Cozumel is an island that may seem unassuming from a distance. But upon setting foot, you’ll learn that this Mayan Island is a rich combination of natural beauty and ancient curiosity.
Playa del Carmen sits right at the heart of Riviera Maya, the famous city that offers what Cancun can’t. Authenticity, simplicity, and a unique slow-living experience with a side of great shopping, and good wine and dine.
A charming little island just off Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is a heavenly slice of Yucatan. Among many that litter across the Caribbean, Cozumel is a must-visit stop on this side of Mexico. Cozumel features a plethora of things, corals for snorkeling, beaches for lounging, and Mayan ruins to be fascinated about.
Cozumel is considered to be the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean packed with an abundance of contrasting features. These draws offer a bit of diversity that one can otherwise find on an island, making Cozumel a spectacle in itself.
What Makes Cozumel Unique?
One of the World’s Best Snorkeling and Diving Spot
Perhaps Cozumel’s biggest draw is its world-class snorkeling and diving scene. Thanks to its proximity to one of the biggest reef systems in the world. The Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the second-largest in the world. The reef system lies just south of the island and is accessible via dive and snorkeling tours.
Divers of all levels of experience will find top-notch diving on Cozumel. Beginner divers will find a plethora of beautiful dive spots thanks to the clean water and abundance of reefs. The island features over 40 dives sites all having varying depths.
Marvel at the local marine life thriving upon the limestone depths of the island. It features year-round easy underwater drifts and excellent visibility. Expect to encounter turtles, sharks, crabs, and a wide variety of fish.
The Temple of Ixchel
You can still find mysterious remnants of the once-thriving Mayan civilization in Cozumel. Ages ago, the island was once part of a pilgrimage for many of the religious Maya. At the southern tip of the island, inside the former San Gervasio Ranch, you can find the pilgrimage center of the Temple of the Goddess of Ixchel.
Pilgrims from the heartland journey across the water to the temple to make offerings to the goddess Ixchel. She represents fertility, medicine and healing, and the art of weaving. The temple may be overshadowed by Chichen Itza, but the temple is a testament to how the Maya already had a complex society back then.
Sitting just a few miles from the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel may seem small and unassuming, but the island has a special twist. Most islands and beaches in Mexico have their usual stunning beauty. And some of them sit right next to commercially-planned expanses. Cozumel has beach parks speckled around.
Beach parks or water parks in Cozumel aren’t just mere parks, they’re filled with amusements and distinct natural features. These so-called beach parks are conservations with the sole purpose of protecting the reefs around the island.
One of the most notable beach parks in Cozumel is the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park. It effectively offers both fun experiences, natural beauty, and ecological protection. Enjoy the activities the beach park offers, especially its underwater statues.
Cozumel may be the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, but its actual size is 468 square kilometers or 181 square miles. You can already imagine that it’s easy to literally go around the island. You can find the island’s road system to be accessible to almost every part.
Thanks to the main highway that loops around two-thirds of the island, you can cover all of Cozumel in less than a day. Rent a motorbike or a car and drive around and visit many of Cozumel’s popular sites.
Playa del Carmen
One of Yucatan’s most iconic destinations, Playa del Carmen is best reserved for those who prefer a rustic, smaller, more relaxed vibe. Playa del Carmen is often the best alternative to big and noisy Cancun if you’re not up for the city’s dynamic.
Playa del Carmen is a more authentic, and more laid-back take on Yucatan’s tourism landscape. You can easily find fewer crowded and stunning beaches, fun nightlife, and an ambiance made for relaxing and slowing down. If you’re looking for a beach town that has everything, Playa del Carmen is the place to be.
What Makes Playa del Carmen Unique?
The Yucatan Peninsula is awash with a plethora of natural curiosities that make its towns and cities some of the most interesting in all of Mexico. One of these peculiar features near Playa del Carmen is a geological formation called “cenotes”.
These cenotes were formed due to the impact of the dinosaur-killing asteroid called Chixculub made millions of years ago. The limestone rocks around the radius of the crater ring of the asteroid eventually eroded. Many of these erosions formed the cenotes, revealing water beneath the jungle. Many of them are even connected via a cave system that runs underneath.
Several cenotes can be found just minutes away from Playa del Carmen. Here are some you can visit:
Cenote Dos Ojos
Cenote Dos Ojos is one of the top diving cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula, located between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Its name translates to Cenote Two Eyes, referring to the two sinkholes connected by a boardwalk that resemble two eyes.
Many people choose to participate in a cave snorkeling tour. Dos Ojos is particularly well-known among divers for its extensive cave system.
Cenote Cristalino is an open-air cenote with some of Mexico’s most stunning pure blue waters. You can swim into a half cave in this cenote. It’s interesting to notice the difference between the dark water and the lighter water where the sun shines through.
Cenote Jardin del Eden
Jardin Del Eden Cenote is one of the most popular cenotes in Playa Del Carmen. When you first go into the cenote, it’s clear why it’s called the Garden of Eden. It features a big open-air swimming pool that is surrounded by lush green flora and looks just like the Garden of Eden.
Plants flourish in the cenote’s water, and all of the rocks are coated in green moss. This makes snorkeling and seeing the undersea world much more special. Because the water is so clear, it is recommended to bring your snorkels.
Apart from the numerous cenotes in the area, one of the peninsula’s best-kept secret is located near Playa del Carmen.
Rio Secreto is a semi-submerged cave system with a network of underground rivers stretching over 12 kilometers (7.5 mi). Rio Secreto is remarkable in that it has over 15 separate entrances, giving it the appearance of a network of underground caves.
The Small City Charms
Imagine Cancun to be smaller, less rowdy, less developed, and more laid-back and rustic. That’s basically Playa del Carmen. The city prides on its characteristic as a more relaxed take on the otherwise touristy Yucatan. Playa del Carmen is authentic, something Cancun has long forgotten.
For those who prefer a more easygoing time on the Yucatan or just a break from the energy of Cancun, Playa del Carmen offers the perfect downtime. Not that the city is sleepy, but everything about it seems to invite you to kick back and relax.
Playa del Carmen has somehow preserved a huge sum of its traditional identity. It is noticeably less tourist-saturated. The Playa sports good shopping, wining, and dining, but at the same time, doesn’t play its commercial and tourist charms too big.
Visit the famous Quinta Avenida or the 5th Avenue which serves as Playa del Carmen’s main artery. Everything you see and experience here represents what the city is all about. The main avenue is candidly traditional Mexican, less commercial, more rustic.
The Yucatan’s Most Ideal Location.
Playa del Carmen sits on a location that is ideally proximal to a plethora of many of Yucatan’s features. The city is just minutes to mere hours away from other historical cities, cenotes, caves, ruins, and of course, beaches and islands. Playa del Carmen is an ideal starting point in the Yucatan.
If you want to visit Tulum, or Cancun, or both, Playa del Carmen is right smack in the middle of them. If you want to take tours across the many ruins, Playa del Carmen is minutes to hours away. Even Cozumel is just mere minutes away from the shores of the Playa.
If you want a more relaxed stay while conquering the Mayan heartland of the Yucatan, Playa del Carmen is the best place to serve as your home base. The city houses an abundance of rental companies, tour services, resorts, hotels, and hostels. Playa del Carmen welcomes different types of travelers, without the bustle and congestion of cities like Cancun.
Cozumel or Playa Del Carmen – Which Is Better?
If you’re looking for a more laid-back approach on the Yucatan Peninsula with a side of stunning beaches and quirky towns, both are great options. However, what can set them apart is the kind of experience you want to take away.
Cozumel is best for those looking to have a real Mexican island experience. The island itself is a coral sanctuary and diver’s paradise. It has a quaint and charming town that offers a rather authentic take on Mexican island living. Expect quaint yet good dining experiences, amazing aquatic features, and an island fit for slow and simple traveling.
Playa del Carmen is equally laid-back and charming, yet it feels rustic with a hint of a decent commercial and touristy scene. Playa del Carmen has somehow perfected the balance of mass tourism and authentic charms without making a big deal out of itself. The city is perfect for the relaxed traveler and the digital nomad.
Is Cozumel More Expensive Than Playa Del Carmen?
When it comes to costs, and especially food prices, Playa del Carmen definitely wins. Playa del Carmen’s average daily cost per person is around 53 USD, whereas Cozumel’s average daily cost is 61 USD. These prices encompass different necessary expenses on both destinations. These include accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment are all included in these expenditures.
Are Cozumel or Playa Del Carmen Beaches Better?
The thing with beaches in the Mexican Caribbean is that none of them are a waste. From the Riviera Maya, down to the border with Belize, every seaside city or town has stunning beaches. They are too beautiful and too many that you’d ultimately have a hard time pinning down which is best.
The same thing with Playa and Cozumel, both offer great beach scenes and stunning expansive views. However, if you’re up for water activities and perfect R&R time, it’s Playa del Carmen for you. But if you’re looking for all of those plus a great diving and snorkeling scene, Cozumel is the best choice.
Diving in Playa Del Carmen vs. Cozumel
When it comes to diving, and even snorkeling, Cozumel takes the bag. Thanks to its competitive beach scenes and a remarkable submarine world, Cozumel is one of the most beautiful places to dive in in Mexico.
Can You Dive in Cozumel From Playa Del Carmen?
You can try out the drift diving charter boat directly from the beach in Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. From Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is a short sail away.
You can board a fast boat that will transport you to Cozumel’s Water Park in 45 minutes from the beach, which is only 12 miles away (19.3 km). Other than that, you can also take the ferry, cab, then a small boat from the marina, which takes over half an hour to reach the southern dive locations.
Snorkeling in Playa Del Carmen vs. Cozumel
Just like its dive scene, Cozumel offers the best snorkeling experience. Thanks to its abundant corals, and marine life, expect to marvel at an underwater world far better than any place in the Mexican Caribbean.
How Deep Is the Water Between Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel?
The water between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel can have depths of 500 meters (547 yd). The Cozumel Channel has measurements of 50 km long and 18 km wide (30 by 11 miles).
How Far Is Cozumel From Playa Del Carmen in Miles?
Cozumel is approximately 12 miles (19.3 km) from Playa del Carmen, directly.
Is It Worth Going to Cozumel From Playa Del Carmen?
Playa del Carmen is located at the heart of the Riviera Maya. It is the most ideal place to explore all of the famed Riviera. Going to Cozumel, as well as other places such as Cancun, is ideal from Playa del Carmen.
How to Get Cozumel From Playa Del Carmen
You can get to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen only by ferry, or any other private watercraft such as a fast charter boat. Ferries to Cozumel depart only from the Playa. Only three ferry companies travel back and forth to the island and typically depart every hour from 7 AM to 10 PM. The journey usually takes 30 minutes, depending on certain factors.
How to Take the Ferry From Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel
Check the schedule first online the day before your planned trip. But you don’t need to make a reservation. You can simply show up, and one of the ferry companies will most likely accommodate you. The boat terminal is roughly a block and a half from the main square and Plaza Playacar in downtown Playa del Carmen.
How Often Does the Ferry Run From Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen?
Three ferry companies service people back and forth between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen all day long. They most likely run every hour, so you don’t have to run early or wait long.
Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel Ferry Schedule
Ferries running to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen is every hour from 6 AM to 11 PM.
Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen Ferry Schedule
You can catch a ride to Playa del Carmen from Cozumel every hour from 6 AM to 10 PM.
What Time Is the Last Ferry From Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen?
The last ferry to the Playa from Cozumel is usually at 9 PM.
Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel Ferry Price
For adults, the price is around 7 to 10 USD, one way. As for kids, prices can go from 4 to 7 USD. Ferry ticket prices vary on ferry companies.
How Long Is the Ferry Ride From Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen?
Depending on the type of ferry, a ferry ride can usually take around 20 to 45 minutes. Regular ferries typically take 45 minutes, while luxury ferries from the company Ultramar can only take around 20 minutes.
Where Does the Ferry From Playa Del Carmen Dock in Cozumel?
The ferry terminal is roughly a block and a half from the main square and Plaza Playacar, where most of the tour pickups take place.
Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel Ferry Parking
Within a short walk of the ferry pier, there are two street-level parking lots and one underground parking garage.
Is There a Bridge From Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel?
While that may be a great idea, there isn’t a bridge from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel.
Can You Drive to Cozumel From Playa Del Carmen?
You can take a car ferry to Cozumel, although that will cost you a lot. But you can also park your car on the pier and then board a ferry yourself.
Is There a Car Ferry From Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel?
There is a car ferry service to Cozumel, but it isn’t in Playa del Carmen per se. The car ferry terminal in Cozumel is about a mile south of downtown. Ferries are connected with the mainland port of Calica, which is about 5 miles (8 km) south of Playa del Carmen.
How Much Is the Car Ferry From Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen?
The standard price for a car and people each way is roughly $30, although there are occasionally discount rates available. Larger cars are required to pay a higher fee.
How Long Is the Car Ferry From Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel?
The trip takes around an hour and there are 4–7 departures daily in each way, including night crossings.