Last Updated on: 19th June 2023, 07:11 pm
Cozumel is a tropical paradise nestled in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, across the water from Playa del Carmen.
While the island has gained a reputation as an easy place to come and enjoy a fly-and-flop vacation, in my experience there’s so much more to the island than just beach chairs and margs.
However, it’s really easy to miss just all there is to see and do here if you don’t spend a little time planning a trip to Cozumel in advance!
Here are my best Cozumel tips based on my experience, including where to stay, what to do, what to eat, where to shop, traveling solo, traveling as a family, and more!
No matter what kind of Cozumel vacation you are looking for (yes, even if you’re coming in on a cruise), this Cozumel trip planner will help you achieve it – whether it’s your first time in Cozumel or your tenth!
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My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2023
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Protect Your Trip via Safety Wing
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For English-speaking private airport transfers, book through Welcome Pickups.
For road trips and independent travel, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Cozumel Travel Tips: Things to Know Before Visiting Cozumel, Mexico & Complete Cozumel Travel Guide
Here are my best tips for planning a trip to Cozumel!
How Many Days in Cozumel
So people will come to Cozumel on a day trip from Playa del Carmen or on a cruise ship, but I don’t think one day is enough to enjoy the island (though it’s better than nothing!).
It’s entirely possible for many people living in North America to visit Cozumel for a long weekend.
If you can only get four days off in a row, you can get here, enjoy your time, and get home before your office starts wondering if you’ve run off forever (though, once you get here, you might not want to go back!).
Keep in mind, however, that this will end up being only 48-72 hours in Cozumel (depending on your flight schedule).
So if you only have a long weekend, take it. Cozumel is worth it!
However, if you can scrape together more time off, do it. You’ll be surprised how many Cozumel activities there are to enjoy.
In my experience, I found that a long weekend in Cozumel just wasn’t enough, and I wanted much more time on subsequent trips.
On our most recent family vacation to Cozumel, we spent five nights on the island, which meant we had four full days to enjoy and explore.
If you can get one week in Cozumel, that’s even better!
Later in the article, I lay out ideas for how to spend between one day and one week in Cozumel, so I promise you will not run out of things to do here!
When is the Best Time to Visit Cozumel
I love visiting Cozumel in winter because I get to escape snow storms back home and lay back on the beach instead. January and February are my favorite months here.
Of course, I’m not the only one to think this is the best time of year to travel to Cozumel. This is high season.
From December through February, you can expect higher prices and larger crowds (though it’s fairly easy to escape the crowds if you know how!).
If you visit between March-June, you’ll find slightly lower prices, but you avoid the hurricane season which makes visiting from July-November more complicated.
The weather is great year-round. The temperatures do get higher in summer, but if you plan to spend your time in or near the water, this shouldn’t deter you!
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit during hurricane season, which isn’t considered the best time to go to Cozumel, make sure to get travel insurance that includes coverage for trip cancellation.
Cozumel Tourist Map
Here’s a good overview of the Cozumel points of interest to help you get oriented:
How Big is Cozumel
I didn’t realize how big Cozumel is until long after my first trip there.
During my first trip to Cozumel, I booked an all-inclusive resort and used taxis to get downtown when I wanted.
I just wanted some beach and some time in town, so I didn’t venture further afield than that.
However, Cozumel is a bigger island than many people realize, which means you can enjoy Cozumel off the beaten path if that’s what you want.
(You can also stay entirely at your hotel if that’s what you need to recharge).
Cozumel is 181 sqaure miles and is 30 mi (48 km) long and 9.9 mi (16 km) wide.
This makes Cozumel the largest Mexican Caribbean island as well as Mexico’s largest inhabited island.
There are a few distinct areas of the island:
San Miguel is the capital of the island. It’s where the airport is located, as well as the ferry that goes to Playa del Carmen. This is where some of the smaller, independent hotels are located.
The Hotel Zone is north of San Miguel. However, the hotel zone is not the only place where you’ll find hotels on the island.
The East Side of the Island is home to many beach clubs as well as open stretches of public beach.
Punta Sur is the southernmost point of the island and is a small hub with a reggae bar and an ecological park with a lighthouse.
Punta Molas del Norte is the northernmost point of Cozumel. It’s only reachable by four-wheel drive or by boat.
Isla de la Passion is a small island off the north coast of Cozumel that is a popular spot for boat tours.
The island’s interior is a jungle with several Mayan ruins and a cenote to visit. Some areas are reachable by taxi and rental car, while others need four-wheel drive.
Where to Stay in Cozumel
There are dozens and dozens of hotels in Cozumel, so it can be intimidating to find a hotel that meets your travel style and needs.
Whether you choose to stay in a vacation rental, an all-inclusive resort, or an independent hotel in the town of San Miguel, make sure to read a few reviews by other travelers.
It’s too easy to make hotels look good online these days!
Here are a few of my favorite hotels in Cozumel for different budgets:
Budget Hotel in Cozumel
For my last trip to Cozumel, we stayed at the Suites Colonial in downtown San Miguel, just off the main plaza.
We loved it because of its location and the fact that it had a kitchen with a stove.
Since my husband is a chef, he always wants the option to be able to cook his meals (though he ended up loving the food in Cozumel so much that he never did).
The breakfast was included and was a simple continental breakfast with the option of fruit and yogurt, eggs, and toast.
While it’s not the least expensive hotel in Cozumel, it’s easy on the budget, has a great location if you want to feel like you’re really in San Miguel, and it is just a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal.
I can happily recommend it!
Mid-Range Hotel in Cozumel
If you want to feel like you’re staying in the jungle, but still be within a ten-minute taxi ride to the beach, check into the Villas El Encanto Cozumel.
The hotel has a pool and a private oasis feel that you won’t get at hotels downtown or the big all-inclusive resorts.
This is perfect for couples visiting Cozumel who don’t want to break the bank. Also great for groups of friends traveling together (girls’ trip, anyone?).
Luxury Hotel in Cozumel
If you want a luxury experience in Cozumel, book your stay at the Cozumel Palace.
This oceanfront five-star all-inclusive resort is great for couples and families who want to spend the majority of their trip soaking up the sun on the beach and splashing in the pool.
With two pools, a spa, private beach access, a fitness center, room service, and a restaurant, you won’t have to worry about a thing once you arrive!
Adults Only Hotel in Cozumel
If you are looking to avoid being around families and want to have a romantic getaway, you might consider an adults-only resort like the Secrets Aura Cozumel.
Here you’ll find all the luxuries of a great resort, including access to Cozumel must-dos like diving lessons. It’s perfect for a relaxing getaway with your partner.
A Brief History of Cozumel
The island’s first known inhabitants were Mayans, who arrived in the Yucatan around 200 CE.
Cozumel, which they called Cuzaam Luumi, or the land of the swallows, was considered a sacred site.
Mayan women came to Cozumel to participate in fertility rituals for the goddess Ixchel. Every Mayan woman was expected to make the pilgrimage at least once in her life before she began having children.
The Mayans started to decline in the tenth century CE, and the Toltec civilization rose to prominence in the area.
The Spanish landed in Cozumel in 1518, headed by Juan de Grijalva. Hernán Cortés made a subsequent expedition here.
While the Maya on the island received the Spanish peacefully, even when they desecrated some of their holy sites, the Spanish wreaked havoc on the Maya via the diseases they carried.
The Spanish infected the Maya with smallpox and left behind an epidemic after they were gone that reduced the Mayan population by about 85% to just 3,000 inhabitants.
The island was abandoned and used as an occasional hideout for pirates for over two hundred years.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the Yucatan peninsula erupted in what came to be known as the Castes War.
This was a revolt by local Mayans against the inhumane treatment they received from the European settlers who controlled Mexico.
Cozumel was a refuge for some of the Mayan leaders during this war. However, most of the fighting took place on the peninsula.
During the twentieth century, Cozumel was a sleepy fishing village, but it had an important role to play on the world stage yet to come.
During World War II, America used Cozumel as a military base to patrol for German submarines in the Caribbean.
Mexican pilots trained at this base, fighting for the Allies under the name the Aztec Eagles.
They flew 59 missions in the Pacific theater of the war and were decorated by both the Mexican and American militaries.
You can see some of their original planes outside of the airport.
In the 1960s Jacques Cousteau named Cozumel one of the most spectacular scuba diving sites in the world, and that was the end of Cozumel being a sleepy Mexican hidden gem.
Cozumel Tourism started to boom in the 1970s, and today Cozumel is the fourth busiest cruise port in the world.
What is Cozumel Famous For?
Besides its busy cruise port and its first-class scuba diving, Cozumel is known for being a quieter alternative to the much busier Cancun or the party towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum.
How to Get to Cozumel Island
There are three main ways people get to Cozumel. However, there’s no best way to travel to Cozumel because it’s dependent on where you are coming from and how you are traveling.
Flying to Cozumel
While most people flying to Mexico to visit nearby Playa del Carmen will fly into Cancun, Cozumel has its own airport.
I have flown to Cozumel International Airport (CZM) by connecting through Miami and Dallas, which makes it easy to get to from most cities in the US and Canada.
If you are only staying in Cozumel, you can fly round trip from CZM.
However, if you are starting or ending your trip in Cozumel and you will be exploring more of the Yucatan Peninsula for the rest of your time, you may want to fly in and out of different cities to avoid having to take the ferry before your departure.
I have never been able to do this, and it’s always a pain to have to leave for the airport ninety minutes earlier than necessary to take the ferry.
Taking the Ferry to Cozumel
If you will be visiting Cozumel from somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula like the Riviera Maya or Cancun, you will get here by taking the ferry from Playa del Carmen.
The Playa del Carmen / Cozumel ferry takes almost an hour and lands right in the middle of San Miguel.
The ferry costs 2500 Pesos (about USD 12.50 each way). You can buy your tickets at the ferry terminal, and they take both cash and credit cards.
Normally I would suggest booking your tickets early – just in case – but you don’t want to do that here. You also don’t want to buy round-trip tickets for the same reason.
This is because there are two ferry companies – Ultramar and Winjet. They operate at alternate times, so if you miss your ferry and you have already bought tickets, you won’t be able to use them on the next one.
FWIW, I have used both companies multiple times. I used to think they were the same, but we recently had an obnoxious incident on Winjet where one of the men handling the baggage tried to get a tip from us upfront and refused to take our suitcase when we said we would tip at the end of the trip (which is when tips are normally given).
This only happened to us once, but it felt like they were singling my husband out. Because of this, I would personally use Ultramar if we have to take the ferry again with lots of luggage.
If you are coming to Cozumel by ferry, keep in mind that the last ferry times are 9 PM and 10 PM as of this writing. Always double-check the ferry schedules before making other arrangements that depend on them.
Once you have arrived in Cozumel, numerous taxis are waiting to pick up passengers and take them to their hotels.
I have never had a taxi here scam me and the official prices are listed on a board. Make sure you have the cash to pay for a taxi.
Taking a Cruise Ship to Cozumel
Cozumel is one of the most popular cruise ship ports in the world, so you might be planning to visit Cozumel by cruise.
Your cruise ship will help you book excursions if you want to experience some of the Cozumel must-do’s. Otherwise, you can head into town to enjoy walking around, which is one of the best free things to do in Cozumel.
If so, you won’t have to worry too much about making your arrangements to get there, just make sure not to miss your departure time!
Can You Drive to Cozumel?
Technically, yes, though this is not a common way to get to Cozumel.
You can take a cargo ferry from Playa del Carman, but it’s a different ferry than the main ferry terminal.
Two cargo ferry companies go to Cozumel, Ultramar and Transcaribe.
Can You Take a Bus to Cozumel?
No. You can use local Ado buses and take them to the station in Playa del Carmen. Then you will need to walk or take a short taxi ride to the ferry and continue your journey via the ferry.
What to Bring with You to Cozumel
This isn’t a complete packing list, but it’s a good start!
(For a full packing list, check out my post on what to bring to Cozumel).
Lonely Planet Mexico and Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel, & the Yucatan are available as a paper copy or in a Kindle edition. You typically won’t find major guidebooks once you land, so get yours ahead of time.
(You know I love Rick Steves, but unfortunately, there are no Rick Steves Cozumel or Rick Steves Mexico guidebooks!)
I used both of these to plan my last trip to the Yucatan, and I read them cover to cover!
Mosquito Repellant is the single most important thing you’ll want on you as soon as dusk hits. Have enough to at least get through the first night if you’re packing light.
Full-Sized Travel Towel Unless your accommodations provide them, you will want to bring your own. I always bring my own towel to Mexico.
This is the best travel towel in the world. It’s pretty enough for the beach, large enough that you forget it’s a microfibre towel, and quick-drying, which is crucial in super humid parts of Mexico.
A Go Pro for underwater and action photography. Why go all the way to Mexico and not be able to capture some of the most exciting parts of your trip?
Reef-safe sunscreen so that you can keep from getting burned while also protecting the coral reefs around Cozumel.
A Dry Bag for your stuff when you go on a boat or to the beach. You can get a larger one to use for a group or if you plan on taking a larger camera.
Otherwise, I use small ones with lanyards to hold my cell phone, money, and credit cards so I could take them with me swimming when traveling solo.
You might also want a separate waterproof holder for your passport. I’ve seen people who weren’t allowed to board their flights home because their passports got water damaged.
Visas and Immigration for Visiting Cozumel
There are three important things to consider when visiting Cozumel as a foreigner.
Do I Need a Passport for Cozumel?
Make sure to bring your passport to Cozumel.
If you are a US citizen, you cannot use a Passport Card unless you are visiting Mexico by sea.
This means cruise ship passengers in Cozumel can use a passport card, but you cannot use one at the airport.
Do I Need a Visa for Cozumel?
Many people who start planning their trip wonder if they need a visa to visit Cozumel. The answer is simple – if you need a visa to visit Mexico then you will need one for Cozumel.
As a US Citizen, I do not need a visa to travel to Mexico for tourism as long as I stay less than 180 days.
Mexico has visa-free travel available to visitors from many nations. You can check here to see the rules for your country.
We chose Mexico for our most recent international trip because Mexico allows US Greencard holders to travel without a visa, which is not a common policy.
Since my husband has a Greencard and we wanted a last-minute vacation, we didn’t have time to apply for visas for anywhere in Europe, but Mexico welcomed us with open arms.
Do I Need to Hold Onto My Tourism Card in Cozumel?
When you arrive in Mexico, you will need to fill out an immigration card. This card needs to be turned in when you leave, so DO NOT LOSE IT.
When you go through Immigration, they will write down on this card how long you will be in the country. For many people, you can stay up to 180 days.
Note that the days of arrival and departure count toward this total.
Now 180 days sounds generous, but is it always really 180 days? Yes and no.
Mexico is cracking down on foreigners who come and live in Mexico without applying for their digital nomad visa.
On the immigration card, the immigration officer will write down how long you intend to stay. If you go over that number, you can be in big trouble, even if it’s under 180 days.
I heard a horror story that happened to a friend of a friend that took my breath away. We ended up extending and going to Immigration to let them know.
The Immigration Officer didn’t seem to care that we were only extending by three days, but when dealing with immigration it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
So, make sure you tell them your intended plans, and if you think you might be staying longer than you expect, let them know.
If you lose your tourism card, you will need to visit Immigration to get a new one. There is a fee for the card plus a fine that can be up to USD 60.
DO NOT GO BACK TO THE AIRPORT WITHOUT YOUR TOURISM CARD.
Cozumel Airport Tips
The Cozumel International Airport (CZM) is small, but here’s what you need to know.
Landing at CZM
You will walk from the plane to the airport, so make sure you have your stuff organized before you depart the plane.
You will enter immigration and customs. If you didn’t already prepare a tourism card online before your flight, get one when you enter the line for Immigration.
Bring a pen with you to fill it out. I didn’t see any available last time. This might have been a public health precaution.
There are restrooms in this room if you need to use them. Unfortunately, if you are traveling solo, this means you will step out of the line.
This line moves very slowly. Glacial.
After you make it through immigration, you still need to pass through customs.
Our diaper bag got searched on our last trip. A dog marked it for further search, and we were told they were looking for fruit.
Luckily, we didn’t have any (the diaper bag just always smells like apples and bananas because we keep them in it so often).
It was a good reminder to make sure we aren’t traveling with produce since it’s bad for local agriculture and can result in big fines.
Flying From CZM
Flying out of Cozumel is pretty easy, but here’s an overview:
Our airline handled our Immigration cards, which was different than what I experienced in other Mexican airports.
Security was very efficient, but they were also very thorough. They saw phantom water bottles in my laptop bag – I would never – so this also took extra time.
They also tried to throw away my solid deodorant, and I had to explain it was solid. This has never happened to me before, so it was weird to be fighting for the right to keep my deodorant in public.
You want to arrive two hours before your international flight, so you will likely end up with a little time on your hands.
There is a restaurant and a few gift shops at the airport that you can use while you wait. The food was okay. Not our best meal in Mexico, but better than a lot of airport food.
I found some great gifts here that were slightly different than what I had seen at the local gift shops. The prices were not out of control, though they were higher than elsewhere on the island.
You will have to walk out to the plane, so make sure you are ready to spend some time on the tarmac before you get your boarding pass scanned.
How to Get from the Airport to Your Hotel
Once you have arrived in Cozumel, made it through Immigration and Customs, and retrieved your bags, you now have to go through what I lovingly refer to as the Gauntlet.
Do not talk to anyone in the airport that purports to work for the airport. They will steer you into someone trying to set up timeshare presentations.
Instead, take your bags outside. If you have prearranged a private transfer, this is where they will likely meet you.
If you want to take public transportation, leave the airport and look for the Cozushuttle.
These are shared shuttles that will take you to your hotel and leave when the seats are full.
The cost is a little more than $5 per person and up. Your total will depend on where your hotel is located on the island. You will pay this in cash. They will accept both pesos and USD.
If you don’t have cash, get some cash at an airport ATM before you leave the airport.
There are no taxis allowed to pick you up at the airport. However, if you want to use a taxi you can exit the airport, go get fish tacos across the street, and then have them call you a taxi.
This costs more than the shuttle, so I have not done this method.
Some hotels have private transfers available. Just check the prices, because these can cost a lot more than using Cozushuttle or booking your private transfer.
How to Get Around San Miguel de Cozumel and the Hotel Zone
It’s easy to get around the town (and even most of the island) by taxi, and if you’re staying in town you can walk most places.
Cozumel on Foot
I find the downtown very walkable, and I love the colorful blocks that make up the main downtown corridor.
While the island is too big to walk all the way around as a reliable mode of transportation, if you’re staying downtown you will be able to see the best parts of San Miguel de Cozumel on foot.
Taxis in Cozumel
I use taxis to go anywhere that’s not downtown.
Taxis in Cozumel are clean, numbered, and have regulated fares. Fares might be higher than you expect, but we found them very reasonable.
In addition, many (most?) taxi drivers in Cozumel speak English
If you don’t want to rent a car, you can even use taxis to get to the rest of the island like Punta Sur and the east side.
For example, we paid 500 pesos (about USD 25) for a ride to the East Side of the island and for the driver to come back and pick us up at the end of the day.
It’s very easy to get taxis downtown because there are taxi stands.
Make sure to confirm your travel plans and the price before you leave. If you have questions, you can check the posted rate cards.
Pay in pesos for slightly better rates than the US equivalents.
Taxis do not take credit cards, so have the correct cash before you leave (or have a stop at an ATM included in your travel plans.
It’s customary in Cozumel to tip 10% in a taxi.
Avoid Common Scams in Cozumel
Luckily there aren’t too many Cozumel scams you need to watch out for, but these are ones you might see.
Cozumel Timeshare Scam
I’ve already alluded to the main one, which is people who work at the airport introducing you to the Occidental Vacation Club booth in the name of “helping you get the airport shuttle.”
The Occidental Vacation Club attendant will help you get your shuttle tickets, but he will then ask you if you want a tour and what your plans are for your trip.
The goal is to get you to sign up for a package of freebies (or pay a small fee for them). These freebies include a “tour of a new hotel.”
Read the fine print. This “new hotel” is a timeshare tour.
The freebies are real, but you will have to sit in a 90-minute timeshare presentation to avoid being charged for them.
Cozumel Gas Scam
The gas in Cozumel is pumped by attendants (a la New Jersey in the states). If you rent a car, you will need to fill it up to the pre-arranged amount before returning your rental car.
Most of the time everything goes smoothly. However, you will find some attendants who charge for gas they don’t pump.
Make sure the gas pump reads zero for both the pumped amount and the price. Listen to hear the gas being pumped.
Turn your car on and check your new gas level before you pay.
If you are being scammed, they may try to convince you that your gauge is broken and the car is old. This is part of the scam.
If they still haven’t pumped your gas, just smile and be polite. Refuse to pay for the gas you have not received. You can say “maybe the pump is broken. Let’s switch to a different pump.”
Luckily this should not cost you much money if you do fall for it.
Cozumel Tour Scams
I do this because I had a TERRIBLE tour in Dresden, and the company I booked through was able to get me a refund even when the tour company refused.
This also happened on my most recent trip to Mexico. I had a tour in Cancun where we just skipped half the listed itinerary. The tour company was unhelpful, but GetYourGuide got me an 80% refund.
So I avoid booking tours through tour kiosks, even when they are friendly people. I just prefer having someone I can escalate issues to instead of having to beg a tour company for my money back.
While most tour kiosks in Cozumel are trustworthy, a few of them do operate scams where they will take a deposit or even the full tour price for a tour they book online. Except the website is fake and you don’t get signed up for a real tour.
Cozumel Credit Card Scams
I haven’t heard of this happening to anyone I know, but I did read online that people have been scammed by having their credit card run for services they did not pay for.
The advice in this situation is to use cash, but I would prefer to still use my credit card as much as possible (more on that in the money section).
Make sure you are using a credit card that will refund you for any fraudulent charges and track your expenses to compare them against your credit card statement.
Playa Del Carmen Hotel Scam
I ran into this one in PDC, but many people traveling to Cozumel will end up in the area where it happened. So just in case, if this applies to you, you will know to watch out for it.
I also ran into this scam in Tunisia, so you might see it anywhere really.
A guy will look you dead in the eye and greet you and say he works at the hotel you’re staying at.
The goal is to get you to be embarrassed that you don’t recognize him so that you let your guard down and trust him.
In Tunisia, the guy tried to get me to buy jewelry at a jewelry store.
In PDC, I laughed at the guy and said “we haven’t checked into a hotel yet” and walked away, so I don’t know what his goal was.
If you don’t recognize someone, just walk away. It feels rude, but it’s better to be safe.
If you do see them later at your hotel, you can apologize, but it’s most likely a scam.
English in Cozumel
English is very common in Cozumel, as it is in many popular tourist destinations in Mexico. You will find most waiters, hotel staff, store clerks, taxi drivers, and tour guides speak exceptional English.
If you do end up needing to speak with someone who doesn’t speak English, Google Translate is a great app to have.
It’s free and you can download it ahead of time to be prepared.
If you’ve never used it before, you can type or speak and it will translate your English into Spanish.
I’ve never had to use it in Cozumel, but I have used it in other parts of Mexico.
You will need cell data to use it (more on that below).
Crime & Safety in Cozumel
If you’re wondering if it is safe to visit Cozumel, the answer is yes.
You need to follow the same common-sense safety precautions you would on most international travels (or even domestic travels tbh).
Crime is much lower in Cozumel than in many parts of the US and some other parts of Mexico.
However, tourists are more likely to be the victims of minor crimes and scams.
This is why I look for travel insurance that covers replacing stolen items and using credit cards that refund fraudulent charges.
Cozumel Travel Safety Tips
A few common-sense travel safety precautions that I take everywhere regardless of destination:
I always buy a travel insurance policy. (In fact, I bought the policy for my next trip to El Salvador just today).
I keep copies of my passport, credit cards, important documents like tourism cards, and my travel insurance policy in my email so that I can access them from another computer if my laptop and cell phone are stolen.
I email these documents to my mother as well (especially my travel insurance policy in case I am incapacitated).
If I can, I keep hard copies of these in my suitcase.
I use hotel safes for storing passports and laptops. When there’s no hotel safe, I sometimes ask the front desk to watch my laptop while I am out. These are not foolproof, but they are better than leaving them out.
My sister had her passport stolen in Mexico, so I am always extra cautious about my passport and keep it in the safe or on my person at all times.
I never leave any of my stuff unattended in public.
I don’t pack non-essential tech or expensive items like jewelry.
I wrap my backpack or purse handle around a chair leg when I’m out in public.
I never flash cash, and I try to keep very little cash on me.
If I do have a lot of cash on me, I keep a separate wallet or pocket with small bills so that I don’t need to access the large stack of cash in public.
I won’t mention where I’m staying in public to anyone other than taxi drivers or people assisting me with getting a taxi. If you get a sketchy vibe from a taxi driver, don’t get in the car. If you’re already in the car, you can give them an address near your hotel and walk over yourself.
I’m warier of other travelers than most locals. Remember that other tourists post more of a risk to you than most locals. It’s the eternal ex-pat that’s more likely to scam you than a hotel clerk.
I don’t overindulge in alcohol or leave my drink unattended.
I don’t do anything related to illegal drugs.
I make sure to keep my phone charged, and I carry a backup portable battery to recharge.
Pro Tip: Most safety incidents with tourists are not crime-related though. Instead, they get into scooter accidents, diving accidents, or hurt themselves out on the water.
If you will be doing these activities, make sure to get the level of travel insurance coverage for the types of activities you will be doing.
Families traveling together can get a single policy, so look for one that will cover the activities everyone will be doing.
Cell Data in Cozumel
Cell data plans seem to be getting better all the time. For my most recent trip to Mexico, data in Mexico was included in my AT&T cell plan. I didn’t have to worry about it at all!
Check with your provider if Mexico is included in your data plan.
If it isn’t you can either add an international plan or get a local sim card.
If you want to get a local sim card, you will need to have your phone unlocked. In Europe, most phones come unlocked, but in the US we need to have our companies unlock them.
This is a total PITA.
You can then pick up a local SIM card in Cozumel to use for your trip.
You can get sim cards at Oxxo stores. Ask for a “chip.”
Many other places sell SIM cards, so feel free to ask around.
Wifi & Internet in Cozumel
My cell data worked well in Cozumel, and there was wifi available in our hotel free of charge.
However, the data didn’t work well on the eastern side of the island, which our taxi driver warned us about.
If you are staying in San Miguel or the hotel zone, you will most likely be able to find wifi and get good cell service.
However, be prepared for it to go out or get spotty when you visit the rest of the island.
Cozumel Time Zone & Daylight Savings
Time in Cozumel can be confusing if you are coming from the US or Canada.
Cozumel is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
Quintana Roo and Cozumel use Eastern Standard Time.
If you are traveling to Cozumel from Merida or another city in the state of Yucatan (which covers a large portion of the Yucatan peninsula), you are coming from Central Standard time and will jump an hour ahead.
However, Cozumel does not have Daylight Savings Time. Mexico does not observe DST at all anymore.
So if you are coming from the US or Canada, you should double-check the time depending on the time of year.
For my family, living in the Central Time Zone in the US, this means that Cozumel is sometimes an hour ahead of us and sometimes they are at the same time as us.
What to Eat in Cozumel
Food in Mexico is very regional, and Mexican food is not Tex-Mex.
If this is your first trip to the area, there may be many dishes served in the Yucatan you haven’t seen on menus anywhere else before, including elsewhere in Mexico.
If you want to learn about local food in Cozumel, you can eat at a variety of restaurants while here, or you can go on a Cozumel food tour. This is a great way to get to know the island’s food scene from a local Cozumel guide.
Here are a few things you should eat in Cozumel:
Sopa de Lima
Sopa de Lima is a famous soup that is sometimes seen in cookbooks under the names Yucatan Style Lome Soup and Mexican Style Lime Soup.
With a delicious lime broth, this soup includes chicken, tortilla chips, tomato, cilantro, and bell pepper.
Bowls of it are served heaping full. While I do tend to order an entree to go with it, you can usually fill up on just soup and tortilla chips if you are visiting Cozumel on a budget.
Ceviche de Camaron
While ceviche is not originally from Mexico (it originated in Peru), you shouldn’t leave the area without having a local shrimp ceviche “cooked” in Mexican limes.
The dish gained popularity throughout the Spanish colonies, with different regions creating regional variations.
Mexican ceviche is served in a dish with onion, avocado, salt, lime, chili peppers, and cilantro.
It’s typically an appetizer in Mexico, but they are usually large enough to eat as an entree if you prefer.
This slow-roasted pork is traditionally made by roasting a suckling pig that has been marinated with acid and wrapped in banana leaves. You’ll also see Cochinita Pibil made with pork butt and pork shoulder.
The meat is tender and not spicy, so dishes can be paired with peppers to give it a kick.
Humans have been eating cacao in Mexico for 4,000 years, so you would be remiss to come to the home of chocolate without tasting some of your own!
You can visit several artisanal chocolate stores on the island or you can book a private Chocolate Workshop to get up close and personal with this Mesoamerican delight.
A street food favorite in the Yucatan peninsula, marquesitas are an absolute must-do.
These hard wafer rolls stuffed with cheese don’t take like what I expected them to taste.
I thought it would be savory, but it was more like eating a waffle cone with parmesan cheese. (It’s technically Edam cheese, but it tasted saltier to me somehow).
So satisfying yet my tastebuds never got comfortable or could quite place what was going on.
If you want something more straightforwardly sweet, you can skip the traditional style and get Nutella, banana, or lechera (sweet condensed milk), instead.
Originally from Merida, you can now find them all over the region.
I had them in PDC instead of Cozumel, but the ones on the island can be found at food carts in the main square.
You can eat them as a dessert or as a snack.
Pro Tip: these carts are still open after some of the area’s restaurants are closed for the night.
Dulce de Papaya
This popular Yucatan dessert is made from slow-cooking papaya in sugar, Mexican vanilla, and cinnamon…Yummy!
What to Drink in Cozumel
While I will freely admit to drinking a shocking amount of Coca-Cola Light and Coca-Cola Zero while in Cozumel, these Mexican drinks are both delicious and a perfect excuse to double-fist.
The name translates to English as “freshwater” or “cool water.” These non-alcoholic drinks are made with blended fruit – think the most delightful juice you’ve ever had in your life.
You can get them in many flavors, from pineapple to mango to coconut to hibiscus.
You can find them everywhere from street vendors to restaurants.
If you want to drink one made with fresh fruit and not a pre-made blend, ask your server which flavors are made from fresh fruit.
This drink was probably brought from North Africa to Mexico by the Spanish. The drink can be made with a variety of grains, but the most common in Mexico is horchata made from rice.
The delicious flavor comes from adding milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.
You might find horchata listed as an agua fresca or listed as a separate beverage.
Tequila & Mezcal
While tequila and mezcal don’t originate in Cozumel, you’d be forgiven for wanting to do a Tequila tasting or a Mezcal tasting while in Cozumel.
Mezcal is originally from Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla, and Oaxaca, while tequila is from Jalisco and a few municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
However, many travelers coming to Cozumel won’t be venturing this far into mainland Mexico, and tequila is everywhere on the island.
North of the border, Mexican Coke is famous for being made with real cane sugar, as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup that Coca-Cola is made of in the US.
Another difference is that it is served primarily in glass bottles (which the restaurant will want to recycle).
If you’re curious about the difference in flavor, make sure to order a Coca-Cola at lunch (or dinner).
Cocos Frtios (Agua de Coco)
If you see people selling green coconuts as drinks, the drink inside is fresh coconut water. This is served in a young coconut and is drank directly from the fruit itself.
While you’ll see signs advertising these as Cocos Fritos, it’s also called agua de coco (coconut water), so don’t be confused if you come across the alternate name.
This local Yucatanean liquor is made from anise seeds and fermented honey.
While tequila and mezcal are more famous Mexican liquors, Xtabentun is the local intoxicant you should make sure to try!
The Best Restaurants in Cozumel
There are a lot of restaurants here, so it’s natural to wonder where to eat in Cozumel.
Let me start by telling you where not to eat – don’t just eat at your hotel!
Another good tip is to walk a few blocks inland from Parque Benito Juarez (Benito Juarez Park is the main square/plaza in San Miguel de Cozumel).
Prices drop significantly if you go just a few blocks, and the cuisine gets even better!
You’ll also find less English in this part of the city, so make sure you have your Google translate ready to go if you have questions about the menu.
Getting the Best Cozumel Vacation Photos
Getting good vacation photos isn’t hard, but these are all tips and tricks we used to get vacation photos in Cozumel that we loved.
First, always have your camera (or cell phone camera) with you! The best photos aren’t always staged. Candids and selfies can be just as wonderful for trip memories as posed photos.
Second, If you want to keep your cell phone dry on the beach, bring a waterproof cell phone holder so that you can get beach and water pics.
Third, swap photos often! If you are sending each other your photos back and forth each day, then you’ll know if you have photos you like or if there’s something you want to be done differently.
This also ensures you’ll have all the photos from the trip in one place where you can safely back them up to the cloud.
Finally, hire a professional for special occasions! We use the company Flytographer for special trip photos, which we also used for our holiday cards.
They aren’t in Cozumel, but they are in Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun.
I love this company, and it’s great for making sure there are photos of all of us together! If this will be an important trip for you and your partner or family, I can’t recommend this option enough!
Another option is to book a professional Cozumel photographer directly on Viator: Private Photo Session in Cozumel
Good to Know: If you book a photographer through Flytographer, use the code HISTORYFANGIRL for 10% off your first photoshoot.
Renting a Car in Cozumel
One of the best decisions we made during our most recent trip to Cozumel was renting a car. This allowed us to get out and experience some of Cozumel’s must-see sites on our own.
A lot of the best things to see in Cozumel are located outside of San Miguel and the Hotel Zone. Having your own wheels means you can explore so much more of the island!
Yes, we have used taxis to get to other parts of Cozumel, but you have to pre-arrange your return and you can’t see that many places since they are spread far apart.
Nature lovers will especially love being able to get off the beaten path.
Having a rental car for a day or two will give you the flexibility to see some of the island’s best spots, like Punta Sur Eco Park, Mayan Ruins, and some of the best beach clubs.
When you rent a car in Cozumel, you will likely pick it up at the ferry terminal. Make sure to request an automatic if you don’t drive a stick.
Families traveling with small kids should also request car seats ahead of time.
Follow any instructions they give you about gas levels and return instructions.
Driving Around Cozumel
I love driving in foreign countries, but if you haven’t done it before it can be a little intimidating!
Cozumel is a great place to get started since you will typically drive out of the main town to the beaches and parks on the other side of the island.
This makes getting around Cozumel on your own pretty easy!
Here are a few tips for driving in Cozumel:
Drive on the Right Side of the Road
In Mexico, cars drive on the right side of the road like in the US.
Watch for Animals on the Road
Stray dogs (and stray iguanas) mean you need to keep your eyes on the road at all times!
Expect Motorcycle and Motorbike Traffic
As you leave and return to San Miguel, expect more motorcycles on the road than other cars.
Follow All Traffic and Parking Signs
Signs will most likely look the same as back home, so even if you don’t know what “Alto” means, you can tell it’s a stop sign.
Cozumel Road Trip Ideas
Cozumel is a small island, and you can see most of it by car in one or two days.
If you rent a car for one day, plan to do the “loop,” starting at the San Gervasio ruins, out to some of the beaches on the eastern shore, down to Punta Sur, and back over to San Miguel.
This will take a full day, and there are many roadside attractions and beach clubs to stop at along the way.
If you want to drive to El Cedral, make sure to rent a car with 4-wheel drive and high clearance or go on a separate El Cedral tour.
If you plan to road trip Cozumel for more than one day, I would still have a home base at one hotel. The island isn’t big enough to need to bother moving all of your stuff with you every day!
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Cozumel
There are so many fun things to do in Cozumel – way more than you can fit into one or two days. However, here are my top recommendations for what to do in Cozumel:
See the Mayan Ruins at San Gervasio
The most significant cultural or historic thing to do in Cozumel is to visit the ruins at San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site, an important fertility site for all Mayan women.
Enjoy Cozumel’s Turquoise Waters and White-Sand Beaches with a Day Pass to a Beach Club
There are many beach clubs to pick from since there are so many beautiful Cozumel beaches.
I enjoyed our time at Playa Chen Rio, Playa Azul, and the beach bar Freedom in Paradise.
Other famous Cozumel beaches and beach clubs include Playa Palancar, The Money Bar, Playa El Cielo, and Playa Punta Morena.
Most beach clubs have food, drinks, and beach chairs, but some also have amenities like pools, hammocks, snorkeling gear rentals, kayaks, and swings.
See the Lighthouse (and the Crocodiles) and Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is the place to go if you want to get 360 degrees views from the top of the lighthouse.
Shop til You Drop along Avenida Rafael Melgar in Downtown San Miguel
Walk along San Miguel’s waterfront Avenida Rafael Melgar to enjoy the city’s bustling atmosphere. The shops here are a tad overpriced, but they make up for it by being kitschy and fun.
Go Snorkeling in the Crystal Clear Waters of Chankanaab National Park
Cozumel is a world-famous snorkeling destination. You can bring your own snorkeling equipment or rent everything you need at one of the local dive shops.
You can go on a guided snorkeling tour or find the best snorkeling spots on your own.
Get Out and Enjoy Downtown Cozumel’s Nightlife, from Live Music to Tequila Bars
Cozumel is a famous cruise and day-trip destination, so getting out and experiencing Cozumel’s nightlife will show you a different side of the island that many tourists never see.
You can go to restaurants with live music, enjoy a low-key dinner, or simply people-watch on the main square.
Of course, if you want to enjoy a tequila bar or two, you won’t have trouble finding them!
Go Scuba Diving to see the Marine Life on the Mesoamerican Reef
If you are certified (or if you want to get your certification while you’re here), don’t miss Cozumel’s famous dive spots on one of the world’s best barrier reefs.
Eagle rays, sea turtles, and nurse sharks are just some of the marine life you can see here.
Visit Cozuel’’s Jade Cenote, the only Cenote on the Island
While the Yucatan peninsula is famous for cenotes, or underground water caverns, there’s only one cenote on Cozumel.
The Jade Cenote can be reached by an ATV or Jeep tour or a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Eat on San Miguel’s Main Square
While it’s a touristy destination, I enjoy eating right on Cozumel’s main plaza at Benito Juarez Park.
This is also where the clocktower and Isla de Cozumel sign are located, so a stop here is a must!
Spend an Entire Day Relaxing at Your Resort
While I don’t think you should spend your entire time in Cozumel locked away in a resort, if you are staying at a nice resort hotel, spending a full day relaxing and unwinding can be a great way to get the most out of your resort time as possible.
I’ve done trips both ways – completely independently from our hotel, and by mixing exploring the island with enjoying time in an all-inclusive resort. And both ways are wonderful! Just don’t get trapped at your resort and forget to leave!
Most Popular Cozumel Guided Tours
Here are the most popular Cozumel tours. Some of these sell out, so plan ahead!
Best Day Trips from Cozumel
If you are based on the island, you can still see some of the most popular sites on the Yucatan Peninsula via day trips.
Organized day trips mostly leave from Playa del Carmen, which is just a short ferry ride away. You’ll want to make your way across the ferry and back on your own.
Many of these you can do on your own via taxi or by renting a car in PDC.
The two easiest day trips from Cozumel are Playa del Carmen and Tulum. You can even combine them into one day, and travel on your own by taxi.
Cancun and Morelos can be done on your own with more planning, or you can go on a guided tour. We went on a guided day trip from PDC to Cancun, but unfortunately, the tour was not good and I cannot recommend using that company.
The most famous day trip is to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza, but these Mayan Ruins are much further away than the rest.
I have done this as a guided tour similar to this one, and that’s really the only way to make it work. It’s a long day when you add in the extra ferry time, but really fun!
Prepare for the trip by reading my post on what to wear to Chichen Itza.
Cozumel Itinerary Ideas
While you can’t fit in all of the best Cozumel attractions in a day or two, if you are coming to Cozumel for 1-3 days, you can still see a lot of the highlights of the island.
If you are only coming on a Cozumel day trip from a cruise ship, I would plan to do an excursion around the island that includes transportation. This will eliminate having to figure out how to get around Cozumel on your own and give you access to some of the island’s highlights while still getting you back to your ship on time.
If you have one day in Cozumel, I would spend half the day exploring the island and the rest in town. If you want to do a dive or go snorkeling, then do this instead and end your day in town.
If you have 2 days in Cozumel, I would spend the second day relaxing at one of the island’s beach clubs.
With 3 days in Cozumel, you can spend a day exploring the island, one day at a beach club, and the third day on a dive or boat trip to enjoy Cozumel from the water.
If you have one week in Cozumel, you can spend 3-4 days on the island and add in 1-2 day trips.
Tips for Solo Travel in Cozumel
You may wonder is Cozumel worth visiting solo. I have traveled the island by myself and with my family, and I have to say that I do think Cozumel is a fun solo travel destination.
Unlike other parts of the Mayan Riviera, which are more party-focused, I find Cozumel to be a peaceful destination where you can soak up some calming vibes. I enjoy walking the town alone, and I also enjoy going to the beach clubs and hotel pools solo.
Just bring a book and prepare to relax!
Cozumel is also one of the safest places for solo female travel since crime rates on the island are low compared to other major tourist towns. I felt comfortable walking the touristy parts of the city alone at night using common sense travel safety.
Here are a few tips for traveling solo in Cozumel:
Pick a hotel that is not focused on couples. If you decide to stay at a resort, find one that is more family-focused. Otherwise, you’ll be surrounded by honeymooners.
Book group tours and dives – this is a great way to meet people when traveling! Plus it’s much less awkward than being the only person on a tour with your tour guide.
Find restaurants with some kind of entertainment – this is a great way to enjoy a meal that also feels like an activity and is great for those wondering what to do in Cozumel on your own.
Use rental cars and taxis to get around the island. Don’t try to bike or walk between towns or from San Miguel.
Enroll in your country’s safe traveler program if they have one. In the US, we have the STEP program, which I have used in the past when traveling solo.
Follow proper beach safety when going to the beach solo.
Don’t flash cash.
Use common sense safety when out, and be especially vigilant in settings with alcohol.
Tips for Traveling Cozumel with Kids (and Toddlers)
Cozumel is a great family destination. However, a lot of the most popular activities to do on Cozumel have age restrictions.
Look for activities and tours that are age-appropriate for your family, and keep in mind that renting a car and getting out on your own might be easier than a group tour if you have little ones in tow.
Older kids can start to experience some of the island’s more exciting things to do. Discuss options with your kids ahead of time to get a feel for what they would enjoy and feel comfortable doing before putting down any nonrefundable deposits!
For traveling with babies and toddlers, look for beach clubs with a more family-friendly feel. Some have playgrounds and children’s areas, which can make it easier to enjoy your time together as a family.
How Much Does it Cost to Travel Cozumel?
While Cozumel is a famous honeymoon destination with lots of options for romantic (and pricey) things to do, you can do Cozumel on a variety of budgets depending on your travel style.
What you can do in Cozumel will, of course, depend on what you plan to spend. However, even if you just want to enjoy less-expensive beach clubs, street food, and some of the island’s free things to do, you can still have an enjoyable time!
Accommodation Costs: You can find hostels for under $20 a night, mid-range hotels are $75-100 range per night, and luxury hotels can go from $200-400 per night.
Transportation Costs: Taxi rides to the hotel zone are less than $10 each way, while you’ll spend more to go to the other side of the island. However, you can also find group taxis with lower rates – you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
Food Costs: While nice restaurants in the touristy parts of town are pricier than local joints, you can still get a good meal downtown for less than $20 per person. Just keep your drink orders to a minimum.
Tips for Saving Money in Cozumel
Cozumel doesn’t have to be a pricey destination, and you can certainly have a great time while enjoying Cozumel on a budget!
Look for hotels in town with good reviews that are located in town instead of in the hotel zone or at a resort. The Suites Colonial in downtown San Miguel was great for budget travel since we had a kitchen and it came with breakfast.
You’ll also find cheaper prices at restaurants the further into town you walk. For the best food prices, find restaurants that cater to locals and eat local food – pizzas and pasta are mainly for tourists. Or alternate between touristy restaurants and cooking your meals in your hotel.
You can spend an afternoon exploring San Miguel without spending a dime, but if you want to get on the water make sure to shop around for discounts on diving tours or skip the diving and head to one of the budget-friendly beach clubs where you can enjoy the beach all day long.
Just pay attention to the cover price and the minimum spend before picking which one to go to, as well as the cost of transportation to get there.
How Money Works in Cozumel
Because Cozumel is a very touristy location, many hotels, shops, and restaurants take credit cards. However, there are still some situations where you will want to have cash.
You will need to have access to cash for things like taxi rides (especially from the airport), tipping, and even going to some of the beach clubs.
There are many ATMs in Cozumel to withdraw from, but you may encounter broken machines from time to time. Leave yourself room in your schedule to get cash if you have a tight deadline.
Make sure your bank knows you will be traveling so that you can use your card abroad. Try to get an account that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees or ATM fees. I use Charles Schwab so I don’t have any fees when I travel and need access to my money.
How Much to Tip in Cozumel
One of the top things American tourists forget about when traveling abroad is that our tipping customs are different than other countries – and we need to adjust accordingly.
And if you are coming to Cozumel from a country without a tipping culture, make sure to remember that leaving a gratuity is important to workers in the Mexican tourism industry.
Here are general guidelines for tipping in Cozumel:
Baggage Handlers: 25-50 MXN Pesos
Tour Guides and Dive Instructors: 200-400 MXN for a half-day trip or longer, 100-200 MXN for a tour that lasts less than three hours
Grocery Baggers at Grocery Stores: 5-10 MXN
What to Wear in Cozumel
While Cozumel is a beach destination, you will want to have more in your suitcases than bikinis and cover-ups.
Between windy nights, jungle humidity, and beach days, you’ll want to bring light layers so you can adjust your clothing temperatures as needed.
Think comfortable shoes, comfortable (breathable) layers, and the ability to dress modestly if the setting necessitates it – like visiting churches and nice restaurants.
You can use my Mexico packing list for a complete list of things to bring to Mexico, including a packing list for what to wear with clothing suggestions.
What to Buy in Cozumel (Souvenirs & Gifts)
Because Cozumel has a large cruise ship contingent, tons of souvenir shops sell traditional kitschy souvenirs like keychains, t-shirts, etc.
While our family has a souvenir magnet collection, so I’d never say stay away from kitsch if it makes you happy, you may be looking for a few ideas of more traditional Cozumel souvenirs.
Popular souvenirs from Cozumel include Mexican Pottery, handwoven blankets, leather goods, and handmade hammocks.
Silver jewelry, while not from Cozumel, is also a popular Cozumel gift to bring back for a loved one – or yourself!
My favorite souvenirs from Cozumel that I’ve brought home are art pieces from Balam Art. While they specialize in art on feathers, I prefer the paintings in the back room.
The gallery is located at 5ta Avenida entre 2 Norte y Av Lic Benito Juarez Tienda Balam Art, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel.
Cozumel Island Guide Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These are the most common questions about traveling to Cozumel.
How many days do you need in Cozumel?
I think four days is a great amount of time to spend in Cozumel if you will be visiting for a long weekend or as part of a larger trip around the Yucatan.
However, 2 or 3 days in Cozumel will give you a great introduction to the island.
If you have longer – like a week in Cozumel – you can add day trips to the mainland if you run out of things to do on Cozumel island.
What is the best month to go to Cozumel?
While Cozumel is a great destination year-round, January and February are the most popular months to go to Cozumel.
Which is better Cozumel or Cancun?
I VASTLY prefer Cozumel to Cancun. I have been to both multiple times, and I think Cozumel is a much more special destination than Cancun, which is a purpose-built tourist city.
Is Cozumel worth the money?
Yes, I think a trip to Cozumel is worth the money! You can find accommodations, food, and activities to fit any budget.
Is it safe to visit Cozumel?
Yes, it’s safe to visit Cozumel. Cozumel is one of the safest tourist destinations in Mexico. Just make sure to use common-sense safety tips.
What are the best places to visit in Cozumel?
San Miguel de Cozumel is the main Cozumel city, plus you’ll want to visit the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio as well as Punta Sur Eco Park.