When we tested our own Cozumel tap water a third time, I was sure we’d see different results. After all, everyone always insists that the water in Mexico is dangerous to drink. But once again, there were zero bacteria and just trace amounts of chlorine.
Far be it from me, though, to go against the local wisdom.
In Cozumel, restauranteurs and long-time residents don’t drink or cook with water straight from the tap – so neither should we.
Cozumel’s water supply is treated with chemicals, but does not normally have a lot of bacteria or other impurities to make one sick with travelers’ dysentery. Some buildings have access to nearby freshwater cenotes as a natural water sources without added chemicals. While both sources can be safe to ingest, it is still best to follow the local guidelines and drink purified bottled water.
Tap water in Cozumel is fine for washing your dishes, rinsing your dive gear, brushing your teeth, and taking a shower. (Though it may cause bad hair days!)
Traveling and Caution Drinking Water
No matter where you travel to, it’s always good to be aware of what causes – and what protects you against – a frequent travel problem: travelers’ diarrhea.
Travelers’ diarrhea (also known as traveler’s dysentery) is a fairly common problem among travelers. It can happen in any destination, not just in Mexico.
The most common symptoms include stomach cramps, loose stools, and dehydration.
This set of symptoms often occurs when bacteria enter the body through the digestive tract and cause diarrhea.
Upset stomach and digestive issues can be caused by other typical traveling behaviors, however. For example, neglecting hydration, eating unfamiliar or more indulgent foods, drinking a lot, jet lag, stress, and more can all contribute to a wobbly gut.
At the end of the day, the specific cause is far less important than getting relief from it!
Best Ways to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea
Like the other most common Cozumel “dangers” covered in this related safety post, there’s a lot you can do to keep yourself safe.
While traveler’s diarrhea can hit unexpectedly, many simple preventions and treatments exist, including hydration, probiotics, filtering water bottles, and antidiarrheal medications.
Before packing your bags for Cozumel (or anywhere for that matter), put together a personal traveler’s health kit of “just in case” medications you’d reach for to nip these typical ailments in the bud.
The best things to take are probiotics made to naturally restore your gut biome and improve digestion to prevent and treat an upset stomach. Check out these best-sellers on Amazon and/or something as familiar as a few tablets of Pepto Bismol, and add them to your personal traveler’s first-aid kit.
It’s also good to invest in a high-quality filtering water bottle, like those used on camping trips. Better safe than sorry!
To see the latest prices on Amazon’s best-selling filtering water bottles, HERE.
Water Quality in Cozumel: How Safe is it?
You’ve surely heard that the water is “not safe” when traveling to Mexico. But what does that mean, exactly?
Mexico is a vast country, and water distribution systems vary significantly throughout.
In downtown San Miguel de Cozumel, and indeed across the whole island, no one really drinks or cooks with the tap water – not tourists, not restaurant cooks, and not long-time residents.
You should be aware that drinking the tap water on the island may not be safe.
But it’s most likely not for the reasons you think.
Can You Drink Tap Water in Cozumel?
The short answer is: Not really.
Honestly, it likely won’t really harm you. I’ve lived here for years, now, and have never had any complications from eating or drinking here. And most people I know here haven’t, either.
Nevertheless, it’s always just best to stay on the safe side and use fresh bottled water.
Cozumel has a strong system of bottled water delivery. If you look in your friends’ homes or in all the restaurants around town, you’ll see several of the iconic blue garrafones de agua (or large, 5-gallon jugs).
Cozumel’s restaurants, all-inclusive resorts, smaller hotels, and guest houses are definitely using purified water in all their ice, cooking, and drinking water.
Just ask them! Or you can always request a bottle of water, so you know for sure.
Hotels and AirBnB’s on the island also supply guests with individual water bottles (usually 1 or 2 each day). You can always find a local convenience store (look for the Oxxo stores, or numerous corner stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies).
Further, many large Cozumel resorts and hotels have their own, in-house purification systems to have a plentiful supply of fresh water for all their guests’ various needs.
Cozumel’s Awesome Water Delivery and Recycling Culture
There are multiple bottled water companies on the island, such as Crystal and San Andreas.
If you’re staying in town, you’re sure to hear the repeated sound of a car horn for a few minutes throughout the day. This is the typical signal that one of your local water sales guys making the rounds.
Residents like me will flag that guy down when I’m running low on drinking and cooking water, and in a matter of minutes I’ll have a new delivery of fresh water, and the empties will be removed for sterilization and reuse. (Each 5-gallon jug is approximately $35 MXN pesos each time I replenish it, or about $1.50USD).
It’s a cool system and has the added benefit of reusing and recycling the large jugs, so we don’t rely on tons of single-use bottles.
This has the benefit of keeping a little more plastic out of the ocean and away from our special local marine life, like the endemic Cozumel Splendid Toadfish.
For more on Eco-Friendly ways to visit Cozumel, read this post next.
Drinking Water on Cozumel Dive Boats
When you go diving in Cozumel, your dive boat will have a supply of clean, safe drinking water available to make sure divers stay nice and hydrated. As we know, adequate hydration is one of the main preventers of decompression sickness when scuba diving.
As recently as 2 years ago, this water would often be provided via single use plastic water bottles, served up by the case.
These days, most Cozumel dive boats are also trying to reduce their plastic consumption, so they provide a large cooler jug full of fresh purified water. Some Cozumel dive shops and hotels give out reusable water bottles to their new customers, and some assume (hope) that you’ll come on board with one to use.
Really, most travelers these days do tend to move around with a water bottle on hand. So bring yours to the boat, and everybody wins.
And again, if you don’t have one, consider getting one that has good filtering capabilities to remove impurities. Look for one used by campers and hikers, as they will have higher purity ratings.
Can you Cook With the Water in Cozumel?
Cozumel’s water is safe to wash dishes (and even veggies with, as long as you dry them off afterward). Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t contain any harmful bacteria or viruses.
We’ve tested our own tap water here in Cozumel several times using this exact kit (inexpensive and easy). We were very happy to see no traces of bacteria in the water, and no real sign of chemicals – though the public water service is known to treat that water with chlorine, at the very least.
The chemicals seem to be the main reason local families don’t use tap water for cooking. But, unfortunately, it’s also likely that some residential cisterns could become flooded and contaminated, especially after a heavy rain.
Cozumel Has Very Hard Water
The local tap water definitely has plenty of minerals, like calcium and magnesium, so it results in what’s known as hard water.
As many of you know, hard water just refers to water with many natural minerals in it.
Many businesses and residences (including mine) have access to one of Cozumel’s cenotes and the relatively clean water they hold as natural well water.
At the same time, most are still hooked into the municipal water supply system (known locally as “CAPA”, the Comisión de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado). CAPA supplies all residential areas so they have potable water in reserve via small cisterns and/or holding tanks called tinacos.
If you look around at various rooftops, and you’re sure to see several of these tinaco water tanks in use on all the local buildings.
Is it OK to Have Ice in Your Drink in Cozumel
You don’t have to worry much about getting sick from having ice in Cozumel.
As explained above, hotels and restaurants are very knowledgeable about the tourism culture. They would not injure their own business (or themselves) by using impure water to make their ice.
Every cafe, restaurant, bar, and small (delicious) taco stand I’ve seen keeps several trusty blue containers of drinking water on hand for their various food preparation and serving needs.
Of course, there can be no guarantees on where the occasional germ might pop up, but generally you don’t have to worry about getting ice in drinks here.
When in doubt, just ask and/or order an individual bottle of water. Or a beer! Or a soft drink.
Is it Safe to Drink Coffee and Tea
Yes. Same reasoning. All coffee at our many excellent coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and bars would be brewed using water from purified sources. Hot water served for tea would be filtered, as well.
Can I Brush My Teeth with Cozumel’s Water?
Yes. Unless you’re prone to swallowing a lot of it or have high sensitivities, you should be fine.
When in doubt, use the bottled water provided by your hotel or rental accommodations.
Can I Shower with Cozumel Water?
You can shower safely with Cozumel’s water.
The biggest downside is that the minerals found in the hard shower water can weaken the effectiveness of soap and detergents, leave a filmy sensation, and can do a number on one’s hair.
I highlight and tone my hair these days, and have learned that the hard water here makes it very difficult to maintain the color and leaves my hair especially dry.
To combat the negative effects of hard water on hair and hair color when traveling, travel with a clarifying shampoo and conditioner. For a DIY solution that’s also more environmentally friendly, a final rinse with bottled drinking water or diluted vinegar will help combat hard water damage to hair and hair color.
One popular hard water shampoo and conditioner set can be found HERE on Amazon, for example.
Is Cozumel’s Hard Water Dangerous?
Hard water refers to water containing high minerals such as calcium, sodium, and magnesium. It’s found naturally in some parts of the world, but is usually treated in others.
According to Healthline.com, hard water is not dangerous to drink in average quantities unless you have particular reasons for avoiding added minerals – for example, if you have high blood pressure and your hard water source includes a high sodium level.
Hard water causes other household issues, like leaving mineral deposits on metals, namely pocks and stains on sinks and tubs, making laundry soap hard to use.
This is important to bear in mind when rinsing your dive gear or other items after use in saltwater.
Rinsing in hard water will help remove most of the salt residue from your gear after each dive. However, it may still leave some mineral deposits that could gradually harden and interfere with zippers and other moving parts.
It’s also important to try and rinse your wetsuits and other neoprene with purified water, so they’re ready to go for next time. (Click here if you have any questions on what wetsuits and other thermal layers are recommended for diving in Cozumel.)
If you want to be extra conscientious, it’s good to follow up with a final rinse in purified water at the end of your last dive.
Cozumel Safety Beyond Drinking Water
Cozumel is a really safe vacation destination, but common mishaps sometimes trip people up.
Read all about the most common “hazards” we see in this related post about staying out of harm’s way in Cozumel.
And to truly stay safe, the best thing you can do is invest in travel insurance for this trip, and any other trip you take.
I sometime feel frustrated with the number of times I’ve purchased insurance (like from this company I use a lot), and then don’t need it (well, except that one time…)
But then of course I realize I’m glad I didn’t need it, and am fortunate that if I had found myself sick or in trouble, I would be covered!
I’m a sucker for insurance now. And still hope I never need to make a claim.