Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula attracts a wide range of travelers including party goers, families, history buffs, nature lovers and diving enthusiasts. Sun, sand and surf mix with Mayan ruins and lively nightlife.
While most travelers tend to flock to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a more relaxed alternative can be found on the island of Cozumel just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean.
While Cozumel may be known for its world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, with many dive centers and PADI courses available, there is much more to this island than simply swimming with the fishes.
Luxury travelers will feel right at home in one of Cozumel’s all-inclusive resorts, with most of the college spring-breakers gravitating more towards Cancun. And when it comes to activities, the island offers up numerous experiences fit for those with a more opulent travel style.
Getting to Cozumel
The first step to enjoying a relaxing holiday in Cozumel is actually getting there. Cruise ships make stops almost daily in Cozumel, but if you wish to spend more quality time on the island you will want to either fly in via the Cozumel International Airport or take the roughly 45-minute ferry that travels between Cozumel and the mainland.
A few ferry companies offer regular daily passenger ferry services to and from the island, and there are also vehicle ferry options available if you wish to bring a car. That being said, these ferries are more expensive, offer less frequent sailings, and take longer.
Having your vehicle isn’t really all that necessary on Cozumel since the island is quite small, with most attractions centrally located. However, having your own vehicle does make it easy to explore the island’s more secluded eastern side away from all the resorts and activity. You can also always decide to rent a vehicle on the island, rental car locations being found near the airport, cruise terminals, and even at some of the resorts.
There is plenty to keep you busy on Cozumel, so simply taking a day trip here from the mainland would be doing yourself a disservice. To really appreciate the many luxurious experiences on the island, you really need to spend at least a few nights to a week here.
Instead of basing yourself on the mainland in Cancun and taking a day trip to Cozumel, treat Cozumel as your more relaxing base and simply take day trips to the mainland via the fast and easy ferry that runs from Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen if you wish to check out places like Chichén Itzá, the ancient walled city Tulum, or one of the many refreshing cenotes.
Top Cozumel Experiences Fit for a King or Queen
Surround Yourself with Pearls
Cozumel is home to what is said to be the Caribbean’s only pearl farm. They say that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but for a woman it’s pearls. Once thought to be a bit old-fashioned, pearls are now making a comeback.
Touring the family-owned Cozumel Pearl Farm is one of the island’s best kept secrets and offers the unique opportunity to witness the cultivation process of pearls. You’ll get to roam the farm, snorkel in the pearl hatchery, and visit the lab where all the research is done.
The farm’s pearls are produced by Atlantic pearl oysters which the family is helping to locally preserve through its farming. You’ll of course have the opportunity to purchase some of the many beautiful pieces of jewelry that nature has created.
In addition to the pearls, the experience includes a lovely boat ride from the center of town to a secluded area of the island. You’ll get to try a bit of speed snorkeling which involves being pulled slowly behind a boat and then will have plenty of time to relax in hammocks by the beach.
One of the best things about Cozumel is what’s surrounding it and that is of course the Caribbean Sea. One of the best ways to enjoy it is by booking a catamaran tour. You have the budget option of joining other strangers onboard or splurging on a private cruise.
There are countless companies offering a wide range of catamaran cruises on the island. Many focus on taking you to Cozumel’s best dive and snorkel locations including Columbia Reef, Palancar Reef, and El Cielo.
You’re likely to witness a great deal of marine life in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef system on Earth. You may spot dolphins, nurse and reef sharks, rays, large groupers, moray eels, and even the adorably ugly splendid toadfish which is endemic to the area.
When you’re not in the water, you’re aboard listening to music and dining on charcuterie boards, ceviche, canapés, and often an open bar stocked with great wine. Sailings range from a few hours long to a half day or more, most departing from the Cozumel ferry port.
Private Jeep Tour
One of the best things about booking a private jeep tour on Cozumel is that they are fully customizable. You can have them drive you around the island for a few hours or the whole day, and they pick you up directly from wherever you are staying.
Your jeep driver also acts as your knowledgeable guide that can take you to many of the island’s top attractions or hidden secrets if you’d prefer. They will explain the history of the places you visit and readily answer any questions you might have.
A typical jeep tour may consist of driving to hidden beaches, top snorkel sites, Mayan archaeological sites like San Gervasio, and lighthouses such as Celarain which you can actually climb. You can also go off-roading in search of wildlife where you may spot crocodiles and local birds, or choose to ditch the tires for a bit and do some horseback riding.
Dive, Dive, Dive, in a Submarine
If you’ve never been diving or snorkeling before and don’t wish to get in the water but still experience the abundant marine life that surrounds Cozumel, then a submarine may be your answer.
Yes, Cozumel is the only place in Mexico where you can step inside a real submarine and head 100 feet under the sea to witness all kinds of colorful fish and strange creatures. This is a great way to get your feet wet with life under the sea without having to get your feet wet.
Atlantis Submarines brings you the wonders of the deep with live narration throughout your journey so you know what you’re seeing. More than a dozen portholes and a one larger viewing window allow guests ample opportunities to view Chankanaab Reef’s marine life.
The sub will also pass by the Felipe Xicotencatl shipwreck that now acts as an artificial reef, as well as a feature known as La Pared which is a vertical drop that extends to a depth of something like 2,000 feet.
Did Someone Say Chocolate?
It’s one of life’s greatest indulgences and you can learn all about it and taste plenty of it at The Mayan Cacao Company. Mexico is the birthplace of chocolate and it was the Olmec and Mayan civilizations that brought us it.
Mayans considered their drinking chocolate to be the drink of the gods, once only reserved for priests and leaders. Thankfully, it’s available to anyone these days. At The Mayan Cacao Company, you can see demonstrations on how chocolate is created, make your own chocolate bar, taste more than a dozen different varieties of chocolate, and down it all with a large chocolate margarita.
If that wasn’t enough, they also offer a well-stocked shop of all kinds of chocolates to take home with you.
Deep Sea Fishing
Embrace your inner Ernest Hemingway by booking a deep sea fishing charter out of Cozumel. Usually deep sea fishing requires long sea journeys to reach prime fishing spots, but not in Cozumel. Here, you’ll be casting lines just minutes after leaving the docks.
You have the option of half to full day fishing charters, where all fishing equipment and necessary fishing licenses will be provided. They’ll even fillet and pack your catch on ice so you may enjoy it the same evening of your fishing trip.
The waters of Cozumel are one of the few places where you can complete the Billfish Grand Slam since there are sailfish, swordfish, and both blue and white marlin,. Other notable fish to catch include mahi-mahi, amberjack, tuna, wahoo, and Cubera Snapper.
If deep sea fishing isn’t your thing, you may want to look into booking a skiff or flats boat and use light tackle or flies to target the local bonefish which reside in the lagoons on the north side of the island.