's spectacular beaches, rich with powdery white sand lapped by crystalline clear blue waters. Your top choices are Playa Palancar, Mr. Sancho's Beach Club, Playa Chen Rio, Playa de San Martin and Playa Mía. If you're on a budget you can find a stretch of beach to yourself, and it costs just $25 for the 20-minute ride from the port to Playa Palancar, for example. If you enjoy amenities, head to one of the beach resorts featuring palapas, buffet lunches, plenty of sunshine, snorkeling equipment and facilities catering to both families and couples. Arrive early and you'll beat the crowds.
Visit San Gervasio
History buffs will enjoy a trek to San Gervasio, an archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the northern third of Cozumel. It's the largest, most significant and only official sanctioned archaeological site on the island. It's also a sanctuary that pays homage to Ixchel, goddess of fertility and love. It was a custom for Mayan women to visit Cozumel at least once during their lifetimes to pay tribute to Ixchel.
Visit Chankanaab National Park
Chankanaab National Park, a beautiful conservation area, is located in the heart of Cozumel and was created to protect the gorgeous diverse fauna and flora species of the island as well as its world-famous coral reefs. Chankanaab (from the Mayan tongue, it means “little sea") is located inside Cozumel´s beautiful National Marine Park. Spend your day snorkeling or scuba diving while admiring schools of tropical fish, colorful reef and underwater statues. Again, it's best to join up with a local tour guide who can prepare a fresh hand-made tortilla at a Mayan casita. You might want to stop by the crocodile exhibit or sea lion show or relax with a massage in front of the lagoon that gives the park its name.
Have you visited Cozumel?
There you have it, seven tips from some locals who know Cozumel well. There are lots of other choices around the island and on the Riviera Maya mainland, so don't hesitate to contact us if yoiu plan to visit!
Have you already visited Cozumel? What was the most intriguing of the island or your favorite shore excursion?
Contributed by Tania Samantha Medina, Cozumel & Riviera Maya Fideicomiso de Promoción Turística (Tourism Board).