Of all the problems you can have, trying to decide between a visit to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel is a lucky one. Both islands share several characteristics—excellent snorkeling and white sand beaches, anyone?
Nevertheless, this is your vacation. So, you understandably want to do your due diligence to ensure your family, friends, or solo trip gives you the island experience you’ve dreamed about.
I spent two weeks on Isla Mujeres and have visited Cozumel three times. So, I’ll share my insight on Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel so you have a better idea of what to expect.
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Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel: An Overview
If you’re short on time, the chart below will give you a quick overview of some key things you should consider when planning a trip to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel. I’ll expand on them more shortly.
|Arrival methods||Ferry, private jet||Ferry, international flight, domestic flight|
|Availability of activities||Moderate||Excellent|
|Quiet atmosphere||Overall no||Overall yes|
|Nightlife||Many beach options||Some options in town and at beach clubs|
|Day trip possible?||Yes||Yes|
6 Things to Consider When Visiting Isla Mujeres or Cozumel
It’s true! Isla Mujeres and Cozumel both offer a wonderful escape from the outside world.
Let’s look in more detail at how these islands compare and contrast.
1. Choosing Your Arrival
Because it has a commercial airport, Cozumel offers more flexibility for destinations you can arrive from than Isla Mujeres.
For example, you can travel to Cozumel from several destinations in the U.S. and Mexico such as Denver, Houston, Mexico City, and Cancun.
Traveling to Cozumel by ferry is an excellent option as well. The ferry to Cozumel only departs from Playa del Carmen, which is a touristy beach town located about 1 – 1.5 hours south of Cancun.
There are two ferry companies that run the approximately 30-minute route between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel regularly throughout the day. You can purchase your ticket in advance or upon your arrival.
In contrast, the only way to travel to Isla Mujeres is by taking a ferry from Cancun.
The ferry ride from Cancun to Isla Mujeres only takes 20 minutes, and as with Cozumel, ferry departures are frequent.
With both the Cozumel and Isla Mujeres ferries, your ticket will have a flexible departure time, so you can leave the island earlier or later in the day (but let’s face it—you’ll likely want to leave later!).
2. Activity Options
The availability of activities on Isla Mujeres and Cozumel directly corresponds with their size; Isla Mujeres is less than 1.7 square miles and Cozumel is just shy of 185 square miles.
Needless to say, if you’re the type of person who likes to stay busy, there’s a lot more you can do in Cozumel than in Isla Mujeres. Examples of things to do in Cozumel include:
- Visiting Punta Sur Eco Park
- Exploring the San Gervasio ruins
- Diving or snorkeling in the Mesoamerican reef
- Taking a chocolate tour
- Scootering around the island for a day
And that’s only the tip of the non-existent iceberg in Cozumel; there are many beaches and beach clubs that you can enjoy.
On the other hand, activities you can do in Isla Mujeres include:
- Driving around the island in a golf cart
- Hanging out on Playa Norte
- Visiting Punta Sur (by driving, golf cart, or biking)
You read that right—there’s a Punta Sur in Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.
That said, Isla Mujeres’ proximity to Cancun means that you’ll have a plethora of day trip options if you cross there by ferry.
I highly recommend taking a snorkeling, diving, or glass-bottom boat tour to the nearby Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA). There, you can observe hundreds of life-size underwater sculptures.
3. For Day Trip Lovers
A day trip can mean two things when comparing Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel—taking a day trip from these islands when you’re basing yourself there or taking a day trip to these islands when basing yourself elsewhere.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Taking a Day Trip from Isla Mujeres and Cozumel
When it comes to taking a day trip from either of these islands, Cozumel is by far the most common destination to do it from. That’s because Cozumel is larger and equipped with more hotels and resorts than Isla Mujeres, making it a great place to stay for many nights.
Day trips you can take from Cozumel include:
- Playa del Carmen (30-minute ferry ride)
- Xcaret (30-minute ferry ride + 10 minute car ride)
- Akumal (30-minute ferry ride + 30 minute car ride)
- Tulum (30-minute ferry ride + 1 hour car ride)
- Cancun (30-minute ferry ride + 1 – 1.5 hour car ride)
If you decide to plan a day trip from Cozumel, here’s my advice: Don’t do it the day before (or the day of) flying home.
Should bad weather pop up, the ferries will stop running until it’s safe for them to be back out on the water. The good news is that you’ll spend your time being temporarily stuck in Playa del Carmen. There, you’ll have access to dozens of great restaurants, tourist shops, shopping malls, and street entertainment to pass the time.
On the other hand, day trips you can take from Isla Mujeres include:
- Cancun (20-minute ferry ride)
- Playa del Carmen (20-minute ferry ride + 1 – 1.5 hour car ride)
- Chichen Itza (20-minute ferry ride + 2.5 hour car ride)
As mentioned earlier, the majority of people take a day trip to Isla Mujeres when staying in Cancun instead of using Isla Mujeres as their base, especially if they plan to take day trips elsewhere in the Yucatan.
Personally, as beautiful as Isla Mujeres is, I was ready to return to the mainland after spending two weeks there since it’s so small.
Taking a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel
If time or intuition tells you that you should only spend a day on either Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, the good news is that it’s completely possible.
Taking a day trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun is an excellent option since it’s only a 20-minute ferry ride and you can easily explore the island in a day. Furthermore, there are three different ferry ports in Cancun, although Puerto Juarez offers the most ferry departure options.
On the other hand, visiting Cozumel as a day trip when you’re staying in Playa del Carmen is a great choice. The ferry ride is only 30 minutes, and from there you can rent a scooter to explore the destinations on your bucket list.
In the case of both islands, you could visit them in a day if you’re staying in other nearby destinations. However, more often than not, people take a day trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun and a day trip to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen.
The Burning Question: Can You Visit Isla Mujeres and Cozumel on the Same Day?
From a logistics standpoint, yes, you can visit both Isla Mujeres and Cozumel on the same day.
However, I don’t recommend it if your goal is to explore both islands.
Instead, traveling from Isla Mujeres to Cozumel or vice versa is a great option if you’ll be spending one or more nights upon your arrival.
4. Beachin’ It
Both Isla Mujeres and Cozumel embody what most people picture when they think of a tropical island—crystal clear water, tropical fish, beach bars, and white sand beaches.
However, when comparing Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel, white sand isn’t as much of a given. That’s because the island has many rocky areas as well as miles of vacant beaches where there’s no one to pick up seaweed and natural debris.
It’s a beautiful sight for nature lovers, but even then, sometimes the time comes when you want to lay out on cleaner sand. Therefore, the best beaches in Cozumel tend to be either at hotels or paid beach clubs.
On the other hand, Isla Mujeres has a long, wide stretch of a stunning white sand beach called Playa Norte. Best of all, Playa Norte is free to the public. Beach bar after beach bar line this stretch of sand, and it’s a phenomenal place to watch the sunset.
5. Island Atmosphere
When comparing the atmosphere of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, Cozumel has an unquestionably quieter vibe.
Yes, Cozumel has nightlife. And, yes, its San Miguel downtown area gets packed with tourists, especially around ferry times.
However, once you hop on a scooter or grab a taxi and drive a couple of minutes away from that area, a quiet island atmosphere will greet you.
On the other hand, Isla Mujeres is constantly hopping with music, bars, and people.
Since almost all of Isla Mujeres’ attractions are in Playa Norte, coupled with how small the island is and how easily accessible it is from Cancun, people go there in droves.
That said, if you’re interested in seeing a quieter version of Isla Mujeres and/or catching Punta Sur’s famous sunrise, make sure to spend the night. Cancun’s day-trippers will eventually leave, and you’ll be left with an island that you’ll practically feel you have to yourself.
If you’re on a tight budget, you may need to take Cozumel off your list—the island is painfully expensive for the budget traveler, with meals under $15 being difficult to find.
Furthermore, accommodation generally costs more in Cozumel than Isla Mujeres, with much of this having to do with the popularity of classy resorts in Cozumel.
On the other hand, a visit to Isla Mujeres doesn’t have to break the bank. You can stay at hostels like Selina (read my review here) and eat at budget restaurants squeezed between more expensive tourist eateries if you know where to look.
Which Island is Right for You?
I know that choosing between Isla Mujeres and Cozumel can feel like a tall task since both islands have unique characteristics. However, they’re equally stunning in their own ways. So, my advice is to go with your gut—a great time is waiting for you in either place!
Do you still have lingering questions about Isla Mujeres vs. Cozumel? If so, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.