Cozumel, Mexico Snorkeling Guide
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Cozumel is an island off the Mexican coast near the better-known Cancun area. The island of Cozumel is about 30 miles long and about 10 miles wide. Much of the urbanization on the island is centered around the main city of San Miguel on the western side. Beyond the city, resorts dot the coastline along the remaining western coast. The rest of the island is largely unpopulated. Most of the snorkel locations described in this review are along the western urbanized area. Much of this coastline is a coral wall drop off at the water’s edge around 10 feet deep. Several snorkel locations described in this review follow along this coral wall. There are a few other areas with shallower entrances on the western side. The best snorkeling reef is offshore at Columbia Reef. You will need to take a snorkel tour out here. There are also many other locations accessible from shore where you can get close to coral.
To get around, taxis are plentiful and affordable. As always, ask the price before departing. Cars, Jeeps and scooters are also available to rent on the island. But you should also think about renting a bike. It’s a cheap way to get around the island. Why are you in a hurry, take your time. Playa Corona is only 6 miles from the center of town, and that is the furthest southern location described in this review near San Miguel. Starting at the southern cruise ship dock there is a dedicated bike road until Presidente Resort. From there to Playa Corona the road is a one way, two lane road along the coast with limited traffic. Most of the bikes on Cozumel are rusty from the ocean salt. When renting make sure to ride it before paying.
To get to Cozumel you can fly in directly to the island. Another common route is to fly into Cancun, take a bus to Playa del Carmen and then take the ferry to Cozumel. This sounds complicated, but depending on where you are arriving from, this may be the cheapest option.
Cozumel Snorkeling Locations Map
(Click the box on the map header to open in Google Maps app)
Click to jump to each location:
- American Dinero
- Chankanaab Amusement Park
- Chankanaab Marine Reserve
- Columbia Reef
- El Cielo (Starfish)
- El Cid (plane wreck)
- C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl
- Ferry Wall
- Hotel B
- Mirador Base Wall
- Money Bar
- Navy Patrol Boat Wreck
- Paradise Reef
- Playa Casitas
- Playa Corona
- Playa Palancar
- Punta Sur
One-way snorkel from Fiesta Americana resort to Money Bar restaurant. The defining feature of this location is several deep caves that go in from the wall. Some of them are too deep to see the end. It’s fun to speculate what is hiding in them. The depths are not much more than 10 feet, so waves will affect this location and can disrupt water clarify. Try to go on a calmer day. I will note this is the only location in Cozumel I saw an octopus and a spiny lobster.
Entrance and Exit: To play it safe, you can enter at Fiesta Americana resort and exit at Money Bar restaurant. This adds distance to the swim and you will most likely need to patron their businesses. You can avoid this by entering and exiting just on either side of each resort. Check the video link for breaks in the coral to enter and exit. Make sure to observe each before committing to the swim and evaluate your own skill level.
Chankanaab Amusement Park
Family oriented ocean themed amusement park, fun for the whole family and easy place for beginner snorkelers. Yes, its crowded and touristy but the snorkeling here is actually pretty good. There is easy access to the water, small caves and some coral towers out deeper. Also, on the south end of the park is a freshwater cave called a cenote, that causes the fuzzy water effect as freshwater interacts with saltwater. There is a fee to enter the park. And you can even molest dolphins here if that’s your thing.
Chankanaab Marine Reserve
EXPERT ONLY! This is a one-way snorkel starting at Playa Corona and ending at Chankanaab Amusement Park. It follows the entire protected area of Chananaab Marine Reserve. Why this is an expert-only swim is the entire shoreline between these two points is a coral wall that is very difficult to exit from. You will have to commit to the entire swim of .5 miles with no chance of exiting early. Check the direction of the current before committing and make sure its favorable. Don’t try to fight the current, you are just going to lose. Also keep your eye out for marauding boats. Because of the buoy line at Playa Corona and the dolphin pen at Chankanaab Amusement Park, boats usually stay out a little farther but remain vigilant.
The route follows an underwater small cliff band that has some small caves called cenotes and arches in 20 to 30 feet of water. Start at Playa Corona and swim out until the drop-off starts. Follow this drop-off line all the way to Chankanaab Amusement Park, exit there and walk back to Playa Corona. You will most likely need to bring some footwear along with you to walk back to Playa Corona. The easiest way is to leash some flip flops to you. The best area along this route is about the halfway point, there are some towers, caves and arches concentrated in this spot.
Additionally, you may have the option to reach this spot from a dive boat. They sometimes use this area as a beginner dive training area. There may also be some snorkeling tours that go here. They both would most likely stop in one area along here. Do your research and ask around for boat trips.
Accessed by boat only. This is the best snorkeling in all of Cozumel. Beautiful amazing reef with towers and canyons. The shallowest parts are around 15 feet, so it is best enjoyed by snorkelers with some free diving skills. The snorkeling tours usually stop here and another place a little farther north called Palancar Reef. Its mostly the same stretch of reef a short distance away, but is a little deeper than Columbia Reef.
If you come to Cozumel and have some mild free diving snorkeling skills I highly recommend you booking a snorkeling boat trip out here, it is well worth it. There are lots of tours to choose from on the island, make sure they go to Columbia Reef and try to pick a tour with a smaller boat, therefore less people. Also try to go about midday when the sun is overhead, and light penetrates the water deeper lighting up the coral.
El Cielo (Starfish)
Accessed by boat only. This is side stop on most snorkeling trips to Columbia Reef. It’s a shallow sandy area about 10 feet deep that is populated with starfish. They make you take off your fins when you follow the guide around. Fun area for beginners and easy way to see some starfish up close. After this stop they usually pull the boat in shallow water and beach it for a few cervezas in about 2 feet of water.
El Cid (plane wreck)
Remains of a plane wreck, a ship anchor, and coral towers in deeper water. Plane wreck is in about 20+ feet of water, so its best enjoyed if you can free dive at it. There is not really anything interesting in the shallow water at this location, but beginner snorkelers can float over the plane wreck and have a good look at it. The swim area here is roped off and the plane wreck is right below the deep end rope in the middle of the swim area.
This location is accessed through El Cid La Ceiba resort and there is a fee to enter, but some of that includes credit at the bar. Plan to spend a couple hours here. There is a pool and a very nice beach lounge area. Also, fun to view the cruise ships parked right in front.
C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl
Accessed by boat. Large shipwreck in deep water. Why this is mentioned here is the top of the ship comes all the way up to about 30 feet deep or less, allowing advanced free divers to get close to it. She’s a large shipwreck at about 184 feet long and 40 feet tall, good water clarity makes viewing it possible. To get here you will need to take a dive boat. This is a very common dive location so search for dive shops that allow snorkelers and advertise this shipwreck. They might not go every day, but if you are staying a couple days on the island and have a flexible schedule, leave your info with them and tell them to let you know when there is a trip there. Try to plan your dive boat trip that also stops at Paradise Reef and possibly Chankanaab Marine Reserve.
Unexpected fun spot close to town. It’s a nice coral wall with depths up to 15 feet. Beautiful colors on the wall and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. This is an out and back swim and you will use the same spot to enter and exit. The entrance/exit spot can be tricky so evaluate your own skill level before attempting. Look for the point on the map close to the ferry dock and study the video. That is really the only way in or out without hurting yourself on the sharp coral rocks. It’s a nice coral wall and worth checking out. I did see a snorkel tour boat stop here, so you may be able to access it that way.
Hotel with shore access. A coral wall extends from the Mirador Base Wall all the way here and continues north of here. Of all the hotels along this wall Hotel B had the most relaxed and welcoming atmosphere in my opinion. Please patron their business where possible. You can jump in and enjoy this coral wall right in front of the hotel or do a one-way snorkel north of here to what we call the Yellow Tall building.
Hotel B to Yellow Tall Building one-way snorkel – This is a .4 mile one-way snorkel starting at Hotel B and ending at what we call the Yellow Tall Building (proper name is actually Las Brisas Condos). This is a longer swim and there is not really an option to exit early, but a brisk current makes this easier. Before you attempt go down to the Yellow Tall Building and observe the exit point. Next to the building is a public park and sandy beach offering a nice easy exit from the water.
Start at Hotel B and float with the current along the wall to the north. The current can be brisk so take advantage and save your energy (note: the current usually pushes north but can change direction. If that is the case, do not fight the current you are just going to lose). The coral wall ends after Palmas Reales Condos, there is a break in the buildings and open shoreline starts here. All the interesting stuff in this snorkel is along the coral wall up to this point, so take your time before you get here. After the shoreline opens up to the Yellow Tall Building there is not really anything interesting to look at, but the sandy beach exit makes it worthwhile to continue to the end. There is a large dock extending out from the Yellow Tall Building. Aim for this dock and swim to the other side to exit from the sandy beach. Walk back from here to Hotel B. Bring some sort of footwear with you for the walk back, leashing flips flops to yourself is an easy option.
Mirador Base Wall
This is a fun little coral wall right close to town. I had more fun here than I thought I would, beautiful colors and sand bottom make this an attractive spot. There are some concrete steps built into water that allow this snorkel location to be possible. The steps can be hard to find, so check the video and evaluate your own skill level before attempting. This location is also slightly hidden from the street. There is a path going in from the sidewalk along the property wall. Once near the water, you should go check out the concrete steps and evaluate your skill level to enter and exit. These steps are most of the way down the coral rocks on the northern end. Once you find them, you might want to leave something as a marker because it can be hard to see the exit from the water. Leave a t-shirt, bottle of water, your bike, anything that will help you see it from the water. The calmer the water the easier to enter and exit. You can either use the steps to enter/exit or one-way snorkel from the southern end of this location. To do that, start on the southern end next to the property wall and jump in there to one-way snorkel north to the concrete steps. This is a beautiful spot right next to town and almost nobody snorkels here.
Bar/Restaurant with shore access. There are some isolated coral spots out deeper and some scattered artificial reef objects in shallower water. Buoy system keeps marauding boats away from the deeper water. The snorkeling here is just ok compared to Playa Corona, but the restaurant and atmosphere is fancier. It’s a good option if you don’t want to go all the way down to Playa Corona but still want to get outside town. Easy spot for beginners. For a bonus, check out nearby American Dinero Wall.
Navy Patrol Boat Wreck
Slender Navy patrol boat about 85 feet long and resting in around 20 feet of water. The best shallow water shipwreck to see in Cozumel. The shallower depth allows intermediate snorkelers and above to free dive at the wreck. You can reach this from shore, but it takes a little effort and it’s hard to find. There was no buoy attached to it and few reference points to orient yourself. It actually took me two attempts to locate it.
To locate it from shore, first look out from the Playa Casitas and slightly south. There will be either a square shaped grey boat or a yellow-ish larger buoy that the grey boat ties up to. One day the boat was there, the next day it wasn’t so look for either. (note: that boat is visible in the Playa Casitas video) That buoy/barge thing is your first reference point, swim to that. Once at the buoy, swim out and away from the shore about another 100 feet. It’s hard to judge 100 feet from the water, but also check the depths. The boat is in about 20 feet of water so don’t go out too deep. From that spot about 100 feet past the buoy begin heading south and start scanning. The wreck is about another 100 feet south. Another way to orient yourself is look straight to shore. There is a military base entrance with a Mayan style archway. When I was at the wreck and looked straight to shore, I felt that is what I was aligned to. It’s just a reference point, not exact. This arch is just south of the Hemingway Lounge, a fair distance south of where you most likely started from. Be mindful of the current and approach the wreck from the other side if needed. The current also tends to lighten in shallower depths, so perhaps orient yourself in shallow water and then head out to the wreck to drift past.
Mayan Arch on shore:
This is absolutely in the marauding boat danger zone so please do not attempt unless you have some sort of marker or thing a passing boat can see. They will come flying through here at full speed. When I was at the wreck, boats even passed between me and the shore, at full speed. Please be mindful of this and stay safe.
One of the restaurants on shore next to the park, rents open top kayaks and stand up paddleboards. If you don’t have an inflatable inner tube or buoy, those might be a good choice. Ideally, rent one of those to share with another person and take turns free diving the wreck.
Accessed by boat. Wide strip of beautiful reef in 20 to 30 feet of water so you will need free diving skills to enjoy it. If you take a snorkel tour boat trip here, they will most likely drop you in shallow water and you wont even see the reef proper. Or they will require you to stay in a group right next to the boat. You should take a dive boat here, but there are some considerations. This is a very common dive spot being located right outside the marina, so they will require you to drag a marker buoy to prevent you from getting hit by marauding boats (trust me, you will want the buoy). The marker buoy of course will prevent you from free diving. So this is best enjoyed if you go with another snorkeler and you trade off holding the buoy while the other free dives the reef (buoy buddy system). It’s a beautiful reef and free divers can have a lot of fun here.
If you are more advanced snorkeler with free diving skills, try to combine your dive boat trip with a stop at C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl Wreck.
Public park close to town. Fun place to hang out fora few hours. Easy walk from the cruise ships. All snorkeling levels represented here. On the north side of the park there is a wall from the adjacent property. Strait out from that wall is some of the best shallow corals at this location. Beginner snorkelers can have fun here. Father out about 700 feet from shore are scattered large concrete blocks. You can actually see these from the aerial imagery. They come from a destroyed pier and were placed here intentionally to create and artificial reef. Depths are around 20 feet so intermediate snorkelers with some free diving skills can have fun exploring around these blocks. By coming out here you are entering the marauding boat zone so be vigilant and make yourself visible to passing boats. The best option is to use the buoy buddy system where one person holds the marker object while the other free dives.
Bar/restaurant with shore access to snorkeling. Some of the best shallow coral snorkeling on Cozumel. They have a choice location on the southern end of Chankanaab Marine Reserve. You can snorkel north from here and enter the Reserve. There is a roped off area right by shore that you are not allowed to enter. Follow along this rope and observe the shallow coral inside. After a short distance the rope ends, and you are allowed to get closer to the corals. After that you can head out into deeper water and free dive some isolated coral islands. There is a line of buoys out deeper that mark the boundary of the snorkeling area. They are mostly there to keep the marauding boats away. I observed boats going by at full speed just outside the buoys so please don’t go too far past them. Follow along the buoy line in deeper water back to the restaurant.
Being farther south of town the restaurant is an uncrowded relaxed place to hang out. The amenities are what you would expect in a remote beach bar so don’t expect anything fancy. There is a small fee they charge for water access. But really, they just want you to buy food and drinks, so if you buy enough stuff, they will most likely wave the shore access fee.
Honorable Mention. Not specifically a snorkeling location, but it’s one of the best public beaches in Cozumel and a perfect spot for first time beginner snorkelers to practice. Great sandy beach with a gentle entrance, very little waves and a handful of rocks to explore. Intermediate snorkelers would get bored here, but it’s also a great spot to hang out for the day. Beautiful wide-open beach with nothing else around it. Walk south along the beach into seclusion as far as you like.
There are little independent shops in the trees with food, beverages and souvenirs. Plenty of taxi’s waiting for rides. Playa Palancar is a fair distance from the center of town, so the taxi price will reflect that. Try to fill a car.
Try to make a day of it. If you rented a car to head to Punta Sur Eco Park on the southern tip, then you should continue to explore the eastern coast line. Follow the road north until the road heads straight to town and away from the coast. This is a nice paved road and easy driving. When you have done that, back track to Playa Palancar and enjoy the rest of the day.
A shallow strip of reef located a fair distance from shore. Standing on shore in front of the beach restaurants and looking out at the water, you can see two dark spots with a sand area in between. The reef starts on the second dark spot and heads almost due west. It’s close to a 900 ft swim to the reef from shore so it’s a fair distance, but the water never gets too deep and is around 10 feet or less. Once you reach the reef, head straight west and follow it for as long as you wish. The best part of the reef is near the end where there are lots of fan corals. The strip of reef is about 1,800 feet long and can be seen on aerial imagery. It is also marked with a line on the snorkeling map. If you decide to follow the reef to the end, you will know because it abruptly ends. After that head strait to shore and walk back along the beach to the restaurants. To snorkel the entire reef is about .75 miles so evaluate your skill level and decide if that is within your abilities.
They do a good job of separating you from your money down here. Food and drinks are more expensive than they would be in town. They also will tell you to snorkel the reef its “mandatory” to have an inflatable life jacket. Coincidentally, they happen to rent these life jackets for a small fee. But really there is no enforcement of this rule, so use your own judgement and evaluate your own snorkeling skill level. Just tell them you are only snorkeling close to shore and they will leave you alone. Busses of cruise ship people show up late morning, so the earlier you can get here it will be less crowded.
This location is on the southern end of Cozumel island inside Punta Sur Ecological Park. There are no scheduled public transportation busses down here and taxis may be expensive for the day. You would most likely need to rent a vehicle to get here. Once you get to the park, it is a 5-mile drive to the end of the road where this snorkeling location is. The road is in terrible condition, but it can be done on a scooter if you take it easy and slow. There is a fee to enter the park but there are crocodiles, Mayan ruins and a lighthouse to see. If you are coming just for the snorkeling, I would not say it is worth it because there are many other places close to town. But if you are on the island for several days and want to get out of town it’s worth the trip. The beach down here is amazing and offers some unspoiled views. If you do rent a vehicle and come all the way down here, you might as well make a day of it and drive north along the eastern coastline after your snorkeling. It’s a nice paved road with some good site seeing. After that, consider back tracking to Playa Palancar.
Close to town and the snorkeling is just ok, but you have some options here. Go straight off the dock at Villablanca maybe 100 feet and slightly south. There is a small rubble pile with a surprising amount of life hanging around it. Depth around 15 ft.
Another option is to walk up the beach (or sidewalk) and enter the water just south of the Sting Ray pen and snorkel back to Villablanca. Along the way there are some sparse individual corals but once again, a surprising amount of life for how little coral there is. Make sure to explore in and around everything.
The final option is to swim past the sting ray pen on your way back to Villablanca resort. On the other side of the Sting Ray Beach attraction is Blue Angel dive shop and resort. Walk in between the dive shop and the hotel building and then angle slightly right to a dock in front of the hotel. Jump in here and swim along the far end of the sting ray pen on your way back to Villablanca. There are some large sting rays inside the enclosure. Be nice to Blue Angel resort and don’t spend a lot of time on their dock or leave anything there. Just walk straight to the dock and enter the water as quickly as you can. Of course, patron their business where possible.
To exit the water for all options above, there is a small boat landing area on the end of a rock wall right near Villablanca dive shop. The coral was carved out for the boat landing. It’s a nice sandy spot to exit.
Marauding boats didn’t seem to be a big problem here as you are mostly inside the parking area, but stay vigilant.
Hey, check this out:
For even more detailed information on these snorkeling sites, download our Cozumel Snorkeling Map. Full color maps in .pdf version. Extra notes, tips and tricks to maximize your experience. Download for offline use and take with you to the snorkel spot.