Living here I get asked a lot, “Where’s the best place to stay in Cozumel?” I usually answer that question with this question: What’s your ideal vacation experience?
When deciding on the best place to stay in Cozumel, it helps to understand the island’s three main tourist areas, or “hotel zones” – the North, the South, and “Centro,” or the downtown San Miguel area. All three areas are wonderful and have a range of accommodation styles at various price-points to suit your budget. But they each have a unique vibe, too. Generally speaking, Cozumel’s North hotel zone feels secluded and very quiet, Centro is busier and full of sights and sounds (and tastes) of life, and the South hotel zone is beachy, breezy and fun.
This overview of Cozumel’s zones and their unique characteristics will help steer your decision on where you’ll want to stay. But rest assured, there’s really no “bad” choice.
First, let’s give some thought to your perfect vacation experience here in Mexico.
What is Your Ideal Cozumel Vacation?
On my own visits here for the first 10 years, all I cared about was scuba diving. We’d wake up early, have an awesome day of diving, hang by the pool, eat dinner, crash early, repeat.
Therefore, my “perfect hotel” meant it was steps away from my favorite dive shop, clean, and had a nice, friendly staff. I didn’t really care about views, or access to multiple fancy restaurants, or any kind of nightlife that required more than t-shirts and flip flops.
Luckily, my first – and still favorite – hotel had those basic requirements and a whole lot more. A nice pool, amazing sunsets, good food, and a wonderful staff that’s truly top-notch.
The point is, those coming here to do some hard-core diving will have different priorities than those who crave a secluded ocean view with spa services and valet parking. Or a family of 5 who wants casual food options and a beach club with jet-ski rentals.
Others still might want to spend their mornings exploring San Miguel’s vibrant street life, eating lunch with the locals at the bustling Mercado Municipal, and their afternoons at a friendly beach bar, watching the sunset with new friends, fresh margaritas, and live music.
Sometimes it’s less about the specific hotel, and more about what type of hotel you prefer, and where it is located, that will help you get the most out of your hard-earned vacation.
Northern Hotel Zone in Cozumel
The northern hotel zone in Cozumel is the one main hotel area that lies to the north of Cozumel Airport (CZM), so by geography and roadways, alone, it is somewhat set apart from the rest of the place.
If that sounds nice and secluded, well…it is!
In fact, if you arrive directly to Cozumel Airport (CZM), you could be quickly whisked away to your beach-side retreat for pure R&R – never even seeing the relative hustle and bustle of Centro.
To me “The North” has that really quiet and private vibe. It’s known for several large, upscale hotels, the Cozumel Country Club with a full golf course, and a few of the finest restaurants on the island.
These high-rise hotels are mixed with more luxurious apartment complexes and stately private homes along the north shore, all offering stunning views of the ocean.
In many ways, the Northern zone has kind of an older, more established feel to it, including one of the oldest restaurants – a cool, unique joint called the Lobster House. (Try the original Lobster House for a Caribbean lobster tails – their specialty. You’ll be a convert!)
Since I’m frequently trying to “get my steps” in Cozumel, I can also say that one of the nicest features of the northern stretch is a beautiful, semi-shaded walking path where you can walk and jog in peace.
It is quite a walking distance from downtown San Miguel, though. While doable, most people would probably prefer to take a taxi or have a rental car on hand.
The northern zone is also the farthest from Cozumel’s National Marine Park, i.e., all of our renowned diving sites.
If you are here for diving, it’s not a deal-breaker, but just know that you’ll have to travel quite a bit farther each day either by car or on your dive shop’s boat (if they are allowed to pick you up at your hotel pier) to start your diving day.
In summary, the northern zone is lovely, and likely best for people who want a tranquil escape. From waterfront views, hotel spas, and the occasional beach-front yoga session, it has more of an exclusive vibe.
There is far less traffic in the North, so you can enjoy the scenery, some seclusion, and a handful of wonderful restaurants a short walk away. And of course, you can always grab a cab to go check out downtown or to get to your dive shop’s marina in the mornings.
** Popular hotels in the Northern zone include Meliá, The Westin Cozumel, Playa Azul, Hotel B, El Cozumeleño, The Coral Princess, and you can also find apartments for rent, as well as at least one economy hostel.
Cozumel “Centro” – Downtown San Miguel
San Miguel de Cozumel is the busier, central “city” area of the Island, and the downtown portion it is familiarly known as “Centro.”
Centro radiates out from the Benito Juárez Park, San Miguel’s central plaza – right across Melgar Avenue from the ferry terminal.
Ths central plaza is also home to the famous Clock Tower – one of the town’s primary landmarks and meeting spots – along with dancing water fountains, and the (now obligatory) Cozumel sign for photo ops.
Centro is likely where you’ll also find the greatest variety of Airbnb rooms or homes for rent, as well as a variety of delightful boutique hotels, villas, and guesthouses.
Depending on your preferences, you can seek out places with some home-cooked meals included or perhaps your own kitchen, and usually a small pool in an interior courtyard. And a hammock.
Definitely go for the hammock.
Centro also has plenty of larger, full-service hotels of varying price points, as well as a crop of hip, new economy hostels aimed at the 20-something diving and artist crowd.
It’s also close to a few large supermarkets and various convenience stores, so if you’re renting a pad with a kitchen, you’ll have an easy time getting some supplies, all on foot.
There’s really something for everyone, and staying in the downtown area has obvious benefits.
You’re steps away from the recently renovated (2019) Cozumel Museum, countless restaurants and bars of all types and stripes, a wide array of shopping, and some of the best people-watching on the whole island.
Centro is also a quick cab ride out to San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological park, the most significant site of Mayan ruins on the island. Home to the seat of goddess Ixchtel among others, the site was an important pilgrimage for the Mayan people and a fascinating way to spend a few morning hours.
Stroll along the malecón (main, waterfront drag), also known as Melgar Avenue, and you’ll encounter all ages of people sitting on public benches and chilling out. It’s a great place to watch the local fishing boat traffic, occasional Cruise ships and Navy vessels, kids playing in the park, and a bustling scene of travelers and locals.
If you’re staying in Centro, you’ll never have trouble finding a taxi if you need to meet up with your dive boat each morning, or if you want to spend the day at one of Cozumel’s nice beach clubs in the North or the South.
If you’re into really experiencing the culture of a place, while still having plenty of access to diving and beaches, Centro might be perfect for you. Especially if this is your first visit!
** Popular lodgings in Centro include the Hotel Mexicana, Cozumel Palace, Flamingo Hotel, MiCasa Cozumel (a very lovely and unique boutique hotel), several guesthouses like Baldwin’s or the Tamarindo, and many many more.
Southern Hotel Zone in Cozumel
Leaving the downtown area, and traveling further south on Melgar Ave., you’ll gradually reach what is known as the Southern hotel zone, which is a good mix.
At first, the top of this zone is characterized by views of the large cruise ships that often port at the two more recently built cruise ship ports in the south – the International Pier, and Puerta Maya, the latter of which was finished around 2015, to give you some reference.
The relatively new port complexes have created almost a second ‘downtown’ area – at least during the daytime. Which is to say, traveling down to the Southern area will get a little busy again with a cluster of hotels, dive shops, shopping strips, and waterfront eateries.
Once through a few busier intersections, you’ll feel things open up again, as the air cools a notch, and you cruise along to the remote and picturesque southern hotel zone, along Cozumel’s west coastal road.
The Cozumel National Marine Park also stretches along this south-west coast portion of Cozumel. It starts just below the 2 cruise ports and extends all the way down to the southernmost point on the island, known as Punta Sur.
If you’re here primarily to scuba dive, you’ll very likely want to stay at one of the many hotels, condos or home rentals along this southern stretch.
In some cases, your hotel will have a dive operation, or you can simply get picked up at your hotel’s pier by your favorite dive shop – just arrange everything in advance.
If not, from the south it’s a much quicker and easier drive or cab ride to meet your boat at their designated spot in the marina.
Therefore many of the hotels in the southern zone are perfectly situated to cater to scuba divers and to offer them a quick and easy routine in the mornings to get them out the door and onto their dive boat with a minimum of fuss.
This zone has a lot of large, all-inclusive resort-style hotels that are much further away from town. Some of these complexes are set up as condos where you can rent a condo for a week or more, and some are full-service hotels where you can relax in the lap of luxury. Some are child and family-friendly, and at least one is an adults-only set up (Secrets Aura).
The southern zone is also a great location if you tend to like to explore the other side of the island. Continue a bit further south on the one main road and it travels down and around the southern tip of the island and all the way up the “the Other Side”, or Cozumel’s eastern “wild side.”
The east coast of the island offers a sweeping windy and dramatic coastline with beautifully deserted beaches and a few lovely places to stop for lunch or a cold beer. There are even a couple of spots for surfing lessons if the weather is right.
The Other Side of Cozumel is also the shore that welcomes thousands of mature sea turtles for their annual nesting ritual. Mature females arrive in April – July to lay their deep nests full of eggs, and the hatchlings typically start to break out of their shells, struggle from the nests and scamper toward the water in the early fall months of August through October. (the months cited are averages).
Of course, you can reach The Other Side by car from anywhere you stay, but the Southern Hotel Zone is closer and has another gem nearby – the Punta Sur Eco Park. Punta Sur is a wonderful day trip for spying crocodiles, enjoying a beautiful sandy beach, spotting wild birds in the wetland mangroves, and the island’s southernmost Celarain lighthouse and museum.
In general, the Southern zone has more of a secluded beach and diving vibe, tons of places to snorkel, and more large and lively day-pass beach clubs and beach-front eateries.
The area has the farthest drive to get in and out of San Miguel for a night on the town but does have several fun family-oriented venues including Punta Sur, Chankanaab, Discover Mexico and the Mayan Cacao Company.
**Good hotels in the upper end of the Southern Zone are the Casa del Mar Dive Resort and Hotel (my fave) and the Grand Park Royal. Further down south and along the coastal road, you’ll find lots of choices, but some notably nice and popular ones include (proceeding south) El Presidente, Fiesta Americana, Sunscape Sabor, Secrets Aura (no kids), and (very far to the south) the Allegro and Iberostar resorts.
No Wrong Lodging Choice in Cozumel
Just like there are no stupid questions, there are really no wrong choices when it comes to planning out where to stay in Cozumel.
If you’re intent on doing very specific activities here, namely diving or cultural exploring, then your accommodation’s location might make it slightly more convenient or cost-effective.
If you spend a little time envisioning what it is you would like to do every day, considering each of these three zones and their characteristics, it might help you land in the ideal place for your perfect vacation.
Then, choose the type of hotel you prefer, and select one in your budget range, you can be sure that you’ll enjoy wonderful service, clean accommodations, and plenty of sunshine and relaxation.
If it’s your first time on the island, I might recommend leaning a little towards the Centro area. This way it’s much easier to explore downtown San Miguel, to sample Cozumel’s various food options, and to get a really good feel for the place, and for the people and way of life.
Once you know your way around and get your bearings, first hand, then you’ll know where to book your stay on your next visit!
Because be forewarned – it does seem that people who come to Cozumel end up coming back again. And again. And again!