If you are planning a trip to Cozumel, this post will help you. I am sharing not only the 5 things to do in Cozumel but many other practical tips on how to live the island to the fullest.
COZUMEL AT A GLANCE
A fun fact about Cozumel, is the legend that back in the day during the Mayan civilization, women in search of a prosperous marriage would travel to Cozumel to make offerings to the temple of Ixchel, the fertility goddess, and to consult the oracle.
Although I love the Mayan mysticism and history, there are many other reasons why nowadays people flocks to Cozumel, including its spectacular barrier reef full of marine life and the spectacular coastline.
Situated a 30-minute ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel can be an easy one-day tour during your stay, though you will by no means get bored if you decide to stay over for a few nights. It is also one of the main stops for multiple cruises. I know what you are thinking, but worry not, the cruise crowds won’t affect your peaceful escape if tranquillity is what you are seeking.
Cozumel is principally known as the mecca of divers, and the surrounding reef is considered the second-best in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
If you are a diver, whether multiply-certified or simply a newbie enthusiastic about the underwater world, this is, without a doubt, the place to be. Each hotel has its own diving shop, and on every corner of the main town there is a diving center, a diving-equipment shop, a diving bar… basically, everything is about diving! I did wonder to what extent the coral reef had suffered due to the number of tourists, but it is apparently still beautiful; amazing cave diving is very popular, too.
However, if diving is not something you are into, or you just don’t feel like it…don’ t be discouraged, there is still plenty to do.
On arrival to Cozumel by ferry, what you see around the port certainly does not look like the quaint local village which used to be there; instead, it would seem more like a touristic complex, built to welcome shoppers and party crowds alike. Once you take a few steps inland, you will, however, discover a more picturesque scene, with cute little bars and quirky restaurants, local-style houses and narrow streets. That is the main town of San Miguel, and in fact, the only inhabited area.
Nevertheless, the true wonder of Cozumel is to be found on the outskirts of the town and beyond, and if you have a few extra minutes to spare, I can tell you how you can enjoy it to the fullest, and never want to leave.
IS COZUMEL SAFE?
Besides average petty thefts just like you find anywhere else in the world, Cozumel is considered quite a safe community. Of course, it’s recommended to use the most common-sense rules, such as, don’t leave your personal belongings unattended, don’t accept awkward invitations from strangers or at least be mindful, don’t walk alone at night on deserted roads. I would use these basic tips for anywhere I go.
- The ocean side is rough, if you are not a pro swimmer I would avoid it
- The sun is strong, use sun protector, better if it’s ecological.
5 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN COZUMEL
BIKE AROUND COZUMEL
The island is 48 km long and 16 km wide, however, the northern part is not accessible using regular transportation. It is therefore ideal to start from downtown San Miguel and head southwards along the Caribbean coast, which is 20 km long right down to the southern tip.
I have to say that the smartest thing they have ever done is to create a cycling lane which cars – and for the initial stretch, scooters – are not allowed to encroach upon.
This is awesome because you can ride in tranquillity without having to watch out for cars, if any, and thus concentrate on enjoying the memorable scenery.
Cozumel Caribbean side
On the Caribbean side, the water is flat, calm and open. Free spaces are interrupted by local bars and restaurants, all of them equipped to rent snorkeling gear and changing rooms for a few dollars.
However, you cannot take the gear with you for the day, so we preferred to do it our own way and rent the gear in town at a very cheap rate (requiring a credit card for the deposit). This way, you are free to go snorkeling anywhere on the coast.
We stopped in a few spots, left our bikes to one side, and jumped in, keeping an eye on our stuff every now and then, which was generally safe.
It’s certainly not the same thing as diving, but there is an abundance of marine life just off the coast as well, all very colorful and definitely worth a couple of dips. I particularly like the first part of the coast for swimming, as there is some beach;
Otherwise, for the most part of the coast, it’s rocky which means that the water is clearer and there is more underwater life.
If you continue towards the southern point there are a couple of establishments, but I find them too crowded, the beach not so attractive and the water murky. If you like to meet people, drink and party it could be your place though.
Cozumel Atlantic coast
Continue southward until you reach the lighthouse of the island, just before the route takes you up the stunning Atlantic coast, about 25 km long.
At the southern tip, you will find the entrance to Faro Clelerain Ecological Park, which we didn´t explore on this occasion; this is a protected area with a preserved ecosystem where you can find the Colombia Lagoon, providing undisturbed shelter for much of the wildlife, including endangered marine turtles and crocodiles.
Keep in mind that if you are exploring by bike, you will have to cycle another 5km to get to the lighthouse from the entrance.
If you decide to skip the park, just after it is the first beach bar on the Atlantic coast, with restrooms, a nice restaurant, and a beautiful, equipped beach.
We chose to move on, attracted by the intense blue of the water and the infinite white-sand beach, which was hailing us like a siren… the view was just breath-taking.
We wanted to continue our ride and find the best spot on the beach where we could also take a swim and found it we did.
A note on safety is due here: the east coast is known for surfing because of its currents and beautiful waves, which are fascinating but can also be dangerous for the inexperienced swimmer (as well as the experienced!), so please take care before entering the water on this side.
Having said that, we managed to find an amazing spot with no current, or at least that’s what my friend said, as personally, I found it quite rough.
The sun was really hot and we were continuously rubbing high protection sunscreen on our skin, highly recommended, especially on a bike or scooter.
Along the way, the view continued to mesmerize us, while the breeze from the ride was soothing under the strong sun (and it’s generally the easiest way to get burned!).
It really was becoming the perfect day.
You can find many lovely spots on the beach along the way, as it is almost one long shoreline, rarely interrupted by nice, wooden bars and the odd art-and-craft shop.
I found myself imagining how cool it would be to spend a night on this side of the island and fall asleep to the sound of the waves, but there are neither hotels nor houses here, all the homes and lodgings are on the other coast. Too bad.
So, we carried on right until the very end of this beautiful, easily-rideable paved road, with its preferential lane for bikers, until we literally bounced into thick vegetation, as well as we came across a typical wooden bar situated on the gorgeous, ivory-sand beach; a good stop for freshwater (by the time you get there you will probably have run out of your reserves!).
At this point, you are supposed to turn left and start heading inland. but my friend, not willing to take heed of the warnings of the bike-rental company, tried to go beyond that point and play Indiana Jones; we did eventually realize it was not such a good idea, as the vegetation gets very thick and the road much tougher, so we ended up back on the original track.
San Gervasio archeological site
The view is not so amazing in this area but can be interesting, and half-way along, you will find the turn-off to the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio, set back about 6 km down a paved road, off the main route. You will probably be exhausted by that time, especially with the prospect of cycling 60km in total.
After a full day in the sun, even by motorbike, I would bet you would want to go back to your cozy hotel, as you find yourself much closer to town at this point.
We would actually suggest visiting this fascinating historical site early morning if you can, while it is still cool, or warm rather than hot, depending on the time of the year!
After more than 45 km, these last 16 were a joke for us, and not satisfied with the exercise we had had, we decided to discover the last piece of the island still missing from our tour, south of the harbor.
We, therefore, crossed the busy town, in search of our new adventure, but not before stopping at a local eatery, to refuel our stomachs and quench our thirst!
On that side of the island, you are still facing the Caribbean Sea and the water is very tranquil.
There are a few open spots in between hotels, where you can dive into the water from the lunar stone-like rocks.
I would suggest you go late in the afternoon so that you can enjoy the beautiful sunset as we did. It was amazing.
Bike Rental in Cozumel
We rented with Rent a bike Cozumel and we found them absolutely top-notch. The bikes are new and they deal with great professional brands. Service is superb, they can bring the bike to your place and pick it up (Swiss time). In order to reserve a bike, place your order on their website and they will get in touch with you in the late afternoon to arrange the pick-up. Very competent and nice people.
WALK AROUND TOWN
We were staying in a private home, very cute, and just outside the downtown, and after a hot shower, we walked along the inland roads to get to the center. It is all very safe and laid-back here, one of the things I like the most about this island.
It was nice to walk all the way into town in the evening and check out some new restaurants. Browsing through the reviews we had found what was to become our favorite restaurant, Kondesa, where we returned twice as we liked it so much.
We normally like to explore and try different things, but at the same time, it is nice to go back to a place where you enjoyed the atmosphere and felt comfortable.
Actually, the waiters recognized us from the previous night and were very excited to see us back, treating us like frequent customers.
That was very cool and made us feel at home. After dinner it was nice to walk around the center, it is very lively without being crowded, and a good opportunity to walk off dinner!
RENT A SCOOTER AND GO FIND SNORKELING SPOTS
On the second day, we decided to rent a scooter and try to do it the easy way, which was really fun! We did the same ride around the island, holding onto our snorkeling gear until we finally took a long dip to explore the marine life on the Caribbean side.
Before that, however, we wanted to have our cultural moment and visit the San Gervasio ruins, which were very interesting. I would suggest asking for a guide at the entrance as they can give you some hints on the Mayan culture, and you actually understand what you are seeing.
After the ruins, we took the same route around the island that we did by bike, only in the opposite direction, stopping off at a white-sand beach on the Atlantic coast, and then heading back from the Caribbean to stop and snorkel.
Amazing. I should warn you that the wind blows against you when you ride this way round, so keep it in mind if you are on any form of bikes!
Scooter rental in Cozumel
The company we picked was not exceptional, in fact – quite the contrary. Therefore we have nothing to recommend. However you will find tons of bike rentals in town, or you can ask the concierge at your hotel. Just make sure the bike is in good condition before you set off. Costs should be around 50 USD, with taxes and insurance included.
DIVE IN COZUMEL
Cozumel is especially renowned for diving, as one of the greatest reefs in the world. There is a lot to see and lots of fun dives. I am planning to go soon and will share my experience. In the meantime, I asked fellow bloggers Jenn and Ed from Colemanconcierge.com to share their experience on diving in Cozumel. So here below is their write up.
Cozumel has been considered a diving mecca since Jacques Cousteau introduced it to the world in the 1960s. Since then, National Parks have grown up around the reefs, and a thriving dive community provides quality service with a nearby hyperbaric chamber just in case.
But what makes diving in Cozumel so good?
The answer is the island’s location on the Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest reef in the world! A steady current brings clear ocean water and the perfect conditions for building coral reefs. The coral form massive towers above the ocean floor. Divers get to sit back and enjoy a long drift dive along the walls. For the more adventurous, you can even find a swim through or two and, of course, an amazing array of tropical fish.
This Cozumel dive guide shows all the popular dive spots, along with a list of hotels where the dive boats will pick you up right from the hotel dock. Make sure you go with a quality dive company, like Scuba Life Cozumel. Look for a dive charter with top-quality equipment and a low diver to divemaster ratio, both of which are important for drift dives for both fun and safety.Jenn and Ed from Colemanconcierge.com
BOOK A TOUR
If you don’t feel like biking around on your own or, if you would like to join an organized tour, there are plenty other things that you can do, from boat tours to zip line, food tours and more.
Check out what I have selected for you.
HOW TO GET TO COZUMEL
Getting to Cozumel is very easy. From Playa del Carmen there are ferry to the island every 30 minutes with 3 different companies, from early morning to late at night. In this post I explain more in detail how to get to Cozumel from anywhere in the Riviera Maya and Cancun
You can also fly to Cozumel international Airport.
WHERE TO STAY IN COZUMEL
I always love to stay in a home when I travel, because of the personal interaction with the homeowners and because I prefer to have a place where I can cook my own meals every now and then. I wrote a post on Cozumel Airbnb and other rental options where I share my favorite place to stay in Cozumel.
But you can also use the interactive map here below where you can compare prices between hotels and homes and see their location.
FOR FURTHER READING
- 25 Unmissable Pueblos Magicos – Mexico
- San Cristobal de las Casas – Mexico: top things to do and where to stay
- The Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Valle de Bravo Mexico
- Valle de bravo – Mexico: a travel guide to the Mexican Hamptons
- Airbnb Cozumel: the 11 pretty homes to rent for a perfect vacation