Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island lying 12 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Western Caribbean. It’s a laid back alternative to splashy Cancun 40 miles north and the resort-dotted Riviera Maya, although visitors still enjoy a lively culture with plenty of sites and activities. Here are the top things to do in Cozumel that you won’t want to miss.
Local Life in San Miguel
Cozumel is the most popular cruise port in Mexico, so when as many as four large ships call at the same time the only town, San Miguel gets very crowded. The activity centers around San Miguel’s Plaza del Sol and Avenida Rafael Melgar, the pretty seaside promenade also known as the Malecon. On Sunday nights, locals dressed in their finest turn out on the Plaza for free live concerts, impromptu dancing, flirting and merrymaking. It’s also a great opportunity to sample homemade foods, such as tamales, that are sold by local women to raise money for their churches. Visitors should also make a point of getting away from the tourist areas and explore the funky back streets with their colorful houses and typical Mexican street life.
Ecological Things to Do in Cozumel
Cozumel’s prime sightseeing attraction is Parque Nacional Chankanaab south of San Miguel. Visitors can observe sea life in the saltwater lagoon (no swimming in the lagoon), dive and snorkel in the ocean to see reefs and underwater sculpture, and swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery. A botanical garden has hundreds of labeled native tropical plants and the Maya Zone is a replica of a Maya village. Travel Maestro tip: Get to the park early to stake out a good spot near the water.
Another popular nature preserve for wildlife lovers is Faro Celarain Eco Park that contains 247 acres of jungle, wetlands, lagoons and beaches at the southern tip of Cozumel. Cars are prohibited in the park, so open-air trucks transport visitors to a nice beach with hammocks and on jungle tours. E-bikes, kayaks, and snorkeling equipment are available for rent to explore on your own.
Best Beaches on Cozumel
On the southwest side of Cozumel, 13 miles south of San Miguel is Palancar Beach. This wide beach is one of the best all-around on the island because it lies in front of the most famous reef in Cozumel and offers a host of water sports, including kayaking, paddleboards, and sailing. Snorkeling and diving on the Palancar Reef are favorite things to do in Cozumel because of the underwater visibility greater than 100 feet, colorful coral, and a plethora of marine life.
Paradise Beach on the western side of the island is home to a beach club with a stretch of sandy beach with chairs, a pool, a restaurant, and shopping. Admission is $3 and for an additional $18 you get access to all the water toys, trampoline, and snorkeling gear. Travel Maestro tip: Cruise ship passengers flock to this beach, so expect crowds.
Cozumel’s History and Ruins
There are some Maya ruins on the island. The best-preserved site is San Gervasio which was a spiritual center for the Maya where they came to pay homage to the goddess Ixchel. The site is small and compact with plazas and six structures barely one story high. Travel Maestro tip: Don’t miss the temple with red handprints on the wall.
To learn more about the history of Cozumel, visit the charming El Museo de la Isla de Cozumel in downtown San Miguel. Exhibits detail the coral-reef system around Cozumel, the early history of the Maya, and the saga of piracy around the island. Travel Maestro tip: Don’t miss the replica of a traditional Mayan house in a courtyard with an explanation by a Maya guide of the medicinal herbs still used for healing today.
Learn More about Mexico
For a scaled down tour of the whole country, visit Discover Mexico Park, just south of San Miguel. Visitors walk through 1/25 scaled models of Mexico’s most famous attractions and learn about the country’s history and culture. Taste the flavors of Mexico with chocolate making, tequila tasting, and a taco lunch.
Cozumel is no longer a sleepy backwater, but it retains a unique vibe that is perfect for those who don’t want the touristy noise of Cancun or the glam of Riviera Maya all-inclusive resorts. Contact the Covington Vacation Advisors today to plan your Cozumel getaway.