Mexico gets a bad safety rap, but the majority of visitors to Cozumel would agree that it is a safe and friendly place to vacation. Isolated from the mainland and reliant on its friendly and professional tourism reputation, Cozumel puts guest safety at a premium.
In fact, most dangers here tend to be accidental or somewhat self-inflicted (like, riding a moto in a new place after drinking? Not smart.)
So maybe the better question might be, “Is Cozumel safe if I’m as careful as I am at home?
Business owners and residents get asked all the time, “but, is Cozumel safe”?! We can’t guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, but Cozumel is most certainly a relatively safe place with a low crime rate. Reported crime currently consists mainly of petty theft, bribery, interpersonal fighting, and small-scale recreational drug use and sales. The island has very low crime when it comes to visiting tourists. As a universally valued industry, all people living here know how important it is to keep the island, its hotels, and well-visited streets safe and free from danger. Or from even perceived threats. As a single, middle-aged woman who moved to Cozumel in my late 40s, I have always walked around town quite confidently at all hours, and don’t feel nervous. But mind you, I’m also taking the same personal precautions I would take anywhere else.
I’m not a victim blamer, but I know very well that we can all find trouble if we want to – or at least tempt fate.
I also know that sometimes it seems like a fun escape to take risks that you would only take on your ‘wild and crazy’ vacation.
I’ve seen far more bad behavior by tourists here, than I have shady deals by locals. Just sayin’.
You can’t guarantee nothing will go wrong, or you’ll never have a bad or scary encounter.
But if you know to use logic and reasonable caution in your familiar home area, it makes the most sense to use the same – or a little more, even – in a foreign place that you are visiting. Right?
So first off, use your head. Second, have a fun vacation!
And thirdly, review these 5 Cozumel-specific safety suggestions to help yourself stay safe from some of our more typical holiday hazards.
Think Twice Before Renting a Moto Scooter
Whether it’s involving seasoned residents or gung-ho vacationers, I see at least two moto accidents a week. Maybe two or more per day, at times!
And while getting a little older has not diminished my romantic love of the open road with the wind in my hair, it has definitely modified my risk-reward analysis when it comes to visions of split-second skid outs and hot, bloody road burn.
And that’s if you’re lucky.
There are so many people that come here and rent motos without the faintest clue of how and where to drive them! And – though it is most definitely NOT permitted here – many more that do so after they’ve been drinking.
From property damage to scrapes and cuts, to broken bones, and to much much worse…it’s just not worth it.
Rent a car, if you must, or take advantage of Cozumel’s huge number of taxis to get where you need to go.
Or, here’s a good suggestion – rent an electric bike! I swear, it’s really fun! So much more fun than I anticipated!
Getting out there on your own, or with a guided tour from Beach Bum Bikes, feels free-spirited and like you’re one with your adventurous side…but just easier. And lighter. And quieter.
And you won’t end up in the hospital (with no insurance, no pesos, and likely no clue how to get by in Spanish, depending on where you end up).
Don’t Drink Like an Amateur
For reals, guys. It’s embarrassing.
Between travel, jet lag, sun, adrenaline, or maybe just sheer drunken assholery, the number of people here trying to prove they can get their drink on – and failing miserably – Is. Just. Embarrassing.
Yes, you can go to free tequila tastings where you learn about the tequila process, and then try a peanut butter tequila shot…with a mango tequila chaser.
And yes, you can get a margarita as big as your head at some of the (legitimately) fun and cool places downtown.
Don’t make them regret it!
There’s nothing cute about drunk, sweaty, and sunburned.
Plus, you don’t want to lose your _____________. (phone, bag, wallet, hotel key, fill in the blank)
Divers: Take Your Refresher Class If You Need One
If it’s been at least a year, or you’re kinda new, or you just feel a little rusty, just take the darn refresher session!
It’s short. It’s easy. It’ll make you feel better. It’s the right thing to do.
Or at least admit that you might need a little warm-up time or a quick shore dive first when you sign up for your day(s) of diving!
We all needed to learn, right? And we all know that diving is not to be trifled with, at the end of the day. And we all get rusty after some time away from the water. Just take the tiny amount of time (one hour, give or take), and do the refresher skills course.
There is no shame in that!!
But there is some shame in inflating your current skill level and putting your dive guides and fellow divers in a less than ideal situation.
As a divemaster intern here in Cozumel a few years back, at least once a week – and definitely more during high season – a new boat full of divers would excitedly get on board. As we made our way out to the first dive site, invariably at least one person would not be as familiar with how to set up his tank, or a little hesitant when doing fairly common set up tasks.
No biggie. Makes sense. No problem…yet.
When approached, usually that person would explain how many dives he had, whether it’s been a while, if he felt a little nervous or not, etc. Fine. Great. Let’s make a little plan, anticipate a few potential issues, and nip them in the bud. Right?
Right, if you open up and admit it.
For some reason, many others seemed to be embarrassed to share that kind of information. Or sometimes, even downright stubborn about how much experience he had, or how many c-cards were in the ol’ wallet.
Well, sorry. But 9 times out of 10, that was the guy who dropped (or forgot) his weights, had a fogged-up mask, poor buoyancy, didn’t remember how to work his own computer, and about 5 excuses for why ‘my tank must’ve been light.’
Not to mention one of the dive guides needing to pay more attention than anticipated, so potentially leaving the rest of the group with a little less support, temporarily.
Really? We’re all in this together, to have fun. Just knock it off.
Please take the time to refresh your skills. This is a fun, cool, and potentially risky sport. Just respect the water and your fellow divers, and do the right thing.
Do Venture Into Town; Don’t Be an Obnoxious Jerk
Lots of Tripadvisor reviews or cruise-centric advice on Cozumel will tell you not to venture off the main drag in town, Melgar Avenue.
Melgar runs the length of Cozumel’s town areas, and near downtown is a great place for shopping, strolling, people watching and finding your way around town.
It stretches right along the waterfront, too, so whether you’re there to catch the Ferry to Playa del Carmen, do go to one of many great bars and restaurants, or to shop til you drop, it’s a lovely place to be and to check out the heart of Cozumel.
And so it’s also the most touristy and more expensive street than others, just a few blocks further in from the waterfront.
Sometimes, though, the implication in those guide books and tourism forums is that if you go any further off the main drag and into town, you’ll be taking a big, scary risk.
Instead, you’ll be following the paths of many, many residents and repeat customers to our other favorite services, restaurants, galleries, and shops that Cozumel has to offer.
Just don’t be a jerk and assume someone’s out to get you. And you’ll be fine.
Use the Right Reef-Safe Sun Protection
Take it from me, the sun here is strong.
You don’t have to look for the sun in Cozumel. Don’t worry, it will find you.
Ideally, you will always have a hat, sunglasses, and some type of physical cover – like a light camp shirt that dries fast and keeps you cool and sunburn-free.
Also, while sunscreen is a tricky topic these days, it doesn’t have to be if you understand a couple of basics on what makes a sunscreen safe for the water table, and the coral reefs that we’re so proud of (and reliant on).
Mainly, you should shop for a sun lotion that uses “physical” sunblock elements.
Look for non-aerosol lotions that use non-nano zinc oxide and/or non-nano titanium oxide as the sun-blocking agents. (the “non-nano” means that the particles are not too small, which could be too easily absorbed, and detrimental to your body)
As opposed to “chemical” blocks, such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. These are bad for the coral, the other marine life, and your body.
Some of this information is still being developed and can seem to change.
Don’t give up, don’t get mad, just try to keep an eye out and use the zinc or titanium versions. But most importantly, really try to use physical blocks first – like fabric, hats, shade, and avoiding the strongest sun rays whenever you can, to begin with.
To make it really easy, just find this Stream2Sea family of sunscreen and other hair and body products, and you’ll be using and supporting the current industry leader in reef-safe products for beachgoers, divers, and anyone who needs protection from the sun’s rays.
Their website, found at the link just above, also provides a lot of helpful information about reef-safe standards, and their study and commitment to the issues.
Please note: If you’re going diving, the Cozumel National Marine Park does not allow sunscreens while actively diving. So please use your camp shirts, hats, shades, etc. to the extent possible. Then, when finished diving or hanging out at the beach or in town, use the reef-safe products to keep yourself safe, and the reef safe from more bleaching and stony coral disease.