Best things to do in Cozumel: complete travel guide

Olga Sitnitsa

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 01.02.2019

Isla Cozumel is Mexico's Caribbean jewel, perched just a few miles off the coast of the Quintana Roo mainland. Mexico, known as one of the cheapest places to travel in the world, offers, even more, to explore on this island beyond what day-trippers experience. Stay a little longer, and you’ll discover a little piece of paradise on the Mexican coast – here are the 15 best things to do in Cozumel.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guide to Mexico — your essential guide for travelling in Mexico.

Explore its underwater wonders

There’s no doubt that scuba diving here is stunning. Beautiful coral reefs all along the western coast of the island teem with a variety of marine species, from loggerhead turtles and seahorses to eagle rays and barracuda.

You can explore with experienced dive teams, or if you’re not qualified, you can try SNUBA – a no-experience-required alternative to scuba diving that allows you to explore the ocean’s depths with an oxygen supply that floats on the surface.

There’s also the Atlantis Submarine, an underwater ship that will take you among many species of fish and other sea creatures as well as a sunken ship.

Rough Guides tip: If you are most interested in beach time as well as diving in Mexico, try our tailor-made trip to Baja: Pacific Coast Paradise. The area is home to mountains, deserts and thousands of kilometres of gorgeous Pacific coastline. Come here to explore, snorkel, dive or do a spot of whale watching (in season). Otherwise, sit back and relax on its soft sandy shores.

snorkelling in Isla Cozumel

Scuba diving is among the most exciting things to do in Cozumel © Pixabay

Take in the scenery with a day’s drive

Though the ocean is Cozumel's main attraction, you can see just as much natural beauty on land. Rent a vehicle in San Miguel and drive out of the city onto the main road that loops around the southern end of the island. The drive is gorgeous from start to finish, lined with palms, enormous Ceiba trees, and flowering shrubs.

With your own vehicle, there is ample opportunity to stop and relax on one of the long white-sand beaches on the wild, eastern side of the island. They can be busy on Sundays, but you'll find them virtually deserted midweek.

Wild beaches on Cozumel

Wild beaches on Cozumel © Shutterstock

See little-visited Maya ruins

Isla Cozumel was inhabited entirely by the Maya for thousands of years before the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés landed here and began his conquest of Mexico. After Cortés and his troops left in 1519, the isle remained was deserted and many of the Maya sites in ruins. Today, some of these ruins can still be visited.

The most impressive is San Gervasio, located in the northern area of the island. Amid the thick jungle environment, local archaeologists have done an amazing job of uncovering what was once the capital city of Mayan Cozumel.

Rough Guides tip: If exploring Mayan heritage is what you're looking for from your trip to Mexico - head to our tailor-made trip to Magnificent Mexico and Mayan Treasures. From Mexico City down to the southern state of Oaxaca, this trip packs in all of Mexico's colonial charms and archaeological wonders.


San Gervasio Ruins, Cozumel, Mexico © Angela N Perryman/Shutterstock

Gorge on seriously good Mexican food

Today’s mixed population of Maya, Chilangos from Mexico City, and many Veracruzians, mean Cozumel is the happy home to a wide range of Mexican cooking styles. Though the main street – the Melgar – is studded with the bright lights of American chains and tourist-focused restaurants and bars, local favourites are just a few blocks away.

Try Los Nopales, where the menu offers cuisine from Puebla, namely tacos al pastor (marinated spit-grilled pork with pineapple, onions, coriander and spicy salsa). Vegetarians will love the vegetariano, a huge plate of nopales (a cactus), pineapples, tomatoes and mushrooms with a stack of tortillas and bowls of delicious sauces.

Otates is another favourite, open til late with offerings of frijoles charros, tacos de pastor and quesadillas.

Street vendors are no rare sight in the calles, selling tasty chicken or vegetarian tamales and esquites – hot kernel corn mixed with cayenne pepper, mayonnaise and butter.

Traditional mexican corn smut quesadilla also called "huitlacoche" ©  Guajillo studio/Shutterstock

Traditional mexican corn smut quesadilla also called "huitlacoche" © Guajillo studio/Shutterstock

Wander around San Miguel de Cozumel

Along the malecón (Av Rafael Melgar), downtown San Miguel caters to cruise shippers with restaurants, souvenir shops, tour agencies and jewellery stores. There are typically fewer boats in port at weekends, and on Sunday evenings, cozumeleños come out to the main plaza for live music.

The attractive Cozumel Island Museum has small displays of the flora, fauna and marine life of the island, as well as a good collection of Maya artefacts, vintage diving suits, and old photos. It occasionally hosts live music and theatre events – ask at the tourist office to find out what’s on when you’re on the island – and has an atmospheric restaurant.

Head to the beach club

Aside from a small public beach on the north side of San Miguel (at C 16) and a small strip north of town, all the beach action is south of town on the Carretera Costera Poniente. There are quite a few beach clubs that line the beachfront. These typically charge about a little above average for beers and seafood mains; you’re expected to buy a nominal amount.

Rough Guides tip: Explore the wide depths of Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas, and the fascinating archaeological site of Palenque in Tabasco before moving on to the Yucatan to explore Merida, Chichen Itza and the peaceful island of Cozumel. This tailor-made trip to the Eastern Highlights of Mexico offers adventure and relaxation in 14 days.

Find a secluded beach

Cozumel’s rugged, windy eastern shore remains undeveloped because it faces the open sea and is usually too rough for swimming. The Carretera Costera Oriente runs 20km south to Punta Sur, passing many tantalizing empty beaches (swim only where you see others and be wary of currents). Here the occasional beach hut serves margaritas, but only until sundown because there’s no electricity.

Punta Morena occasionally draws surfers, and Chen Río Beach has two protected coves where you can swim or snorkel, plus a very good restaurant (El Galeón). Playa San Martín, just south, is usually best for swimming.

Another beach that is definitely worth checking out is Playa El Cielo. The crystal clear waters are ideal for snorkelling and the beach is ideal for families with children.

Ready to explore the best beaches Mexico has to offer? Don't miss our guide to the best beaches in Mexico.

Explore Punta Sur Ecological Park

The southernmost point of the island is a protected reserve for diverse wildlife, the Faro Celarain Eco Park (also called Punta Sur Eco Beach Park). The site contains several lovely beaches, where you can hang out in a hammock, take a kayak tour around the lagoon or snorkel out and possibly spot some hawksbill turtles.

This is also a prime spot for bird watching, as the mangroves host both migratory and endemic species, including the widespread Cozumel vireo and the Cozumel thrasher, once thought to be extinct.

On the way in, you pass the tiny Templo El Caracol, which may have been built by the Maya as a lighthouse, though it’s awfully squat. When the wind is right, it whistles through the shells embedded in its walls. You can climb to the top of the Punta Celarain lighthouse for amazing views over the coast, or visit the adjacent museum of navigation in the former lightkeeper’s house.

Punta Sur park in Isla Mujeres statue © Shutterstock

Punta Sur park in Isla Mujeres statue © Shutterstock

Learn about pearl cultivation at Cozumel Pearl Farm

One of the most unique things to do in Cozumel is to visit the Cozumel Pearl Factory. It is located on the north coast of Cozumel and has been operating since 2001 and is the only pearl factory in the Caribbean.

The factory is a family research project and works with the oyster species Pinctada radiata also known as the Atlantic Pearl Oyster. Until recently, this species was considered nearly extinct, and factory employees are helping to keep the species alive in the region.

Since 2012, the Pearl Factory has been offering tours, during which you will learn about the process of pearl cultivation and have the opportunity to buy jewellery made from local pearls.

Enjoy the natural beauty of El Mirador

If you want to take a break from the tourist spots in Cozumel - El Mirador gives you that opportunity. Although this beach does not fit the description of a typical white sand beach with blue waters, it is a unique natural attraction in Cozumel that is worth a visit.

Nevertheless, this is the perfect place to take leisurely walks and admire the stunning scenery of Cozumel's rugged east coast. Carved by the inexorable force of the sea, the natural rock arch gracefully connects the waters.

Climb to the top of this amazing structure and you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea all the way to Cuba. Watch the power of the ocean as the giant waves crash against the rugged cliffs, creating a spectacle of nature's might.

Cozumel island El Mirador beach in Riviera Maya of Mexico © Shutterstock

Cozumel island El Mirador beach in Riviera Maya of Mexico © Shutterstock

Try Deep Sea Fishing

Deep sea fishing is one of the most popular things to do on Cozumel for both fishing enthusiasts and casual tourists. Due to its location in the Caribbean Sea, you will find an abundance of marine life here, making it an ideal destination for deep-sea fishing. Local fishing charters and tours offer visitors the opportunity to venture into deeper waters in pursuit of big catches.

Experienced local captains and crews lead the fishing excursions with the knowledge and tools to increase the odds of success. Whether you're an experienced fisherman or a novice, they'll help you throughout your trip, from setting up your tackle to instructing you on the best techniques to use.

Visit the Mayan Cacao Company

Cacao, or cacao, has a long and significant history in Mayan and Mexican culture, where it was considered a sacred and valuable product. Whether you're a chocolate lover or just want to learn about the aspects of chocolate making, a visit to the Mayan Cacao Company is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the intricate world of Mexican chocolate.

Mayan Cacao Company offers a variety of tours where you will learn about the chocolate-making process, the origins and traditions, and of course you will be able to taste the delightful chocolate. More than just a chocolate museum, this is an extraordinary opportunity to interact with the world's most popular food product and learn about the true history of chocolate in Mexico.

Take a day trip to the Passion Island

A day trip to Passion Island is the perfect opportunity to change things up and enjoy a day of total relaxation. The island can be reached by boat or catamaran and the trip itself offers stunning views of the Caribbean waters and Cozumel's coastline.

Upon arrival at Passion Island, you will find pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. The secluded and tranquil atmosphere of the island makes it the perfect place to relax and escape the crowds.

While relaxing on the beach, sunbathe and swim in the gentle waters. The waters around the island are calm, making it an ideal place for swimming.

Isla Pasion - Passion Island Cozumel Mexico © Shutterstock

Isla Pasion - Passion Island Cozumel Mexico © Shutterstock

Go tequila tasting

Although Cozumel is not a popular Mexican region associated with tequila, there are still opportunities to experience this famous Mexican drink. The island offers some specialised tequila-tasting places in Cozumel. These venues are equipped to create a comfortable and authentic environment to experience the different varieties of tequila.

By choosing one of these specialised places, you will have the opportunity to learn about the tequila production process and taste different types of tequila. After the tasting, you will have the opportunity to purchase bottles of tequila or tequila-related souvenirs to take home as a reminder of your experience.

Mexican tequila in the bar © Shutterstock

Mexican tequila in the bar © Shutterstock

Find more accommodation options to stay on Isla Cozumel.

Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the Rough Guide to Mexico and read our guide to the best things to do in Mexico.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Mexico without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image © Tono Balaguer/Shutterstock

Olga Sitnitsa

written by
Olga Sitnitsa

updated 01.02.2019

Online editor at Rough Guides, specialising in travel content. Passionate about creating compelling stories and inspiring others to explore the world.

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