Welcome to our ultimate travel itinerary for 4 days in Cozumel. It’s a whirlwind tour of the famous island off the Yucatan Peninsula; one of the great vacation jewels of the Quintana Roo coast. Our aim has been to pack in all the must-sees but also a few more off-the-beaten-path locations.
You’ll start with a stint amid the hubbub of the only real town on the island: San Miguel de Cozumel. That’s a chance to get your fill of shopping and dining and local history. Then it’s onto the iconic coral reefs and snorkeling spots – some of the finest in the whole of Mexico, mind you – plus the ancient dig sites and beaches.
We’d recommend planning your 4 days in Cozumel for anytime outside of the summer-fall hurricane season, which usually runs from late July to October – it’s a time that can bring strong storms with the capability to ruin travel plans. The best option is probably the shoulder-season months of March and May, which are usually quiet but also dry and warm throughout.
Day 1: San Miguel de Cozumel
The town of San Miguel de Cozumel is the main gateway to the island by land and sea. Located on Cozumel’s northwestern tip, it’s home to the biggest port that links to the mainland of the Riviera Maya and has the Cozumel International Airport to boot. So, this is where you’ll first emerge and where you’ll hang around for day one of your 4 days in Cozumel.
It’s a charming little place, abuzz with the energy of day trippers and cruise shippers, but also channeling a touch of old-school Mex-Caribbean charm. Start your wanderings in Benito Juarez Park. It’s right by where the boats come in, unfolding in a mix of palm-sprouting walkways and boutique stores. There’s also a tourist info point there, where it’s a good idea to pick up a map before you really delve in…
Walk north up the promenade to meet the Coral Reefs Monument. A curious and unique piece of sculpture work, it’s an ocean-themed arc filled with fish and divers that celebrates the pristine marine habitats around the island. The same distance north again will take you to the Museo de Cozumel, which is a top place to get a feel for the history of the isle, through 11 interactive exhibits that chronicle the life and times of the local people and their culture.
Later on, we’d suggest settling in for a coffee and watching the world go by. There’s a real bustle about the town and you’ll want to get your urban fill before heading out to the beaches and the reefs. For that, the COZ Coffee Roasting Company in Centro is perfect – we love their artisan cold brews. For something stronger, head to Kondesa, a bistro-bar that does salt-rimmed margaritas and creative Mexican fare in a boho-tropical setting.
Day 2: Diving or snorkeling in the Palancar Reef and beyond
No ultimate itinerary for 4 days in Cozumel could possibly miss out on the diving. This island is the diving mecca of the whole of the Mexican Caribbean. Seriously, it’s got enough to rival the likes Egypt’s Red Sea and the Gili Isles of Indo, hosting something like 35 officially designated dive sites, plus a whole load extra casual locations that aren’t so well publicized besides.
Now, you can do some snorkeling on your own by heading to beaches like Playa El Cielo, the Chankanaab Park, and the Blanca Reef. However, there’s really nothing that can compete with a full-on dive experience run by one of the local scuba companies. The good news is that there are oodles of them on offer. You’ll find them all over San Miguel de Cozumel offering all manner of excursions and packages. Scubatony and Scuba Life Cozumel are among the highest-rated in the town.
The piece de resistance is the Palancar Reef. We’d say it’s the site that sums up the sheer wealth of underwater life that exists around this tropical island. Trips out there run daily and usually take the form of drift dives (when the diver or snorkeler makes use of the current to drag along the most interesting sections of marine habitat).
There are a couple of sections to Palancar Reef to know about, each of which is suited to different levels of swimmer and diver. It’s always worth asking which ones are included in your chosen dive package. Generally speaking, the more the better, but what you can do really depends on your experience.
- Palancar Reef Gardens – The most beginner-friendly section of reef with two large rock stacks and a considerable population of turtles.
- Palancar Reef Horseshoe – An intermediate section where you’ll see snappers and damselfish, often done as part of a drift dive.
- Palancar Reef Cave – Advanced divers can go deeper here to explore sandbanks that sprout big coral sponges.
- Palancar Reef Bricks – Another intermediate section that has some of the largest sponge corals around.
Most snorkel and dive packages in Cozumel last between two and four hours. They can include lunch and, usually, a pickup at your hotel lobby. It can be tiring stuff, so you’ll probably want to crash by the poolside once you’re finished.
Day 3: Circle the island
Wake up early because today you’re going to be circling the whole island – yep, the WHOLE island! Your first decision is what mode of transport you want to use. There are three real choices:
- Car – You can rent a car from the airport in San Miguel de Cozumel. It’s not usually overly pricy but you will have to fork out extra for insurance packages, which are typically compulsory additions in this part of Mexico. You’re probably looking at something in the region of $120/day with all charges included but not gas. A 4X4 is a good pick for the rougher roads to the south and inland.
- Moto – The local name for mopeds. We don’t recommend these as accidents are common (especially among travelers) and the roads aren’t great the whole way around the island.
- Bicycle – The best choice of all. If you’re of relative fitness and fancy an adventure, the 65km route that circles Cozumel is just about tailor-made for cycling. It’s mostly flat and generally in good enough condition to manage on a mountain bike with a decent number of gears. It’s possible to get bike rentals in the city for about $20/day.
Once you’re on the road, head south from town on the Quintana Roo C-1 highway. That’s the start of a loop that will take you all the way to the south coast and then back up the eastern shoreline. To finish, you’ll need to cut across the Trans de Cozumel highway to take you back to the port. It’s easy to navigate since there aren’t really any other turn offs. Feel free to stop wherever you please – there are oodles of reefs, swimming coves, shops, and small villages. We’d 100% recommend pulling up at:
- Playa El Cielo – A white-sand beach on the southwestern side of the island, Playa El Cielo is known for its array of starfish. Bring the snorkeling gear.
- Freedom in Paradise Reggae Beach Bar & Grill – Make a lunch stop at this famous Caribbean-style grill house. It pokes out the far southeastern side of the isle and serves grilled fish with spices and fresh fruit juices aplenty.
- El Mirador – Stop to see the rugged rock arch and the waves of the Caribbean lashing in through the sea caves.
- Playa Chen Rio – One of the calmer beaches on the eastern shoreline, Playa Chen Rio has talcum-powder sands and designated spots for family swimmers.
- Playa Punta Morena – There are little lip waves for surfers to get stuck into at Playa Punta Morena, along with sunbathing spots between the sea grapes and beach vines.
Day 4: End with history
The finale of our 4 days in Cozumel is all about delving into the rich history of the island. Again, you can choose between planning your outing yourself or booking onto an organized tour. We’d recommend the latter, since there’s a good chance your hamstrings will be shot after a full day’s cycle. Plus, that means you get a guide!
The first location you’ll want to explore is San Gervasio, or the Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio as its known in the local lingo. That’s an amazing swathe of old Maya-era ruins that sits on the northern part of the island. Experts believe it was once the site of worship for the god of fertility and was active from around the 7th century AD to the 15th century AD. Within, you’ll encounter fascinating structures like Las Manitas, a house with handprints on the walls, and the Los Murcielagos residence from 600 AD.
Further south, a site you may have already seen on your island loop stands tall on the southeastern tip of Cozumel. Cue El Caracol. Once thought to have been a Mayan lighthouse, it’s now the center of its own archaeological dig that showcases the remains of an ancient temple and some intriguing art made from seashells.
Return to your hotel for the evening to enjoy one last night of Cozumel sunsets and spicy seafood tacos. There’s plenty more to get through if you want to extend your trip from 4 days in Cozumel to a week or more, including snorkeling parks on the west coast and hikes along the shoreline of the rugged east. Alternatively, head back to San Miguel de Cozumel to connect with ferries returning to Playa del Carmen – they leave hourly in the peak season, with the last departure around 8pm.