Cozumel Snorkel Trip Report May 2018
I stayed on Cozumel for the month of May 2018 and did mostly shore snorkels plus a few boat reef snorkels and here is my trip report. Over the past couple of years I have snorkeled all the good places on the mainland from Puerto Morelos to Xel Ha “amusement” Park, Akumal Bay for the turtles, Yal Ku Lagoon and the reef near Playa del Carmen. For me Cozumel was the next best thing to Roatan for ease and variety of shore snorkel spots (I have not snorkeled Curacao or Bonaire). There was great species variety and population right next to the mostly “iron shore” coastline. The most surprising thing was how good the fish life and water clarity is right next to the shore, rock, and walls in built up areas close to town (San Miguel) behind restaurants, stores, bars and hotels.
Shore snorkeling Cozumel is all about going to beach clubs or bars and entering the water using their stairs or ladders. Because the shoreline is “iron shore” (rocky or dead coral) the beach clubs build their own little sandy areas with stairs or ladders that descend into the water. Water access from natural iron shore (away from beach clubs) is very difficult and to me not worth the hassle compared to buying a beer and a burger at a beach club. All have outside showers and many have lockers. I obtained information on good sites using various beach club snorkel guides that I found online.
The bottom topography is generally sloping sandy/rubble with what I call bottom coral scrub/sage for lack of the proper scientific description. Despite the rather plain bottom the fish variety and numbers was very good (I do fish surveys for reef.org everywhere I snorkel). Most beach clubs have some type of pier that provides some fish habitat around its pilings. Sites closer into town have some old concrete “rubble” from by-gone days pier structures. Sunset Restaurant has artificial reef balls used by lots of fish for cover (see reefball.org).
Below is a summary of the ones I went to, some for multiple snorkels. From north to south, with * to **** for the snorkel quality (all have a restaurant):
Playa Azul - GPS 20.547881, -86.929279 - Rating ***
This is next to the Westin hotel. It is possibly part of Playa Azul Hotel on the opposite side from the Westin. The parking lot entrance is through a wall with a sign that simply says Play Azul.
Buccanos - GPS 20.546490, -86.930690 - Rating ****
This one has the biggest and nicest facility complete with a large pool. It gets large groups from cruise ships (I think) but the facility is so large it doesn't matter. The snorkeling is excellent out away from the beach and both north and south along the rock wall. My biggest species counts were from here, Money Bar, Sunset Restaurant and Corona Beach Club. Great place to spend a half day and do a double snorkel in both directions.
Tequila Beach Club - GPS 20.539455, -86.935971 - Rating ***
I just don't remember anything about this site and I didn't take any notes at the time. Doesn't mean it wasn't good, I just don't remember.
Jeannie's Restaurant - GPS 20.505774, -86.957511 - Rating **
This was my go-to breakfast place next to the “No Name” Beach Club and across the street from the huge Mega Super grocery store. Pretty good fish presence including a couple of squid right next to the wall. They do Sea Trek underwater helmet with air hose tours for cruise ship groups so the water is pretty busy with air hoses floating on top of the area. Lots of underwater “structures” for the Sea Trek-ers to look at so it's sort of interesting. It's a good place to eat so if you're there to eat you may as well jump in and do a snorkel. Good lunches, too. Lockers and gear for rent.
Turquoise Beach Bar - GPS 20.488121, -86.968694 - Rating *
Nice little bar/restaurant but not very good for snorkeling. Unattractive rubble bottom, small area and only a few fish. Also, someone stole my snorkel buddy's SJCAM underwater camera from our table that was only about 10 ft away from the salt water pool we were hanging out in. They do, however, have a resident pig (yes a real pig) that will lie in the sand at your feet... name escapes me.
Sunset Restaurant - GPS 20.485708, -86.970296 - Rating ****
This is among of the best snorkeling I encountered. I was going to do a drift snorkel from here north with the current to Playa Caletitas (next to the light house and car ferry pier) an easy 1.2 km drift with the current that is normally present. But instead I got so interested in the fish and species that were there I just stayed in the Sunset area. Toward the end of my session I even saw a nurse shark about 50 meters off the shore, which I captured on video. One of the dive instructors for the shop that runs classes there told me he had never seen a nurse shark in that area in the 20 years he'd been teaching there. Guess I just got lucky. I sent the video to him to prove it. Also, someone installed quite a few “reef balls” which are artificial cement dome-like structures with holes in them to provide cover and habitat for fish. And they definitely work. They “house” a lot of fish.
Money Bar - GPS 20.457873, -86.986543 - Rating ****
This is, I believe, is referred to as Dzul Ha in older guides and references I found online for snorkel spots. This is a great beach bar with great facilities and among the best snorkels along with Sunset, Buccanos & Corona. I snorkeled here at least 3 times. Large area to roam with sloping sandy bottom that gets gradually deeper the farther out you go. It has good species variety if you look for them and are patient. No huge schools, but lots of species. One day the current going north just made it too difficult to maintain station, so I had to curtail the session. An added bonus: one afternoon they had a really good band that started at 6:00, I think on a Friday.
Corona Beach Club - GPS 20.435293, -87.002373 - Rating ****
My absolute favorite snorkel spot of the ones I visited. I snorkeled here at least twice. Unlike the big fancy places like Buccanos and Money Bar this place is more local in style and size and doesn't get cruise ship groups. The small 1–2 foot deep entrance pool had needlefish and others right at the entry steps. And it got better from there.
We were surprised to stumble across a system of horizontal open “caves” in about 15 - 20 ft of water that provided some really fun free-dives. They are about 150 meters north (right from the put-in) and about 50 meters or so out from the iron shore. A good circuit to do is work north right along the shore for some interesting shallow coral and rock formations (and fish of course) then out from the shore to look for the “caves”, then out slightly farther and back along a drop-off slope that goes down to about 30 ft. It's a nice view for the swim back. For the shore snorkels that I did this site had the most interesting and varied bottom topography.
Transport: The distance between Playa Azul to the north and Sunset Restaurant to the south is about 9 km and I stayed about halfway in between. I bought a bike for about $140 and bicycled no problem to all my snorkels except for Money Bar and Corona Beach Club which I either taxied to or had a rental car for the day. Everything is flat and paved with either a bike lane or sidewalk for the most part.
I did several boat snorkels (not dive boats) and I didn't much enjoy them because the coral was mostly pretty deep (20–50 ft) and pretty dark if there were clouds. One trip I did enjoy was a more shallow reef that was only 10–15 ft deep with side drop-offs to 30-60 ft and we had a really good drift snorkel with good visibility, lots of fish including turtles and great topography for free-dives. It was either Colombia Shallows or Palancar but I'm not sure. We went with Mystic Snorkel on that trip.
For anybody who goes to Cozumel to snorkel, I hope this helps.