Cancun offers an energetic atmosphere, right alongside the natural charms of the Yucatan, a perfect combination of beauty and vitality best reserved for the fun-loving, and ever-curious wanderer. While Cozumel holds a rather quieter, more laid-back life, with its best draws submerged under the fabled waters of the Caribbean.
An island just off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in vibrant and ever-energetic Mexico, Cozumel is one island that makes Mexico’s Caribbean side a place worth visiting. From numerous Mayan ruins, natural underwater features, soft sand beaches, and an island life that best represents what it is like to be in Mexico’s best.
Just 86 km or 52 miles from Cancun Airport, getting to Cozumel is often part of the great Yucatan Peninsula that avid travelers seem to be at when they’re in Mexico’s eastern seaboard. Plus, Cozumel isn’t hard to miss as it is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. Lying along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, you can definitely be sure to find a plethora of wonderful things on the island.
What Makes Cozumel Unique?
One of the World’s Best Snorkeling and Diving Spot
One of Cozumel’s biggest draws is its snorkeling and diving scene, thanks to the underwater world that seems to attract not just schools of fish but slews of visitors as well. The island itself straddles the famed Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, second only to the Great Barrier Reef enticing expert divers and diving enthusiasts to explore the depths of the island’s turquoise blue waters.
Cozumel sports 40 dive zones that go as deep as 30 meters or 100 feet, with reef walls that go even deeper. These reefs have limestone tunnels and caves that are home to marine life such as giant anemones, hermit crabs, turtles, various fish, and even sharks.
The Ruins of San Gervasio
Located in the former San Gervasio ranch, the temple of the Mayan goddess, Ixchel lay in ruins. The site used to be a pilgrimage center of the Mayan people making offerings to the goddess of fertility, medicine, and weaving. Ancient Mayans used to take boats from the mainland and make their journey through the goddess’ temple, most of which are women.
Although the ruins complex is dwarfed by the famous Chichen Itza of Cancun, the site offers an interesting view of how they developed their civilizations, particularly their religion and politics. A tour of the ruins complex will give you an insight into this once great civilization, now left for us to study.
Cozumel may be small, in comparison to the sheer scale of the mainland’s draws, but Cozumel is quirky at best so expect to see some interesting twists on otherwise common draws such as its beach parks.
The island loves to protect its beaches, especially with its large patches of reefs just off its shores. The island has beach parks that both entertain visitors giving them that fabled Cozumel experience, while at the same time protecting ecological treasures.
Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park is the best example. The park is a so-called eco-archaeological park by the beach, famous for its underwater statues and Seatrek activities. Here you can do various fun things while paying mind to the island’s conservation efforts.
Due to the island’s small size, and a loop road that circles two-thirds of the island, renting a motorbike or a car for a road trip gets you to see the entire island easily and fast. You can start by renting a vehicle in San Miguel de Cozumel, and follow the loop road system going around the island that starts from there.
This road can take you to various beautiful places on the island, especially the best beaches. You can also go to the off-the-beaten-path places that can turn out to be the island’s underrated gems, such as beach bars and restaurants.
The thing with Cozumel is that it can be as hyped as the rest of the Yucatan, but it actually boasts a more laid-back, and quieter atmosphere compared to mainland towns and cities. Cozumel offers you the best of the underwater world, with the simple pleasure of a beach town packed with quirks and good food.
Whether you believe in superstition or not, Cancun’s 7-shaped Hotel Zone is one of the things that make it Mexico’s lucky charm. It is quite a magnetic place that has reached such a legendary status to be branded as one of the top locations in terms of the best spring break destinations.
But don’t fixate yourself on Cancun’s nightlife. It is more than that. This destination provides a near-endless supply of excitement, adventure, and gratification under different settings underpinned by ancient ancestral achievements, nature’s blessings, and modern marvels, all of which are intimately interconnected by Mexican history, tradition, and culture.
With such a swath of offers, check Cancun’s box in your top-priority travel list, you can’t go wrong!
What Makes Cancun Unique?
The Biggest Nightlife Scene in the Caribbean
The nightlife in Cancun is made of two distinct experiences that you need to come across in order to say with confidence that you crushed Cancun.
First, there’s the nightclub scene that is overflowing with over-the-top entertainment and extravagance. Encounter acrobatic spectacles, humungous displays, kaleidoscopic light shows, raining streamers and confetti, belching fog machines, ear-shattering tunes, and electricity in the air, at the very least.
Second, beyond the big clubs, there are the bars that give a great night out to the more “modest” guests out there. Indulge in food and drink while witnessing dancers, dancing waiters, live bands, quirky customer contests, roaming shot girls, the whole shebang.
Add these two together to get yourself into an explosive Cancun experience.
Although Cancun has Mayan footprints interspersed within its prominent touristy areas, you don’t have to limit yourself to these sites. Much of the grandiose architecture lies a few miles outside the city gates.
You cannot help but be astounded at the Mayans’ competence in constructing such sensational sites. Their attention to detail and grasp of astronomy, mathematics, the arts, and the natural order of things confounds even the brightest of minds in the most modern of times.
Go see for yourself the wonder of the more known spots like Tulum, Cobá, Ek’ Balam, Uxmal, and the Yucatan household name, Chichen Itza. Climb their pyramids to savor the sweeping views of the countryside as though you were a noble of old surveying the land … the perfect photo opportunity.
More Than Just Beaches
It may be hard for you to imagine that Cancun is more than its beaches, but you’d be surprised to know that if you try going outside the city proper, unconventional aquatic adventures await! And the extra unique ones are the concealed rivers flowing roughly 16 ft (5 m) underground at the famous Xcaret park.
In this particular nature park, you can choose from three rivers, namely the Blue River, the Mayan River, and the Manatee River. These places exude an air of magic and mystery that beaches simply cannot replicate.
Swim and snorkel on a gentle current that drifts you through the tunnels and open canals of crystalline water. If you get tired, simply take a break at the open sections while marveling at the rock formations astride the river and the lush vegetation of the jungle overhead.
A Myriad of Hotels
With a zone dedicated to flourishing tourism in the region, Zona Hotelera provides a comprehensive solution for all your lodging needs … but wait, there’s more! Whether you seek all-inclusive packages, eclectic food choices, public or exclusive beach access, water parks, and a price point that fits your budget, there is a place waiting for you!
Beyond the seductive beckoning to book a room within the hallowed household names of international hotel/resort chains, you should try the local offerings — you won’t be disappointed to try some of them: “Nizuc Resort & Spa, Grand Fiesta American Coral Beach Cancun, Hotel Krystal Cancun.”
These hotels/resorts’ acreage vaunt views of the Caribbean and/or Nichupté lagoon. And more importantly, they have an extensive offering of activities — water sports, excursions, beauty and wellness programs, interactive classes, and so much more.
Is Cancun or Cozumel Better?
While both have their draws that seem to attract different kinds of travelers and vacationers, ultimately Cancun and Cozumel are sister cities. They both (along with a few others) helped defined Mexico’s Yucatan as one of the best Caribbean destinations, if not the best.
Cancun offers constant high energy and high stimulation day until night. From mornings on the beach, shopping downtown, underwater, and deep jungle adventures, to its loud and fun nightlife. While Cozumel, also has its fair share of adventures, from excursions to the second largest reef system in the world, to an enriching road trip across the island, it can compete with the big guns of Cancun. However, Cozumel is best suited for the typical island living vibe, chill, laid-back, easy-going, slow, yet curious, quirky, and worth a day or two.
Is Cozumel Safer Than Cancun?
Despite the popular fact of the dangers brought by drug crime in Mexico, both Cancun and Cozumel are safe, but if you have to decide which is which, Cozumel is the safer bet. People are often worried when it comes to their safety when visiting Mexico and the Caribbean, but Cozumel boasts a consistently low crime rate.
This isn’t saying that Cancun is dangerous, in fact, the city lies on the safe end of the spectrum. Most violence in the country involves rival gangs, or anything drug-related, nothing involving tourists. The most common form of crime, however, is theft, especially to tourists, and it is more prevalent in Cancun than in Cozumel because of the tourist numbers.
The risks on Cozumel lie on the Wild Side of the island or the northern coast, where the beaches are rugged and rocky, making swimming treacherous for any type of swimmer. The winds are strong and there are more rocks than beach strips, so it’s best to steer clear of this area.
Weather-wise, both Cancun and Cozumel are safe, especially during the winter and shoulder season, as the weather tends to be dry, and mile. Summers can bring in rain which can spoil your vacation, especially during the hurricane season which can lead to heightened safety concerns for both locals and tourists. As both locales are situated in the same region, you can expect relatively the same climate.
Cancun vs. Cozumel for Families
With Cancun’s long beach strips and a greater number of family-friendly resorts and facilities, Cancun is the better bet for families, especially if you’re bringing small children. Cozumel is best reserved for a more mature audience such as young adult explorers and senior travelers who prefer a quieter island experience than Cancun’s rather stimulating atmosphere.
Some of the most recommended family-friendly stays in Cancun are Fiesta American Cozumel All Inclusive, Dreams Riviera Cancun, Paradisus Cancun, The Ritz-Carlton, and Moon Palace Cancun.
While Cozumel isn’t really as accommodating for young families, the island still has places better suited for families of all kinds, you just have to know where to look. The tip is you have to stay around the west side because the waves are calmer, more white-sand strips, and the majority of the resorts sit in this area.
Cozumel vs. Cancun – Beaches
Cancun is known for its stretches of white-sand beaches caressed by the clear blue waters of the Caribbean, get to experience the finest the Riviera Maya has to offer here, easily.
Although, not all beaches are for the public, no thanks to the gated exclusivity of some resorts. Not to worry though, there is much beach freedom in Cancun. Check out the Playa Gaviota Azul, Playa Langosta, Playa Delfines, among others in the Hotel Zone.
Cozumel, on the other hand, isn’t known among beach bums, because it doesn’t have the same type of beaches that Cancun has. Instead, Cozumel has a variety of underdeveloped small beaches that are often found in small fishing villages, and off-the-beaten-path areas, not commercial but worth the adventure.
The best areas to still have that quintessential island beach experience are on the west coasts of the island where it has calmer waters and less rocky beaches, just the right conditions for a laid-back lounge at the beach and enjoy swimming.
Scuba Diving in Cancun vs. Cozumel
Cancun may be largely known for its white-sand beaches and epic nightlife parties, but the waters of the famed city also offer quite the flavor when it comes to underwater charms. The Scuba diving scene is made exciting thanks to the available site just off the Hotel Zone, where you can visit wonders such as the Museo Subacauatico de Arte, a submarine sculpture park where snorkelers can revel in its curiosities.
Other notable must-dos are extensive diving excursions that can be arranged with the myriad of dive tours in the city. Some of these excursions also offer Whale Shark encounters that take you to areas where these gentle underwater giants congregate. Apart from that, some dive tours can take you to the nearest patches of the greater Mesoamerican Reef System, but the best bits are best found on Cozumel Island.
The little slice of laid-back quiet divers’ paradise that is Cozumel Island, takes the winning bag when it comes to diving and other underwater excursions. The Cozumel Reefs National Park, a slice of the Mesoamerican Reef System, is the island’s main draw. With 20 dive sites fit for divers of any level that can be explored via several dive tours and extensive excursions on the island.
Some of the notable spots in the reefs of Cozumel are Palancar Reef, ideal for novice divers, Santa Rosa and Colombia Walls for more experienced divers, because of their depth, and physical features that are best reserved for seasoned swimmers. But in all these spots, you can be sure to witness the beauty of teeming marine life, from rays, sea turtles, reef fish, and even sharks.
Cozumel vs. Cancun Airport
Cancun Airport is the main hub of the state of Quintana Roo, and ultimately the entire Yucatan Peninsula. Most international flights will directly fly to the Cancun International Airport, coming from North America, especially different cities in the US and Canada and neighboring Latin American countries.
Due to Cancun’s reputation as one of the biggest tourism players in Mexico, the airport has seen over 12 million passengers in 2020 alone, despite the 51% decrease from 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The airport hosts numerous flights to over 20 destinations in Mexico and 30 countries in North, Central, South America, and Europe.
Cozumel International Airport, on the other hand, is small in size and reception compared to Cancun but it does serve international and domestic flights making entry to the island faster and easier.
The airport was renovated and expanded in 2003, now equipped with six boarding gates catering to hundreds of visitors every year. In 2019, the airport saw about 546,423 passengers, while it handled 268,290 in 2020. The airport hosts numerous flights to over 22 destinations in North America, serving the city of San Miguel.