Cozumel is full of little beach bars near the cruise ports. Most ships also offer a wide variety of shore excursions both on the island and on the mainland. When we stopped there on Holland America Veendam we walked around the area of town nearby the port for a bit and then took a taxi out to the Aquarium Bar. Taxi fare to the individual bars varies by distance from the port to the bar, but it doesn’t cost much to get to any of them. Once there most of them have some sort of cover charge to get in, which normally includes use of whatever facilities that place has once you are there. Most have something to do, whether it is water toys, kayaks, or snorkel equipment. It depends on which bar you go to what they have and what costs extra. Some have all-inclusive options that will even cover food and drinks and others don’t.
Several of the bars on the sign at the taxi stand are listed as good places for snorkeling. The taxi drivers always recommend Sky Reef, where we went on a previous visit. That particular bar had no cover charge then. Wanting to try a different place this time, we opted to go to the Aquarium Bar. This one had an assortment of blow-up water toys anchored in shallow water not too far out from the sandy beach. A string of floats marked the end of the safe area where boats can’t go and they said the best snorkeling was out near the floats. For a place called Aquarium Bar the amount of coral was disappointingly sparse and a lot of what was there was either damaged or not looking too healthy. Fish tend to hang where the coral is so not much coral means less fish. For the best snorkeling in Cozumel you really do need to go on some sort of boat tour that takes you to out to the good reefs.
Sea life likes structure and there wasn’t a whole lot of it near the Aquarium Bar. Out beyond the buoys there was probably a lot better snorkeling because a lot of dive boats stopped out there. Boats also went speeding by just past that string of floats at high enough speeds that their wakes came crashing over the seawall when they got to shore, so it’s really not a safe area to snorkel in if you haven’t got a boat to protect you from the boats going by. Which explains the need to stay behind the floats.
There were more large sized fish at the Aquarium Bar than in most places near shore, just not too much coral or the smaller fish that hang out in it. Closer to the shoreline than where the boats usually go, but beyond the area protected by floats there was a sort of cove with more structure, but I did not see anyone go beyond the floats to snorkel there. The area may have had sharp rocks and coral too close to the surface to swim over. Or it could have been some sort of protected area closed to people.
Cozumel is known for its crystal clear water. Water near shore at the Aquarium Bar was quite murky the day we were there. While the sea itself was calm on that day every wake from the many passing boats churned up the sand leaving visibility to the bottom through the water near shore at zero even though it wasn’t more than a foot or two deep. In contrast, we could walk out onto the balcony on our ship and look all the way to the bottom of the sea since there were no passing boats churning up sand at the dock.
Away from shore at the Aquarium Bar out closer to the floats where the wakes weren’t crashing ashore disturbing all the sand the visibility was much clearer. The bottom was easy to see even though the water was deeper. It was never very deep though. Most of the bottom was sand or sea grass, though it did have ups, downs, and holes like the sand was possibly covering a dead reef. In some places baby corals were making an attempt to grow and there were a few nice big ones. Definitely more fish than coral though. The Aquarium Bar is a good place to see some big fish, but not a good place to see coral or multitudes of fish. Big fish is relative to the size of the average little near shore reef fish, not in comparison to giant fish people catch when fishing offshore, although I have occasionally seen some very large manta rays while beach snorkeling.
They had plenty of beach chairs. After snorkeling we found a comfortable spot to relax and watch the boats go by. A pelican came along and decided to dive for fish right in front of us, which is always fun to watch.
Overall the Aquarium Bar was a nice little beach bar for people who like quieter places away from the crowds, but for better snorkeling I’d recommend Chankanaab Park or even Sky Reef if you can’t get offshore.
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