Come for the sandy beaches, and stay for the coastal lookout points, ancient Mayan sites and tequila-tasting tours on this culture-rich Caribbean island.
It’s no mystery why the island of Cozumel is one of the top tourist destinations in Mexico. Snapshot-summoning beaches are certainly the main draw, together with some of the finest waters in the Caribbean for underwater exploration. While this is enough for most visitors, there’s so much more: from discovering ancient Mayan sites to tequila-tasting tours, we’ve picked out all the best things to experience on your next trip to the Mexican island.
While most of the Cozumel coastline comprises fine golden sands, there are spectacular rugged stretches, too, and none finer than the spot at El Mirador. Spanish for “lookout point”, the sea has carved an arch out of the rock on the southeastern corner of the island, which you can climb onto for great views and photo ops. Various shacks sell refreshments here, too, including chilled coconuts and cocktails, or there’s a neighboring beachfront restaurant if you fancy something more substantial.
The surrounding state of Quintana Roo is scattered with fascinating Mayan ruins, and Cozumel is no exception. The oldest is El Cedral to the south, a temple and ceremonial site, where at neighboring Kun Che Park performers reenact ancient Mayan rituals. Another impressive site is Castillo Real on the more remote northeastern side, presiding over a beautifully rugged stretch of coast. The largest pre-Hispanic site and zona arqueológica on Cozumel is San Gervasio, an extensive temple complex, set in a thick jungle inhabited today by numerous iguanas.
Drink in Mexico’s favorite tipple on a tequila tour
Anyone with more than a fleeting interest in tequila will love this exploration of the production of Mexico’s most famous firewater. Hacienda Antigua is located right in the center of the island, where a huge “tequila tours” sign ensures you won’t miss it. Once inside, experts explain how they transform the spiky agave cactus into the popular and potent spirit, escorting guests around the factory and ending with tastings. The tour is free of charge, and you can, of course, purchase a bottle (or two) before you leave.
Feel sand between your toes on one of the many beaches
Of course, there are the beaches. Whether you’re looking for an exclusive island (Isla de la Pasión) or remote snorkeling paradise (Playa El Cielo), an ecopark setting (Punta Sur) or loads to do (Playa San Francisco), there’s a beach with your name on it. With a sandy coastline fringing most of the island, you’ll always be able to find your very own stretch of sand, especially along the lightly developed northeast coast.
Discover the world-class scuba sites on the island
For many years, Cozumel has been celebrated as one of the best places in Mexico for diving – even in the whole Caribbean. The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park is part of the second-largest reef system in the world and boasts dozens of big-ticket dive sites. Expect lush coral walls, exciting caves and swim-through, and a dizzying abundance of sea life that often includes hammerhead sharks and eagle rays. There are loads of excellent dive shops, offering everything from courses for absolute beginners to deep dives for seasoned experts.
If your idea of a great vacation is endless activities, then schedule some time at the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. You’ll find all the usual water-based fun, such as snorkeling and scuba-diving tours, plus some less usual ones, like swimming with rare manatees. The more adventurous can whizz across the site on an elevated zip line. If you fancy a pampering, book yourself a massage in the open-air spa.
You can only explore the southern half of the island’s coast by car. But, if you want to discover the more untouched and isolated north side, a bike is a great way to do it. Thanks to hosting an Ironman event since 2008, there’s a great two-wheel-friendly infrastructure in place, including dedicated cycle lanes and a cycle path that circles the whole island. You can do the 40mi (65km) trip in under four hours, but most choose to make a day of it, stopping off at the numerous beachside restaurants and attractions en route.
Budding entomologists should make a beeline to this fabulous sanctuary for the Mayan stingless bee, also known as Meliponas. Take a tour, and learn about the ancient Mayan practice of beekeeping and honey collection that continues to this day. Find out about the particular benefits and properties of this bee’s honey before getting to do some honey tasting of your own. There’s also a series of Mayan sculptures to explore and traditional crafts made on site by local artists that are available to buy.
This is an updated version of an article originally by Rich Francis.