When I travel, I start each day reminding myself it’s the few “real” moments in a new place that stick with you, rather than the ones you cram into your itinerary, to check them off (someone else’s) list.
If you only get one day to spend in Cozumel, here are some ideas to suit your travel style, so you can slow down and spend your time doing something you’ll remember.
If you only have one day in Cozumel, the first choice would be scuba diving or snorkeling, as that’s the primary draw, and what put Cozumel and her beautiful coral reefs on the tourism map in the first place.
There are loads of other great things you can do in one day in Cozumel, besides diving. History buffs could head for the Mayan ruins or the newly refurbished Cozumel Museum, while adventurers might want to explore off-road to one part of the island most of us don’t get to see. Eco-minded visitors to Cozumel will love a dreamy day at the local Pearl Farm, or a unique paddleboard tour of the wildlife in the mangroves. Culture travelers will want to get lost in town and spend a few hours soaking in the daily sights, tastes, and atmosphere of downtown San Miguel de Cozumel.
And of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding one of our nice sunny beaches with a palm tree for shade, and an umbrella for your drink. It is your hard-earned vacation, after all.
No matter what your style of travel, here are some recommended scenarios for a great day in Cozumel that’s right up your alley.
Scuba Diving in Cozumel
Cozumel’s Typical 2-Tank Boad Dive (plan 5 hours)
Diving brought me here – and thousands of others like me – so if you’re a certified diver, there’s really no other choice.
You’ll spend the day hanging out with your local divemasters and local divers – or very likely divers that come here a few times a year. The number of repeat customers here is very high – for good reason! So chat up your new dive buddies for some local fish tales! It’s a friendly bunch.
Cozumel boat diving is all fun, guided drift diving, and a typical two-tank day trip lasts about 4-5 hours.
The water is warm and the visibility is terrific, all year long. The main variation is the high season – from about December through March. These months bring more crowds to the island, so the boats are good and busy – especially the main holiday/school vacation weeks.
Once in a while, you might cross paths with another dive group, or two. Nothing crazy like I’ve seen elsewhere, and it’s usually momentary. Just reserve a spot on the boat ahead of time, if possible, and you’ll be fine.
On the other hand, the high season months also bring the Spotted Eagle Rays – Cozumel’s most ‘exotic’ residents. They start showing up in November if we’re lucky and hang around until March. In that case, so what if there are a few extra divers around? It’s well worth it – the eagle rays are awesome.
Other months, you’ll still see all the usual great marine life here, including sea turtles (hawksbill, greens, and a few loggerheads), nurse sharks, barracuda, rainbow parrotfish, large southern stingrays, grouper, moray eels (green, spotted, and golden), tons of cool macro life, giant lobsters and hermit crabs, and on and on.
And of course, I have to mention Cozumel’s own endemic species, the Splendid Toadfish.
This odd little guy is truly a special fish, found only in Cozumel – so if you have your scuba c-card, you should grab some gear and try to spot one of these, while you’re here.
Call ahead and make sure they know you’re coming!
If you don’t already have a dive operation picked out, try these that are close to where you will be arriving – that’ll get you suited up and on your way even faster.
Cozumel Dive Shop picks near Cruise Ports & Ferry from Playa:
Cozumel’s History Highlights in One Day
Mayan Ruins in Cozumel (plan 2 hours)
One of the main attractions in Cozumel is the San Gervasio archaeological site, home to our largest Mayan ruins cluster on the island.
The location includes several clusters of chapels and other public and residential buildings, including an important Mayan pilgrimage site of IxChel, the goddess of fertility and childbirth.
You can hire a trained guide on the spot as you enter, or explore at your own pace – graphic interpretation panels are provided along the way, in Spanish, English, and Mayan.
And, if you happen to be here on the right day in late May (based on the moon cycles…so it changes each year), you could catch the Sacred Mayan Crossing reenactment ceremony at another park, Chankanaab Beach Park. (OK, I realize those odds aren’t good, but…you never know!)
If you are coming in the Spring, or just interested in Mayan culture, check out our post on our first-hand experience with this annual tradition, here. Maybe you could plan around it?
Cozumel’s Museo de la Isla (plan 1-2 hours)
The Cozumel Museum of the Island is located right downtown, so it’s also a great stop during a wider walking exploration of San Miguel’s “Centro” area.
Newly refurbished and reopened in 2020, the Museum often features temporary exhibits of art and history stories, along with its permanent galleries.
The permanent collections cover Cozumel as a geological topic – its natural history, and the importance of the Meso-American Barrier Reef. It also presents various history galleries, shedding light on the Mayan traditions, early settlers, Mexican territorial wars, and Cozumel’s shifting role(s) over time.
Combine a visit to the museum ($10USD admission fee) with a free stroll along the main waterfront drag, Melgar Avenue, where you’ll find several historically significant statues and markers, and get a nice dose of the island’s background and it’s current daily life.
You’ll surely still have time for a regional snack at one of the many cafes around the central park plaza, or Parque Benito Juárez. (Juárez, himself, being a beloved 19th C. President in Mexico, and a huge historical figure here. You’ll see his name everywhere once you know to look. Much more to learn!)
Adventure in Cozumel for a Day
Cozumel is a relatively mellow place, but don’t let that fool you.
Besides scuba diving with sharks, rays, and huge moray eels, visitors have other adventurous options.
Cozumel’s “Wild Side” of the Island (plan 2-4 hours)
Rent a car or jeep and take a drive to the wild side of the island, or “the other side,” as locals call it. The east coast of Cozumel is a wild and windy landscape of gorgeously blue coastline, with rougher conditions (usually) and a more remote and unspoiled feel to it.
Though you will be able to stop for a dip at Chen Rio or San Martin beach, and surely find some refreshment with a cold coconut or cold beer. And keep your eyes out for wild crocs!
Moving northward along the East coast’s roadway on the other side, you’ll be warned to STOP, as the northern tip of the island is not accessible by car OR by jeep.
This is where most people continue heading back west across the Transversal road, and back into town. Or maybe stop there first for a cold one at the always cool beach bar, Mezcalito’s.
But you’re not most people. You’ve arranged a date with the Lighthouse Project’s Punta Molas razor tour!
Hook up with this new eco-minded excursion and ride one of these fun vehicles up to the north point, seeing amazing scenery along the way in, and then helping them pick up and remove some trash on the way out.
Not many people get to Punta Molas, and this is an awesome way to do it.
Cozumel Ecological Experiences
A lot of our favorite tours to recommend are those that do no (or very little) harm to the natural Cozumel environment. Even better if we can also celebrate the special ecology and wildlife that the island has to offer.
Visitors who participate and support these efforts help immensely, and often become stewards for the animals they learn about is one way to help that. And often have a very memorable and moving experience in the process.
One of the most moving experiences of all is the release of baby turtle hatchings, as part of the Cozumel Ecology department’s turtle protection and rescue programs.
Cozumel Turtle Volunteers (figure 4 hours – consult program details)
Sea Turtles nest on Cozumel’s east coast beaches every year. Mature turtles (green, hawksbill, and loggerhead) arrive to lay large nests full of eggs each Spring, and by the early fall – approximately August – September – the hatchlings are ready and itching to get out, and get their chance to make it in the big bad ocean.
Volunteer opportunities in the Spring and Summer include finding, marking and recording the nest locations, and other protective measures. And in the Fall, volunteers can join the Ecology Dept. team to help release the new turtles into the waves. Incredible.
Cozumel Pearl Farm Day Trip (plan 5 hours, typically 10am-3pm)
The Cozumel Pearl Farm is a truly unique experience! A mix of adventure and relaxation, this excursion takes you by boat to a remote beach up north to the family-run Pearl Farm and labs.
Learn more about pearls, their pearl cultivation methods, and other engineering and jewelry production techniques. Snorkel off the shoreline to see their active pearl farming area. And enjoy cold drinks, their signature lunch, and some free time to stroll along this remote beach paradise or nap in one of their shady hammocks. It’s a really great day.
Paddleboard Tours in Cozumel (plan 2-4 hours)
De Lille Sports is the best paddle sports operator on Cozumel. They run intense kite-surfing training, as well as Stand-up Paddleboard (SUP) lessons and tours.
The SUP tour of the northern mangroves is another of the most unique and lesser-known tours I’ve scouted out on the island. It’s
Paddling through the quiet mangroves, this gives you an up-close chance to see nesting areas for waterfowl, as well as juvenile fish and invertebrate species, before they make their way out to the open ocean.
The team at DeLille is one of the few allowed in that area, and they take great care of it – including training you in how to paddle carefully, where to go, and what NOT to do.
Divers will also love the rare opportunity to see and take a few pictures of a huge community of blue up-side-down jellyfish that live in those waters. Not easy, but an amazing day.
And remember, please wear full rash guards and hats for eco-friendly sun protection!
Local Cozumel Life Around Town
One of the best and easiest ways to spend a day in Cozumel is to put your walking shoes on, and head to downtown San Miguel.
Start at the central plaza, or Benito Juarez Park, and walk all around the park, checking out a ton of artisan shops, souvenir stands, pushcarts with handmade crafts, including painted pieces, woven baskets, leatherwork, embroidery, and Talavera pottery.
Sit on one of many public park benches and do some great people-watching – everyone crosses paths here in Centro, from tourists from various countries, to local merchants and entertainers, and local residents just trying to live their life – you can see all kinds here.
And kids! Check out the kids in the dancing water fountains for a while – their smiles are contagious, and it might make you want to jump in and beat the heat.
You can also find lots of choices when it comes to eating and drinking! From fresh jamaica tea (a popular local soft drink made with hibiscus flowers) to a frozen margarita the size of your head, you can definitely eat and drink your way through town.
If you’re a focused foodie, take a minute to read some of our posts specifically on the foods of Cozumel, like this overview first, and this one on local tacos, and this one on the best Cozumel coffee.
Once you decide what you want, you can surely find it close to Parque Benito Juárez. Just ask!
Cozumel Beach Clubs – Day at the Beach
Sometimes the best way to spend a day in Cozumel is to just kick back and enjoy the blue waters and blue skies.
A day pass at an all-inclusive beach club is a nice way to get situated, and then get relaxed for as long as you can until you have to get back to your ship.
There are other beach clubs without the all-inclusive packages, too – these might be a little more secluded and more your style. They’ll still have drinks at the ready and food, but not as much of a party atmosphere.
All Inclusives / walking distance:
Del Mar Latino Beach Club is one of the newest places that’s very close to the main Cruise piers at International Pier and Puerta Maya. So, if your ship arrives at either International Pier or Puerta Maya, this is super convenient, reasonable, and easily within walking distance. Awesome wait staff and good food – try the coconut shrimp.
This day pass is an affordable price (currently $39USD, but double-check their site first).
Save time and cab fare, but still enjoy a nice pool, hot tub, and full bar and menu – plus ocean swimming, outdoor showers and good sized bathrooms where you can change when you’re done.
Take a Quick Cab:
A little further away by taxi, there are several other options.
Other nice quiet beach clubs with low covers, and simple pay-as-you-go systems:
Buccanos – Lovely, small club with a pool and a small beach; nice menu and facilities
Sky Reef – Fun roadside place, great for snorkeling, full bar and menu
Paradise Beach – Large pool and beach area, music, great service, showers and changing area