What Not to Do in Cozumel: 21 Ways to Stay Safe & Have Fun

By Michele Samal Kinnon

Located a short ferry ride from the mainland, Cozumel is the largest island in Mexico. People come to Cozumel from far and wide to discover its beautiful beaches, natural beauty, rich history and some of the best diving sites in the world. 

Cozumel is surrounded by the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Renowned for its, clear waters, vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life, Cozumel is one of the best places for SCUBA diving.

Arriving on the ferry from playa del carmen to cozumel
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Cozumel welcomes millions of visitors every year. Some arrive through the charming Cozumel International Airport, some come across the channel on the ferry from Playa del Carmen and many others arrive by cruise ship to enjoy a beautiful day on this amazing island. One of the reasons Cozumel remains a popular tourist destination is its record of safety. 

Is Cozumel Safe for Tourists?

Cozumel is located in the Mexican state Quintana Roo. The U.S. Department of State consistently keeps travel advisories for Quintana Roo at a Level 2 which means “Exercise Increased Caution When Traveling” due to crime. The only two states with a better rating are Yucatan and Campeche. These travel advisories are statewide and do not drill down to cities or neighborhoods so there is no US government information specific to Cozumel.

Cozumel is considered one of the safer areas to visit in the state of Quintana Roo. The rates of violent crime and drug-related crime are very low compared to other tourist hotspots in Mexico and considerably lower than most metropolitan areas in the United States. 

The huge allure of the seas cruise ship docked in cozumel.
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User-generated data collected by Numbeo indicates that Cozumel is relatively safe with a Crime Index of just 33.38 (2024). By comparison, Numbeo shows a Crime Index of 46.77 for Playa del Carmen and 55.16 for Cancun. Orlando, Florida, home of the Happiest Place on Earth, has a Crime Index of 48.89.

If you have already read our article about Safety in Cozumel, you already know the most common safety concerns on the island and how to avoid them. The following list goes into more detail about what NOT to do on Cozumel and how to stay safe while still having fun!

What Not to Do in Cozumel to Stay Safe

Benjamin Franklin famously advised, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That was true in Philidelphia and in 1736 and it remains true today in Cozumel. While the island is very safe for all different types of travelers, there are safety concerns that cannot and should not be ignored. Most of the safety issues on Cozumel can be mitigated or avoided altogether with some pre-planning and simple safety precautions. 

Here is a list of what not to do in Cozumel, and things to look out for during your visit.

1. Do Not Travel Without ID

The first essential piece of ID you should always carry with you is your driver’s license. If you are planning a fun day exploring the island in a rental car or scooter, a valid driver’s license will be required. The same holds true for the epic Cozumel ATV and Jeep tours. You will need to present a valid license to participate as a driver.

Cozumel jeep tour
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If you are a cruise ship passenger visiting Cozumel, you are not required to take your passport with you when you disembark. There is no immigration office at the Cozumel cruise port and you are free to explore the island and participate in shore excursions without presenting a physical passport book or card. 

If you are day-tripping to Cozumel from the mainland or staying in a resort or hotel on the island, your passport should stay locked away in a safe place. However, you should always carry a copy of your passport with you as well as a copy of the page with your immigration stamp. This is the only way to prove that you are in Mexico legally if questioned by immigration officials. You may have these images saved in your phone but you should also carry paper copies.

If you are in an accident, your passport will help local police and healthcare workers make contact with your embassy or consulate. A copy of your passport saved in your phone does no good if the authorities are not able to access it. You should also carry a card with your emergency contacts so that your travel companions or family back home can be contacted in the event of an emergency.

Cruise Shippers: Why might you want to carry your passport with you? In the VERY unlikely event that you do not make it back to your ship on time and need to travel home or to meet the boat in another port, your passport may be required. 

2. Don’t Leave Your Common Sense at Home

While Cozumel has a very low crime rate, like most popular tourist destinations, it is not immune to petty crimes of opportunity. It’s almost impossible to avoid crowded places such as standing in line at the ferry terminals, wandering around downtown San Miguel or even walking around the cruise port as you disembark. Keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings.

Pool party at a beach club
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As I’ve mentioned before, be careful with alcohol consumption. I know. All those colorful drinks are so tempting…and delicious! If you are not a “seasoned” drinker at home, now is not the time to overindulge. Do not bring drugs to Cozumel. Period.

Be aware of your surroundings and stay with your travel pals when possible. If you are out enjoying the nightlife on Cozumel, you may be in close quarters with a lot of other people. Avoid crowded areas if you can but, to reduce the risk of pickpocketing or other petty theft don´t bring anything with you of great value. Keep your purse or bags closed and close to you at all times. Keep your valuables and important documents on the ship or locked in the hotel room safe.

3. Don’t Forget Sun Protection

I think this goes without saying but, the sun on Cozumel is very strong. Our days are long and hot, especially in the summer months. If you are planning on spending the day exploring the island by Jeep or scooter or on a fun ATV tour, you will want to apply (and reapply) sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

If you are heading out deepsea fishing, you might want to bump that SPF rating up to 50+. You can find reef-friendly sunscreen in shops on Cozumel but it is going to be very expensive. This is one of the items you should bring from home if you can.

Snorkeling on cozumel
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Because sunscreen … even reef-safe sunscreen is forbidden in the national marine park you will need to protect your skin in other ways. If you are going to be spending a lot of time snorkeling, I would invest in a long-sleeved rash guard. If you can find one with UV protection, even better. We like the skins and rash guards from O’Neill but there are lots of brands to choose from.

Even if you are not going inside the bounds of the marine park, to protect the delicate coral reefs around Cozumel please, make sure your sunscreen is not only biodegradable but also reef-safe! The chemicals used in conventional sunscreens cause harm to the local marine life and contribute to coral bleaching which puts the health of the Mesoamerican reef system at risk! 

Also, be sure to wear polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat that will shade your face and ears. If you don’t have one, you can find great hats at reasonable prices in town in many of the local shops.

4. Don’t Get Dehydrated

At the risk of repeating myself, it´s really hot here. The sun is strong and you are going to sweat. A lot. It´s important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially if you are spending a lot of time outdoors. In fact, many of the illnesses that visitors to the island report are ultimately attributed to dehydration!

Make sure you have a good refillable water bottle to carry with you on your golf cart excursions and to the beach. In town, there are plenty of shops that sell bottled water in case you run out. My advice is to drink more water than you think you need to, especially if you are enjoying some cervezas or other alcoholic drinks which will only dehydrate you even further.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Say NO

From the moment you step off of the ferry or your cruise ship, you are going to be bombarded with vendors trying to see you everything under the sun. Get used to saying NO and walking away. If you have done your homework in advance and planned well, you will already have your island transportation arranged and your tours and shore excursions booked. There will be nothing the hawkers can offer you that you don’t already have reserved. Just smile and say “No, gracias” and carry on to your prearranged meeting point.

Hats and merchandise in a shop
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If you are exploring the downtown area of San Miguel de Cozumel, (especially during high season and on days when there are a lot of cruise passengers on the island) the vendors will be out in force and doing everything they can think of to lure you into their shops. There are some very nice shops on Cozumel…and a lot of overpriced tourist traps. If you are there to shop, keep in mind, the first price you see is just the beginning of a negotiation. Personally, I don’t like “haggling” with vendors, but I understand and accept that a certain amount of negotiation is needed so that everyone goes away happy. 

As you make your way in and out of the shops, you will soon see the majority of the shops and street vendors are selling the same items. If you don´t get the price you think is fair, say “No, gracias”, walk away and move on to the next guy. If you find something really special that you think will be a great souvenir from your trip to Cozumel, just buy it and enjoy it.

6. Don’t Drink the Tap Water

As a rule of thumb, do not drink the tap water on Cozumel. Or in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida or anywhere on the Yucatan Penisula. Depending on the particular area, all the water that comes out of the taps in your kitchen and bathroom, and even the water in your pool, should be “potable”. Water that comes from the water treatment plant should be and is “drinkable”. However, the pipes that water travels through and the cisternas and tinacos that store the water for usage may not been so clean.

Woman drinking bottled water
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There MAY be some upscale resorts or private villas equipped with reverse osmosis water filtration systems. But, for your own good health and peace of mind, drink only bottled water. If you are in a resort, purified water will be provided for you. If you are in a budget hotel, you will want to stock up at Oxxo and keep some bottled water in your room. 

If you are in a vacation rental, your drinking water will probably come in a 20-liter bottle called a garrafon. Use that to keep your refillable water bottle full when you go out for the day. And no matter what you have been told, boiling the tap water on Cozumel does NOT make it safe to drink.

Having lived here for over 20 years, do I use the tap water to brush my teeth? Yes. Do I use tap water to clean fruits and veggies? Yes. Should you do it? Maybe not. The bottom line, I do not drink the tap water or give it to my pets. If it’s not good enough for them, it’s not good enough for you.

7. Don’t Let Down Your Guard

On Cozumel and anywhere you travel, it´s important to be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Cozumel in general is a very safe place but it´s still a good idea to stick to well-lit locations as much as possible. If you are going out for the evening to a bar or nightclub, keep your eye on your drink and be mindful of your consumption. Dehydration and long days in the sun will wreak havoc on your tolerance for alcohol. 

Avoid walking alone at night, especially in unfamiliar areas. Taxis on Cozumel are generally considered safe (especially compared to those in Playa del Carmen and Tulum). If it´s late and dark and you have been drinking, leave your car or scooter locked in a safe, legal spot and grab a cab home.

Thief stealing phone from your backpack
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Although the risk of being pickpocketed is low in Cozumel, petty crimes like this have been reported, especially in downtown San Miguel and around the cruise port. Anywhere there are crowds of people in close proximity, you will find pickpockets looking to take advantage. To avoid being pickpocketed, use good common sense and keep your personal belongings close. Use a fanny pack or a crossbody purse. 

Never hang your purse on your chair in a restaurant. Most restaurants on Cozumel will provide you with a stand to hang your bag on so it stays right next to you. If not, keep it on your lap. Better safe than sorry.

8. Don’t Leave Your Belongings On the Beach

One of the easiest ways to run your vacation is to have something stolen or go missing. Unfortunately, theft on the beaches of Cozumel (and other tourist areas) does happen. If you are planning to go for a swim, make sure your things are safe. If you are at one of the beach clubs, ask if there is locker storage or somewhere safe to put your belongings while you are snorkeling, paddleboarding or having fun with other water activities.

If you are on a more remote beach without services, one person in your party should stay behind to watch your things on the beach. In 20 years, I have been robbed on the beach only once, and boy did they wipe me out. Camera, iPad, wallet, phone, car keys …. you get the picture. It was a disaster and took me weeks to recover and replace all my stolen items. Don’t let this happen to you. No matter how safe or comfortable you are, do NOT leave anything unattended on the beach.

9. Don’t Ignore Water Safety Tips

Cozumel has two very distinct coastlines and they could not be more different. The Caribbean Sea on the east side of the island is wild and rough. The coastline is marked by jagged cliffs and rocks jutting out of the water. Some days the waves crash relentlessly on the shore. There are days when the water is calm and beautiful and safe for swimming close to shore. You need to look for flags indicating whether swimming is permitted and use good judgment.

The east side of cozumel islad
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The south end of the island and the west side facing the mainland are the places to find the best beaches, tranquil waters and the best swimming. The water is clear, shallow and calm. If you are planning to book a snorkel tour to Palancar Reef and El Cielo, this is the area where they will take you.

Even on the calm, west side of the island, there are safety concerns. There can be strong currents in the channel between Cozumel and the mainland which pick up considerably as you swim further from shore. I myself have been caught off guard and found myself swimming hard to get back in. It´s a good idea not to swim or snorkel alone. If you are a solo traveler, try to swim in areas with a lifeguard or other people in the vicinity. Do not swim at night and never swim if you have been drinking.

10. Don’t Forget Insect Repellent

One souvenir you do NOT want to pick up in Cozumel is a mosquito-borne illness. Protect yourself from mosquito bites to avoid diseases like Dengue fever, chikungunya virus, and the Zika virus. Be prepared by using insect spray or cream, especially at dawn and dusk. Plan to bring it along with you and reapply it throughout the day, like sunscreen. 

If you are touring places like the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio or the Punta Sur Ecological Beach Park, using insect repellent will make your visit much more pleasant. Like the reef-friendly sunscreen we recommended, your bug spray should also be biodegradable and reef-safe if you are using it at the beach and in the ocean.

Wearing light-colored clothing also helps keep mosquitos at bay. In your hotel or vacation villa, be sure to keep your screens shut as often as possible. 

11. Don’t Count on Wi-Fi Access

It´s getting better and more reliable, but internet connectivity on Cozumel can still be sporadic. If you must have internet access during your time on Cozumel, be prepared for potential connectivity issues. On the east side of the island, there are numerous spots where there is no WIFI or even 4G service. If you plan on visiting the cool beach bars on the “wild side” make sure you have enough cash to pay your tab as credit card processing may not be possible. 

Beach bar on the east side with no wifi access
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Inquire ahead of time with any hotels or resorts you are considering to see how reliable their internet is. Check online reviews to verify. If access to the internet is crucial during your trip to Mexico, you may want to consider staying in Playa del Carmen and just making a day trip to Cozumel.

12. Be Aware of Exchange Rates

Because of the large influx of visitors from cruise ships, US Dollars are widely accepted on Cozumel. The Mexican peso is the official currency but if you are here on a day trip and don´t have pesos…not to worry. Paying in the local currency can very often save you money, but not always. 

Make sure you know the current exchange rate. I have seen many instances where the local businesses were giving an older, more favorable exchange rate. It could be in your best interest to pay in USD. Many of the restaurants, tour operators and service providers will accept credit cards (Mastercard and VISA). The best rate may be the one offered by your bank credit card.

13. Avoid Flashy Displays of Wealth

Cozumel is a pretty laid-back place. The island residents are modest and hard-working. As in all tourist hotspots in Mexico, the disparity of wealth between the locals and many of its visitors is very apparent. It´s not a good idea to do anything to stand out or draw attention to yourself. To prevent drawing unwanted attention, avoid unnecessary displays of wealth. Leave your flashy jewelry, designer bags and accessories at home or on your cruise ship and do not carry large amounts of cash.

14. Don’t Disrespect Local Culture and Customs

No matter where you are traveling to, is important to respect the local customs and traditions. The local culture on Cozumel is very conservative. Prepare to dress somewhat modestly in public. You can wear a bathing suit almost 24/7 if you like. Just be sure you have a proper beach cover-up to go over it. If you are going into a church, please dress respectfully. Do not wear revealing clothes and make sure your shoulders are covered. 

15. Don’t Forget to Tip

To be a good traveler of the world, it’s important to know the customary tipping practices in any foreign land you visit. Tipping practices and expectations in Mexico may be very different from your home country. Just because you don’t come from a country with a tipping culture doesn’t mean you don’t have to tip here. 

What not to do in cozumel - don't forget to tip
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Here are the suggested tip amounts for the services you are most likely to receive on Cozumel.

Cozumel Tipping Guide

Restaurant/Beach Club Servers: 15-20% of the bill 
Bartenders: 10% (minimally 10 pesos per drink)
BellHops/Porters: 20 pesos per bag
Tour Guides: 15-20% of the cost of the tour
Free Tour Guides: 250 pesos per person
Boat Captains/Mates: 250 pesos per passenger
Taxi Drivers: No tip is expected unless the driver helps you with your luggage
Grocery Store Baggers: 10-20 pesos

16. Learn the Local Laws 

When you are traveling to a foreign country, never assume that the local laws are the same as yours back home. Inform yourself about the traffic laws. Find out about any local blue laws and restrictions on alcohol and tobacco usage that might help you avoid misunderstandings with local authorities.

No smoking sign at a beach club
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There are laws in place that restrict public drinking and new strict smoking laws in Mexico that you should be aware of. Plan to leave all your cool vape gear at home. If they find it in customs at the airport, it will be confiscated. 

It goes without saying that buying drugs and drug use on Cozumel or the rest of Mexico is strongly discouraged. You may be offered drugs while wandering through the downtown area or even on the beach. Just say “No, gracias” and keep moving. The potential risks certainly outweigh the rewards.

17. Don’t Drive Recklessly or Under the Influence

The roads on Cozumel are pretty well-kept but in some places, there are no sidewalks and little or no shoulder. Fortunately, there are not too many cars on the island and most of them are taxis. If you are renting a car, Jeep or scooter, be aware of the traffic around you. Look out for delivery trucks and other large service vehicles that will take up a good part of the road. 

Scooter and buggy rentals on cozumel
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If you are taking a scooter around the island, be sure you are on the correct side of the road and be very careful of oncoming traffic from both directions. Be careful of sandy shoulders and patches of gravel which can cause your scooter to lose traction. There are some roads on Cozumel that are closed to motorized traffic. Make sure you read and understand the posted signage so you don’t end up in the wrong place and in trouble with local authorities.

Always park your scooter or vehicle in a safe and legal spot. Make sure it is locked and do not leave anything of value in your car. Finally … it goes without saying … NEVER drink and drive on Cozumel or anywhere else.

18. Don’t Disturb the Wildlife

While the natural environment of Cozumel is not considered hazardous, there are a few things to be careful. It is important to respect the local ecosystem and protect indigenous wildlife by adhering to environmental guidelines. If you are on a tour, your guide will know and advise you of the best practices to follow to ensure your safety and the well-being of the creatures you may encounter along the way.

Scuba divers looking at a sea turtle on the reef at arrecifes de cozumel marine park.
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Do not feed the sereques, mapaches or coatis…as cute as they may be. It encourages them to approach humans which increases the likelihood of being bitten. While it might seem harmless, do not feed the iguanas. Their optimal diet is very specific and does not include chips, fries, tortillas, bananas or anything else from our plates. The same applies to fish and other marine creatures. 

Crocodiles inhabit the lagoons on the island, most notably around the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park and throughout the golf courses. Cozumel is also home to a variety of venomous snakes. If you are visiting one of the parks or natural reserves on Cozumel, stay on the paths and within the marked areas. Do not wander off to explore on your own.

What not to do in cozumel - be careful of the wildlife
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In the water and on the beach, be aware of potentially dangerous marine life such as jellyfish, sea urchins and lionfish. Do not stand on or touch the reef to avoid contact with stinging corals while snorkeling. If you are swimming with whale sharks or sea turtles, be sure to follow all the rules and regulations as explained by your tour guide.

19. Do Be Prepared for a Language Barrier

While the island of Cozumel is a popular and welcoming destination, especially for travelers from the United States and Canada, not everyone on the island speaks English. Spanish is the primary language spoken and learning some basic Spanish phrases can be helpful. 

While many of the people you encounter in Cozumel will probably speak some English, it’s a great idea (and a fun learning exercise) to study a bit of the language before your trip. The locals on the island are warm and welcoming and appreciate when visitors make an effort to speak their language. This is the perfect place to get a little practice in.

Knowing just a few important phrases (or keeping them in a small notebook for easy reference) will enhance your trip and put your mind at ease if you find yourself in need of help.

Regardless of how much of your high school Spanish you remember, it´s a good idea to download a translation app on your phone for emergencies and anything more complicated than “Una cerveza mas, por favor.

20. Don´t Miss the Boat

These days, most of the people visiting Cozumel come in one of two ways; on a cruise ship or on a ferry from Playa del Carmen. If you are a cruise passenger, it will have been drilled into you what time you need to return to the ship. Pay attention to these instructions and plan your island activities accordingly. Make sure to be back at the cruise port on time.

Cruise ship docked in cozumel
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If you are visiting Cozumel from the mainland, your trip to the island will start at the ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen. This is a very popular crossing not only with tourists but also with people who live in Playa and work on the island. There are three ferry companies to choose from, Winjet, Ultramar and Xcaret Xailing. Their services are all similar. Xailing is a little bit more expensive than the other two. We usually buy a one-way ticket for whatever ferry is the next to depart.

Coming back, from Cozumel to Playa, you may need to be a bit more careful with your timing. When returning to the mainland, be sure you are aware of the ferry timetable. Especially at the end of the day, there will be a lot of people lined up to get the ferry back. The boats leave regularly every half hour or so. 

Ensure you catch the ferry back by arriving at the terminal 15 minutes or even a half hour before the scheduled departure time. If you miss one, you will catch the next or the one after that. If you miss the last boat, you may be scrambling to find a hotel for the night.

21. Don’t Travel Without Insurance

Accidents can and do happen. Our family has health insurance here in Mexico but we always buy travel insurance for our trips abroad. The good news is, medical care is very good in Mexico. The bad news is, on Cozumel the options are limited. 

There are several clinics, well-stocked pharmacies and even a hospital with a hyperbaric chamber serving both tourists and locals. However, in the event of a serious medical emergency, you may need to be transported to a hospital in Playa del Carmen or possibly Cancun. 

Hyperbaric chamber in cozumel
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The medical system can be complicated and expensive for visitors who find themselves in need of emergency care. We strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. This is especially important if you plan on doing water sports like scuba diving or other adventure-based activities. If you are traveling to Mexico during hurricane season, consider a travel insurance policy that covers you if you need to cancel or postpone your trip due to a hurricane or other natural disaster.

What to Do in Case of An Emergency on Cozumel

While Cozumel experiences a significantly lower amount of crime than similar tourist destinations in Mexico, it cannot claim to be 100% safe. If you are the victim of a crime or find yourself in an emergent situation, it’s important to know how to find the help you need, fast.

If you are at a resort, a popular beach club or participating in a shore excursion, the staff will know what to do in case of an emergency. Cozumel welcomes millions of tourists every year. The service providers on the island have probably dealt with any emergency we can imagine. They will be able to call the police or emergency medical services to promptly attend to the situation. 

Remain calm. Follow their lead and do whatever you can to help. Even if that means staying out of the way. When in doubt or if you are alone, dial 911. It works here just like it does back home.

Dial 911
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Always carry a copy of your passport with you. If you are in an accident, your official ID will help local police and healthcare workers make contact with your embassy or consulate. You should have a card with your emergency contacts with you so that your travel companions or family back home can be contacted in the event of an emergency.

Carry a list of local emergency numbers with you. It’s good to keep them saved in your phone as well as written somewhere. When in doubt, call 911.

Did you find this article helpful? You might also like to read:

Is Cozumel Safe? What Every Visitor Needs to Know

About the author

Michele Samal Kinnon

Despite the strong reservations of family and friends, in 2004 I moved from the United States to Mexico with my young family. Since then, I have made the Riviera Maya my home. I have raised two remarkable children here. I have celebrated amazing successes, made countless mistakes, and in the process, fallen in love with this beautiful country.