Cozumel Island, Mexico

Your tour of Cozumel’s landmarks and attractions starts at San Miguel, the center for tourism. Then you’ll encircle the island: first down the west coast to the southernmost point then up the east coast. You’ll have time for a cold beer before your ship leaves. I promise.

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1 Isla Cozumel Sign in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

As your cruise ship anchors at San Miguel, you may wonder how much of the island you can explore in a day. The answer: a lot. Despite being Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, it is only thirty miles long and less than 10 miles wide. The majority of the tourist sites hug the western coastline. The rest is primarily undeveloped. So disembark early and enjoy as many of the landmarks and attractions in this travel guide as you can.

Av Lic Benito Juárez & Av. Rafael E. Melgar, Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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2 Punta Langosta Lighthouse in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Directly across from the Punta Langosta Pier is a 49 foot lighthouse with the same name: El Faro de Punta Langosta. In Spanish, this means Lobster Point. This station along the waterfront was established in 1906. It was deactivated in 2000 when the Punta Ealetita was built. Since then, the old cylindrical concrete light received fresh paint and welcomes arriving cruise ship passengers.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar 599, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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3 Punta Langosta Pier in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel has three cruise ship piers. The closet to San Miguel is the Punta Langosta. If you dock here, you will not need transportation before exploring the downtown tourist district. Further south is the International Pier. About five miles from town is the oldest cruise ship terminal: Puerta Maya. It was completely renovated in 2008 followed by a $20 million extension in 2015. With all of this berthing space, it is rare for a cruise ship to moor offshore and tender passengers into town.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar 501 Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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4 Shopping Options in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

San Miguel is a haven for shopaholics. Cozumel’s main town offers several malls (Punta Langosta, Puerta Maya, Forum Shops, Royal Village), an excellent department store (Pama) and about eight blocks of retailers along Avenue Rafael E. Melgar. Frankly, the better deals are among the back streets inland from the waterfront. The cruise ship piers also offer a gaggle of spending alternatives. Cautious buyers patronize stores backed by cruise line guarantees. Adventurous shoppers love bargaining at boutiques and kiosks. For a literal local taste, visit the Mercado Municipal, a market filled with fruit, produce, fish and other foods.

Av General. Rafael E. Melgar & Calle Dr Adolfo Rosado Salas, Centro, 776000 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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5 Plaza del Sol in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Plaza del Sol is the social heart of historic San Miguel. In Spanish, its name means City Square of the Sun. Two prominent landmarks are the Palacio Municipal (old City Hall) and a tall clock tower. By day, this central plaza offers a welcome respite from the surrounding throngs of tourists. At night, after the cruise ships have sailed, the Zocalo (town square) often features music from a gazebo and dancing by the locals.

Benito Juarez Park Q.R., Calle 1 Sur 58, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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6 Passenger Ferry Pier in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

San Miguel is directly across from Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s mainland. If you want to visit the sites along the Rivera Maya, hop aboard one of the ships operated by three companies. It is a 40 minute cruise across the Cancun Channel. A ferry departs almost hourly from this pier in the center of downtown San Miguel. This location is also used for cruise ship tenders.

Av Lic Benito Juárez & Av. Rafael E. Melgar, Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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Bulldog with Cigar and Sunglasses in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Several souvenir shops and bars in San Miguel sell cigars as do kiosk merchants and shady guys at beaches. Travel sites and reviews often caution smoking aficionados about buying cigars in Cozumel, particularly the high-end, Cuban brands. Apparently most are fakes. Perhaps that is why this bulldog in front of a retail store looks so unhappy. Maybe it is better to travel the 350 extra miles to Havana.

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7 Tribute to Coral Reefs in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This arched sculpture of two scuba divers on Avenida Raphael Melgar is a tribute to Cozumel’s loveliest natural asset: the coral reefs. Since Jacques Cousteau raved about them in 1961, they have become extremely popular among underwater enthusiasts. There are more than thirty dive sites along the island’s west coast. Lists are available online describing each by location, features, depths and skill level. Several are close to shore so they are easy to reach and explore. You will also find a host of resources catering to divers including shops, instructors, tours and even resorts.

Calle 2 Nte & Av. Rafael E. Melgar, Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico

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8 Avenue Rafael E. Melgar in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

San Miguel’s main tourist district runs along the waterfront on Avenue Rafael E. Melgar. Here you will find the major shops, restaurants and attractions such as the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel on the right. This is a natural and human history museum with fascinating displays from the pre-Columbian and colonial periods. The street’s namesake is Brigadier General Rafael Eustace Melgar. After his critical military service during the Mexican Revolution, he became a powerful politician. Towards the end of his career, he was the Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands and then a national senator from 1952 until 1958.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar & Calle 6 Nte, Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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9 Toucan Holding Rattle Statue in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This colorful toucan holding a rattle is one of about a dozen statues along the waterfront west of the ferry pier in front of the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel. Strolling on this boardwalk (a maleón in Spanish) is a delightful alternative to fighting the crowds of tourists doing the “sidewalk shuffle” on the other side of Avenida Raphael Melgar.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar & Calle 6 Nte, Centro, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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10 Monument of Two Cultures in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

A Spanish crew was shipwrecked off the Yucatán Peninsula coast in 1511. Of the 15 sailors enslaved by the Mayans, only two survived. The figure holding the spear is a tribute to one of them: Gonzalo Guerrero. He embraced the Mayan culture, married a princess named Zazil Ha and had three children. They were the first mestizos, a mix of European and Amerindian. Guerrero died in 1536 while defending against the Spanish. This Monument of Two Cultures is along the waterfront on Avenue Rafael Melgar.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar & Antonio González Fernández, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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11 Brown Pelican and Cruise Ship in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This juvenile brown pelican will not wear the adult’s plumage until his third year. In the meantime, he seems very content to sit on the promenade facing the International Pier while watching boats big and small come and go. The Norwegian Spirit is a 2,000 person ship operated by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Av. Rafael E. Melgar 15, Centro, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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12 Bar Options in San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

It has been a long day of sightseeing around Cozumel. You are hot, tired and thirsty plus there is time before your cruise ship sails. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of places near the terminals to sit back, relax and sip something cold. Señor Frog’s is one option. Other brand-name bars include the Hard Rock Cafe and Margaretville. Another favorite is Carlos and Charlie’s. By the way, their ice is made with distilled water so it is safe. Just do not drink tap water while visiting the island.

Muelle Internacional SSA, Km 4.5 Carretera Costera Sur, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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13 Snorkeling at Dzul-Ha Reef near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel is famous for snorkeling but many of the best locations require a boat ride. The Dzul-Ha Reef is a beautiful exception. Located just 3.5 miles south of San Miguel, the underwater adventure starts almost immediately after stepping offshore. It is also a great spot for socializing while the rest of the family enjoys their swim.

PalMar Snorkel Beach Club, Av. Rafael E. Melgar, San Miguel de Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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14 Hawksbill Sea Turtle Mural near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel’s coastal waters are blessed with an abundance of turtles. From April through September, loggerheads and green turtles lay their eggs along the eastern shore. Giant leatherbacks and hawksbill sea turtles like this one are frequently seen searching for food in the reefs and among the bays. This wonderful mural by Datoh Sanah at the Money Bar Beach Club celebrates these delightful reptiles.

The Money Bar, Carretera Chancanab 25, Zona Residencial, 77663 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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15 Pier at Chankanaab Park near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This wooden pier is part of the large, natural habitat for the star performers at Dolphin Discovery. It also marks the northern edge of the Chankanaab National Reef Park. Its name means “little sea” in Mayan. Since being declared as a National Marine Park in 1980, its mission is to protect the area’s flora and fauna. Adjacent is the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. This attraction provides an ideal environment for families. You will enjoy all of the facilities needed for swimming, snorkeling and sunning plus a playground, marine shows, a museum and restaurants.

Natural Spa Cozumel Carretera Sur Int. Parque Chankanaab, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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16 Dolphin Discovery near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Dolphin Discovery in Cozumel is one of about 20 “Swim with Dolphins” programs managed by this company throughout Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and the United States. You can select to either snorkel with the dolphins (Swim Adventure) or have them pull and push you through the water (Royal Swim). Both journeys with these affectionate mammals end with a kiss and a hug. Additional entertainment is provided by sea lions.

Dolphin Discovery Cozumel, Carretera Costera Sur Km. 9.5, Parque Nacional Chankanaab, 77600 San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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17 Woman Sitting at Outdoor Bar near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

When at home, everything is rushed and even the slightest delay is frustrating. Somehow vacationing in Cozumel is completely and delightfully different. You are perfectly content sitting on a rope-swing chair while waiting for the barkeep to serve your adult beverage.

Carretera Costera Sur km 10 + 183, Costeras SUr, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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18 Rusted Smoothbore Cannon near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

I could not learn the history of this rusting, smoothbore cannon on Cozumel’s western shore. If authentic, it probably did not see much action. The island was relatively peaceful until the arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortéz in 1519. After heavily damaging many of the Mayan communities, he returned to the mainland to conquer other parts of Mexico. What he left behind was smallpox. Within 50 years, approximately 40,000 Mayans had died. By 1600, the island was deserted. Other than a few visiting pirates, there were no permeant residents here until the middle of the 19th century.

Carretera Costera Sur km 10 + 183, Costeras SUr, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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19 Pool at Paradise Beach Club near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

There are several “beach clubs” along Cozumel’s western coast offering an array of resort-type accommodations for day trippers. Various price options provide access to the beach and facilities up to full meal and beverage packages. One of the finest pools on the island is at the Paradise Beach Club. The water is temperature controlled at 82°, it is surrounded by palm trees and the submerged loungers are an idyllic place to relax.

Carretera Costera Sur Km 14.5, Zona Hotelera Sur, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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20 Pier on Paradise Beach near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Paradise Beach is a short cab ride from San Miguel and well worth the journey. Except for a few rocky patches, the sand is clean and not as crowded as other locations. This wooden pier provides a great perspective of the beach and the gently rolling Caribbean Sea. Directly below the surface is a good place to snorkel. Although it does not rival the island’s top dive spots, you will see schools of colorful fish swimming among the coral.

Carretera Costera Sur Km 14.5, Zona Hotelera Sur, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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21 Inflatable Water Toys near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

A common attraction at Cozumel’s beach clubs are enormous inflated toys anchored just offshore. The extra fee is worth having the kids entertained all day in these aquatic parks. You can also rent paddleboards and kayaks. If ala carte pricing is not your style, then consider Mr. Sanchos. Their day pass is higher but it is all inclusive. You can also eat and drink to your heart’s content.

Mr Sanchos, Km. 15 Carretera Costera Sur, Carretera Costera Sur, 77600 Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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22 Pool Bar at Mr. Sanchos near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

The peak tourism season in Cozumel extends from November through April. These are also the clearest months of the year. The abundant sunshine raises the average temperature from the high 70s to lower 80s Fahrenheit. Some people find the best way to maintain their cool is standing waist deep in the pool while resting their elbows at the bar.

Mr Sanchos, Km. 15 Carretera Costera Sur, Carretera Costera Sur, 77600 Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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23 Stroll on Playa Palancar near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Reaching Playa Palancar requires about a 20 minute ride from San Miguel. The extra cab fare is worth it. Unlike most beaches on the west coast, access to this beautiful sand is free and surprisingly not as crowded. So slip off your sandals and savor a solo stroll. Afterwards, you have full access to watersports equipment rental, food and drinks, restrooms and changing facilities and more of this gorgeous view.

Carretera costera sur Km 19.5, Cozumel, 77601 Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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24 Friends Enjoying Playa Palancar near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Traveling is fun at any age but especially when accompanied by an old and dear friend. You have shared a lot of life together. You have wonderful memories of the past. Sometimes you can sit side-by-side on a beach, watch the rolling waves and rarely say a word yet be in totally harmony.

Carretera costera sur Km 19.5, Cozumel, 77601 Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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25 Coastline at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

After paying a small fee to enter Punta Sur Park, you will be treated to specular views of the island’s southern point during the drive to the lighthouse. The waves are very rough here so wait until you reach the park’s western shoreline for swimming and snorkeling. But this beach is the ideal place for nesting sea turtles.

Punta Sur Park Entrance, Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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26 Observation Tower at Colombia Lagoon at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Colombia Lagoon is a large body of saltwater consuming most of the 247 acres of Punta Sur Park. The lake is dotted with islets and surrounded with vegetation. This reserve is a critical element in the park’s ecological mission to protect native flora and fauna. Climb the watchtower for an elevated view of all the wildlife including crocodiles. Bird watchers love catching glimpses of flamingos, herons and spoonbills plus several indigenous species. The best month for migratory birds is in May.

Zona Arqueológica El Caracol, Punta Sur, Cozumel, Mexico
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27 Roadside Reef Display at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Punta Sur is surrounded by a coral reef. Some of it accessible by novice snorkelers while other fabulous spots such as the Cathedral and Devil’s Throat are reserved for advanced divers. For people who abhor getting their feet wet, maybe this roadside display along the Colombia Lagoon will suffice. The spontaneous artwork featured coral, sponges, sea fans and conch shells. Hopefully it is still there when you visit.

Zona Arqueológica El Caracol, Punta Sur, Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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28 Tumba del Caracol at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This square building constructed with blocks of cut coral is El Caracol. The Mayans built this temple during the Post Classic period (950 – 1539 AD). It is located on the road to the Celarain Lighthouse within Punta Sur Park. Tumba del Caracol was dedicated to Ix Chel. She was the goddess of the moon, sex, childbirth and medicine. The same deity was worshiped at San Gervasio, a much larger archeological site in the center of Cozumel.

Zona Arqueológica El Caracol, Punta Sur, Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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29 Pounding Surf at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

If you look at a map of the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, you notice the island’s southern point (Punta Sur) is also called La Playa Más Hermosa. In Spanish, this translates to The Most Beautiful Beach. This seems to be more descriptive than an actual name. It deserves the adjective beautiful. But the pounding surf against the rocky shoreline is not conducive to swimming or sunning.

Museo De Navegacion San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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30 Lighthouse and Signpost at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Faro de Celarain is located on the Punta Sur Promontory. The 85 foot lighthouse was built in 1934 to help ships navigate the reefs along the southernmost tip of Cozumel. The 1908 keeper’s house is now a small nautical museum. Climbing the 133 steps provides a panoramic view of Punta Sur Park and the Caribbean Sea. It is easy to find. Just triangulate the distances shown on this way signpost.

Museo De Navegacion San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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31 Arched Lighthouse Ruin at Punta Sur near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Given all of the Mayan archeological sites on Cozumel, I assumed this ruined staircase above an arch was centuries old. Instead, it is the foundation of a lighthouse preceding the adjacent Faro de Celarain. The station was established in 1908.

Museo De Navegacion San Miguel de Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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32 El Mirador Sea Arch near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

These people are standing on an enormous sea arch called El Mirador Lookout. The angry waves were relentlessly crashing against the sharp ledge, swallowing up the opening and threatening to do the same to the tourists. Its Spanish name is derived from the ability to stand on this natural bridge and see the coast of Cuba. That claim is doubtful. It is much easier to see the blow holes and tide pools encircling this amazing landmark.

El Mirador, Quintana Roo C-1, Q. R., Mexico
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33 San Martin Beach Lookout Tower near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Playa San Martin is on the eastern or windward side of the island. It is also called Playa Bonita or the Naked Turtle. Missing are the throngs of tourists. Instead you find a long stretch of golden white sand with a terrific view of the Caribbean Sea. The aquamarine water looks inviting but be cautious. The consistent waves and strong currents create a beautifully dangerous combination. Across the street is a small restaurant and bar.

Quintana Roo C-1, Playa San Martín Cozumel, Q. R., Mexico
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34 Chen Rio Beach Barefoot Stroll near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Playa Chen Rio is great for swimming, sunning, eating and drinking. Sometimes wonderful moments and precious memories are created with your best friend during a barefoot stroll along the beach. There is nothing like the smell of the sea and romance in the air.

Chen Rio Quintana Roo C-1, Q. R., Mexico
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35 Chen Rio Beach Swimming Lagoon near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Tourists stay away from the windward coast because the constant waves are bad for swimming. That reputation is just fine with the locals. They prefer keeping their secret about the best beach on the “other side.” It is Chen Rio. The playa’s highlight is the warm, shallow waters of this lagoon formed by a large natural seawall. Nearby are restaurants and bars sheltered with thatch roofs. There is nothing like a delicious meal and a cold drink to compliment a hot tropical day.

Chen Rio Quintana Roo C-1, Q. R., Mexico
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