Floating in the glittering waters of the Riviera Maya, the island of Cozumel is the absolute epitome of a Caribbean paradise.
Clear, aquamarine waters and palm-tree lined white sand beaches make up the numerous shores of the island, some more accessible than others but all stunningly beautiful.
Removed from the raucous pace of life in Playa Del Carmen on the mainland, Cozumel offers a respite from nightclubs and designer stores and instead is filled with Mayan ruins, bustling markets, and friendly locals.
However, the Maya Riviera is also a hotbed of unmissable attractions for everyone from adrenaline junkies to archaeology enthusiasts.
Most are only a short boat ride away and heading inland is easy enough with buses or taxis.
Read on to hear about our favorite day trips from the island of Cozumel.
1. Columbia Reef
Being one of the longest reef systems in the world – second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia – the Columbia Reef is an unforgettable display of underwater theatre.
On the southwestern tip of the island of Cozumel, you’ll find about three miles of stunning reefs that form a coral playground to marvel at.
Home to turtles, barracudas, octopus and more tropical fish species than you can count, it makes for a fascinating day trip – one you’re not likely to forget.
To reach the reef, you can charter a private boat, though many people opt to join a tour on account of the expert knowledge the guides offer.
They’ll be able to provide reliable equipment, tell you the best places to stop off at and, of course, be there to give a helping hand.
Available tour: Cozumel: Full-Day Cozumel Reef Adventure with Snorkeling
2. Jade Caverns
One of the many and popular geological formations in the Maya Riviera known as cenotes, the Jade Caverns are an astonishing natural wonder that are easy to reach from Cozumel’s main town, San Miguel.
Before reaching them, however, you’ll have to hold on to an ATV for a thrilling 30-minute off-road adventure to make your way to the underground caves.
Once there, prepare to be mesmerized by the emerald waters casting reflections across the cave walls as you jump in and cool off in one of the most unique pools in the Caribbean.
Thrill seekers amongst you will be pleased to know there are also jump points through holes in the rock ceiling itself.
Recommended tour: Cozumel Jungle 3.5-hour X-rail to Jade Caverns
While it doesn’t share the same secluded paradise atmosphere as Cozumel, Cancun is undeniably worth a day trip if you’ve never been before, on account of the sheer range of entertainment that can be found there.
In just 40 minutes by bus from Playa Del Carmen, you can be sipping cocktails in lavish beach bars, boating through the mangroves at Nichupté, or browsing silverware in the famous market.
It goes without saying that the retail offerings in Cancun are immense.
Hit the Island Mall to window shop designer brands or lose yourself among street stalls and haggle over souvenir prices.
Cancun is the perfect tropical getaway for people who still want some city comforts.
A jewel set in the Maya Riviera that is steeped in culture, history, hedonism, luxury and more, Tulum is an absolute must for anyone visiting the region for the first time.
The area is comprised of paradise beaches, gorgeous eco-hotels, and Mayan ruins, meaning there’s more than enough for everyone to find something they’ll love.
Relax by the azure water and eat world-class fusion food at one of the swanky beach hotels, or head further inland and explore the jungle and archaeological zones.
Varying in size and nature, the numerous cenotes – or sinkholes – around the Maya Riviera make for fascinating day trips because of their novelty and variety.
Both under and over ground, the sinkholes resemble caves that have startlingly blue plunge pools where visitors can swim or jump into off ledges; they are a must-see attraction for nature lovers.
With over 2000 cenotes in the region, it can be hard to choose which to go to.
The closest ones to Cozumel are Cenote Azul and Dos Ojos, and a little further afield you’ll find the captivating Cenote Majestuoso.
6. Playa Mia Grand Beach Park
Cozumel’s premiere aqua-adventure attraction, Playa Mia Grand Beach Park is a thrill-ride for the senses, comprised of gorgeous Caribbean beach front, water slides, and restaurants.
Travelers enjoy it just as much as families, thanks to the range of offerings.
You can choose to spend your day lounging on the beach, shooting down slides, or making the most of the tequila-laden bars shaded by palm trees.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also hire a kayak or catamaran and make your way to Oasis Island or Buccaneer’s Bay.
Book online: Cozumel: Playa Mia Grand Beach Park
7. Chankanaab Park
Nestled inside the far-reaching National Marine Park of Cozumel, you’ll find one of the most beautiful natural escapes in the state of Quintana Roo.
Chankanaab Park is a paradise oasis centered around a lagoon and is guaranteed to provide hours of wide-eyed wandering as you soak in the sights.
Featuring a replica of a Mayan village, acres of botanical gardens and an abundance of inviting waters and vibrant coral reefs, the park is geared around providing unforgettable experiences for its visitors.
Suggested tour: Discover Mexico & Chankanaab National Park Combo Tour
Less than two hours away from the island of Cozumel lie the ancient Mayan ruins of Coba.
Dating back to AD 500, the incredible structures form an age-old city that was one of the most important of its time.
Over the last few years, it’s been under constant excavation; its location deep in the jungle makes it all the more mysterious and intriguing.
Visitors are able to walk up and down the already excavated steps of pyramids and causeways, as well as marvel at the numerous sculpted monuments.
9. Isla Holbox
As if Cozumel’s secluded atmosphere wasn’t idyllic enough, get ready to completely detach from the outside world on Isla Holbox.
The impossibly gorgeous island can be reached in a couple of hours heading north from Cozumel and boasts an off-the-beaten-track status that has won it prestige among intrepid travelers.
With understated eco-hotels providing attractive places to hang out, few cars and less concrete, it’s easy to lose yourself in the simple way of life here.
Enjoy a long day on the beach, eat fresh seafood or wander up and down the sandy streets of the small town.
10. Chichen Itza
Still considered sacred by Mayan descendants to this very day, the archaeological site of Chichen Itza is a fascinating window into the ancient history of the people of the region.
Nestled in a jungle clearing, the majestic pyramid was a place of worship and pilgrimage for thousands of people in the centuries since it was built in AD 600. Though you can’t walk up and down the pyramid itself, it’s an awesome spectacle to behold from the ground.
Arriving early in the morning will allow you to avoid the crowds; if you’re really committed, you can catch an unforgettable sunrise as it comes up over the monument.
Combine Mayan history, archaeological ruins, and world-class aquarium-like waters and you get Xel-Ha Eco Park.
Found near Tulum, the park features Mayan ruins built on top of a cliff that offers extraordinary views of the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea.
From here, it’s just a short journey over to the dazzling clear waters of the nearby network of lagoons, pools, and cenotes that make up the wider park.
You won’t be short of activities – there’s cliff diving, scuba diving and kayaking on offer.
12. Isla Mujeres
A favorite among backpackers on a budget, Isla Mujeres offers something of a respite from the usual traveler hotspots like Playa Del Carmen, whilst still having a wide range of entertainment on offer.
It’s the perfect day trip for people looking for a slightly livelier atmosphere than Cozumel, but not as raucous as Cancun.
Head to Playa Norte for some truly idyllic beaches and incredible diving opportunities, or if you want to immerse yourself in some culture, head off in search of the lighthouse hidden amongst Mayan ruins on the other side of the island.
Yet another park packed with natural wonders, indigenous culture and more swimming spots than you’ll know what to do with, Xcaret is a hotspot for water lovers and curious travelers.
As it’s geared around entertaining visitors, there’s also a wealth of extras that you can indulge in, like massages in the Xpa, wine tasting, and even family underwater group dives.
Aside from this, you may be happy to simply content yourself with walking around the various routes through the park, marveling at the flora and fauna.
14. Yal Ku Lagoon
Only 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, you’ll find the town of Akumal, where the gorgeous Yal Ku Lagoon is.
Home to sea turtles, manta rays and all manner of tropical fish, the lagoon is a mixture of fresh and salt water, resulting in incredible biodiversity.
You can explore at your own leisure or sign up for a tour with one of the reasonably priced operators in town.
15. Las Coloradas
Located on the Yucatan Coast northwest of Playa del Carmen, Las Coloradas is a magical pink lagoon that has been growing in popularity in recent years.
The rich color comes from the plankton and algae living in the water and makes for an apt feeding ground for similarly colored flamingos that arrive in the hundreds.