A little history, useful tips and the best recommendations for your trip
Get to know Cozumel with the ultimate destination guide
Some say that the best way to get to know a place is to lose yourself in it. Others say it’s by staying for long periods of time. However, those who are cautious are the truly prepared. That means knowing what to do and how to do it. This applies even to Cozumel which, despite being a lost island in the Caribbean paradise, has much to discover. Read on for the ultimate step-by-step with this Cozumel destination guide.
In the words of Douglas Adams
“This guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
First of all… Why Cozumel?
If the words “lost island in the Caribbean paradise” that I mentioned at the beginning were not enough, let me tell you a little more about Cozumel.
Just 19 km from the coast, in front of Playa del Carmen, you will be able to see the skyline of its buildings surrounded by green palm trees. It is difficult not to see it, as it is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean and the third largest in all of Mexico (in addition to being the second most populated in the country). With this in mind, this Cozumel destination guide will help you visualize it. It measures about 48 km from North to South and 14.8 km from East to West. This means that you can easily go around it with a motor vehicle in a single day (a very popular activity among its visitors).
As one of the 11 municipalities that make up the state of Quintana Roo, in it you can also find your typical beach attractions, but not only that. In addition, it has an interesting historical past and not to mention its importance for biodiversity. For this reason, in 2016 Cozumel was included by UNESCO as part of the world network of biosphere reserves.
Its climate is very similar to that of neighboring areas that you have probably visited before. That means humid weather with abundant rains during the summer and little during the winter. Just don’t be fooled by the data and decide to leave your sunscreen in your suitcase, because the sun will also shine with all its splendor.
Let’s go back a few steps and let me tell you about a story from the past… Let’s go back to the origin of this island!
A tour of Cozumel’s past
Before being a famous tourist destination, Cozumel was inhabited by the ancient Maya civilization. Its name in Mayan was Kosom Lumil, which means “land of swallows” (hence this icon as the main piece of its crest). However, there is evidence that its name could also be a variant of Cuzamil.
Its first settlers date from the 2nd century BC. As this is a flat and limestone island, they used to fish and hunt. The second wave of migration dates from the third century. The group included Mayas from the Guatemalan Petén region, south of the Yucatán Peninsula. The latter had a much more defined cultural level and knowledge of agriculture and architecture, which meant further development of the area.
After that, more groups continued to arrive, even from further afield and contributing different things, making it an After that, more groups continued to arrive, even from further afield and contributing different things, making it an important location. It was the Chontal Maya in the 8th century who introduced forms of social organization, other architectural styles and religious cults. It was from this point that the so important devotion to Ixchel -goddess of the moon, fertility and birth- arose. This is why one of her main sanctuaries is located here in Cozumel, and it’s a key point of the ancient pilgrimage that was carried out in her honor.
Nowdays we still have a representation of this ritual; learn more about the Sacred Mayan Journey here.
Juan de Grijalva was the first Spaniard to dicover and disembar in Cozumel in 1518, baptizing it as Santa Cruz de la Puerta Latina. They celebrated the first Christian mass in Mexican territory days later. A year later, in 1519, Hernán Cortés began the conquest of Mexico.
Later, in 1527, it was Francisco de Montejo, who had in mind the conquest and development of Cozumel, baptizing it again with the name of San Miguel de Xamancab.
However, it was during the colonization period that the island was practically uninhabited due to several factors. For this reason, it ended up becoming a refuge for pirates and corsairs. Today it’s known that Jean Lafitte, the well-known French pirate, passed through the island as well.
Later, in the 19th century, during the period known as the Caste War, the repopulation of the island began. It was thanks to groups from Valladolid, Sabán, Tihosuco and Chemax (all towns in the state of Yucatán).
Today, the island already has an important development, communication routes, infrastructure and even a small airport (take that Playa del Carmen!). All this fostered tourism development, the basis of its local economy.
What to expect from a day in Cozumel
I was not lying when I said that Cozumel is an island with much to discover. Today we can find activities for all tastes. This Cozumel destination guide will give you all the necessary details you’ve got to know.
- Scuba diving
Its coral reef is perhaps one of its most famous features. This was thanks to the promotion provided by the 1961 documentary made by oceanographer Jean Jacques Cousteau. For this reason, it is one of the favorite destinations for scuba diving, specifically in Punta Sur. Today it’s considered one of the five best scuba diving sites internationally, with 40 areas ranging from 3 to 30 meters deep. With its tunnels and limestone caves, the great wealth of marine flora and fauna is fostered and turns it into an underwater paradise.
- Beach days
In the western part of the island, you will find calm beaches with low waves, while in the eastern part you will find the open sea with intense waves. This allows Cozumel to have a great variety of beach activities. The sea temperature is warm, hovering between 25°C and 28°C, perfect for swimming! Around the island you will find beach clubs with various services and rest areas on the seashore, food and refreshing drinks, as well as activities (snorkeling, kitesurfing, paddle boarding, among others). This Cozumel destination guide provides you with a list of my favorite beaches. Use it as a checklist and commit to knowing them all.
- Wellness services
There is no better place to achieve your inner peace than with the beaches of the Caribbean. For this reason, Cozumel is one of the ideal destinations for you to try acupuncture, biomagnetism, a temazcal or aquatic massages. You will also find special enclosures for yoga (indoor and outdoor), as well as beachfront spas.
Formerly a profession of the population, today a recreational activity and one of the most popular tours of the island. You can book tours for fly fishing, deep sea and even sport fishing. Depending on the season, you will find different species. Look at the list from this Cozumel destination guide to discover some of the ones you’ll encounter:
- Exquisite restaurants
For many, food is the direct path to the heart. You’ll find many restaurants throughout the island but I leave you some of those that, in my opinion, are worth considering. La Mission Cozumel has seafood dishes and Mexican food. On the other side is El Palomar, built inside an old house from 1903 and considered Cozumel’s cultural heritage. The latter has art exhibitions, mixology, themed dinners, party nights and island cuisine.
- Atlantis Submarine
If swimming is not your thing, but your desire to see the seabed persists, there is a way to achieve it. Cozumel offers a submarine travel service with 3-hour expeditions, 30 meters deep. With it you can see different marine species from the comfort of your seat and without the need for personal breathing equipment (such as oxygen tanks or snorkel tube).
- Strolls through downtown
Just one block from the maritime terminal you will find the already restored Juárez Park. Around it there are shops that are the perfect place to get your souvenirs. Take a walk at sunset (to avoid the heat a bit) and then continue along the boardwalk to enjoy a beautiful view of the sea. You can even enjoy the mood of the nightlife.
What sites should I visit?
Cozumel has an extensive list of places of interest that are worth visiting. You will find commercial stores, vehicle rental, nightlife, restaurants and amazing natural spaces. Keep on reading this Cozumel destination guide to find out about some of the people’s favorites.
- SEA Walls Project, Artists for Oceans
Cozumel is one of the hosts for this fantastic international project that decorates cities with gigantic murals of striking colors painted by artists from all over the world and with a marine theme. This is how the importance of preserving the ocean in a creative and beautiful way is portrayed.
Get a seank peek at some of the ones you can find in Quintana Roo here.
- Isla de la Pasíon
Visiting an island while already standing on another island? It sounds complicated but it’s possible, since a small strech of paradisiacal land emerges separated from the main one. Only 1 km long, this small island, north of Cozumel, was considered a sacred place for the ancient Maya people and site of veneration for the goddess Ixchel. Today it also has recreational and adventure activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding.
- El Cielo
Continuing with the route to paradise is El Cielo. A virgin beach that you can only get to by boat. It is famouse for its crystal-clear shallow water, an authentic natural pool.
Inaddition, the tours available include snorkeling, where you’ll find hundreds of starfish.
- Pearl farm
Conceived as a research project that later became an ecoturism destination that promoted responsible tourism and the preservation of the area. In it, the pinctada radiata type pearl is produced (considered the pearl of the goddess Ixchel). Being the only active pearl farm in the Caribbean it is worth a visit. The natural area is protected and remains largely untouched. Consider that it can only be accessed by boat.
- Archaeological sites
The first to mention is San Gervacio, founded in 300 AD. It is made up of six architectural ensembles that are joined by sacbes. Its name was given because it was located within the ranch of the same name, however, its original name in Mayan is unknown.
The second is El Caracol, built between 1200 – 1500 AD. Its name arose from the snails that adorn the dome that crowns the ceiling, although it is also known as the “snail’s tomb”. It is located in the south of the island, within the ecological reserve.
With such a historical past, of course Cozumel has a couple of museums. First is The Museum of the Island of Cozumel, which has a collection of unusual objects of religious, cultural and istorical importance, housed among its four exhibition rooms. Located in a building dating from the 30s and which was one of the first hotels in the destination at the time.
Second is the Navigation Museum, located in Punta Sur, inside a lighthpuse. It bears withness to the history of the Maya people, pirates and corsairs that crossed the Mexican Caribbean.
- Options in the jungle
To connect with nature, this Cozumel destination guide offers several options. I should mention the importance of its respect and preservation, since Cozumel is home to around 27 endemic species. Among them we find: the pygmy raccoon (Procyon pygmaeus), the island coatí (Nasua narica melsoni), the shadow-billed lizard (Aspidoscelis cozumela), the Cozumel cenzontle (Toxostoma guttatum) and the Cozumel vireo (Vireo bairdi).
Taking this into account, we have the Chankanaab Park, with trails where you will find archaeological replicas of diverse cultures (Toltec, Maya, Nahua, among others) surrounded by flora and fauna. In addition, there are underwater activities and zip-lines.
On the other hand, there is Punta Sur Eco-Beach Park. In it you can find the Celarain Lighthouse with its museum. In addition, in the area you can watch fauna such as birds, crocodiles and turtle nests.
- El Pueblo del Maíz
Recreation of an interactive pre-Hispanic town where you experience a taste of the life of the Mayas and their traditions, as well as the importance of crops such as corn, cocoa and also feather art or henequen. There is music and dance to enjoy.
- Cha’an ka’an
A planetarium that, as its name implies, is to “enjoy the sky”. Destined to preserve the legacy of Maya astronomical knowledge that influenced the general culture.
If you’re interested, learn more about Maya astronomy here.
- The Mayan Cacao Company
The ideal place to learn about cocoa and its origins, as well as having the opportunity to taste it.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it is common for visitors to take a car or motorcycle and tour the island in a single day. However, to get to know and enjoy all these places of interest (or at least the ones that attract your attention the most), the recommendation is to use a couple of days to take advantage of each of its corners with ease.
Hopefully I can encounter an important holiday
It is not always the first thing we consider when planning a trip. However, every place has important local festivities that are celebrated on specific dates. Either due to a coincidence of because you traveled just to get to know on in particular, this Cozumel destination guide will tell you about those that are already an island tradition.
- Cedral fair
It dates from 1848, which makes it one of the oldest celebrations on the peninsula. It takes place in the cedral region in the south of the island. Held from April 29 to May 3rd to commemorate the day of the holy cross, from the inhabitants who arrives from Sabán during the Caste War.
- Cozumel Carnival
One of the oldest carnivals in Mexico and one of the most important. It dates back to 1874 as a tradition started by immigrant families from Yucatán, Campeche and othe places. It promoted family coexistence and the hallmark of peaceful and joyful island life. Today it’s celebrated during the month of February. In 2007 it was recognized by CPTM as one of the eight most relevant carnivals in the country and in 2015 as a founding member of the Caribbean carnival network.
How to get there
I finally convinced you and now you’re dying to visit Cozumel, but… How are you going to get there, right? As the saying goes: “All roads lead to Rome”, it is the same case here. Despite being an island in the Caribbean Sea, there are many ways to get to it.
This Cozumel destination guide explains them all.
I like to fly:
You can get to different airports by place. The most common route would be through the Cancun International Airport (as it is the closest) but you can also do it through the Chetumal Airport (if you get here, take advantage of it and take a road trip through the South of Quintana Roo).
Two options will present themselves in both cases. In the first instance, you have to take the road in a vehicle (bus, car) after arriving at the airport of your choice. You’ll arrive in Playa del Carmen, where you’ll necessarily have to change to a sea route by taking a ferry. However, there are air routs from both airports that will take you directly (and faster) to the Cozumel International Airport. There are even foreign routes that arrive here, such as Canada and the United States.
No matter which route you decide to take first, chances are you won’t get directly to Cozumel’s airport, meaning you’ll end up arriving by sea. In this case the most direct route is through a ferry departing from the Playa del Carmen maritime terminal. The crossing lasts approximately 45 minutes and will offer you a beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea during the journey.
The last option that I can also recommend is to arrive by cruise. There are many international line that have Cozumel on their stops list. Upon arrival, it’ll be possible for you to spend the day on the island and enjoy everything I mentioned. Make sure to prioritize your activities so you don’t miss out on what you really want to know.
I’ve already arrived, but where do I stay?
If you chose to stay for several days, it is important to start considering your accommodation. Being a tourist area, the options are practically endless. Let’s review the most convenient ones.
You will have options available that range from cozy cabins, villas and bungalows, to boutiue hotels or all-inclusive luxury resorts. Also, in this age of technology, don’t forget to look on platforms such as Airbnb, Booking, among others. In them you will surely find options that suit you travel style.
The important thing to take into account is the location, meaning, how far or close it is to what you want to know. This brings us to how you will get from one place to another. It’s far enough away to walk, ride a bicycle, or will you have to do it with a motorized vehicle. For this there are options such as car and motorcycle rental os also public transportation (buses or taxis).
An apology if you got a little dizzy with all this information but from the beginning I warned you that this would be your definitive Cozumel destination guide. I hope that now there is no room for doubts about everything that you’ll have at your fingertips on this beautiful island. Remember, you don’t have to follow it step-by-step, just make sure that when planning you include what you really want to do.
If you used this guide in your visit to Cozumel, I challenge you to leave me in the comments something you did that I missed.
Avid reader and creative writer who enjoys sharing what she is passionate about.