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The Top 11 Sites to Go Snorkeling in Cozumel [2022]

The island of Cozumel is located in the Caribbean Sea just east of Playa del Carmen. It is world-famous for its crystal clear blue waters and diverse ecosystem of coral reefs – making it a dream location for water lovers.

That is why snorkeling in Cozumel is one of the most popular activities and something you wouldn’t want to miss.

In fact, while Cozumel is mainly known for its scuba diving, the island also offers great snorkeling sites.

The clear waters give snorkelers great views of the coral reef formations and marine life while floating comfortably on the surface.

As a Cozumel resident and dive instructor, I also explored the top snorkeling sites both for fun and as part of my job, and in this post, I will tell you all about them and how to get there.

Snorkeling in Cozumel

Do I need travel insurance? Yes, you do! Whatever it is the way you love to travel, either by car, tour, or bus, always make sure you get travel insurance. I can never stress enough what a lifesaver it can be in unexpected situations. Although I hope I never need it, it gives me peace of mind to know that whatever happens I am covered. I recommend either World Nomads or Safety Wing, depending on your needs. Make sure you read carefully what’s included before making the purchase.

Snorkeling in Cozumel: an overview

You have two choices for snorkeling in Cozumel, you can either take a boat excursion to the reef, or snorkel from the shore.

Boat excursions and snorkeling tours will allow you to visit reefs that are too far from the shore to safely swim to, allowing you to visit some of the most famous sites in Cozumel.

Shore snorkeling allows you complete freedom to swim from the shore to reefs at your own pace and there are several popular shore snorkeling areas to visit on Cozumel.

Whether you choose to snorkel from a boat or from the beach, you never know what exciting marine life you will find.

Here below I will tell you about what I believe is the best snorkeling in Cozumel.

Cozumel Snorkeling tour boat

The Top Sites to Go Snorkeling in Cozumel

1. Palancar Reef

The majestic coral formations and sea life of Palancar Reef have made it a famous scuba diving area; however, it is also one of the best snorkeling spots in Cozumel, or maybe all of the Caribbean.

Palancar Reef is located in the southern part national marine park of Cozumel, which is located south of the town of San Miguel.

It is divided into multiple sites, Palancar Gardens, Horseshoe, Caves, and Bricks, with Palancar Garden and Horseshoe being the top snorkeling spots.

These sites all have towering coral formations along with a dramatic blue drop off which make them excellent sites for scuba divers, and the top of this area is made of shallow reef, sometimes coming within 15 to 20 feet of the surface, making for great snorkeling spots.

At Palancar Reef snorkelers look down on impressive coral structures that are home to colorful fish.

This reef system can only be reached by boat, and it is worth it to book a tour that visits this area while visiting Cozumel.

Palancar Reef is one of the best places to snorkel in Cozumel not only because of the unique coral formations snorkelers will see, but also the animals that live here underwater.

Typical fish to see in this area are angel fish, butterfly fish, triggerfish, and parrotfish.

In the sandy areas, snorkelers can keep a look out for different rays, including golden rays and southern sting rays, and in the winter months, it is common to find spotted eagle rays.

Cozumel waterfront

Snorkelers have the chance to see sea turtles and nurse sharks cruising among the corals.

Palancar Reef is one of the best places on the island for snorkelers to visit.

Palancar Reef is wonderful to visit year-round and often has flat surface conditions and a mild current to push you over the reef.

If you are interested in seeing the best variety of sea life make sure you take a snorkeling tour here. The snorkeling tours usually combine four of the sites we mention here, Palancar, Colombia, Cielo, and Cielito.

In fact, you usually swim from Palancar to Colombia to see both sites while the boat follows you and will take you to the next sites.

Here below you will find the top-ranking tours. I recommend you should book in advance to secure your space.

2. Colombia Shallows Reef

Colombia Shallows reef is a snorkel spot that you do not want to miss! You need to take a boat snorkel tour to reach this reef, but you will not be disappointed.

This shallow reef is one of the most popular snorkel sites in Cozumel for good reason, it is home to a wide variety of marine life and colorful coral formations.

Colombia Shallows Reef sits in shallow sand with a maximum depth of 30 feet and coral formations that reach up to within 8 to 10 feet of the surface, giving you great views of the marine life.

The coral formations are made of sponges and a variety of hard corals and are home to many tropical fish and critters.

From the surface, you will see several varieties of fish including filefish, parrotfish, and angel fish.

Whenever you approach a particularly shallow coral formation you can take your time and enjoy looking for smaller fish varieties as well as juvenile fish, there are many juvenile damselfish in this area.

In addition to all sorts of fish, it is common to find sea turtles in Colombia’s Shallows.

The conditions at Colombia Shallows are usually ideal for snorkeling, with flat surface water and gentle current to push you over the reef.

Occasional strong winds from the south or east could make the surface choppy, but generally, Colombia Shallows is good for snorkeling year-round with a flat surface and mild current.

As you glide over the top of the reef make sure you look across the sandy bottom, as you may see a nurse shark swimming.

During the winter months, you can also look for spotted eagle rays swimming over the sand looking for food.

Cozumel El Cielo

3. El Cielo

Located near Colombia Shallows Reef, El Cielo is a snorkeling spot in Cozumel you do not want to miss.

El Cielo, which translates to Sky or Heaven, is a beautiful area of turquoise water and bright, white sandy bottom.

Snorkeling tours that visit Colombia Shallows reef often also visit El Cielo. Located in the national park, this lovely area is only accessible by boat.

Unlike Colombia Shallow, El Cielo does not have a reef to snorkel, instead, you will glide across the white sandy bottom.

El Cielo is home to countless starfish that live on the shallow white sand.

⭐ While snorkeling in El Cielo remember that starfish are delicate creatures, so they should never be picked up or moved, and especially not taken out of the water for picture opportunities.

As you snorkel with the starfish you will also find large, gray southern sting rays cruising between the sand and grassy areas here.

These rays are often accompanied by smaller fish such as bar jacks or trunkfish.

There are sandy areas in El Cielo that are shallow enough for you to stand and just enjoy the natural beauty of these turquoise waters.

Depending on your preference you can find tour operators that spend additional time relaxing in these crystal clear waters or continue to your next snorkel spot.

Cozumel snorkeling

4. Paradise Reef

Paradise Reef is located just south of the town of San Miguel and is the first reef inside the protected national marine park.

This area is popular for snorkeling and diving because the reef is divided into two sections that run parallel to each other.

The shallow section of Paradise Reef is a wonderful shallow reef to visit by boat.

The top of Paradise shallows is a sandy area that can be as shallow as three feet, making it an excellent spot for new snorkelers or families.

From the top, the reef gently slopes down to around 20 feet, with lots of crevices filled with creatures.

While snorkeling on Paradise Reef you will be pushed along with a gentle current, making it easy to enjoy the colorful fish.

This area is full of beautiful purple gorgonian sea fans. Take your time snorkeling here to look under ledges, you may be able to spot moray eels or lobster.

Cozumel EL Cielito

5. Villa Blanca Reef

Villa Blanca Reef is located just south of the town of San Miguel, to the north of the Puerta Maya Cruise terminal.

Villa Blanca reef is composed of a shallow reef and wall, and the snorkeling is best in the shallow section. Many snorkel tours, including glass-bottom boats, visit this area.

The advantage of visiting this reef with a snorkel tour is they will provide you with snorkel gear and a guide.

Villa Blanca shallows is known for having small marine life, such as sea horses and flamingo tongues and local guides can help you spot creatures you might otherwise miss.

In addition to the small creatures, this area has a great variety of tropical fish, such as filefish, puffer fish, and tons of sergeant majors.

If you do not want to go on a boat or on snorkeling tours, you can access this reef from the beach.

The easiest way to access this reef is shore is at Tikila Beach Bar, a beach club that has stairs that take you over the rocky shore to where you can begin snorkeling.

This beach club is a popular spot for scuba diving classes and one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Cozumel.

There is shallow sand where you can adjust your snorkel gear and follow the coral heads to the reef that slopes down to around 30 feet maximum.

As you snorkel Villa Blanca Reef heading north you will find the shallow sand artificial reef and part of the coral restoration project.

The artificial reef has several different structures, including a bust of Ramon Bravo, a famous Mexican oceanographer, and ecologist.

These structures are now home to a variety of sea life, including juvenile fish and some hard-to-spot creatures such as scorpion fish.

Cozumel boat in the middle of the sea
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

6. Dzul Ha

Dzul Ha Reef is located south of the town of San Miguel and can be accessed from the beach or on a boat.

The reef is located to the south of the Marina Fonatur, near the Money Bar restaurant.

From the Money Bar dock, you will see an area with buoys and as soon as you jump off the dock you will see coral heads and fish.

If you do not want to go to the Money Bar you can also access this area from a rocky beach area to the north of the Money Bar, just be careful to not step on sea urchins as you get into the water.

Several different snorkel tours and glass-bottom boats also visit this area, so if you do not want to have to swim to the reef you can sign up for one of these tours.

In this area, you will find small coral heads on the sandy bottom. Look in the sandy areas for different rays, including golden rays, and in the winter months spotted eagle rays.

The reef is home to colorful fish such as triggerfish, parrotfish, blue tangs, and cowfish. In addition to the different fish varieties, you have the chance to see sea turtles in this area.

The current in this area can quite strong, so if you are snorkeling from shore make sure you use fins and keep an eye on how far the current is pushing you.

For people who do not want to worry about the current, a boat tour is a great way to snorkel this area.

Cozumel Coast
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

7. Punta Sur Shallows

The Punta Sur Eco Park is located on the southern tip of the island. It is a national park that includes large amounts of Colombia Lagoon and access to beautiful beaches.

From the beaches in Punta Sur Eco Park you can snorkel out to the Punta Sur Shallow reef. If you do not have your own snorkeling gear you can rent it here.

Punta Sur Shallows is covered in gorgonian sea fans as well as sponges and coral. This colorful area is home to many sea creatures, including lobster, crab, moray eels, and even nurse sharks.

The usual Cozumel tropical fish variety is also found here.

The reef in this area is a bit of a swim from the beach, so make sure you go with a buddy and take fins and a snorkel vest if you are worried you will get tired from the swim.

Those who are willing to make the swim will find great snorkeling.

There are lots of activities to do in addition to snorkeling at Punta Sur Park, including a boat ride in the lagoon to look for crocodiles and climbing the lighthouse.

INSIDER TIP – If you go exclusively to snorkeling ask at the entrance how the water conditions are that day.

The water here is normally crystal clear with a flat surface; however, when the wind is out of the south it can get very choppy.

On these days the park will put up red flags and not allow visitors to snorkel.

COZUMEL DIVING FISH

8. Two Boats

You can find the snorkel area often referred to as Two Boats just north of downtown Cozumel. Along the coast, there are a series of restaurants, most with palapa roofs and access to the ocean.

This entire area is rocky shore, which makes for better snorkeling in Cozumel than sandy bottom does. In front of these restaurants, there are a series of concrete blocks that make an artificial reef.

As you snorkel along these block you will find two sunken boats, separated by coral heads.

This entire area is full of sea life and here you fill find blue tang, sergeant majors guarding their eggs, and a variety of other colorful fish.

The boats both have coral and sponge growth and are now home to lobsters and moral eels, and you can spot groups of barracuda hovering outside the boats.

After passing the second boat you will come to a shallow grassy area where you can spot a variety of trunkfish, puffer fish, southern sting rays, and spotted eagle rays.

Two Boats is a great area for snorkeling in Cozumel and you can reach this area in several different ways.

If you are an experienced snorkeler equipped with a surface marker buoy and fins, you can swim from the shore to explore this area.

As always when going from the beach, make sure you pay attention to the strength of the current, one option is to allow the current to push you and exit the water and walk back to your original starting area if the current is too strong.

For snorkelers who do not feel comfortable swimming from the shore, there are several snorkeling tours that leave from downtown San Miguel that will take you to this area.

From town, it is a short boat ride to visit the sunken boats.

Cozumel drone beach boat
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

9. Chankanaab

Map chankanaab
Photo © Chankanaab Park

Chankanaab Park is located around 9 kilometers south of town, and the park has several different attractions including restaurants, spas, and access to great snorkeling.

Here you can easily enter the water from the shore and swim out to the reef. If you do not have your own snorkel gear it is easy to rent masks, fins, and snorkel vests here.

The reef is quite shallow and you will get great views of coral, sponges, and purple sea fans. Here you will find a variety of fish such as blue tangs, sergeant majors, and trunkfish.

This area also has two underwater sculptures to visit, “El Cristo” y “La Virgen” sitting on a sandy bottom and attracting different fish.

If you do not want to visit Chankanaab Park it is possible to take a boat tour that will stop at a section of this reef to snorkel.

The reef here is divided into different sections at varying depths, and boats often visit a shallow section to snorkel.

Cozumel aerial view
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

10. Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Wall is one of the most famous dive sites in Cozumel, and it is also a great spot to snorkel. Santa Rosa is located south of town, in the marine park, so you will need to take a boat to visit it.

This is a great location to visit if you are in a mixed group of snorkelers and divers on the boat. The reef is divided into two sections- the wall and the shallows.

For experienced snorkelers who do not mind a swim, it is possible to swim between the wall and shallow and visit both areas.

From the surface, you can enjoy the dramatic drop-off of the wall and see the variety of wildlife that live on the top of the wall, including sea turtles, moray eels, and tons of fish.

The top of the shallow reef is between 25 and 35 feet and is home to triggerfish, filefish, parrotfish, cowfish, and a variety of different rays.

While swimming in the sandy area between the wall and shallow you may find golden rays, southern sting rays, and nurse sharks.

The current in this area ranges from moderate to strong, depending on the day, so make sure you wear fins to be able to maneuver easily in the water.

Cozumel at sunset
Cozumel at Sunset – east coast

11. Playa Corona and Sky Reef

Playa Corona and Skyreef are two beach restaurants located next to each other and to the south of Chankanaab Park that offer great shore snorkeling.

Both of these restaurants have stairs to make it easy to enter and exit the water. This is a great spot for children or beginner snorkelers because the water entrance is easy, you can even stand on the sandy bottom before swimming to the reef.

Both of these restaurants also have a designated swimming area with buoys in the water to keep any boat traffic away from snorkelers.

Generally, this area has a very mild current, making it easy to swim around.

The reef here is shallow, you can walk out and as soon as you put your face in the water you will start to see coral heads with fish and critters all around you.

In this area, you will find a variety of tropical fish, including smaller, juvenile fish. Both of these restaurants are a great option to spend the day and enjoy great snorkeling in Cozumel.

Cozumel aerial. view with drone - caribbean coast
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

Tips for Cozumel Snorkeling

How much does it cost to snorkel in Cozumel?

One of the greatest things about snorkeling in Cozumel is that you can do it on any budget.

Snorkel tours that take you to the southern part of the island of Cozumel that visit Colombia Shallows, Palancar Reef, and El Cielo will cost more than tours that stay closer to town.

Some tours will offer a more luxurious experience with food and drinks served on the boat, but if you want to spend less money, you can look for a simpler tour.

► Book a private luxury tour here

When scheduling a tour make sure to ask where the boat will take you and what is included to make sure you get exactly what you want.

There are countless beach clubs along the western coast of Cozumel where you can snorkel.

Each beach club has a different entrance policy, some change an entrance fee that is deducted from your food and drink bill, others do not have any entrance fee.

Often these beach clubs have convenient stairs or walkways into the ocean and buoys on the surface to make a safe swimming area. If you need snorkel gear many beach clubs will rent it to you.

For snorkelers who already own their own gear and feel comfortable exploring it is possible to snorkel in many areas for free.

Cozumel snorkeling is exciting because you never know what animals you will see. In general, areas that have rocky entrances are home to a wider variety of creatures than sandy areas.

Cozumel coastline pattern
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

Snorkel Gear

In order to enjoy the best snorkeling in Cozumel, there are a few pieces of gear you will need.

If you only plan to snorkel a few times on your vacation you can rent gear or use the gear provided on boat tours.

If you plan to snorkel a lot during your time on Cozumel, it is worth it to invest in your own set.

A good fitting mask and snorkel will help you enjoy all the life that Cozumel snorkeling offers.

Cozumel is famous for drift diving and current, so it is important to use fins while snorkeling both from the boat and from the shore.

Fins that use a small water shoe are ideal for Cozumel you will walk over rocky areas at many of the shore entrances.

These shoes will help protect your feet from rocks as well as any sea urchins that are sticking out.

In addition to snorkel gear, it is important to have clothing that will protect you from the sun while snorkeling.

It is easy to spend hours floating in the blue waters admiring the sea life, but this can easily turn into a very painful sunburn.

Rash guards are the best way to protect your back and shoulders from the sun.

🔴 IMPORTANT -The National Marine Park asks that people do not use sunscreen because of the chemicals that can harm the coral, NO MATTER whether it’s organic or not. So the best way to protect yourself and the reef is to use clothing to keep yourself safe from sunburn.

Cozumel blue pristine water

Snorkeling in Cozumel – SAFETY

Snorkeling in Cozumel is very safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind to help you avoid running into any problems.

The current in Cozumel changes all the time, so anytime you are going to snorkel from shore, take a minute to check out what direction it is pushing you and plan to go against the current first, then when you are tired it can push you back to your entry point.

There are some beach clubs that have multiple entrance points and you can jump into the water, let it push you along, and get out and walk back to your belongings so you do not need to swim into the current.

Remember to use fins whenever you are shore snorkeling to make the swims easier.

The waters in Cozumel are busy with boat traffic and it is important to be visible to boat captains.

Cozumel drone view open water
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

Many beach clubs have safe swim areas outlined with buoys, but if you venture outside of these areas or are exploring reefs that are not in a swimming zone, it is important to carry a brightly colored surface marker buoy.

These buoys are often bright orange or yellow and make it very easy for boat captains to see you. Many swim buoys also function as a float, in case you get tired while swimming you can use it for support and take a rest.

Snorkeling is the most fun when you can share the experience with someone else, and like all water activities, it is important to have a buddy go with you.

More about Cozumel

The 15 Best Dive Sites in Cozumel for the Best Mexico Diving
Amazing things to do in Cozumel
Top All-inclusive resorts in Cozumel
The most gorgeous Airbnb in Cozumel
The best Dive Shops in Cozumel
Cancun vs Cozumel: which one is better for a great vacation?
8 Fun Facts about Cozumel
How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum

cozumel beach view
Photo taken with DJI Mini 2 – Photo Credit @ Isabella Biava

Mexico Travel Planning Guide

Do I need travel insurance to travel to Mexico?

I would do it if I were you. You never know what can happen and know that no matter what, you will be covered with any expenses will give you peace of mind, and make your travel worry-free. You can check out World Nomads or SafetyWing which I have used alternatively depending on my needs of the moment.

Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

No, you can’t! Maybe in some areas or in some homes where they have installed water filters but to be on the safe side, I would say, never drink tap water in Mexico. Carry a water bottle with you and fill it up where you find available potable water sources. Most of the hotels have those.

Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

The short answer is: depending on where you are. Although in general if you stick to the main roads and don’t drive at night you should probably be safe. In lesser tourist areas you should probably check the local news to stay up to date. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy everywhere, even at night, although I would still avoid it. I usually use Discover Cars because the site offers the options to compare prices among different car rentals and you can add their own full coverage.

Read more on my guide on Renting a car in Mexico.

Will my phone work in Mexico?

It will probably work, especially if you have a European or US phone, but your roaming rates may be to the stars (check with your SIM provider). Even if have an affordable international rate, you will be much better off by buying a Mexican SIM Card. It’s cheap, easy to set up, and it will keep you connected with your friends, family, and, more important, google Maps so you will never get lost!

Is it safe to travel to Mexico right now?

The short answer is, yes it is. However, there are parts of Mexico that are indeed troubled and you should avoid for now, and others that are super safe and easy to travel around. Regardless of where you are you should always use some common sense rules such as, never flaunt expensive clothing, accessories, electronics, or money and keep a low profile. Read more on my detailed guide on safety in Mexico. If you are traveling to a specific destination I have got you covered as well:

Do I need any vaccine to travel to Mexico?

No, there is no vaccine requirement (of any kind) to travel to Mexico

Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

If you are coming from the US or Europe you don’t need a VISA to enter Mexico. Once you get in you need to fill out a form which you need to keep with you until you leave. If you don’t have it you will pay a fine. Although the tourist visa for US and European travelers used to be 6 months long which you could easily renew by leaving the country for a couple of days and going back, nowadays they have been stricter. You may be asked how you would sustain your living and other similar questions. Sometimes they even ask you to show your credit cards. It seems odd but they can do that. If you intend to stay longer than a usual couple of weeks’ vacation time, just be honest and explain your plans. If you are not from the US, check this site to see if you need a visa

Meet the Author: Adrienne Banka

Adrienne in the water

Adrienne Banka is a Michigander and fell in love with diving at 16 years old. Now she is an island living dive instructor turned brewmaster, turned mom.  When she is not in the water she enjoys riding her bike and chasing after her dog an eight-month-old.