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There are many places to snorkel on Cozumel. Note that there is often current on the west side of the island, and that the current varies in direction and strength. The east side is typically far too rough to even consider snorkeling. You can use the curent to your advantage either by swimming/drifting with it for your return snorkel when you are more tired or by doing a one-way drift snorkel. Here are some of the spots to consider:
Playa Las Casitas Snorkel Area:
While there are many places to snorkel, few are as close to the center of town as this one is. It is perfect for the cruiser that wants to do it on his own and then have time to shop and eat in town. There is an excellent snorkeling area at Playa las Casitas, directly across from the naval barracks. If you don't have your own gear, you should rent some from one of the dive shops in town on the oceanfront road. If your friends don't snorkel, they can wait for you at the 2-3 palapa bars located at this site.
Casitas starts at the intersection of the airport road and Avenida Melgar, so it is easy to find.
These blocks are close to shore.
The photo above is just one of the few remnants from the concrete pier that was placed here as a reef.
One of the two boats at Playas las Casitas
At Playas las Casitas
To the Sunken Ships (expert swimmers only!)
Start the trip by swimming straight out from shore to the yellow “nun” buoy directly in front of Love Cafe. There is usually a squarish gray boat tied to this buoy. The northernmost and largest PT type boat is about 100' past this buoy and about 55’ in length. In 30-35’ of water the first boat will appear. It is pointing almost due south. Again, you will find a good number of fish. Some of these fish might be large. To locate the second boat, use the bow of the first boat as a clock (with the bow being 12 o’clock) and swim 100 yards at 11 o’clock. This boat is in 30’ feet of water. If you are a decent snorkeler, you can make it down to the tops of the boats. There is boat traffic in this area. A dive flag and buddy is recommended.
Close to Shore
After Hurricane Wilma, the large chunks of concrete removed from the destroyed Puerta Maya pier were placed in this area to create an artificial reef. The depth varies from 10-20’. There are numerous fish and, if you can get deep enough, you might find a lobster under the structures. The current in this area runs north to south most of the time. (This opposite of the rest of the area due to what is known as a "recirculating eddy"). These end in front of Love Cafe and extend north about 400 yards. They are in a straight line with shore and maybe 100 yards inland from the aforementioned yellow buoy.
A few words of caution. Be aware of your surroundings. Verify the current direction before you start your trip. If you do make it out to the sunken boats, take note that it is a long snorkel back to shore. Keep an eye out for boats and the numerous sailboarders that may be there in the late afternoon. A dive float or sausage is a good idea to have so the boats can see you.
For the non-snorkeler, there 2-3 a palapa bars called Shaka, Café del mar and The Bungalow where your friends can wait for you. All serve food and adult beverages.
North Shore Areas
This is an easy, do it yourself, snorkel trip just north of town.
Get in at the Coral Princess Hotel by walking through their lobby to the pool area. Work your way north. Just north of the Coral Princess there are usually several large schools of fish that hang out. Generally, the reef wall or within 20' of it is the best place to see all the critters, small sponges and coral.
In a vertical grotto/crevasse at the north end of the B Hotel property line (Formerly the Fontan.) there is a large, brown spotted eel that calls that area his home. Look carefully and you may see a large green eel in the same crevasse.
Beyond this and further north, you will see an overhanging reef wall near a house. Look closely on the ocean floor for small stingrays. There are some large concrete blocks that may have something interesting underneath them as well. You can't miss them. Depth here is about 10'.
Be sure to look in all the crevasses along the way. There is always something interesting to see if you look closely.
When you get to Miramar and Nah Ha condos, look for some rusty chain link fence rolled up on the bottom and about 10' from shore. Spotted eels like to hang out there.
Continue your drift past a rocky, pot-holed area in front of a really tall condo called Peninsula. This area is sort of barren of fish and coral, but occasionally a barracuda will hang out there. When you get to the yellow condo tower with the sandy beach and pier, that is a good place to get out. Simply walk to the north edge of the condo and head to the street. Then you can take the bike path back to your car if you have one or flag a cab.
Total distance is about 1.25 miles and maybe 45 minutes in time. Average depth is 8-12'. You can cover a lot of ground by swimming, but really all you need to do is float.
An alternative to this if you are with non-snorkelers is Cozumel Caribe Club and is a bit further north. The entry fee here is $100 pesos but that is credited to your bill. They rent snorkel gear there. The food is excellent and they also have a small sandy beach. To snorkel. walk to the far south side of the facility and jump in. The current will carry you back to the beach area.
The El Cozumeleno hotel is often cited as a snorkling spot and ranked similarly to the Coral Princess. Snorkeling in front of El Cozumeleno is not bad, and better if get away from the area between the 2 piers in front of the hotel and go a little ways south. It can provide some enjoyable snorkeling although it can't compare to the areajust south of the marina referenced below. The only problem with Coral Princess is that it is "guests only".
One of the best spots on the entire island is north of town and immediately south of the marina. Access is usually by those staying at a series of small condos/hotels immediately south of the marina such as Condumel, Cantamara, or Villa Aldora. There is no sand beach acccess here but rather a series of steps/ladders for guests. The marine life is all along the rocky wall and a few small associated outcroppings. The water is about 10-foot deep along the shoreline here. This piece of shoreline has a great variety and abundance of marine life including french and queen angelfish, lionfish, eels, etc. There is a public beach just north of town and before you get to the end of the airport runway but that is about 300-400m south of this area.
Safety first! Use a marker- you can tow a yellow dry bag filled with sandals, hat and sunglasses so that you can walk back to your car when you get out of the water.
Intercontinental Presidente to the Money Bar. Just south of the Intercontinental Presidente there is a dirt parking area that bridges the gap between the road and the shore. There is a small “cove” the size of a swimming pool here that makes access a snap. There is a lot to see. Fish and isolated coral- even some artificial reef structures down near the Money Bar. Just south of the Money Bar is a pile of concrete dock debris that holds a wide variety of fish. Although the Money Bar is a self-declared "Top Spot" for snorkeling, one can find similar quality snorkeling at many places along the south beach road, and it can't compare to the area north of town and south of the marina.
Chankanaab National Park. Park in the dirt area just south of the Park and snorkel south to the Playa Corona Bar. Nice drop off from the Iron shore- look for spotted eagle rays as well as tons of fish.
Punta Sur - the reef is shallow there and full of great fish including a stingrays and a black groupers. One has to swim out about 100m to where you see a bouy to get to the reef. It is a nice little reef although the abundance and variety of fish is moderate. The north end of the reef here is very shallow and is covered with sea fans- look close and the sea fans are populated with colorful flamigo tongue cowry shells . If the waves are too excessive on the west coast of the island for snorkeling, try southern areas such as Punta Sur, as it can often provide a calm refuge from the westerly winds.
Columbia/Palancar Reefs - one needs to take a boat out to these areas which are at the southern end of the island. You can get a boat right of the Palancar beach or alternatively through the many tours which operate. The Columbia and Palancar reefs provide for a very nice snorkel over soem very nice reefs with a nice variety and abundance of sea life, and a resaonbale chance that you might see a turtle. However recognize that you will typically be 10-30 feet above the reefs and fish so that you won't get up-close-and-personal with them. It is a very good snorkel, just don't expect close viewing or picture-taking...unless you can dive underwater.