12 miles east of mainland Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel feels like its own little Caribbean oasis, surrounded on all sides by turquoise, crystal-clear water as far as the eye can see.
But, before I get into everything I loved about Cozumel, I want to start out by keeping it real with you guys – just a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know this island existed! In fact, a lot of people don’t, unless you’ve been on a Caribbean cruise in your lifetime. If you frequent cruise ships, odds are you’ve probably spent a day in port on Cozumel in the past, as thousands of people often do each and every day. In fact, the association with cruise shippers and Cozumel 1-day stopovers is so strong that a lot of people were actually surprised that Cozumel was my final destination. When flying into Quintana Roo, travelers are usually more drawn to the more widely-known hot spots in the area – Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum. Cozumel sits there, just across the sea, waiting to be explored by non-cruise shippers who dare break away from the beaten path to give this tiny island a shot for a day, or (like me), a full weekend.
Cozumel is Mexico’s third-largest island, and its most populated, floating just above the Caribbean sea and measuring 28 miles long and 11 miles wide. The northern tip of the island is covered in thick coastal vegetation, and the rest of the island is accessible via one main ring road that traces the coastline of the island’s lower half. Because of Cozumel’s small size and more laidback pace, it’s easy to see why I was met with some questions and confused looks about what I could possibly do on the island for 3 days. But while most of the island’s tourists arrive in the morning and are whisked away on boats at night, the few that stay are welcomed into a nightlife scene that’s entirely local and inviting. At night, city lights from Playa del Carmen – the closest town back in the mainland peninsula, a 45-minute ferry ride away – are almost completely imperceptible. The town fills back up with locals as the cruise ships carry on their way, and all you can hear wherever you look is either the sound of the ocean, or the vibrations coming from the nearest salsa club. If not for anything else, this is why I think spending at least 1 night in Cozumel is absolutely worth the trip.
So, how did I hear about Cozumel? I actually found out about a long-weekend trip to the island that was being led by a boutique travel company called Legit Trips, one of the owners of which I actually connected with through a travel conference that I attended last year in Texas. Having never tried the group travel route before, and excited about the possibility of making new friends in a beautiful destination, I thought, what the heck! And it was off to the Yucatan Peninsula I went. The experience was better than I could have ever expected, and I’ll share all my thoughts on solo and group travel in another post. Until then, here is the itinerary I used to spend 3 days exploring all that Cozumel, Mexico had to offer!
Getting to Cozumel
You can fly into Cancun or directly into Cozumel, since there is an airport on the island. Cancun is the cheaper route, which is what I did. If you’re flying into Cancun, it’s a 1-hour drive to the ferry in Playa Del Carmen, and a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel.
For the drive from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen, you have 2 main transportation options outside of grabbing a taxi:
Booking a private or semi-private transfer (cost: $100-110 USD round-trip)
I used Happy Shuttle Cancun and had no complaints with their service
Tipping is not required, but encouraged (I tipped around 40-50 pesos each way)
- Hopping on public transportation (cost: around $7-10 USD each way)
The ADO BUS will take you from the airport to Playa Del Carmen’s city center, and departs roughly once or twice every hour
From the drop-off point, it’s a 10-minute walk to the ferry dock
Once at the ferry dock, you’ll see 2 different companies you can take to get to Cozumel, Winjet and Ultramar. Either are fine to use (I used Ultramar!), and you can buy your tickets on the spot so you don’t need to worry about it in advance.
3-Day Itinerary in Cozumel, Mexico
Day 1: Explore Downtown, Get in the Water, and Go Dancing
Explore San Miguel
Spend the morning getting your bearings in San Miguel, Cozumel’s main town center. This quaint area has tons of options as far as dining and shopping, and since the hotel we were staying at was just a 15 minute walk from the center of town, we started off our day in San Miguel filling up on food before getting on with our day. For breakfast, we ate waterfront at a place called Jeanie’s, and grabbed coffee at a cute and very hip coffee shop called Coz Coffee Roasting Company.
Walk down Avenida Rafael Melgar (the main road running parallel to the water) to check out the many artisan shops catering to tourists and cruise shippers. Shop owners will be pushy, but this is their livelihood and they are just looking to share their craft with you, so be open-minded! Explore the Plaza Central and snap a photo by the colorful Isla de Cozumel sign, which you really can’t miss.
Once we finished walking around and snapping photos, we got whisked into a touristy but SUPER fun bar with swings for seats and a clown serving up balloon hats alongside ice-cold cervezas (it’s just one of those things we couldn’t possibly have planned but ended up being tons of fun!). The bar is called Habaneros Bar & Grill and it’s on Avenida Rafael Melgar.
Go Scuba Diving / Snorkeling, Or Head to a Beach Club
You can’t go to Cozumel without spending at least one long afternoon hanging out at one of the various beach clubs and parks on the island. There are tons, but two of the closest ones to San Miguel are Chankanaab National Park and SkyReef. Both options are perfectly situated for some of the most memorable snorkeling or scuba diving of your life, as their waters are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, one of the most abundant marine life ecosystems in the world. In Chankanaab, you can also learn about the island’s Mayan history by getting up close and personal with the preserved ancient ruins of a Mayan village on site.
In SkyReef, which is where we went, you’ll get a more traditional beach club. Upon arriving, you’ll be met with different bundled packages for things to do, but my advice is to just skip that and pay for things as you go. During the afternoon, our group ordered tons of food and drinks, listened to live music, lounged on beach chairs, rented snorkeling gear, and even got 30-minute massages, all in one place. The food is just decent, but everything else was simple, relaxing perfection, and the staff were nothing but kind.
Grab Dinner in Town & Go Dancing
Earlier, I briefly mentioned how after sunset, the island pretty much clears out, as the majority of people visiting the island are only there for the day while their cruise ships are in port. This means that if you’re staying for the weekend, the island is yours for the taking after dark! We went into town for dinner at a place called Kondesa and found that we were the only people at the restaurant we visited, but instead of feeling weird or uncomfortable about it, we had the BEST meal. The restaurant employees were excited, the service was great, and the musician who was packing up for the evening actually unpacked his instruments when we arrived, and started playing again just for us!
After dinner, I desperately wanted to go dancing and enjoy the nightlife scene that I fell in love with after going to Mexico for the first time 2 years ago. We went to a salsa bar called Tiki Tok that was full of locals, and we had the most incredible time, I highly, highly recommend you try this out yourself whether you dance or not. Even just people watching and enjoying the live music in this kind of an environment is a blast. If you do dance, know that things don’t really get lively until after midnight. Once midnight hit, I swear it was like clockwork – everyone at every table around us got up and hit the dance floor (even me, after a drink or two to calm my nerves!).
Day 2: Rent Jeeps and Beach Hop
Grab an Early Breakfast and Explore the Island In Jeeps
On the second day in Cozumel, we first had breakfast at Chilaquiles, a chic but extremely unassuming restaurant that you might otherwise overlook because it’s right next to the parking lot of Chedraui (the Mexican version of Walmart). But, definitely don’t overlook this place! We ordered giant portions of colorful pancakes, chilaquiles, and cafe con hielo, everything tasting just as good as I was hoping (all that dancing the night before really worked up my appetite).
We then rented jeeps from a local company called Smart Motorbikes for around $25 USD per person so that we could drive around the island. While the western part of the island is where town is, the eastern side of the island is much more remote, with a handful of beach clubs, bars, and other fun stops worth checking out along your drive.
Here’s Where We Stopped (note: most of these places are unfortunately cash only, so plan ahead):
Punta Morena: Adorable rainbow-themed beach club with hammocks, a bar, and a pool
Coconuts: the highest point on an otherwise perfectly flat island. At the top of this hill is another bar and restaurant (called Coconuts Bar & Grill) with great views.
El Pescador Beach Club: a beach club with lots of space for beach volleyball and hanging out, with tons of lounge chairs to choose from.
Palancar Beach: a gorgeous sand beach (making it one of the easiest to walk right into the water and swim in) and restaurant. TIP: if you arrive before 2:30 pm, try to get on a boat to head out to the sand bar. Supposedly, it’s epic. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there until past 3.
Turquoise Beach Bar: Back on the other side of the island, we stopped at Turquoise Beach Bar for sunset. This restaurant is a bright blue, chic locale with a rooftop feel, since it overlooks the ocean from up high. While you wait for your food or before you find a table, head down to the water, walk down the dock, and jump in. The water is crystal clear and there are hundreds of schools of fish hanging out around the dock – don’t forget your goggles! We went swimming around 5:30 pm and it was still warm enough to watch the sun begin to dip from the water. And, there are a couple of partially submerged hammocks that you can hang out in before getting out of the water, which I loved.
Get Out of the Town Center and Hit Up a Local Spot for Dinner
Back in San Miguel, you’ll notice that the further inland you get, the more local and authentic the town begins to feel. We wanted a super local taco experience for dinner while we were in Cozumel, so we went to a place called Los Seras. Now, imagine this: despite being a group of 9 people who ordered 4+ tacos each AND 2 big pizzas for the table, we only paid $28. Total. That’s $3 a person, and we were stuffed!
Next door at a place called Oasis de Sabor, we were tempted by some sweets with unique, latin-inspired flavors like rompope (kind of like eggnog) and chicle (bubblegum). We got a scoop each for less than $1. That’s 4 tacos, some pizza, and ice cream all for less than $5 per person!
Day 3: One Last Adventure Before Getting Back on the Ferry
Grab Coffee and Go Shopping
On our last day in Cozumel, we went back to Plaza Central for one last stop at Coz Coffee Roasting Company, where we also ate breakfast (I recommend their avocado toast and their iced peanut butter coffee – SO good). After breakfast, this would be a good time to buy any local goods or souvenirs you were eyeing on day 1 while you’re in the area.
Snag an ATV Tour to Go On One Last Sightseeing Adventure
If you have time, spend your last afternoon on the island renting an ATV or a dune buggy to head to one of two unique sights in Cozumel: the San Gervasio archeological site (Mayan ruins), or the Jade Caverns (a cenote you can swim in). Based on my research, you probably won’t be able to easily do either of these alone because of their remote locations. However, there are several tour operators on the island that offer excursions for both. I didn’t get to do this myself because I had an early flight to catch, but I would have died to see a cenote if I could!
This trip reaffirmed my belief in solo travel and in going to places I never previously considered. After going to Tasmania solo a few months back, I was itching to go somewhere new and thanks to Legit Trips I was able to make that desire come true on a beautiful, relaxing island in the Caribbean.
So, Why Visit Cozumel with a Boutique Travel Company like Legit Trips, Versus Going Alone?
While Legit Trips’ itineraries are designed to be as custom as you want them to be, so that you’re in control of your own adventure, our laidback Cozumel weekend really felt like it allowed us to be able to experience so much of what this gorgeous island had to offer at our own pace, and I left feeling completely fulfilled and overwhelmed with gratitude (and new friends, too!). Even though I flew to Cozumel alone and wasn’t sure what to expect, the team at Legit Trips (and the fellow travelers in the group) made me feel instantly like we had known each other for a lifetime, and these 3 days made for some of my best travel memories to date. This was my first time trying out small group boutique travel, and I don’t think it will be my last!
The Main Reasons To Travel This Way Include:
Effortless Travel: don’t fuss over hotel bookings or airport transfers to and from the hotel. That’s all taken care of. Have a question about something you want to do during your trip or need help booking an activity? The trip leaders can usually help with that, too!
Peace of Mind: knowing that there is a whole group of people traveling to an unfamiliar destination in addition to yourself can be a HUGE relief, and knowing that you’ll have allies and resources to make plans with throughout your trip can be the game-changer between a stressful, and an energizing, experience.
New Friends: regardless of whether you go by yourself or book the trip with a friend, you’re bound to make new friends along the way and broaden your network of adventure-loving individuals (and potential future travel buddies!) from all over the world. After 3 days in Cozumel, I made friends from all over the USA and as far as Brazil (and we’re all Facebook / Insta-official, to prove it).