Cozumel is a small island off the eastern coast of Mexico. The heart of the island is downtown San Miguel, or “Centro” as it is known locally.
Downtown San Miguel de Cozumel is a very safe and easy place to explore on foot, with a large, family-oriented Central Plaza park, surrounded by endless restaurants, cafes, bakeries, boutiques, art galleries, markets, and great shopping. The municipality provides tourist information service booths, clean public bathrooms, art, and cultural offerings, and a friendly presence of guides and security personnel.
Situated right on the waterfront of Cozumel‘s western coastline, downtown San Miguel is a great central meeting place, and a wonderful town to walk around, shop, eat, and people-watch.
It is also a perfect spot to catch the island’s spectacular daily sunset.
I’ve lived in Cozumel for many years and I’m still discovering new cultural activities and services throughout the streets of San Miguel. It is a safe and fun place to explore for one day, or many days during your visit.
Here are 13 essential things to do in downtown Cozumel if you want to explore San Miguel safely, make the most of your time, and experience the centro area like a pro.
Consult Cozumel’s Free Visitor Information Services
If you arrive in Cozumel port via the ferry from the mainland town of Playa del Carmen, you’ll step off directly into the heart of downtown San Miguel and the town’s central plaza, also known as Benito Juárez Park.
This central plaza (or “zócalo” in Spanish) is also a quick 5-minute ride from Cozumel airport, and most central hotels.
Benito Juárez Park is also well-known for its large orange clock tower, a common town landmark, and very clear and popular meeting spot.
Very often this location is used as a place for tours to start, or friends to meet up, find a shady bench, and plan your day.
Downtown Cozumel is active, friendly, and welcoming.
There are also several staffed information booths, offering maps, information on excursions, and helpful answers to any of your questions.
If you’re strolling around and looking at things on your own, you may be approached by a friendly registered tour guide.
These trained and credentialed guides are authorized by the city to answer your questions and offer a helping hand. (Totally optional, of course).
If you are not up for this kind of help no problem – just tell them “no thank you/no gracias,” but don’t worry about it. They are simply there to provide assistance whenever you need it and are also providing some added government-sanctioned services to keep tourism going during the months of Covid-19.
Strolling around the zócalo itself is the first great way to spend a few hours in downtown Cozumel.
There is a dancing water fountain feature that delights kids and adults alike, especially on a hot, tropical day in town.
Adjacent to the fountain is a large, multi-colored COZUMEL sign – a now-ubiquitous photo-op stop on many tropical islands. Give it a try – perhaps a great image for your annual holiday card.
Get Caffeinated at Cozumel’s Best Coffee Shops
There are a few great choices for that first cup of excellent Mexican coffee right downtown.
El Coffee Cozumel (a longtime local favorite, formerly known as the Coffee Bean) is a charming coffee house located on 3rd Street just off Melgar Avenue and features carefully sourced Mexican bean varieties and a huge array of savory and sweet breakfast and lunch choices.
El Coffee Cozumel was also recently a high ranker on an informal Facebook poll as one of the best places to find homemade carrot cake, fruit tarts, and other baked treats.
If you’ve never tried COZ Coffee Roasting Company’s unique peanut butter coffee, I’d say it’s a must. I was a skeptic, but I can’t recommend it enough. Located toward the north end of the plaza itself, just across from the famous Wet Wendy’s, COZ Coffee Roasting Company is another local favorite and a great place to learn about some local coffee, or just fuel up for a day of exploring.
As a fellow coffee lovers, I can’t stress enough the number of charming and delicious coffee spots throughout downtown! You could make a whole day of it! If you’re a coffee lover and love sampling delicious Mexican coffee varieties, please also check out this related post on our top Cozumel Coffee favorites (for this year, at least!)
Cozumel’s Local Cooking Classes
One of my top recommendations for visitors to Cozumel is to sign up for a local cooking class.
I have done this to kick off several of my own trips to foreign lands, and it not only gives you a great intro to the local cuisine but also usually involves a short walking tour of a local town market or two, so you can really see, smell, hear and taste the place.
Cozumel has a few great cooking classes, but my favorite is a gem of a class, run by a lovely woman known as chef Josefina. You can find out more about this here.
This quiet and interesting activity will allow foodies and curious travelers, alike, to learn more about various culinary traditions throughout Mexico, with a focus on those from the Yucatán.
Your teacher/guide will talk to you about different foods of the region, help you decide on a dish to make that day, and then bring you for a short trip to the public market where you’ll shop for fresh local spices and ingredients.
Then you return to a charming home-based traditional kitchen and roll up your sleeves as you prepare cactus, make homemade guacamole, extract fresh juices for your cocktail or soft drink of choice, and proceed to cook all of the elements of the meal as a team.
Of course, during this time especially, all sanitary and specifically-Covid-19 protocols are followed.
This is a great way to see parts of town you might otherwise miss and get in a delicious and authentic meal to keep your energy up for your next adventures.
Get Active in Downtown Cozumel
If you’re traveling to Cozumel with your kids or your family or you just want to really try something more active, there’s snorkeling, scuba diving (including safe, discovery dive lessons for absolute beginners), sport fishing charters, JetSki rentals, and much more.
While many of the island’s bigger resorts boast of these things, rest assured you can also get active right from downtown Cozumel, very near to the ferry port of one of the main cruise ports, Punta Langosta.
Note: If you’re a serious scuba diver in Cozumel you will likely want to take a two-tank boat trip to dive in the renowned Cozumel Marine Park and dive some of our famous reefs of the Mesoamerican reef system.
There are several dive shops right downtown that can arrange to pick you up from a local pier, fit you out with any dive gear you might need and have you drifting along some of the best dive sites in no time.
You could also opt for a snorkeling charter or glass-bottomed boat right from downtown, as well, near the Cozumel ferry terminal and piers.
Another of my favorite active things to recommend in Cozumel is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with the famous DeLille Sports shop.
The DeLille team is now located right in the heart of Cozumel‘s downtown San Miguel at the Hotel Barracuda Plaza, just south of one of the main cruise ports, Punta Langosta, and across the street from the huge La Mega super grocery store (in other words, you can’t miss it).
I’ve gone on a few guided tours with the DeLille team, including one to the northern mangroves on the island, which is a very rare and pretty mind-blowing experience, suitable for you and your athletic kids.
On the mellower end, I’ve also taken simple – but still super fun – beginner SUP lessons with them right from the ease and safety of the shore entry point, right behind their shop in downtown Cozumel.
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is great exercise, and also a great way to appreciate the island’s clear blue waters, and get a glimpse of some fish and marine life without the complications, expense, or time commitment of learning to scuba dive.
Cozumel is (Even More) Bike Friendly Now
If you’re not up for a full ocean plunge or just don’t have the time, another way to get moving is to rent a bicycle – or better yet, an electric bike.
Cozumel is really stepping up its cycling game across the board.
If you’re staying in town or choosing a hotel, ask if they have any bikes available for guests to use – that kind of “bonus” amenity might also help you make your decision.
Meanwhile, there are several successful operators in centro San Miguel who have bikes and e-bikes for rent, too, and you can choose to have a guided experience, or perhaps do a little exploring on your own.
The island also has a new dedicated bicycle lane so serious athletes, townsfolk, and vacationers can cruise for uninterrupted miles along the beautiful waterfront, without having to stress too much about passing traffic or getting “car doored.”
If this sounds like your kind of fun, check out either Gozumel bikes and e-bikes, or maybe Best Bikes Cozumel, where you can also rent a GoPro video camera in Cozumel to capture and share all the fun.
See The Real Cozumel on Foot
I always say the best way to check out a place is on foot! Walking in Cozumel is also free!
If that’s more your speed, just consult a map, pick a direction, and get those steps in.
Cozumel’s Downtown is Shopping Centro
Cozumel’s central plaza, a.k.a. Benito Juarez Park, is full of great shopping – from your typical t-shirts and tequila stores, to individual artists’ kiosks selling paintings, pottery, handmade baskets, embroidered goods, and more.
Many of the vendors are local, and either create things in town, or bring works from their family’s traditional craft regions on the mainland. For just a couple of examples, you’ll find some high-quality silver* from Taxco or textiles from Chiapas.
Regardless, most pieces of ceramics, leatherwork, embroidery, and other artisanal, hand-crafted items you’ll encounter here are handmade by families in Mexico, if not specifically in Cozumel (though many are).
Don’t be afraid to stroll further out along the perimeter streets off of the Benito Juárez park in Cozumel, either! Many of these pedestrian shopping alleys and streets are free of car traffic, so it’s really safe and fun to poke around.
You’ll find more artisan and souvenir shops, bank ATMs, public bathrooms, and plenty of places to find a nice meal or just a cold treat – be it fresh ice cream, a cold fresh fruit juice, or a frosty beer (“cervesa”) or cocktail.
*If you are looking for a truly special souvenir, gift, or keepsake, be sure to read our recommendations on buying some of Cozumel’s finest quality Mexican silver jewelry.
Learn Some History of Downtown Cozumel
The Cozumel Museum – Newly Renovated
This is a small island known for diving and cruising, but its history is fascinating.
One of the best ways to start your visit is to take a trip to the island’s museum, which was fully renovated in the year 2020.
El Museo de la Isla takes visitors through a series of galleries that gradually introduce the island’s natural history, as well as the history of the Mayan peoples, traders and pirates, and ultimately Spanish explorers and colonial settlers and the ensuing modern history of the 20th century.
You’ll find displays of original artifacts from ancient Mayan pilgrimage sites, along with originals and replicas of other historic periods, including Spanish navigation materials, tools, and weapons.
The galleries cover 20th C. history, including the Cozumel’s lesser-known role as a major “chicle” (gum) producer, providing chewing gum and other profitable exports to the U.S. and the world.
The Cozumel Museum actively celebrates modern-day life, as well, with a current schedule of rotating exhibits on everything from elaborately beaded and hand-crafted Carnaval costumes, to temporary exhibitions of local painters, photographers, glass artists, and more.
Benito Juárez and Other Cozumel Heros
Walking around the central plaza of Benito Juárez Park, visitors can find several monuments and statues to many of the island’s most famous figures in history.
Benito Juárez, himself, is a beloved figure in Mexican history as the very Independence-minded 26th president of Mexico in the late 19th Century, and the first to be born of indigenous Mexican roots.
Now, Juárez is not only the namesake of that one park, but you’ll find his name on several major landmarks in town (and indeed across Mexico) including Cozumel’s central Mercado (which is definitely worth a visit, whether you take the cooking class recommended above, or not).
Lots of places and experiences in town, from tequila tasting restaurants to chocolate museums, fill their guided experiences with historical tidbits and interesting folklore from Cozumel‘s past.
The people here are very proud of their ancestry and love sharing it with those willing to listen.
Cozumel’s Centro Area – Brimming with Art
Beyond the museum, San Miguel is constantly brimming with fresh new art and creativity.
This international project for the celebration, understanding, and protection of our natural environments gathered talented artists from countries all over the world to contribute their awe-inspiring, large-scale murals throughout the downtown streets of Cozumel.
The municipality also frequently sponsors public works by resident artists to create numerous street art and murals everywhere you look.
The city is filled with privately created and publicly sponsored artwork – in the example below, a new mural was commissioned to honor Cozumel’s local front-line medical workers bravely fighting to protect the public from the Covid-19 pandemia (and doing a great job!).
Walking around downtown Cozumel, you can’t help but encounter several pieces of sculptural work, including public art pieces along the Malecon celebrating the history of the island, as well as the natural reefs and the diving culture that really put Cozumel on the global tourism map.
If you’re still at it and want to dig a little deeper into the local art scene, San Miguel is also home to several lovely private art galleries and boutiques.
Discover the Gallery Azul glass art studio on 15th Avenue (between 8th and 10th Streets, North), the Gallo Art Gallery, and the incredible Nativo Huichol Boutique, featuring stunning examples of traditional Huichol beadwork, often with a modern twist.
And these are just to name a few. It really doesn’t stop there!
There are endless high-brow and humble boutiques and stores full of handcrafted bags, accessories, sandals, leatherwork, clothing, organic beauty products, and more, all throughout the island.
Cozumel Clues For An Amazing Race
Now, maybe you and yours like your sightseeing done at a faster pace, and perhaps with a little competition thrown in?
Yes! Let’s make it interesting!
Get a team together, and make short work of exploring and puzzle-solving your way through Centro in San Miguel’s very own Amazing Cozumel Race.
Teams small and large can sign up and experience a few hours of fun and active searching for clues and landmarks that take you through a good portion of downtown Cozumel, and even for a quick snorkel (optional), before a well-earned snack and a cold drink at a friendly waterfront restaurant.
This is a great way to get the kids involved in some activity and cultural exposure, but with some friendly (non-digital) gaming in the process.
And if you need more ideas for Cozumel’s kid-friendly and family activities to do while you’re in town, be sure to review our full list of 26 “A-Z” Family Friendly Cozumel activities post, here.
Cool Off and Swim Along Cozumel’s Waterfront
Many of the larger and more luxurious beaches (and swim-up bars) in Cozumel are admittedly require a short drive from the heart of downtown.
However, there are several perfectly lovely places where you can freely access the water and have a refreshing swim and some beachy R&R, either by taking a quick dip or putting on your snorkel gear and exploring right off the shore.
If you’ve just run the Amazing Cozumel Race or walked around for a few hours, you could probably use a cool dip in the clear, blue Caribbean.
For a couple of free and easy places to take a swim or a snorkel downtown consult this related post.
Downtown Cozumel’s Sunset is a Must
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…Cozumel’s sunsets are legendary.
And there’s not a bad seat in the house if you’re anywhere along the west coast of the island – i.e. right along the waterfront promenade (or “malecón” in Spanish) in downtown Cozumel.
Just stop whatever you’re doing, find a spot on one of Cozumel’s many public benches all along Melgar Avenue in front of the water, and just relax and watch the colorful show.
It’s a great way to put a beautiful cap on a nice island day.
Cozumel’s Music and People Watching
Cozumel has a strong history of putting on numerous and FREE outdoor cultural entertainment events – for not only the tourists that arrive but the local population, as well.
During the COVID-19 period, Cozumel’s typical free weekly concerts and other public music and dance performances have had to be curtailed for obvious reasons.
However, there is still a great variety of live music being played throughout town, and as we’re now starting to see more vaccines arrive on the island and everyone is working our way through the end of this mess, it is clear that this type of public entertainment, gathering in the towns various parks and squares, and of course, the annual Carnaval festival in the streets during February will come back with a bang in 2021 and 2022.
If you read our post about actually free things to do in Cozumel, you already know about some of the music venues that are already open for business, and great places to safely check out some traditional and rock ‘n’ roll bands who perform in town.
Wherever you walk around Cozumel – especially at night – you’re sure to hear the strains of Cuban jazz, salsa music, Mexican pop, or lots of rock ‘n’ roll and cover bands at different bars and restaurants throughout the town and down along the waterfront bars and clubs.
Take a listen, and enjoy. And look forward to more as we all continue to get through this together.