During our 3 month Mexico trip, we decided to spend a month living in Playa del Carmen to properly explore surrounding Quintana Roo area. One of the first things we did, was taking a day trip to Cozumel…
The tropical island is quite small and can be explored well in one full day, taking a trip all around it by a scooter or a rental car. There are so many awesome things to do in Cozumel, so it sure will be exciting. Our addition to regular Cozumel trip was the fact that we were hit by an extreme storm while on the island, so we made some good lessons learned after this day.
Overall Cozumel has the uninhabited paradise island vibe everywhere you go. There are quiet and beautiful wild beaches with no crowds, cool beach clubs for diving, chilling and even for tasting Mexican traditional mezcal.
Here you’ll find an awesome nature park with live crocodiles, flamingos, turtles all surrounded by swamp-like rough jungle with black eagles flying above. And no worries of how to get to Cozumel at all, as it’s extremely easy.
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How to get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen?
There is a port in Playa del Carmen with regular ferries to Cozumel. The island of Cozumel is very easily reachable as it only about an hour away by ferry. There are 2 different ferry companies doing the trips throughout the day. There’s no difference in prices or service. Simply take the one that’s scheduled next.
Ferries start to go at about 6:00 AM all the way to 8 PM. They go very often, at least once in an hour. The cost of a one-way ticket is 140 Mexican pesos, which is about 8 USD. We took the trip in low season (October 2017). The prices might possibly go up during the busy season (end of November to March).
There are plenty of places to buy the tickets around the ferry. I guarantee you that’s you’ll be approached with ticket offers at least 10 times while walking to the ferry. All of those a legit, but they will try to sell you additional stuff such as rental scooters, cards, and tours of the island. They always say that today is a special deal for the ferry price, that might be gone tomorrow. But don’t fall for it, as ferry prices are always the same everywhere actually.
However, there are also few official looking stands where you can get the ferry ticket without all the unnecessary hassle. You’ll recognize them when you’ll see them.
If you are coming from Cancun, Tulum or any other surrounding area, you will need to arrive in Playa del Carmen first, s this is the only place to take a Cozumel ferry from. The easiest way to arrive in Playa for sure will be with ADO bus. They have all the bus schedules on their website.
How to rent a scooter or a car for a day trip to Cozumel?
The first option to rent a scooter or a car will be presented to you already when trying to organize your way how to get to Cozumel. The people selling ferry tickets outside the ferry terminal will instantly try to hook you up with the best rental deals when you arrive at the island.
In my experience, the prices they offer are more or less the same, so most likely you will not be losing much money if you agree to pre-arrange the vehicle while you are in Playa and pick it up immediately upon arrival in Cozumel.
If you decide to look for a rental place when you arrive on the island, it’s easily doable. Once the ferry will arrive at the Cozumel port, there will be many tour agents offering you rentals and tours. You can walk past them and go directly to any rental shops you will see on the streets surrounding the port.
We rented one in Mahi-Mahi rental for about 650 Mexican pesos (35 USD) and it was a good experience. We did end up paying extra 200 pesos (10 USD) for optional insurance since I had heard there’s a crazy traffic on the island. As it turns out, the traffic is almost non-existent and there are extremely low chance you could run into somebody. So there’s really no significant need for the additional insurance. But that’s always like a lottery. You never know.
To rent a scooter you will need a driver’s license and a credit card. Most probably you’ll have to pay in cash, but they take credit card info as a guarantee and returns the paper with info after you return the bike.
We have the scooter ready… Buckling our helmets and let’s go!
Awesome things to do in Cozumel
Cozumel is magnificent and since this trip has been one of my favorite places in Mexico. There are quite a lot of nice places where to stop along the coast on your way around the island, but I’m going to list some of my personal favorite things to do in Cozumel. The order of places is how they are located starting from the ferry terminal down south of the island.
1. Palancar reef. It’s a large and beautiful coral reef, with incredibly crystal clear water. It’s very popular with scuba divers. The sea spectacular sea creatures there, such as sea turtles, parrot fish, barracuda, angelfish, crabs, lobsters and even nurse sharks.
2. If you are not into scuba diving, but wanna do some snorkeling or just relax on a pretty beach with some snacks and drinks in your hand, then head to Palancar Beach Club right by the reef. They have a very nice tropical atmosphere there without crowds of people at the beach.
Also sometimes a curious raccoon family comes to visit the territory. They are not showing any fear of people. That made us think that these little fluffy creatures are regular guests in the beach club. These raccoons are friendly and not dangerous at all, just being interested in people and vice versa.
A friendly raccoon at Palancar beach (video from @the.travelleaf Instagram live stories)
3. El Cedral town and typical Mayan Ruins are located nearby the reef. It’s actually a tiny town with few shops, a church, and Ruins next to it. The main thing that stands out in this place is a tequila museum, which is quite an interesting attraction. We didn’t go there ourselves as we heard that this town is not that interesting compared to other parts of the island.
Also, it really has a “tourist trap” vibe with very overpriced things that locals will try to sell. If you do go there, don’t buy tequila at the museums as it’s very overpriced. The same tequila can be bought by the ferry terminal for much cheaper.
4. Colombia reef. Another beautiful reef with lots of fish to see. This reef is great for snorkeling and is not so deep as Palancar reef. Many favor it just for that fact. The reef is more easily visible from the surface and has a very rich sea life. Lot’s of turtles and colorful fish.
5. Maracaibo reef is another excellent place to dive and see some incredible sea life. This reef is the furthest down South of the island and also the least visited. It offers some great deep dive options for more experienced divers and there are usually no crowds. A great place for travelers looking for spots with fewer people around.
6. Punta Sur Echo Beach Park is definitely a must visit in Cozumel. It’s an eco-park at the furthest point South of the island with a lovely white sand beach, flamingos and other exotic birds, crocodile watching from a wooden bridge, snorkeling, and a magnificent lighthouse with, after climbing 133 steps, will offer views of almost the entire island.
The entrance of the park is 14 USD per person, but it’s well worth it. You can easily have a full day of activities just at this place. Note that it’s closed on Sundays and none of the places, including the beach and lighthouse, are accessible then.
7. Right next to the entrance of Punta Sur park at the beach is the Bob Marley’s Place. This is one of the most popular bars of the island as it has very chill Jamaican vibes, seating and hammocks right on the beach overlooking the clear blue water. They serve great ceviche, guacamole, shrimp tacos and more. Make sure to try their refreshing coconut cocktail, served in a real coconut.
8. El Mirador is one of the wildest and prettiest beaches in Cozumel. It has some spectacular rock formations, where you can climb up and watch the water crash against rocks and from pools in between the cliffs. As this beach is very rocky, it’s not really for swimming, but regardless is well worth a visit, so as the whole east coast of Cozumel.
9. Chen Rio Beach is one of the best places for swimming. It has a nice shallow part for children to play at and deeper water for swimmers as well. There colorful fish swimming around so you don’t even have to snorkel to see them. They have hammocks on the beach to chill and we as a bar and a restaurant with possibly the best food on the island. Well worth stopping here for nice lunch and some cocktails.
10. Mezcalitos is another beautiful beach in combination with perfect Margaritas at the beach bar. The beach is a bit rougher over here and the waves are often crashing against the shore, but it’s for sure gorgeous. And some say that they also have the best fish tacos in the Mezcalitos restaurant.
11. San Gervasio Mayan Ruins are an important historical site on the island. It will be an interesting object for those who are interested in Mayan history. Otherwise, there are more impressive ruins on the mainland of Mexico, for example in Tulum, that are more worth a visit. An entrance to San Gervasio costs 9.50 USD per person.
12. Downtown Cozumel is the main part of the island surrounding the Ferry Port. It’s full of restaurants, hotels, shops and other nice sights, in case you have any free time left after visiting all other parts of the island.
13. There’s also an option to visit one of the big hotels near the ferry port on the west side of Cozumel. Some of them offer access to all their facilities like pools, lounges, bars, private beaches for a day of relaxing. You will have to pay a certain fee and you will be able to enjoy a lovely beach day.
The best route for a day trip in Cozumel
If you are visiting Cozumel as a day trip, you will definitely not have enough time to visit and properly enjoy all places mentioned above. And even more, if you manage to spot something nice in addition to my already mentioned ones.
When we took our day trip, we managed to visit only a few of the mentioned ones. If you are planning to include Punta Sur Ecologic Reserve than it will definitely take up most part of your day because it’s that nice there and you will not want to leave. Otherwise combine any of the mentioned places together and you will have a great day.
So the main advice is to get to the island with the earliest ferry possible to have a maximum amount of time until dark (around 6 PM). After dark, it’s not much to see on the island and you can head back to Playa del Carmen or other places you are going to.
Just plan your route for the day to drive around the island. Start with driving down South from the ferry port and then make all the way back up driving along the eastern coast of Cozumel. There you will see the most of wild beauty, untouched beaches and almost no people as all the big resorts are located on the west side of the island. When you return to the Downtown Cozumel, you will have made a circle around the island and seen it all.
Our experience in Cozumel
We came to the island pretty unprepared for what’s coming and learned our lesson the hard (and fun) way. As it was a sunny morning when we took the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel, we wore pretty much our swimsuits and our small bags for camera, phone, money, tickets, passport and other stuff.
Half an hour later after we had just rented a scooter and headed down to South Cozumel, a heavy rain started to pour. We were forced to stop at one beach bar as we were soaking wet and trying to protect our back that was not waterproof at all.
The rain passed after a while and we continued our way around the island. We stopped to do some snorkeling at Palancar Beach Club. As it was right after the heavy rain, the place was pretty empty and we god about an hour of all the area just to ourselves.
Later around lunchtime people started to arrive from nearby hotels for lunch and chill on the beach. Seemed like it’s pretty popular place. We even get to play with some friendly raccoons, that live around the beach club.
Afterward, we drove up to Punta Sur Ecologic Reserve which is nearby just to learn that it’s closed on Sundays. As it was Sunday, we were not happy about that at all. So we went to the Bob Marley’s Palace next door instead. The beach there is so wild and beautiful. It’s so relaxing to chill in the hammocks and just watch the waves crashing against the shore with nice reggae in the background.
Next, we hit the quiet road to see all of the untouched wild beaches along the East coast of Cozumel. However, we didn’t have much luck with that as a heavy thunderstorm hit the island. Some of the heaviest rain and winds we’ve ever seen.
It was extremely difficult but at the same time adventurous, to drive on a scooter just in a swimsuit and t-shirt. The rain hitting the skin was so painful. The strong wind was almost knocking down the scooter and it got hard to keep on the road, plus the rain became so strong it was almost impossible to see the road in front of us.
The biggest worry was the passport, phone, money and ferry ticket located in my not waterproof bag that was getting soaking wet. We stopped on the road to hide under some abandoned wooden shack while the rain passes which didn’t happen for another 2 hours. We were a bit worried that this might be some kind of huge hurricane that will not stop for days.
Luckily it wasn’t! And we even managed to get back to Cozumel Ferry port just before the ferry back to Playa del Carmen. The biggest lesson we learned was that you need to travel through Mexican islands prepared. You always need to have waterproof phone case and even waterproof bag for your valuables as it rains unexpectedly and when it does, there’s nowhere to hide.
Cozumel has a true Caribbean island vibe that you don’t see in many other places even in Mexico. It was our favorite adventure traveling around Cozumel. If you get a chance to do it, go for it!