Punta Sur Eco Park – The Best One Day Adventure In Cozumel
Punta Sur Eco Park in Cozumel is the best one-day adventure you can have when visiting the island. It has adventure, history, and the perfect beach for chilling out and relaxing. Not to mention a reef close enough to snorkel while chilling out in lounge chairs and sipping a margarita.
Located on the southernmost end of the island, Punta Sur consists of over 1,000 hectares (that’s over 247 acres) of beaches, mangroves, native plants, and various wildlife, many endemic to Cozumel. Plus, there are several archeological sites.
While you can rent a car and drive to the park yourself, we opted to go as part of a half-day tour that we booked through Trip Advisor. Using a guide, we learned so much about the island and the park from someone who lives and works there.
The entrance fee to the park is $16 U.S. per adult, and if you wish to have lunch at the beach club and snorkel (more to come on that), the entrance fee is $30 U.S. per adult. Since we used a guide, all of our fees to the park were included in the cost, so our guide handled everything once we got there.
As we drove to the park, it was interesting to see the ocean’s deep blue colors on one side of the road and a very marshy mangrove area on the other. These vast differences show just how diverse the island is in its topography. We would later learn that the swampy area is home to several saltwater crocodiles.
Approaching the park entrance, we could see a bright white lighthouse growing taller and taller against the vibrant blue Caribbean sky. The most popular attraction at the park, the Celarain Lighthouse, has stood for centuries, helping mariners have safe passage around the island’s tip and protects them from running aground.
Before the early 1980s, the lighthouse was managed by a family who lived on the property and would welcome visitors with a typical Mexican lunch of fresh fish, beans, rice, and tortillas.
For the lucky few who happened to visit at the right time, the father would take them up the 127 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Today, after some renovations, that climb is 133 steps but still well worth the effort.
Despite the temperature, we decided to brave the heat and make the 133 step climb to the top. There is no air conditioning inside, just a winding narrow concrete staircase with openings every few feet to get a breath of fresh air and take in the spectacular views.
The climb up is not for the faint of heart or those who have physical limitations or breathing issues, especially when the temperature outside is high. Once at the top, we made our way through a very narrow and very short opening to the outside, where we had 360-degree views of the island and the Caribbean Sea. Even Fiona the flamingo was enjoying the view!
Since there is only one way to get to the top, it was a bit crowded with other visitors, all taking pictures and selfies. Considering there were no cruise ships at the time of our visit, it was still difficult to negotiate with all the people. I imagine that we would have to wait for people to come down during the typical tourism season before we could go up.
Attached to the lighthouse is the Navigation Museum, which was once the home of the lighthouse keeper and his family. The museum tells the maritime history of the island through murals and artifacts, including an ancient canoe.
The colorful murals covered just about every wall of the museum. Each painting was a reminder of the importance that the ocean plays on the life of the island. To this day, the locals depend not only on tourism but also on fishing and SCUBA diving to sustain their living.
The other ruin in the park is located just a few yards from the lighthouse and sits right on the beach. As if it was put there for the stunning view, I could imagine an ancient Myan inhabitant standing on the second floor looking out across the vast Caribbean sea.
I am always fascinated by the level of detail that ancient people achieved, considering the rudimentary tools they had to use. The time it must have taken to quarry the stones and then move them to the locations in the Caribbean sun must have been grueling.
Walking around the ruin, admiring the architecture and skill it took to build it, I was surprised by a local taking a break and enjoying the view and the sun. It didn’t seem to mind much that I was walking all around, snapping photos. I think it was posing for just the perfect shot with the stunning blue ocean in the background.
Cozumel is home to many Myan ruin sites, and two of them are within the Punta Sur Park. One is called Pumba del Caracol or “Shell Tomb,” and is located right inside the park entrance, before the lighthouse.
Several myths surround the tomb, including one that says it was built with seashells in its walls to warn the island inhabitants of impending hurricanes. According to the myth, when the wind blew before a storm, the seashells would make a whistling sound, acting as a warning.
Right across from the “Shell Tomb” ruin is a raised walkway with a beautiful arch over it that leads to the marshy area of the park. The archway is the entrance to X’tacun Lagoon, the saltwater crocodile habitat.
We weren’t inside the marsh for very long when we spotted what would be the only croc we would see during the visit, just hanging out next to the walkway. Considering how hot it was, I don’t blame the others for wanting to hide in the shade under the mangroves.
Of course, my first thought was it was waiting for someone to toss it something to eat or maybe fall in and be its lunch. I held on tight to the railing. I wasn’t ready to offer myself up as a meal.
The walkway allowed us to walk all around the habitat, and there was even a large observation tower that we could climb to get a bird’s eye view of the area. While it was tempting, I wanted to save my energy to climb to the top of the lighthouse later down the road.
Along with the croc, we did see several different species of birds, including a Roseate Spoonbill, which I had never seen before, so I was excited to see something new. Thank goodness for Charlie and his vast knowledge of birds. He’s the one who pointed it out.
Once we had enough fun checking out the crocs, lighthouse, and ruins, we headed to the Punta Sur Beach Club. Perhaps one of the most popular sections of the park after all the stair climbing, the beach club is a bit of a drive from everything else. It’s not somewhere that you want to try and walk to from the entrance or lighthouse.
The beach club sits on the southeastern end of the island. The water here is smoother, so snorkeling and swimming are considerably more comfortable than at the lighthouse location.
Along with row after row of beach chairs and umbrellas, there are also several palapas where you can grab a bite to eat or sit at the bar and enjoy a cold drink. If you pay for the lunch and snorkel package when you enter the park, this is where you get everything. You can also rent the club’s equipment if you decided after you paid the entrance fee that you want to hit the waves.
The coral reef is quite close to the beach, so it doesn’t take much effort to swim out and see marine life. Since the wind was blowing quite hard and the currents were a bit swift, we opted not to snorkel, but as divers, we had a pretty good idea that there would be plenty to see along the reef.
When we first arrived at the beach club, we noticed a sign telling visitors not to feed the wildlife. I couldn’t imagine what, besides birds and maybe a turtle, we would encounter on a beach in Mexico, so I wasn’t too terribly concerned.
As we sat and munched our street tacos and sipped our beer, I noticed an animal walking under the beach chairs among the tourists. At first, I couldn’t make it out (I thought it was a cat), but then, once it stopped, I realized what it was – A RACCOON!
Often called the Cozumel Raccoon or Pigmy Raccoon, they are critically endangered and live only on the island. It was seeking out a free meal, and the tourists were accommodating – so much for the warning sign.
It reminded me of the mural we saw at the beginning of our tour earlier in the day, only much cuter. It scurried from one tourist to the other, hoping for a snack. When it had exhausted all its options on the beach, made it’s way back to the trees and disappeared.
For me, that was the best way to end our time at the park, seeing a native species on a beautiful beach. We jumped back into our jeep and made our way out of the park down the same type of gravel road we came in on and back to our hotel. It was the perfect last adventure to have before we headed back home the next day.