When you think of things to do in a paradise like the dreamy island of Cozumel, lounging on white sand beaches may come to mind, as would sunset strolls along the seashore. Also, as we learned in our recent trip to the Island, cycling in Cozumel can be the perfect way to soak up the tropical sunshine.
Cozumel is a small island off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula known for its white sand beaches, lush forests, world-class diving and overall relaxed vibe. In addition to all those wonderful things which we can personally vouch for, it is increasingly becoming a cycling destination too.
Cycling Infrastructure and the Cozumel Ironman
Since 2008, Cozumel has hosted an annual Ironman triathlon event in November which led to cycling infrastructure being put into place. The government turned the old highway into a dedicated cycle-path and rebuilt a new one beside it. When it was first built, some complained that now the “cyclists get the best views”, but we’ll get into why that’s wrong a little later on. The flat, 65km cycle track loops around the whole island and can easily be accomplished in one day including breaks for sightseeing and lunch, making it an excellent experience for new cycle tourists.
Whether using the bikes for getting around the town of San Miguel or entering into more lofty pursuits like circling the whole island in a day, cycling in Cozumel gives you the chance to take in the sights and sounds in at a relaxed pace and makes you earn your margaritas.
Renting Bikes in Cozumel
Inspired by a dream to cycle around a small island, we set our sights on sunny Cozumel. While some cycle travellers may choose to fly their bikes in, there is no need to as there a few companies that will rent a variety of bikes to you. We went with Sombrero Rentals and Rogelio provided us with two good quality hybrids with helmets and locks for a week for only $160usd total. He also offers triathlon bikes, beach cruisers and scooters. He delivered the bikes directly to our AirBnB and picked them up on the last day as well. Everything went smoothly and we would gladly rent bikes from him again.
Safety while Cycling in Cozumel
Cycling in Cozumel is exceedingly safe and most of the road around the island with a few exceptions. The Transversal Road, which starts about 3km from town and bisects the island has a separate lane on the side of the road. It eventually joins with the separated bike path for most of the route around the island. In town, however, there are no bike lanes at all.
Despite the lack of separate bike lanes in San Miguel, cycling is a time-tested mode of transportation for many locals and a favourite pastime of travellers. As such, cars are used to sharing the road with cyclists and we never experienced any close calls or aggressive drivers. I wish I could say the same about Calgary! Businesses also seemed used to having people arrive by bikes and were always helpful to find a place to park.
The biggest threat that you could face might be the heat, so make sure you pack lots of water with you. We always recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with a filter so you can drink the tap water around the island and reduce waste. We are fond of these ones that come in 600ml or 1000ml.
Getting an early start will also help avoid the hottest hours. Of course, we didn’t take our own advice when we finally rolled out of our suite around 10:30 on New Years Day, but with lots of water and breaks, we found the weather to be just right for cycling. Finding vendors offering fresh coconuts to rehydrate with along the way certainly helped too!
Although the cycle path is supposed to be only for bikes, many people ignore the sign and you will likely see cars, motorcycles and scooters. Still, there’s enough room for them to pass and they were rarely going very fast.
The path along the east side of the island is where the views are the best, but it’s also where the path is crumbling. Pay attention to the seaward edge of the pathway since it’s about to fall into the ocean as evidenced in the photo below. Also, let the photo serve as proof as to why the government decided this was road was best suited for bikes rather than cars!
You will likely not have cell coverage along the rugged and sparsely populated east coast, so you may want to bring a patch kit or spare tube. That said, there are restaurants at regular intervals along the way, so you’ll have plenty of places to refuel. Credit cards are accepted in more places than we would have guessed but it’s always best to carry some cash.
Cycling to Cozumel’s Eastern Shore
There are a few ways to approach cycling around the island. We made it as difficult as possible for ourselves by adding an extra 12km to our 68km ride by going to the San Gervasio ruins off the transversal road. The ruins are accessed by a 6km road that would make it a good option as a day trip if you were staying in San Miguel or close to it. If you wanted to extend the day, you could cycle to the end of the transversal road and eat lunch at one of the catch of the day places on the ocean, such as Mezcalito’s Last Frontier or Senior Iguana’s. Allegedly, there is a nude beach near one of them too if you’re into that. We declined to investigate.
From here, I would recommend heading back to town from there and not cycling around the rest of the island as we did. 80km was a bit too long of a day for us.
If you plan on cycling around the island without adding a pitstop at the ruins, it can easily be done in one day and we passed a few people on road bikes who schooled us in the speed department. We were okay with that because we were not there to prepare for races, but to enjoy the incredible beach views along the eastern shore and did they ever deliver.
The eastern coast is by far the highlight of the journey, as most of the west coast’s beach views are blocked by resorts and forest. For the whole 20kms along the east shore, you will have ocean views of rugged coastlines, cool breezes, public beaches for picnics, access to forested ponds where you can carefully look for crocodiles and birds, and plenty of catch of the day restaurants to stop at for a fresh meal.
We did just that and stopped in at the Bob Marley Bar for some delicious margaritas on the beach and massive, fresh coconut shrimp. The bar is right next to Punta Sur Eco Beach Park which features shallow clear waters for snorkelling and plenty of colourful, tropical birds. If you have the energy, you can also climb up the lighthouse lookout and get a birdseye view of the Caribbean sea.
At this point, the trail turns to the west side of the island and closes in. Keep your eyes peeled for birds, but otherwise, the ride is pretty dull since the resorts have snatched up most of the beachfront. You could stop at the small, Mayan replica town and what’s left of the oldest Mayan ruins on the island called El Cédral about 15kms after turning west. There you will encounter your first and only hill. Or you could carry on up the coast to one of the many snorkel spots listed on this map. (consider skipping Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park since they operate unethical dolphin tourism and we’re big fans of responsible animal encounters). Some of the snorkel spots are right in front of restaurants so you can even sip and dip.
About 2km from home, we stopped at Turquoise Beach Bar to enjoy a well-deserved drink on their beachfront bar and watched the sunset. Afterwards, we went home and parked the bikes for two days to allow our bums to heal. Indeed, extremely sore undercarriages could make the hassle of bringing your own bike worthwhile, or at least your own saddle.
Cycling around San Miguel
San Miguel is a small town and it’s easy to get around by bike. Most of the streets are narrow one-ways but traffic is not heavy. There’s even bike parking at the airport!
In hindsight, we’re not sure we would do the 80km route around the island with a side trip to San Gervasio ruins tour again, but we would gladly revisit cycling along the beautiful, rugged east coast to Punta Sur, or along the west coast to one of the snorkelling spots. We also found that bikes were the perfect way to get around the relatively compact town.
Map of the Cycling Route around Cozumel
Cycling when travelling is the perfect way to slow down and enjoy the passing scenes when getting from point A to B and Cozumel offers plenty of amazing sights to see. We’ve said it before and will say it again, cycle touring is Zen on two wheels.