Cozumel boasts more shore excursions than almost any other port of call, with over 70 options on the cruise line’s list. The majority of those options have something to do with the water just offshore, where the temperatures hover in the 80s year-round and visibility typically reaches up to 200 feet.
Cozumel is known for being a diver’s paradise. The Mesoamerican Reef—the Great Barrier Reef of the Western Hemisphere—flourishes in the water along Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Cozumel has more than 30 chartered reefs, 85 percent of which are within the Cozumel National Marine Park, a government-protected underwater territory.
Experienced divers will enjoy the Santa Rosa Wall—one of the island’s signature dive sites. A constant north-to-south current can carry underwater explorers at a speed up to 1.5 knots (about two miles per hour), which makes the drift-diving technique popular here. Tunnels and caves offer plenty of enclaves for divers to explore, and overhangs provide escapes from the steady current. Rope sponges stretch out into the water from the steep slopes of the wall. The site attracts barracuda and large black grouper, along with colorful parrot fish and French and queen angelfish.
Diving isn’t the only way to explore Cozumel’s magnificent reefs. With some reefs in just 10 feet of water, snorkeling is sometimes a better option. Palancar Reef is a top snorkeling spot, thanks to its mild currents and shallow waters. Tall coral formations attract all sorts of marine species, including the occasional sea turtle. Keep an eye on the sandy ocean floor, where stingrays like to hide out. Colombia Reef also attracts a fair share of snorkelers to float in the calm waters above a colorful underwater garden. Coral mounds called bolones are home to a variety of tropical fish and sponges.
Cozumel is peppered with several government-protected nature preserves, the most popular of which is the 450,000-square-foot Chankanaab National Park, located just south of downtown San Miguel. In 1980, the park was designated as a refuge area for protecting local marine flora and fauna.
The word chankanaab is Mayan for “little sea”—quite the fitting moniker, as the park encompasses the world’s only inland coral-reef formation and a seaquarium with more than 60 species of tropical fish, crustaceans, and coral very close to shore. This is one of just a few shore dive spots on Cozumel. Other options for exploring the underwater wonderland at Chankanaab are Snuba (a snorkeling/scuba combo) and Sea Trek (an airtight, oxygen-pumped helmet).
At Chankanaab, there’s also a sea lion show, a dolphin presentation, a manatee exhibition, and the Maya Zone—a replica Mayan village set in a botanical garden abloom with over 350 plants from more than 20 countries. Chankanaab is a one-stop shop for a fun-filled day—perfect for families traveling with children.