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The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Cozumel, Mexico

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

Cozumel is an island located off the coast of mainland Mexico, in the Caribbean Sea. Known for it's excellent scuba diving, brilliant snorkeling, Mayan ruins, secluded beaches and it's calm relaxing vibe, Cozumel is an amazing place to spend a vacation! Those looking to get away from the louder party style areas like Cancun will fall in love with this laid-back Mexican Caribbean island. Offering plenty of activities and adventures if wanted or just sitting and relaxing, this island offers a bit of something for everyone! Here's how we spent 9 days exploring and enjoying this wonderful Mexican destination.

Palm trees, blue skies and fishing boats along the at Chen Rio in Cozumel
Paradise in Cozumel Mexico

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

TRAVELING TO COZUMEL

Mother and baby in a stroller with luggage standing in front of the Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel ferry.
Ferry from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel

Day 1: Travel to Cozumel. Depending on where you are departing from, there are a couple options for arriving to Cozumel. Cozumel does have it's own International Airport with many different airlines offering direct flight straight to the island. Another option is to fly to Cancun and then arrange a shuttle for transportation 45 minutes south to Playa Del Carmen. From Playa Del Carmen, regularly scheduled ferries run back and forth between Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel and takes only about 45 minutes. Coming from Seattle, we were not able to get a direct flight to Cozumel and so we flew into Cancun and then grabbed the ferry to Cozumel. We arrived just as the sun was setting, getting to enjoy the sunset from our ferry. Upon arriving on Cozumel we picked up our rental car and headed to the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel. After a long day of travel, including dealing with a sick kid who was just getting over an ear infection, we were ready to crash! Luckily his ear infection didn't cause any pain on the flights, but the three hours in time change definitely made for one tired baby!

Sunset and the island of Cozumel in the distance.
Arriving to Cozumel during sunset after a long travel day!
 

EL CID LA CEIBA BEACH HOTEL

El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel front entrance
Our hotel - the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel

Day 2: We spent our first full day on Cozumel enjoying the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel. Waking up early, we were able to enjoy the sunrise and watch the cruise ships coming into port for the day. Cozumel is a major port of call for cruise ships and up to eight ships can dock daily in Cozumel spread between three different piers. Puerta Maya is the terminal location right out front of the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel. Having previously worked for a cruise line, I always enjoy watching and seeing cruise ships!

View of palm trees, a sand volleyball court and cruise ships docked in front of the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel
Watching the cruise ships arrive from our porch at the hotel
Lounge chairs and palapas line the beach at El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel
Ready for a bit of sun and relaxation!

We then spent the day exploring the El Cid La Ceiba and it's pool and ocean access. Swimming in the pool was super relaxing and much needed to kick off our time in Mexico - getting us into vacation mode! Also on site, is super easy access to the ocean which allowed for some great snorkeling! My husband and I took turns going out and snorkeling in the reef that was located right out in front of our hotel! The water was super clear and full of fish!


Bright blue sparkling waters of the large swimming pool at the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel
The beautiful pool area at the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel
Looking at the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel beach and ocean access area.
View of the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel from the onsite pier
 

SAN MIGUEL

Mother and son sitting inside the giant 'C' of the Isla Cozumel sign in San Miguel
Strolling thru San Miguel, Cozumel

For dinner we decided to head into San Miguel, which is the only city on Cozumel and offers a great boardwalk along the water that is great for wandering during sunset. We spent some time wandering and shopping along the main plaza in San Miguel. We then grabbed some dinner in San Miguel as there is a vast amount of restaurants to choose from - we ended up eating at Abuelo Gerardo and enjoyed some delicious food and giant pina coladas!


Statue of a toucan and a palm tree lined street in San Miguel as the sun begins to set.
Enjoying beautiful San Miguel!
Golden last rays of the sun setting on the waters over Cozumel with a silhouette of a bird statue.
Watching the sunset at the end of a great day!
 

SAN GERVASIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE

Entrance sign for the San Gervasio Archaeological Site
The largest Mayan ruins on Cozumel - San Gervasio

Day 3: Time to start exploring the island of Cozumel! We spent the morning exploring the San Gervasio ruins. This Mayan archaeological site dates back to sometime near 100 BC and was used thru the 16th century. When the Spaniards arrived on Cozumel in the 16th century, this site was still in use as a religious site. Home to the Mayan goddess 'Ixchel', the goddess of love and fertility, Mayan women would make a pilgrimage to this site to honor 'Ixchel'. While not as well known as other Mayan sites like Tulum or Chichen Itza, this site is well worth a stop to explore these amazing ancient ruins.

Stone ruins of an ancient building at San Gervasio Archaeological Site
Exploring the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio Archaeological Site
Stone columns and ruins at San Gervasio Archaeological Site
It was amazing to walk thru such ancient ruins!
Large iguana sitting upon a stone wall
There were iguanas everywhere among the ruins!
Woman standing in front of ancient stone building that has stairs leading up to it and an open doorway into it at the San Gervasio Ruins
Nohoch Nah or the 'Big House' is one of the best preserved structures at San Gervasio
 

CHEN RIO RESTAURANT & BEACH

Father and son standing at the entrance to Chen Rio Restaurant and Beach
Arriving at Chen Rio

We then headed to spent the rest of the day exploring along the eastward coast of Cozumel. Chen Rio Restaurant and Beach was our first stop and it was amazing! With lunch time approaching we decided to have lunch here at the beachside restaurant. While the restaurant itself was a bit expensive, we enjoyed the location right along the water with our feet in the sand. After getting our fill of delicious seafood and margaritas, it was time to spend some time exploring the beach and swimming. While swimming along the eastern side of Cozumel is generally not recommended due to the huge surf, Chen Rio provides a swimming area that is protected by a rock barrier that provides a safe swimming area that is safe for even children. Snorkeling out along the rocks is also highly recommended as we enjoyed a quick snorkel thru here and saw quite a bit of sea life!

Palm trees, fishing boats and beautiful turquoise waters of Chen Rio in Cozumel
Tropical views along Chen Rio
Looking out over the rocky edges of Chen Rio Beach with beautiful blue and turquoise waters and a white sandy beach.
Stunning views at Chen Rio
 

PLAYA EL MIRADOR

Mother and baby with their heads poking thru a tire sign that has been painted with the words 'El Mirador - Cozumel'
Welcome to Playa El Mirador

Continuing further along the east side of the island, we headed to Playa El Mirador. Playa El Mirador is not a beach for swimming but for admiring the the rock formations and mighty crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea. The sea has carved out an arch along this rugged coastline that can be viewed by walking out along the rocks, and you can even walk across the top of the arch. Playa El Mirador is definitely worth a stop for it's amazing views!


Man and baby standing along the rocky cliffs overlooking the tropical waters of Playa El Mirador
Stunning views along the rugged coastline
Rocky shoreline and rolling waves of the waters at Playa El Mirador
Brilliant turquoise and blue waters are breathtaking!
Man and baby standing near a Mexican flag on top of a natural stone arch at El Mirador in Cozumel
Standing on top of the natural arch at El Mirador
 

SCUBA DIVING IN COZUMEL

Man standing with scuba gear at Babieca Dive Center
Ready for some scuba diving!

Day 4: For Scuba Divers - Cozumel is absolute heaven! Cozumel ranks up among the best diving locations in the world and was a definite highlight for my husband for our time in Cozumel. Babieca Dive Center was conveniently located onsite at the El Cid Ceiba Beach Hotel and provided a wonderful diving experience for my husband while we were in Cozumel. He was able to do two days of diving and day one included the Paso Del Cedro, Santa Rosa Shallows and the San Francisco Wall.

Colorful underwater scenes of a school of fish and coral in Cozumel
Amazing waters off the coast of Cozumel
Underwater view of a sea turtle, tropical fish and coral in the waters off Cozumel
Scuba diving with a sea turtle!
A scuba diver taking pictures of Cozumel's underwater beauty.
Cozumel offers some of the best diving in the world!
 

PLAYA CORONA

Entrance to the Playa Corona Beach Club
Laid back and relaxing Playa Corona

After my husband returned from scuba diving, we then headed out to spend the rest of the afternoon at Playa Corona. This tiny little beach club was one of our favorites! With stairs leading right down into a wonderful swimming area, this is a great place for the whole family. And if you swim out about 100 yards out, the snorkeling is amazing! We had this hidden gem almost entirely to ourselves the day we visited!



Surrounded by palapas, a man and his son stand along the water's edge looking at the stairs leading into the waters at Playa Corona in Cozumel.
Playa Corona has steps right into the ocean! We loved visiting Playa Corona!
 

SAN MIGUEL - CUATRO TACOS

For dinner that night in San Miguel, we stopped at Cuatro Tacos. If you are looking for an amazing taco joint - this is the place! Inexpensive but amazing! The chips, salsa and guacamole were also delicious! Nothing beats a good taco while visiting Mexico!

Plate of four different corn tortilla street tacos from Cuatro Tacos
Amazing dinner at Cuatro Tacos
 

SNORKELING TRIP

Day 5: Up bright and early we headed off on a 9am Palancar, Columbia & Ceilo Reef Snorkel Trip. Able to take our son with us on the boat, we headed off on this wonderful boat trip to enjoy some of the best snorkeling sites in all of Mexico. At each site, my husband and I took turns snorkeling while the other stayed onboard with our son. We had fantastic weather, making for a nice smooth boat ride and crystal clear water to snorkel in. From starfish, to barracudas to giant schools of fish, the snorkeling was amazing!

Colorful snorkel boat out in the blue waters off the coast of Cozumel
Our snorkel boat
Large school of colorful tropical fish swimming in the waters off the island of Cozumel
The snorkeling sites were teeming with fish!
Family of three sitting on the back of a snorkel boat off the coast of Cozumel
Enjoying our snorkeling trip!
 

PLAYA PALANCAR BEACH CLUB

Straw covered entrance to Playa Palancar Beach Club
Arriving at Playa Palancar

Upon returning from the snorkel tour, we returned to our hotel to grab lunch before heading out to spend the afternoon at Playa Palancar. While it's free to access the beach here, it does cost $10 to secure two beach chairs and umbrella. The beach club also offers food and drinks - we ordered Margaritas here that were refreshing and reasonably priced. Don't be surprised if you see a few peacocks wandering by as there are few that live at this beach club. Also offered onsite are restrooms, outdoor showers and a couple small souvenir stands. Overall, this was another great beach to sit back and relax by enjoying the beautiful blue/turquoise waters.

Woman and baby with blue skies, white powder sand, palm trees, lounge chairs and umbrellas at Playa Palancar
Picture perfect Playa Palancar
Dad and baby standing in the clear blue tropical waters at Playa Palancar
Ready for a swim in the beautiful waters
Tropical waters and the palm tree lined beach of Playa Palancar
Playa Palancar is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon
 

SAN MIGUEL - LOS OTATES & PANADERIA

As dinnertime approached, we headed into San Miguel and had dinner at Los Otates. If you're looking for a more authentic Mexican meal, this is the spot! Located just off the main drag, we enjoyed a delicious meal, including some of the best guacamole we've ever had!

After dinner, we stopped by a Mexican Panaderia (bakery) to grab some pastries for the next morning's breakfast. If you've never been to a Panaderia - this is a must do while visiting anywhere in Mexico. Grab a tray, a pair of tong and grab the pastries you would like. Then take your tray to the cashier, where they will wrap up your items and check you out. Most of the items are quite different from what we are used to in the states, making this a fun experience to try a bit of something new!

Walls lined with shelves of Mexican pastries at a Panaderia
So many delicious choices at the Panaderia
 

MORE SCUBA DIVING

Scuba Diving swimming over the beautiful coral reefs off Cozumel.
World Class Dive sites of Cozumel

Day 6: This was dive day #2 for my husband. Off he set again with Babieca Dive Center for another amazing day of diving. Diving at the Palancar Caves and Paso Del Cedro, my husband returned saying these were the best dives he'd ever done. The Palancar Caves are world renown for it's tunnel and cave system that provide for a fascinating dive that is full of abundant marine life and a experience that is unique to this area.



Two scuba diving swimming thru the tunnels off the coast of Cozumel
Beautiful underwater world of Cozumel
 

MAYAN PLAZA

Replica of a Mayan pyramid with a giant sign that says Cozumel in front of it - with a baby in a stroller also in the picture.
Exploring & shopping at the Mayan Plaza

While my husband was off diving, my son and I set off on our own adventure. Located near our hotel is the Mayan Plaza where we wandered the shops and did a bit of souvenir shopping. As we were exploring, we were able to watch the Mayan Danza de Los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). This ancient ritual of climbing up a 30 meter pole and launching off the pole while attached by a rope and spinning around and down the pole until they reach the ground is amazing to watch! We also stopped to have a picture taken with a performer in Mayan costume - while he didn't cry, I don't think my son was too thrilled to be handed over to this stranger!

 

CHANKANAAB NATIONAL PARK

Day 7: After a week at the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel, we packed up and moved to another location for the last couple days of our trip. We quickly checked in at the Coral Princess Hotel and then headed to spend the day at Chankanaab National Park. First declared a National Park in 1980, this beautiful area is a must-do while in Cozumel. In Mayan, 'Chan' means small and 'kanaab' means ocean or sea. And so 'Chankanaab' refers to the small natural lagoon that is found within the park. Activities here include snorkeling, diving, visiting the crocodiles, watching the sea lion show, swimming with dolphins, tequila tasting, wandering the nature trails, exploring the Mayan ruins (replicas), zip-lining, swimming in the pool, or just relaxing while soaking up the views! To read more about our day at Chankanaab, Click Here.

Rocky shoreline and stairwell into the blue and turquoise waters at Chankanaab National Park
Beautiful Chankanaab National Park
 

ALBERTO'S BEACH BAR & RESTAURANT

Large sign with fish, shrimp and crab on it for Alberto's Beach Bar & Restaurant
Dinner at Alberto's Beach Bar & Restaurant

For dinner this night, after a long day at Chankanaab, we headed to Alberto's Beach Bar & Restaurant. If you're looking for a memorable dinner, this is the spot. Stick your toes in the sand, enjoy some delicious food and enjoy the sunset while listening to live entertainment. The fajitas and pina coladas here were awesome! Great way to end a perfect day in paradise!




Woman and son sitting at a table at the beach during sunset at Alberto's Beach Bar & Restaurant
Alberto's is the perfect place to enjoy a sunset dinner at the beach!
 

CORAL PRINCESS HOTEL

Day 8: For our last full day in Cozumel, we spent the day enjoying the pool and snorkeling right out front of our hotel - the Coral Princess Hotel. Waking up to the beautiful ocean view, we were excited to soak up a bit of sun and just enjoy some relaxation at the pool and beach here. While not playing in the pool or digging in the sand with our son, we took turns snorkeling and exploring along the coastline near our hotel. The waters here were teeming with underwater life and was fabulous for snorkeling!

Looking out over the pool area with palm trees and a small beach area along the rocky coast. Also expansive views of the ocean all from the Coral Princess Hotel
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Shimmering blue pool at the Coral Princess Hotel
Ready for a swim at the Coral Princess Hotel
Colorful fish and coral underwater near the Coral Princess Hotel
Snorkeling off the shore at the Coral Princess Hotel
 

COZUMEL CARNIVAL

Crowds watching the colorful dancers at Cozumel's Carnival
Enjoying the Cozumel Carnival

For our last evening, we headed into San Miguel to partake in the Carnival celebrations! We happened to be in Cozumel over Carnival and it was so much fun! The Carnival in Cozumel has over 150 of history and is held every February. Lining the streets of San Miguel, local families and tourists filled the streets to celebrate this event. The parade was full of brightly colored costumes, floats, dancers & candy! We loved watching the performances and dancers and even had fun dancing along with our son! He loved all the music! As the excitement built and the evening continued, more and more people were dancing around us, just having a great time! For us, with a one year old, we couldn't stay for the whole parade which we were told can go on for hours, but the couple hours we did spend there were super memorable and a highlight of our trip to Cozumel!

Crowds lining the streets to watch the Cozumel Carnival parade. The float in this picture includes Carnival dancer and a giant palm tee and iguana.
The floats of the parade were super elaborate and colorful!
Colorful tropical float with Carnival dancers and tropical fish decorating the parade float.
We had a blast enjoying the Cozumel Carnival
 

GOODBYE COZUMEL

Family of three with blue skies and tropical waters behind them.
Goodbye Cozumel!

Day 9: Sadly, all good thing must come to an end. After an amazing time visiting this wonderful island, it was time to head home. After enjoying breakfast, it was time to head off for our trek home. If you are looking for a tropical Mexican paradise, Cozumel checks all the boxes! We hope to return someday and enjoy more of this wonderful island.





 

Interested in planning your own trip to Cozumel, Mexico? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!


Lodging we stayed at in Cozumel: El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel & Coral Princess Hotel


Day 1: Arrive Cancun, Shuttle to Playa Del Carmen Pier, Ferry to Cozumel. Pick up rental car and head to El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel


Day 2: Resort Day


Day 3: San Gervasio Ruins(open 8-3:45), Explore Eastward Coast - Playa Chen Rio & Playa El Mirador


Day 4: Morning Scuba Diving with Babieca Dive Center, spend afternoon at Playa Corona


Day 5: Palancar, Columbia & Ceilo Reef Snorkel Trip (Departs at 9am), spend afternoon at Playa Palancar Beach Club


Day 6: Morning Scuba Diving with Babieca Dive Center, Resort Day


Day 7: Move to Coral Princess Hotel, spend the day at Chankanaab National Park (open 8-4)


Day 8: Resort Day, join Cozumel Carnival celebration in San Miguel


Day 9: Ferry to Playa Del Carmen, Shuttle to Cancun Airport, Fly home from Cancun

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