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The small island of Cozumel off the east coast of Yucatan is known as an underwater heaven with good reason. The clear, marine life-rich waters attract visitors from all over the world to discover the place that even the famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau mentioned as one of the best places to dive. If you decide to come and explore this destination, here we tell you what the best places are for snorkeling in Cozumel where turtles, stingrays, and sea stars are awaiting you.
Best Shore Snorkel Spots in Cozumel
Those who arrive to spend a longer vacation on the island often ask the question ‘Where to snorkel in Cozumel from the shore’ since this is the most convenient way of exploring the undersea world, so here we look at the best spots that are worth visiting!
Snorkeling from the shore is generally free at public beaches, but those places that are maintained by a beach club or restaurant might ask you to purchase snacks or drinks. At private beaches that belong to hotels, it is required to pay an entrance fee but that usually includes using the facilities too.
The Palancar Reef is a superb shallow reef that is part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel Marine Park. With vibrant sea life, and fantastic clarity, it is often mentioned as the best shore snorkeling in Cozumel. Most boat snorkeling tours include Palancar in their itinerary, but snorkelers can choose to access it from the beach too.
The reef system features 5 sites. Snorkelers can swim among tropical fish, rays, turtles, nurse sharks, and sea stars in the so-called Garden and Shallows. Those who want to go diving too will certainly enjoy the Deep, Caves, and Horseshoe sites’ coral formations with massive gorgonians, sponges, and of course a wide variety of sea creatures (lobster, barracudas, moray eels etc…)
Tip: the nearby Iberostar Hotel is the best resort in Cozumel with snorkeling. It has a small reef right off the shore and is in close proximity to other beaches where the reef starts close to the shore.
One of the most popular Cozumel spots since it lies only about 4 miles south of the cruise port. The current is mild, water is shallow so this is an excellent place for novice snorkelers and for families with kids.
You can get into the water easily through stair ladders and start discovering the Caribbean Sea’s underwater life. The best part of the reef is about 0.2 mile/300 m from the shore and this is where the marine life is the most vibrant. You will see some of the most colorful tropical fish species like angelfish, snappers, anemonefish besides other creatures such as morays, eels, and sea urchins.
The biggest attraction of the Chankanaab Park is the underwater statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ, make sure to take a waterproof camera with you since there is no scuba gear needed to get a picture with these bronze sculptures!
Note: There is an entrance fee, of approx. 20-25 USD which doesn’t include equipment rental so bring own snorkel gear!
If you will be staying near San Miguel, the Villa Blanca Reef (the area between the ferry pier and the Grand Park Royal Resort) is a must-visit. The reef is the liveliest in front of the Villablanca Garden Hotel, this is where its name comes.
The shallow reef is teeming with life: soft and hard coral outcrops, sea fans, and basket sponges give a home to various marine species especially juvenile fish.
It is an advanced Cozumel snorkel spot due to the boat traffic and sometimes strong current, therefore make sure to have powerful snorkeling fins and carry a high-visibility swim buoy for your own safety.
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
Punta Sur is not only one of the places to snorkel from the shore in Cozumel, but it is a nice spot to enjoy nature, amazing view and observe herons and flamingos. Moreover, it is less popular than the beaches near the cruise port so I can say this is one of my favorite locations on the island, however a rental car (or taxi) is needed to get to this park because it is on the southern tip of the island.
Don’t be surprised if you find nothing but sand near the shore within the designated swimming are; the reef is about 0.3-0.5 mile/500-800 m near the buoy line. People who don’t swim beyond the buoys say that Punta Sur is not a good place for snorkeling in Cozumel, don’t believe them and check it out for yourself!
It is true that the best snorkel area is a long way out, but if you are strong swimmer and make it to the reef you will be rewarded with the amazing views of healthy coral formations and nice purple sea fans. Expect to see stingrays, turtles and lobsters besides the common tropical fish.
Top Snorkeling Spots in Cozumel by Boat
Besides the superb shore snorkeling spots, Cozumel is proud to feature excellent boat-accessible coral reefs. Should you wish to spend a great day sailing the waves and discovering some of the finest underwater life of the Caribbean, check out below what places we recommend to visit by boat when on Cozumel!
Note: Most snorkel tours depart from the main dock and coast approx. 30-50 USD per person. The best and most budget-friendly option is choosing a tour that includes 2-3 stops so that you can visit all the best places. There are many operators that do El Cielo, Columbia and Palancar in one day.
The El Cielo Reef lies about 1 mile/1.6 km from the shore and it is considered the best snorkel spot in Cozumel for beginners and kids thanks to its rich marine life and shallow, calm waters.
The crystal blue turquoise water (which is only 2-3 ft/0.5-1m deep) with powdery white-sandy bottom make ideal conditions to take great photos of the starfish that are literally everywhere around this shallow sandbar area. This spot is similar to the Palancar Gardens but with clearer water and more starfish!
A bit further away from the sea star spot where the water gets a bit deeper there is a high chance to find stingrays that come to feed and rest on the sandy bottom.
Tip: would you like to know more about starfish? Read our sea star facts post!
Columbia Reef is a top-rated Cozumel snorkeling and diving spot that lies not so far from Palancar Reef. Since it is relatively far from the shore, therefore it is reachable only by boat.
This shallower part (Columbia Shallows) offers enormous coral structures to see in about 30 ft/10m of water wits eagle rays, turtles, and of course schools of fish. Don’t be afraid from the depths, since the visibility is excellent here so you will be able to see the reef clearly.
There is also a vertical wall here at the end of the shallow reef (Columbia Deep is the name of it) which is a great diving spot.
Cozumel Snorkeling Conditions
Cozumel is a paradise island with a wonderful coastline, but to locate the best snorkeling beaches, it is good to learn a bit about the island’s geographical features. The east and northern sides don’t have good snorkeling due to the often rough waters and strong undersea currents.
The best spots for snorkeling in Cozumel can be found on the west and south-west, wind and wave-protected side of the island. The snorkeling beaches here have usually shallow and calm water with ideal conditions for beginners and kids too.
At sandy beaches, the water can get murky so for the best experience, it is better to look for rocky spots where the visibility is excellent. Moreover, there are some superb boat-accessible reefs that are also worth visiting, also on the western and south-western sides.
Snorkeling Tours To Join While Visiting Cozumel
When To Visit
The weather is never really bad in Mexico, but if your main priority is to go snorkeling in Cozumel, the best is if you plan your trip between March and June. This period of the year has calm and warm weather when the average daytime temperatures are 87-90F/30-32C. It is still OK to come between July and October, but this is the hurricane season so you should follow the weather updates.
Mexico and Cozumel are excellent winter beach holiday destinations too if you wish to escape the freezing weather, but from end of November till mid-March, the daytime temperatures remain around 71-77F/22-25 C, moreover cloudiness, wind and some rain can occur.
The sea is warm enough for swimming and discovering Cozumel snorkeling spots year-round. The water temperature ranges between 79-82F/26-28C and the visibility is amazing (can reach 100ft/30m).
How To Get To Cozumel?
The island of Cozumel lies about 20 kilometers off the coast of Playa del Carmen. It is not connected to the mainland, so you must hop on a ferry to get to Cozumel. Ferries leave from the Playa del Carmen ferry port every hour between 6 am and 11 pm.
Two companies are operating the route and one-way ticket costs circa 10$. The crossing time is about 40 minutes.
It is also possible to get to Cozumel by plane as it has a small, international airport with connecting flights from Mexico’s major airports.
Traveling in the Yucatan Peninsula is easy as various transportation options are available, so you should take advantage of a Cozumel snorkeling trip even if you are not staying in Playa del Carmen.
For example, if the starting point of your vacation is Cancun, getting from Cancun to Cozumel takes about 2 hours. It is more or less the same if you come from Tulum.
Where To Stay In Cozumel For Snorkeling?
Despite being a small island, Cozumel offers various accommodation options for all types of travelers. What is the best place to stay in Cozumel mainly depends on what type of accommodation you are looking for and what activities you want to do, but if your main priority is snorkeling, I share some good options:
Iberostar Cozumel – this 5-star all-inclusive resort lies not so far from Playa Palancar, one of Cozumel’s prime snorkeling spots. Moreover, the snorkeling off the hotel’s pier is also nice! With its beautiful surroundings, high service level, fantastic food options, and lots of activities all day to keep you busy, it is recommended for all types of travelers, especially those who like active vacations. The on-site dive shop can help you arrange snorkeling trips if you want to explore the island’s underwater attractions in a comfortable way!
Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa – With a beautiful beach and fantastic views, the Presidente Intercontinental is one of the best hotels in Cozumel with good reason. You can snorkel right off the hotel’s beach to observe colorful corals and fish species in crystal clear waters. In fact, many people say that this resort has the best shore snorkeling in Cozumel so if you want to stay somewhere where the reef is just yards off of the beach, look no further! It has all of the luxuries you might as for a perfect holiday; immaculately clean rooms, delicious food, great amenities, and welcoming staff!
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