When I first visited Mexico's Yucatan Penisula some years back, I bypassed Cozumel. I assumed it was an overhyped tourist trap that was probably not worth my time.
While I was partly right, Cozumel has a surprising amount to offer.
On a recent visit to Mexico, we crossed the Caribbean to see what the island of Cozumel was all about.
And it didn't disappoint.
Cozumel during COVID-19
We visited Cozumel amid the COVID19 pandemic.
The island has remained open, however, tourism is down and a lot of businesses are struggling.
There are more deals to be had due to COVID. For example, our hotel was offering a number of deals should we visit certain beach clubs. It was also easy to barter prices down for scooter and jeep rentals.
Cozumel COVID measures
Facemasks are worn almost everywhere in Cozumel. They are required when entering buildings, and it's common for people to wear facemasks while outside on the streets too.
Most businesses require hand sanitizer and a temperature check before entering.
Overall, we found COVID precautions to be at a higher standard than mainland areas like Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
Location | Yucatan Penisula, Mexico
Size | 250,000 square miles
Population | 100,000 (2011)
Town | San Miguel
When to visit
Cozumel is a year-round destination benefiting from consistent warm weather.
During peak season prices can significantly rise and the island can get busy. The opposite occurs in low season, when hotels will lower their prices to attract visitors. Low season is also hurricane season, so keep an eye on the weather.
Visitors who head to Cozumel between March and June generally find the sweet spot. There is limited rain, no hurricanes, and prices are balancing back out.
High season | December - February
Between seasons | March - June
Low season | July - November
Is Cozumel expensive?
The cost of living is more expensive in Cozumel compared to nearby Playa del Carmen.
However, there are enough accommodation and food options to limit your expenses if you're budget-conscious.
Eating on the oceanfront and beach clubs will quickly rack up. But there are local Mexican restaurants in San Miguel de Cozumel town where you can save on cost and also experience delicious local meals.
Is Cozumel safe for tourists?
Cozumel is generally safe for tourists.
The island is set away from the drug-related crime the mainland experiences and we felt safer in Cozumel than we did in Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Of course, usual safety precautions apply as nowhere is completely safe.
There is a police presence on the island. Unlike in other parts of Mexico, police are pretty relaxed with foreigners and aren't likely to target you without reason.
But overall, Cozumel is relatively crime-free.
Getting to Cozumel
There are two ways to get to Cozumel: by ferry or by plane.
Getting to Cozumel via ferry is pretty straightforward.
The ferry leaves from Playa del Carmen. So if you're in Cancun or Tulum, you'll need to catch a bus or taxi to Playa first.
There are two main ferry operators for the Playa del Carmen - Cozumel ferry: Ultramar and Winjet.
The competing companies decided to alternative their operation days amid the COVID pandemic, so which company you travel with will depend on your day of travel.
Tickets cost approximately 500 pesos one-way.
Cozumel actually has its own airport, so it's possible to fly directly to the island internationally.
Arriving by plane can save time and hassle, but flights to Cozumel are often more expensive than to nearby Cancun.
I recommend searching for flights on a number of websites, but Trip.com is often a good starting point.
Where to stay in Cozumel
Most accommodation is located in San Miguel de Cozumel, the main town next to the ferry terminal.
Both Bookings.com and Airbnb are active in Cozumel. I generally use Bookings.com for short-stays and Airbnb for longer stays as it tends to be more affordable. If you're new to Airbnb you can get $35 off your first booking by signing up for free with this link.
We found a great deal on an oceanfront hotel called Vista del Mar a short walk from the ferry.
Here are a few Cozumel accommodation options that won't break the bank:
Renting a scooter (or jeep!) in Cozumel
One of the best ways to explore Cozumel is by renting a scooter.
While prices vary considerably between rental shops, we were able to negotiate a rate of 350 pesos (approximately $17 USD).
Remember to haggle - it's expected. And if you don't you'll be the one taken for a ride.
Read our in-depth guide to renting scooters and jeeps on Cozumel for everything you need to know about getting yourself wheels.
Things to do in Cozumel
1. Cruise around the island at your own pace
Nothing beats traveling around Cozumel in a scooter or jeep and stopping where you see fit.
There is one main road that loops around the island. You can do this in 1.5 hours if you're in a rush, or easily spend the whole day making stops along the way.
2. Snorkel off the west coast
The still clear waters off the west coast of Cozumel makes for some incredible snorkeling.
Beaches at the southern end like Palancar are known to be incredible snorkeling spots.
Snorkel equipment is available for rent at Cozumel's beach clubs.
3. Dive world-class sites
The diving in Cozumel is some of the best in the Caribbean.
Experienced divers can visit some advanced dive sites including the Santa Rosa Wall and Barracuda Reef.
Cozumel is also a popular place for people to get PADI certified and learn to dive.
4. Visit Punta Sur Eco-Park
At the southern tip of the island you'll find Punta Sur, a 1000-hectare ecological park home to a variety of wildlife (including crocodiles), plants, museums and observation decks.
Entry costs $18 and it's open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm.
5. Take a boat tour
There are a number of boat tours on offer in Cozumel.
You can choose anything from a catamaran, sail-boat, or "pirate- boat" dinner tour.
6. Visit Mayan ruins
Cozumel's Mayan history adds a unique feel to the island.
There are a number of Mayan ruins you can view on Cozumel, the most popular being San Gervasio.
7. See nesting sea turtles (May-Nov)
In May hundreds of sea turtles come to Cozumel's eastern shores to build nests and lay eggs.
A couple of months later these eggs hatch. The baby turtles crawl from their eggs and make their way into the ocean.
If you're in Cozumel at this time, it's an unmissable sight.
(Even if you're not visiting during sea turtle season, you will find hundreds of hatched sea turtle eggs on the shores.)
8. Get off-road in a jeep
Not all of Cozumel is developed and some areas require a jeep to visit.
While your rental shop might not recommend it, if you're feeling adventurous you can explore a little further afield.
9. Spot a Cozumel raccoon
The Cozumel raccoon is a critically endangered species that you can only find on the island.
Make sure not to leave food in your vehicle, as they'll sniff it out as they did when they entered our jeep.
10. Visit the Mayan Cacao Company
If a chocolate margarita catches your attention then so will the Mayan Cacao Company.
The Cozumel-based company offers tours and workshops where you can experience Mayan-Mexican culture in the form of chocolate and drinks.
11. Take a Tequilla tour
There is no shortage of Tequilla tours in Cozumel.
Who'd have thought drinking Tequilla could be educational?
12. Enjoy a corona at a local beachside bar
While there are lots of fancy western-style beach clubs in Cozumel, don't miss out on experiencing a small roadside beach bar on your trip.
There are plenty of these beach bars on the eastern side of the island and you might just find you enjoy them a whole lot more than the pricy beach clubs.
13. Get a massage
Massage therapists are common in Cozumel.
You can get a beachfront massage listening to crashing waves or a more private experience in town with AC.
You will pay relatively higher prices on the beach, but remember you can always haggle down prices.
14. End your day with a stunning sunset
Head to the west of the island at sunset for a perfect end to the day.
You simply can't visit Cozumel without spending time at the beach.
As an island, Cozumel is surrounded by beaches, however, beach conditions vary considerably depending on what side of the island you're on.
Cozumel's west side, which faces Playa del Carmen, is protected by the island and has calm, still water.
This is the side most popular with tourists and where you've likely seen idyllic blue water photos. It really is a tropical paradise.
However, this pristine coast is overtaken with "beach clubs" and most access to the beaches requires passing through these businesses.
In my opinion, these beach clubs really take away from the beauty of this coastline.
But remember, beaches are public in Mexico. You can still find your own piece of paradise away from the businesses.
Popular west coast beaches:
- Playa Palancar
- Playa San Francisco
- Playa Azul
- Paradise Beach
Cozumel's east coast is a completely different kind of beauty.
The rugged coastline is vast, wavey, mostly empty, and you can easily feel like you're on another island entirely.
You won't find beach clubs here, but there are a few smaller businesses dotted along the coast.
The natural beauty here is something else. However, it definitely lacks the alluring aspect the west coast does.
Popular east coast beaches:
- Punta Morena
- Playa Bonita
- Playa Chen Rio
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