I’m sorry to say that as a diver, I kinda sorta don’t think snorkeling is…all that exciting. (eeek, sorry) But even I make it a priority to bring my mask every time I so much as go to the beach in Cozumel. It’s just so very cool to be in close proximity to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and see marine life pretty much anytime you stick your face in the water, here.
Cozumel, an hour’s flight from Houston or Miami, is right off the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and just an hour south of springbreaky Cancun.
But Cozumel is the one known as an underwater haven – with good reason.
Hundreds of thousands of worldly scuba divers and savvy snorkelers visit Cozumel each year to take advantage of the island’s superior ocean conditions and abundant marine life. Cozumel boasts warm water, clear visibility, and countless types of beautiful tropical fish, turtles, and more. This all combines for a first-class snorkeling destination within an already awesome place to vacation. There are great and accessible snorkeling spots all around the island.
If you love snorkeling and need to be pointed in the right direction, this one’s for you.
OK, let’s find out why snorkeling is so fun, here.
Why Cozumel Snorkeling is Excellent
There are a few main reasons why snorkeling in Cozumel is superior:
- Geographic Location
- Water Conditions
- General Accessibility
- Cozumel’s Culture and Community
Cozumel’s optimal geographic location
Cozumel Island is located off the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, just a short ferry away from Playa del Carmen. The island itself acts as a shield for this stretch of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, protecting the reef and dive sites along the western coast of the island from ocean winds to the east.
Generally, this allows the beaches and the waters around Cozumel to remain calmer and crystal clear.
This natural situation allows for great ocean water conditions.
Most of the time, while Cozumel is breezy, the dive and snorkeling sites remain pretty calm.
Without wind churning up the waves and ultimately the ocean floor, the water stays very clear. Visibility can sometimes be categorized as “infinite.” So if you’re snorkeling on a typical day, you can see all the way down deep and get a better glimpse of the corals and animals, even if they’re pretty far below you.
The water is also nice and warm for swimming, throughout the year. Water temperatures range from about 84F (28C) at the warmest time of the year (around September) to some lows around 78F (25C) – which is still plenty warm for swimming. Especially since you’ll likely have a nice warm sunny day and much warmer air temperatures.
Finding Good Snorkeling Sites in Cozumel is Easy
The biggest misconception some people have is that a good snorkeling spot will also be a white sandy beach.
Coral reefs are important habitats for marine life. Snorkelers can see some of the best marine life by heading to areas near coral reefs, or other structural substrates – like rockier shorelines, pier and dock footings, shipwrecks, and other artificial reefs.
A beach with a sandy floor and easy shallow waters is special for its own reasons, but typically not ideal for snorkeling.
For some of the best access points from shore or boat, keep reading, below.
Cozumel is Fun Before, During, and After Snorkeling
The local snorkeling is top-notch, but you still want to enjoy your vacation before, during, and after you get some swimming in, right?
Cozumel is an excellent place to vacation for all types – regardless of snorkeling or diving.
Check out the rest of this site for articles on how to choose where to stay, how to experience some local Mayan historical sites, the best Cozumel shopping, ideas for what to do in downtown San Miguel, and even ideas for that rare rainy day in Cozumel.
There is also a truly admirable food scene on the island. For a full overview of where to eat in Cozumel, read more about it right here. Or…just go straight to the hunt for some stellar local tacos – yum. (Provecho!)
Best Locations for Snorkeling in Cozumel Mexico
OK, so let’s get to it. Where are the best spots to jump in and snorkel?
There are two main methods of snorkeling in Cozumel – either right from shore at several beaches and other entry points or by going on a short boat tour out to a few of the most snorkel-friendly spots along the Meso-American coral reef.
Where to Safely Snorkel in Cozumel?
The easiest and least expensive way is to walk right in and snorkel from your hotel or beach area.
If the island is experiencing high winds and correspondingly strong currents, it’s best to seek out a popular site – like those here – which often have naturally protected coves, easier accessibility, and people around who can help you and make sure you’re ok.
Sandy beaches are not typically the best place to snorkel, as little marine critters need rocks, coral, or other structures to seek shelter and hide out. In turn, the small marine animals attract the larger ones.
When looking for snorkeling sites in Cozumel, keep this in mind. Your perfect beach and your perfect snorkeling site in Cozumel might be in two different places.
You also want to avoid trying to snorkel too close to the cruise ship ports, as their propellers and other disruptive qualities have rendered the areas formerly teeming with sea life into mostly dead areas with few fish and a blanket of excess algae.
Much better to seek out some of the spots just a little farther away, that are known to have things to see, and easy and safer entry and exit points.
Remember, as covered in the snorkeling introductory post here, that no matter where you decide to get into the water, please make sure to have a visible divers’ marker buoy with you so the passing boats can clearly see you and avoid you!
Best Beach-Access Spots for Snorkeling in Cozumel
With all that in mind, here’s a shortlist of just some awesome places to get in the water and get snorkeling in Cozumel.
Dzu-Ha (and Money Bar) Beach in Cozumel
Dzul-ha is a Mayan word, and the traditional name of a small beach point a few miles south of the main town, and adjacent to a well-known (and fun) venue known as “Money Bar.”
This area has some corals and other rocky clusters close to shore, so it’s an excellent choice for experienced snorkelers and for beginners.
Grab a table at Money Bar and enjoy lunch, excellent cocktails and drinks, and one of the best sunsets on the island, and you can get in and out of the water to your heart’s content. A great place to while away a day, and see some cool marine life.
Playa Corona is a Local’s Favorite for Cozumel Snorkeling
This beach has long been popular among locals and visitors alike, but it sometimes doesn’t get its due props as one of the best access points for snorkeling in Cozumel.
One reason may be because locals don’t want to give up the goods! But more likely it’s because some of the better coral clusters sit a little bit of a swim offshore. This might be best for experienced swimmers, or at least those that have already gotten their feet wet (pun intended) at one of the easier places, like Dzul-Ha or Chankanaab.
Cozumel’s Chankanaab Park – Substantial Shallow Reefs
Chankanaab Beach Park is a large, well-equipped park run by the municipality of Cozumel.
Home to events like the annual Ironman swimming portion, an enclosed dolphin swim area (I do not recommend this, but if you want to swim with dolphins in Cozumel, this is the place) and the arrival point for the annual Mayan Sacred Crossing reenactment (for more info on this, check out our post on this fascinating annual event as well as this practical guide to Mayan ruins in Cozumel).
Chankanaab Beach park has a long beach with easy access points, vendors with gear for rent, and lots of public amenities including showers, locker rooms, restaurants, and other fun activities to try, which makes it a great choice for families with kids.
And the shallow reef sections just off the beach at Chankanaab make it a wonderful place for Cozumel snorkeling. You’ll likely see everything from graceful, ribbon-like eels, to sea turtles, and maybe catch a very unique glimpse of Cozumel’s own splendid toadfish.
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park for Snorkeling and a Big Sandy Beach
This is my favorite of all the great official parks on Cozumel..
Entering via a breezy beach road that winds around the southern-most beaches on the island, Punta Sur offers a variety of flora and fauna, and several points of interest to nature lovers, including lagoon and mangrove overlooks (that can often include crocodile sightings), vestiges of Mayan buildings, a pontoon boat tour of the mangroves and water birds, and access to the southern lighthouse (read this post next for more on Punta Sur park and other eco-friendly activities in Cozumel.)
Punta Sur Eco Park also has an excellent beach that has become a popular destination for locals and in-the-know tourists who like that desert island feel.
Snorkeling at Cozumel’s Punta Sur is a great day of beach fun and gets you very close to some prized coral reefs along the southern edge of the national marine park. Thousands of sea turtles nest at Punta Sur each year, so you never know – you may snorkel near one of our juvenile turtles in either the green sea turtle or loggerhead families!
Casa Del Mar Hotel’s House Reef Teems with Young Marine Life
The area in front of Casa del Mar Hotel’s own beachfront and dive-boat pier has always been a great place for Cozumel snorkeling, and it’s easily accessed from town or by any of the cruise ship piers.
Also used as a spot for introductory diving lessons, Casa del Mar’s house reef now has even more fans from nearby hotels and diving operators, and is one of the big reasons it ranks among our best hotels for divers on the island.
This house reef area has a nice low ledge of coral at about 25-30 feet deep. This small wall of coral is a great nursery area for tons of juvenile fish, small eels, huge queen conchs, and various invertebrates.
Then, continuing a bit further north, you can encounter the Cozumel Coral Reef Foundation’s various coral farm growing areas, and some artificial reef structures, allowing for an interesting variation on things.
What is exactly the same, though, is that these growing outcroppings still attract a healthy array of fish, eels, squid, and – sometimes – the island’s local population of spotted eagle rays.
The eagle rays are seen just in front of Casa del Mar and their partner shop, Cozumel Marine World, more than people think!
Snorkeling in Cozumel on Your Own – Key Warnings
You are permitted to independently snorkel in Cozumel at any number of beaches and water entries around the island if you have your own snorkeling equipment. Solo snorkelers should be good swimmers who are familiar with Cozumel’s ocean currents and pay close attention to where they can safely enter and exit the water – which is very often not the same spot.
Even if you meet all of those recommendations, you should always let someone know if you’re going to go it alone.
Snorkeling in Cozumel can be easy and safe, as long as you truly know accessible places to go in, and really know what you’re doing, plus (many) bonus points if you’re a strong swimmer.
The two main things to keep in mind are the water conditions and boating activity.
The island typically has calm waters without waves or great tidal shifts, but there are mild-to-strong currents running daily on the most popular shore and beach areas. These currents can also switch directions, rapidly. Snorkelers should always wear fins and, ideally, a life preserver.
Secondly, given the popularity of scuba diving and snorkeling in Cozumel, each day has a great deal of small-boat traffic, and pick-ups and drop-offs at various hotel piers up and down the coast.
It’s critical that you know how to navigate the water, and that you are clearly visible to oncoming boats.
I always recommend that people going snorkeling here should wear a brightly colored rash guard shirt to protect them from the strong sun and especially from oncoming boats.
The safest plan is to also use a simple, inflatable life vest, and an inflatable personal diving marker buoy that will hover over you on the surface. (or, if you’re a diver going out for a fun snorkel, just use your SMB from your dive kit).
Most beaches and snorkeling locations mentioned in this post are chosen because they not only have good entry points and satisfying marine life but also because they are good places to go in where you’ll be protected from the worst of the currents, especially if it’s windy that day, etc.
Also, please note: occasionally in high wind conditions the port will officially close to small boats and recreational boats and tours. When the port is closed, you are NOT allowed to go in for your own safety.
For more introductory info on safely snorkeling in Cozumel, including the best personal safety gear to use, please read this post next.
If you want to expand your horizons and consider a discover SCUBA lesson, check out our full guide to scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico.
Best Off-Shore Reefs for Boat Snorkeling in Cozumel
There are many different reef areas in Cozumel, each offering its own unique experience. Some great ones that are suitable for boat-based snorkeling in Cozumel, too, are as follows:
Cozumel’s Famous Palancar Reef
The Palancar Reef section in Cozumel’s national marine park is perhaps the most well-known, with popular dive sites including Palancar Gardens, Palancar Caves, Palancar Horseshoe, and Palancar Bricks.
These dive sites run in a row along the southern section of the marine park and comprise what is known in general as Palancar Reef.
There is also a great beach club on land, called Playa Palancar, where you could snorkel right from shore, just like some of the shore-entry places discussed, above. The beach club has snorkel gear for rent and other amenities that you’d expect, like a pool, showers and bathrooms, restaurants, and more.
But the real beauty of the Palanca Reef is worth a boat trip to get the most of your snorkeling time.
Hovering over the Palancar reef with your mask on, you’re very likely to see the typical range of gorgeous tropical fish, and even more likely to spot some critters that prefer deeper environs and/or the protection of Palancar Reef’s incredible mountainous topography.
Lots of sea turtles feed off of sponges and other animals – like this amazing loggerhead turtle, below, and his unusual snack of a large cushion sea star!
I took this picture near Palancar Bricks, but all dive sites in the chain attract the same resident animals.
Columbia Shallows is Always a Cozumel Snorkeling “Best-Of”
Columbia Reef is one of the most popular diving destinations in Cozumel. It’s located just off the southern coast of the island, and boasts a wide range of marine life, despite being so shallow and close to shore.
At Columbia Shallows dive site, snorkelers can see larger schools of fish, big tropical parrotfish, lots of small coral formations, turtles, stingrays and eagle rays, and likely a group of scuba divers!
Paradise Reef Delighting Cozumel Snorkelers for Years
Paradise reef is a local Cozumel favorite, though this site’s life as a dive site has been curtailed in recent years by the nearby cruise ship piers.
That said, divers still occasionally enjoy this stellar shallow reef, especially at night, where night divers encounter plentiful fish, octopus, and eels, as well as more nocturnal coral reef inhabitants like the incredible giant basket star.
Because of that abundance and diversity, it has become a very popular point for snorkeling excursions during the day.
Paso del Cedral Reef for Quality and Quantity
Adjacent to the old Cedral Village on the island, the reef section in the national marine park is known as Cedral Pass or Paso del Cedral, in Spanish.
The shallower reef area of this dive is an excellent place to see some of the largest schools of local fish, as well as special rainbow- and midnight- parrotfish, sleeping nurse sharks, huge green moray eels, and more.
Diving the shallows is great, and often I look up to see pairs of legs swimming and treading water with their snorkeling masks on!
So this might be one of the best spots for seeing scuba divers in the wild, too!
Cedral’s location tends to have a strong current, so even though this is excellent on a good day, listen to the advice of your boat captain. The captain and crew will be sure to find you a popular spot that also has good, safe conditions for the day.
Skip the Snorkeling in Cozumel’s El Cielo
El Cielo is a famous area within Cozumel’s national marine park, known for its white sandy bottom that gives the water an especially bright turquoise glow. It’s beautiful.
It’s also been over-toured in the last many years and may be “closed” to small boats from time to time, to allow the natural ecosystem to bounce back.
If you’ve had your heart set on El Cielo in Cozumel after seeing it appear in many tourism guides, consider taking a snorkel tour to the nearby reefs of Columbia Shallows or Palancar Gardens, and ask them to swing past El Cielo on the way – before or after – so you can just see it and get a feel for it.
If you’re really looking to snorkel in a good spot and see a lot of fish and wildlife, though, el Cielo is not your best bet. It’s more a place to gaze at the view and take an IG selfie and then move on.
El Cielo in Cozumel is great for a quick swim, too, but please don’t touch the bottom or mess with the few sea stars you might see.
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