Last updated on December 3, 2022 by Wandering our World
When it comes to planning a holiday, nothing quite piques the interest the way a Caribbean island does. Coconut palms, white-sand beaches, and rum-laced cocktails can be tempting to us all, and the islands of the Caribbean have these in spades.
However, there are some 7,000 islands in the Caribbean, so how do you choose which one to visit? Well. that’s where we can help!
We’re going to have a close look at two of the islands in the western Caribbean region—Cozumel and Isla Mujeres—to help you plan your next vacation. Both of these islands are part of the State of Quintana Roo in Mexico, and while they have a few things in common with each other, they also have important differences between them too.
Cozumel sits 19 kilometers (12 miles) offshore, opposite Playa del Carmen, and is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. White-sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts, turquoise oceans teeming with tropical fish, swaying palm trees, and thatched beach bars await.
Isla Mujeres is located about 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) off the Yucatán Peninsula coast, across from Cancun. Isla Mujeres is much smaller than Cozumel and has a quieter vibe, but still boasts excellent beaches, great scuba and snorkelling options, and a vibrant nightlife.
So read on as we delve a little deeper into these two fantastic vacation spots to see which one suits you best. We’ll be looking at which has the better beaches, nightlife, which is cheaper and far more. Let’s get started!
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is Better For Families?
- Which Is Better For Scuba Diving & Snorkeling?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
You shouldn’t have any issues getting to either of these two Mexican islands. As popular destinations for tourists, there will be plenty of flights available to take you to your chosen destination.
However Cozumel Island has its own international airport (CZM), and while it’s not the busiest airport in the world, it does receive direct flights from a few cities within Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
If you are struggling to find flights for your preferred dates directly to Cozumel, you could also fly into Cancun and take a short transfer down the coast to Playa del Carmen. From Playa, you can take the ferry across to Cozumel.
To reach Isla Mujeres, you should look for flights to Cancun International Airport (CUN). Cancun’s airport is the second busiest in Mexico and receives many more flights than Cozumel’s airport does.
Cancun’s airport is well served by direct flights from many US cities, as well as from a few major cities in South America and most European capital cities too.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
As you would expect from Caribbean islands, both Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are blessed with some excellent beaches.
Bigger Cozumel is a popular cruise ship destination, so you’ll find the popular beaches there are more developed and busier than in smaller, quieter Isla Mujeres.
We’ve found that makes Cozumel the better beach destination if you’re looking for easy access to facilities or lots of beachfront all-inclusive resorts. However Isla Mujeres is likely better if you’re looking for more a more romantic, quieter beach vacation.
For many, the beach is central to their vacation, so we’re going to highlight three of the best beaches in each location to help you compare and choose.
Cozumel: The Beaches
Playa Chen Rio is located half-way down the island’s east coast and is a local favorite for swimming. This scenic beach is usually quiet, and the soft, white sand is perfect for sunbathing.
The beach is also popular for snorkeling, and with lifeguards on duty, it’s great for a family swim too. There are a few shops and restaurants nearby that sell handicrafts and delicious seafood treats.
Playa Mia is to be found on the island’s west coast, a twenty-minute drive south of San Miguel town. The west coast is very protected, so the swimming here is excellent, and there are also spots to enjoy a relaxing snorkel.
The beach is also the location of Mia Grand Beach Park, which has plenty of fun-filled activities to keep the kids entertained.
Playa Azul is conveniently located within the North Hotel Zone and is a small but popular beach. The centerpiece of the beach is the Club Playa Azul, which is a great place for a bite to eat at lunchtime.
The beach has calm, inviting water, and the snorkeling is very good close to shore. On top of that the location is also near plenty of shops, and there are also jet skis and kayaks available to rent.
Isla Mujeres: The Beaches
Playa Norte is Isla Mujeres’ jewel in the crown when it comes to beaches. This picture-perfect beach is covered with fine, white sand, and its calm, warm water is very inviting. The water stays shallow and is a perfect way to cool off after catching a few rays.
There is a quieter section of the beach, with restaurants lining the sand’s edge, and there is a section lined with bars, which is a great place to kick off your evening with a sundowner. Or two…
Hermosa Caleta is a ten-minute walk from Playa Norte and is one of the best spots for snorkeling. The reef is teeming with fish, and the rocks, pier, and bridge are great places to watch the fish go about their business.
This beach also has plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops on hand, making it a great family beach too.
Playa Lancheros sits on the island’s west coast, and aside from being a stunning beach, it is renowned for being a great place to sample the local seafood delicacy, Tikin Xic fish.
This popular fish dish makes the beach a little busy around lunchtime but is quieter in the mornings and evenings. There is also a water park nearby, which is perfect for families.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
While there is plenty to do in each location once the sun has set, neither island has a crazy party scene.
Sure, you can find a party or two and have a great night out, but if your main reason for your vacation is to party deep into the night, you may be better off staying on the Yucatan mainland, at either Cancun or Playa del Carmen, where the party scenes are a little wilder.
You can begin your evening by going to the beach on both Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Both locations have some excellent beach clubs, and many of the beaches are lined with tiki bars—perfect for a sunset gin and tonic.
Isla Mujeres in particular is known for its excellent beach bars, and if you enjoyed your sundowners and fancy a couple more, chances are you won’t have to move far.
As Isla Mujeres is quite a small and compact island, most of the bigger bars and clubs are packed into a small area at the northern tip of the island.
Cozumel is a bit bigger, and things are a bit more spread out. But still, there are some great beach bars dotted around the island, and if you fancy a night out bar hopping, head to the downtown area of San Miguel de Cozumel, where there’s a larger concentration of bars and a few clubs.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
You’ll find plenty of hotels and resorts in each location, although as the bigger destination Cozumel does have more choices than Isla Mujeres.
With more developed beaches you can also find plenty of sea-view rooms in Cozumel, although Isla Mujeres may be the better location if you’re looking for boutique hotels rather than all-inclusive chains.
Below we look at the best hotels/resorts you can find in each location depending on your budget:
Best Budget Option: Av 25 Apartments
Located at the heart of San Miguel de Cozumel, the island’s main town, Av. 25 Apartments are a short, three-minute drive from the airport. It’s a great location from which to explore the after-dark delights of San Miguel, with plenty of bars and restaurants on hand.
Both bicycle and car rental services are available directly from the property, making exploration of the town and the island super easy. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Hotel B
Hotel B is located in the northern Hotel Zone, just to the north of San Miguel and a short distance from the airport too. Punta Norte Beach is a mere three-minute drive away, and San Miguel town is around a five-minute drive to the south.
This very affordable resort is decorated with traditional Mexican artwork, and there is an on-site diving center, a bistro, and a spa to enjoy! See photos and rates here!
Best Luxury Option: Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa
The Presidente InterContinental is located to the south of San Miguel and is around a fifteen-minute drive from the airport. The resort features a private beach, an on-site dive shop, and a variety of dining options.
This resort is one of those places we all want to stay in at least once in our lifetime. It also has two pools, tennis courts, a fitness center, and table tennis tables. You can also easily explore Chankanaab National Park, which is very close to the property. See photos and rates here!
Best Budget Option: Suites Lorens
These comfortable and affordable suites are located close to the beach and a ten-minute drive to the popular Playa Norte.
The rooms are well equipped and feature a living room with a sofa, a well-equipped kitchen with a dining area, as well as a microwave, a fridge, and an oven. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Casa Barco Hotel Boutique
Casa Barco has an excellent location, just 200 meters from Norte Beach and 600 meters from Isla Mujeres Beach!
The rooms at this boutique hotel have sea views, and the resort also offers a car rental service, making exploration of the island very easy. The ferry terminal is only a three-minute walk away too. See photos and rates here!
Best Luxury Option: Casa del Jaguar Beach Hotel
This excellent resort has a prime location at the northern tip of the island, with the beachfront accommodation just a few steps from El Cocal Beach, and the island’s most popular beach, Playa Norte, is under a kilometer from Casa del Jaguar Beach Hotel, while Isla Mujeres Beach is 1.5 kilometers away.
Expect celebrity treatment here at a resort that also features an excellent restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, and a bar on site too. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Better For Families?
If you’re planning a family vacation, you may be concerned about keeping the kids entertained during your trip.
Luckily you’ll be able to find some fun-filled and educational activities on each island.
Below we’ll have a look at a few of the best ones on each of the two islands so you can see what may suit your kids best…
Cozumel: Best Activities For Families
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is set in a natural state reserve with over 1,000 hectares filled with great things to do. You can simply enjoy the beautiful beach and rent snorkeling gear or kayaks, or you can learn all about the island’s flora and fauna, including crocodiles.
Atlantis Submarine Expedition runs Mexico’s only submarine designated for tourism, and it gives you the unique chance to glimpse the depths of the Caribbean Sea. The submarine allows you to explore the Chankanaab reef and will even take you past a shipwreck.
San Gerviso Mayan Ruins may not be as impressive as the world-renowned Chichen Itza on the mainland, but the ruins are a great way of getting the children interested in history and of experiencing some Mayan culture. Make sure you bring some water, and to maximize the educational aspect of the visit, hire a local guide.
Chankanaab Adventure Park is located inside Cozumel´s National Reef Marine Park, and you can enjoy activities such as manatee swims, dolphin swims, and a sealion show.
Water activities such as snorkeling, snuba, and scuba are all possible too, and for the adults, there’s also a very educational tequila tour!
Isla Mujeres: Best Activities For Families
MUSA, the Underwater Museum of Art, is a must-see when on Isla Mujeres. The park features a collection of underwater sculptures, which can be viewed by snorkeling, scuba diving, or glass-bottom boat.
The Punta Sur Lighthouse marks Mexico’s most easterly point, and you can find it at the island’s southernmost point. As the first place in Mexico to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays each day, it’s a great place to take in the sunrise.
It’s also the highest point on the island, and in addition to the lighthouse, there’s a sculpture park to enjoy and the ancient Temple of the Goddess Ixchel to explore.
Tortugranja is a turtle sanctuary located on the island’s west coast. After seeing a few turtles snorkeling from the beach, why not take the children to the sanctuary to learn all about these wonderful creatures?
Turtles lay their eggs in the soft sand on Isla Mujeres’ beaches between the months of May and September, and the eggs are taken to the sanctuary to be taken care of. After the eggs hatch, the young turtles are placed in ponds, and tourists can help return them to their marine habitat.
Aquatic Funday Park is a short distance from the turtle sanctuary and is a great place to let loose and have some fun with the children. You can enjoy plenty of beach activities, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, riding water slides, and kayaking, and when it’s time for a rest, kick back on a lounge chair on the beach.
You can also enjoy a bicycle ride through the area, and there is a buffet lunch available when it’s time to refuel.
Which Is Better For Scuba Diving & Snorkeling?
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is the second largest barrier reef in the world, and it passes right by Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. The presence of the reef ensures there is some excellent snorkeling and scuba diving available in the area, with a great variety of marine life to spot.
Isla Mujeres has some excellent snorkeling spots which are easily accessible. A great place to start is Garrafon Natural Reef Park in the south of the island. Also in this area of the island is the Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA), an underwater sculpture park that is a unique place to snorkel.
But to enjoy the very best of Isla Mujeres’ snorkeling, you need to be there between May and mid-September—that’s when the whale sharks are in the area!
The snorkeling in Cozumel, being not too far away from Isla Mujeres, is also excellent. For a great day out exploring the off-shore reefs, head to the south point of the island and check out the fantastic snorkeling at El Cielo and Playa Palancar.
While Isla Mujeres may have the edge for snorkeling, scuba divers may prefer the dive sites of Cozumel.
While you can dive in either location, the reefs around Cozumel offer more variety for seasoned divers. The island’s many dive sites enjoy excellent visibility, and you have the chance to see eagle rays, turtles, and nurse sharks, while the winter months may reward you with bull sharks.
The dive sites include many wall dives, and as there can be currents, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy a relaxing drift dive too.
Isla Mujeres also has the chance to dive, but as a smaller island, there are fewer dive sites. If you are a certified diver, though, you may want to take a dive at MUSA, the underwater sculpture park.
It’s the world’s largest such park and is a unique dive. If you have never dived before but would like to try, MUSA is a great place to take your first underwater breaths.
Which Is The Cheaper Destination?
As two hugely popular destinations, neither Isla Mujeres nor Cozumel fall into the category of being cheap places to visit.
Yet while the islands mainly cater to package holidays and mass tourism, it is still possible to travel here on a tight budget, but you have to seek out places to eat and stay.
Cozumel is a big destination for cruise ships, and this is reflected in the restaurant prices. Many restaurants, particularly in busy tourist areas, will be priced similarly to a comparable restaurant in the United States.
You can find cheaper options if you stray a little farther from the beaten path, but on the whole, Cozumel is not a super-cheap destination.
Isla Mujeres is also quite an expensive destination and not ideal for backpackers or budget travelers. As in Cozumel, you can find some bargain places to eat and stay, but in general, expect food and drink prices to eat into your budget.
For cheaper places to eat and drink, head away from the main beaches and venture inland to find some hidden gems.
What Time Of Year Is Best?
The good news is that, as tropical destinations, the weather is pretty good throughout the year in both locations. And with only 70 kilometers (45 miles) separating the two destinations, they both experience the same weather patterns.
The best months to head to this part of the world are considered to be between January and April, with March and April being particularly popular. At this time of the year, there will be little rain, and the temperatures will consistently hit the mid-80s Fahrenheit, or about 30° Celsius.
The summer months bring more rain and high temperatures. This can lead to uncomfortably humid conditions, and from September through the end of November, the region experiences hurricane season.
Hurricane season can be seen as a risky time to visit, but there’s no guarantee a hurricane will roll in, and this is the best time of year from a price tag point of view.
If you’re planning on snorkeling with whale sharks though, the best months for that are between May and September.
Cozumel vs Isla Mujeres: Which Is Better?
Ultimately, only you can decide which of these two idyllic Caribbean islands will be best for your vacation. We hope the information above has been useful in helping you plan your dream vacation, and we are sure you’ll have a great vacation in either location.
In general, if you’re looking for a more relaxing beach holiday, maybe the smaller Isla Mujeres will be your winner. You will love the chilled atmosphere, beautiful soft-sand beaches, and excellent snorkelling.
Isla Mujeres is also a great choice for families and couples, as there are plenty of quiet areas and enough activities to keep the family entertained.
While it’s still a small island, Cozumel is just that little bit bigger than Isla Mujeres, and there are a few more things to do. The selection of all-inclusive beachfront resorts appeals to families and older couples, and the world-class diving around the island makes it a better choice for avid scuba divers.
Either way, you are sure to enjoy the magic of Mexico on either of these beautiful islands, and if you are worried you made the wrong choice, you can always hop on a boat and travel the short distance between the two islands to find out for sure…