If you’re vacationing on a shoe-string budget, or you just need some free things to do with your free time between activities, here are some cool and (truly) free Cozumel “things to do” ideas and suggestions.
Cozumel can be a very economical destination for your vacation, especially if you don’t require the fanciest all-inclusive resort, and you like eating in multi-cultural local cafes, authentic taco joints, and delicious “mom-and-pop” restaurants.
Scuba diving costs can add up, but aside from that, there are loads of free ways to spend your time in Cozumel so you can save your budget for the main expenses of your vacation.
Cozumel offers many free things to see and do, especially around the downtown area of San Miguel de Cozumel, or “Centro,” as it’s known to locals. There is a wide variety of free street art and performance in Cozumel, as well as many free seasonal exhibitions and concerts, and specific beaches that are known for their beautiful blue Caribbean water and their free and easy access – with no strings attached.
And just to thank you for being here, we’ll start with two bonus top-level money-saving tips for vacationing in Cozumel thrown in right upfront, even before we get to the 10 fun and free things to do while you’re here.
(And p.s. aren’t you tired of articles that promise free ideas, but then list 20 things that have an admissions fee, right off the bat? I don’t get that… I truly hope you come and enjoy a lot more of what this island has to offer and help boost the local economy if you can, but you also need moments while traveling to just be, and not feel like you’re shelling out cash left and right. Right?)
Find Cozumel Accommodations in Centro San Miguel
Again, this is not yet part of the 10 free things list to do in Cozumel, which will come just below.
But if you want to travel on the cheap in Cozumel, cutting down on transportation costs is one of the best ways.
If you find a nice hotel or private accommodation rental in downtown San Miguel de Cozumel – or “Centro” as Cozumel’s downtown area is called – you’ll have a ton of things to do and see within walking distance of your home base. Plus, you’ll be very close to the airport and/or the ferry terminal, so even your arrival and departure will be quick and cheap (or perhaps even included in your hotel deal?).
Overall, staying in Cozumel’s Centro area is a great way to avoid taking taxis, or renting a car while you’re here. Plus, it’s very safe and very cool!
If you’re comfortable really exploring a place on foot, downtown Cozumel will NOT disappoint you.
If you’re not sure yet and want a little more info on Centro vs. the other main hotel zones in Cozumel, skim through this related post, here.
Fly Into Cancun Airport and Do the Bag Drag
The second bonus, money-saving tip for a budget trip to Cozumel: most flights direct to Cozumel International Airport (CZM) come at a higher price. It may well be worth it, especially while we’re all still grappling with Covid-19 concerns, but it is more expensive.
If you fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN), especially from the U.S. or Canada, chances are you can find much better rates – and often a direct flight.
The downside is, you have to get yourself from Cancun down to Playa del Carmen, and then take a ferry boat ride over to Cozumel. But don’t fret! It’s really easy!
You could arrange a shuttle or hail a cab to drive you from Cancun International Airport (CUN) to Playa del Carmen.
But the cheapest way to get from Cancun Airport to Cozumel is to take a bus from CUN (the “aeropuerto” location) to the ferry in Playa del Carmen (or just “Playa”). And it is still VERY easy!
The process is familiarly known to Cozumel locals and frequent visitors as “the bag drag.”
This refers to dragging your suitcases from the plane to the bus, and then from the bus to the ferry, and ultimately into your hotel room.
Honestly, though, that makes it sound much worse than it is, especially if you’re an experienced lithe and limber budget traveler. You’ve got this!
Cancun to Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 1:
When you land at Cancun International Airport (CUN), you’ll go through immigration, collect your luggage, and pass through customs. Lately, Cancun has been lightly checking through more bags, but the whole process usually doesn’t take more than 30-40 minutes.
As you leave the airport, find the red and white “ADO Bus” logo, and purchase a ticket on the next departing bus to Playa del Carmen. As of February 2021, the fare is $210 MXN (approximately $10 USD).
The ticket looks like this (below) and will have an assigned seat – look for “ASIENTO”:
Cancun to Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 2:
When you arrive in Playa del Carmen after approximately one hour (depending on traffic), you will get off the bus at the very last stop.
To me, the worst part of the whole thing comes right now: If you have a bag stowed under the bus, it’s a big bottleneck situation to retrieve your bag and maintain your patience. But just do so, and you’ll also maintain your dignity. And truly, you’ll have your bag in hand in just a few minutes.
Soon enough, you’ll be on your way.
It’s a nice, vibrant stroll through the beachy area of Playa del Carmen, and just about 6-8 blocks downhill to the ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen.
If you have any mobility issues or general trouble with luggage at that point, there are always loads of bicycle “pedi-cabs” to help you with your bags (for a small fee, of course).
Cancun to Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 3:
Purchase a ticket for the next ferry to Cozumel for approximately $200 MXN (another $10 USD)
**Please note: During the Covid-19 period, the two ferry companies serving Cozumel are alternating days, and have fewer crossings. They typically cross every hour, on the hour. However, currently (as of early 2021), while more have been added, there are still fewer departure times, which occasionally creates crowding.
So again, be patient, and just prepare to enjoy the breezy beach air and the relatively comfortable waiting area in Playa del Carmen if you have time to kill before the next boat. But do wait there in the terminal, or very nearby – you want to be sure to get a good place in the queue and get on that next available ferry.
I prefer the Ultramar ferry (Blue and Yellow), so you’re in luck if it’s running on your arrival day.
Ultramar has very nice boats, and fun, live entertainment. That will do wonders to erase your minor travel frustrations from the bag drag, and you’ll be on a cool ferry boat, on your last leg of the journey to Cozumel.
The other ferry is called Winjet, and its logo and boats are bright orange, so you can’t miss them.
Winjet is really the same process, and the staff is equally nice and helpful, but the experience is a tad less cheerful, IMHO. But it’s still easy and effective – all good. (See our FAQ page here for a little more info and the link to both ferry carrier Facebook pages.)
After the approximately 45-minute ferry ride from Playa, you’ll arrive in Cozumel.
From there, you either have a short walk (if you took my advice above) or there will be lots of Cozumel taxi cabs to take you to your final accommodation. Just ask the price first, before you settle in, so there are no misunderstandings.
10 Free Things to Do in Cozumel
OK, now to the heart of the matter. Once you’ve arrived on Cozumel, what can you do around town for free? Maybe you just want to soak in the place, on the cheap? Or maybe you have plans to dive or do other relatively spendy activities and need the rest of the time to go easy on your wallet.
I was definitely in that situation many times, and with some cheap eats thrown in, and maybe a love of street photography for added enjoyment points, you can hang out in Cozumel and not break the bank!
1. Visit Cozumel’s Central Market (El Mercado)
Go to Cozumel’s public Mercado Municipal to poke around and people-watch.
This bustling market in the center of Centro is open early, and full of fresh produce, meat, fish, breakfast and lunch counters, spices, housewares, cultural items, people hand-making fresh tortillas, etc. All walks of life and all kinds of local Mexican culture right in one big square block.
(Main entrance points located along Calle R. Salas, spanning Av. 20 and Av. 25)
2. Watch the Cozumel Morning Work Along the Waterfront
Get up early and watch the local fishermen go out along the Cozumel waterfront on Melgar Avenue.
Catch a show of a dive shop crew slinging tanks and preparing boats.
Stroll by the ferry terminal and see the various ferry and terminal service personnel get prepped and ready for the day, and the parade of morning-fresh taxi drivers line up for some good morning gossip before a long day of driving. Not the most glamorous side of things, but very very real.
(I mean, do you think she just wakes up looking like this?)
(Walk along the Malecón, a.k.a. Melgar Avenue, between about 7th St Sur, on up to the north end of downtown, then walk it in reverse!)
3. Visit the Cozumel San Miguel Cemetery
There is a quaint, gated graveyard in Centro San Miguel de Cozumel is known as Panteón San Miguel. It may sound creepy and macabre, but trust me, it is not.
It is a lovely and well-kept cemetery full of fascinating family mausoleums, varying decades of decorative arts, and deep personal histories. Like so many public places in Cozumel, it’s also full of flowers and pretty landscaping.
(Located on Av. 5 Sur, on the bend in the road between Calle 7 and Av. 10 Sur).
Bonus points if you are in Cozumel in time for Mexico’s moving Day of the Dead (Días de los Muertos) celebrations, annually on November 1 & 2.
Coming on the heels of our ghostly and ghoulish Halloween, the Días de Los Muertos is a refreshing acknowledgment of those we’ve lost, and an invitation for them to come back for a visit – and enjoy all of their favorite Earthly treats.
If you are in town, another free walk through the residential blocks will reveal personal altars to the towns’ ancestors.
And once Covid-19 is behind us, I’m quite sure Cozumel’s center square (or zócalo) will host exhibits and parties for Day of the Dead, as they always have before.
4. Go Swimming or Snorkeling Along Cozumel’s Beachfront
There are lots of places you can access the water along Cozumel’s main shores, though it does help to have wheels to get to many of them.
But close to Centro, there are a few good spots where you can walk on up and jump into the clear Cozumel water with no expectation of even buying a Coke for the pleasure.
Of course, many nice beach clubs with comfy chairs and clean bathrooms have free admission, too, but they often do hope – and kind of rightly expect – that you might enjoy a small meal or a couple of drinks while you’re there (and using their chairs and bathrooms, etc). But it’s often not mandatory.
For the true free Cozumel beach experience, try these spots:
- The beach access point just north of Hemingway restaurant (Melgar Ave., just north of the Airport road.)
- The popular little “locals” beach south of town called Playa Caletitas has a nice sandy slope into a clear blue dip. Never crowded, except on late Sunday afternoons when lots of families come out for a swim.
(This is also along Melgar Ave., south of town at the base of the car ferry pier.)
5. Volunteer for a Local Cozumel Cause
OK, you may not want to “work” during your vacation, but getting involved and helping local organizations is free and an excellent way to get an insider’s view of the Cozumel community that you’d never get otherwise.
There are always opportunities to pitch in walking dogs or petting cats at the Humane Society, large events like the Ironman triathlons and various bike and running races that look for volunteers, and occasional beach clean-ups where fellow do-gooders will give you a lift, etc.
If you plan ahead, this free way to spend time could just actually reward you in the end.
6. Poke Around Cozumel’s Grocery Stores
Snoozer? Well, I don’t know about you, but over time and quite by accident I realized, and admitted (first step…), my love of shopping for everyday items in a foreign land.
I’d go in needing soap or some chapstick, and never come out! It turns out I just love to poke around the aisles, browsing the different ingredients, brands, and the local array of fresh fruits and veggies.
I often end up buying something, it’s true. I might try a new soda, or try to find a reusable grocery tote bag as a memento. But that’s optional!
For a really good time, check out the cookies or candy aisle!
And not for nothing, another bonus tip: while not free, foreign candies are amazingly inexpensive – yet very popular – souvenirs to bring home for any young kids that might be waiting eagerly at home for that post-card or giant sombrero. (Ditto spare foreign change and small bills.) Save luggage space and buy them a few Mexican candy bars. They’ll love it.
7. Find All of Cozumel’s Seawalls Murals
The Pangeaseed Foundation has held two of their global “Seawalls: Paint for a Purpose” campaigns on Cozumel Island. The first was in 2015, and the second in 2019.
The Seawalls project brings supremely talented, large-scale mural artists from all over the world to coastal area communities to learn about the local environment, discuss the various threats facing the oceans, mangroves, and coastal communities.
And then they turn it all into a beautiful festival of paint and pride of place.
I was lucky enough to sponsor part of the Seawalls Cozumel 2019 project, and to meet some of the impressive artists that came to town, including the filmmaker behind this awesome short film (8 mins) by Yoshi Travel. This video is a fantastic summary of the inspiration behind the murals project, as well as a beautiful – if sobering – look at Cozumel and her natural environment.
All in, there are now approximately 58 (remaining) Seawalls murals scattered all through downtown San Miguel. And the best part is, in looking for the Seawalls paintings in Cozumel, you’ll also stumble on a vast array of street art that is not even part of that program.
Mexico is nothing if not colorful and creative, so a self-guided street art treasure hunt is super fun and trying to find them ALL could truly last you for days.
See here for an earlier post on the blog about the Pangeaseed program.
8. Do a Daily Fitness Walk Along the Shore
When I’m not diving, my daily exercise is usually a good walk along the shoreline path on Cozumel’s west (main) side of the island.
While I get my steps in, and my heart pumping, I also get to check in with the daily weather and water conditions. I can see the action at various hotels and dive shops, and often spot signs for new events in town that wouldn’t be on my radar, otherwise.
I also inevitably see some new and interesting forms of Cozumel wildlife, ranging from small geckos to large iguanas, and huge pelicans to brilliant birds.
A simple daily walk is obviously good for fitness, but also a really good way to plug-in to what’s going on on the island, and likely get ideas for other free things to do later in the day.
If this appeals to you, be sure to also review our post on the three main Cozumel coastal walks here, it includes distances and approximate step counts!
9. Watch the Famous Cozumel Sunset on The Malecón
Every day. If the weather is fine (and it usually is), the Cozumel sunset is just beautiful.
Unlike Cancun and Tulum on the Mexican mainland, Cozumel island’s main drag and most of her hotels face West. So everyone in town can enjoy the most incredible daily sunsets over the water. And many people do each and every day.
If you walk or sit along the waterfront Malecón – the Spanish equivalent of waterfront promenade – you’ll see lots of locals out there, too. People just getting off work, couples meeting up for a date, and families that might watch the sunset while taking a quick dip in the water.
It’s just really nice and charming and cool. And completely free.
10. Take In a Free Cozumel Concert
Caveat: This one may be the only one with a serious Covid-19 disclaimer. As of February 2021, Cozumel has not resumed many of its customary free and fabulous public cultural events, in a prudent effort to maintain social distancing and to allow other businesses to stay open as much as possible.
So, while I fully expect the free weekly musical concerts in the main plaza to start up again, and the Carnaval parades to dance and delight in 2022, this year of 2021 is a little quieter in town, overall.
That said, Cozumel is still Cozumel, and it’s still bursting with life and live music in a responsible manner, even during la pandemia. Chances are if you just walk around Centro for a while, you will hear live music spilling out of many venues. Walk around the plaza and see what’s going on at Woody’s or Dick’s Dive, for starters.
As you can see, common venues are often naturally open to the outdoors, making it easy to enjoy the performances from a safe spot, and also a free spot – you can find a nearby park bench, or just hang around a while and catch a few tunes.
Then move on, and head a few more blocks into downtown, and you’ll likely hear the strains of some salsa, or maybe Cuban jazz coming from local restaurants or clubs.
Stroll further down south along the waterfront to eavesdrop on some beach bar music at Turquoise (formerly) or the Latino del Mar venue, right across from the Casa del Mar hotel.
There is a good rotation of live bands all over town, and the music often ranges from Mexican pop, to traditional dance music, to English-language classic rock covers.
Finally, on your way back to your lodging, check out the park in front of the Palacio Municipal, another likely spot for public concerts, or during quieter times, a common spot for free family fun in the evenings.
People gather at the playground and there is often a small convoy of electric kiddie cars being manned by local kiddie daredevils. It’s adorable, and a nice free slice of life to round out your visit.
Then maybe live a little, and finally buy yourself some fresh sweet churros or an ear of esquítes street corn at the vendor stands on the east side of the Palacio park (a.k.a. Parque Quintana Roo).
For other ways to budget your trip to Cozumel, read our related post, here, with information on different budget estimates for diving, accommodations, food, and other travel expenses on the island.