Isla Cozumel is a small, mostly undeveloped island with a lot going for it. Both families and independent travelers can experience a day at the park here that fits their itineraries and interests, whether that be a full day exploring nature, relaxing on the beach, or some interactive fun for the kids.
Parque Punta Sur
Parque Punta Sur (Carr. Costera Sur Km. 27, tel. 987/872-0914, 9am-4pm daily, US$14 adult, US$8 child under 12) is a massive natural reserve on the southern tip of Cozumel. The park spans thousands of acres of coastal dunes, beaches, mangroves, and wetlands, and extends well out into the ocean, including large areas of coral reef. It’s home to a vast array of land and sea creatures, including 30 types of seabirds and some huge crocodiles that live in the park’s large inland lagoons.
There’s a small Maya ruin known as El Caracol, which dates to AD 1200 and is believed to have been used for navigation, plus the park’s famous lighthouse (which you can climb for great views) and a small but rewarding maritime museum. At the park’s long, lovely beach—about a kilometer past the lighthouse—there are beach chairs, restrooms, a small eatery, and a shop to rent snorkel gear (US$10) and kayaks. The snorkeling here is outstanding, including sea fan “forests” that wave gently in the current.
Most visitors visit on package tours, but it’s perfectly easy to visit independently; there’s even a separate area away from the volleyball nets and buffet lines for people arriving on their own. You’ll need a car—there used to be shuttle service into the park, but no longer—and you should arrive no later than 1pm in order to take full advantage of all the park has to offer.
Some 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) south of San Miguel, Chankanaab (Carr. Costera Sur Km. 9, tel. 987/872-0914, 8am-4pm daily, US$21 adult, US$14 child under 12) is a national park that operates mainly as a beach club and water park; that is to say, more Xcaret than Punta Sur. A visit here includes sunbathing by the pool, snorkeling in the ocean, relaxing in a hammock, and watching the sea lion shows (included in the ticket price); there is also a zipline course, a crocodile sanctuary, replicas of various Maya ruins, and a small tequila “museum” (i.e., a bar with a hacienda feel, old photos, and a small agave patch).
Dolphin Discovery (toll-free U.S. tel. 866/393-5158) has a facility within the park, with various interactive programs with dolphins and sea lions, for an additional fee. Reserve in advance or right upon arrival, as they fill up fast. Chankanaab also has a fully equipped dive shop on-site, plus two thatch-roofed restaurants, a handful of gift shops, lockers, and restrooms. Chankanaab may be a bit commercialized for independent travelers—consider Punta Sur instead—but it’s a great option for families looking for an easy all-day option.
Excerpted from the Twelfth Edition of Moon Cancún & Cozumel.