Exploring Cozumel on your own allows YOU to set the pace. Although you may decide to opt for one or two organized activities (see our article on Fun Cozumel Itineraries) during your stay on the island, we’re here to tell you owe it to yourself to get out and about on your own as well. Unlike some Caribbean islands that come to mind, Cozumel is an unusually safe vacation destination where you’ll find the local population to be friendly, kind and civilized. This makes it a great place to explore both the bustling little city of San Miguel as well as the rest of the island.
First of all, order a Cozumel map from the Map Chick ahead of time to help get yourself oriented. This is an excellently detailed map although, because it’s a print publication as opposed to online, some of the restaurant, beach clubs and other attraction information will quickly go out of date. So we’d advise using the map in conjunction with the information you’ll find on this website to plan a super week on the island.
We suggest you plan to rent a car for at least a couple of days during your trip. But you can certainly get around just fine via taxi. Some of the more remote attractions will be more expensive via taxi than if you rented a car. Others, like many of the snorkeling beach clubs are generally just a $10 or so taxi ride away. We’ve divided up our suggestions for what to do on your own into things you can do with or without a car and attractions where a car rental is going to be your vest option.
Below are some suggested itineraries for exploring Cozumel on your own. We’ve divided these up into two sections. Part One includes suggestions for things to do by foot, bike or taxi. Part Two is for those of you who decide to rent a car.
Attractions You Can Enjoy Economically Without a Rental Car
Part 1, The Beaches
Even if you’re staying oceanfront, we strongly suggest you get out and explore some of the other beach environments the island has to offer. Here are our suggestions for the best beaches that are easy and inexpensive to reach by cab from just about anywhere on the island.
Chankannab Park — This beautiful park is $10 cab ride from downtown, perhaps $15 from the northern hotel zone and less from the mid-south hotels and resorts. Admission is $21 for adults and $14 for children (3-11). We think it’s worth it–a lovely way to spend the day. Restaurants, snorkel rentals, gardens and a little museum. There’s a protected lagoon that’s perfect for young children.
The snorkeling is usually not as good at Chankannab as at some nearby spots. But it’s still worth it for the view, the ambience and the nice facilities. For more info see Beaches.
Playa Azul –This charming little beach and restaurant right next to the Playa Azul Hotel is a favorite of people staying in Downtown Accommodations .
It’s just a $5 cab ride north of downtown San Miguel. And if you pick your time right, you may find you have the beach almost to yourself with a shaded palapa and lounge chairs to sit under to boot. As with all the beach clubs you’ll see mentioned on these pages, you’re expected to periodically order drinks, lunch or snacks if you use the tables, chairs and shaded areas.
Playa Azul is popular with the locals who congregate here on Sundays from about 10:30 AM on. If you want to mingle with some nice Mayan and Mexican families, head on over nice and early on Sunday. But if you don’t like crowds, we’d suggest arriving by 10 AM any weekday to have this beach almost to yourselves.
The Money Bar & Corona Beach Club — If you’re looking for the best shore snorkeling the island has to offer, we’d suggest you give Chankannab & Playa Azul a miss and head for one of two cute, close-in beach clubs we like. Both The Money Bar and Corona perch on a section of rocky iron shore that provides some of the best shore snorkeling on the island. And both can be reached for around $10 via taxi. You may also wish to check out our in-depth article on Cozumel Snorkeling.
But if you get your fill of the snorkeling and staring at the beautiful Caribbean, hop another cab into town. Note: If you can’t get to these beaches by 11 AM, we suggest you head into town first for a few hours and then come back to these clubs around 3-3:30 PM. That way you’ll miss the high season crowds you may run into from around 11 to 3.
Part 2, Downtown San Miguel
One of the things the founding families of Cozumel really did right was to build a broad sidewalk along the waterfront next to the sea wall.
The seawall which is frequently white washed and trimmed in color has cement benches built into it. These make comfortable places to sit in the evenings to watch the sunset and passersby. The Málecon is also great for exercise walking.
The best time on the waterfront is early morning when its cool and sleepy or at sunset or beyond.
Get lucky with the cloud action and you could end up with a breath-taking sunset. But even when the sunset is just its lovely average, you’ll still get the benefit of the evening coolness and the fresh sea breeze coming off the water.
It’s safe to stroll downtown San Miguel in the evenings — even for unaccompanied women. Just practice common sense safety. All the shops and restaurants will be open and welcoming and you are likely to run into plenty of local Cozumeleños out enjoying the same fresh air as you.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for this, however, just be sure to take a good hat. The tropical sun is nothing to mess around with. If you want to avoid the Sidewalk Shuffle on San Miguel’s waterfront when the cruise ships are docked downtown, bring a good sun hat and walk on the ocean side of the street .
Don’t misses on the San Miguel waterfront besides the Málecon boardwalk itself?
El Museo, the Cozumel museum is in a gracefully-designed building on the corner of Calle 6 and the waterfront.
El Museo is a very pretty structure with several small but y attractive and informative exhibits. Nice gift shop and a fun gallery restaurant upstairs serving decent food at inexpensive prices and a view of the Yucatan channel to die for. There is often also original art for displayed here for sale by local artists.
A block north of El Museo, stop in at Cinco Soles, a rambling, pretty store that has some great buyers who bring in wonderful stuff from all over Mexico. The displays are beautiful with little signs that explain where it was made, for example. Not the cheapest prices in town but not the highest either. And their selection is outstanding. Reliably high quality jewelry.
Also make sure to take a stroll through the downtown, pedestrians-only plaza area (El Zócalo). It’s located on the waterfront near the downtown ferry pier. Walk through the plaza to the water feature and iconic Cozumel letters for your photo opportunity. The plaza has low stone walls that offer great places for relaxing and people-watching.
If you want to escape the tourists completely and check out where real Cozumeleños shop and work, put your back to the ferry pier and walk straight up into town on Benito Juarez Avenue. You’ll pass dress stores, pharmacies, baby and pet stores, ice cream parlors– all places where locals do their own shopping.
There are a couple of great little off-the-beaten-path stores back in this neighborhood. Check Shopping for more information on these.
If you’re heading back this way, you’ll definitely want to make a stop in at the island’s oldest market, El Mercado. As you walk back from the waterfront on Juarez, count 5 blocks. When you get to Avenida 25, hang a right. The big mercado building with its rabbit warren of little shops and restaurants behind begins 1/2 block up Avenida 25.
You won’t encounter many tourists up in the center of the plaza. Many, we believe, are afraid they may be accosted by barkers, have their pockets picked or worse. We can’t emphasize how unlikely it is that this will happen.
And if you happen to be on the island on a Sunday evening, try to hit the downtown, pedestrian-only plaza between 8 and 9 PM. There is a nightly water show and often some kind of free event going on here on Sunday evenings. Sometimes its live music and dancing, other times a beauty pageant, a children’s show. A religious pageant. You just never know. But it’s a great place to people watch and mingle with regular Cozumelenos who come out in droves.
Another really fun way to explore downtown and all of San Miguel and the close in beaches, for that matter, is with a rental bike. We live downtown and use our bikes much more than we use our car. In fact, we can’t imagine getting around without them. And there’s a new bike rental place that’s just opened up. To read all about it, go to Cozumel Biking.