After a cold, snowy winter, does anything sound more magical than a quick trip to Cozumel? If you’re looking for a destination that blends ancient culture, jungle terrain, outdoor adventure, and stunning blue waters, then Cozumel is the perfect choice.
While scuba divers love the island, you don’t have to dive 70 feet down to explore the area’s excellent marine habitats. Cozumel snorkeling is an incredible experience thanks to its beaches and reefs, which are some of the healthiest in Mexico. The water is always warm, and you can see for more than 100 feet across most reefs.
You can snorkel almost anywhere on the island, so it can be hard to narrow down where to go. All Cozumel snorkeling is beautiful, but the destinations on the list below are the best of a long list of great options.
One of the best beaches in Cozumel, Playa Mia is a one-stop-shop for a perfect day in the sand. At this sprawling beachside complex, you’ll find activities like water bikes, pools, swim-up bars, and a floating playground.
The best thing to see here may actually be under the sea: there’s an entire replica of a Mayan City just a few feet underwater right off the beach. Complete with temples and statues, the site offers some of the best snorkeling in Cozumel.
There’s no reef here, so it doesn’t have the marine life of other sites. Still, swimming over the underwater city is a fun experience, especially if you have a GoPro or underwater camera. It’s also a highly recommended spot for snorkeling in Cozumel if you have beginners in your group since the site is shallow and floatation devices and fins are included with gear rentals.
One of Cozumel’s most unique snorkeling sites is El Cielo, which translates to “the sky.” With bright blue water and a sandy bottom covered in starfish, it’s almost like looking down at a sky full of stars. These stars, however, are orange, red, and yellow, and they’re sea creatures, not astronomical objects. This area is a sanctuary for them, and you’ll spot one every few yards underwater.
El Cielo is on the far southwest side of the island, which has very little development inland. The easiest way to reach the beach is by boat, and since it’s generally only snorkeling boats that come here, you don’t have to share the water with kayakers or jetskiers. It can get a little windy here, but your boat operator should know where to drop anchor to ensure you can gently bob in the waves as you look for the starfish below.
Playa Palancar, one of the best places to go snorkeling in Cozumel, is home to a massive underwater reef with more than 150 animal species. The reef is so long that you’d need several hours to see it all.
There’s no limit to what fish you could see here, but if you’re lucky, you could see rare fish like the spotted smooth trunkfish, the grey angelfish, or even the splendid toadfish, which is only found in Cozumel. Two sites here—the Garden and the Shallows—have seagrass, where you might spot small nurse sharks, too.
Playa Palancar doesn’t top the list of the best snorkeling in Cozumel just due to its wildlife. The water usually hovers around a warm 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the reef is colorful, the current is minimal, and you can be in water anywhere from five to 80 feet deep, so it’s great for both beginners and expert snorkelers. If that weren’t reason enough to visit, Playa Palancar has a large sea turtle population, so keep an eye out for the slow-moving creatures while you’re there.
Some of the best snorkeling in Cozumel is at Punta Sur, an ecological reserve run by the government. The park is in a protected jungle area on the southernmost part of the island next to a sizeable lagoon. It attracts rare birds and sea turtles, and there are often flamingos near the shore.
To explore underwater, rent snorkel gear inside the park and sign up for a snorkel tour. There’s a small fee to enter the park that goes entirely toward the cost of reef protection efforts, so the reefs here are very healthy. That means they attract fish and ocean wildlife, so you’re all but guaranteed to see a wide variety of marine creatures. In addition to fish, spiny lobsters are common, as are barracuda and sea turtles.
One of the reasons the reef is healthy is because it’s a bit off-shore, which protects it from waves and some human encroachment. You’ll need to swim out to it if you snorkel from the shore. It’s a gentle swim, but consider snorkeling first thing in the morning when the waves are calm. You can also visit by boat.
Xcaret Natural Adventure Park
The area around Xcaret is one of the most interesting places to go snorkeling in Cozumel. The park is home to three underground rivers, each of which is about 2,000 feet long. The rivers pass through caves and grottos and thorough erosion-carved canyons with jungle growth on either side. The water comes from natural aquifers and filters in from the ground.
The best way to see these rivers is by snorkeling. While fish do sometimes swim into the rivers and live in the small caves along the walls, the most interesting part of snorkeling here is seeing the underwater stalagmite and rock formations, which are thousands of years old.
Once you reach the ocean, you can keep snorkeling in the reefs right offshore, so you’ll get to see ancient underwater cave formations and snorkel on lively, healthy ocean reefs during the same adventure.
Playa Las Casitas
Playa Las Casitas is a public beach with amazing opportunities to snorkel around two shipwrecks. There’s a buoy directly offshore, which you can use as a reference point. There’s one ship beyond the buoy and another one a few minutes’ swim left from that ship.
Both wrecks are well-preserved and in under 40 feet of water, so you’ll be able to see both very well from the surface—though you can hold your breath and dive down to take a closer look. Be sure you’re comfortable swimming longer distances before attempting to reach the wrecks, though, and keep an eye out for boats.
The beach is mostly a local’s beach, and while everyone is welcome, there aren’t any rental shops nearby; you’ll need to bring your own snorkel equipment. There are restrooms and a few covered tables, but not much else in the way of amenities. It’s just north of San Miguel, so expect no more than 10 minutes or so by taxi to get there.
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