Off the eastern tip of Mexico, between the tourist centres of Tulum and Cancun, Isla Cozumel sits gem-like in the Caribbean Sea. Fifty kilometres north to south, it is Mexico’s third-largest island. It has mostly remained immune to the tourist trappings to which its mainland neighbours have succumbed, and retains an authentic Caribbean charm and unkempt beauty, if you look hard enough.
But it is certainly not the deserted divers’ haunt that it once was, with cruise ship crowds flooding the ports of San Miguel almost daily. Easily accessible by ferry or plane, this pristine Mexican isle still offers something for all types of travellers, from resort-wise beach bums to the adventurously spirited.
The world-class coral reefs, abundant marine life and clear-as-glass waters are Cozumel’s claim to fame. Jacques Cousteau himself was notably a fan of the island’s diving sites back in his day. The turquoise waters can be admired from one of the white sand beaches, through a snorkel, or from deep below with a scuba kit – the choice is yours.
Around downtown San Miguel and the hotel areas there are plenty of dive shops to set you up for any maritime adventure you have in mind. For the land-dweller there is plenty of culture to be soaked up with a stroll of the inner streets of San Miguel.
If you rent a car or scooter, a venture out off the beaten track to the island’s Mayan ruins or along the scenic eastern coast is also well worthwhile.
Eat and Drink
Local hole-in-the-wall burrito joints, beachfront tourist fare or romantic fine dining settings can all be found in and around San Miguel. There are plenty of scenic on-the-beach options, fruity cocktails and all, or you can venture further into the city to find more traditional locales.
Where to Stay
Accommodation on the island is mostly found along the west coast, concentrated directly north and south of San Miguel. All-inclusive beach resorts or smaller, budget-friendly hotels are all available, depending on what you are wanting out of your Cozumel experience.
This precinct is rather clustered together so it is easy to get around. But if you have something more secluded in mind, there are a few mid-range and luxury options to be found further south down the coast.
Being the only town on the island, San Miguel is where you will get your retail fix. Along the waterfront there are plenty of larger shops selling jewellery, imported goods and souvenirs, and this is where most of the cruise-ship day-trippers congregate.
If you head further inland into the town you will find more authentic shops that cater for locals. Unique souvenirs can be found at the artisans’ market next to the Plaza Central in the heart of town.
Cozumel Like a Local
If staying within the confines of your resort is not your idea of a holiday, there are plenty of roads-less-travelled for you to go down. Venture deep into San Miguel and people watch in the Plaza Central. On Sunday nights live music and snack stands draw local families into the plaza.
If you are wanting to escape the crowds you will need to rent a car or scooter, which is easily done. Explore the untouched beauty of the windswept eastern coast or visit one of the many ancient Mayan sites dotted all over the island.