Cozumel is Mexico's third largest island which measures almost 10 miles at it's widest point and is 30 miles long and it's first inhabitants settled there approximately 2000 years ago. The inhabitants were the seafaring Mayan Indians who also settled along the shores of the mainland just 6 miles away. The Mayans considered it a sacred island and dedicated it to the goddess of fertility, Ix Chel. Woman would paddle over to the island from the mainland to offer sacrifices. Conquistadors including the infamous Hernan Cortez whose visits ended up with the destruction of the Mayan temples and the introduction of smallpox. This disease brought a population of about 40,000 people to a mere 30 by about 1570. By 1600, Cozumel lay in ruins and was totally uninhabited. Pirates of note made Cozumel a stopover point during their Caribbean raids. The likes of Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte considered it safe harbor and it wasn't until the mid 1800s when families began to inhabit Cozumel again.
The Cozumel of today is a flourishing island with a population of about 90,000 people and has fast become a favorite among travelers. Snorkelers return year after year to discover the beauty that is found in it's uniquely beautiful turquoise waters. Whether from shore or by boat, the snorkeling here is in water that often boasts of 200 feet of crystal clear visibility. It is quite unique as it is done mostly in currents which mostly travel from the south to the north. There are exceptions where the currents travel in the opposite direction but these areas are located off the southwest portion of the island. These currents are constant and bring vital nutrients to the marine life in the area. The reef here is part of the 4th largest barrier reef in the world stretching about 700 miles from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula all the way south to the Bay Islands of Honduras. We have put together a list of the best snorkeling in Cozumel for your enjoyment.CHANKANAAB NATIONAL PARK
Designated as a National Park in 1980, Chankanaab has fast become a favorite area for snorkeling as well as a number of other activities. While entry into the park does require a fee, it is well worth the visit. With easy walk in entry points along the beach area, the snorkeling here is outstanding for the novice snorkeler. It is a great area to introduce your younger ones to the amazing world beneath the waves. There are coral heads to explore in waters as shallow as 18 to 20 feet in addition to the three statues that have been placed in the area. The most popular is the Christ statue which stands 14 foot high. The Virgin Mary statue is smaller and the last statue is representative of the Mayan culture which is a reclining human named Chac Mool. Sergeant Major, Parrotfish, Snapper are just a sample of the fish that you might see during your snorkeling expedition. Once you are done snorkeling, you might want to participate in swim with a dolphin experience or maybe get kissed by a manatee as these are structured tours that are also available. There is also a "living Museum" which is representative on how the Mayan culture lived in days gone by.EL CIELO
Located a half of a mile off the southwest portion of the island, this snorkeling treasure is only accessible by boat. It is a fantastic opportunity for the novice snorkeler as the water there is about waist deep. This is actually an expansive sand bar. El Cielo in the Spanish language translates to "the sky" or "heaven" which was probably named because of the clarity of the sky blue water there. The soft white sand is a great back drop for photos of the large star fish that you might see while you are there.COZUMEL PALACE
Eel, stingray, cuttlefish and barracuda may be some of the marine life that might be seen snorkeling here. There is no beach here from which to enter but ladders and steps going into the water are present. Because this is a rocky area care should be taken around entry and exit areas due to the sea urchins that might be present.PARADISE REEF
This area is situated just south of the Puerta Maya Cruise Ship Pier and is a must for snorkelers as the marine life here is outstanding. Among the coral heads you will see anemones, sergeant majors, grunt, snapper, angel fish and you might even spot a splendid toadfish. This reef is best done through one of the many snorkeling boat operators who follow you in the boat as you drift with the current.SUNSET BEACH & SAND DOLLAR SPORTS BEACH
These two beaches are just yards apart from each other. Sand Dollar Beach it is the one that is the closest to the bustle of San Miguel. It is an iron shore beach which basically means that the beach is built up and away from the water's edge. Because of this, a man made entry area was created which consists a wide set of three steps complete with hand rails that leads down to an area wear you can put on your mask fins and snorkel and walk into the water. This is one of the areas that is popular for the cruise ship visitors to the island. It can get pretty crowded in the morning hours but afternoons tend to be less populated.PLAYA VILLA BLANCA
This beach area does have shaded areas to get out of the sun if you need it. It is a combination iron shore and sand beach. The reef itself is pretty close to shore and is home to colorful sea fans waving in the current along with a plethora fish and other marine life.FIESTA AMERICANA
At the time of this writing the Fiesta Americana is currently closed for remodeling (scheduled to reopen spring of 2014). From past travels the snorkeling in this area has always been pleasurable. the nooks and crannies are host to a surprising amount of sea life. Squirrel fish, parrotfish, eel and octopus make for great underwater photo opportunities.
All of the locations that have been mentioned are located on the western side of the island. The island's east and north sides should be avoided for snorkeling as the water conditions can be considered treacherous. When your snorkeling excursions are done be sure to visit one of the many restaurants, shops and clubs to experience Mexico at it's finest. The nightlife here is plentiful with dancing and festivals. Or you can rent a vehicle or moped and cruise the island. See the rugged landscape on the eastern shore as the ocean waves crash into the rocky cliff areas. You can also get a sense of the history of the Mayan culture by visiting the museum in town or by traveling to San Gervasio, Castillo Real or El Cedral which are the actual Mayan ruins that are on the island.
By Roy Jamason
Written March 19, 2015