what to do in cozumel

Looking for things to do in Cozumel during your cruise vacation?  Don’t waste your time with boring “to do lists” when you can just focus on the very best this island has to offer!

After reading through this article you will know EXACTLY what you should be doing during your visit to Cozumel, Mexico.  Some of the things on this list are just going to jump off the page at you.  So, enjoy!

Over 3 million people cruise to Mexico’s most populated island every year and all of the mainstream cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC, Princess Cruises visit the island.  There’s a reason it’s one of the most visited cruise ports in the world.

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As many as 8 cruise ships could be in port at one time.

Personally, I love visiting Cozumel.  I love the weather, people, environment, beaches, and overall vibe.  Every time I visit I find something new, so this post will detail some unique and fun experiences you can have at this fantastic stop along your cruise.

Planning what to do in Cozumel ahead of time can be a bit daunting.  There is a lot to do and see in this beautiful and exotic location.

From the pristine coral reefs and endless beaches to the plentiful shopping in town, Cozumel has something for everyone.  Oh, and there is even something for the Indiana Jones in you if you want to explore some archeological sites.

The weather in Cozumel is about as good as it gets throughout the year.  Average temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s (Fahrenheit).

In this post we will give you some of the best things to do in Cozumel along with some helpful information on how to get around the island, what to expect, where to go, etc.

A little information on Cozumel

cozumel things to do
ID 4143674 © Emiliobrath | Dreamstime.com

There are over 100,000 people living at this municipality which is just off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.  The largest city is San Miguel which is right near the cruise ports on the west end of the island.

The economy of Cozumel relies heavily on tourism, so the people there will be very glad to help you and make sure you have a pleasant experience.

Many times I’ve had locals on the island help me out or point me in the right direction all while asking for nothing in return.

There are even special vehicles that drive around the island in order to help any tourists that have broken down and need help.  A service that is offered for free.

Cozumel is mostly flat with the highest point being just 50 feet above sea level.  As you travel out of town you will notice the mangrove forests that dominates the landscape inland while both rocky and sandy beaches surround the exterior.

Do you need to know Spanish?  Most people living in Cozumel speak English  and can understand you perfectly fine.  But trying to learn a few Spanish words and phrases is very much appreciated.

Cruise ports in Cozumel: How far are they from downtown?

cozumel cruise ports
Puerta Maya

This is a little confusing to those who have never been to Cozumel before.   Even if you have been to Cozumel before you might get off the ship and not recognize your surroundings because you could be at a completely different terminal than before.

There are 3 different cruise ship piers in Cozumel.  One is close to downtown and the other two are a few miles out.    So, let’s look at each terminal and its location.

  • Punta Langosta. This pier is the closest to the downtown area, only about a 5-minute walk.  You can join a walking tour of San Miguel or just explore on your own without having to walk very far at all.
  • International Pier.  This is where some of the larger cruise ships will dock: ships like Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships and larger Norwegian Cruise Line ships.  This is the oldest cruise pier in Cozumel and is about 3 miles from downtown.
  • Puerta Maya. This pier was built by Carnival Cruise Line and is only used for Carnival owned ships.  It’s right next to International Pier.  It’s been nicknamed “Little Cozumel” as many shops, restaurants, and modern amenities are offered right within the terminal area.

Both International Pier and Puerta Maya are about 3 miles from San Miguel, but it is a safe and scenic walk to the downtown area which I have done a few times.   Taxis are cheap, but if you have extra time the walk is doable.

Sometimes, ships will have to anchor just offshore if it’s a very busy day with 7 or 8 cruise ships coming in.  In these cases the ships will tender passengers to some of the smaller piers near Puerta Maya.

cruise terminals cozumel
Map data: Google, DigitalGlobe

How to travel around Cozumel

Cozumel does have a decent size airport if you are thinking of flying straight there.  One thing I love about cruising is that it gives you a sampling of different places that you can then revisit once you find what you like.

Renting a vehicle

rent car in cozumel, Mexico
Riding around Cozumel in a rental and keeping it classy.

There is a plethora of options for renting a vehicle and driving around Cozumel as well.  The island is easy to navigate in a matter of a couple hours if you don’t make too many stops.

The best way to tour Cozumel in your rental is to start by heading south and drive along the shoreline.  If you’re driving a scooter or bike you will have your own road to travel on, making the journey stress-free.  The further you get away from the city the more open and serene the landscape becomes.

How big is Cozumel? The whole island is 28 miles long and about 10 miles wide.  I have rented both cars and scooters to drive around Cozumel.  (See map at bottom of article)

One thing that should be noted about renting a car, though.  If you do happen to damage the vehicle in any way you may be required to pay for the repairs before you leave the island.   I’ve never had any mishaps, but I have heard that this can be an issue.

You can rent anything from a dune buggy to a VW Beetle to a scooter or even motorcycle if you want.  There are even Harley tours you can take.

As soon as you get off the ship you will find vendors who are able to find you just about any type of vehicle to rent if you want to explore on your own.

Renting Bikes and Scooters

Some of the downtown area can get crowded with cars and people, but if you want to venture out on your own renting a bike might be a good option.  There are many shops that will rent scooters and bikes.  If you don’t want to have to work too much electric scooters area available too.  And if you want to go beach hopping on your bike you can get one with fatter tires.

Taxis in Cozumel

Taxis are easy and affordable in Cozumel.  The prices are set, and you don’t need to negotiate.  There is a slightly higher price if you have more than 4 people and a bit more if you have 6-8 people in your group.

You can pay with US dollars, but it will be cheaper if you exchange for pesos first and use them.  Credit cards are not accepted by taxi drivers so you will need to pay in cash.  Also, a 10-15% tip is appreciated.

Here are some prices you can use as a sample for taxis rates.  Prices are in US Dollars and are from the starting point of Puerta Maya:

  • Downtown: $8.00
  • Discover Mexico: $8.00
  • Chankanaab: $12.00
  • Chocolate Factory: $11.00
  • Playa Corona: $13.00
  • Punta Sur: $35.00
  • Airport: $16.00
  • Full Island Tour: $100.00

Take a ferry

Cozumel is just 12 miles from the mainland of Mexico.  The ferry port is not far from downtown, so hopping on the ferry to see some more sights in Mexico might make sense if you have time during your cruise.  Some excursions also require a ferry ride to the mainland to see Mayan Ruins or explore scenic caves.

Where to eat in Cozumel?

places to eat in cozumel
Costa Brava

The non-adventurous will be glad to know there are a few American staples in Cozumel.   There is a Subway, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks right near the Punta Langosta terminal and even a Burger King further inland.

But for those who want a truly authentic experience Cozumel does not disappoint.  There is a myriad of restaurants.  You can get a casual, relaxing dining experience at one of the many eateries along the beach or try something more upscale.

I’ve had some incredibly delicious tacos just by stopping at one of the local vendors along the shoreline.  And don’t forget to get some local churros.

Cozumel is an island that is known for exquisite seafood combined with common Mexican foods as tortillas, beans, and salsa.   You can find affordable lobster dishes and plenty of options especially in the main city of San Miguel.

Of course Cozumel has the iconic Senor Frogs and Bubba Gump Shrimp if you want an old standby.

Here are a few places we recommend for eating in Cozumel:

  • Costa Brava.  Love eating here. Authentic Mexican food at a reasonable price. Friendly staff.
  • Casa Mission.  For truly local Mexican food and seafood.  Located near the center of San Miguel
  • La Mission Restaurant. Traditional Mexican food right near the shore.  Really great décor and great food.
  • Guido’s Restaurant. Swiss-Italian restaurant with a beautiful patio and daily specials.  Right on the main street of San Miguel with great views of the ocean.
  • Pepe’s Grill. Upscale dining with amazing seafood.  Owned by one of the oldest family’s on Cozumel.

Have you eaten in Cozumel and want to let us know a great place to check out?  Let us know in the comment section so the rest of our readers can benefit as well.

23 Best Things to do in Cozumel

So now let’s take a look at some things to do in Cozumel.   We’ll cover some of the best things to do on this island to give you some ideas for your upcoming excursions and adventures.

cozumel reefs things to see
ID 11070572 © Conchasdiver | Dreamstime.com

1.  Check out the amazing reefs

Cozumel is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world, and it is a paradise for those who like to dive and snorkel.

Because most of the island is surrounded by some of the most amazing coral reefs in the Caribbean Cozumel has become a main attraction for thousands of expert divers every year.

Even if you just want to rent or bring along some snorkeling gear you will want to check out these pristine waters at one of the many coral reef locations.

Best places for snorkeling or diving:

  • Villa Blanca Reef. Located between 2 cruise ship piers.  Wall after wall of beautiful reefs.
  • Chankanaab Reef. Part of Chankanaab Park.  Reef is 300 yards from shore.  More on Chankanaab later.
  • Paradise Reef. Near the marine park.  Lots of coral and sea life to see like nurse sharks and stingrays.  3 reefs 600 feet from the shore.
  • Palancar Reef. Better for diving.   Stunning caves and drop-offs.
  • El Cielo Reef. Great for beginner snorkelers.  Shallow water. Lots of starfish.
  • Coral at Dzul Ha. 10 to 15 foot depth with plenty of lobster, crab, and all kinds of fish.   Near beach club and restaurant.
  • Colombia Reef. Great for diving with 80 foot drop-off.  Find huge towers of coral, caves, caverns and marine creatures.

There are many more places you can dive and snorkel in Cozumel, so don’t look at this list as exhaustive. In fact, if you have a great reef to check out please let us know in the comment section below this post.  We will add it to the list if it looks good so everyone else can benefit.

The first time I went to Cozumel I brought my own snorkel gear and just pulled over at random places to check out the water.  It’s really hard NOT to see some amazing things in the water around Cozumel.

RELATED: Best Places in the Caribbean for Snorkeling

2.  Go on a Boat Tour

Since the water around Cozumel is so remarkable why not take a boat ride around it so you can see the whole thing

You can do this on a catamaran, glass-bottom boat, or even a private charter.   The nice thing about booking a snorkeling or diving excursion is that some of them will involve a boat ride to the reef and you will get to have a scenic boat ride at the same time.

3.  Take a Submarine Tour

Want to see the reefs without getting wet?  Then a submarine tour is just for you.   The submarine will descend 100 feet below the surface and will look through portholes to see amazing marine life, a sunken shipwreck, and even a 400 foot drop-off known as The Wall.

4.  Enjoy a Beach Day (best beaches in Cozumel)

cozumel best beaches
ID 102607636 © Lunamarina | Dreamstime.com

Cozumel has some of the most amazing beaches in all of Mexico and there are a variety to choose from.   You can choose a beach for it’s snorkeling opportunities, it’s relaxing atmosphere, or for its culinary delights that are nearby.

If you rent a vehicle you can just drive around to see the different beaches to see which is best for what you want your beach day to be like.  The eastern side of the island is rocky and exposed to the open ocean, but there are still some hidden away spots that are perfect for a beach day.

Here is a short list of some of our favorite beaches in Cozumel:

  • Playa Chen Rio. On the eastern side but large rocks break up the surf. This is where some locals go and it’s not usually very crowded.  Some thick vegetation with sand and rocks.
  • Playa Bonita. Romantic beach with white sands and gentle waves.  On the east.  Mayan ruins nearby.
  • Playa Corona. Known for its great diving and underwater scenery.   Beach huts for shade.  On the west coast.
  • Playa Uvas. If you want a Miami Beach kind of vibe with upscale loungers and shade spots this is your beach.
  • Playa San Francisco. A lot of activities available at this popular 3 mile stretch of sand.
  • Palancar Beach. 13 miles south of San Miguel.  Away from the hustle and bustle.  Lovely white sandy beach.

Are any beaches near the cruise ports in Cozumel?  While there are some beaches close to Puerta Maya and International pier they will require a fee.  Park Royal Beach is just a 5-minute walk from these two terminals and will require $40 per person to access since it’s part of a hotel.  But the amenities and views from there are fantastic.

beaches near the cruise port

Have your own beach to add to this list?  Let us know in the comments below.

5.  Swim with stingrays

It’s an incredible experience to swim with the rays at Stingray Beach.  Don’t worry, the dangerous barbs have been removed.  You can both swim and snorkel with these amazing creatures.  It’s just a couple minutes from downtown.

6.  Visit Chankanaab National Park

Chankanaab park
Hammock at Chankanaab. See why I love this place?

It amazes me how many people have been to Cozumel and have never been to Chankanaab.  It’s one of my go-to places on the island.   It does cost $21 for adults and $14 for children to have access to the park, but once inside you will find enough things for everyone to do for the entire day.

There are great beaches, plenty of shaded loungers and hammocks, a pristine lagoon, alligators, a seal and sea lion show, dolphins, manatees, and so much more.  Want to just relax in a hammock tied to a couple palm trees while the kids go have fun?  This is your place in Cozumel.

If you want to swim with dolphins this is a great place to do it as well.

See a video of what Chankanaab is like below:

7.  Explore Mayan Ruins

Cozumel is not known for some of the most elaborate Mayan ruins in Mexico, but there are still some worth checking out if you are interested.

The largest Mayan ruins in Cozumel are at San Gervasio, located in the central part of the island.  This was a holy site dedicated to the goddess of fertility.

If you want truly spectacular Mayan ruins you can still see them during your cruise to Cozumel, but since they are on the main land of Mexico it will be an all-day event which will require a ferry ride.  Chichen Itza (recently named one of the 7 wonders of the world) and Tulum are the main Mayan sites you can see.  If you can only see one, check out Chichen Itza.  It’s truly spectacular.

8.  Tour the Chocolate Factory

I did the chocolate factory tour a few years ago and found it to be a really interesting experience.  It’s not a huge factory, but you get to see how the chocolate is locally made and then you get to make some yourself.  And of course the best part is sampling the chocolate after you are done.

It’s called Kaokao Chocolate Factory and is just a $15 or so cab ride away.  I recommend getting reservations ahead of time because time slots can fill up quickly.

9.  Zipline over Cozumel

There are a few different places for zipline thrill seekers.  Chankanaab does have a zipline course or you can take a zipline course that soars over some of the mangrove forest in Cozumel.  You will be 60 feet above the jungle floor and start off from 6 different canopy towers.    Most of the course can be done in about an hour so you will still have time for other activities.

10.  Go on a Cave Tour

Some of the most incredible caves are found on the mainland at Rio Secreto, where adventurers can explore a picturesque underwater river.  This place could easily be a wonder of the world.  Other cave tours start out with an ATV ride through the wild back roads of Cozumel.

11.  Go Horseback Riding

You’ve seen the pictures: a scenic beach background with someone riding a horse along the shoreline.  This is on my to-do list actually, and Cozumel is a great place to check it off.  You can ride horseback through the jungle and then along the beach, and then you can stop to get something to eat at Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club.

12.  Play a Round of Golf in Paradise

Cozumel Country Club is right near the shore and offers 18 holes of scenic beauty.  The fairways and greens may not be as lush as what you’re used to, but the wildlife and surroundings make up for it.  It’s about a 30 minute cab ride from the cruise port.

13.  Go Parasailing

The joy of parasailing is in the aerial views you get to soak in.  So, it’s even more enjoyable when those views are of some of the most pristine water along Mexico.    There’s just something about being hundreds of feet in the air, being pulled by a speed boat.   The only thing to keep in mind here is that you may be with a group.  This means you will have to wait your turn and may spend more time in the boat waiting than actually up in the air enjoying your parasailing experience.

14.  Join the Manatees for a Swim Encounter

This is also part of Chankanaab Park which is open from 9am to 5pm.  These slow-moving creatures are rarely seen in the wild so this excursion offers you the ability to get up close and personal with these “Mermaids of the Sea”.

15.  Join a Pirate Dinner Cruise

If you want to feel like a pirate for the day and get some great food along with some unique entertainment this is the activity for you.  I’ve read some rave reviews about the Jean Laffite Pirate Dinner Cruise but have not checked it out myself.   But for most cruises this option will take place too late in the day, so it’s really only doable if you are staying in Cozumel for a few nights.  It goes from 6pm to 9pm, but I still wanted to put it in this list.

16.  Hit the Shops

You don’t’ even have to leave the cruise terminal to find places to shop, but do yourself and the Cozumel locals a favor by venturing out and shopping from local vendors.  T-shirts and trinkets are incredible affordable and I haven’t found shop owners to be too pushy compared to other ports.

The Royal Village Shopping Center has some really interesting places to shop, including one place that sells all kinds of medieval type armor and décor.

Everyone needs at least 1 or 2 Mexican blankets at home and you will find them everywhere in Cozumel.

You can pay in pesos or US dollars.  In fact, you will see a lot of signs with prices in US dollars.

Important note: Just be careful on using local ATM machines.  Last time I used an ATM machine in Cozumel I had my card information hacked.  Stick to indoor bank ATM’s if you can and always cover your hand as you type in your pin.

17.  Discover Mexico

You can’t see all of Mexico during your cruise, but this little stop will allow you to at least feel like you did.  The tour at Discover Mexico Park will allow you to experience the taste, culture, history, heritage, art, and music of Mexico.  There are miniature scale models of famous sites from around Mexico and a tour guide will talk you through some of this country’s most important landmarks.

18.  See the Cozumel Pearl Farm

Not many cruisers venture up to the northern part of the islands to see this family-run pearl farm, but you should.  After seeing how the pearls are grown and harvested you can snorkel out to see the pearl hatchery.   Tours can last about 6 hours.

19.  Take a Mini-Sub Dive Tour

If you love the idea of scuba diving but you want something a bit simpler, this might be the Cozumel activity for you.  No previous diving experience is required.  You simply “wear” a sort of “sub suit” that allows you to go 20 feet below the water and have unobstructed views of the marine life.  And with Cozumel’s reputation for great reefs and pristine coral, this is a great thing to do while cruising to this beautiful island.

20.  Join the Amazing Cozumel Race

Just like you’ve seen on TV, you can explore Cozumel while cracking clues, solving mysteries, and playing adventurous games with fellow travelers.   This competitive journey will take about 4.5 hours and there is a post-race award ceremony that follows.   People seem to really enjoy this excursion.  Even if the it ends up raining you won’t be able to dampen the fun vibe on this activity.

21.  Swim with Whale Sharks

Sure you can swim with dophins and stingrays on Cozumel, but if you really want to kick things up a notch and take some impressive photos for your friends back home, swimming with whale sharks is the ticket.  Every summer the whale sharks come in to the Yucatan Peninsula, so you can snorkel along with them during their annual migration (June – September).  The feeling of being so close to these immense creatures is unforgettable.

22.  Visit Punta Sur Eco Beach Park

Nature lovers can indulge in the island’s largest ecological reserve at Punta Sur.   Whether you want to enjoy the white sandy beaches, climb the stairs to the historic Celarain Lighthouse, or catch up with the local crocodiles, Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is a gem on Cozumel.   You can find a variety of flora, fauna, flowers, birds, and even sea turtles.  Visitors can also enjoy the Navigation Museum which is the old lighthouse keeper’s home.  There they will learn about the island’s rich history of Mayans and pirates that sailed the Caribbean waters.

23.  Tantalize Your Taste Buds with Cozumel Chef Food Tours

Are you a foodie?  Taste the full flavors of Mexico with a food tour that lets you sample the best the islands has to offer.  Cozumel Chef Food Tours is all-inclusive and takes you to a Yucatecan restaurant, a traditional Mexican market, a bakery, and a few other stops along the way on this 3 hour tour.  Want to taste a truly authentic quesadilla?  This is a food tour you will brag about when you get home.  The cost is $80 per person, and the tours typically start at 11am, perfect for cruise passengers.

We Want to Hear from You

What are some things to do in Cozumel that you would add to the list?  Let us know in the comments below so everyone can benefit.

cozumel aerial map
Map data: Google, DigitalGlobe

Cozumel tips for your cruise or visit to this beautiful island off the coast of Mexico.  Find 20 best things to do in Cozumel...
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