After dozens of snorkeling cruise tours, I’ve learned there are many ways to “snorkel.” This Cozumel snorkeling excursion was just what I wanted to do.
There are shore excursions that emphasize water toys (noodles and paddle boards), with snorkel gear more of an afterthought. Some people simply want to be in the water and wear a snorkel whether there’s much to see or not. And there are snorkel excursions which are all about actually seeing the underwater sea life.
I much prefer the latter.
Cozumel Snorkeling Tour Review
On a November cruise to the Mexican Riviera, I had a choice of several snorkeling options but one stood out above all the others: the Cozumel National Marine Park Snorkeling Tour and Lunch.
Like the other Cozumel snorkeling tours, it was a half-day trip onboard a catamaran. But unlike the other options, this one takes participants to a national marine park.
We’d only see the tiniest percentage of the tiniest percentage of the 29,00-acre marine park. But as it’s home to more than 105 different types of coral and 262 species of fish, marine wildlife sightings were pretty much guaranteed.
And, at $99 a person, with lunch, I considered it a bargain for a half day’s fun.
Our Cozumel Snorkeling Excursion Begins
Our snorkel tour met up at the end of the pier in Cozumel at 9:45 a.m., plenty of time to sleep in a little and still have a small breakfast before disembarking.
Once we checked in, we had about a 20-minute wait before it was time to walk over to our catamaran, the AquaDream III.
Most snorkeling excursions I’ve been on before in popular ports like Cozumel are large, sometimes 40 to 50 people on a catamaran. This had just about 20. Everyone had plenty of room to spread out on the boat, and everyone who wanted space on the front netting was able to find some.
The catamaran ride over to our first snorkel site within the Cozumel National Marine Park was about an hour. Unfortunately, the sun gave way to drizzle and everyone had to come inside the catamaran for the bulk of the ride over.
Our bartender, Victor, served up non-alcoholic drinks, while our guides got everyone sorted out with snorkel gear.
By the time we arrived on site, ready to jump in the water, the sun was out again.
Snorkeling Near the Reef Was Spectacular
Our first stop was near a large reef and there were tons of brightly colored Caribbean fish, along with the lone Barracuda or two. The fish were some of the most spectacular (and abundant) I’ve seen on a snorkel excursion in either the Caribbean or Mexico.
We were in the water for just about an hour, but I would have been happy to stay longer.
We had two guides in the water with us, one with a floatation ring for anyone who needed a rest from swimming. Though the water wasn’t too rough – I’ve been in much worse – a few of the novice snorkelers in the group gave up sooner rather than later.
After an hour, we climbed back onboard our catamaran for a short ride over to Starfish Bay. Here, we were only in the water for another 20 minutes or so. There were starfish all over the bottom of the sea floor, and a few people spotted a stingray but no fish.
A Wonderful Typical Mexican Lunch
As we climbed back onboard storm clouds began to gather on the horizon and our captain put on speed to get us to the Playa Mia Grand Beach & Water Park, where our lunch would be served.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As the last of our group stepped under the big tent at the resort, the skies opened. Although It rained throughout lunch, the spread of cheese quesadillas, ceviche, guacamole and chips were delicious.
As the rain tapered off it was time to get back onboard our catamaran and head back to port. I don’t know how the captain did it, but his timing before and after each drenching rain kept us dry the entire time.
Music, rum punch and margaritas kept us company for the 30 -minute ride back.
Overall Thoughts on the Cozumel National Marine Park Snorkeling and Lunch Shore Excursion
The snorkeling in the Cozumel National Marine Park was some of the best I’ve done on any cruise shore excursion. The number and variety of fish during our stop in the park was impressive. I never had to go looking for fish. They were always simply there.
Starfish Bay was less exciting for me. Yes, there were lots there, but they were all lying on the bottom of the seafloor and there wasn’t anything else to see.
Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable snorkeling cruise excursions I’ve done. Mostly because of the plethora of sea life, but also because it wasn’t crowded.
Being crammed into a small space in the ocean with 50 other swimmers trying to crowd around a single guide has never been enjoyable for me. I’m usually much to worried about kicking another swimmer to be able to relax and enjoy the snorkeling.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the smaller crowds were a result of the pandemic – our cruise was only about 60% full. As more people return to cruising and vacationing in Cozumel, the snorkel sites will likely get busy again.
I was also happy with the tour operator’s decision to serve lunch at the resort rather than on the boat. Call me old-fashioned, but I do prefer sitting at a table to eat.
READ MORE: Try This Cozumel Food Tour with Chef Emily
What to Know Before You Go
Sunscreen is prohibited in the Cozumel National Marine Park. Do not put any on before snorkeling or you will be asked to wash it off. If you’re worried about getting burned while in the water, consider wearing swim leggings and a long-sleeve swim shirt, or rash guards on your arms.
You will see lots of underwater sea life on this tour. Bring an underwater camera if you want to capture the sights without shelling out $60 for “official” photos.
Dori Saltzman is a content and copy writer who previously spent 15 years covering the travel and cruise industries at several travel trade publications and at CruiseCritic.com. You can find out more about her at dorisaltzman.com