Situated right off the coast of Playa Del Carmen is a snorkeler and scuba diver’s paradise. This little slice of heaven is known as the island of Cozumel.
This island, while just 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, really leaves an impression. It is Mexico’s premier diving destination as well as Mexico’s most visited port of call by cruise ships! There’s even an airport on the island–Cozumel International Airport (CZM), making it even more accessible to international travelers.
Cozumel is a world-class snorkeling destination everyone should have on their bucket lists. This is where people come to experience beautiful clear waters and stunning tropical marine life to see!
Cozumel Reef National Park covers nearly 70,000 acres, allowing snorkelers to explore some of the most diverse reefs on the planet.
If you’re traveling to Cozumel soon, here are some of the best places for snorkeling. These sites can either be reached on your own or as part of a guided snorkeling tour!
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Where Is Cozumel Located in Mexico?
Cozumel is a go-to beach destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
Cozumel is the largest island in Mexico, located in the State of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico. It is a 34-mile-long by 11-mile-wide island off of Mexico’s Riviera Maya that consists of mostly undeveloped land.
To the west of the island is Playa Del Carmen. To the northwest is Cancun.
10 Best Places to Snorkel in Cozumel
1. Palancar Reef
Best for: Scuba divers, snorkelers of all levels
Ah, Palancar Reef, they don’t call it the ‘Underwater Garden of Eden’ for nothing!
This reef is highly regarded as one of the best not just in Cozumel, but in the entire Americas! It’s one of the best locations for viewing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, a natural formation spanning over 700 miles from the Yucatan to Honduras.
Palancar has depths between 50 to 115 feet (15 to 35 meters), making it a very popular scuba diving location.
You’ll need to reach depths of at least 45 feet to get the best views (great for scuba diving), but you can still have an enjoyable snorkeling experience at Palancar Reef. That’s because, on a good day, visibility at Palancar is up to 180 feet, which is quite impressive and deep!
In fact, a lot of Cozumel snorkeling tours will make a stop here because that’s how beautiful this spot is. From the surface, you can enjoy watching the sea turtles manage their feeding grounds, swim with Moray eels, or even see massive groupers, toadfish, nurse sharks, white tips, eagle rays, and even the Splendid Toad Fish.
Five different dive sites are available, including Palancar Gardens, Palancar Caves, Palancar Bricks, and Palancar Horseshoe. You can go snorkeling each day for an entire week and never see the same thing twice.
Guided tours are commonly available (check out the snorkeling tour options in the next section). And if you want to go alone, it’s still better to at least charter a boat.
2. El Cielo
Best for: Families, shallow snorkeling, leisurely snorkeling
El Cielo is a thin, sandy beach less than a mile off the Cozumel coastline–yet feel worlds away! Its name translates to “the sky,” a name the location gets because of the mirroring effect the water there provides.
The shallows at this Cozumel snorkeling location are about four feet, allowing you to see the famous colorful starfish that live here in abundance, and easily wade across waist-deep shoreline if you don’t want to get your entire body wet just yet. It’s one of the few locations where you can pretty much bring your gear and go!
You can even explore the popular starfish gardens on foot due to the shallow waters, which can be great for people in your party who don’t want to get into the water for real snorkeling.
If you’re interested in wandering past its sandbar, you’ll be treated to more than just starfish. In its deeper waters (only 6 to 8 feet deep), are stingrays! While they are beautiful to see, please remember to look with your eyes only–no touching is allowed.
This usually makes a great last stop for snorkelers, so you can relax in the shallow waters with a drink after the day’s underwater adventures.
3. Villa Blanca Reef
Best for: Beginner snorkelers and families
Also known as Villa Blanca Shallows, this reef is a real delight for snorkelers regardless of their experience. As this is a shallow snorkeling reef, the water has a maximum depth of 40 feet. The reef has a low profile because of the water movement, which means the coral and sponges are usually healthy!
Snorkeling typically happens between the cruise ship piers, between the ferry pier in Cozumel and Park Royal. If you don’t mind it being a little crowded, you can see plenty of barrel and basket sponges. There is also black gorgonian found throughout the area.
On good days, you might even see entire schools of angelfish, jacks, morenas, pelagic and black grouper visiting the area!
If you choose to snorkel here, do be aware of boat traffic and don’t wander too far away from the starting point. At times, you’ll notice more current here than at some of the other snorkeling spots on this list.
4. Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
Best for: intermediate snorkelers, stronger swimmers
If you’re looking for a snorkeling adventure in an ecological park that has everything a nature lover could want, this spot is for you.
With nearly 250 beautiful acres to explore, you’ll find many lagoons, beaches, and reefs in pristine condition at Punta Sur Eco Beach Park. The water here is shallow, emerald, and clear–all of which allow you to see the many fish species that call this area home!
An entire day of possibilities is available to explore when visiting the park. After snorkeling, you can stop to see the crocodiles, snag some spectacular views at the top of the museum lighthouse, or enjoy a warm afternoon at the beach. Several seaside restaurants are available to enjoy as well.
There’s a small entry fee for the park and snorkel equipment rental is available. Please note, this snorkeling location isn’t for everyone – you’ll need to be an above-average swimmer or have the endurance to swim some distance, even while wearing the mandatory life jacket. This is because the reef is about 500 to 800 meters away, near the buoy line.
You must be prepared to swim approximately 20 minutes to get out to the start of the reef. Once there, you can float along with the current whole you explore the crystal clear waters!
Again, if you are a strong swimmer and can make it to the reef, you will be rewarded with amazing sights of healthy coral formations, purple sea fans, tropical fish, turtles, stingrays, and even lobsters!
5. Columbia Reef
Best for: scuba diving, snorkelers of all levels
The underwater features at Columbia Reef are highly regarded and loved, and for good reason.
You’ll find plenty of fish species at this crystal clear snorkeling destination, including barracuda on some days. There’s excellent coral to see, bony lobsters that swim with you, and curious sea turtles that come to visit. If you’re fortunate, an octopus or two might come along. It’s a lovely spot for divers especially because of the deep coral formations that can reach around 90 feet in height!
Because the reef is so healthy, snorkelers will get treated to a little bit of everything during their snorkel adventure in this reef garden. Every kind of fish is out there when the weather cooperates!
And if you want the chance to see it yourself, we’d recommend going on a guided snorkeling tour as a lot of them include Columbia Reef on their itineraries.
In terms of safety, the current is reasonable for most swimmers if you stay between the reefs.
6. Chankanaab Park
Best for: Families and children, beginner snorkelers, aspiring snorkelers
Located inside Cozumel’s National Reef Marine Park is Chankanaab Park, an adventure park where you can get yourself into a whole bunch of different adventures. It takes about 15 minutes by car to reach this adventure marine park from the center of Cozumel and is also located very close to the main cruise ports.
In addition to snorkeling and scuba diving, it’s home to several other activities, including a temazcal ceremony, sea lion show, snuba tour, sea trek tour, and zip line park, ensuring that you can fill your day with fun activities!
If you’ve never tried snorkeling before, Chankanaab Park is a great place to learn the ropes as the qualified instructors here can guide you through areas specifically designated for practice.
All in all, we would recommend this snorkeling site for new and aspiring snorkelers. Although everything is human-made (meaning there are no natural reefs), it’s still possible to see damsels and parrotfish while learning a new skill!
Gear rental is available for a minimal cost and includes mask, fins, and safety vest use all day. An entry fee to the park is required, although children under three are admitted without charge. You can also opt for the more convenient Chankanaab Park All-Inclusive package.
Best for: beachside snorkeling, all types of snorkelers including beginners
You can find this ever-popular snorkeling destination of Dzul-Ha a few miles south of San Miguel de Cozumel. This reef is the easiest to access in almost all of Cozumel, being just a few feet away from the beach entrance.
Since the reef is situated so close to the beach, it doesn’t require a full out-of-breath swim to reach like some other spots, making it one of the best spots for beginners.
Dzul-Ha is known to have great visibility which goes up to 65 feet (20 meters) or more due to the incredible clarity of the waters. On any given day, you can catch glimpses of angelfish, parrotfish, wrasse, and you’ll almost always see sea turtles while in the water!
Looking to spot blue crabs or lobsters? This spot is one of the few locations in Cozumel where you’ll have a good chance of seeing them–they can often be found under loose rocks.
Beach vendors are available if you prefer to rent some equipment to try snorkeling for the first time. Lockers are also there to keep your valuables safe if you don’t have a designated person to watch over your belongings.
In addition to locker and snorkel gear rentals, there is also an awesome beach bar area to hang out at! After your snorkeling, spend some time relaxing on the beach or head across the street to enjoy the various restaurants and bars in the area.
Pro Tip: Bring reef booties if you plan on snorkeling here. You’ll want to wear some foot protection when visiting since the shoreline and waters are rocky, slick, and sharp.
Want a more elevated snorkeling experience? On the doorstep of Dzul-Ha is The Money Bar Beach Club, a popular dining/beach club venue that often has live music on the weekends. From here, you can snorkel on your own or also choose to pay extra and go snorkeling from a boat. There are paddleboards and kayaks to rent as well.
8. Paradise Reef
Best for: guided tours accommodating all types of snorkelers, night diving
Paradise (Paraiso) Reef is a popular snorkeling/scuba spot in Cozumel on the western part of the island and is especially great for night diving.
It’s one of the busiest snorkeling areas on this list due to its proximity to the cruise ship port. Because of its convenient location, it tends to draw a lot of tourists who want to prioritize snorkeling but only have a short amount of time on Cozumel!
If you’re looking for something convenient and you don’t mind snorkeling with many others, consider bringing your gear to Paradise Reef and trying out the waters for yourself.
Three different reefs are available to explore, and they all run parallel to the beach. Depending on your level of experience and your skills, you can choose to snorkel or dive in different parts of this area. Experienced swimmers can often experience them all on a single outing.
Within these diverse coral formations (expect to see sea fans, brain corals, star corals, and more), you can find a lot of great wildlife such as spotted moray eels, lobsters, damselfish, snappers, angelfish, and sea anemones housing clownfish.
Some giant crabs and rays can be found out there, and schools of squid sometimes come along with the current isn’t strong.
There are some technical areas that require experience, so working with an organized tour is recommended if you are a beginner or do not consider yourself a strong swimmer.
Lastly, if you are not a cruise ship traveler and you can time your visit to Paradise Reef so that there are no cruise ships pulled into the port, you’ll have a lot more room to explore!
Some other famous beaches located in this area are Villa Blanca located to the north of Paradise Reef, as well as Tormentos and Yucab Reef.
9. El Cid La Cieba
Best For: casual snorkelers who want to stay close to the hotel
For those who don’t want to charter a boat for a deeper excursion, some light snorkeling at your Cozumel hotel can be a great option. Case in point–El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel has some good snorkeling perfect for the whole family!
While the underwater diversity isn’t going to knock your socks off, it will provide a fun and relaxing experience. You can start at one end of the beach and go to the other, taking a look at the rock pier while staying close to your hotel.
There are convenient steps leading from the hotel down into the ocean for easy snorkeling access. It’s only a seven-minute walk from the Puerto Maya cruise ship terminal.
If you choose the guided tour (for a small fee), you’ll get a two-hour trip that takes you a few miles north past Puerto Morelos. You can book this excursion right at the hotel.
10. Santa Rosa Wall
Best For: more advanced snorkelers
Located about 15 minutes from Cozumel, this snorkeling and scuba destination is one of the most famous in the region, but you will need a boat to visit this spot.
The wall begins at 50 feet and drops down into the deep. Many people have described the experience as if they’re flying along a cliff!
You’ll find giant sea fans, corals, caves, tunnels, and swim-throughs to enjoy. Moray eels, nurse sharks, and large schools of parrotfish are often there to see.
The Santa Rosa Wall can have a strong current so is best for more advanced snorkelers.
Best Cozumel Snorkeling Tours – Guided Excursions
1. Cozumel Snorkeling Tour: Palancar, Colombia and El Cielo Reefs
This combo snorkeling tour is loved by a lot, a lot of travelers. On this snorkeling tour, you will get to experience some of the best snorkeling spots in Cozumel, including Palancar Reef, Columbia Reef, and El Cielo (home of the starfish sandbar)!
This tour starts and ends within close proximity to the main cruise ports, making it the perfect excursion for all travelers, even those coming by cruise ship.
If we had to pick just one adventurous snorkeling tour to choose from, we’d go with this one! Operated by Cozumel Tours and Excursions.
2. Cozumel Coral Reef Snorkeling by Glass Bottom Boat
Traveling with folks that are interested in snorkeling as well as those who want to enjoy the marine life that snorkeling has to offer, without the snorkeling part? The Cozumel Coral Reef Snorkeling by Glass Bottom Boat excursion could be the happy medium you and your group are looking for!
This 2-hour guided tour provides a stress-free snorkeling excursion, a great choice for first-time visitors that are also limited on time.
On this tour, you’ll board a glass-bottom boat and enjoy an easy ride over to shallow reefs, stopping to snorkel and see colorful tropical fish and maybe even sea turtles or stingrays. Stops will include the Villa Blanca Wall followed by the Paradise (Paraiso) Reef, which is divided into two parts–the Shallow Paraiso and Deep Paraiso–both of which are normally visited.
For those not interested in hopping into the water, make use of the sundeck to snag some memorable photos with amazing ocean views!
Snorkeling equipment and chilled beers, soft drinks, and water are provided. You can also choose to add on an optional lunch with a beach break at Tortugas Beach Club. Operated by Safe Tours Cozumel.
3. El Cielo, Palancar Snorkel & Beach Party Experience
This unique, jam-packed Cozumel snorkeling tour combines a snorkeling excursion, catamaran cruise, and beach party—all in one excursion, allowing you to experience multiple island highlights in one day!
On this 5-hour tour, you’ll board a 65-foot (19-meter) catamaran and enjoy an easy ride over to a coral reef, stopping to snorkel and see coral formations, tropical fish, and even sea turtles and stingrays. Once your group has gotten their fill of snorkeling, you’ll all then head to shore for an island-style beach party, which includes beer, margaritas, cheeseburgers, water sports, and beach volleyball!
As with most boat tours, all snorkel equipment is included along with a knowledgeable local guide, refreshments and life vests.
Unlimited beer, margaritas & sodas are available throughout the tour. Operated by Fury Catamarans Cozumel.
4. Private Jeep Excursion in Cozumel with Lunch and Snorkeling
For those of you looking for a tour that combines time on land and sea, this 5 to 6-hour combo tour could be perfect for you. Discover the jungle and beaches of Cozumel with just your family and friends on this private self-operated Jeep tour.
Your guide will be in a separate vehicle, guiding you along the drive into a national park to learn about the local geology and Mayan history. Continue to white-sand beaches for snorkeling, followed by a delicious lunch.
Some of the activities you can add to your tour itinerary include horseback riding, tequila tasting at a tequila factory, visiting a replica Mayan village, shopping, snorkeling and enjoying a beachside lunch. Stops include spots like Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, El Mirador, Chankanaab Reef, San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site, Mercado Municipal, the town of El Cedral, and a couple of beach clubs.
Operated by Cozumel Tours Excursions.
5. Bavarian Fiesta Snorkel Activity in Glass Bottom Boat
The Bavarian Fiesta Snorkel Activity in Glass Bottom Boat is more than just a tour that takes you to beautiful snorkeling spots on Cozumel. This tour brings together a mix of things that you don’t typically see on the other boat tours.
Among the things that make this tour unique is that they’ll take you to see a shipwreck or two, and are the only boat that offers you German beers on the tours.
Here’s what you can expect on this 4-hour snorkel excursion–you’ll be brought to check out two ship wrecks, one reef, and El Cielo and El Cielito on the south side of the island.
The tour includes free WiFi, snorkel gear, and freshly-made snacks. In addition to the typical Mexican drinks, you can opt for the Bavarian Package, where you’ll get to enjoy German beers instead.
Operated by Bavarian Fiesta.
Best Time to Visit Cozumel to Enjoy Optimal Snorkeling Conditions
Although the weather is rarely terrible when visiting Cozumel, some days are better than others when you want to enjoy a snorkeling adventure.
You’ll find the best conditions are typically between March and June because the temperatures are warm and the seas calm. Visiting from July to October is also suitable, but that’s also during the hurricane season.
The weather from November until February is still sometimes suitable for snorkeling, but you’ll have more wind, cloudy skies, and rain to manage.
Can You Snorkel On Your Own In Cozumel?
Because of how easy to access parts of the reef are, snorkeling on your own without a guided tour is very possible!
The main advantage of booking a guided tour is that you have access to a local expert who can enrich your experience by providing you with information about the reefs and their inhabitants.
However, snorkeling on your own has a few benefits too, such as being able to snorkel at your own pace and starting/stopping whenever you want. If this is more your style, then here are a few pointers on what to do and where to go.
Most tourists will choose to snorkel on the southwestern shore of Cozumel where the waters are calmer. (The northern end of the island is recommended for advanced swimmers because of its unpredictable / strong currents.)
The most convenient snorkeling locations will be ones where rental facilities can be found right on the beach. These are usually spots where fish and reefs are prevalent, which means you’re going to see a lot of wildlife even when snorkeling on your own.
Popular snorkeling spots include:
- Dzul Ha
- Chankanaab Park
- Corona Beach Club
- Fiesta Americana
Snorkeling Equipment: Essentials For Snorkeling In Cozumel
If you plan on snorkeling with a guide on a paid excursion, your snorkeling gear will typically be included in the price. However, if you plan on snorkeling on your own, you’ll need to either rent snorkeling gear or bring your own equipment from home.
Bringing your own snorkeling set is pretty freeing. It means you can choose to snorkel anytime you want without having to track down a rental shop to rent gear. This is important because not all beaches have rental shacks nearby.
In addition, you’ll have the comfort of knowing the snorkel and mask haven’t been used by a million other people. Here are a few items we recommend:
- Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults. This is a great, convenient option if you’re looking for an entire set.
- After doing hours and hours of research, I recently upgraded to the WildHorn Outfitter’s Seaview 180° V2. Because I tend to get anxious/nervous in the water, I wanted something that would truly make my snorkeling life easier. This full-face snorkeling mask does just that, and allows you to breathe through your nose. All the problems I used to face while snorkeling–water leaking into my mouth, limited google view, foggy goggles mid snorkel–completely gone!
- It’s a bit pricier than other basic snorkel masks out there, but let me tell you this thing was a game-changer for me. Being able to breathe normally through my nose underwater made this mask completely worth every penny!
- Need a set of just fins to pair with your snorkel mask? I have Seaview 180 RAWA Snorkel Fins and I love them. They are the perfect size for traveling with!
- If you’re going to be snorkeling in rocky areas, definitely bring a pair of reef booties to protect the skin on your feet. Reef areas can easily cut your skin up if you’re not careful.
- Don’t forget to pack an excursion first aid kit for those all-too-common snorkeling scratches.
We hope you found this post informational and inspiring as well! When you consider the best places to snorkel in Cozumel with the right time of year to visit, you can plan an amazing experience! Whether you travel with friends, family, or go solo, you’ll find that Mexico can be an incredible destination.
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