Cozumel, made popular by celebrity marine researcher, Jacques Costeau, in the early 1960's, is Mexico's largest populated island and lies about 70km south of Cancun. To get there from the Cancun airport, drive 45 minutes south to Playa del Carmen and take a 30-minute ferry ride from the pier, which is located 2 blocks south of Avenida Juarez. This arrives in San Miguel, the main town on the island, with many hotels, bars, and restaurants near the pier; or, within a taxi (lined up near the docks) ride to one of the uncrowded beaches on the island. The other option is to fly in to the Cozumel Airport.
Maya settlers who worshiped the moon and fertility goddess, Ixchel, were the original inhabitants of the island. Since then, foreigners from all parts of the world including the Spanish conquistador, Cortés, French pirate Jean Lafitte and British pirate Henry Morgan, the U.S. Air Force, and more recently, thousands of United States ex-pats and cruise ships have thrown anchor off the shores of Cozumel.
Today, most people come to Cozumel to dive and/or snorkel. It has an enormous variety of underwater life, visibility of 40m or more, and an abundance of dive shops and expert guides. A two-tank dive costs around $75. A few recommended dive sites are: Santa Rosa Wall – full of tunnels, corals and fish, Arrecife Cantarell – usually has loads of eagle rays, Palancar Shallows – possible to see black coral, and is also suitable for snorkeling, and Colombia Gardens – in addition to being good for snorkeling, is shallow with considerable lighting to view the many sponges and corals.
Do you want a different kind of sport? In addition to diving and snorkeling, Cozumel has a Nicklaus Design golf course, kitesurfing instructors and rentals, and offers yacht charters, fishing, sailing and parasailing.
If strolling or touring is more your style, shopping and people watching is available at all hours of the day throughout San Miguel de Cozumel. Walk along Avenida Rafael Melgar, which runs along the waterfront and is where the ferry docks, and you will find everything from diamonds and Cuban cigars to t-shirts. The avenue has kilometers of stores, bars, restaurants, and clubs. This is the most tourist-filled street on the island. To get away from the cruise ship crowds on the days they are in port, either stay inside, or rent a vehicle or take a taxi to one of the white-sand beaches, parks, or Mayan ruins on another part of the island.
To choose a place to stay on Cozumel, one must, of course, consider price. Cozumel offers hotel rooms from $25 to $900 per night. Next, one should consider location. The main choices are north of downtown, downtown, and south of downtown. The first location offers villas and condos, all-inclusive resorts, and moderate to expensive hotel options. This area is quiet, near the golf course, and a quick taxi-ride to town. Though there are beaches on this side, they tend to be rocky and with strong currents. The downtown area consists of cheap to moderate hotels and vacation rentals, and it is convenient to restaurants and stores. The negative side is that, though the water is within walking distance, the beaches must be reached by taxis or rental vehicles - motorcycles and cars are easily rented in town.
The last area, south of downtown, can be divided into three parts. The closest section to town tends to be congested because of the cruise ship piers. This part offers moderate hotels that cater to divers and more expensive, all-inclusive hotels; and, it is a close taxi-ride to stores and restaurants. The rest of the southern area is quieter and mostly contains expensive, all-inclusive resorts, beachfront vacation rentals, and beach clubs. Most of Cozumel's best beaches are located here, but it is far from town, and taxis are pricey to this area.
Two important travel tips: an underwater flashlight is useful for seeing the variety of corals when diving, and take bug repellent (only the biodegradable kind is allowed in some areas) to the beaches.
Avenida Rafael Melgar at Calle 4
Avenida 5 between Calle 2 & 4