Best Snorkeling Cozumel

Located in the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Cozumel is a world-renowned destination where its economy is primarily sustained by tourism. Derived from the Mayan word which means “The Island of the Shallows”, Cozumel is dotted with shallow reefs where tourists from all parts of the globe has considered it a snorkeling paradise just as in the beautiful Virgin Islands or the favorite snorkeling destination of French Polynesia (Tahiti). Located not too far away from the island of Playa Del Carmen, the stunning island of Cozumel is a diving and snorkeling paradise, best known for its gorgeous white powdery beaches and the crystal clear waters that surround it. Here is our updated guide to best snorkeling in Cozumel...

villa blanca snorkelling

Snorkeling Conditions in Cozumel

One of the many reasons why tourists love going snorkeling in Cozumel is the accessibility of the numerous snorkeling spots. On top of the popular snorkeling beaches, hotels that are situated along the shore offer their own unique snorkeling making your over-all underwater adventure a comfortable experience.

Cozumel has one of the best visibility as far as the Caribbean setting is concerned. On a sunny day, visibility can easily reach 30 meters (100 feet) giving you a pleasant and nice underwater view of your chosen snorkeling spot. This, in turn, allows you to clearly see the marine inhabitants of Cozumel’s snorkeling spots where you can see a lot of reef associated species like fish, dolphins, sea turtles, corals, sponges, gorgonians, shells, crabs and a lot more.

While it may seem that Cozumel’s characteristics are an excellent snorkeling vacation for you, you have to be aware that the perfect time to visit is from March to June. Water is calm, clear and the weather is great playing at around 30 - 32OC (87 - 90OF) during daytime and 23 - 26OC (75 - 80OF) at night. Just in case you booked from July to November, it is still okay to visit and go snorkeling in Cozumel. However, you have to monitor the weather before leaving as this is the hurricane season. December to February is the peak season in Cozumel where tourist stay away from the freezing winter and stay on this tropical island paradise. With this, you have to expect higher room rates. Regarding snorkeling equipment, we suggest bringing your own. Although several dive shops rent out their snorkeling equipment but wait until you ask for the price. They are relatively expensive as compared to other snorkeling destinations.

As far as transportation is concerned, there are taxis that can take you to any part of the island. But we tell you, this is an expensive way of touring around. What we suggest though is you can hire a car or scooter. Aside from being cheap, you can drive around with the freedom of time going to your preferred snorkeling. So what are you waiting for, hop in and allow us to take you to a fantastic snorkeling adventure in Cozumel.

Snorkeling Sites in Cozumel

To give you ease with direction, we will assign San Miguel de Cozumel - the largest City, as our reference point in going to the top snorkeling sites in Cozumel.

1. Palancar Reef

Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel along Rafael E. Malgar Avenue

Palancar reef is one of the few protected reefs in Cozumel as it is located inside a national marine park. This large fringing reef is part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park and has 5 popular spots for leisurely exploration. Palancar horseshoe, Palancar Caves and Palancar Deep are mostly visited by scuba divers due to depth considerations while Palancar Garden and Palanca Shallows are a haven for snorkelers.

Many have considered Palancar Reef as the prime snorkeling spot in Cozumel for several reasons. It has one of the clearest waters where visibility easily reaches over 30 meters (100 feet). The reef is healthy and vibrant where you can see several types of reef-building corals ranging from the massive, encrusting and branching type. The reef residents also abound, where on a typical day, some of the fish that you will see are angelfish, groupers, moray eels, barracudas, parrotfish, jacks, and nurse shark.

Aside from fantastic reef, snorkeling in Palancar Reef allows you to see a homogeneity of a single dominating species a single area. What we are talking about is the Palancar Garden, where instead of a reef, the seafloor is dotted with colorful starfish. And with the clarity of the water, many have compared this experience just like to a touch pool.

2. Paradise Reef

Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel along Rafael E. Malgar Avenue

Situated near a cruise ship port, Paradise Reef is always crowded with snorkelers like you and transient tourist who wants to take a dip and see Cozumel’s underwater beauty. The beach itself is an excellent spot to prepare and gear up your equipment as it is usually calm. Once you swim towards the deeper area, you will realize that there are 3 separate reefs closely situated to each other. Once you arrive at the reef, you will see that the reef is oriented in a parallel direction to the shoreline.

While it may sound impossible to navigate all the three reefs, many have successfully explored all of them in just a single dive. This is courtesy of the mild current that is persistent in the area making drift snorkeling a fad in Paradise Reef. As you cruise along the reef, you will see a diversity of tropical fish like sergeant majors, damselfish, snappers, emperors, and angelfish. There is a particular spot in Paradise Reef that is filled with sea anemones where you can see the famous Nemo and its clownfish cousins.

While you can do shore entry when you go snorkeling in Paradise Reef, it is advisable for beginners to do this adventure with a boat. You have to remember that this is a mild drift snorkeling and that your boat will always follow you making your exit very comfortable and does not require swimming back to the shore. You may see some scuba divers underneath you as Paradise Reef is a favorite spot for scuba diving.

cozumel snorkelling
Palancar cozumel

3. El Cielo

Location: South of San Miguel de Cozumel

Located half a mile offshore from mainland Cozumel is a sandbar that has attracted snorkelers from around the globe. Derived from the Spanish word which means “The Sky,” El Cielo is literally the reflection of the sky where you can have an endless outdoor adventure under the sun.

When your boat arrives at the sandbar, you will be surprised that it is relatively shallow where its depth only ranges from 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters). At first, your guide will allow you to walk along the powdery sand where many have appreciated its massaging effects. After a few minutes of a relaxing walk on waist-deep water, your guide will lead you to an area that is dominated by five-armed echinoderms - the starfish. Similar to Palancar Gardens, there is a spot in El Cielo that is filled with starfish. But concerning quantity, El Cielo houses more starfish than Palancar reef. And what’s good with snorkeling with starfish in El Cielo is that the water is very shallow where you don’t need to swim. As compared to swimming in deep water, in El Cielo you can either stand, sometimes you can sit down or just bend your legs while allowing your head to be submerged and feel more comfortable.

If you want to see other unique marine species, your guide can lead you to the deeper part of the sandbar (but still relatively shallow at 6 to 8 feet deep) where you can interact with stingrays. This time, you have to remember that your interaction with stingrays is limited to visual interaction and that touching them is highly discouraged.

4. Dzul-Ha

Location: South near San Miguel de Cozumel

Located just a few kilometers just outside of San Miguel de Cozumel is a reef famous for snorkeling enthusiasts. Many have appreciated the ease of access to the reef where it is only located just a few meters from the shore. But before you walk along the coast, we highly advise that you wear some sort of foot protection like reef boots or reef socks as the topography towards your entry point is rocky.

Once you enter the water, you will appreciate the clarity of the water where visibility averages 20 meters (60 feet). The excellent visibility, in turn, gives you a clear view of the underwater surroundings where you can see a vibrant reef filled with tropical fish like damselfish, wrasse, parrotfish, butterflyfish and a lot more. Dzul-Ha is also one of the few places in Cozumel where you can see lots of crabs and lobsters. Just look at the cracks and crevices or under a rock and you will that these marine crustaceans are taking refuge.

The good thing with Dzul-Ha is that the area is specifically designed for snorkelers and bathers alike. For a small fee, you can safely leave your belongings in the designated locker area. There are lots of bars and restaurants near the shore where you can order great foods and drinks.

5. Chankanaab

Location: Southwest of San Miguel de Cozumel

Located within the Marine National Park of Cozumel, Chankanaab is considered an attraction packaged within a bigger attraction. As you arrive and pay the parking fee, you will then trek towards lush greenery of the virgin forest where you can also have a historical tour and see ancient structures from the Mayan tribe. Many are already satisfied with this jungle tour, but if you are an avid snorkeler, then we suggest you should go to the edge of the protected coast where you can have a once in a lifetime snorkeling experience: swimming with dolphins.

As you arrive at the shore and prepare your snorkeling equipment, you will realize that Chankanaab is like a small sea, which is its names literal meaning if we based it in the old Mayan language. When you enter the water, you need to swim for about 300 meters (1,000 feet) to reach the reef. Initially, you will be amazed at how vibrant the reef is as it is filled with marine organisms likes corals, sponges, algae and fish. However, you should not miss seeing the small swaying tentacles of the sea anemones as they house a very popular reef resident: Nemo and its cousin clownfish.

But as you spend time in the reef, a squeaking sound will definitely get your attention. By this time, get ready as your friendly marine mammal interaction will about to start. Dolphins will come near the reef and will be interested in your presence. On a typical day, dolphins will come close to you and your group that the temptation to touch them is inevitable. But we appeal to you that your interaction should be limited only to visual and please do not touch them even if you think that they are presenting themselves for a gentle rub. And wait, here’s good news for newbies: Chankanaab is a good spot for you as the waters are protected from strong waves and strong current.

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6. Columbia Reef

El cielo Cozumel

Location: Southern tip of Cozumel, south of San Miguel de Cozumel

Located just a few kilometers south of Palancar Reef is a playground for both scuba divers and snorkelers. Unusual underwater topography composing of caves, swim-through and caverns filled with a wide variety of marine life is the main reason why Columbia Reef has attracted tourist from all parts of the globe.

Boat entry is the only way to reach the reef as the site has a relative distance to the shore. Once you arrive at Columbia reef, your boat will usually position itself in a location called Columbia Shallows. This is a great spot to start your snorkeling adventures in Columbia reef as the water is relatively shallow making any gear adjustment very easy and comfortable. As you traverse along the reef, you will realize that it has a gentle slope that leads towards a drop-off called Columbia Deep. This is the spot where most of the scuba divers start their deep diving exploration. Just imagine a vertical reef wall that drops down straight up to 24 meters (80 meters).

But for us snorkelers, arriving at Columbia Deep means this is our turning point, and we should we not go beyond this area. Most snorkelers shared their experience in Columbia Reef that hovering in Columbia Deep with the reef ledge just at your sight is a great way to interact with marine reptiles where many have seen sea turtles.

7. Villa Blanca Reef

Location: near San Miguel de Cozumel

If your accommodation is located in San Miguel de Cozumel and want to have a quick snorkeling adventure, then Villa Blanca Reef is the perfect spot for you. Located just across the Quintana Roo C-1 Road, Villablanca reef is a popular snorkeling spot where you will enjoy the shallow reef that gently slopes down to the deep and is filled with corals, sponges, sea fans and lots of tropical reef fish like moray eels, scorpionfish, surgeonfish, sergeant majors and Nemo the clownfish.

With regards to the type of entry, snorkelers with advanced experience can swim out towards the reef. However, for newbies, we highly recommend you do boat entry for safety reasons and that you are guaranteed that someone is always watching your presence in the water.

7. Cozumel Palace

Location: South of San Miguel de Cozumel

If you happen to check-in one of the high-end hotels along Quinatana Roo C-1 road near the intersection of Andres Quintana Roo, then your snorkeling adventures will not take you far as the reef fronting the hotel is a favorite spot for snorkeling.

Snorkeling in Cozumel Palace will nonetheless allow you to see a wide array of marine life like eels, stingrays and barracuda. This is one of the few spots in Cozumel that houses a good population of cephalopods where many have seen cuttlefish and squids.

But before you plunge and swim, allow us to remind you that there is no sandy beach area in Cozumel Palace that you can walk towards the reef. Instead, the coast is quite rocky and that you need extra care in going in and out of the water. We also recommend the use of reef boots for maximum foot protection.

Cozumel Snorkeling Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, your snorkeling adventures in Cozumel will be relatively fun, safe and comfortable. This is on top of the fact that after your snorkeling trip you can visit historical and archaeological sites of Ancient Mayan culture.

And lastly, after reading this article and starting to plan your next snorkeling trip, you may wonder why most of the snorkeling sites in Cozumel are located either on the south or southwest side, when it is entirely surrounded by water. How about the northern and eastern sides? If you have this kind of observation, then we applaud you for having a keen observation. But the real reason why snorkeling in Cozumel is limited to the south and southwestern part is that the remaining portion of the coast has water conditions that are dangerous and not suitable for snorkeling.

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