Cozumel, a world-renowned snorkeling destination situated in the Eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, has an economy that is mainly upheld by tourism, and it’s really not hard to see why.
The name comes from the Mayan word meaning ‘The Island of the Shallows,’ Cozumel is populated with shallow reefs befitting of this name. Tourists from all over the globe have gone to Cozumel and named it a snorkeling paradise, much like in the gorgeous Virgin Islands or in the fan favorite snorkeling location of the French Polynesia (Tahiti). It’s not too far away from the island of Playa Del Carmen either.
This breathtaking island is a paradise for diving and snorkeling and it’s well known for its white powdery Caribbean beach and the clear waters surrounding it.
If you’re going to visit Cozumel, make sure that you remember to use reef safe sunscreen, as it’s our duty to protect the coral reefs - this is one small way to do your part!
If you are interested in snorkeling in Cozumel but you aren’t sure where to start, here’s out up to date guide about the best snorkeling in Cozumel.
Snorkeling Conditions in Cozumel
One of the numerous reasons why tourists enjoy snorkeling in Cozumel is because of how easy it is to access the many spots for snorkeling. On the top of the most popular snorkeling beaches there are hotels located along the shore that provide their own easy access to snorkeling locations, so you will get an comfortable experience overall when you’re on your underwater adventure.
Cozumel has some of the best visibility when it comes to the Caribbean setting. When it’s sunny, visibility can reach 30 meters (100 feet) which will give you a lovely underwater view of the snorkeling spot you are going to. This also means that you will have a good view of the marine creatures in Cozumel’s snorkeling spots, so you can see a lot of the reef-associated species that live there such as dolphins, fish, sea turtles, sponges, corals, gorgonians, shells crabs and even more.
While it may seem to be the case that Cozumel will be the ideal snorkeling vacation for you, you should keep in mind that the ideal time to visit is from March through to June. During these months, the water is clear, calm and the weather is good, usually at around 30-32 degrees Celcius (87-90 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and 23-26 degrees Celsius (75-80 degrees Fahrenheit) during the night. It is still okay to visit Cozumel from July through to November, but you will need to keep an eye on the weather before you leave as this time is hurricane season. The peak season is December to February as many tourists are looking to escape the cold, but this also means that rooms are going to be more expensive. When it comes to snorkeling equipment, we recommend bringing your own. While there are a number of dive shops that rent out snorkeling equipment, you will not be happy once you hear the prices they offer. The prices are pretty expensive, especially in comparison to other snorkeling destinations.
When it comes to transportation, there are taxis dotted around that can take you to wherever you want on the island, but we have to warn you that doing this regularly can quickly eat into your holiday funds. The best option would be to hire a scooter or a car. This option is not only cheap, but it means that you are able to drive around with time on your side and can go straight to your preferred snorkeling location. So without further ado, let us give you a virtual written tour of the great snorkeling locations that you can visit on your vacation to Cozumel.
Snorkeling Locations in Cozumel
In order to give you more ease with direction, we are going to assign San Miguel de Cozumel - the biggest city, as the key reference point in going to the top snorkeling sites in Cozumel.
Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel along Rafael E. Malgar Avenue
The Palancar Reef is one of the few protected reefs located in Cozumel because it is located inside of a national marine park. This is a large fringing reef that is part of the Arrecifes de Cosumel National Park, and it actually has 5 popular spots for exploring at your leisure. The main places that tourists vist are the Palancar Horseshoe, Palancar Caves and Palancar Deep, and this is due to the considerations regarding depth. Palancar Carden and Palancar Shallows are the best locations for snorkelers.
A lot of tourists have thought Palancar Reef to be a key snorkeling spot in Cozumel for a number of reasons. To start with, it has some of the clearest waters and visibility undoubtedly reaches more than 30 meters (100 feet). The reef is very vibrant and healthy and you can see a number of different reef building corals, including the encrusting, huge and branching type. There are also a lot of reef residents to see too, and on an average day you may see angelfish, groupers, moray eels, barracudas, parrotfish, jacks and nurse shark.
There’s not just a brilliant reef here, however. Snorkeling in Palancar Reefwill let you see a bunch of single dominating species in a single area. We are referring here to the Palancar Reef, where instead of a reef, there is a seafloor covered in small colorful starfish. In addition, because the water is so clear, a lot of people have compared the experience of snorkeling here to like a touch pool.
Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel along Rafael E. Malgar Avenue
Paradise reef is located near a cruise ship port and it’s crowded most of the time with other snorkelers just like you, along with tourists that want to take a little dip and see the beauty of Cozumel’s underwater paradise. The beach is actually a great spot to prepare and get your equipment ready in itself as it tends to be calm. When you start swimming towards the deeper area you will also notice that there are 3 separate reefs that are located closely to eachother. When you get to the reef, you will also notice that the reef is situated in a parallel direction to the shoreline.
It may initially sound like it’s not possible to get around all of the three reefs, but a lot of people have explored all of them in just one dive with great success. This is thanks to the mild current in the area which makes drift snorkeling easy. As you travel along the reef you will also come face to face with a bunch of tropical fish, including sergeant majors, damselfish, snappers, emperors and angelfish. There is actually one specific spot in Paradise Reef full of sea anemones. Here, you can see the clownfish that inspired the design for Nemo.
While it is possible to do a shore entry when you are going snorkeling in Paradise Reef, beginners are advised to embark on this adventure with a boat. You should still keep in mind that this is mild drift snorkeling so your boat is going to follow you. This means that your exit will be comfortable and you won’t need to swim back to the shore. In fact, you may even see some scuba drivers swimming beneath you because Paradise Reef is a popular location for scuba diving.
Location: South of San Miguel de Cozumel
Situated around half a mile offshore from mainland Cozumel there is a sandbar that snorkelers across the world have been drawn to. The name comes from the Spanish word that means ‘The Sky,’ so essentially El Cielo is a reflection of the sky. You can basically have an endless adventure outdoors under the sun in this stunning snorkeling spot.
When your boat gets to the sandbar, you may be shocked to see that the water is somewhat shallow and the depth only goes from 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters). To begin with, your guide will let you walk along the sand, and a lot of people love the massaging effects of this sand. Eventually after you’ve had a while to walk in the waist deep water, your guide is going to show you to an area that is taken over by some five armed echinoderms - that’s right, starfish! Much like in Palancar Gardens, there is a place in El Cielo that is filled to the brim with starfish. As far as quantity is concerned though, El Cielo has a lot more starfish than Palancar reef does. One great thing about snorkeling with starfish in El Cielo is that the water is shallow there so you don’t need to swim/ In comparison to swimming in deep water, here you can stand, sit down or even bend your legs while still letting your head be submerged. This may be more comfortable for you too.
If you would like to see some unique underwater creatures then your guide will be able to lead you into the deeper part of the sandbar (which is still pretty shallow at only 6-8 feet deep) and here you can interact with stingrays. You should remember in this situation though that the interaction should not go beyond visual interaction, and it is not recommended that you try to touch them, for obvious reasons.
Location: South near San Miguel de Cozumel
This gorgeous snorkeling location is just a few kilometers outside of San Miguel de Cozumel, and it’s a reef that’s pretty famous for people that love snorkeling. A lot of people love the ease of access there is to the reef as it’s only a couple of meters away from the shore. Wait a moment though before you walk along the coast - you should make sure that you walk some form of foot protection because the topography towards your point of entry is quite rocky.
Once you get into the water, you are going to love how clear the water is - the visibility averages around 20 meters (60 feet). This fantastic visibility, as a result, will give you a very clear view of your surroundings underwater and you can see the colorful reef that’s full of all sorts of tropical fish such as wrasse, damselfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, and many more. Dzul-Ha is also one of very few places in Cozumel where you are able to see many lobsters and crabs. If you look into the crevices and cracks or underneath a rock, you are going to see some of these little guys relaxing.
One great thing about Dzul-Ha is that the area is actually designed for bathers and snorkelers. If you pay a small amount, you can leave your belongings in the designated locker area where they will be nice and safe. There are also a lot of restaurants and bars near the shore where you are able to order food and drinks.
Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel
This stunning snorkeling location is situated inside the Marine National Park of Cozumel, and it’s considered to basically be an attraction inside of a bigger attraction. When you get there and you pay the parking fee, you are going to then walk towards the gorgeous greenery of the virgin forest which is where you can get a historical tour and see some of the ancient structures from the Mayan tribe. A lot of tourists already love this jungle tour, but if you do want to go snorkeling then we recommend that you visit the edge of the protected coast. Here, you can get the snorkeling experience of a lifetime - you can swim with dolphins!
When you get to the shore and start to prepare your equipment for snorkeling, you are going to realize that this area somewhat resembles a mini sea, which is actually the name’s meaning in the old Mayan language. Once you get into the water you are going to need to swim for roughly 300 meters (1000 feet) to get to the reef. To start with you are going to be awe-struck by how colorful the reef is - it’s filled with all sorts of marine organisms such as sponges, corals, algae and fish. You really shouldn’t miss the little swaying tentacles of the sea anemones either, as they are home to a well known resident of the reef: Nemo and a bunch of other clownfish friends!
As you spend more time in the reef, you may start to hear a squeaking sound. By the time you get to this point, you should get ready because you’re about to meet a very friendly sea creature. Dolphins are going to travel near the reef and are going to be interested in what you are doing. On an average day, dolphins are going to come near to you and your group, so it’s going to be hard to resist touching them. We suggest keeping your interaction to looking at them though, and don’t touch them even if you are under the impression that they’re coming up to you for a rub. And here’s a little extra good news for if you’re just starting out: Chakanaab is a fantastic spot for beginners because the waters are safe from strong waves and currents.
Location: Southern tip of Cozumel, south of San Miguel de Cozumel
Situated just a couple of kilometers away from Palancar Reef is a great place for snorkelers and scuba divers alike to hang out. It features strange underwater topography consisting of caves, swim through and caverns that are full of a wide variety of marine life. This is the main reason why Columbia Reef has been an attractive place for tourists across the world.
The only way that you can reach the reef is via boat, because the site is quite some distance away from the shore . Once you get to the Columbia Reef, your boat is going to position itself in a place called Columbia Shallows. This is a fantastic spot to begin your adventures with snorkeling. The water here is pretty shallow which means that it’s comfortable and easy to adjust your gear. As you travel through the reef, you are going to notice that it has a small slope that leads down towards a drop off that’s called the Columbia Deep. This is the place where most scuba divers will start exploring the deep water.
For snorkelers though, getting to Columbia Deep means that you shouldn’t go beyond and should turn back. A lot of snorkelers that have gone to Columbia Reef have said that if you hover in Columbia Deep with the reef ledge right in your sight, you will be able to see marine reptiles and some have even seen sea turtles!
Villa Blanca Reef
Location: Near San Miguel de Cozumel
If you are staying in San Miguel de Cozumel and you want to have a short snorkeling expedition, then you will love Villa Blanca Reef. This stunning reef is situated just outside of Quintana Roo C-1 Road, and it’s a popular snorkeling location where you are going to have the chance to enjoy the shallow reef which is filled with sponges, sea fans, corals and many other tropical reef fish such as moray eels, scorpionfish, surgeonfish, sergeant majors and clownfish.
As far as the point of entry goes, if you’re a snorkeler with lots of experience you can swim out towards the reef. For newcomers though, you would be better off with a boat entry for safety, and you will also have someone always watching you in the water that way.
After all is done, you would have had a fun, comfortable and safe time snorkeling in Cozumel. In addition, you can spend some time relaxing on the beach and you can visit historical locations.
So why are most of these snorkeling sites south or southwest when the whole island is surrounded by water? It’s mainly because the rest of the water locations are dangerous and are not suitable snorkeling locations.