Cozumel Snorkeling for Newbies: Your Top FAQs Answered

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As a diver, I used to say I had no use for snorkeling. But that was before Cozumel and occasional beach days when I thought to bring my mask along. Next thing, I was floating around watching all sorts of fish, small stingrays and eels, and maybe even an octopus meandering around sometimes – right there off the beach. 

Dive snob, no more! Let’s go snorkeling!

Cozumel is a fun and safe place for snorkeling, and suitable for all experience levels. The warm ocean water is extremely clear with great visibility, and the island is surrounded by shallow reefs, small piers, and rugged limestone bedrock areas, all perfect for attracting a wide array of Caribbean marine life. 

Now, truthfully, it wasn’t quite as cool as the scuba diving in Cozumel. But it was still awesome and fun. And a heck of a lot easier. 

But seriously, snorkeling here is simple, beautiful and fun, but please do take note: You just need a few key tips for safety in the local Cozumel snorkeling conditions, and a few suggestions on specific things to pack.

After that, you’ll be primed and ready to get in there and see some of the island’s special marine life and a glimpse into another world. 

Basics of Snorkeling in Cozumel

Best Times of Year to Get in the Water? 

The water conditions here are good all year, so you can’t really pick a bad time. 

Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but people often exaggerate the rainy season, and if you hear that certain whole months are “always” rainy or too windy, that’s usually inaccurate or downright overblown.  

Cozumel Snorkeling Safety Guidance

Basically, the island is a safe place. And the biggest dangers of snorkeling in Cozumel are probably the strong sun, and the (sometimes) strong currents. 

Safety tips for Cozumel snorkelers: 

  • Wear a white or brightly colored rashguard top or quick-dry SPF camp shirt to protect you from sunburn, and to simultaneously be highly visible in the water. This is just in case you lose your way and/or need to be seen by an oncoming boat. It can’t hurt, and it’s also a much more reef-friendly way to keep your skin protected from the strong island sun. 
  • Always keep your fins on while farther out in the water and potentially in stronger currents. Your fins are your power.
  • Wear water shoes! Many of the best snorkeling spots have you entering and exiting from rocky or slippery areas, so a great pair of all-terrain travel shoes like these über popular ones from Tropicfeel are perfect in a place like Cozumel, no matter what you’re up to. Or just go with a pair of scuba diving booties, like these.
  • Wear a life-vest or life-preserver if you’re in an unfamiliar area, doing a boat tour, or snorkeling in a remote area. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you’re not stronger than the ocean.  

The main weather factor related to snorkeling in Cozumel is the wind.  

With strong winds come stronger currents, so certain dive sites and beach-front swimming can be affected.  

Cozumel typically has a constant yet mild current running from south-to-north. 

But do note that wind and current strength and direction can change pretty quickly.  Depending on the wind direction, the southern portions of the island sometimes feel far windier than areas to the north, and vice versa. 

It’s just prudent to be prepared by using the safety suggestion above, and then you don’t really have to worry.  And who wants to worry during vacation? 

Also, you can take comfort in the fact that most of the shore-based snorkeling spots recommended here are at locations that are naturally protected from the strong currents. Most also have roped-off areas for swimming and snorkeling, so you don’t lose track and stray too far, nor do boats come anywhere near you.

And if you choose to take one of many fun boat-based snorkeling tours in Cozumel, the captains and guides just have a feel for the prevailing winds and currents in their bones. They will know which areas are suitable, as well as when conditions are possibly just too risky, that day. 

So overall, you have nothing to worry about! This is just a friendly reminder to be aware because these basic things have occasionally gotten newbies into trouble. 

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Snorkel Gear – To Rent or Not To Rent?

Snorkel gear is something I don’t recommend for your packing list to Cozumel, unless you’re experienced and you already have snorkeling equipment that fits you well, and/or that you like. 

Otherwise, it’s no big thing if your fins aren’t perfect, or your mask is a little off. 

Unlike when you’re diving, these minor things are small nuisances, but not major problems.  

After all, you’re on the surface mostly, and you’re close to either your boat or the beach, so your equipment isn’t a crucial factor, in my opinion. 

Do ask the venue for help with “de-fogging” the mask before you go in, though, so it doesn’t ruin your view underwater.  Otherwise, you should be ok if the stuff fits reasonably well. 

Bottom line, when deciding, I’d ask yourself if the snorkel gear (alone) is worth checking a whole bag for, for instance. If not, then maybe you can make do without them. 

Rental Dive Gear and Covid-19 

With the experience of Covid-19, and depending on how often you plan on using the stuff, it may make sense to invest in a well-fitting mask and snorkel, at least, so you not only have the comfort and seamless experience of seeing clearly without any leaks or fogging, but you also have your own personal mask that comes in close contact with your eyes and nose, and a pristine snorkel in your mouth. 

All the dive shops and snorkeling operators here in Cozumel were trained and certified in Covid-19 health and safety precautions in the Summer and Fall of 2020 before they could reopen at any capacity. Further, all of the professional diving and water sports certifying bodies have been consistently issuing new and updated health and safety guidelines to operators – and still are to this day. 

So rest assured: a good dive shop’s equipment IS well washed and sanitized. But be sure to keep them on their toes, and ask about safety precautions they follow before you book! 

But still – your own equipment is your own, and a mask and snorkel really doesn’t take up that much room in the suitcase, especially if this will be one of your main activities.  

If it were me and I had concerns about using rental gear (I don’t, but…), I’d probably bring a well-fitting dive mask – preferably one that I’ve used before so I know it’s comfortable, clean, and fog-free – and then leave the fins at home. I’d plan on borrowing or renting a lifejacket and a pair of fins from whatever venue you choose.

Of course, if you are going diving at all, or you plan to do the snorkeling thing all on your own, with no guides or without renting anything, then you’ll need to bring a mask, snorkel, and fins, plus a travel life vest and a surface marker buoy (SMB). 

In case I haven’t stressed it enough, wearing fins in Cozumel is important, due to our constant currents, especially on a boat tour or a beach spot that might be a little more exposed to wind and/or the prevailing current. 

Even if the day’s currents are mild – which they usually are – they can still pick up quickly, and/or switch directions without much warning.

When scuba diving in a drift, for example, you’re often reminded that your fins are the very last thing you remove before getting back onto the boat because your fins are basically your power in the water.  Without fins, it’s very very difficult to kick against the current, and you are at risk of being pulled a little off course. 

As with any water activity, life jackets are recommended for safety, and you can find travel-friendly versions to pack with you.

Caribbean Marine Life to Be Seen While Snorkeling

Many divers started out as snorkelers but got curious about what they could see if they went deeper down.  

I joke that snorkeling is the “gateway sport,” but you can still see a lot of cool marine animals from the ocean’s surface – especially in the clear water above the coral reef sites. 

The most common things you can see when snorkeling in Cozumel are fish and marine animals that often swim by and/or dwell on the bottom – like flounders, small rays, crabs, garden eels, and more. 

Try to find and investigate coral heads or other areas with nooks and crannies – like near a rocky area or the pilings of a pier.  

Coral reefs are natural incubators and multipliers for sea life beyond the reef itself.  

If you get further out on a boat snorkel tour to snorkel above one of our best shallow reefs like Columbia Shallows or Paradise Reef, you’ll have an even better chance of encountering one of our local sea turtles, larger schools of fish, rays, nurse sharks, and the (very) occasional dolphin. 

Small hawksbill turtle swimming over a shallow coral reef in Cozumel.

In the winter months, it’s spotted eagle ray season, so if you’re here during December or January, you’ll stand a good chance of getting a glimpse of one of our most prized local species.

And keep in mind, that if you don’t see much at first, just relax, wait, and watch.  Look closely at one coral head for a good few minutes or more. You’ll sometimes be surprised how much activity is going on in a small area of coral reef if you just stay quiet and really look. 

While you can never guarantee seeing marine life on command, you have a much better chance of critter spotting in areas with some rocky or coral topography. Small eels, crabs, fish, and loads of other invertebrates and crustaceans love to hide out in, under, and around these uneven surfaces, where there is more potential food and built-in hiding spots.

Shaptail eel with yellow spots on bottom of shallow reef area in Cozumel.

So, again, just protect your feet when getting in and out of the water, and then enjoy the show.

Is Cozumel Worth a Day Trip?

Cozumel is an island off the eastern coast of Mexico and is very easily accessible from the mainland town of Playa del Carmen.  

From Playa, and for about $10USD, you just take a 40-minute ferry ride over, and go explore the many fun and sometimes even free things to do in Cozumel.  

What Cozumel is best known for is its world-class scuba diving on the mesoamerican reef.  So, if you’re planning to snorkel over there…then I’d say it’s worth it. 

Another great thing about snorkeling is that you can enjoy the water and see some fish and marine life in the wild, but it’s easier than diving, doesn’t require lugging around as much gear, and you can spend a couple of hours doing it and then move on to something else. 

If you’re visiting Cozumel from the mainland to do some snorkeling, this is a huge bonus. 

You could easily plan a day trip to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen, get in a nice snorkel tour, and still have plenty of time to see some other stuff and bookend it with some fun local food joints

Finally, don’t forget that snorkeling is a great family activity, provided you and your kids are comfortable in the water, and don’t get spooked by pretty little fish!

Many beach clubs and tour operators offer guides to take you out in the water and explain what you’re seeing. And private boat tours around the island can get you closer to some of our well-known shallow reefs in the national marine park and would be a great educational outing – and family bonding experience – as part of your time here.

For more ideas on fun family activities in Cozumel, be sure to check out this related post, next!

For those of you who are interested in taking up some underwater photography in Cozumel, here’s my own tried and true, highly recommended gear list. 

This very simple underwater camera equipment setup will not break the bank, and is easy to get started with, but also grows with you.  

I use this exact gear to make all the underwater photos you see throughout this website (unless otherwise noted) and Instagram feeds (@cozinfo).  

  • Olympus Camera TG-6 compact camera This “tough” series is inherently waterproof and dirt/mudproof for other outdoor activities, too – but also perfect for sightseeing on land.
  • Olympus PT-059 Marine Housing for TG-5 and TG-6 Olympus’ own housing allows for you to use the on-board flash on the TG-6, which is a critical “pro” vs. third-party products. This marine housing is needed for diving, and not needed for shallower depths of snorkeling or swimming.
  • Memory Card (I’ve used this exact 64GB card for over 3 years and hundreds of dives, now, and it hasn’t failed once)
  • Memory Card Reader(s) (I’ve used this dead simple USB version to save all my diving pics to my laptop after each day, but also have a USB-C one for my newer MacbookPro, and there are others that would work to save your pictures to your iPad (great on a trip or a liveaboard), windows tablet, or even your mobile phone. Just should shop for whichever memory card slot(s) and device adaptor connection(s) you need.)

*I use all of these items on every dive day, and recommend them to all my dive buddies. The links above are affiliate links, where this site may earn small commissions on any referral sales.

Rachel

Rachel runs and writes CozInfo.com when she's not diving, taking underwater photos, or trying a new local restaurant. After decades of project managing some mighty fine exhibition design projects in NYC, she took an adult gap year to pursue her divemaster training in Cozumel...and never made it back.