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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Cozumel

With its inimitable mix of Mayan ruins, sophisticated beach clubs, and world-class snorkeling opportunities, it's easy to see why Cozumel is one of Mexico’s top destinations. Immensely popular with cruise ships, Cozumel Island (Isla Cozumel) caters to short-stay visitors with a variety of shore excursions. Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the archaeological ruins at Tulum are doable on day trips, while shorter cruise excursions invite you to drive an ATV to the cenotes of Jade Caverns; explore Chankanaab Park (Parque Chankanaab) in a submarine; or sail at sunset near Playa Palancar, home to the biologically rich Palancar Reef. Outdoor adventurers can choose from horseback riding, scuba diving, dune buggy driving (which is a big hit with families), and more. All-inclusive day passes to Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club and Playa Mia Grand Beach offer access to luxurious facilities and the sublime beaches of the Caribbean. A private Jeep excursion lets you design your own itinerary, which can include anything from archaeological sites and national parks to shopping, snorkeling, and tequila tasting. What’s more, with Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen just a short boat ride away, the island of Cozumel is an ideal base for exploring the rest of the Yucatan and the Riviera Maya.
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Mr. Sancho's Beach Club Cozumel
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Find everything you need for a relaxing and fun day at the beach with an all-inclusive day pass to Mr. Sanchos Beach Club Cozumel. Situated on a private, 1,500-foot-long stretch of white-sand beach, Mr. Sanchos has all the usual beach amenities like umbrellas and lounge chairs, as well as an infinity pool and an Aqua Park with inflatable climbing structures and water trampolines. Day passes include all you can eat and drink from the restaurant and bar, and there are abundant activities available for an additional fee, including parasiling, ATV tours, massages and horseback riding.

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Palancar Reef
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The star attraction of the Cozumel Reefs National Park - or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel - not to mention Jacques Cousteau's television show, which quite literally put Cozumel on the map - is Palancar Reef. Actually composed of 4 separate coral reefs, it is home to sea turtles, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, moray eels, lobsters, crabs, and a keleidescope of colorful fish.

Boats leaving from Playa Palancar take snorkelers out to the shallowest parts of the reef, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from shore. Scuba divers, however, have several world-famous spots to explore. The Palancar Caves are probably the most famous attraction, with huge brain corals and swim-through tunnels. Palancar Horseshoe is another massive formation of huge corals, some partially damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma. Less experienced divers can visit Palancar Gardens, a shallower spot with mellow currents.

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Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park
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Relaxed Chankanaab Park - or Parque Chankanaab - is a lovely and laid-back "eco archaeological park," just south of the town of Cozumel. There are several attractions on dry land, including faux Mayan ruins, pleasant gardens, dolphin and sea lion shows, and good seafood.

The main attraction, however, is the wildlife rich undersea park, which you can explore with rented snorkel equipment. They also offer regular diving (you must have PADI certification) and the Sea Trek Adventure, like a resort dive with a breathing helmet but no certification necessary. You could also swim in a tank with dolphins, manatees and sea lions for an extra fee.

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Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park
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Less than 1% of the Earth is covered in coral—yet these reefs are home to over 25% of the world’s total marine species. Unfortunately, despite their abundance of biodiversity, coral reefs across the globe are in a serious state of decline. That said, in places like the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park off the island’s southern coast, the establishment of a protected coral reserve is helping the reef to thrive.

In the warm waters off Cozumel’s coast, 26 different species of coral house 300 species of fish. Some fish, like the Splendid Toadfish, are endemic to the reefs of Cozumel—which means that the fish are only found here in these colorful castles in the sand. Hawksbill and green sea turtles are frequently spotted in the marine park’s 29,000 acres, which also encompasses mangrove forests and sandy sections of shoreline.

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Paradise Reef (Paraíso Reef)
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One of the most popular dives in all of Cozumel, Paradise Reef proudly lives up to its name by offering numerous coral heads, teeming schools of colorful fish, and some of the best visibility anywhere in the world. Divers that look closely will spot numerous species of larger sea life such as eels, rays and nurse shark in addition to smaller creatures such as seahorses, boxfish and the delicate pipefish. A great dive for those who are just entering into the world of scuba as well as advanced divers who want to add a little color to their dives, Paradise Reef is one of the best dive spots in Cozumel.

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Punta Sur Eco Beach Park (Faro Celerain Ecological Reserve)
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Part of the Cozumel Reefs National Park (or Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel) Faro de Punta Celerain, also known as Punta Sur, Ecological Park offers some of the best diving and snorkeling around Cozumel. If you want to dive, go through one of the island's many dive operators. If you'd just like to snorkel, however, you can rent equipment and guides right here.

In addition to the undersea attractions, Punta Sur has broad, beautiful beaches (the reef is well offshore, so you can splash around safely), great seafood, and shady hammocks. If you're up for a some terrestrial exploration, you could climb the Faro de Punta Celerain (Celerain Point Lighthouse), with great views, or visit the tiny Mayan shrine to Ixcel, the fertility goddess, known as Tumba de Caracol. Punta Sur also has interesting wetlands, a magnet for migratory birds in April and May, and home to lots of crocodiles year-round.

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El Cedral
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El Cedral is a small village on the southwestern side of Cozumel and also the site of the oldest Mayan ruins on the island. Spanish explorers first discovered the site in 1518, when it was a center of Mayan life and commerce. It later became the island’s first official city in 1847, andtoday it is home to a small community of quaint houses and farms. Visitors can view the ruins alongside a small church and the village of El Cedral as it stands today.

Most of the Mayan temple was torn down, but a small archway remains. Though it is just a fraction of the structure’s former glory, it is enough to visualize what daily life may have been like at the time of Mayan civilization. In late April, you can catch the annual Festival de El Cedral, celebrating local artists, music and traditions. Year-round there are vendors selling embroidered handicrafts and refreshments.

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Playa Uvas Beach Club
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Playa Uvas is one of the newer private beach clubs in Cozumel, and it is the closest to downtown and the piers. Facing the white sands and the turquoise waters, the club sits directly on the coastline and offers a variety of beach activities to its visitors. For the adventurous, there are snorkel tours, parasailing and kayaks, while those who would rather relax in the sun and feel the tropical breeze can opt for the lounge chairs, a beachside massage or the pool facilities. There is also a full bar and restaurant, as well as a small shop with souvenirs.

From Playa Uvas it is easy to admire the reefs of nearby Chankanaab National Marine Park. Options range from a day on the water in a catamaran to a day in the water scuba diving.

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San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
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The Island of Cozumel was first incorporated into the Mayan Empire around 0 AD, and was apparently a thinly populated backwater, primarily important as a ceremonial island for women from the mainland. Although 24 archaeological sites have been identified, most are small and as yet unexcavated. The San Gervasio Ruins, dating to around 300 AD, are by far the largest and best developed for tourism, but still won't impress tourists hoping for the grand pyramids of the Mayan Imperial Cities. Adjust your expectations, however, and the sacred gardens of Ixcel, the Goddess of Fertility and Rainbows, are a serene escape. Most of the low, stone structures cluster around a central plaza, which archaeologists suspect was enhanced with wood and adobe building. The main temple, however, was probably the large Ka'na Na building, located close to the cenotes, or natural wells. There are several other intriguing ruins scattered throughout the jungle, all awaiting your personal interpretation.

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More Things to Do in Cozumel

Playa Mia Grand Beach Park

Playa Mia Grand Beach Park

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This beachfront park has seemingly endless options for activities on the Caribbean Sea. From swimming in the warm ocean and playing in the sand to splashing around the water park or floating in one of the many pools, there are a variety of ways to enjoy a day in and on the water.

Day passes offer access to the many facilities, including beachfront lounge chairs and hammocks, reef tours and snorkeling, and options for massage, photos and scuba diving. Get there early to grab a chair closest to the water. There are dozens of beach games and water toys, themed pools and slides and even an underwater Mayan city to explore.

When you get tired from all the splashing, there is a buffet and full bar to keep you going, as well as a Mexican cooking workshop and shopping center with handicrafts, clothes and jewelry to take home with you.

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El Mirador Lookout

El Mirador Lookout

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While the tranquil waters, white beaches, and endless stucco strips of bars and shops that line Cozumel's touristy West Coast provide most vacationers with everything they need, the wild east may be calling to you. The rugged East Coast, facing the waves of the wide-open Caribbean, is much less accessible and developed, which is precisely its appeal. There are many of gorgeous deserted beaches lining the coastal road, but none like El Mirador. This is - emphatically - not a swimming beach. El Mirador lookout rocky point sculpted into an amazing seascape of natural bridges, blowholes, tide pools, and spires, with an astounding sapphire backdrop you'll never forget. Climb the tower for magnificent views.

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Playa Palancar

Playa Palancar

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Discover Mexico Park Cozumel

Discover Mexico Park Cozumel

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This new theme park grants visitors the opportunity to experience the many parts of Mexico while visiting Cozumel. It showcases the history, culture and art of the country through several indoor and outdoor exhibitions.

Visitors can weave through an outdoors timeline with miniature scale models of famous sites and check out the art museum featuring handmade Mexican artisanal crafts. There are showings of a film about Mexico’s history and sights in their video experience room, as well as traditional Mexican food and beverages at the snack bar. For a relaxing yet colorful experience, take a stroll through the tropical gardens.

Mexican music can be heard throughout the park and both new and old Mexican architecture can be seen all over, making for an experience that covers both traditional and contemporary Mexico.

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Plaza del Sol

Plaza del Sol

Cozumel's only city (really, a large town) is San Miguel, surrounding a natural port with easy access to the mainland, which has been used since the Mayan era at least. As in most traditional Mexican cities, civic life is centered on the zocalo here called the Plaza del Sol.

The plaza is surrounded by shops and restaurants, which tend to be a bit pricier than those farther from the city's heart. But with its breezy ocean views, a fine gazebo and watchtower, and 5-star people watching, it's well worth spending some time right here.

As evening nears, the street scene really starts to sparkle. Locals coming out to the plaza to mix and mingle, and perhaps enjoy live music, dancing, and less formal As evening nears, the street scene really starts to sparkle. Locals coming out to the plaza to mix and mingle, and perhaps enjoy live music, dancing, and less formal entertainment. During fiestas and holidays, this is the spot for enjoying cultural activities.

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Tormentos Reef

Tormentos Reef

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One of the premier dives in all of Cancun and Cozumel, Tormentos Reef offers vibrant coral, Spotted Moray Eels, Toadfish, and a wide variety of smaller fish, including blennies, wrasses, and gobies. If you’ve come to Cozumel to get a good experience underwater, Tormentos Reef is a great spot. Divers head out over sandy waters and eventually come to purple and orange coral outcroppings upwards of 30 feet in height. Tunnels make for resting places for nurse sharks, sea turtles, and large groupers, while rays nestle in the sand.

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Santa Rosa Wall

Santa Rosa Wall

One of Cozumel’s signature dives, the Santa Rosa Wall, is the dive site that many come to Co-zumel to visit. Diving the beautiful Santa Rosa Wall, with a depth of 50 to 120 feet (15.24 meters to 36.6 meters), is a bit like diving into a great, colorful abyss. This amazing dive spot features 30-to-40-foot-tall (9-to-12-meter-tall) red, green and orange coral outcroppings; huge rock over-hangs in which to explore; narrow tunnels full of life; and hundreds of species of tropical fish to discover. On this dive, whether you want to go deep is up to you, but those that choose to will enjoy the sensation of flying along an underwater skyscraper filled with life. This sensation alone is why many choose to dive Santa Rosa. If you’d like to beat the crowds, consider diving this spot in the afternoon, when most other divers have moved on.

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Akumal

Akumal

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A small beach town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, Akumal is known for its wide, white sandy beach. Meaning “land of turtles” in the Mayan language, Akumal to this day remains one of the most popular places in the area to spot sea turtles in their natural habitat. It’s also known as one of the most peaceful spots in the Riviera Maya with its clear waters, shallow bays and secluded beaches that attract visitors seeking a more private experience.

From town there are three local dive shops that will take you snorkeling or scuba diving out on the nearby reef, and there are also some clearly marked private beaches and several palm trees that provide refuge from the sun. While here, be sure to check out Half Moon Bay (famous for turtle sightings) and Laguna Yaiku, a protected snorkeling area.

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El Caracol (Zona Arqueológica El Caracol)

El Caracol (Zona Arqueológica El Caracol)

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El Caracol translates to “snail” in Spanish and in this case refers to the spiral staircase that winds through the interior of this ancient Mayan observatory.

Part of the Chichen Itza archaeological site, the observatory is believed to have been built as early as the ninth century. The stone ruins, built on a large square platform, once functioned as an astrological observation site. It was constructed to rise above the surrounding jungle so that Mayan astronomers could have unobstructed views of the skies and see a 360-degree panoramic of the stars.

The site has since been rebuilt and has undergone renovations to align with astrological events. Windows were built to view and track the movement of Venus, the sun, the moon and other celestial events. Venus was of particular significance in Mayan culture and was believed to be the twin of the sun.

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Cozumel Cruise Port

Cozumel Cruise Port

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Cozumel welcomes you to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for peerless scuba diving and snorkeling, and Caribbean beach resorts. The idyllic island drifts 20km (12 miles) from the Mexican mainland, just south of Cancun off the peninsula’s east coast. Cruise liners tie up at several piers on the island’s western side, near the main town of San Miguel for Mexican feasting and Cozumel’s best beaches.

Depending on the liner, you might dock right downtown in San Miguel at Punta Langosta (Norwegian, Disney, Seven Seas). San Miguel is a quick taxi ride or 35-minute walk from the International Pier (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity). From Puerta Maya dock (Carnival), just south of the International Pier, it’s a 10-minute taxi ride to San Miguel. Always agree on a price before setting off when you hire a taxi; it should cost around US$6 to reach downtown.

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