Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel!
Cozumel is one of the best places in the world to dive & snorkel. It’s a water-lover’s paradise. Jacques Cousteau declared it to be “one of the most beautiful scuba diving areas in the world.” The water is clear & fifty shades of turquoise, with visibility up to 200 feet. You can learn to scuba dive in Cozumel (there are plenty of instructors & dive shops). Or, if that doesn’t sound appealing, simply grab some snorkeling gear & jump in! This post covers the best snorkel spots in Cozumel, that I discovered after a month spent on the island.
Map of Cozumel Snorkel Spots!
The map below will give you an overview of the best snorkel spots in Cozumel. Hover over any of the red balloons to find out the name of that snorkel spot ~ & in the article below, I’ll tell you if it’s free or costs money to snorkel there!
As for Cozumel hotels that offer great snorkeling on site, try Hotel Cozumel, the Cozumel Palace, Villablanca Resort, the Coral Princess, or the Presidente Intercontinental ~ to name a few. All these hotels offer great snorkeling right on property (perfect for kids), & the Cozumel Palace is actually set near the edge of the Palancar Reef! But you certainly don’t need to stay at one of these hotels in order to enjoy the best snorkel spots in Cozumel.
The Money Bar
Cozumel Guides & Gear
Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel
Cozumel has the largest barrier reef system in the Western Hemisphere! Discovered by Cousteau, Cozumel boasts the second largest coral reef in the world: the great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Along with this comes near-perfect, crystal -clear diving conditions ~ with sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, schools of colorful fish, starfish (especially at El Cielo), & all kinds of marine life. Not to mention, the reef itself.
Here’s the general rule of thumb for finding the best snorkel spots in Cozumel: if it’s a white, sandy beach ~ the snorkeling won’t be good. If it’s a rocky, dark shore ~ chances are, it will be great for snorkeling. If your feet are sensitive (or you’re snorkeling with kids), bring waterproof booties for easier walking along the shore.
White, sandy beach = BAD for snorkeling!
Dark, rocky beach = GREAT for snorkeling!
Also, please note: DON’T swim, snorkel, or dive on the EAST side of the island!! Though it’s beautiful & wild on the east side of the island, the current over there is extremely strong & can have dangerous rip tides. And diving visibility won’t be good because the ocean is so rough. So, definitely check it out over there ~ plan to bike or walk along the ocean path…not swim!
I snorkeled all over the island & asked every local I met for the best snorkel spots in Cozumel, which are listed below! Some places are free, but most are attached to a hotel or restaurant, so there will be a charge involved. If you want to save money, the best thing to do is tack snorkeling on to lunch or a meal to get your money’s worth.
Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel!
The Cozumel snorkel spots I’m listing below are ranked in order of popularity. Meaning El Cielo, which is listed #1, is the top most recommended snorkel spot by locals.
1) El Cielo
El Cielo means “heaven” ~ & if you love starfish, sting rays, & insanely turquoise waters, then El Cielo will be snorkel heaven for you! El Cielo is only accessible by boat, & is about a mile off Cozumel’s shoreline. So, unless you know someone with a boat ~ you’ll need to take a tour there! A tour should cost around $45 (I paid $42), & most leave from Cozumel’s main ferry dock, right in San Miguel. You can go in a glass-bottom boat or a regular speedboat, & the ride takes about an hour (bring a jacket, it can get cold). Most tours include El Cielo along with Palancar, or other popular reefs along the shoreline. The water at El Cielo is about waist-deep ~ perfect for kids or novice snorkelers!
Bottom Line: If you want to see starfish & sting rays, GO snorkeling at El Cielo! Also great for kids & beginners. Cost: $40-45
The Money Bar is a favorite locals-hangout in Cozumel, & is a great place to spend the day. You can get drinks, lunch, & snorkel ~ all in the same afternoon! The Money Bar has plenty of tables, a large bar, & chaise lounges all along the waterfront, with easy access for snorkeling via a small ramp & ladder into the ocean. As far as creatures, you’re likely to see schools of tropical fish here, manta rays, & sea turtles. I personally didn’t see mantas or turtles when I went, & the current was strong that day ~ so it wasn’t my favorite spot. But my Cozumel dentist RAVED about snorkeling at the Money Bar, so I figured I went on an “off” day.
The Money Bar is about a 30-minute bike ride south of town, or a 10-minute taxi ride, & they don’t have a “minimum” food purchase (like many other oceanfront snorkeling spots, such as Sky Reef). So, for the cost of a $10 drink, you can enjoy an afternoon of snorkeling at the Money Bar, making it one of the most cost effective snorkel spots.
Bottom Line: If you want to drink, dance, eat, & snorkel ~ head to the Money Bar. Good for adults & kids. Cost: $5-10+
3) Palancar Reef & Columbia Reef, in Cozumel National Coral Reef Marine Park
Palancar & Columbia Reefs are two of the most famous reefs in Cozumel. They’re both located on the south end of the island (about 45 minutes from San Miguel), & are best accessed by boat. It’s totally do-able to hit El Cielo, Palancar, & Columbia all on the same boat tour ~ they’re very close to each other. Columbia Reef has a near-perfect 5-star review on Trip Advisor, & is a great spot to look for sharks & spotted eagle manta rays.
Palancar is a great place to snorkel OR dive, & it’s a fantastic place to free-dive. I did some of my best free dives in Cozumel at Palancar, which definitely puts it near the top of my best snorkel spots in Cozumel list. Palancar is exciting because it features caves, ledges, & massive reef drop-offs. You’ll also find a huge diversity of animal life including turtles (we saw two), & all kinds of fish, eels, & other creatures hiding in the reefs. I personally thought Palancar was more exciting & diverse than El Cielo (which I saw on the same boat tour for $42). Sharks & barracudas like to hang out by Palancar, so if you’re adventurous ~ check it out.
Bottom Line: Two of the best reefs on the island, but better for advanced swimmers & divers. Cost: $45 (if on boat tour)
Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel!
If you want to walk somewhere for snorkeling in Cozumel ~ head to Hotel Cozumel! We spent many great afternoons here, & it’s also a phenomenal place to watch the sunset. They’ve got a great lunch buffet for around $10 (which is a steal), good bartenders, & a wide oceanfront with chaise lounges, hammocks, lockers for divers, & GREAT snorkeling!! You enter the water here via a ladder on their dock, which makes it super easy to get in & out ~ & as soon as you dip in, about 20 yards away is an underwater Chichen Itza! No one told us about it, & it took our breath away. Beyond that, follow the shoreline to the left for spectacular snorkeling. There’s no minimum purchase on food & drinks, making it one of the most economical & best snorkel spots in Cozumel.
Bottom Line: If you want to snorkel closer to town & see an underwater Chichen Itza, go to Hotel Cozumel! Ladder entrance great for both kids & adults, but best suited for stronger swimmers. Cost: $10+
Another Great Walk-able Snorkel Spot in Cozumel = Jeannie’s (pictured below). This (mediocre) restaurant has tables overlooking the ocean, but if you walk down along the right side of the restaurant, it will take you to a great, sandy beach & phenomenal views of the water. You can snorkel right from Jeannie’s for the price of a drink!
5) North of the Cozumel Museum on the Ocean Side
Find Cozumel’s museum ~ Museo de Cozumel. Keep walking north toward the airport, along the ocean side. You’ll start to see several restaurants with palapa roofs; some of these have rocky shores that make for good snorkeling. The best of these spots that I found was north of all the restaurants, on a large rocky shore. I noticed several people snorkeling, so I locked up my bike & ventured out. It ended up being one of my favorite snorkeling experiences in Cozumel, & it was totally FREE. There are great reefs along the shore with tons of fish, & further out, a wild kelp forest that was breathtaking & vast. So you don’t need to spend money or go far out of town to find great off-the-beaten-path snorkel spots in Cozumel: just grab a bike & look for dark, rocky shores & other snorkelers.
Bottom Line: If you dislike masses of cruise ship tourists & prefer independent adventures, head north of town by the airport & look for rocky shores. Cost: FREE.
Many of Cozumel’s oceanfront hotels offer snorkeling right on their shore ~ which makes life easy, especially if you have kids. They tend to be the pricier, oceanfront hotels, & some are listed above under the “Map of Cozumel” section.
Sky Reef Cozumel is a popular place to snorkel (especially for cruise shippers) ~ & it’s about 25 minutes south of town. You can tequila taste or enjoy a massage on the beach here. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Sky Reef because they charge a minimum $49 entrance fee (including some food). But you can’t just hop in the water & snorkel for an hour. At the time, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.
Not So Honorable Mentions…
Another popular place to snorkel in Cozumel is the Disneyland-esque Chankanaab Reef. It’s very popular with cruise ship tourists ~ less with locals. They’ve turned this place into a mini Sea World, with a hefty entrance fee, dolphin & sea lion shows, & an opportunity to swim with dolphins. Any place that keeps dolphins in confinement as “entertainment” for humans, unfortunately, is no place I can personally recommend. It’s why I’m also not a fan of Dolphinaris in Cozumel, which keeps dolphins confined in small pools while charging tourists $300+ for photos with them. I’m not a fan. Save your money & spend it elsewhere.
Of course, these are just my personal opinions. If you have kids DYING to swim with dolphins (I totally get it), perhaps look at options where you can swim with dolphins in the wild. By explaining to your children how animals in captivity are treated & how unnatural an environment it is for them (see “Blackfish“), you could be part of creating the next generation of young conservationists & oceanographers.
Best Snorkel Spots in Cozumel
I hope this guide has helped you find some of the best snorkel spots in Cozumel! It’s great to know that you can snorkel well on the island without having to spend a fortune.
But if you’re staying in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, there are SO many other fantastic places to go. You’ll want to swim in the Yucatan’s best cenotes, & take amazing Instagram shots at the Pink Sea. And while you’re in central Yucatan you’ll want to stop by that World Wonder called Chichen Itza. Then there’s the party town of Playa del Carmen, world-class spas & partying in Cancun, & the laid-back beach resorts of my personal favorite, Tulum. You can’t go wrong in the Yucatan. Take it all in….& make sure you bring your cutest swimsuits….
Read Next: Best Swimsuits for Summer 2017!
Why I Use World Nomads
Whenever I travel ~ especially if I’m traveling solo, I always get travel insurance. It gives me the peace of mind to go out and have all kinds of adventures, because I know someone’s got my back. Who do I use? World Nomads. They cover you whether you’re sky-diving, spelunking, or volcano-boarding in Nicaragua: they’re not your average insurance company. Read more about travel insurance here.