Cozumel vs. Isla Mujeres

These two gems are perhaps the most laid-back islands in the Mexican Caribbean. Cozumel and Isla Mujeres provide the perfect small-island day trips in the Yucatan. You can expect to find a plethora of natural and ancient draws that are just top-tier by Mexican standards. These two islands are just some of Yucatan’s most underrated gems.
Cozumel vs. Isla Mujeres

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Cozumel and Isla Mujeres best demonstrate that you don’t need to have a vibrant and pulsating metropolis to be at the top. Cozumel and Isla Mujeres provide that proverbial Mexican island life. Revel in the island’s small-town charms, natural quirks, and simpler scenes.

Cozumel

The Mexican Caribbean’s largest island just off Eastern Yucatan is the epitome of a laid-back destination. Amid the constant noise of Mexico’s tourist capital, Cozumel’s brand is “island slow-living”. The island features a wealth of corals, simple yet stunning beaches, and a temple ruin for a Mayan goddess.

Cozumel is one of the most visited unassuming islands in the Caribbean. It is said to be one of the most beautiful places to dive and snorkel, thanks to a famous reef system. Expect to see an abundance of contrasting draws that offer a different take on the Riviera Maya’s otherwise jam-packed scene.

What Makes Cozumel Unique?

One of the World’s Best Snorkeling and Diving Spot

Cozumel lies pretty close to one of the most magnificent natural underwater marvels in the world. The Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world, spans from the sea of Belize up to a sliver of the Riviera Maya. Lying just south of the island, expect to have a top-notch diving and snorkeling experience in Cozumel.

Cozumel’s aquatic scene just might be its biggest draw. Divers of varying caliber can find an abundance of diving spots to their liking. You can dive around coral-covered walls and patches via the many tours offered around the town of San Miguel and Beach Parks around.

With a rich coral reef underwater, expect to find thriving marine life. Expect to encounter a variety of animals, such as nurse sharks, crabs, different fish species, and even turtles.

The accessibility and near-perfect conditions define Cozumel’s diving and snorkeling scene. Expect to have an easy time under the waters of Cozumel thanks to excellent visibility and smooth undercurrent.

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The Temple of Ixchel

At the southernmost reaches of the island, you can find the curious ruins of a once-great temple in Cozumel. Right inside the former San Gervasio Ranch, the temple of the Mayan goddess Ixchel sits in ruins. The temple was once a part of an ancient tradition that had pilgrims crossing the sea from the Mayan heartland.

The Ancient Maya people used to sail across the sea from the mainland to Cozumel in pilgrimage to the Temple of Ixchel. The goddess represents the moon, fertility, motherhood, love, and weaving. It said that people made pilgrimages to the temple when the waning moon appears in the east.

Though often overshadowed by Chichen Itza, the Temple of Ixchel in Cozumel holds equal value. Even more so than the Tulum watchtower ruins. Today, only a few large structures remain on the site.

The pyramid known as Ka’na Nah, meaning “Big House”, is the largest structure. However, only a small portion of the region is open to the public. El Arco or the arch is a beautiful and prominent monument that was reconstructed based on previous similar constructions. The arch is approximately five feet tall (1.5 m) and dates from 1200 to 1650 AD.

Beach Parks

While most of Mexico’s resort cities have public beaches and planned resort communities, Cozumel has its own take on coastal wonders. Aimed at conservation and entertainment at the same time, Cozumel’s beach parks are unique and beautiful.

Cozumel’s beach parks are complexes built on preserving nature while providing visitors fun and thrill. The island aims to reduce potential damage to the coral reef that surrounds the island.

Chankanaab National Reef Marine Park

Chankanaab is an exquisite work of nature south of Cozumel. The park features a natural lagoon inside, thus the name “Chankanaab”, which means “little sea”. The national park also houses the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. You can enjoy plenty of snorkeling, diving, and dolphin encounters there as well.

The park is perfect for families looking for a bit of an adventure within the otherwise laid-back and slow-living island. Situated within the National Marine Park of Cozumel, you can also access the fabled Mesoamerican reef in Chankanaab.

Punta Sur Eco Beach Park

The largest ecological park on the island is Punta Sur Eco Beach Park. You don’t only have the beach, you also have a wide range of inland wonders. Considered as one of Cozumel’s natural treasures, Punta Sur definitely offers something special.

Punta Sur is a 247-acre (100 ha) ecological reserve containing beach areas, coral reefs, a lagoon, and a Mayan archaeological site. The Colombia Lagoon, the park’s primary attraction, is located within the park. It also features attractive wetlands, which attract migratory birds in April and May and are home to many crocodiles all year.

The park has beaches on both the east and west sides. The west coast is ideal for snorkeling since there are more gorgeous, colorful fish close to the shore. The beaches to the east are also lovely, but they are more rugged and have sand dunes, and they are a designated protected zone for sea turtle breeding.

Island Road Trips

Cozumel is considered the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean but its actual size is still small. With a measurement of 467.9 square kilometers or 181 square miles, you can get around the island in less than a day.

Cozumel has a highway that circles most of the island making all of its best spots accessible by light vehicles. The Quintana Roo C-1 highway covers about two-thirds of the island’s land area. You can rent a car, a motorbike, or even a bicycle and easily traverse the entire highway and explore much of the island in just a short amount of time.

The idea of having road trips around the island is one of the go-to ways to enjoy Cozumel. You can also do beach, restaurant, or bar hopping in just one day. This way you’ll feel the famous chill, laid-back Cozumel experience.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a treasure just a stone’s throw away from Cancun’s noise and energy, providing a refuge from the intensity of mainland Yucatan. Serene, simple, slow, and magical, the island is the perfect day trip destination for those looking for a quieter downtime.

From coral reefs, golf cart road trips, to magnificent beaches, you will be washed over by the island’s distinct magical effect. Home to Playa Norte, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, you won’t expect that a small island can pack so many quirky charms.

What Makes Isla Mujeres Unique?

Magic Town Realness

Magic Towns or Pueblos Magicos are quirky towns across Mexico. They are designated by the government because of their “magical” characteristics.

And the magic? It can be anything from historic value, architecture to natural beauty, and even extraordinary legends. Isla Mujeres is one of them and the nearest to the overhyped tourist metropolis of Cancun.

Heading to Isla Mujeres even just for a day trip can prove just how much value and beauty the island has. Like all Magic Towns, Isla Mujeres has metaphorical meanings. The Mayan civilization’s legacy transformed into the ever-present magic here.

You can feel it through the people’s different traditions and attitudes. Not to mention, the places you can visit across the island as well.

When you arrive in this magical town, you’ll notice the relaxed atmosphere. The town is even awash with slow-moving golf carts, bicycles, and mopeds. You can rent these quirky transports by the hour or day, offering you a fantastic opportunity to explore the island at your own speed.

The magnificent beaches situated along its shoreline will definitely take your breath away.  Although the island is only 2,000 feet wide and less than 5 miles long (610 m by 8 m).

Isla Mujeres has something for everyone, from a turtle refuge to a dolphin facility. These places let you get up close and personal with these incredible creatures. If you’re interested in history, head to the island’s southern tip where you’ll find a Mayan temple dedicated to the goddess Ixchel.

Beaches

Being an island, expect to have a handful of beaches for you to explore. Isla Mujeres’ roster of beaches is nothing short of breathtaking. Each of them offers draws that make up the entire magical experience of Isla Mujeres. They say that the island’s beaches are magnificent and quaint yet have a certain charm to them adorned by boats on anchor.

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Here are some popular choices:

Playa Norte

Considered to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, Playa Norte is the most popular beach on the island. The gleaming white sand and brilliantly pure blue sea at Playa Norte provide the perfect setting. Here you can relax in paradise, with some of the greatest swimming on the island.

The water is shallow enough that you can wade out for at least 10 meters (33 ft) while still feeling the smooth sand beneath your feet. Playa Norte is a great place to spend a few hours or maybe an entire day swimming and relaxing.

You can find various beach clubs around Playa Norte as well. Enjoy your mellow beach day by sipping a refreshing drink or eating a delectable meal while gazing out at the turquoise waters.

Playa Centro

Playa Centro is the island’s second most visited beach. Calm waters, picturesque palm trees, and usually fewer crowds than at Playa Norte make this beach a great spot.

You can also stroll through the colorful and bustling streets of Playa El Centro and stop for ice cream or a cool drink. The playa is the perfect stop while exploring the heart of Isla Mujeres.

Take a break at one of the many ice cream shops, cafes, or restaurants and savor the cuisine. This beach is ideal for a relaxing swim followed by a good lunch and cocktail at one of the many pubs and restaurants around.

Playa Garrafon

Playa Garrafon, on Isla Mujeres’ southwestern coast, is another winner. It features a pristine sand runway with lounge-ready beach chairs and cabanas. It is also an excellent jumping-off place for diving into the nearby reefs.

You also have access to the Garrafon Natural Reef Park’s many attractions from the playa. The park features zip lines and dolphin encounters, as well as the exquisite rocky coastline of Punta Sur. It is home to a Mayan temple and the “Cliff of Dawn,” the first spot in Mexico to see daybreak.

Small Island Quirks

Isla Mujeres only has a total land area of 4.22 square kilometers (1.62 square miles), so you can already imagine how easy and how fast you can go around. If you’re one for adventures you can easily experience plenty of them in just a few days’ worth of stay.

Imagine you can play around the famous and beautiful Playa Norte, and be at Garrafon National Park at the southern tip in less than an hour. That’s how easy and fun it is to stay in Isla Mujeres. Thanks to the island’s small size, you can cover a lot of ground in no time. However, the island’s magic works differently.

Part of Isla Mujeres’ charm is it entices you to slow down. It encourages you to let the magic of the island wash over you. This makes you appreciate the beauty of natural Mexico.

While taking it slow is the game when exploring the island, the locals have invested in quirky ways of transport to enjoy the beauty it has.

Rent a Bicycle

Bicycles can be rented in town at Rueda Medina. Make sure the bike is in good working shape upon renting. It’s also best to survey and record any already existing dents and dings on the bike. Several hotels on the island also offer rental bikes, which is more convenient for hotel guests. Price ranges from 10 to 20 USD a day.

Bikes are best when you want to go down routes you prefer at your own pace. You can easily see most of the island on bikes without having to worry about an engine and gas.

Buggy Trips

The dominating presence of buggies or golf carts on the island makes up for the absence of regular cars. Golf Carts are a hugely popular way to get around the island and can be rented in town at Rueda Medina as well.

The local government regulates the prices, so expect to find the same prices almost everywhere. You only have to make sure that the company you’re renting from offers quality and service.

Via these fun wheels, it is said that you can drive around the entire island in just 30 minutes. You can easily see all of the islands, allowing you to have plenty of adventures and explorations.

Taxis

For mere transportation purposes, you can take taxis around the island. Taxis dominate public transport, and they can easily be hailed by your hotel. However, be sure to discuss prices before getting somewhere so you don’t get overcharged.

Meet the Turtles

Three of the seven sea turtle species can be found on Isla Mujeres: the Green Turtle, the Loggerhead, and the Hawksbill. They are released into the ocean by the children of the island from August to October (as well as many tourists).

A variety of aquatic life can be found in the little aquarium — tropical fish, sea horses, crabs, lobsters, and even a few newborn manta rays. A family of iguanas rests on a pile of rocks at the entrance, and a land turtle corral can be found around the corner on the right side of the structure.

A simple rustic shop selling t-shirts, souvenirs, and snacks are also available. Hundreds of sea turtles are saved each year because of the islanders’ care and compassion.

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Garrafon Park

Garrafon Park, in Punta Sur, is a natural and recreational water park in the southern tip of the island. This natural park is well-known for its beauty and amazing recreational opportunities.

You can find plenty of snorkeling and kayaking opportunities here. Day trips to the stunning cliffs are accessible here as well, which are ideal for the whole family.

The Park is open every day from 9 AM to 5 PM and provides a variety of packages, including an all-inclusive one. Garrafon Park also has direct access to Punta Sur Eco Beach Park — a stunning cliff region with a sculpture garden, a lighthouse, a Mayan temple, and a breathtaking seaside path located at the south.

Which Is Better – Cozumel or Isla Mujeres?

In every angle, and in every sense, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are the same. They are more the same than they are different if you take a closer look.

When it comes to the matter of “which is better”, you could say that both are perfect places for day trips. It could be a tie. However, the better question to throw is about what type of vibe you prefer.

Cozumel’s distinct take is that it’s more fun-oriented, offering tons of adventures. The island features many draws such as beach parks and world-class dive spots. Cozumel is better suited for those who want a side of amusement alongside a laid-back island experience.

Isla Mujeres is more about relaxation and recreation, thanks to its more laid-back small-town charm. The magical town of Isla Mujeres leans more towards a simpler and quieter time in the Mexican Caribbean. With a ridiculously beautiful beach scene and simpler commute, it is best for the slow traveler who prefers the quiet and the serenity.

FAQ

Diving in Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel

Isla Mujeres and Cozumel boast some of the most beautiful and popular diving scenes not only in Mexico but in the entire Caribbean as well. Plenty of diving sites dot the surrounding waters of these islands that have lured one too many divers already. They further add to the charms of Mexico’s Caribbean contenders.

Cozumel has large reefs and impressive walls for experienced divers. The topography offers plenty of opportunities to encounter marine life. You should head to the western side of the island, considered to be the best diving area on the island.

The majority of diving sites are on the island’s more protected southwestern side. You can find several of them found within the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park.

Turtles and rays can be seen there, but the various types of schooling fish and endemics like the uncommon toadfish are also worth seeing. There are 26 different kinds of corals and over 100 different subspecies, as well as 300 different fish species.

Isla Mujeres on the other hand is best to encounter an impressive array of marine creatures. Expect to see a congregation of whale sharks, dolphin pods, and a whole slew of large marine life. Just a few miles off of energetic Cancun, Isla Mujeres is often an itinerary bonus to many visitors in the Yucatan. But people eventually find themselves baited and hooked.

If most famous dive sites in the world take pride in the beauty of their corals, Isla Mujeres on the other hand takes pride in its marine residents.

Isla Mujeres offers opportunities to swim with a variety of marine life. You may encounter whale sharks, Atlantic Sailfish, dolphins, manta arrays, and even turtles.

Which fares better will depend on what you want to experience in your dive. If you’re up for corals and small fish, Cozumel is the best option. But if you prefer encounters with larger animals, Isla Mujeres is the place.

Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel for Snorkeling

When it comes to snorkeling, both islands have good places to offer. However, they have their own gimmicks and quirks making them both appealing to any snorkeling. The matter of which is which will depend on what kind of experience you’re aiming to have.

Cozumel is a perfect place to practice snorkeling and scuba diving. You have spots such as El Cielo beach, the Palancar and Paraiso reefs, and the Natural Park Chankanaab.

The clean, marine life–rich waters draw travelers from all over the world to explore. Jacques Cousteau, the legendary oceanographer, has even considered Cozumel as one of the top diving sites in the world.

As for Isla Mujeres, it also boasts clear waters and a plethora of places to visit that aren’t just reefs and corals. Several of Isla Mujeres’ beaches offer the usual charms such as beautiful corals and fish. The island has over 50 diving sites for all levels.

The world’s largest underwater museum is located in the crystal blue waters surrounding Isla Mujeres. MUSA, or the Museo Subacuático de Arte (Underwater Museum of Art), is a project created by artists and marine biologists working together. All of the sculptures are intended to mitigate the consequences of climate change on our oceans and reef systems.

Isla Mujeres or Cozumel for a Day Trip

Both Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are perfect for a day trip especially if you’re staying around the Mayan Riviera area. However, proximity is still key. If you’re staying in Cancun, Isla Mujeres is nearer and much more accessible from there. If you’re in Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is almost always a day trip away.

Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are best for the adventurous and ever-curious. Because apart from the already teeming mainland, both these charming islands are blessed with beauty and value. Isla Mujeres and Cozumel can provide you with plenty of opportunities for diving, road trips, or a slow and laid-back time.

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This guide highlights the most common mistakes many travelers make – so you can easily avoid them.

You will also get tips and travel “hacks” that will help you save time and money so you can enjoy an adventure of a lifetime without sweating the small stuff.

Get the guide and the checklists now so you can avoid the travel mistakes that can ruin your precious vacation.
10 SNEAKY TRAVEL MISTAKES YOU'RE PROBABLY MAKING RIGHT NOW

This guide highlights the most common mistakes many travelers make – so you can easily avoid them.

You will also get tips and travel “hacks” that will help you save time and money so you can enjoy an adventure of a lifetime without sweating the small stuff.

Get the guide and checklists now so you can avoid the travel mistakes that can ruin your precious vacation.

Is Isla Mujeres Close to Cozumel?

Both straddling across the Riviera Maya, they sit somewhat close to each other. Isla Mujeres is around 85 km or 52.8 miles from Cozumel, directly.

How to Get to Isla Mujeres From Cozumel

The best and most cost-effective way to get to Isla Mujeres from Cozumel is by taking the ferry–bus route. Board a ferry from San Miguel de Cozumel to Playa del Carmen, just across the sea. From the Playa, you can take a bus to Playa Tortugas in Cancun and board another ferry heading to Isla Mujeres.

Is There a Direct Ferry From Cozumel to Isla Mujeres?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any direct ferry routes between Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. The only available route is to head back to the mainland and a take bus between Playa del Carmen and Cancun, and then board another ferry to the islands.

How Long Is the Ferry From Cozumel to Isla Mujeres?

You won’t be able to find direct ferry routes between Cozumel and Isla Mujeres. The ferry-bus-ferry route is the go-to and is considered to be the most time and cost-effective way. A typical journey will take around four hours.

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