Visit Cozumel, and most likely you will go home completely relaxed and with memories of spectacular landscapes and friendly people. An island in Mexico 34 miles long by 11 miles wide, Cozumel is quite different from its neighbor, the Riviera Maya. It is largely undeveloped, with expanses of jungle and virgin coastline. Travelers don’t come to enjoy boisterous and fun beach volleyball games or designer shopping. The town of San Miguel has a laid-back vibe and a shady plaza (El Zócalo), but little in the way of nightlife or high-end shopping. Yes, you will find souvenir stalls and Cozumeleños selling handmade products, especially near the boardwalk and around El Zócalo, but most of the products are brought from the mainland and therefore more expensive. The nightlife is more casual (think bars with guitar players and chain restaurants, like those at Carlos N Charlie’s and Senor Frog’s) than the sophisticated club scene across the sea. Here are some more things every traveler should know before heading to Cozumel.
- Snorkeling and diving are amazing.
Right off Cozumel’s southwest coast lies the second longest coral reef system in the world (only Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is larger than it). The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System spans approximately 175 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to Honduras. The exceptionally clear waters put Cozumel at the top of many divers’ lists. It is common for divers to see vast coral heads, live sponges, tropical fish, and tunnels and caves that are home to species found only here, such as the splendid Cozumel toadfish. The Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, a popular diving area, is home to several endangered creatures, including the loggerhead sea turtle, queen conch and black coral.
- Don’t drink the water.
No, you still shouldn’t drink the water in Mexico, not even in the most luxurious tourist paradises. Stick with bottled water (even locals often drink it), even when brushing your teeth. Try to keep your mouth shut in the shower, too.
- It is easier to get to what you think.
Believe it or not, nonstop flights to Cozumel International Airport operate from quite a number of major cities in the US, including Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, and Miami. That list grows during peak season (roughly early December through Easter). Otherwise, it’s easy to catch a ferry from Playa de Carmen. It’s about a 45 minute ride, and they run regularly.
- Everyone can find a beach to love.
While there are plenty of Instagram-worthy stretches of white sand (hello, San Francisco Beach), it’s worth thinking about what kind of beach you want. Pretty? That’s all of them. Beyond that, the beaches on the east side of the island are rocky, and the water is often rough, but they are beautiful and feel much more unknown than others on the island. Cozumel is not a surf destination, but beginners and intermediates often enroll in a surf school for a day. The beaches on the north coast, north of San Miguel, tend to be popular with families with children, as the water is calm and shallow. The limestone “iron shore” beaches are the best places for snorkeling, just be sure to wear water shoes. All of Cozumel’s beaches are public, but that doesn’t mean they are free. Technically, use of the actual beach is free, but many impose coverage fees that are applied to the food tab of the beach bar or club.
- It’s the cruise ship headquarters.
Cozumel is a stop on many cruise line itineraries. The good news? Passengers typically don’t venture far beyond the port, so if you know when the ships will dock, it’s easy to avoid it.