Cozumel, like many major tourist locations in Mexico, conjures a picture of foreign visitors getting drunk on white sand beaches, and drifting in and out on city-sized cruise ships. On the coasts of San Miguel de Cozumel, that plays out. Cruises come and go, bringing with them hundreds of people like waves. Established hotels clog the beaches and clubs fill the night air with pounding music. The roads are brimming with tourist rentals and road-side attractions have popped up across the island. So, visiting Cozumel can be a strange juxtaposition of ancient beauty and modern intensity.

visiting cozumel

At the same time, the ancient draw to this emerald island still remains. And visiting Cozumel can encompass an experience of the ancient Mayan pilgrimage as well as modern tourism vistas. This combination can feel a little odd, and there were definitely moments of it all being overwhelming. At the same time, Cozumel has been immensely special to many people for countless generations. So, I think undertaking the journey to this corner of the world can be very powerful.

As usual, please let this guide be a peek into the world of Cozumel from a visitor’s perspective. And help you answer the question – is Cozumel worth it for you?

Is Cozumel Worth It?

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

There are very similar considerations between Tulum and visiting Cozumel when you are thinking about whether or not to go. This is the case because both have become major tourist destinations in Quintana Roo. That means crowding, commodification (or what I have called “built by tourism, for tourism” elsewhere), and an increased difficulty level of finding genuine experiences of culture.

That all being said, as is the main theme of this guide, there is something very unique about Cozumel. And this energy and history has been drawing people from near and far for hundreds of years. Personally, when I ask myself (even after the fact) is Cozumel worth it? The answer is yes because of this.

But let’s explore a few things to see if it is a good fit for you.

You are willing to pay the higher prices of the island.

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

Compared to US travel, Cozumel isn’t really outlandishly expensive. But it is notably more expensive than the mainland. This is partially because of the amount of tourists that the island welcomes, and partially because life on any island is typically more expensive. It’s just harder to get goods to Cozumel than across the mainland, and the same can be said about people-power.

You are open to weathering the party scene.

Aside from the high prices, the worst thing about my visit to Cozumel was a club across the street from the little hotel where we stayed. Whether or not this club had a single patron, they played extremely loud music all night every night that we stayed on the island. It was loud enough that even with all the windows closed and white noise playing in headphones directly in my ears, I could still make out the lyrics of the songs.

If you are searching for peace on your travels, this isn’t exactly a great combination. But luckily, most people who are partying all night, also aren’t up early in the morning. So, it does give you a little window for quieter exploration (depending on the cruise ship schedules).

You are open to weathering the waves of cruise ship passengers.

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

Everything else aside, there are just LOTS of cruise ship passengers, and they typically travel in big groups. So, some of the most popular spots in your Cozumel itinerary can be either pretty empty or maddeningly busy, just depending on whether you happen to roll up at the same time as a tour. That being said, if you are open to navigating these waves of people, you can still experience some areas in Cozumel without feeling completely crowded out. In fact, San Gervasio was one of the quietest ruins that I visited (besides Muyil.)

Brief History of Cozumel

Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo

An ancient gateway (c) ABR 2023

I will not claim to be any kind of expert on Cozumel history, which is long and colorful. But there is one element of the island’s history that really drew me in and is the overarching theme of this post. And that is the history of the island as a Mayan religious site and one of the most important pilgrimage locations – particularly for women. For me, this made visiting Cozumel a very important element of my trip to Quintana Roo.

The main Mayan ruin of Cozumel, San Gervasio, is the heart of this pilgrimage. The sweeping compound was built to honor Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility. Thus, many women would travel here (no small feat!) to seek the blessings of Ixchel as they navigated the complexities of motherhood.

In fact, San Gervasio is believed to have been about as important to the Mayan people at the height of the Mayan empire as Chichén Itzá. (I am not sure about whether or not modern Mayan people still worship here. If anyone has firsthand experience as a Mayan and would be willing to share, I would love to learn more!)

Modern Day Pilgrimage

Mayan ruins of Quintana Roo

San Gervasio (c) ABR 2023

In any case, Ixchel’s temple, despite being in a state of ruin now, still retains the bones of a pilgrimage site. Of particular interest to me were the ancient, stone roads that still flow through the jungles to the temple. Although the modes of travel to get here now are quite difference (and likely unimaginable to ancient peoples), arriving in San Gervasio can still feel like the height of a pilgrimage.

As a woman, I think that this history of Cozumel can still be strongly felt. Standing on the ancient roads, in a place enshrining the power of the feminine, it still feels really impactful to be here. Almost as though Ixchel still watches the people that visit her sacred space. And if anything, I had to marvel at being able to experience a place as ancient as this. It has stood the test of time, due to the ingenuity of its Mayan builders, as well as the love of modern Mayans and other Mexican people who continue to help preserve its legacy.

How to Get There

visiting cozumel

Car ferry (c) ABR 2023

The most common way for travelers to get to Cozumel is by cruise ship, but you can also fly here (with some direct flights from the US, for example) or take a ferry. If you are visiting Cozumel on a road trip, you will need to take a car ferry. That is what we had to navigate on our pilgrimage to Ixchel’s island.

There are two main companies that do ferries to Cozumel – Transcaribe and Ultramar. We ended up going with Ultramar, and overall, it was a pretty seamless experience. Although taking our car on the ferry with intermediate Spanish was a little stressful at a few points.

We purchased our tickets online, and this helped to make sure that there would be space for our vehicle on the dates/times that we wanted to travel.

Car Ferry Experience

In terms of the experience of traveling this way, if you buy your tickets online, read the instructions that are sent to your email, and print out your ticket. Bring this with you to the ferry terminal and make sure to follow the instructions about how early to get there. They can get a SHOCKING amount of vehicles on their boat, but the space is not infinite. So, you won’t want to be late and miss your spot.

For loading your vehicle, prepare for the staff to tell you to have your passenger get out of your car before you load. If you are being put below deck, where most passenger cars go, you won’t want to stay in your car. So get your stuff together before loading – have anything you want to keep with you on the boat ready to go.

Additionally, because the car ferries carry a lot of cargo and huge semi-trucks, these are not fast boats. And if the weather is not cooperating, the trip can take 3-5 hours. So, I would suggest packing anything you need to avoid seasickness. Considering the time it takes to load all the vehicles, it takes about half a day to get across to the island. And all this should play into your calculations in answering the question – is Cozumel worth it?

Cozumel Itinerary

We had one full day on Cozumel, with two travel days. And for us, that was sufficient. If you are looking to snorkel/scuba and/or enjoy yourself on the beach while visiting Cozumel, I would suggest more time.

San Gervasio Ruins

For our full day, we started out by heading straight to San Gervasio after breakfast. It’s good to try to get out to the ruins early to avoid some of the crowds. Additionally, there isn’t a lot of tree cover here, so to avoid the potential for bad afternoon weather, the morning is the best time to visit. (For more on my experience at San Gervasio, check out my guide to the Mayan Ruins of Quintana Roo.)

Mayan Bee Sanctuary

visiting cozumel

Look at this adorable bee at the bee sanctuary!!! (c) ABR 2023

After the ruins, and taking some time to consider the importance of the site, we did want to visit one of the more touristy spots on the island. As a former bee researcher, I was really intrigued by the Mayan Bee Sanctuary. It definitely felt a little bit like a just-for-tourists type thing, and the tour wasn’t extremely long. But nonetheless I really enjoyed it. They start the tour out with a short Mayan ceremony. Coming from San Gervasio, I really enjoyed the opportunity to experience Mayan culture live. After that, you will enter the sanctuary and get to learn about the indigenous bees of Quintana Roo. I had never heard about these specific bee species before, and they were extremely cute and stingless. So, it was super fun to visit them. It was also very interesting to learn about Mayan bee-keep practices.

Varying Beach Experiences

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

After that, we continued east, and stopped at one of the beaches where you could pull over on the road and just walk out onto the sand. We didn’t end up staying for too long here because the beach was quite covered in trash at the time. And mixing that with the hatching season of sea turtles wasn’t a great combination. If we had known, we would have brought some gear with us to clean up some of the trash.

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

After the beach, our day-long Cozumel itinerary ended with a trip to the south point of the island in the Punta Sur EcoPark. You will pay a ticket to enter the park, and if you go with enough time, it is well worth the cost. There is a small ruin here, hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and a very cool lighthouse. The only thing that I didn’t appreciate about this park is that if you go all the way to the end of the road, to the beach, there are people who act like you need to pay for a chair to enjoy the ocean. I just tried to politely turn them down and didn’t have any issue after that.

The lighthouse here is a must-visit, and if you have some really good mosquito spray, you can also enjoy the trails nearby. Additionally, there are people selling souvenirs here. We got a couple things, but as with the rest of the island, it felt overpriced. And the sellers were a little pushy, but not unkind.

Planning a Trip to Quintana Roo?

visiting cozumel

(c) ABR 2023

I have guides to two Pueblo Mágicos in the state. Bacalar is the lesser visited town with a colonial fort and exceptional lagoon. And Tulum is the home to the world famous ruins on the ocean.

I also have a Visitor’s Guide to Quintana Roo where you can find all my posts on the state as well as some notes on the ecology and history of the state.

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visiting cozumel