During the lockdown back in 2020, the usually hopping plazas and streets in downtown Cozumel were deserted. Except for that day one lone deer was photographed wandering up the center of Melgar Avenue along the waterfront.
It seemed like Cozumel wildlife might emerge and take back the streets – kind of like our threatened species of blue crabs do annually in the late summer, crossing the main coastal road en masse, heading toward the shoreline where the females will lay their eggs in the ocean.
You’ll notice reminders in town and on social media to drive slow and watch out for them, one of several important tips if you’re renting a car when you get here.
Cozumel is widely known for scuba diving, situated near some of the best dives sites in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
The island’s impressive mix of reefs, jungles, mangroves, and beaches are also home to thousands of bird species, crocs, lizards, sea turtle hatchlings, juvenile marine animals, and many endemic species including the coati, the emerald hummingbird, and the splendid toadfish.
If you’re taking your vacation in Cozumel as a nature lover, a responsible traveler, an eco-conscious tourist and want to lend a hand with some sustainable tourism activities, there are lots fun and inspiring eco-friendly excursions and things to do on the island.
Here are some of the top choices.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Cozumel
Most divers and snorkelers in Cozumel really love the ocean, the coral reefs, and all the lively and cool marine life.
Most of us know a thing or two about declines in coral health, problems from pollution and invasive species, and the increase in ocean acidification.
But the sad truth is, we’re still adding to the problems when we fly to remote destinations, wear neoprene, fleece and other performance fabrics, dive with poor buoyancy control, etc.
A good first step is to periodically review the responsible SCUBA diving practices on PADI’s Project Aware program page, where you can also “take the pledge” to follow all their recommended diver conservation tips:
As for ideas specific to SCUBA diving in Cozumel, try to do your part and add these tips to your diving prep:
- Master your buoyancy; don’t touch, kick, rest on, or grab the coral reef or the sandy bottom of the ocean floor
- Pack and use a good reusable water bottle while traveling, around town, and on your dive/snorkel boat
- Wear physical sun-blocking protection, and use reef-safe sun and bath products (for more on this, see last section of this article)
- Ask your Cozumel dive operator if they’re an authorized operator in the National Marine Park (see image below)
- Ask your dive operator if they’re part of Cozumel’s island’s effort to power all recreational boats with local bio-fuel, called “Inn-Loop”
- Ask your dive operator if they provide a large thermos jug of water for you to use your own reusable bottle, rather than handing out individual plastic bottles (then remember to bring your bottle)
- Keep all chemical lotions, sprays, and body products to a minimum before you swim in the national marine park
- Use this excellent reef-safe mask defogger
- See rule #1 again. If you need to fine-tune your SCUBA diving skills, that’s something to be proud of! Consider taking the Peak Performance Buoyancy mastery class with your local Cozumel dive shop.
Cozumel Coral Reef Restoration
If you’re a certified diver and care about the coral reefs, you can also take the opportunity to get involved with Cozumel’s Coral Reef Restoration program while you’re here.
Offering courses for new and experienced scuba divers, the Cozumel Coral Reef Restoration experience will have you diving in to help plant and maintain their farm areas of salvaged and regenerated corals.
Coral reef fragments are cultivated and grown in small controlled areas, and then volunteers also help relocate the fragments that have shown growth into natural reef sections nearby.
All the while you’ll learn all about the process, the growth of cutting-edge knowledge surrounding coral restoration efforts throughout the Caribbean, challenges to the local reefs in the last several years, cruise-ship pollution and stressors, and more.
Rare Cozumel: The Lighthouse Project Razr Tours
The Lighthouse Project, a.k.a. Cozumelbeachcleanup.com , is an awesome tour that combines adventure tourism with sustainable tourism.
It’s fun and a perfect way to help and give back.
Using off-road 4×4 scooters, you’ll have a blast trekking up to the Punta Molas lighthouse in the Northeast corner of the island – a place most visitors and even locals never get to see.
Part of your adventure includes beach cleanup and trash collection along the paths going up to the lighthouse. This area is remote and lightly traveled, but due to wind and storms, has been the unlucky recipient of lots of stray trash over time.
They include lunch and drinks, and you can swim and snorkel in a very cool and unique part of Cozumel’s remote natural coastline.
Pearl Farm of Cozumel
I often describe the Cozumel Pearl Farm as Gilligan’s Island in paradise (except that you eventually can leave…).
There’s a deserted island castaway feel, clever people, science experiments, and intriguing projects at work all around you when you visit.
Plus a gorgeous beach, a fun boat ride to ‘power snorkel’ and see their pearl cultivation process, a yummy lunch thrown in, and even a nap on a hammock if you’d like.
This is one of the special gem excursions in Cozumel (no pun intended), and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it yet.
Bonus points if you’re looking for a special keepsake or gift. When cultivation has gone well, the Cozumel Pearl Farm works with local jewelry craftsmen to incorporate their pearls into special jewelry pieces for sale.
We’re talking about a unique pearl species, grown in situ by a Cozumel family-run pearl farm, and then set into unique hand-crafted Mexican silver work.
A gift of jewelry doesn’t get much more bespoke than that.
See the Pearl Farm’s website for more info and booking details.
Turtle Nesting on Cozumel Coastal Beaches
For the full monty on our local sea turtle populations, including their nesting habits, schedules, and how you can see them and help out, please check out this post all about Cozumel sea turtles.
In the meantime, know that from about May through September, thousands of green and loggerhead sea turtles return to the Cozumel shores to lay their eggs.
Each summer, more and more adult mothers are coming back to deposit large nests of approximately 80-90 eggs each during the late spring.
Then, approximately 90 days later (so starting from late June through September) the exciting part comes – the little tiny turtle hatchlings emerge from the nests and scramble their way down the beach and out to the open ocean.
I’ve seen and been blown away by both the laying and the hatching, so if you’re visiting during any of these months, reserve one early evening and make a point to sign up for this excursion.
You won’t forget the experience.
Again, for the whole story, check out this post, next.
SUP in Cozumel’s Northern Mangroves
This is another unique and beautiful “must do” in Cozumel, especially if you have some stand-up paddleboard (SUP) experience, or want to learn.
Don’t miss the SUP tour of Cozumel’s northern mangroves, with DeLille Sports.
Like the Lighthouse Project, this fun tour also gives you uncommon access to a remote yet vital natural ecosystem in the North end of the island and is only available with DeLille’s excursion.
From water birds to juvenile marine species to an isolated community of “upside-down” blue jellyfish (see my picture, below), this SUP tour gets you up close to a critical habitat using a serene and sustainable method – the clean and quiet paddleboard.
*Please note: this is not grueling, exactly, but it does take some athleticism, effort, balance, and fully eco-friendly sun protection – meaning full hat, long-sleeved shirt, etc.
If you’re new to SUP, I would try this one as part of two sessions with DeLille Sports; Take a regular SUP lesson first, and then do this excursion on the following day, after you’ve gotten the hang of it.
Consume Responsibly in Cozumel
We’re often told to “vote with our wallets” or use purchasing power to communicate in the fight for sustainability. Here are just a few specific ways you can do that while you’re here:
Buy Sustainable Souvenirs
This primarily means avoiding Cozumel souvenirs and keepsakes made from local animals or endangered species.
Coral jewelry, turtle shell accessories, mobiles made from polished conch shells, and pretty much anything else that used to be alive and free.
These are not as commonly showcased in local shops anymore, but they are still around.
For more ideas on what items you could shop for instead, check out this post on unique and artistic gifts and souvenirs to shop for when you’re in town.
Eat Lionfish in Cozumel…Even on Pizza!
If you’re a diver or reader of ocean news, you probably know that the flamboyant lionfish became an invasive species in the Atlantic and Caribbean many years ago.
The reefs of Cozumel aren’t quite swarming with lionfish, but they’re evident on many-most dives and are still considered a great threat to the local marine life.
Lionfish have become a target for divers and eco-conscious travelers in this part of the world.
After a phase of time when many well-intentioned divers were taking sling-style spears on their dives and hunting lionfish with some success, the collateral damage to sponges and corals where the lionfish are usually seeking shelter became a more primary concern.
Marine park rules now restrict lionfish hunting (with a spear) to those who have gotten a permit from the park’s administration.
The best way to hit the target now is to find local businesses that have put lionfish on their menus.
By introducing the delicacy and versatility of this fish and creating a market for them to encourage higher bounties on their catch, local restaurants featuring lionfish dishes give us a great way to help keep lionfish populations low.
Lionfish is mild and buttery, and delicious in ceviche, as a grilled fillet, in lionfish cakes, or even on pizza.
So basically, by just seeking out a delicious restaurant meal, you’ll also be helping with the conservation of Cozumel’s reef environment and natural ecosystem.
Best Places to Find Lionfish on the Menu in Cozumel
This place is a little off the beaten path and well worth the trip.
A favorite local seafood joint, La Perlita was one of the first to really highlight lionfish as a menu item, which helped teach so many of us just how delicious it is.
Their menu is large and varied, so you and other family members can certainly try other things, as well. (But if they have lionfish available that day, try it!)
Location: Calle 10 North at Ave. 65 Bis (one block east of Ave. 65 ‘regular’)
Kondesa is a gem of a restaurant very close to the center of town.
It’s perfect for a date, a family occasion, or just to treat yourself to a solo meal under the twinkling lights in their beautiful, tree-filled garden dining area.
They’ve also long had the most delicious lionfish cakes on their menu!
These lionfish cakes are crispy and light, and come with two incredible homemade sauces – delicious.
Finish up with their decadent churros with rich, warm Mexican chocolate sauce, and you’ll be sleeping soundly. With a smile on your face.
Location: 5th Ave. Sur, between 5th and 7th Streets, Centro
Don’t need to say much more, except to trust me that it’s delicious (and I don’t even like fish that much. But this fish, on this pizza pie? Genius.)
I’ve gone on at length about my favorite pizzas on the island, and this super-good lionfish pizza in particular, but I had to include it here as part of our lionfish info.
If you and your dive buddies are in the mood for some awesome oven-fired pizzas AND the only microbrewed craft beer selections made right here on the island, check it out.
Definitely give this place a try, you won’t regret it. It has fast become a local favorite.
Location: Ave. 10 in Centro, between Calles 3 and Salas
Link: Cerveceria Punta Sur
One of several high-quality Italian restaurants in Cozumel, New Especias has added lionfish to their menu to really win us over.
They have a fantastic menu, a great location, excellent service, and a wonderful two-story dining space, just one block back from the waterfront in Centro.
Along with your lionfish, try their many kinds of pasta, entrees, salads, and delicious appetizers.
And don’t miss the wine list!
Location: Calle 3, between Avs. 5 and 10, Centro
Link: (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/NewEspecias
Seasonal Limits for Cozumel’s Lobster, Conch, and Octopus
While we DO want people to eat a lot of lionfish, there are some local seafood favorites that are definitely not as abundant and therefore officially protected at different times during the year.
There are specific seasons when species like lobsters, queen conch, octopus, and grouper are permitted to be fished and eaten.
And many other times when they are not, to allow for the local populations to reproduce and survive.
As a responsible traveler, try to be aware of this, and work to support these seasonal fishing suspensions by simply ordering something else during these months.
For easier reference, consider saving this graphic chart to your phone:
*In the chart above, when an animal’s icon shows up in a given month, it is forbidden during that month.
Check out this post on local conch species (with some cool UW pictures) if you’d like to know a little more on the subject.
The Island’s Only Bee Sanctuary
Bees are important pollinators, but they are threatened all across the globe – including on the island of Cozumel.
The Bee Sanctuary located on the Transversal Road is a cute little place doing big work.
Stop there on your way to the other side to learn about local bees (most are stingless!), sample local honey, and browse for some natural, honey-based treats, beauty products, and more.
This is one of our favorite kid-friendly family activities, too.
Location: Transversal road at KM 10 (your taxi will know!)
Link: Mayan Bee Sanctuary
Bikes and Electric Bikes around the Island
Not only are electric bikes fun and way safer than typical moto bikes, but they’re also another small way to cut down on burning fuel.
That is your own rented moto’s fuel, and the fuel that ambulance uses when it races to all the tourist moto accident sites! (#justkidding #notreally)
Check out the e-bike outings offered by Beach Bum Cozumel, for starters.
If you’d rather go old school and ride a nice non-motorized bike for a few hours, or a few days, consider a bike rental from another great service company on the island: Rent-a-Bike Cozumel
Birding in Cozumel
I didn’t realize how rich Cozumel’s birding opportunities were before I moved here.
An important stop on various bird migration routes, the island has thousands of documented species encountered.
The (former) Cozumel golf course was designed by Jack Nicklaus’ course company, but in cooperation with the Audobon Society.
It was designated as an Audobon Bird Sanctuary, giving you some idea of the types and quantities of birds in this small area.
Endemic species like the Cozumel Emerald Hummingbird can be spotted with some regularity, once you know what you’re looking for.
Try the very cool outfit Expeditions Cozumel to book a specialty birding hike in the Northern Jungles and marshlands, or in Punta Sur’s wetlands, where you can sometimes see pink flamingos in addition to all variety of tropical and migrating birds.
Cozumel Nature and Street Photography
Even if you’re not a hardcore bird fan or not even that keen on heading into the more jungly areas, there are loads of cool photo ops all around the island.
When I ran the tour company, one of my favorites was a free-form photo-taking tour I led for a woman and her camera.
If you’re into travel photography and plan to take some great Cozumel vacation photos, check out our quick post on the most iconic photo ops in Cozumel.
As the famous eco-tourism saying goes among responsible travelers, “Take only memories/photos memories, leave only footprints/bubbles”
Let that notion be your guide!
Wandering around downtown Cozumel and taking pictures is still one of my favorite (and free) activities to do here.
If you run out of street photography subjects (not likely), some easy drives to the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins, the Other Side of the island, and anywhere along the coastal road will also offer tons of great fodder for your photo habit.
Think Before You Pack Your Bags
As you pack for your trip to Cozumel, really think through what you need, and whether your items create any knock-on effects on the environment.
Probably the biggest example of a conundrum surrounds sun protection.
I’m of Irish descent, and can practically get a sunburn sitting near a sunny window.
So I get it – we really do need to protect ourselves from the sun. And the sun here is strong.
That said, it is more effective and more environmentally friendly to protect ourselves with physical sun barriers – i.e. brimmed hats, polarized sunglasses, and SPF garments like rashguards and camp shirts.
The rest of the time I seek shade on the boat and/or use a hat, shades, a neck gaiter, and my versatile vacation favorite, a quick-dry SPF camp shirt (here’s my favorite on Amazon).
For after the dives, Stream2Sea also makes a great reef-safe leave-in hair conditioner, and other good skin and body care items.
To cut down on chemicals entering the water table, I try to shower with locally made natural soap, package-free shampoo bars, and moisturize with organic coconut and argan oils.
I’ve taken advantage of Cozumel’s many new natural food stores to find natural deodorants, household cleaners, and even makeup.
If you’d like to visit some of Cozumel’s best eco-friendly shops for sustainable products, check out this shortlist and visit them early in your trip so you can enjoy these goodies here, and at home.
They also have an ever-chaging array of cute locally-made goodies that might make great gifts or souvenirs.
Short List of Cozumel Natural Food and Beauty Shops:
Basicos This place is really cool, dedicated to packaging-free items, items in bulk, and locally made artisanal products like bar shampoo, wooden combs, cute totes, and cosmetic pouches, and more.
La Cuisine La Cuisine is primarily a cafe with fresh and healthy salads, bowls, smoothies, and sandwiches. They also carry a growing selection of takeaway items like kombucha, organic ingredients, and personal items like natural rouge and lip balms, natural deodorant, and more.
Meraki Cozumel Currently an online store, Meraki is a lovely boutique collection run by a wonderful local businesswoman. Meraki is my go-to for moisturizing and essential oils, facial skincare, and vegan, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly hair and body products.
So there you have it!
At first glance, some think of Cozumel as just a cruise port with trinkets and tequila.
(But that’s maybe because they’ve only gone to the cruise port, itself.)
And there are a LOT of dedicated professionals and citizens here trying to battle back the effects of pollution, coastal development, and general decline.
Help them out! Pack smart, pitch in, support local sustainability efforts. Take the chance to see this beautiful environment before it’s too late.
Take advantage of our promo deal with Stream2Sea and save on quality reef-safe sunscreens, (the best) mask de-fog gel, hand sanitizer, and more. Click on the image below and use promo code “COZINFO” at checkout: