All Articles One perfect day in Cozumel

One perfect day in Cozumel

Jeffrey Van Fleet
By Jeffrey Van FleetFeb 23, 2024 4 minutes read
Rainbow on beach in Cozumel, Mexico
Image: Sophie Dover/Getty Images

Cozumel is way more than Mexico's most popular cruise destination. This teardrop shaped island comes alive when you stay overnight.

Use your day to do the touristy things like sipping margaritas at a glitzy beach club, exploring an ancient Maya temple or snorkeling around one of the world's biggest barrier reefs. But then let all the cruisers depart and relax like a local.

The island’s passionate fans—including the Tripadvisor readers who have shared their recommendations below—have done it all. The itinerary below will help you plan the perfect escape.

MORNING: Explore ancient history

San Gervasio ruins, Cozumel, Mexico
San Gervasio ruins, Cozumel, Mexico
Image: MarilynJones2010/Getty Images

Take in a pair of outdoor sights in the morning before it gets too warm and, if it’s the wet season, before the afternoon rains arrive. A 30-minute taxi ride takes you to Cozumel’s very own Maya ruins at San Gervasio, a site dedicated to the fertility goddess Ixchel. (In centuries past, Maya women made pilgrimages here.) The complex has informative trilingual labeling in Spanish, English, and Mayan, but an onsite guide can help you get even more out of your visit.

Nearby, learn about the life and times of the stingless Melipona bee at the Mayan Bee Sanctuary. Pick up a jar of the tangy honey they produce.

AFTERNOON: Take a stroll along the malecón

San Miguel Plaza del Sol Clock Tower, Cozumel, Mexico
San Miguel Plaza del Sol Clock Tower, Cozumel, Mexico
Image: YangYin/Getty Images

Get back to the city of San Miguel in time for lunch and grab a seat at Dick’s Dive. (The name refers to scuba diving on the nearby reef.) It’s part sports bar, part music venue, but lunchtime here means solid pub grub—burgers, nachos, and burritos.

Your first encounter with San Miguel will be its long, pleasant oceanside boulevard. No one bothers with its official name, Avenida Rafael E. Melgar. Call it the malecón, the generic term for a seafront promenade, like everyone else does. Stores here offer the same duty-free deals you’ll find in any cruise port. If you search you’ll find shops dealing in quality local Mexican crafts.

For a sense of the history of this remarkable island, duck into the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel. Or, of you're looking for a different kind of educational experience, join renowned chef Josefina Gonzalez Luigi for her Cozumel Cooking Class, which she offers at her home a few blocks inland. (Advance reservations are required.)

EVENING: Hang out with the locals

Dining on garden patio at Guido’s, Cozumel
Fish and pasta at Guido’s, Cozumel
Dining al fresco at Guido’s in Cozumel
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

You can’t beat dinner at Guido’s, a Mediterranean restaurant that’s a favorite of many Tripadvisor readers. Snag a table in the courtyard and choose among the variety of pizzas baked in their wood-burning oven.

Head two blocks inland from the hubbub of the malecón and you'll be transported to a charming Mexican town that comes alive in the evening, especially on weekends. As the heat of the day gives way to the cool of the evening, locals grab a cone at Quiero Gelato and hang out in Parque Benito Juárez, San Miguel’s central plaza. There’s often live music playing. For many visitors, this is the best part of Cozemel.

Area tour options

A Cozumel Private VIP Tour lets you kick back and see the island for five hours. Get a group of up to a dozen people together and the per-person rates for this van tour become very reasonable.

The “beach club” is an institution in this part of Mexico. For the price of a day pass, you enjoy the ocean in relative privacy—“relative” being the operative word, since all beaches in Mexico are public. Tripadvisor members enjoy Mr. Sanchos Beach Club, where lunch, drinks, and all the facilities are included.

There’s more to the island than the beach. The nearby Mesoamerican Barrier Reef makes Cozumel one of the world’s great underwater destinations. This half-day Cozumel Snorkeling Tour lets you get up close to stingrays, starfish, and sea turtles.

Travelers say: "[San Gervasio] was amazing! While the ruins were not as large as others on the mainland, it is a location rich with history. Iguanas could be spotted everywhere! Mosquito spray is a must!!!" —Shannon L

Worthy detours along the way

Know Before You Go

Skies turn reliably sunny by November. In December and January there will be a bit of an evening chill in the air. Temperatures warm up from February through the summer. May ushers in the rainy season, but that just means a few showers late in the afternoon. June through October are hurricane season, although September and October are the riskiest months for travel to this part of Mexico.

Few, if any, cruise ships call in Cozumel on Sundays. Businesses catering to tourists don’t shut down completely, though, because Sunday is a popular day for weekenders ferrying over from Playa del Carmen. Weekend evenings let you join locals hanging out and meeting friends in the park.

The island generally keeps 9-to-5 business hours, with some tourist-oriented businesses staying open later. Lunch is served between noon and 2 pm, while dinner begins around 6 pm and winds down around 9 pm.

San Miguel: In-town lodgings put you within walking distance of all the shops, bars, and restaurants. Go breezy and informal at the friendly Casa Mexicana Cozumel, across the boulevard from the ocean.

North Coast: Things feel quieter and more upscale on the coastal road north of town. A next-door pair of lodgings under the same ownership—the family-oriented Hotel B Cozumel and the adults-only Hotel B Unique—give you that exclusivity without socking you with “exclusive” prices.

South Coast: The big resorts hold court south of town. The sprawling InterContinental Presidente Cozumel offers you luxury, yes, but the rates are not astronomical considering all that you get.

Public transportation: Cozumel’s network of public buses and minivans is geared toward the workaday needs of the local population. In a short visit, newcomers will probably never decipher the system. Perhaps we’re not meant to.

Taxis: Taxis hang out in front of large hotels and are easy to flag down on the street in San Miguel—unless you find yourself caught in a late-afternoon rainstorm. Fares are based on zones, and the rates are reasonable within town. They increase heading north or south along the coast, and they shoot up dramatically for a trip to the center or to the isolated east coast of the island. Uber and Lyft ride-share apps don’t operate here.

Jeffrey Van Fleet
Freelance travel writer and pharmacist Jeffrey Van Fleet has journeyed around Mexico and Central and South America for the past 25 years. He has been an updater for Fodor’s Travel guidebooks during that time, having covered every country (including Cuba, but not Brazil) from the Río Grande all the way south to Tierra del Fuego at some point. When he is not traveling, you can spot him back home in Wisconsin, giving vaccinations, mostly against COVID and seasonal influenza. Well, you won’t literally spot him giving shots, HIPAA patient privacy issues and all.