Apart from knowing that scuba diving is awesome on Cozumel and it’s a major cruise docking point, I didn’t do much research on things to do in Cozumel, Mexico before I arrived. So as I walked from the ferry to the hostel, I was surprised at the number of agencies offering scooter and car rentals. I thought a car seemed a bit unnecessary. However, I noticed the beaches in town were all coral and rocky – not the white sand I’d imagined. The receptionist at the hostel confirmed I would need transportation if I intended to experience Cozumel’s sandy beaches. They offered scooter rentals, which is how I found myself riding a scooter on Cozumel the following day!
The next morning at the hostel I sat across the table from Alex, the scooter rental guy, who asked if I’d ever driven a scooter before. Um…no? The look on his face was one of shock and horror.
Personally, I did not think it was going to be that hard to learn. I’d seen a mom with two kids on the back and baby in front scooting quite quickly through town. What’s the big deal?
His fear, made me doubt my capabilities. So, I asked if I could try it out before paying. So he took me to his own scooter to give it a try. The start was rough, but I found balancing was simple, and after almost crashing it into a curb trying to turn around – I decided to go for it.
Cozumel has a main road that goes in a loop around the island. The road will dead end in the north, turning into a sandy road, and then turning around heading south the loop begins, It’s incredibly difficult to get lost here, just follow the road! There are various points of interest for snorkeling, beaches, bars, and food along the way.
In the map below, you can see the main loop road as well as various attractions.
I started heading north for two reasons, the first being I thought there would be less traffic so I could get used to driving the scooter. Second, I’d read there were beautiful non-touristy beaches to the north. I succeeded in the first area. The north part is much less crowded and I highly suggest you go for a ride up there. There is a key lime pie store that looks adorable, even though I didn’t stop in to sample the pie. A major regret.
The second part I failed. The paved road abruptly ended and put me on a mostly sandy, and very bumpy path. I passed a very tiny sign for a beach and followed it to the left. There are beautiful homes here and did stumble upon a beach. However, it had a lot of trash and no white sand. As I was returning to the main sandy road, I met a motorcyclist in search of the same beach. He thought it might be further down the main this sandy road, so I turned around to try again. He sped off, much faster than my little scooter.
I rode for what seemed like a long time in the direct sun until I came to an abandoned building and the path turned into something resembling a motocross track, rolling hills filled with puddles. I paused, trying to size up whether the scooter would survive a puddle. As I was debating continuing, my motorcyclist friend returned and told me it was just more rocky beaches with a few people fishing, no white sand. He also warned me that the puddles would likely cover my feet and flood the scooter. Seeing as flooding a scooter is not on my bucket list, I abandoned my search for this mysterious beach.
Riding Through Town – Be Aware of One Way Streets!
I drove back into town, now with the Punta Sur destination in mind. Punta Sur was recommended to me by the owner of a smoothie shop in town I’d visited the day before. He told me to just follow the main road until it ended and then turn left. Well, there was a barricade in place at the edge of town, so I turned left and thought that I could just keep going that direction. But I ended up in neighborhoods and was thoroughly lost. A local woman on the corner told me I had to turn right to find the main road.
So I did, and I found the first road I was on and turned left back onto it. After making that turn I was met with honking. Coming from South America where honking is just a way of life, I didn’t think much of this. Until a nice man walking down the street told me I was going the wrong way down a one-way street. So, I waited as a line of cars passed me, each telling me ‘wrong way” until I could turn around. He gave me better directions and wished me luck.
Now, I was off! The south part of Cozumel is quite cute. Still touristy, but much less than the main part of town. Finally, I happened upon a nice beach in front of a hotel. It was still mostly coral, but I needed a swim. It gets hot on a scooter! I found a spot to park, hopped off, and jumped in. I can’t recall the name of the beach, but any of them will do for a quick swim!
The crystal clear water of the Carribean is unreal. I didn’t rent the snorkels offered by the restaurant as I could clearly see the colorful fish swimming below the water’s surface. It felt so good to cool off and relax for a few moments in those crystal clear waters.
Then it was back on the scooter! Thankfully, I’d brought an extra shirt to put on the incredibly hot seat. I made a note to find a shady parking spot the next time! I’d read about a beach called Playa Palancar, so I decided to ride that way. Along the way I, passed many different beach front attractions. There are many locations offering beach front restaurants and a plethora of water activities, some larger than others.
Playa Palancar was similar. It was a restaurant on the beach, with lounge chairs and umbrellas. Parking was tip based. I meandered in, but it still felt too touristy to me, so I continued on. I should’ve stayed here as there really was no one around and I could’ve had the place to myself for a minimal parking fee.
Instead, I headed straight for Punta Sur. As I turned in, I realized it looked just as touristy and there was a fee of $14 USD to enter. Begrudgingly, I paid the entrance fee only because it came recommended by a local, plus I was quite hungry. I followed the long road, passing by a lighthouse and remakes of the San Gervasio ruins found on the island. At the end of the road, I found a shady parking spot and walked through to white sandy beaches! Finally!
Entering the beach, I realized why there was an entrance fee. It was a beautiful white sandy beach with three restaurants and different options for seating. Each restaurant had lounge chairs and umbrellas in front of them, similar to Playa Palancar, however this was more spacious. I was able to find a lounge chair in the front row, jumped in the ocean to cool off, and promptly ordered nachos. Nachos are best enjoyed with a seafront chair!
East Side Beaches on Cozumel
I’d read about two other beaches on the east side of the island that were great for swimming as well, so I didn’t stay long on Punta Sur as I wanted to check those out before the sunset. The beaches I wanted to check out were San Martin, Playa Bonita, and Chen Rio. However, this side of the island had quite a bit of red seaweed washing up on the shores. Which doesn’t smell good and took over the white sandy beaches I was hoping to find. If the seaweed wasn’t there, they would be stunning beaches!
The great thing about these beaches is they have a very local feel. They are quite a distance from town, so cruise shippers generally don’t make it out that way. So if you want to escape the crowds, this is the place to do it. Plus parking is free!
Along the way there are places to eat, enjoy a coconut or shop, There was a restaurant at Chen Rio, similar to Playa Palancar. I didn’t stay too long at these beaches as I was tired and hot from all of my scooter riding. I was ready to head back to town.
On my way I filled up the scooter with gas, but not before going down another one-way street, the wrong way. Now, I knew why they were honking at me!
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my scooter adventure around Cozumel. The beaches definitely have the potential to be stunning if the seaweed wasn’t taking over when I visited. But I really just liked having the freedom to choose when and where I stopped. Staying for as long or short of a time as I liked.
Have you ever rented a scooter or car in a foreign country? What did that allow you to discover, off the tourist trail?
Cozumel, Mexico FAQ
How to get to Cozumel?
The best way is to take a ferry from Playa del Carmen. There are two ferry companies offering services every hour. For more information on times and prices see this website.
Where to Stay on Cozumel?
There are a number of accommodation options on Cozumel from luxury to budget. As I am a budget traveler I went the hostel route and stayed at Beds Friends Hostel. It has an excellent patio, a bar on site, and breakfast! There’s also AC and WiFi!