Best things to do on Isla Cozumel in Mexico

One of the highlights of Mexico are its tropical beaches and islands. Choosing one or two is almost impossible, but Isla Cozumel may be just a little bit more special than the others. It is one of the largest islands of Yucatán which makes it quite diverse. From rugged coast to white beaches, from deserted nature to an attractive town. And we love that you can take your rental car with you on the island and cruise along all the highlights. We listed the attractions of Isla Cozumel, including the best free thing to do on the island.

Sunset Cozumel | round trip Yucatan Mexico
Sea Walls murals | Cozumel Yucatan Mexico

How to get to Cozumel?

Cozumel Island is located in southwestern Mexico, in the peninsula of Yucatán. Popular destinations like Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are nearby. The island is not far from the coast and is only a short boat ride away from the mainland.

The main ferry leaves from Playa del Carmen on a regular schedule. But if you want to bring your rental car with you to the island, you’ll have to drive to another ferry to the south of Playa del Carmen. The ferries have their own dock on Cozumel Island, both are located at the town of San Miguel de Cozumel.

Ferry Cozumel | road trip Yucatan Mexico round trip road trip
Road trip Cozumel | round trip Yucatan Mexico

How to get around Cozumel?

The island is very easy to navigate. It comes down to a single road around the entire island. The ferries arrive at the town of San Miguel on the west coast. From San Miguel, a road leads across the island to the east coast. From there, the road runs along the coast to the southern tip and back up until you’re back at San Miguel de Cozumel and the docks of the ferries and cruise ships.

A rental car is the best way to get around the island. We already mentioned how you can bring it with you from the mainland. Bicycles, scooters, cars and buggies can also be rented on Cozumel. But rental prices on the island are much higher than on the mainland, so it is best to bring your rental car with you on the ferry. Cycling is also a good option to get around the island. The distances are short enough, but – certainly on windy days – expect a long bike ride.

Please note that parking in San Miguel de Cozumel during the day is not allowed. In the evening it is. You might notice cars parked everywhere on the streets during the day, but don’t be fooled and get yourself a ticket. The parking tickets aren’t very expensive, as ew unfortunately know from experience. But it is annoying and a waste of your money.

Isla Cozumel | Yucatan Mexico | The Orange Backpack
Sea Walls murals | Cozumel Yucatan Mexico

Best things to do in Cozumel

The island is very popular with travelers and cruise ships. Part of Cozumel is therefore very touristy and busy, especially during the day when the cruise ships are just docking. But we know exactly where to go for the nicest places and where it is busy or not.

# 1 The white beaches

The highlight of a tropical paradise like Cozumel are obviously the idyllic beaches. The west coast of Cozumel is where the cruise ships dock and where you’ll fnd the most beautiful beaches. The white beaches, blue waters and snorkeling options make this the most popular spot on Cozumel. That also menas it can get a bit crowded and the beach bars are very expensive.

That’s why we prefer the coast on the east side of the island. Much of it is just rock beaches, but there are some idyllic white beaches as well. A must-visit is Rio Chen Mirador with parasols to shelter from the hot sun. The water can get rough at this side of Cozumel due to the open ocean. The current is very strong and the waves are high. You can not really have a swim unfortuntely. It is a great place to play in the high waves though, but make sure to watch our fot the current (and the rocks on the beach).

# 2 The rugged coast with blow holes and rock arches

But the east side of Cozumel has a fantastic rugged coast with rock beaches as well. Due to the strong waves, part of the rocky coast is worn away leaving some entertaining blow holes. The huge rock arches are also a beautiful sight. You can find them in the southeast of Cozumel.

# 3 Punta Sur

The southernmost tip of Cozumel is the covered by the Punta Sur park. It’s one of the more popular highlights on the island, so expect biggers crowds and an entrance fee. But you will get a beautiful natural area in return. With beautiful beaches, a reef for snorkeling and diving, hiking trails and an ancient Mayan ruin.

# 4 The town of San Miguel de Cozumel

Cozumel island is big enough to have its own town. San Miguel is a cozy town with quiet streets, busy shopping streets, large supermarkets, authentic restaurants, trendy hotspots and a large square with fountains. The closer to the coast, the busier the streets get. The best streets and restaurants are a little further from the coast.

# 5 Golden hour and sunset

Almost every sunset from the Malecon – the promenade on the west of the island at San Miguel – is beautiful. There are several restaurants with a beautiful sunset view, but expact to pay for that. It might even be more fun to just walk down the promenade and watch the sky turn orange, purple, pink and red.

# 6 Local Mayan ruins

Like most of southern Mexico, Cozumel was home to the ancient Maya. The island still has some ancient ruins to testify to this history. The park Punta Sur has the ruins of the Caracol temple, but the largest ruins are San Gervasio in the north of Cozumel. It was once a temple dedicated to the fertility goddess Ix Chel. It was an important place for the Maya and a sort of pilgrimage site for Maya women.

# 7 Street art at the Sea Walls

If you are less fan of historic sites, then a tour of the Sea Walls might be for you. The Sea Walls are a positive protest to gain attention for the conservation of nature and healthy oceans. All over the world Sea Walls are decorated with ocean-themed street art, but nowhere as much as on Isla Cozumel. A location is chosen every year and Cozumel has had this honor several times. On the Sea Walls website you can find an overview of the 53 murals in San Miguel. But you can’t really miss them walking or driving around town, as there are 53 of these enormous art works all over town.

Sea Walls murals | Cozumel Yucatan Mexico
Sea Walls murals | Cozumel Yucatan Mexico

Food and drinks on Cozumel

Cozumel has many hip hotspots, expensive clubs, nice restaurants and cozy coffee spots. We explored many of them and quickly had a list of our favorites. The busiest and most expensive restaurants can be found close to the coast. Our favorites are a bit further in town.

  • Maple Bakehouse has two shops for the best bread and breakfast.
  • Oaxalma for the very best, top quality coffee from a coffee connoisseur.
  • Diez con Quince for vegetarian and vegan food.
  • Crazy King Burrito for fantastic burritos at a competitive price.
  • Amparos for the best breakfast and French toast.
  • Agave for fancy cocktails at a tiny cocktail bar on the main square.
  • Cali Café for vegan food.
  • Cerveceria Punta Sur for locally brewed beer and good pizza.
  • Coz Coffee Roasting for coffee and breakfast.
  • Cielito Grill for the meat lovers.
  • El Coffe for coffee and cake.

Extra tip: hotels on Cozumel are often big and touristic resorts. We therefore chose an Airbnb with our own kitchen and swimming pool at a local home. There are several rooms, but the top room with its own terrace is the most beautiful. Highly recommended!

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