he name Cozumel derives from the Mayan Ah-Cuzamil-Peten, which has been variously translated to mean “flat stone of the swallows”, “place of the swallows”, “place where the swallows fly over bluegreen waters” and others. It was a holy place for the Mayan culture as the house of the goddess Ixchel, feminine deity related to the moon, fertility and the love between couples.
The largest inhabited island in Mexico, Cozumel lies just 12 miles across the channel from Playa del Carmen, which in turn is about 40 miles south of Cancun. Only 10 miles wide and 28 miles long, Cozumel is most famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling, due to the remarkable clarity of the brilliantly-hued Caribbean Sea in which it rests and the presence of the 2nd largest coral reef in the world. The climate is subtropical (it gets darned hot and humid in the summertime!) and the people native to Cozumel are of Mayan descent.
The only real city on Cozumel is San Miguel (population around 77,000 as of 2010), a charming and friendly little place with big shopping, dining, fun and diving possibilites. Located on the central western side of the island, this is where you will arrive by either plane or ferry. Be sure to have your camera ready if you arrive by ferry; the view of the town from the water is the best view you’ll get, and is absolutely wonderful.
Even though the town is named San Miguel, no one uses that name; “Cozumel” is universally used to denote both the town and the island. Hotels and resorts are strung out like gems to the north and south of town, and if you want to take a taxi to town you need simply say, “El Centro, por favor”.
Cozumel itself was a quiet little community until Jacques Cousteau announced to the world in 1961 that it is one of the most beautiful scuba diving areas of the world. Divers came to investigate, found it wonderful, and sleepy little Cozumel began to wake up. Though it was long overlooked as a major tourist destination, overshadowed by glitzy Cancun, it has recently seen a real upsurge in tourism. It still retains its small-town ambiance, though, and is much more laid-back and casual than its big neighbor to the north. Over time much of Cozumel’s waters have been made an underwater marine park in order to protect the delicate balance of its dazzling coral reefs and countless variety of tropical fish.
The town of San Miguel de Cozumel provides a nice change from the glitz and fast pace of Cancun. The wood-and-concrete buildings lining the streets are painted in pastel colors, and further inland you’re likely to come across many of the more traditional Mayan “palapa-style” homes.
San Miguel is laid out in a grid pattern and is easy to navigate. Avenida Juárez, which starts at the passenger ferry on the western shore, divides the town in half (north and south). North of Juarez the streets are even-numbered; odd-numbered streets are south.
In the center of town, bordering the waterfront on Avenida Rafael Melgar, is the Town Plaza (Plaza del Sol) where there are several memorials to Benito Juarez, the famed Mexican statesman and national hero. Shops, restaurants and a major bank line this plaza and it is the main staging area for major celebrations such as carnival, Mexico’s Independence Day (September 16) and others. At Christmas time a huge creche is set up in this plaza, and it becomes the centerpiece of the island’s holiday celebrations. This is also a favored spot for gossiping in the shade, eating ice cream, and for the Sunday night fiesta. Don’t miss Sunday night in the Plaza, where families congregate in their finery to enjoy free concerts, singing, dancing and conversation. You are welcome to join in.
Across the channel at night, from anywhere along the seafront, you can see the lights twinkling along Playa del Carmen, and a fast ferry will get you there in less than an hour.
Not a diver? No problem. This little town has a very sophisticated shopping venue and equally sophisticated partying– if you like to party. It has cheap good food and expensive good food, good music and plenty of it, lots of places to explore, and a miniature golf course with an ocelot for a mascot.
There are several Mayan archaeological sites located on the northern half of the island. San Gervasio is the most impressive of these and can be reached by following the sign leading from Cross Island Road; a gravel road leads to the entry, where you pay a modest fee. Once inside, you can wander through the four “districts” found at this site, the first dating from the Early Classic Period (A.D. 300- 600) and the last from the Late Post- classic Period (A.D. 1250-1500).
Cross Island Road (also known as “East-West Road”), which starts out as Avenue Benito Juarez on the west side of the island, ends in the center of the eastern coast of the island. The eastern coast of the island is known locally simply as “the other side”, and the beach here at the end of the road is called “Playa Oriente”. Cozumel’s legendary Mezcalitos Bar & Grill is located on Playa Oriente. They have been there since 1983, longer than any other beach bar and restaurant on the “other side”. Mezcalitos is known for many things but between the ring toss game, the great Fajitas, and the killer Margaritas (have a designated driver), the place is fun for eating and drinking! There is even a hammock area where you can spend the day reading a book while listening to the waves crashing on the shore line.
You will find some small palapa structures along “the other side” where you can get something to eat and drink, but there is very little shade so take plenty of sun screen. You should also be aware that the water conditions along the entire eastern coast are much rougher than along the western coast, and swimming can be dangerous. There are no life guards; you’re on your own here! If you turn south and drive along the southeastern coast you’ll see that this is a more rugged side of Cozumel. (Except for San Miguel and its environs the island is mostly uninhabited — except for iguanas the size of Texas and lots of birds that make their homes in the mangroves and scrub jungle.) The coastline along “the other side” varies from golden beaches to limestone formations. It is perfect for a day (or several) of exploration.
And for you golfers, there is The Cozumel Country Club, in the midst of the jungle, was the island’s first golf course ever built, and remains one of the best and most challenging. Designed by Steve Nicklaus, Golf Digest listed this 18-hole, par-72 course as “one of the best places to play” in 2008 and 2009.
Just north of the edge of town you will find an RCI Gold Crown Resort named the Coral Princess, a small, casual and intimate resort that will make you want to return again and again. Overlooking the incredible vistas of the multi-hued Caribbean, it is perfectly located for snorkeling and diving and sunset watching and contemplation — and is also handy to all that San Miguel has to offer. While you couldn’t say it’s on the beach, it is oceanfront and a beach has been created for you around the pool area so you won’t miss it much.
Located in front of the San Juan Reef on the North side of Cozumel Island, it is 5 minutes away from the Airport by car and just 15 minutes walking distance away from the typical Mexican and beautiful San Miguel Town. It offers 142 luxury rooms, standard and suites with one, two or three bedrooms, fully furnished with all the comfort that you deserve.
The Coral Princess has two fresh water swimming pools (with a kid’s area at each one), where you will find two of the three bars — one swim up bar and a snack bar. The snack bar serves Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and a Happy Hour (from 5 to 6 p.m.), so you never have to leave the pool if you don’t want to — not even to eat. The La Palapa Bar serves drinks and snacks by the pool and beach all day, and so does the Pool Bar.
Inside the resort you’ll find the K8 Karaoke Bar, where you can play pool, cheer your favorite sports team or grab the mic and sing along with karaoke. And the Buenaventura Terrasse restaurant, with its incredible views and fine dining, gives you the chance for romance if you are so inclined, and romance somehow usually manages to find its way in even when it wasn’t intended.
In addition, the resort offers a Solarium area with a big Jacuzzi and volleyball court, and the Pepe Scuba dive concession is located onsite for your convenience if you just have to take advantage of some of the best diving in the world. Facilities at the property include a gym, room service, Internet access, a game room for the kids, and much more.
So come on over; stroll down to the beach and buy a bagful of sweet churros from the vendor to snack on while you watch the sun set. Let the cool sand cushion your bare feet, and the evening breeze ruffle your hair. Relax. Live a little!
Some Web sites to explore for more information:
- http://www.cozumel.travel/ –The official government site for Cozumel
- http://www.cozumel.net/ –All things Cozumel
- http://wikitravel.org/en/Cozumel –Open source travel guide for Cozumel
- http://www.cometocozumel.com/http://www.cometocozumel.com/ –Another guide to Cozumel
- http://www.cozumelmycozumel.com/ — Cozumel through the eyes of residents of the island
- http://www.cozumel-diving.net/ –A Cozumel diving guide
“On the Road” is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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