Discover the Best Cozumel Snorkeling; Top Reefs & Beaches

Cozumel is dotted with vibrant reefs making it a great opportunity for snorkelers to explore underwater paradise along the second largest reef in the world. Located on Mexico’s eastern coast on the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s a world-renowned destination.

The idyllic island checks all the postcard-perfect boxes: Caribbean beaches with crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches, and fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving along reefs teeming with marine life. Find your best snorkel mask, and get ready for an underwater adventure at one of these top spots to snorkel Cozumel.  

Note: Some locations are easily accessed from the beach, and others should be accessed by boat. Many of the best Cozumel snorkeling tours are available by boat. 





Home to the second-largest barrier reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, you’ll find an assortment of marine plants and animals here. From Cozumel you can explore the brightly colored reef, swim with sharks and larger marine life(whale shark tours are popular from Cozumel), and even visit a bed of starfish.

There are plenty of facilities on the beaches, such as restaurants, beach bars, and snorkeling gear rentals. But first, let’s take a look at where to snorkel in Cozumel.

Palancar Reef

bright purple and yellow coral at Palancar Gardens on Palancar Reef Cozumel

Entry: Beach or boat 
Experience: Intermediate
Access: Beach, but better to access it by boat 
Look out for: Mild currents and coral formations
Depth: Up to 115 feet (35 meters) 

The Palancar Reef provides some of the best snorkeling in Cozumel. It’s a large coral reef located inside the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park on Cozumel’s southwest side. The visibility reaches 100 feet (30 meters), displaying beautiful tropical fish that are easy to find.  

There are five popular areas for exploration within the Palancar Reef, ideal for both snorkeling and diving. Divers mostly visit Palancar Horseshoe, Palancar Deep, and Palancar caves due to their depths. In comparison, Palancar Garden and Palanca Shallows are a snorkelers paradise. 

There are various types of reef-building corals here, and the residents in the reef are plentiful. You’ll see angelfish, moray eels, parrotfish, nurse sharks, turtles, barracudas, and much more. Aside from the spectacular reef itself, at Palancar Gardens, the seafloor is covered with colorful starfish. 

Check out this two-reef snorkel tour to explore Palancar and Colombia reefs. The tour includes snorkeling gear and entrance fees to the parks. 



El Cielo 

starfish at el cielo near cozumel mexico

Entry: Boat 
Experience: Beginner 
Access: Boat operator
Look out for: It’s around an hours ride to the sandbar from the ferry terminal
Depth: Up to 30 feet (9 meters) 

El Cielo is a sandbar nestled about a mile off the coast of Cozumel mainland, and considered starfish heaven. Like the Palancar Gardens, there is a site in El Cielo that is crammed with starfish. Like an underwater version of a starry night.  

With visibility reaching up to 150 feet (46 meters) in these translucent waters, you’ll easily witness the five-armed echinoderms dominating the sandy bottom floors. The shallow waters are also perfect for the whole family.

If you’re interested in going to deeper parts of the sandbar (but still relatively shallow), you’ll likely see the stingrays. Keep in mind, your interaction with stingrays is limited to visual.  

The best way to access El Cielo is by boat, and most tour operators take tours from San Miguel de Cozumel ferry terminal. 

Punta Sur Beach is the nearby beach, with many restaurants hugging along its edges and plenty of snorkeling gear available to rent. It’s the perfect place to relax after your snorkel and grab a bite to eat. 

Check out the beautiful El Cielo sandbar on one of the Cozumel snorkeling excursions, including snorkeling gear and lunch. 




Entry: Beach
Experience: Beginner 
Access: Shore entry
Look out for: Sharp coral heads
Depth: Up to 15 feet (5 meters)

Dzul-Ha is a popular reef amongst snorkeling enthusiasts because of its shallow reef. It showcases various underwater attractions and is easily accessible from shore. It boasts calm waters and an array of multicolored fish, perfect for beginners learning to snorkel.  

The water clarity is sensational, with visibility averages reaching around 60 feet (18 meters). With excellent clarity, you’ll see the vibrant reef filled with tropical fish like wrasse, parrotfish, butterflyfish and manta rays, sea turtles, and damselfish. 

The Money bar is the ideal place to spend the day snorkeling and relaxing. There are facilities where you can rent snorkel gear and plenty of restaurants to get lunch and drinks.




people snorkeling and swimming at snorkel beach entry at Chankanaab

Entry: Beach 
Experience: Beginner 
Access: Shore entry
Look out for: Ancient underwater sculptures
Depth: Up to 45 feet (14 meters)

Chankanaab is located within the Cozumel Marine National Park which is great for snorkeling, hiking, and unwinding under the sun. As you arrive at the parking area, you’ll need to trek on the lush green forest path to get to the shore. 

The reef is filled with a beautiful display of marine life such as corals, sponges, algae, and diverse species of fish. It’s also one of the best places to see juvenile fish, like the peacock flounders. Keep your eyes peeled for the swaying tentacles of the anemones housing its celebrity resident: Nemo’s. 

The site also has some cool underwater Mayan sculptures. With the lack of current and 100 feet (30 meters) visibility, this makes it an exciting and safe place for the whole family to enjoy. 



Paradise Reef

aerial view of boats and snorkel tours at paradise reef off the coast of cozumel mexico

Entry: Beach 
Experience: Beginner to advanced
Access: Beach entry, or by boat
Look out for: Large coral heads in the sandy bottom
Depth: Up to 60 feet (18 meters) 

Located near a cruise ship port, Paradise Reef features everything a snorkeler expects to find in Cozumel. 

As you swim further out into deeper waters, you’ll find two coral ridges close to each other. These reefs lie parallel to the shore and are particularly appealing for schooling fish. You’ll find snappers, emperors, sergeants, red seahorse, angelfish, and barracuda schools. Snorkelers can see an abundance of tropical fish in excellent visibility of up to 150 feet (45 meters). 

Shore entry is possible, though beginners should do this adventure by boat. The area is also popular amongst scuba divers. 

Check out this Catamaran snorkeling tour to Paradise Reef, including an open bar, snorkel gear, and lunch. 



Columbia Reef

Entry: Boat
Experience: Beginner
Access: Boat operator
Look out for: Large coral heads on the seafloor
Depth: Around 20 feet (6 meters), in the shallows

Located on the southern tip of Cozumel lies a playground for both scuba divers and snorkelers. With secret caves, caverns, and a plethora of sea life, Columbia Reef is a popular attraction. 

You’ll need to take a boat ride to reach the reef as it’s quite a distance to the shore. Once you arrive at the reef, you should note there are two sides, Columbia Shallows, and Columbia Deep. 

As the name says, Columbia Shallows is ideal for snorkeling adventures. The sandy bottom is dotted with large coral heads that can rise to 30 feet (9 meters). The visibility is not as great as in the other areas due to the freshwater lagoon nearby. On the bright side, it provides a large population of sea life. Here you’ll find plenty of corals, barracuda, and hawksbill turtles. 

As you head further out, you’ll notice a gentle slope, which leads to a drop-off, that’s Columbia Deep. This is where most scuba divers start their exploration into the subterranean waters. 



Punta Colerain/ Punta Sur Eco Park

aerial view of Punta Sur Eco Park Beach with punta celerain snorkeling in the distance

Entry: Beach
Experience: Intermediate 
Access: Shore entry
Look out for: A long swim and currents
Depth: Up to 27 feet (8 meters) 

Punta Celarain is one of the more secluded areas for snorkeling in Cozumel. It’s a sheltered and shallow reef located at the southern point of the island. The reef is accessible from the beach, where you can find amenities and rent snorkeling equipment. 

With splendid visibility of up to 150 feet (45 meters), you’ll quickly find large fish populations. Upon entry, notice the incredible sea fan reef reaching almost 350 feet (106 meters), parallel to the shore.

This area is home to an abundance of thriving grunt schools, triggerfish, snappers, and turtles. It’s well worth the trip to spend the day here and do some other activities onshore.  



Santa Rosa Reef & Wall

Entry: Boat
Experience: Advanced
Access: Boat operator
Look out for: Coral structures reaching up to 40 feet (12 meters) 
Depth: 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) 

Another one of Cozumel’s famous sites that seldom disappoints is Santa Rosa. It features lots of caves and swim-throughs, fun for adventure snorkelers. The wall drops down to almost 100 feet, and its sandy floor continues sloping to over 200 feet. But most of the fun here happens at the edge of the wall at the Santa Rosa Reef. 

It’s one of the most sought-after diving and snorkeling sites on the Cozumel island. It provides a haven for underwater exploration with a visibility of up to 150 feet (45 meters) and an assortment of life below. The reef boasts tropical fish galore, elegant sea fans, slipper lobster, yellow tube sponges, popcorn shrimp, and magnificent corals. 




A snorkeling Cozumel vacation will top any adventure you’ve had before. You will be awed with the abundance of unique marine life who call this slice of heaven in the Caribbean Sea home. 

Cozumel is, by far, one of the top-rated snorkeling destinations globally and will leave you with a memorable adventure. So, get your underwater cameras ready for a spectacular experience in Cozumel snorkel heaven. 


About the author
Kristin Young