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  • Cozumel-snorkel-starfish - Look but don't touch! An amazing colony of sea stars, or starfish, in a Cozumel lagoon.
  • Cozumel-reef-anemone - A scuba diver finds an anemone off the coast of Cozumel, Mexico.
  • Cozumel-Stingray_Beach_Cozumel  - Grab a snorkel and head to Stingray Beach on Cozumel. They're safe, even around kids.
  • Cozumel-kayak2 - A kayak trip in the crystalline waters around Cozumel, Mexico
  • plaza-sangervasio-Cozumel - San Gervasio on Cozumel features Mayan ruins including the Plaza Central.
  • Cozumel-Pearl-Farm-Beach - Excursions to the Cozumel Pearl Farm include time at this beautiful beach.
  • coral-reef-Cozumel - Scuba divers swim through coral reefs near Cozumel.
  • kitesurf-air-Cozumel - An experienced kitesurfer catches air off the coast of Cozumel.
  • shopping-Cozumel - A shopping center on Cozumel offers a variety of mementos of the island.
  • mariachi-brass-Cozumel - Mariachi serenade visitors to Playa Mia on the island of Cozumel.
  • playa-mia-water-fun-Cozumel - Playa Mia beach and water park offers a variety of activities for visitors to Cozumel.
  • beach-island-Cozumel - Cozumel, an island off the coast of Mexico, beckons with turquoise waters and wide sandy beaches.
  • caracol-PuntaSur-Cozumel - Just northeast of the Punta Sur lighthouse on Cozumel is the Caracol (Tumba del Caracol), a Maya building erected during the post-classic period.
  • Cozumel-hammocks-palms - Grab a hammock for an afternoon siesta on Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-iguana - A colorful iguana spotted in Cozumel, Mexico.
  • clear-kayak-Cozumel - Clear kayaks, available for rent at Cozumel beaches, let visitors pilot their own glass-bottom boat over reefs.
  • Pearl-Farm-excursion - A visit to a pearl farm in Cozumel.
  • tree-coral-Cozumel - The coral reefs off Cozumel features many types of coral, including some that look like small pine trees.
  • Cozumel-Faro-Celarain-Punta-Sur - The Celarain lighthouse (Faro de Celarain) sits on the promontory of Punta Sur in southern Cozumel. It's part of an eco-park that includes reefs, lagoons, beaches and low forest.
  • lounge-drink-Cozumel - Catching some sun with colorful drinks is part of the Cozumel experience.
  • surfer-Cozumel - Surfers enjoy the wicked waves and laid-back style of Cozumel.
  • scuba-fish-reef-Cozumel - Even scuba diving in shallow waters lets you enjoy the undersea beauty near Cozumel.
  • sangervasio-temple-Cozumel - San Gervasio is the most important Mayan archeological site on Cozumel Island.
  • scuba-bluefish-treecoral-Cozumel - While scuba diving, you and your dive buddy can explore beautiful reefs near Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-Campo-de-Golf2 - Cozumel Country Club, on Cozumel's north shore, features 18 holes of golf designed by the Nicklaus Design Group. Play it as part of a group cruise with fellow golfers.
  • cedral-street-Cozumel - The Festival of El Cedral and the Fiestas of Santa Cruz is an annual event held in the small town of El Cedral, in the south of Cozumel.
  • tube-sponge-Cozumel - Colorful tube sponges are part of the seascape seen by snorkelers and scuba divers.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding-fish-eye - A kiteboarder waits for her turn on the beach in Mexico.
  • Feria-de-El-Cedral-Cozumel - On Cozumel, you may be lucky enough to join the fun of the Festival of El Cedral.
  • Cozumel-blue-fish - The waters around Cozumel, Mexico, are a wonder for scuba divers and snorkelers.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding - A kiteboarder catches some air along the coast of Mexico. Try it or just watch at Morph Kiteboarding in Tulum or El Cuyo, Yucatán.
  • Cozumel-Bird-Emerald - A lovely emerald-colored bird on Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-flamingo - A flock of tangerine-colored flamingos on Cozumel.
  • bikes-Cozumel - Bikes are a fun and relaxing way to tour the sights on Cozumel, Mexico.
  • bright-orange-fish-Cozumel - A bashful orange fish peeks out of a reef off the coast of Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-reef-fish6 - Scuba divers and snorkelers will find the waters around Cozumel teeming with sea life.
  • Cozumel-girl-ziplining - Take an adrenaline-pumping zipline ride on Cozumel, Mexico.
  • brain-coral-Cozumel - Think! A sighting of brain coral near a reef off Cozumel.
  • golf-Cozumel - For the avid golfer, Cozumel offers beautiful greens and sprawling sand traps.
  • seaturtle-Cozumel - A sea turtle gracefully swims through the reefs off the island of Cozumel.
  • lighthouse-view-puntasur-Cozumel - The lighthouse at Punta Sur, Cozumel, offers spectacular views of the area.
  • shipwreck-submarine-Cozumel - Cozumel submarine tours visit ship wrecks and reefs.
  • sponge-coral-Cozumel - Snorkeling on Cozumel brings up close to many types of coral and fish.
  • anemone-Cozumel - Anemone, coral and sponges are part of the undersea gardens you'll find near Cozumel, Mexico.
  • clocktower-Cozumel - The Cozumel clock tower is a popular meeting spot for visitors to the island.
  • coral-whitefish-Cozumel - Exploring the reefs of Cozumel by snorkel or scuba is a great way to spend the day.
  • Cozumel-Diver-Gray-Angel - A diver follows a gray angelfish in the waters near Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-wedding - Cozumel has become popular for weddings.
  • crocodile-Cozumel - Crocodiles rock! ...from a distance. A visit to Punta Sur can bring sightings of Cozumel's crocs.
  • Hamacas-playa-mia-Cozumel - Hamacas offer a perfect spot for relaxing at Playa Mia on Cozumel.
  • big-house-san-gervasio-Cozumel - With its intact roof, Nohoch Nah is one of the best preserved buildings in San Gervasio, an archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, on the north coast of Cozumel.
  • starfish-lagoon-Cozumel - Snorkelers can view perfect starfish, sea star, nestled in the sandy lagoons of Cozumel.
  • wedding-playa-azul-Cozumel - A just-married couple at Playa Azul on the island of Cozumel, Mexico.
  • Cozumel-GREEN-country club - A visit to Cozumel, Mexico might include a round of golf.
  • beach-cocktail.jpg - Beach + tropical cocktail = the perfect way to unwind.
  • blue-orange-fish-Cozumel - Colorful fish greet snorkelers and scuba dives off Cozumel.
  • mexico-wakeboarding.jpg - If you're game, try the sport of wakeboarding and perform some acrobatic maneuvers while trailing a speedboat.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding-2 - Ever want to try kiteboarding? It's a new extreme sport that combines windsurfing, paragliding and wakeboarding.
  • blue-fish-Cozumel - Snorkelers and scuba divers flock to Cozumel for the underwater views.
  • Celebrity-Cruises-dolphin-royal-swim-Cozumel - Nuzzling a dolphin in Cozumel during a “Royal Swim Shore Excursion” with Celebrity Cruises.
  • cozumel-mexico-beach.jpg - The placid, luminous beachfront in Cozumel, Mexico. See it on a cruise vacation.
  • Carnival-Imagination-Cozumel-Mexico - A Carnival Imagination cruise can be your passage to a magical evening in Cozumel, Mexico.
  • cozumel-mexico-beach-1.jpg - A pristine beach in Cozumel, Mexico.
  • Cozumel-refresh-water - Come to Cozumel for beautiful, world-class lagoons and a refreshing change of pace.
  • zipline-girl-Cozumel - Zip lining on Cozumel is a thrill ride for all ages.
  • Horseback-Riviera-Maya.jpg - Horseback riding on a beach in the Riviera Maya of Mexico.
  • thatch-roof-sangervasio-Cozumel - San Gervasio on Cozumel features structures from Mayan times.
  • Splendid-Toadfish-Cozumel -  A great day of scuba diving off Cozumel can include a glimpse of the splendidly named Splendid Toadfish.
  • crab-mexico-beach.jpg - A crab spotted on the beach in Mexico.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding-4 - A woman preps for a kitesurfing outing in Mexico. Try it at Morph Kiteboarding in Tulum or El Cuyo, Yucatán.
  • lobster-Cozumel - Lobsters in a Cozumel lagoon can be an undersea discovery one day, and a tasty dinner the next.
  • land-turtle-Cozumel - Conservation groups on Cozumel work to protect young turtles on the island.
  • kitesurf-Cozumel - Kitesurfing near Cozumel beaches offers thrills on the water and in the air.
  • seashells.jpg - Colorful seashells spotted on the beach.
  • glassboat-snorkel-Cozumel - Glass-bottom boats and snorkeling tours are waiting for you on Cozumel.
  • crab-reef-Cozumel - Snorkelers and divers can see a wide variety of sea creatures close to shore on Cozumel.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding-7 - A kiteboarder catches some air along the coast of Mexico. Try it or just watch at Morph Kiteboarding in Tulum or El Cuyo, Yucatán.
  • Morph-Kiteboarding-5 - A kiteboarder glides across the surf in Mexico.
  • Cozumel-snorkel-ray - Scuba divers and snorkelers may spot a ray or two in the waters off Cozumel.
  • Cozumel-rays - A trio of rays in the waters near Cozumel, Mexico
  • bebidas-Cozumel - A relaxing afternoon in Cozumel can include a delightful, cool beverage by the water.
  • jetski-rider.jpg - A jetski rider makes some waves in the Caribbean.

Cozumel travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

There are two basic types of tourists in Cozumel: scuba divers and cruise ship passengers. And there’s lots to interest both throughout this island, just 30 miles long, 10 miles wide and 12 miles off the Yucatán Peninsula mainland.

Mexico’s largest island, fringed on its western side by close-in coral reefs, is an internationally known dive destination, and it sports many hotels and resorts catering to that niche market. But Isla Cozumel is also a welcoming place for the more than 1 million cruise passengers who alight annually in search of blindingly white sand and warm “I-can’t-believe-it’s-so-clear!” water.

Despite dense, Miami-like development along its west shore, Cozumel has clung to nature with long stretches of open shoreline on its wild, surf-pounded north and east littorals. Dozens of small but intriguing Maya ruins sit inland and hint at the island’s indigenous past.

Cruise ships that call on Cozumel

Top reasons to go

  • Great scuba diving: Dozens of major dive sites have been identified along the fringing reefs. Thanks to constant currents, underwater visibility in the best conditions extends up to 200 feet.
  • Beach bumming: Oh yeah!
  • Exploring on your own: Let serendipity be your guide.
A great day of scuba diving off Cozumel can include a glimpse of the splendidly named Splendid Toadfish.
Tam Warner Minton / Creative Commons BY-SAA great day of scuba diving off Cozumel can include a glimpse of the splendidly named Splendid Toadfish.

Top things to do & see in Cozumel

Scuba diving

Certified divers will find many operators waiting to serve them with everything from shallow reef explorations to challenging wall, drift and tunnel dives. Never-ever divers can take an intro course and get an exhilarating feel for the sport. There’s lots of competition in the island dive market, so be sure your instructor is certified by PADI or another organization you trust.

Snorkeling

Cozumel’s stunningly clear waters would be a sensuous pleasure to swim in even if there were nothing but sand under the surface. Snorkeling out from shore, don't expect much: sand, rocks and a few schools of colorful tropical fish are basically what you’ll see. That’s because the island’s shallow reefs were destroyed by Hurricanes Emily and Wilma, which slammed into Cozumel in 2005, causing intense damage above and below the surface. If you want to see coral and bountiful marine life, spring for a boat tour that visits  off-shore reefs. Glass-bottom boat and sailboat excursions are especially fun.

Beaches

  • Punta Sur Eco Beach Park. Restrooms, showers, hammocks, restaurants and other amenities make this pretty, state-managed stretch of sugary sand a great place to spend the day. Admission.
  • Other west side beaches. All Mexican beaches are open to the public, and there are plenty of places on Cozumel where you can park your rental car and jump in. However, if shade and refreshment are on your “must have” list, you’ll want to visit a strand with a “beach club.” Paradise Beach, Playa San Francisco and Playa Mia are three that are tops with cruise passengers.
Kitesurfing near Cozumel beaches offers thrills on the water and in the air.
Courtesy of Cozumel & RM Tourism BoardKitesurfing near Cozumel beaches offers thrills on the water and in the air.

Attractions — and how to party on, dude!

  • Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park is, yes, totally contrived — but in a good, Disneyesque kind of way. If you have kids or just want to chill in a pretty and amusing place for the day, the price of admission (about $21 if you get there on your own) is worth it. For that you can swim and snorkel in a serene lagoon, hang out in a beach chair or a hammock, wander through a botanical garden, ogle crocodiles, enjoy entertainment and tour some Maya exhibits. Many additional activities, as well as food and drink, are available at extra charge.
  • Party boats and buses. If Margaritaville is your thing, hop aboard a pirate ship, a party catamaran or a double-decker party bus and raise a toast.
  • Sightseeing tours. Guided tours by bus, jeep or limo will provide insight to the island’s geography, natural and human history.
  • Time-share tours. No, we’re not recommending that you get hooked into promises of “free” activities in exchange for a timeshare hard sell. Just be forewarned that you will be approached more than once by smiling salesmen (and women) touting deals too good to be true.
  • Go to Cancun? Many ships calling in Cozumel run tenders (i.e., lifeboats) back and forth to Cancun, the big resort city that's a 45-minute ride away. Our advice: Save it for another visit.

Shopping

Passengers debark into an open-air shopping district that stretches for blocks along the waterfront. It’s very colorful and inviting, but there’s not much here you won’t see everywhere else.

Family-friendly options

A glass-bottom boat tour or a day spent at Chaankanab or any of the west-shore beach clubs should satisfy all ages.

Playa Mia beach and water park offers a variety of activities for visitors to Cozumel.
Courtesy of Cozumel & RM Tourism BoardPlaya Mia beach and water park offers a variety of activities for visitors to Cozumel.

YOLO (You only live once!)

You owe it to yourself to get beneath the surface of that gorgeous water. A “discover scuba” excursion starts with a classroom session, progresses to practice in shallow water and proceeds to open water. Too scary, expensive or time consuming? Consider snuba, a kind of advanced snorkeling in which you make shallow dives while connected by air hose to a raft on the surface.

Best bets for dining

  • Beach-club eats: You’ll only be here for one meal — lunch — so might as well chow down wherever you find yourself beached when the sun hits high noon. The dishes to order: lobster, ceviche or fresh fish.
  • Reggae beat: If you’re traveling around in a rental car, time your trip to take in lunch at the Bob Marley Freedom in Paradise Beach Bar on the island’s windward coast. As the slogan goes, it’s “as much a state of mind as it is a place.” Drop into a hammock and let the good times roll.
  • Gourmet: If you think Mexican food is all about fish tacos and combination plates, think again. Lunch at Kinta Mexican Bistro in downtown San Miguel might just be the culinary highlight of your trip.

Best time to go

Cruise ships visit Cozumel year-round on their Western Caribbean itineraries. Summer cruises are the most popular, but you’ll get a better deal in winter. The island will be less crowded then, too. August to November is hot, muggy hurricane season. You take your chances if you cruise then, but you also get the lowest prices of the year.

Fun facts

  • With 3.3 million cruise guests annually, Cozumel is the busiest cruise destination in the Caribbean region.
  • Isla Cozumel was believed by its indigenous Maya inhabitants to be sacred to Ix Chel, goddess of the moon. Its name, in Yucatec Maya, means “Island of the Swallows.”
  • Many small Maya ruins can be found around the island, and there used to be more. Several were bulldozed during World War II to make way for a military airstrip.
  • Cozumel, population about 80,000, is one of 10 municipalities in Quintana Roo, which became Mexico’s 31st and youngest state in 1974.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at either the International Pier, south of town near the La Ceiba Hotel, or the new Puerto Maya, which is bit farther south, five miles south of San Miguel, the island's largest city. It's a $10 cab ride.

Getting around

A flock of tangerine-colored flamingo on Cozumel.
Courtesy of Cozumel & RM Tourism BoardA flock of tangerine-colored flamingos on Cozumel.

Rent a car, a jeep or a moped and see what you can see. The island is small, and you can drive around the perimeter in just over two hours. Exercise extreme caution if you opt for two wheels. Road rash is perhaps the biggest hazard on Cozumel, and slips on gravel and sand surfaces send lots of tourists to the hospital.

Another option is to take a taxi to San Miguel and head inland, away from the commotion at the port. Find the municipal market and join the locals for an inexpensive meal at a loncheria, or casual market restaurant. Enjoy homemade tortillas and fresh Mexican cuisine, then stroll the streets and browse the shops where few cruise passengers go.

Free wi-fi

  • Calling Station, Avenue Rafael E. Melgar 27, San Miguel
  • Coffee Bean, Calle 3, San Miguel
  • Señor Frogs, Avenue Rafael E. Melgar, San Miguel

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.

Language: Spanish, but English is widely understood and spoken.

Currency: The Mexican peso, but many prices are also listed in dollars, which are readily accepted.

Tipping: Even if prices are posted, they can be negotiated. Bargaining is widely accepted.

Safety: Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico are generally safe. Nevertheless, crime and violence can be serious problems in Mexico, so it is recommended that you stay in the tourist areas and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t bring valuables to the beach as there are many pan handlers. See Cruiseable's safety tips for cruise passengers.

ShoreFox contributed to this guide.

Your take

Have you been to Cozumel? Planning to go? I'd love to hear about your experience or see your photos! What was the highlight for you?

Help improve this article! See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Janet Fullwood
Janet Fullwood is an editor, writer and photographer-at-large specializing in travel and hospitality topics.

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Overheard

“Only on Cozumel, wander through the revamped gardens and fountains at Parque Benito Juarez, which offers free wi-fi, and breathe deeply at the world's first underwater oxygen bar, Clear Lounge Cozumel. After dark, stargaze from the astrological observatory at the new Cha'an Ka'an Cozumel Planetarium.”

Islands magazine

“No one's got an exact figure, but the little island of Cozumel off the tip of eastern Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula likely has the highest JPV ratio — jeeps per visitor — in the country.”

Watchboom.com

“Cozumel is one of those places that no matter how many times you have been there, the order of the day is to get off the ship. If you cruise much, odds are you will be seeing Cozumel from time to time and that is a very good thing.”

Gadling

“But what this 30-mile-long island paradise is really known for is its drift diving; currents that zig zag at a moment’s notice – as unpredictable and exciting as a diver might ask for.”

BootsnAll

“Josefina Gonzalez Luigi is the Mexican aunt I never knew I had. Only she's everyone's aunt. Her cooking classes in El Centro welcome all visitors into her San Miguel home, right in the heart of Cozumel's largest town. ”

Islands magazine

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