Mexico has the world’s second largest barrier reef, the Meso-american Reef. It spans over 600 miles of ocean, starting at the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and extending down to Honduras. I visited a variety of snorkeling spots around the island of Cozumel. Some of them I accessed with a tour and others I did on my own. I brought my own snorkel, but if you don’t own one or just don’t want to travel with one, they are widely available for rent. I found having my own was more convenient and cost effective. You will also want to bring or purchase biodegradable sunscreen in order to prevent pollution of and protect the ecosystems you will be viewing.
My favorite snorkeling location on Cozumel was Money Bar. Money Bar Beach Club is a bar and restaurant located directly on the beach, on Cozumel’s west side. They have umbrella covered tables and lounge chairs for rent and charged $10 for two chairs and a locker. Showers, restrooms and a place to rent snorkel gear are also available. This spot is great because it requires minimal effort. You can walk right into the crystal clear waters from the shore and instantly be surrounded by hundreds of tropical fish. The waters are shallow and although you can swim out farther to see some of the corals, the majority of the fish stay right next to the shore where they are being fed. I saw a few different kinds of beautiful Angelfish, as well as some jellyfish and sea urchin, so do be aware of your surroundings, especially during warmer months.
If you are interested in doing some exploring and would like to visit somewhere off the beaten path, then there is a great stretch of water across from the naval barracks. This area is quiet and less touristy. Definitely bring your own snorkel if you plan on spending some time here or stop at a dive shop for a rental on the way. I would recommend this area to a more advanced snorkeler and I wouldn’t advise going alone since it is a rather somewhat hidden, secluded area. The water is also a bit deeper than some of other offshore snorkeling areas and the boats coming and going from the area, make the water choppy. There were lots of little fish here and I enjoyed just taking a minute to sit back, relax and enjoy the views. It was incredibly peaceful.
This location can be found by traveling north from the ferry on Avenida Rafael E. Melgar, passing the naval barracks on your right and going slightly past Avenida Antonio Gonzales Fernandez (Airport Road). You will see a block of residences on your left. The last one has a fence and a concrete path next to it leading down to the area. You will find a set of stairs built into the rocks, making it easy to enter water. If you are looking for less rocks and more sand, head back south to airport road. An additional stretch of beach, Playa Las Casitas is located here and provides some additional snorkeling at its man-made reefs. You’ll also find some restaurants if you would like to grab a bite to eat.
Many of the top snorkeling destinations around Cozumel are only accessible by boat so I chose to book a tour to reach the rest of my destinations. I booked through Cozumel Cruise Excursions for $50. It included visits to the Palancar and Colombia reefs and the El Cielo sandbar. The tour lasted about four hours and snorkel masks, fins, drinks (including beer) and snacks were provided.
The first stop on the tour was the Palancar Reef. Palancar is a large reef on the southwest side of the island. It’s about three miles long and is made up of multiple dive/snorkel sites. When we arrived the waters were quite choppy and we decided not to spend too much time here. I did see quite a few rather large white fish and a handful of pretty corals. I feel as though Palancar may be a better area for divers, as many of the bright, colorful corals are deeper down. The rough waters at this time could have also be a factor and snorkeling here may usually be better.
Next up was the Colombia Reef. This reef is somewhat more shallow and the currents are gentler than Palancar. It is one of the farther reefs to reach and for this reason is somewhat less disturbed than the others. It is also protected by a natural barrier- it’s surrounded by a major reef line, a mangrove and a beach; making it less susceptible to damage by storms. I saw much more of a variety of sea life and corals here.
Our final tour stop of the tour was El Cielo meaning “heaven” in Spanish. El Cielo is a sandbar with the most magnificent blue water. It is only accessible by boat and it alone makes this tour absolutely worth it. The deepest point is only about five feet and the sands are soft, white and powdery. The warm, shallow waters and lack of current make it possible to simply relax, float around and enjoy the sights. The water is crystal clear, making it easy to see all the beautiful starfish and spot a few stingrays. It was a great way to end the tour.
These snorkeling locations are just a small taste of what Cozumel has to offer. I left wishing I had more time to explore there. I can’t wait to go back one of these days!