Cozumel vs Cancun: Which is better in 2023?
Planning a trip to Mexico and can’t decide between Cozumel and Cancun? You’ve come to the right guide!
As a travel blogger that lives in nearby Playa del Carmen, I know all about these two popular beach destinations and I’m here to share what each one is really like!
While both make amazing destinations for a beach vacation, Cozumel and Cancun have some key differences, and are suited for different types of travelers.
In this ultimate Cozumel vs Cancun comparison guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about how the two travel destinations compare when it comes to hotels, beaches, nightlife, safety, costs, and more.
Plus, you’ll learn more about the pros and cons of each one!
Ready to find out which of these Mexican beach destinations is best for you? Let’s get started!
Planning a trip to Mexico? Use my favorite travel resources!
🏨 Hotels: Expedia or Booking.com
✈️ Flights: Skyscanner
🚗 Rental Cars: Discover Cars
🤿 Tours & Activities: Viator
🚨 Travel Insurance: Travel Insurance Master
Cozumel vs Cancun: Overview
In my opinion, both Cozumel and Cancun are worth a visit. But if you’re limited on time and are trying to decide where to spend your vacation days, here’s a quick overview of each destination:
Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, located about 7 miles to the east of Playa del Carmen.
At 30 miles long and 9.9 miles wide, the island is more developed on the west side, where you’ll find San Miguel de Cozumel, the island’s largest town and main city center.
Thanks to its stunning Caribbean beaches, incredible coral reefs, and jungle landscapes, Cozumel is a popular tourist destination for beach and sun-seekers.
It is also one of the most visited cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean and welcomed over 3 million cruise ship visitors in 2022.
Cozumel’s abundant snorkeling and scuba diving sites attract tourists and diving enthusiasts from all over the world.
The impressive coral reefs surrounding the island are part of the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second-longest barrier reef system in the world, only second to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Originally founded in 1970, Cancun is a mainland Mexico beach town with a long history of welcoming tourists, honeymooners, and spring breakers from all over the world to its beautiful beaches, clear turquoise waters, and all inclusive resorts.
Nowadays, the town’s population has grown to almost 1 million people and you’ll find a bustling beach town with high-rise hotels and condominiums, chain restaurants, and modern shopping centers.
In Cancun, you’ll find two distinct zones: the local downtown area (“El Centro”) and the touristy Hotel Zone (“Zona Hotelera”).
The Hotel Zone is a long and narrow strip of beachfront properties where the majority of hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightlife are located.
As Cancun is larger and more developed, it is more spread out and not particularly walkable. If you want to explore the town, you’ll likely need to take a taxi and be prepared for lots of traffic!
Cancun and Cozumel Map
Here is a map of Cancun and Cozumel to give you an idea of where they are in relation to each other:
🏝 Related Reading: Is Cancun in the Caribbean?
Cozumel vs Cancun: Who are they suited for?
Here’s an overview of the types of travelers each beach town is best suited for:
Who is Cozumel suited for?
Cozumel is a great destination for those looking for a relaxing beach getaway. The island tends to attract families, couples, and older individuals to its beachfront all-inclusive resorts and is not really considered a party destination.
You’ll still find plenty of adventurous things to do in Cozumel, but it is best suited for those who truly want to disconnect and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
In Cozumel, most of the restaurants, bars, and attractions tend to be more low-key than places you would find in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
With its incredible coral reefs, Cozumel is also a popular spot for scuba diving enthusiasts, as there are many dive sites around the island suitable for beginner or experienced divers.
✔️ Cancun vs Cozumel for Families: Cozumel is probably better suited for families as it’s more laid-back with many family-friendly all-inclusive resorts and adventure activities.
Who is Cancun suited for?
If you’re looking for an easy and simple beach getaway, Cancun will be perfect for you.
The city’s beaches along the Hotel Zone are world-renowned for their soft sand and clear turquoise waters, and there are plenty of restaurants and nightlife to keep you entertained.
Cancun is also a great choice for travelers who value ease of travel over planning a detailed itinerary.
The city is located just minutes away from the Cancun Airport, making it easy to get off the plane and onto the beach at your all-inclusive resort without much time or hassle.
It’s also a popular destination for travelers who want to experience the nightlife and party scene with many late-night clubs and bars.
If you’re looking for a more action-packed vacation with beautiful beaches and lots of nightlife options, Cancun is the place for you.
✔️ Cancun vs Cozumel for Couples: With more adults-only resorts, Cancun is better suited for couples. However, for couples that simply want to relax, Cozumel is still a good option.
Cozumel vs Cancun: Pros and Cons
Next, let’s take a look at some of the Cozumel Cancun pros and cons that I’ll discuss further in this post:
Pros of Cozumel
- Impressive snorkeling and scuba diving
- Calm and tranquil beaches
- More relaxing
- More safe
Cons of Cozumel
- More remote, harder to get to
- Beaches can be rocky
- Not as much nightlife
- Fewer restaurants and shopping
Pros of Cancun
- Better beaches
- Easy airport access
- More nightlife
- More restaurants and shopping
Cons of Cancun
- Less safe
- Lots of traffic
- High rise hotels
- More populated
Cozumel vs Cancun: Safety Comparison
Next, let’s take a look at how these two destinations compare when it comes to keeping visitors safe.
U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory
The official U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for both Cancun and Cozumel is currently “Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution” due to the high levels of crime and violence in the overall state of Quintana Roo.
The Mexico travel advisory mentions that criminal activity and violent crime may occur in popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, but does not specifically list Cozumel as an area of risk.
Crime and Safety Index
Numbeo reports the following crime and safety indices for Cozumel and Cancun. Basically you want the crime index to be low and the safety index to be high.
- Crime Index: Cozumel: 34.38 (Low) | Cancun: 56.03 (Moderate)
- Safety Index: Cozumel: 65.62 (High) | Cancun: 43.97 (Moderate)
Is Cozumel safer than Cancun?
Since Cozumel is more of a remote island, it is generally considered much safer than Cancun with lower crime levels and a higher safety index.
In addition, Cozumel typically attract families and older individuals so it’s not really known as a party destination, which means Cozumel safety and security incidents are less common.
In contrast, Cancun has experienced an increase in drug crime in recent years, making it a less safe destination for travelers. From my experience living in Mexico, I think Cancun is still a safe place for visitors in the main tourist areas.
But’s important to be a responsible traveler and take proper precautions, avoid illegal drug activity, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
Of course, no place is completely safe from crime. But if you’re looking for a safer option, Cozumel is probably the better choice.
🚨 Do you need travel insurance for Mexico? Yes! Most insurance plans in your home country will not cover incidents abroad. I recommend using Travel Insurance Master, which is a handy travel insurance marketplace where you can compare policies. Get a FREE quote by clicking here!
Cozumel vs Cancun: Cost Comparison
Here’s a look at how travel costs compare between Cozumel and Cancun:
Traveling to Cozumel is generally more expensive than Cancun mainly due to transportation costs.
Flights to Cozumel International Airport are usually more expensive than flights to Cancun International Airport, which is larger and has more direct flights.
Alternatively, visitors to Cozumel can also fly into Cancun Airport, then take a 1-hour ground transportation from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, followed by a 45-minute ferry ride to Cozumel. These multiple transfers can add to your overall travel costs.
In terms of accommodations, both Cancun and Cozumel mainly offer large all-inclusive resorts, and prices are pretty comparable for a package with all of your food and drinks included.
However, there are more luxury resorts in Cancun so prices will be on the higher end if you prefer something newer and more modern.
If you decide to venture off the resort, prices in Cozumel are typically slightly higher than on the mainland for restaurants, taxis, and activities.
If you’re looking to save money, Cancun is probably the better choice with more accommodation options, slightly lower prices, and close proximity to the Cancun Airport.
But if you’re willing to spend a bit more to travel further, Cozumel might be the perfect place for you.
Cozumel vs. Cancun: Beaches Comparison
Both Cozumel and Cancun boast beautiful Caribbean beaches with turquoise waters. However, there are some differences between the two.
The beaches in Cozumel are generally more tranquil and relaxed. The best beaches can be found on the west side of the island, where the waves are calmer and there is usually little seaweed.
However, Cozumel’s many coral reefs make some of the beaches rocky and unswimmable–though they still offer stunning ocean views!
On the other hand, the beaches in Cancun are more widespread with bright turquoise water and powder white sand.
There are some beautiful white sand beaches on Cozumel (like Playa Palancar), but overall Cancun is known for having better beaches.
However, the beaches in Cancun will also be busier and more crowded, so not quite as relaxing as the beaches in Cozumel.
Cozumel vs Cancun: Hotels Comparison
Both Cancun and Cozumel are known for having large all-inclusive resorts with a wide range of amenities, including multiple restaurants, bars, pools, and activities. However, there are still some key differences.
In Cancun’s Hotel Zone, you’ll find more high-rise hotels and resorts situated in the heart of the town’s restaurants and nightlife.
In contrast, the resorts in Cozumel are more relaxing and are either embedded into the island’s jungle landscape or are oceanfront with stunning Caribbean views.
As Cozumel resorts are more spread out across the island, the beach areas feel more private and are typically not as busy or as crowded as the resort areas in Cancun.
Additionally, as Cancun is larger, you’ll find a wider range of resorts and a larger selection of luxury resorts.
There honestly aren’t a ton of new resorts in Cozumel so a lot of the resorts can be a little more dated or in need of a renovation.
When deciding where to stay, it is important to consider what type of vacation you are looking for.
If you prefer more modern accommodations and are looking for more liveliness, then Cancun is a better option.
But if you want something more relaxing and immersed in nature, then choosing Cozumel over Cancun would be a better choice.
Cozumel vs Cancun: Activities Comparison
Both Cozumel and Cancun offer a wide range of activities and you’ll be able to find snorkeling excursions, catamaran sails, ziplining adventures, ATV tours, and countless adventure activities and day trips in both destinations.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are definitely Cozumel’s main draws as the island is home to some of the best coral reefs in the world with much marine life to be seen.
When comparing scuba diving in Cancun vs Cozumel, Cozumel is the clear winner with much more impressive snorkeling and diving sites.
However, Cancun is better situated on the mainland to be able to easily experience all the incredible Riviera Maya activities such as freshwater cenotes, adventure parks, and Mayan Ruins.
Here are some activity highlights exclusive to each destination:
Cozumel Activity Highlights
- El Cielo: A popular snorkeling spot, El Cielo is a shallow sandbar known for its unbelievably crystal clear water and abundance of giant starfish. On the El Cielo tour, you’ll get to visit El Cielo, as well as snorkel at the famous Palancar and Columbia Reefs.
- Punta Sur Eco Park: Marking the southern point of Cozumel, the Punta Sur Ecological Park spans a whopping 247 acres of pristine beaches, natural lagoons, coral reefs, and low forest eco-systems. With activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and even a small history museum, there’s plenty to do and see at this popular Cozumel eco-park.
- Cozumel Submarine Expedition: The Cozumel Submarine Expedition is Mexico’s only submarine dedicated to tourism, diving up to 100 feet beneath the sea. While on the 2-hour submarine expedition, you’ll see the Felipe Xicotencatl sunken ship and pass near “La Pared”, a vertical drop that plummets to more than 2,000 feet deep at the edge of the island.
- San Gervasio Mayan Ruins: The San Gervasio Mayan Ruins are some of the most well-preserved and extensive ruins on the island and one of the top things to do in Cozumel. Visitors can explore the main plaza, temples, and other structures, which were originally used by the Mayans as a sanctuary to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. While not as grand as the Tulum Ruins or Chichen Itza, they are still worth a visit.
- Cozumel Pearl Farm: The only active pearl farm in the Caribbean, the Cozumel Pearl Farm lets visitors have an exclusive look at the pearl farm and lab and learn about the cultured pearl business. You’ll also have the opportunity to take a boat ride out to see the pearl hatchery and snorkel.
Cancun Activity Highlights
- Isla Mujeres: A tiny island just 15 minutes off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is known for its stunning beaches, snorkeling excursions, catamaran sails, private yacht charters, and many adventurous Isla Mujeres activities.
- MUSA Underwater Museum: Located near Isla Mujeres, the MUSA Underwater Museum offers visitors the chance to snorkel and scuba dive at a man-made underwater museum and sculpture park designed to promote the growth of coral reefs.
- Isla Contoy: Located just a few miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Contoy is an uninhabited tropical island that only allows 200 visitors each day for a totally exclusive island experience and the chance to relax at a remarkably beautiful beach.
- Xavage Adventure Park: As Xcaret’s newest adventure park, Xavage Cancun offers a variety of super intense and adrenaline-pumping activities such as a challenging ropes course, ziplining, monster trucks, high-speed jet boat, and white water rafting for an all-inclusive adventure experience.
- Xoximilco: Another Xcaret experience, visitors to Xoximilco can float down man-made canals on a colorful barge drinking tequila and listening to live Mariachi, a recreation of the original attraction in Mexico City.
Cozumel vs Cancun: Food and Restaurant Comparison
When it comes to restaurants and dining, Cancun definitely has a wider variety of restaurant options and cuisines than Cozumel.
While there are a lot of touristy chain restaurants in Cancun, it’s also known for having much more upscale and high-end restaurants–many with oceanfront seating.
In Cozumel, you’ll still find trendy restaurants popping up around San Miguel de Cozumel, but if you’re hoping to dine at one of Mexico’s best restaurants, your best bet is Cancun.
If you’re just looking for standard Mexican fare, both destinations have plenty of delicious Mexican food to offer visitors.
Whichever city you choose, you’re sure to enjoy some tasty local cuisine from the Yucatan peninsula!
Cozumel vs Cancun: Nightlife Comparison
Probably the biggest difference between Cancun and Cozumel is the nightlife scene.
Cozumel is a sleepier destination that tends to attract families, couples, and older individuals.
As most of the resorts in Cozumel are all-inclusive, many tourists will not leave the resort after dark.
You’ll still find cocktail lounges, fun tiki bars, and lively restaurants around San Miguel de Cozumel; however, there are far fewer options than you will find in Cancun.
If you’re looking for a place to party, then you’ll definitely want to choose Cancun. There are plenty of late-night bars and nightclubs in Cancun, all located in the lively Hotel Zone.
Or you can opt for the famous all-you-can-drink Coco Bongo Show–it’s actually a lot of fun!
FAQs about Cancun versus Cozumel
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Cozumel versus Cancun:
It really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation destination. If you want a more relaxing and laid-back atmosphere, Cozumel is probably the better choice. If you’re looking for more nightlife and excitement, then Cancun is likely a better fit.
Yes, Cozumel tends to be more expensive than Cancun mainly due to transportation costs.
Flights to Cozumel are more expensive than flights to Cancun, and prices for restaurants, taxis, and activities are typically slightly higher in Cozumel than on the mainland.
It is definitely worth staying in Cozumel if you’re looking for a remote and relaxing getaway. Cozumel is best for a tranquil beach escape with stunning ocean views and easy access to snorkeling and scuba diving.
There is no direct Cancun to Cozumel ferry. In order to get from Cancun to Cozumel, you’ll need to drive 1 hour south from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, then take the ferry to Cozumel.
The Playa del Carmen to Cozumel ferry crossing takes a less than 45 minutes and departs every hour on the hour from both locations. The cost is around $12 USD for a one-way ticket.
The overall journey to Cozumel from Cancun takes about 2 hours.
Final Thoughts: Is Cozumel or Cancun better?
So, Cancun or Cozumel–which is better? To answer the Cancun Cozumel debate, it really depends on what you’re looking for in a vacation.
If you want to relax on beautiful beaches, snorkel or scuba dive, and don’t mind being a bit more secluded, then a Cozumel vacation is a great option for a beach getaway.
But if you’re looking for a more accessible beach destination with sandy beaches, plenty of nightlife, restaurants, and shopping, then Cancun is your best bet.
Both Cozumel and Cancun have their own unique charms, so it really comes down to personal preference. Whichever one you choose, you’re sure to have a great time!
Traveling to Mexico soon?
These are the Mexico travel resources I use and recommend:
🏨 Hotels: I always find the best deals for Mexico hotels and resorts on Expedia or Booking.com. If you prefer a vacation rental, check VRBO as they are often cheaper than AirBnB’s added fees!
✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.
🚗 Rental Cars: I like to use Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.
🚙 Cancun Airport Transportation: I recommend booking a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation for the quickest and most hassle-free option!
🤿 Tours & Activities: I always use Viator or GetYourGuide for booking tours and activities in Mexico. You can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour for a full refund, plus they have excellent customer service if you were to have any issues.
🚨 Travel Insurance: After my Dad broke his hand in a taxi accident in Playa del Carmen, I always recommend buying travel insurance before your trip for added peace of mind! I recommend Travel Insurance Master for short trips or Safety Wing for digital nomads.
☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.