Have a Blast in Cozumel Without Blowing the Budget

Have a Blast in Cozumel Without Blowing the Budget

Cozumel is like the best of both worlds, budget-wise. Is Cozumel expensive? Honestly, living or vacationing, you can spend as much or as little as you want, and still enjoy lovely accommodations, great food, and of course the clear blue waters and sunshine. 

Overall, Cozumel is not an expensive vacation destination, especially relative to other gorgeous sun-soaked and crystal-blue Caribbean spots in its class. And extra-especially considering it has stellar scuba diving and snorkeling, posh resorts, luxury shopping, and incredible waterfront and city-hip restaurants.

The island offers loads of activities and an incredible selection of places to eat, from really (really) good “cheap eats” all the way up through elegant fine dining.

There is also a wide range of accommodation styles, including those with kitchens – so you can make the most of local ingredients, and focus your spending on diving or other outdoor activities, or just kick back and read by the pool.

Flight and hotel rates do rise during high season, from approximately November through March, so you can usually save even more if you plan your visit from April through October.

Very safe, and far more affordable than its more popular neighbors, like Tulum and Cancun, Cozumel can really meet you where you are in terms of budget.  High or low, it’s got it all. 

To give you a quick overview of typical expenses in Cozumel, here’s a quick table for reference.  None of these prices are quotable, but they do represent an accurate general running range of prices you can expect for budgeting purposes.  (shown in $USD, 2020) 

Hotel/Room Dinner meal Day: Beach Club 2-Tank Dive Boat
Economical $40 – 75 $5-10/PP Free (+bar tab) $75 (+gear rental)
Moderate $75 – 150 $10 – 25 $40 (all incl.) $85 (*gear rental)
High End $150 – 350 $25 – 60 $80 (all incl.) $100 (+gear rental)

 

*All prices are approximate (in early 2020). Price averages here are “per night” and “per person”

Walking through a few traveler tendencies, below, you can see that whether you are a big spender or a smart saver, Cozumel is a great vacation spot.

Cozumel Vacations Fit a Wide Range of Budgets

Blue VW Bug Parked at Beach

Varying Budgets, Equally Good Times

I’m here year-round, living and diving, so I get to see and chat with repeat visitors and friends from all over, all throughout the year.  

The array of traveler types and their stories are fun and inspiring.  

Backpacker / Divemaster Trainee Types

Many, like me (but usually a lot younger!), took their love of diving a little overboard (har har), and are on a bit of a diving walkabout for the time being. 

If you’re one of these types, you’ll be happy to find a handful of new, hip hostels or plenty of choices when it comes to funky, frugal apartments to rent. 

Then eat out at all our local joints for inexpensive but delicious home-cooked food. Or shop and cook for yourself, like a local. If you’re cool to get around on foot, bike, and the occasional taxi? You’re set.  

Take it from me, done right, Cozumel does not have to an expensive place to vacation or camp out for a while. And in many ways it’s more fun this way! 

Quick Cozumel Getaways on the Cheap

Some others I know opt to take a few quick trips down from the U.S., Canada, or CDMX – whenever they can find a few days off and/or get a cheap flight alert notification (try phone apps like Skyscanner!).  

If you can make a break for it, be like these regulars and just find a comfy and clean room in one of many great hotels or guesthouses and villas in whichever area of town* is most convenient to what you plan on doing. Then pack your passport, bathing suit, flip flops, hat, shades, and reef-safe sunscreen, and come on down – in a few hours, you’ll get your fix.

*If you need some help understanding the lay of the land in Cozumel, and the different hotel zones and what each part of town is like, see our related post, here.

Lounge chairs and palapa umbrellas at Caribbean beach

Big Blowout Vacations

And of course, many many other visitors to Cozumel spend a longer time and a bit more money.  

Probably the majority of vacationers on the island save up their money and their even-more-precious vacation time. They may lean toward long dive trips and/or more luxurious weeks at a pretty hotel or a resort well positioned for their favorite beach area and/or dive shop.  

And yes they would love fresh-juice cocktails and an in-room massage, thank you very much!  Reservations at the best restaurants in town?  Why not?
(and psssst: insider scoop – that’s still not even all that expensive here! Live a little!)

Cozumel really has something for everyone, and bonus points if you love scuba diving. 

And fun, nice people.  And good food. 

By the way, Cuzamil (the name, in Spanish) is also an awesome place for a bachelor/bachelorette trip, maybe a 50th B-day girls weekend, or a college reunion trip. 

Beyond nice hotels, awesome restaurants, bars, and diving, there’s also golf, spas, team-building worthy excursions, shopping, and more.

And a whole host of other attractions Cozumel is now famous for!  According to this feature in TravelPulse in 2018

Cozumel is internationally renowned for not only being a cruise and beach destination but for being one of the top diving destinations in the world, having recently won a Scuba Diving Readers’ Choice Award as one of the world’s best destinations for scuba diving, and offering an array of international sports events including the full and half IRONMAN, GFNY Cozumel cycling event, among many others. Cozumel’s cultural events have also resulted in an increase of international visitors and positioned it as one of the most sought-after ports in the world.

And the best part, as you’re hopefully starting to see, vacation here can be pretty swank, but it also really doesn’t have to break the bank, once you know your travel priorities. 

First Up, Your Flights

Flying Directly to Cozumel Island (CZM)

Of course, much of your overall vacation expense will depend on your flight costs, so that’s the wild card.  

A side note on Cozumel and Covid-19: Especially now that we’re navigating through Covid-19 travel unknowns (writing this as it is happening…), the flight prices will likely see a period of fluctuation. That is out of anyone’s control, here. But if you can come down when it’s safe, please do – the Cozumel tourism industry is top-notch, and getting prepped for the new safety guidelines, and is ready to welcome you back. 

Cozumel has it’s own very nice, small International airport (airport code CZM). 

If you can fly directly to CZM, that’s the move.  Often certain airlines like Sun Country, Southwest, and American will add direct-to-CZM flights during the high season (November through March, roughly). 

Usually, it just depends where you are coming from that determines if you can easily fly directly to the island.  

Many frequent visitors from Houston and Miami, for example, really luck out with more direct flight selections.  If not, you can typically find a connecting flight to Cozumel – many flights connect via Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami or FLL, etc.

Yellow ferry boat rails and Mexican flag

Flying to Cancun (CUN) and Taking Ferry to Cozumel 

But many other visitors and residents (like me) usually fly directly into the Cancun International Airport (CUN), instead. 

Not only are flights to Cancun (CUN) often direct from many major airports in the U.S. (and Canada), there are more airline choices, and the fares are usually significantly lower.  

Generally, I’d say to also factor in the value of your time, for sure.  But the bottom line? Going via Cancun is usually a budget-friendly choice.

Getting from Cancun to Cozumel is easy. It’s also quite inexpensive.

  1. ADO bus $10USD P/P vs. private shuttle van $50 or so (varies) from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen
  2. A one-way ticket for the ferry is about $10 P/P for adults and about $7 per child  

**Please note, the exchange rate and ferry ticket prices fluctuate but are usually not more than $12-15/per adult.

Check here before you come to help budget for the up-to-date rates: 

And it’s easy. But it can take about 3 hours, if all goes well.  

People more clever than me deemed this the “bag drag” many years ago, as you take your luggage from Cancun on a bus or van, and then “drag” it over a few cobblestone blocks in Playa del Carmen to the ferry dock, heading over on a fun ferry boat ride to Cozumel.  

The CUN-CZM “Bag Drag” I certainly didn’t coin the phrase, but I’ve come to know it all too well! 

No, but seriously, the walk isn’t that terribly long, the town is cute, and you’re off the bus and to the ferry in about 5 minutes. 

You may be a little hotter and sweatier…but the ferry terminal is shaded and very breezy, and overlooks the beach and bright blue ocean of your future.  Once you get to the actual ferry, all that other stuff quickly fades away.  

And nowadays, there are several places you can grab a cold beer, coke or water while you wait.  There’s now even a full Starbucks on the upper level of the ferry terminal, and a cool ice-cream shop in the lower level ferry terminal (both on the Playa del Carmen side).  You’ll be fine. 

BUT if you have any mobility issues, or a sore back, or a family with a ton of bags, or you just don’t feel like it… you can always hire one of the bicycle cab guys to cart your bags down to the dock – fun, easy, and well worth a small fare and tip.  (And they’ll thank you for it!) 

OK, so overall, and given you hang out in cute, beachy Playa del Carmen for a while (with plenty of cold drinks available, street food carts, and loads of souvenir shopping!) and then get on a fast ferry (the ride is now about 40 minutes) with a personable staff and a live band??  VERY pleasant, as “bag drags” go!  

But, still. It is a little chunk of time out of your vacation.  Pros and cons, pros and cons.  

Costs for Scuba Diving in Cozumel 

Diving is definitely not something I would recommend trying to find ‘bargain basement’ pricing. And you won’t find much variation among the best shops in Cozumel.  

I’d avoid any cheapest or too-good-to-be-true scuba operations, and make sure to ask if their boats and crews are fully licensed, insured, and approved by the National Marine Park.

That’s because very few! but some local dive outfits do skirt these requirements. That hurts the Cozumel Marine Park revenues and is unfair to the more professional and responsible dive operations.  Please ask first, and reward those doing the right thing with your business.

Woman diving with turtle in foreground

The average cost for a full 2-tank dive boat day trip here in Cozumel typically includes: 

  • Experienced and licensed operations, recognized by PADI, NAUI and/or SSI 
  • Experienced and certified divemasters and instructors
  • Experienced and licensed captains and crews, who are from the area and know the reefs and can read the water and weather conditions, well
  • Dive guides and boat crews trained in emergency Oxygen first aid and CPR (again, ask them!)
  • Tanks, weights, water, snacks, help with questions.  
  • In Cozumel, Nitrox is usually a small up-charge, per tank, but not exorbitant
  • Music (sometimes), fun (always), good diving, laughs, new friends, and a great day

If you need to rent gear, you can get sized and fitted up for a few extra fees – come early, if need be.  

And please note: prices do not include gratuities for the divemasters and crew.  Don’t forget to add a tip at the end!  

*Please see our related post on customary tipping rates in Cozumel, here, if you need some advice!

Cozumel Food – Ultra or Utility

I can’t say it enough – for this former New York city foodie, Cozumel has exceeded my expectations on awesome food.  I knew it was good, but not just how good. 

Of course, the skilled chefs and cooks are here, no doubt. 

But the variety and availability of ingredients, plus the lovely restaurant spaces and services themselves?  All so very very delightful. 

Produce vendor smiling at Cozumel mercado

Here, too, if you want to spend freely and go to a new, more fancy place each meal, you certainly can.  Just check out our link-filled overview of the quality and variety of Cozumel’s restaurant scene, here, and you’ll start to get a sense of places to try.  

At the same time, if you want to budget your trip for about $10-20USD per person, per day on food?  You totally can, especially if you stay in accommodations with a refrigerator or a full kitchen, of course. 

First of all, breakfast deals abound!  In fact, I still can’t believe quite how many breakfast places there are here!  So a good filling start to your day, and then a veritable taco feed at night? You’re still coming in under $20USD, easily (depending on your drink choices 😉 ) 

If you’re looking for some info on local tacos, check out this post, here

There are delicious large pizzas for around $10USD, burgers and salads for around $10 or under, mom-and-pop shops grilling meats and vegetables, and amazing homemade pasta dinners for $10 or less.  Mexican, Venezuelan, and Indonesian meals for that or less – and you’ll likely need a take-out box for leftovers!

It can be done! 

Plus, with multiple large, spotless, and well-stocked grocery stores in town, if you plan on stocking up your fridge and having some meals at your hotel room or rental, you will have plenty left over for that extra day of diving!  Or to shop for some of the Island’s best crafted silver jewelry. 

Or to keep it in your wallet, and save up for your next trip!  

Seriously, Cozumel is an incredibly easy place to find amazing restaurants where a beautiful 3-course meal with drinks will still be under $25 USD each, or you can choose one of several posh joints and go all out – still likely coming in under $50 USD, each.  Or at the more fun budget end, have incredible fresh ceviche, tacos al pastor, and a cold Dos Equis for $5-10 bucks.  

Cozumel Accommodations: Reasonable Rates on All Levels

Aerial view of Riviera Maya coastline

Resort Retreats

You can definitely splash out and stay at one of a dozen beach-front all-inclusive resorts.  

Well-known names like the Grand Park Royal, the Westin, IHG’s Intercontinental Presidente, and more, have beautiful luxury properties here, all on the waterfront along the Western shore of Cozumel. 

Again, see our related post linked to above on the 3 Main Hotel Zones in Cozumel and what they’re like if you need help deciding). 

These typically have multiple pools, ocean access, and spas. They also offer an array of different dining and bar service choices, all throughout the day and night.  

While pricier on the face of it, all-inclusive resorts can very often work out to the best financial deal, especially if you like to get your three squares each day and/or are one to perhaps drink a few adult beverages.

They’re also great for a big group with a variety of schedules and dietary tastes and requirements – there’s something for everyone, and no one goes hungry.  

Plus, you don’t have to mess with agreeing on a restaurant, coordinating plans, reserving taxis, additional fees and tips, and so on. 

Resorts often have some special activities and amenities, like the use of inflatable water park structures, sea kayaks, or stand-up paddleboards (SUPs).  They may have rentals for Jetskis and Forerunners or similar water ‘toys’.  

Finally, many large resorts frequently have entertainment selections at night, kids’ activities coordinators, and other features like morning yoga or special cocktail hours or other amenities.  

When you take all of this into consideration, you may spend a little more per night, but save some dough – and some headaches – in the long run. 

But you may miss out on some of the true Cozumel charms. 

Hotels for History, Hospitality, and Half the Price

Cozy Indenpendent hotel lobby in with warm light and palm trees

Cozumel has long been a favorite travel destination.  Before cruise ships and the 10 am crowds, vacationers came to the island for diving, the beauty, the people, R&R…and diving.  

Cozumel is full of incredibly cool and well-run hotels of all sizes.  Each one seems to have as much interesting architecture, character, and amazing hospitality as the next.  

From downtown and along the coast, these independent hotels make you feel like a VIP and a member of the family, all at the same time.  

Some of these established hotels, like the Hotel Casa del Mar & Dive Resort, do have all-inclusive meal plans as an option and are close to excellent dive shops. Again, this is great if you’re in a large group, or you are diving every day, and afterward just want to hang with a few by the pool, have a good dinner, and a good sleep before your morning call to the boat.  

There are many other favorites in town, like the Hotel Mexicana, the Blue Angel dive resort, the Colonial Suites, and more – refer to our post linked above all about the island’s main hotel zones. 

One unique hotel that is not on the water, but stands out to me for sheer beauty and design, but still a small, cozy, and luxurious feel is the unique Mi Casa en Cozumel.  Built with amazing architectural style, immense dedication to materials and detail, and loving references to Mexico everywhere you look, this is like a jewel box in a treehouse – amazing.  Check it out.  And the prices are very, very reasonable. 

Cozumel Vacation/Short-Term Rental Market

As the world over, the increase of short-term residential rental opportunities in Cozumel has exploded.  

A quick search of AirBnB’s Cozumel listings shows a map of the island bursting with pins.  

Per-night prices can range from about $20 for a private room and bath to about $250 for a WHOLE beautiful house with pool, multiple bedrooms, and a full kitchen.  

These properties are often very popular around the time of major holidays, where whole families might vacation together.  

Cozumel has a big peak in tourism during the Christmas-New Year’s week, Carnaval, and Spring Break weeks.  

A big influx of visitors also comes during the Holy Week holidays from Palm Sunday to Easter, in Mexico know as the Semana Sagrada.  It is arguably the most important of Mexico’s annual holidays, and certainly one of the most observed – and traveled.  Many Mexican nationals come to Cozumel and the Riviera Maya beaches to vacation during these weeks. 

Other times to try book well ahead of time are a few of Cozumel’s exciting annual sports events.  If you’re coming in the Fall, for example, take note of dates for the annual Ironman Half in September, and the annual Ironman Full triathlon in November.  

Pretty Villas, Guesthouses, and Hostels

When I decided to stay in Cozumel for several months (which has now turned into several years….), a local friend helped me find an efficiency apartment in one of many “Villas” operated here on the Island. 

And I’m so grateful she did!  I had a cute place to myself, with a kitchen and sitting area, and was located right in town.  Each night I walked to one of my growing ‘regular’ spots. Studied my dive materials, made a few friends, started to really blend into the neighborhood.  I found new things to replace some I missed from NYC, like saying hello to neighbors, having “my” local deli, the spot I did my laundry, and all kinds of homey community connections we sometimes overlook. 

My times in hotels here were great, and I still stay in local hotels from time to time, for fun and a change of pace.  And of course when I travel to other places.  

But the local guesthouses, villas, and now a good crop of slick and hip new hostels, have really opened my eyes to the variety of tourism available here.  

If you’re really on a budget, or you just want a more tucked into the neighborhood experience?  Try them out – you’ll likely get some good home cooking and a pool.

Many also have superior design sensibilities, so if you’re into tiny houses, design, or art, take a little extra time to discover some of these signature places to stay.  

As with anywhere, make sure you do your research and read reviews, etc., but Cozumel is known for its excellent hospitality service and assistance, and many who’ve gone into private rental businesses are no different.  Many people have constructed or renovated properties well suited for travelers, and love welcoming new people and helping them make the most of their vacations to the island. 

 

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