Isla Cozumel is one of Mexico’s most popular destinations and a favorite among cruisers. It is literally translated to the “Island of the Shallows” from Mayan which could be for the many shallow reefs scattered around the island. Therefore, it’s not surprising that snorkeling and diving are some of its major attractions.
Although there are many beaches that offer interesting snorkeling experience right on the shore, in this article, we want to focus on offshore snorkeling. Most of these areas can be only accessed by a boat. You could rent a boat in one of the ports, or take a guided tour instead. Snorkeling gear can also be rented on most beaches, if you prefer to travel light.
Regarding the snorkeling conditions, the sea has great visibility which allows you to see its marine life wherever you go. The best time to have a trip to Cozumel is between March and June when the water is the calmer and the temperatures are comfortable. You can also go during the winter months, however, this is when the island is most crowded. We’d recommend avoiding planning your trip between July and November since this is the hurricane season and the water is not as calm or clear as it usually is.
Now that we got the important information settled, it’s time to learn what are the best spots for the ultimate offshore snorkeling adventure on Cozumel.
Playa Las Casitas
Playa Las Casitas is a great offshore location for advanced snorkelers. Although it’s located near town, it is not as crowded as other beaches in the vicinity. The water is deeper than on other offshore snorkeling locations, and you might need a boat to reach some areas. If you’re an experienced swimmer you can also go on your own, and you can enter the sea through stairs to avoid stepping on rocks. As soon as you get in the water you’ll be able to explore a variety of sea life that resides here. However- flora and fauna are not the only underwater attraction in Playa Las Casitas.
After a 10 minute swim, you’ll find two shipwrecks which were intentionally sunk more than ten years ago and included in the Cozumel’s artificial reef program. They are called Laguna de Mandinga and Laguna de Pátzcuaro and are old Mexican patrol ships. You can get to them with the help of a guide, or ask for directions at the beach restaurants, where you can also have a tasty meal.
Palancar Reef sits inside the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park and is one of the most popular diving and snorkeling spots on the island. Some of the areas are only accessible to scuba divers but Palancar Garden and Palanca Shallows are a paradise for snorkelers. One of the perks of diving in the protected areas like this one is that the visibility is excellent and reaches over 100 feet. The reef itself is built with different coral types which are a home for a wide array of fish species, such as groupers, moray eels, parrotfish, nurse sharks and barracudas. There are also starfish and turtles, so you’ll likely see almost every species that this island is known for.
Palancar Reef is also interesting for its topography, that features ledges, reef drop-offs, and caves. If you don’t mind holding your breath for a bit, we would definitely recommend going through one of the caves! This reef is close to the Playa Palancar, which spreads over 3,500 feet and offers all the amenities you may need.
Paradise Reef is one of the best offshore snorkeling locations near the cruise ship port. Although it can be crowded sometimes, that shouldn’t stop you from having a short underwater tour. There are three separate reefs under this same name, and they are fairly close to each other. If you are a good swimmer, you can easily explore them all in a single afternoon. As you go through the reef, you’ll meet a diversity of marine species, such as clownfish, damselfish, snappers, and angelfish.
It’s important to say that beginners or those with children should go to the reef with a boat. This area has mild currents, so swimming back may be too exhausting. Once you get back to the shore, you can rest and enjoy a cocktail at the like-named beach.
El Cielo is one of the most beautiful locations on Cozumel, and a must-stop for snorkelers. Once you reach the sandbar, you’ll be surprised on how shallow it is – you can easily explore by walking or even sitting in the sea. Unlike other locations, El Cielo is not packed with marine life, however, it’s a great spot for children who will enjoy meeting starfish and an occasional stingray. And since the water is so shallow and there are no currents, El Cielo is possibly the only offshore location that can be enjoyed by novice swimmers as well.
This spot is only accessible by boat, and you can take a tour from one of the ports. The tours usually cost below $50 and some of them include Palancar Reef as well. All in all, El Cielo is a perfect addition to every snorkeling adventure, especially when you’re looking for a spot where you can explore and relax at the same time.