10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cozumel
One of Mexico's largest islands, Cozumel is 20 kilometers off the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula near the popular resorts of the Mayan Riviera. Thanks to its dense green vegetation, incredible diving, and smattering of beaches with fine coral sand and crystal-clear blue-green sea, the island has become one of the country's hot vacation spots, as popular among sunbathers as it is for divers. Known to the Maya as Ah-cuzamil ("land of the swallows"), Cozumel was an important place of pilgrimage for worshippers of the sun gods, while during the 17th to 19th centuries it served as a refuge for pirates and smugglers, including such infamous characters as Henry Morgan and Long John Silver. These days, the pirates and pilgrims have been replaced by a new type of sun worshipper - the many tourists drawn here for the resorts.
1 A Diver's Delight: Palancar Reef
Thanks to conservation efforts, marine life in the waters around Cozumel has bounced back after decades of overfishing, and now the onus is on observing fish in their natural habitat rather than catching them. The island is extremely popular as a destination for snorkelers and scuba divers, who are spoilt for choice when it comes to lovely reefs on which to dive and explore. One of the best spots to dive is the Palancar Reef, rising from depths of up to 80 meters to shallows just beneath the surface of the sea at the southwest end of the island. A popular dive includes a large bronze figure of Christ placed some 17 meters underwater. Other good diving locales are on the San Francisco, Paraíso, Columbia, and Maracaibo reefs, as well as the Santa Rosa Wall.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cozumel
2 Cozumel's Beaches
While the island is not particularly well known for its beaches, there are beautiful areas of magnificent powdery white sand, a by-product of the numerous coral reefs surrounding the island. Among the most popular and attractive of Cozumel's beaches are Playa San Juan and Playa Santa Pilar in the northwest corner of the island, and Playa San Francisco, Playa Santa Rosa, and Playa Palancar to the southwest. Of note on the east side, which opens to the Caribbean Sea, are Playa Encantada, Playa Hanan, Punta Morena, Playa Chen Río, and Playa Chiqueros.
3 San Miguel de Cozumel
On the northwest side of Cozumel, San Miguel de Cozumel is the island's capital and offers many interesting distractions. In addition to being a tourist hub, it's also a busy port. Many ferries depart regularly to the mainland - particularly to Cancún and Playa del Carmen - and the port also hosts cruise ships as they ply the sparkling waters of the Caribbean Sea (the town also boasts a major airport). Another highlight includes the interesting Island Museum (Museo de la Isla) with its many exhibits dealing with local geography, history, and the abundant marine life. It's also a fun city to simply stroll around, boasting great dining as well as a chance to get in some shopping, whether for souvenirs, local crafts, or luxury items such as jewelry.
4 Laguna Chankanaab and Cozumel´s National Marine Park
One of the most interesting natural attractions on Cozumel is Laguna Chankanaab, a small freshwater lake just seven kilometers south of San Miguel de Cozumel in the National Marine Park. Cut off from the sea (apart from a number of underground channels), it's a popular spot for outings thanks to its crystal-clear water and numerous colorful tropical fish, and is an enchanting place to swim, snorkel, and scuba dive. Now part of an adventure park surrounding the lagoon, guests can also enjoy activities including a sea-lion show and a crocodile exhibition, zip lining, and treetop climbing, as well as a visit to an authentic Mayan home to sample traditional foods.
5 Cozumel's Mayan Heritage: San Gervasio
More than 30 Mayan sites have been found on Cozumel, some of them in beautiful locations such as dense jungle or perched above pristine beaches. By far the most important is that of San Gervasio, built in AD 800 and located 16 kilometers from San Miguel de Cozumel. Highlights include the Temple of Ix-chel, for centuries the focal point of the island's religious life and a place of pilgrimage from across the Mayan empire. Also of interest are the nearby ruins at Santa Rita, while a little further away are the ruins of Santa Pilar and Castillo Real, the latter boasting Cozumel's largest Mayan structure. There are also Mayan remains in the southeast corner of the island at Buenavista and in the south at El Caracol.
Address: Carretera Transversal Kilómetro 7.5, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, QROO
6 The Island Museum
In the heart of San Miguel de Cozumel, the excellent Island Museum (Museo de la Isla) makes for a fun break from the beach. The museum offers a great deal of information related to the history of the island and its people, from its formation millions of years ago to its current status as one of the Caribbean's most visited tourist destinations. In addition to its multi-media displays and permanent collections of ancient artifacts, the museum also hosts numerous temporary exhibits, including artwork from both international and local artists. Of particular interest is the exhibit dealing with marine life, as well as a mock-up of the traditional Mayan homes that were once common across the island (there's also an on-site restaurant).
Address: Avenida Rafael Melgar at Calle 4, Cozumel 77600
7 Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
A fun place to explore the diversity of Cozumel's coastline and experience its flora and fauna, the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is the largest eco park on the island. At the southern tip of the island, Punta Sur provides plenty of great swimming and beach fun, as well as a chance to enjoy some snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. Part of the 240-plus acre Parque Punta Sur, it's home to a diversity of beaches, reefs, and lagoons, as well as a forested area with plenty of walking trails. Other highlights include an old lighthouse, the Celarain (Faro de Celarain), with its adjoining nautical museum, and an old Mayan temple called the Caracol (Tumba del Caracol). For wildlife lovers, a number of observation platforms are available for bird watching.
Address: Cozumel, QRoo
8 Discover Mexico Cozumel Park
Particularly popular among cruise ship passengers during their Cozumel stopover, Discover Mexico Cozumel Park is one of the newest attractions on the island. In addition to providing an interesting overview of Mexico's many diverse cultures, highlights include miniature reconstructions of many of the country's most important archaeological sites and historic attractions. Also of interest are the exhibits and multi-media shows showcasing traditional music, art, and food, along with displays of traditional dances. A fascinating sight is the daring Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) involving participants throwing themselves off a 30-meter-tall pole as they spin and twirl to the ground via ropes attached to their feet.
9 Stingray Beach
Thanks to its coral reefs and crystal clear waters, there's no shortage of fun wildlife encounters on Cozumel. One of the best is Stingray Beach, an attraction offering some up-close time with one of the most mysterious of marine creatures. Highlights include a guided swim with stingrays in the facility's enclosed bays where you'll learn many fascinating facts about these passive beasts, including a chance to feed and touch them. Afterwards, you can swim with them as they glide around you (admission includes all equipment and use of the beach). Another fun excursion is to Dolphinaris Cozumel with its exciting program of dolphin swims. Hot Tip: As with many of Cozumel's top tourist sites, the island's animal attractions get extremely busy when the cruises ships are in port - be sure to enquire about the less busy times when booking.
Address: Km 2.807 Carretera Costera Sur S/N, Centro, 77660 Cozumel, QROO
10 Celarain: Cozumel's Lighthouse
The best known of Cozumel's lighthouses is Celarain (Faro de Celarain), 30 kilometers south of the capital of San Miguel. Built in 1901 and recently fully restored with the addition of an interesting maritime museum in the old lighthouse keeper's home, the lighthouse is perched at the southernmost tip of the island in the nature reserve known as Parque Punta Sur and is worth the visit and the climb of its 134 steps for its wonderful views over the Caribbean Sea. It's a fun little excursion and perfect for those looking for something that is typically not swamped with the cruise crowds.
Address: Costera Sur Highway, Km 27, Cozumel, QR 77600