Cozumel is wonderful hub for those who like outdoor activities, and it’s a particularly good destination for anyone interested in spotting wildlife, whether it’s in the sea, in the skies, or on land.
Let’s start with the birds. Over the last few years, birdwatchers have reported almost 250 different species on and around Cozumel. Several can be seen nowhere else on Earth and one (the Cozumel Thrasher) is severely endangered. Commonly spotted birds range from raucous, playful parrots to shy Caribbean doves. There are large wading birds, Yucatan Woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, and many more. As with many global birdwatching destinations, you never know quite what you’ll see. Visitors can either join a specialist birding tour or just take a quiet hike through the rainforest and see what flies by.
One animal that vacationers might not want to get too close to is the salt water crocodile, which lives in salty marshes and estuaries. Adults can easily reach 3 meters from snout to tail- certainly a respectable size- but surprise encounters are very rare. Those who want the thrill of seeing live crocodiles in the wild can take a boat tour but they aren’t very many crocs on Cozumel and they tend to stay in a few well-known locations on the south end of the island. Reptile enthusiasts will also find iguanas, geckos, and a huge variety of other lizards to see.
For a small island, Cozumel also has more than its fair share of interesting land mammals. Again, there are a handful that aren’t found anywhere else- the Cozumel Pygmy Raccoon and Coati are unique to the island. It’s also a great place to get into the water with dolphins. A dolphin swim (or dive, or snorkel) has to be one of the truly unmissable Cozumel experiences. Guided tours are easily available and you don’t even have to be a particularly strong swimmer.
Anyone who can swim can try snorkelling and get a glimpse of the island’s underwater world. It’s just as rich in wildlife as the jungles above the waterline so don’t forget your underwater camera in case you catch sight of a Splendid Toadfish with its beautiful electric blue and white stripes, or a huge grouper. There are tang, angelfish, sea horses, tarpan, puffer fish, wrasses, sand rays, and a whole lot more for snorkelers and divers to see.
Night diving is particularly popular around Cozumel. The crabs and lobsters tend to be more active in the darker hours and if you’re really lucky, you might even get to witness a coral spawning event. Divers and scientists gather from all around the world to see these, so it’s well worth enquiring with a local dive shop just in case you’ve picked a lucky day to visit.
Although some of Cozumel’s dive sites have strong currents and are suitable for advanced divers only, there are also plenty of gentle, shallow water dive sites ideal for learners. If you don’t have a dive certification already, there is no shortage of local scuba schools ready to help you on the way. Paradise reef ranks as one of the best beginner dive sites in the Americas, for example.
Jess Spate loves travel, hiking, and scuba diving. When at homes she writes for Appalachian Outdoors and plans her next adventure.