El Cielo in Cozumel is a snorkeling spot that is only accessible by boat where you can see a surplus of starfish and snorkel in crystal clear turquoise waters. The El Cielo tour in Cozumel is one of the most popular excursions on the island and one that I had been dying to try. Many tours offer snorkeling stops in addition to visiting El Cielo, which I’ve outlined in this complete guide to the El Cielo tour in Cozumel below.
El Cielo (“Heaven” in Spanish) is located on the southwestern tip of Cozumel island. It’s not really a beach per se but more of a shallower area of water right off the coast of the island. It’s considered one of the best snorkeling spots in Cozumel and known for its abundance of starfish and crystal clear water.
How to visit El Cielo
El Cielo can only be visited by boat, which makes getting there a little more difficult. You can either book a tour or take a boat directly from Cozumel. I have done both options and booking a tour is definitely easier, especially if you’re not familiar with getting around Cozumel on your own.
Book a tour
If you’re coming from Playa del Carmen, the easiest way to visit El Cielo is to book a tour ahead of time online. El Cielo tours are also sold by street vendors on 5th Avenue and while these tours may be cheaper, I wouldn’t recommend this option. I have done this before and when we arrived at the meeting point, the tour operator had no record of our tour purchase. For peace of mind, book online.
There are many El Cielo tours available to fit your needs, and some that include roundtrip transportation and hotel pick-up. The tour leaves from the marina in Cozumel so if you’re comfortable taking the ferry and getting to Cozumel on your own, I would recommend booking a tour that meets in Cozumel. Otherwise, an all-inclusive tour that includes ferry tickets and pickup from your hotel in Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya would be your easiest hassle-free option. Here’s a few tour recommendations:
El Cielo tours that meet in Cozumel
El Cielo tours that include hotel pickup
How much does the El Cielo tour cost?
The cost of the El Cielo tour varies depending on which transportation option you prefer. The prices for the tour generally start around $60 USD if you’re meeting in Cozumel and can go up to $130 for the more all-inclusive tours that include hotel pickup in Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya. Keep in mind for the tours that meet in Cozumel, you will still need to pay for roundtrip ferry tickets, which cost an additional $25 USD.
Take a boat from a beach club in Cozumel
Another option for visiting El Cielo is taking a boat from a beach club on Cozumel. You can do this from Playa Palancar, which is stunning beach on the southern part of the island. On the beach, you’ll find a dive shop that offers boat tours to El Cielo and nearby reefs. This is a cheaper option and offers the same tour experience but you still have to get to Cozumel on your own, as well as take a taxi to Playa Palancar, which costs about $15 USD each way.
What's included in the El Cielo tour?
Again, what’s included in the tour will vary depending on the tour operator and if you select a tour with transportation included. But here’s what’s included in the majority of El Cielo tours:
- Roundtrip boat trip from Cozumel marina
- Snorkeling at two different coral reefs–Palancar Reef and Colombia Reef
- Snorkeling with starfish at El Cielo
- Leisurely stop at “El Cielito” beach
- Snorkeling equipment
- Life jackets
- Bottled water, soft drinks, and beer (2 per person)
El Cielo Tour Itinerary
The tour start time will vary depending on whether you choose a tour with hotel pickup in Playa del Carmen or the Rivera Maya. Pickup from your hotel can be as early as 7:00 am or if you’re meeting in Cozumel, the departure time will likely be around 11:00 am. Keep in mind the tour leaves from the Cozumel ferry at this time so you have to plan ahead to take the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel which leaves approximately every hour.
Once you arrive at the ferry, you will meet your tour guide at the designated meeting point and they will escort you to the boat nearby. You’ll then set off to begin your snorkeling experience at two different reefs–Palancar and Colombia, followed by snorkeling at El Cielo, and a leisurely stop at El Cielito beach. The tour duration is approximately 3 hours.
First Stop: Palancar Reef
After departing from the marina near the Cozumel ferry, you’ll cruise down the coast and the first stop on the tour is snorkeling at Palancar Reef. The Cozumel reef system is actually the second longest in the world, only second to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. You’ll be outfitted with snorkeling masks and life jackets and then you’ll be ready to jump into the sea! The water at Palancar Reef is about 20-40 feet deep and there are many colorful fish and different types of coral to be seen.
Second Stop: Colombia Reef
The next stop on the tour is Colombia Reef, which is just a short boat ride away. Colombia Reef is a bit shallower at around 15-30 feet deep. The snorkeling here was pretty similar to Palancar Reef, and in my opinion not all that impressive (at least on the day that we went).
Third Stop: El Cielo
The third stop of the tour was visiting El Cielo. For me, El Cielo was definitely the highlight of the tour. I can’t even explain how pretty the color of the water is, and the amount of starfish you can see was really spectacular. The water is about 7-8 feet deep so it’s still pretty deep but you can choose to remove your life jacket if you wish. It was really fun to dive down for an up close view of the starfish. Check out my video below for a better look!
Last Stop: El Cielito Cozumel
After visiting El Cielo, you’ll then head over to Playa El Cielito (“Little Heaven”), which is a very shallow beach nearby with equally stunning turquoise water. The boat will anchor here and you’ll be served some light snacks and beverages while getting to relax in the shallow water. Playa Cielito is really a beyond gorgeous place to rest and relax after all the excitement of snorkeling and starfish hunting. After vistiting El Cielito, you’ll get back on the boat and return to the Cozumel ferry.
What to do after the Cozumel El Cielo tour
The tour will end around 2:00 pm so you’ll still have some free time in Cozumel if you don’t book an all-inclusive tour. There are many things to do in Cozumel but I would highly recommend visiting Playa Palancar, as it’s one of the prettiest beaches I’ve seen on the island.
Playa Palancar about a 15 minute drive from the ferry and the taxi will cost around $15 USD each way but it’s definitely worth the trip. There are a couple different beach clubs there where you can rent lounge chairs and enjoy some beach snacks and frozen cocktails. A perfect way to end the day!
What to wear on the El Cielo tour
For most of the tour you will be in the water so you’ll definitely need to wear a swimsuit. I always prefer to wear a one-piece swimsuit when going on snorkeling tours since they provide more coverage and less hassle with the life vests and snorkeling equipment.
You’ll also want to wear a light coverup, sandals or flip flops, and a sun hat. If you wear a hat, make sure to wear one that fits securely on your head as they can easily blow off when you’re traveling by boat. It’s a also a good idea to bring a change of clothes to change into after the tour so you’re not stuck in a wet swimsuit for the return trip.
What to bring on the El Cielo tour
- You’ll definitely want to bring a towel to dry off after snorkeling. These microfiber beach towels are great as they are lightweight and dry quickly.
- Be sure to bring a GoPro or waterproof camera to capture your experience. El Cielo offers an amazing photo opportunity for an up close view of the starfish.
- Be sure to wear biodegradable sunscreen as regular sunscreen is prohibited on the tour as it is damaging to the coral reefs.
- You can also bring your own snorkel set if you prefer. Snorkeling equipment is provided on the tour but I’m always a little weary of cleanliness.
- Feel free to pack a few extra snacks to enjoy while relaxing at El Cielito. Our tour just offered some sliced cheese and fresh jicama.
- I would also recommend bringing some extra cash to tip the tour guides at the end of the tour.
So are you ready to visit El Cielo in Cozumel? I really hope this El Cielo tour guide was helpful and you get to experience such a beautiful place! It’s definitely been one of the most memorable snorkeling tours I’ve been on. For more Playa del Carmen tours, check out my guides to swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres and a snorkeling and cenote tour in Puerto Morelos.
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