5+ Fun Things to Do on Cozumel Island
Originally published on Friday, March 3, 2023
I’d wanted to visit Cozumel for a long time before I actually got to. Something struck me about the Caribbean island with some of the world’s best snorkelling and a strong Mayan heritage. I researched and found lots of things to do on the island so when the time came, I spent two days in Cozumel – a lot more time than many other tourists who come for a few hours on a cruise. It’s a very small place so I got to see a lot in these few days.
So, here’s a list of some fun places you can visit while you’re in Cozumel.
Explore San Miguel de Cozumel
San Miguel is Cozumel’s only town so it’s hard to miss. If you’re taking the ferry from Playa del Carmen or coming in a cruise ship, this is probably where you’ll land. The town is very colourful but very touristy. You’ll see it’s almost entirely composed of souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants. There is a Museum of Cozumel but I personally didn’t visit and can’t attest to its worthiness.
However, if you keep going a few blocks away from the port and the tidiness of the tourist area, you’ll get to the more local area of San Miguel. There’s not much to do in this area but it’s a better bet to get authentic eats and score better prices at shops, though there are much fewer places to choose from. Definitely don’t visit San Miguel without venturing around.
Visit San Gervasio
I was very intent on seeing San Gervasio even though a lot of reviews I read said it was a let-down. It was absolutely not, at least not to a history nerd like me. San Gervasio wasn’t only the most important Mayan site in Cozumel but was a pilgrimage site for much of the Mayan world. People from around Mesoamerica would come to Cozumel for fertility ceremonies at the full moon. It’s a little bit newer, dating from around the 9th century, but it was thriving when the conquistadors came to the Americas. Small pox wiped out not only San Gervasio but the entire island of Cozumel declined and was deserted for hundreds of years, save the pirates.
The site isn’t even that small. There aren’t large pyramids but there are many structures including temples, a palace, and even the original Mayan road people walked down hundreds of years ago. It’s definitely worth a stop in to see the island’s most important cultural and historical area.
There are a few signs around that give descriptions of the buildings you see. You can also get a guide here for about 400 pesos.
Cozumel is more or less rectangular. To the south of the rectangle, the waves are very harsh and snorkelling is not possible. To the north, the waters are much calmer and have some of the best snorkelling spots in the world. It’s also home to the north end of the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the world’s second largest coral reef.
Photo by Snorkel with Alex
If it’s off Cozumel’s north coast then it’s probably a decent snorkelling destination – that’s how many places there are to snorkel. One of the most popular places to see if el Cielo. It’s known for the starfish that sit at the bottom of the ocean, making it look like the sky (“el cielo”). We only saw about one starfish here but it was still cool. There were also many other animals there like different types of fish, barracuda, sting rays, and we even got to see sea turtles. The water’s incredibly clear which makes for terrific wildlife viewing. Another place we visited with similar wildlife was Casa Blanca.
There are many places you can book a snorkelling tour via Viator or GetYourGuide. Otherwise you can go to one of the many beaches or clubs that have snorkelling, or rent a boat. There are only a few beaches that are free but that’s rapidly changing so I’d recommend asking a local before you go where they recommend.
Many of the beaches on the north side of the island are very beautiful but are reserved for clubs. Again, I recommend asking a local which beaches are free before you go to make sure you get the latest information. You can also get more bang for your buck at Punta Sur – more on that below.
Beaches on the south side of the island have waves and currents that are a lot stronger, which makes for better surfing. Some of them include Playa del Mirador and Playa Chen Rio. These are free and also incredibly beautiful. The beaches have signs at the entrance to them advising whether or not it is safe to swim.
Wildlife Watching & More at Punta Sur
Punta Sur is an ecological park at Cozumel’s southern tip. The entrance fee is about $20 but there’s a lot included and the park is very large. A good way to describe the park is “Cozumel in miniature.”
Here, you can partake in some of Cozumel’s famous snorkelling and go swimming at its beaches. But since it’s an ecological park, you can also get a glimpse at land wildlife. I got to see iguanas and red pandas (which are part of the raccoon family) in the short time I spent there. It’s also home to the Colombia Lagoon, which is known for its crocodiles. I got to witness one sunbathing, which was really cool. Your entry ticket includes a free ride on the lagoon.
There’s also the Celarain Lighthouse which houses a small museum. I wouldn’t have known it if weren’t for my guide, but the canoes are actual pre-colonial Mayan canoes, which is really cool. The lighthouse climb has a lot of low areas but the view from the top is really fantastic. You can see the whole island from there – literally! I was shocked to see quite clearly San Miguel de Cozumel on the other side of the island.
There’s also El Caracol near the entrance of the park, which is an ancient Mayan ruin. It used to be a lighthouse, which is hard to see now because there’s dune surrounding it. But the wind and the light used to interact with the structure depending on the time of year, like much of Mayan architecture.
We only spent about an hour or so in this area but really, you could spend all day here, just relaxing on the beach and going to see a crocodile for some excitement. It’s a tourist zone, but if the tourism is the natural beauty and wildlife of an ancient island, then yes, I’ll take it.
Places in Cozumel I Missed
Even after a good two days in Cozumel, there was a lot I didn’t get to see. Here are some places I’ll keep on the list for next time:
El Cedral was the largest town of Cozumel during pre-columbian times. It has been heavily destroyed over the years but some of it still remains and it’s now a Mayan village you can visit. I heard that it’s a bit too small to really be enjoyable but heard that about San Gervasio, too. So I’ll just have to go back and find out for myself.
Kun Che Mayan Park
You’ll notice that many locals are proud of their Mayan history and heritage. The Kun Che Park is a bit of a ways from the port but they have a variety of pre-columbian experiences for you to try. I wanted to go but the Riviera is not as budget friendly as I thought so I had to give it a miss. It’s definitely a tourist thing but I have no qualms with it if it’s educational.
Some Notes about Cozumel
The area’s a bit of a unique place, so here are a few tips from what I experienced.
The Cozumel Ferry
If you’re coming from Playa del Carmen, you can take a short ferry over to Cozumel. It can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes. There are two ferry companies that switch operations each hour and the ferry companies do not take each others’ tickets, so be mindful of that. Each company’s ferries leave every other hour.
You can find a schedule of the ferries here. I went during the high season and felt it was quite easy to get a ferry as long as I got there about half an hour to 15 minutes beforehand.
I advise buying tickets directly at the entrance to the ferries. There are people who sell tickets in other areas of Playa del Carmen and Cozumel but they are tour companies and charge more than the ticket price.
Don’t Swim with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins in an enclosed habitat is very popular in Cozumel but dolphins shouldn’t be limited to enclosed spaces. So please be mindful and do not swim with the dolphins.
Sunscreen is Not Allowed
Sunscreen damages the reefs that allows Cozumel’s underwater wildlife to flourish, so wearing sunscreen in the water is not allowed. There are “reef safe” sunscreens but these are not regulated in any capacity so they are not allowed either. If you have more sensitive skin then I recommend getting a rash guard for water activities.
Cozumel’s a Fun Time, but Touristy
Cozumel is incredibly beautiful and some of the best snorkelling I’ve experienced. But it’s one of those places that has a large tourist-to-local ratio so it’s a far stretch from immersing yourself in the local culture. Prices are even in USD.
Actually, it’s here that I paid for something in Mexican pesos and got change back in U.S. dollars. What a weird experience to have in Mexico!
Cozumel’s a huge port area and every site warned me that it’s touristy. But wow, it was touristy. I wouldn’t write it off by any means – I had a great time exploring the island – but it’s something to keep in mind.
There’s No Public Transit
If you want to get around then you’ll have to rent a car (jeeps are very popular), a moped, a bicycle, or go on part of a tour. I did my tour with Cozumel Tours and had a great time (but I have to say, my tour guide was a freelancer so not really associated with the company). There’s also taxis but they don’t hang around the more remote parts of the island.
Driving in Cozumel
I was very nervous about driving in a different country – and I did not drive – but it actually looked quite easy. The island is very flat, the roads aren’t very crowded and it’s mostly rural. It looked a lot easier than driving in a U.S. city, which I do often. So it’s something to keep in mind. Remember you might need an international driver’s license to rent a car but it looks like some companies do accept U.S. licenses.
If you can only do one thing in Cozumel, I recommend snorkelling. If you have one day, I recommend heading down to Punta Sur and getting a taste of what the island has to offer. But whatever you do with your time, I hope it’s fun and memorable.
Tags: cozumel, mexico, north america, quintana roo