Updated: Aug 19, 2021
So you’ve got a few days to spend in Cozumel but you’re on a budget and not looking to blow all of your cash at expensive beach clubs. Where do you go?
Here’s what I did over the course of 2 ½ days in Cozumel when my travel partner and I escaped the sargasso of Tulum and Playa del Carmen in search of seaweed-free turquoise waters and beaches. Read on for my travel tips and advice! :)
We took the ferry from Playa del Carmen to get to the island. This should be simple but can actually be quite stressful if you’re not prepared - so follow these tips!
Check the ferry schedule online first! There are two ferry companies: Ultramar (yellow - and the one we took) and Winjet (orange). Due to pandemic restrictions, as of July 2021, they were operating on an alternating daily schedule (so Ultramar runs ferries one day, Winjet runs them the next, and so on). There is also a 3-hour gap in the afternoon when no ferries run. You don’t want to get stuck on either side during this time so plan accordingly. (This happened to us and it was … not fun.)
Get to the ferry in Playa del Carmen at least an hour before the launch time of the one you want to take. You need time to stand in line to buy tickets and to stand in line to board. I’m sure it varies by day, but we encountered a huge line at 10:30 am on a Friday morning, for example. We arrived at 10:40 a.m., and as I waited in full-on sun for an hour, my friend waited on line to buy our tickets - we wound up making the noon ferry.
Don’t buy tickets online. I tried that and wound up getting an error message that the purchase wouldn’t go through - THEN getting charged anyway after I had already bought my tickets in person. (Which meant I had to go through my credit card company to dispute the charge.)
If you buy in person and have a paper ticket, do not lose or misplace it before boarding! The guardians at the gate will not let you through by scanning the QR code of an image, only the paper ticket. (Trust me, our friend tried and failed.)
FUN tip! Sit on the upper deck towards the back to: get some sun AND the breeze, be the first ones to disembark, AND enjoy the one or two-person band that plays for the duration of the 45-minute trip. La-la-la-la Bamba! (I loved this part :))
Real talk, we didn’t find exciting snorkeling during our spontaneous, budget-minded trip. I think if you want that, you probably have to pay more at a beach club or book an excursion.
However, we went to two spots that were snorkel-friendly (rocks at the water, not sandy beaches - with easy man-made entrance points) and we still really enjoyed the views, the water and the friendly service.
1. Jeanie’s - very basic! Very chill! And very close to town - we walked there from our quaint hotel in the town center. The best part was that there was no entrance fee - we could just walk in, get set up with lounge chairs and an umbrella, and swim in the water to our heart’s content. There’s a small dock with a ladder into the water, and a floating dock further out to hang out on. To enjoy the facilities, we had to order something, but there was no minimum and we weren’t pestered to order quickly. We wound up just getting some lemonades and water, and enjoying the morning there before moving on to the next spot…
2. Money Bar - much less basic with a great vibe! This was a 10-minute taxi ride from Jeanie’s that cost about 120 pesos. There’s a full bar and restaurant area, and different spots for sitting at tables in the shade or on lounge chairs on the sand. There were some stepdown entrances into the water on the rocks. The only downside was that although the lounge chairs were free, they mostly didn’t come with umbrellas (there were only a handful that we saw, to the left of the VIP area for hotel guests). If you need shade you’ll need to sit at a table and order some drinks or food (which you need to do anyway, but there is no minimum) and/or lounge in the full sun on the chairs. They did have a very tasty 2 for 1 cocktail special for ____ pesos that satisfied our craving for piña coladas :) There was a band that was a little too “hard rock” for my taste - lol I know I sound old but it was a little bit too much shouting for a relaxing beach day, although I loved when they played good Latin pop, cumbia, salsa etc. All in all, it was a vibrant spot with lovely swimming.
White sand beaches:
1. Playa Palancar - this was the furthest we traveled from our hotel (about a 25-minute taxi ride for 300 pesos) and probably would have been the best if not for quite a bit of murkiness in the water a few yards from shore due to recent rains. The beach is tucked away amongst mangroves, which are great environmental protectors from the sargasso, but can churn up some nutrients when there’s a lot of rain. There was no entrance fee, but we did have to rent our umbrella and lounge chairs for 170 pesos. Then we could just order food and drinks as we wanted. The water was lovely with some small waves to play in and there’s a floating raft to hang out on as well (you have to take turns with other beachgoers as it only fits about two people :))
2. Mr. Sancho’s - I have mixed feelings about this place since I was very cranky about them making me toss out my water and like two crackers when I arrived :D They’re insistent on not having any food and drink on you when you arrive (unlike the other three places we went to) but didn’t tell me that on the phone when I called that morning. I had filled up my water bottles for our trip home on the ferry that afternoon so I found this extra annoying and unnecessary. (And on principle I think you should always be allowed to have water with you basically anywhere and not be extorted to pay higher prices for the very real human survival need of being hydrated. Anyway...moving on…)
There are two options for enjoying the facilities - a $50 all-inclusive - or a la carte. I think that if you are on a budget but want to splurge for the whole day, the all-inclusive is probably a good deal - you get a wristband and you can go in the pools, play on Wipe-Out-style flotation toys in the water, swim up to the wet bar, and just eat and drink all day long. Note that it attracts a lot of families, so there is child noise - preparete. Since we knew we’d only have a few hours to relax before catching the ferry, we opted to go a la carte and chill out on some lounge chairs, get a few non-alcoholic drinks, and swim in the crystal clear water. Note that we couldn’t get an umbrella with the lounge chairs, but we were able to find some shade under palm trees and a little palapa (and the tables have cover). The taxi from town took about 20 minutes and was about 200 pesos.
3. Playa las Rocas - This is a public beach with no facilities, but it’s very close to the town center and ferry landing (an 8-minute taxi ride for 80 pesos), and can work in a pinch. It’s a small, sandy beach with a little pier, and it’s very easy to hang out and swim around if you need something close to the ferry. It’s where the locals seem to hang out after work to unwind so when we were there there were about three different dueling "DJs" playing salsa, bachata and House. Interestingly enough, even though it’s not a snorkeling spot per se, we discovered a yellow-spotted stingray which was exciting!
If I had to choose, these are the favorites that I’d recommend:
For snorkeling and a great, lively vibe, I would go back to Money Bar (but prioritize finding a nice shady spot!).
For a comfortable, sandy beach in beautiful natural surroundings, I’d go back to Playa Palancar (but not after a few days of rain!)
** Have any questions? Ask away in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!
** Have you been to Cozumel? Which is YOUR favorite beach on a budget?