With all of the recent travel advisories, is Cozumel, Mexico safe for visitors?
Post Updated 8/23/18
Violence in nearby Cancun has visitors on edge.
It was recently reported that eight bodies were found just a few days ago in the Cancun, Mexico. Cancun is another resort town just north and west of Cozumel, both in the state of Quintana Roo.
The US State Department has advised extra caution for US citizens visiting Mexico, but has not specifically issued any travel advisories for Cozumel nor for Cancun.
As violence seems to be creeping closer to the areas frequented by visitors and tourists, it's definitely a good idea to not let your guard down and stay in more secure areas if you visit these two cities.
Post Update 3/2/18
New information regarding Cozumel ferries has been added.
The US Embassy in Mexico City recently issued a security alert warning for travelers headed to Cozumel. The content of this alert is posted below for convenience.
The alert is due to recent incidents involving an explosion aboard a ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess cruise lines have all canceled shore excursions recently that involve travel via ferry boats, although I'm unable to locate any official press releases from any of the cruise lines about these cancelations.
The bottom line here is that travel to Cozumel is likely still safe overall, however, extreme caution should be exercised in all ports in Mexico.
Information for U.S. citizens in #Mexico: On March 1, undetonated explosive devices were found on a tourist ferry that operates between Cozumel-Playa del Carmen. Mexican and U.S. law enforcement continue to investigate. Follow @TravelGov & @USEmbassyMEX. https://t.co/CN7obJDpol— Department of State (@StateDept) March 2, 2018
US Embassy Security Alert Detail
Location: Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Event: On March 1, undetonated explosive devices were found by Mexican law enforcement on a tourist ferry that operates between Cozumel-Playa del Carmen, Mexico. On February 21, an explosive device detonated on a tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen resulting in injuries, including to U.S. citizens. U.S. Government employees are prohibited from using all tourist ferries on this route until further notice. Mexican and U.S. law enforcement continue to investigate.
Actions to Take:
- Be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution.
- Purchase travel insurance that specifically covers you in Mexico and includes medical evacuation insurance.
- Contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you need assistance.
Our Personal Experience in Cozumel - January, 2018
My family and I have visited Cozumel, Mexico a number of times. In fact, we were just there in January of 2018. Like many, we visited the island via a cruise ship vacation.
My wife and son and I explored the area in and around the port on foot for a while and then I ventured off into town on my own, walking all the way from the port to the Cozumel International Airport. My walking route is displayed on the map I've created here. I've also added a number of photos I took during this walking tour as well. You can see those in the gallery below.
I walked nearly 10 miles the day we visited Cozumel on our last trip. This allowed me to see more of the town than most visitors typically see. While I stayed mostly in the high-traffic areas around the town just south of the Cozumel International Airport, I did venture out into streets and neighborhoods that were less trafficked by tourists and met a few locals and expats as well.
We Decided to Explore Cozumel Outside of the Port Area
When it comes to family travel, one of our biggest responsibilities as parents is to help ensure the safety of our family. We love going to new places and exploring foreign lands, but in this day and age, that can be a somewhat risky proposition for American tourists.
We didn't really feel like doing the super touristy things most people usually do. The beaches are wonderful in Cozumel, but we were looking for something different. Something different in Cozumel means that it may be off the beaten path and that means there may be risk involved.
My walking exploration of the city beyond the typical tourist district in Cozumel helped me learn a few things along the way. I'd like to pass along some tips to visitors of the area.
Our Journey Back to SXM
In September, we returned to St. Maarten aboard Royal Caribbean International Oasis of the Seas with 200 lbs of school supplies for the Oranje School. Here's the story of our journey back to the island.
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #1: Hide Your Valuables
This tip really applies to anywhere, not just because we were exploring a town in Mexico. I'd recommend if you're a visitor to an area, you try to conceal your valuables as much as possible.
I sometimes feel like I have a target on me when I'm walking around with my "fancy" camera equipment. That's not a good feeling at all, and it sometimes makes me not able to enjoy my experience.
You may want to leave the bulky camera at home and just bring your small point-and-shoot camera (or smartphone camera) that you can easily put in your pocket as you explore.
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #2: Learn Some of the Language
Again, this tip really applies to anywhere you travel, if you're headed outside of the U.S. Learning at least the basics of the language will make you less of a target to would-be threats.
I spent a summer in Germany one year. The more familiar I became with the language, the less I stood out. The more you stand out, the more of a target you become.
Being able to ask for simple things like directions, asking about the weather that day or ordering a beer can make you "fit in" just enough to make you less noticeable.
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #3: Don't Overdo It
I mean this tip in a few different contexts. First, Cozumel and Mexico in general are known for their Tequila. Gold, silver and blue may sound like Olympic medals, but it's really just the different types of Tequila you may encounter in Cozumel.
Don't overdo your liquor intake, because not only will your guard be lowered but you'll likely draw more attention and make yourself an easier target, too. Neither of these are positive when it comes to safety while you're traveling.
Also, when I talk about not overdoing it, I also mean physically speaking. Cozumel is a very hot city, and even in the spring, it can be much warmer than many of us are accustomed to.
Yeah, I get it - you want to see the sights while you're there and that means you'll be pushing it, walking a lot, in a hurry and constantly on the move. Just be sure to take it easy walking around out there, be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of fluids to keep you hydrated!
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #4: Set a Budget (and Stick to it)
One of my favorite things about wandering off the beaten path in Cozumel were the markets we came across.
Many of them we encountered had the same types of goods, so it would benefit you from shopping around a bit and not purchasing from the first vendor you see.
My favorites are the hand-made and hand-carved woodworking items, especially. I could have easily spent hundreds of dollars or more. We agreed to set a budget before we left and not go over our budget. We still had a lot more travel to do!
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #5: Don't Carry too Much Cash
Cash is king in Mexico, but I'd advise against carrying too much on-hand at one time. Whipping out a wad of "Benjamins" will definitely draw attention to you and make you a target.
Carry some cash for the open-air markets and for negotiating, but carry the balance in traveler's checks or use your (more secure) credit card at larger stores and on bigger purchases.
Just be sure to check with your bank before you leave so they don't think your card has been stolen!
Cozumel Safety Family Travel Tip #6: Be Careful With the Water
Probably the first question anyone asks me about traveling to Mexico, starts like this: "Is it safe to drink the water in Cozumel?"
The primary misunderstanding about the water in Mexico has less to do about water quality and more to do about the unique micro-organisms that are present in the water compared to what your body is accustomed to. That doesn't mean that contamination doesn't occur, because it does.
Friendly reminder: water contamination happens in the USA, too.
In other words, the water in Cozumel isn't necessarily unsafe - it just may contain things your body isn't used to.
If you're traveling to Cozumel for a short amount of time, or if you have a sensitive digestive system, I strongly recommend you stick with bottled water during your stay. That will reduce the likelihood you'll be exposed to something your body can't handle.
However, if you're going to be in Mexico for a longer stay, it may be okay to drink the local water - assuming your body will have to go through an "adjustment" as it gets used to the water.