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Scuba divers underwater and fishing tour boat in Cozumel
Photograph: ShutterstockPhotograph: Shutterstock

The 11 best things to do in Cozumel

From seaside cocktails to traditional sweat lodges and more, here are the best things to do in Cozumel

Written by
Lori A May
&
Shafik Meghji
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Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, the tiny island of Cozumel has long been famous for its world-class diving and gloriously sandy beaches. But head inland and you'll find there's more to this little island than you might expect: a vibrant history means there's a variety of attractions that range from Mayan ruins and cultural celebrations to eco-habitats and nature preserves. Here's how to make the most of your time on this laidback island. 

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Things to Do in Cozumel

What is it? Cozumel is surrounded by a section of the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.

Why go? The island’s southern reefs are protected by the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park and have sites suitable for divers and snorkelers of all abilities. Highlights include the Punta Sur reef, which features a stunning coral formation known as ‘The Cathedral’, and also the Columbia reef, where you can spot turtles swimming amid a sweep of towering coral pinnacles, caves, and tunnels.

What is it? San Gervasio is the most significant excavated Mayan site on the island.  

Why go? Dating back to around 1,000 AD, San Gervasio was a major pilgrimage destination for Mayan women thanks to its association with Ix Chel, the goddess of medicine, fertility, and childbirth. Although not as dramatic as mainland counterparts like Chichén Itzá, it features some interesting ruins, notably a small-stepped pyramid. The site is also a good place to spot birds and butterflies.

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What is it? In downtown San Miguel, the Cozumel Island Museum has an interesting mix of exhibits—head here at the start of your trip to get an overview of Cozumel’s history, geology, flora, and fauna.

Why go? There are well-preserved Mayan sculptures and pottery, steampunk-style vintage diving suits, and impressive displays of the island’s reef system (not to mention an excellent rooftop restaurant).

What is it? Also known as Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, this nature reserve covers the southernmost tip of Cozumel—beyond the scenery, it’s a great spot for birdwatching.

Why go? Hawksbill turtles, crocodiles, iguanas, and more than 200 species of endemic and migratory birds can be spotted at this park which features mangroves, lagoons, sand dunes, and several picturesque beaches. There’s also a tiny Mayan ruin, the El Caracol temple, and a whitewashed lighthouse that you can climb for panoramic views.

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What is it? A temazcal is a sweat lodge ceremony—the tradition dates back to the ancient Mayans and aims to cleanse, purify, and relax you.

Why go? You may find Cozumel hot enough as it is, but if not,  a temazcal will surely be a memorable experience. You'll sweat it out inside a domed structure as a shaman chants, wafts herbal scents, and conducts various rituals. Afterwards, you can cool off in a nearby cenote, a limestone sinkhole filled with fresh water. Set within Cozumel’s tropical jungle, guests can choose a treatment from a pre-set menu or customize a personal wellness experience. 

What is it? One of Cozumel’s best beach bars, Alberto’s is situated on the south-west coast.  

Why go? Quieter than some of its competitors, Alberto’s is a relaxing place to hang out, particularly in the late afternoon. Grab a table on the sand, order a well-mixed cocktail, choose something fresh from the seafood-focused menu, and wait for the sunset. Arriving during the day? Fishing, snorkeling, and parasailing tours are all on offer.

 

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7. Playa Bonita

What is it? The less developed east coast is home to a string of gorgeous, little-visited beaches, notably Playa Bonita.

Why go? The Mayans believed that remote Playa Bonita represented the easternmost point of their civilization. Today, this sparkling stretch of golden sand is ideal for swimming, kayaking, and sunbathing far from the crowds of tourists who throng the better-known beaches on the west coast. If you’re up for an early start, head down here for a stunning sunrise.  

8. Cozumel Carnival

What is it? Cozumel’s carnival, which takes place in February or early March.

Why go? The liveliest time to visit the island is during this raucous celebration, which dates back almost 150 years. It features colorful parades, extravagantly costumed dancers, live music, copious eating, drinking, and general revelry. Most of the action takes place in and around San Miguel’s main square, and on the final night an effigy of mythical character ‘Juan Carnaval’ is burned on a huge bonfire.

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What is it? A 5 km drive north of San Miguel, Buccanos is one of the top seafood restaurants on the island.

Why go? Set on a privately owned beach, this restaurant is a great spot for a romantic dinner. Dishes include scrambled eggs with shrimp and cilantro pesto, tempura lobster tacos, and octopus with grilled pineapple. If you want to build up an appetite, arrive early for a swim or a snorkel.

What is it? A modern planetarium that takes its name from the Mayan phrase for ‘observe the sky’.

Why go? In addition to offering visitors the opportunity to stargaze through powerful telescopes, Cha’an Ka’an holds regular film screenings and has exhibitions on subjects such as Cozumel’s biodiversity and the Mayan view of the cosmos.

 

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11. Paradise Beach Club

What is it? An all-inclusive day beach club suitable for all ages.

Why go? Whether you're traveling with the family, or just in town with grownup pals, this day beach club has a bit of everything for a perfect island retreat. Take a dip in Cozumel’s largest heated pool or splash in the ocean along the soft sand beachfront. Play on the floating water park or simply relax in the shade with endless mojitos and tacos thanks to the all-inclusive menu option. 

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