The island of Cozumel is only 12 miles off the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula’s east coast and 44 miles south of Cancun. For years, Cozumel was a sleepy little island that didn’t get many visitors. This well-kept secret was out once Jacques Cousteau did a documentary on it after discovering the world-class scuba diving at the Palancar Reefs nearby. Since the early 1960s, Cozumel has been hailed as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. Until recently the majority of tourists visiting the majestic island of Cozumel were there for one reason: scuba diving. Nearby Cancun saw the majority of mainstream tourists in the area. But in recent years Cozumel has become a major port for cruise ships. It is not uncommon to have five or six different cruise ships at port on any given day. I’ve been to Cozumel once as part of a cruise. We didn’t stay for more than a day, but that day was wonderful and I won’t soon forget it.
In the island’s only city of San Miguel de Cozumel, you’ll find tourists shops, and bars similar to many different tourist destinations around the country of Mexico. If you like to haggle, or are looking for some knock-off sunglasses or watches, you won’t need to look far along the main waterfront road of Avenida Rafael Melgar. Jewelry and liquor can be had for bargains here as well. There are also some nice Mexican crafts shops too. For those who came for a wilder time, there are bars along this main strip, much like those found in Cancun or Rocky Point. The town’s main outdoor square, Plaza del Sol, is just opposite the main ferry dock to the mainland. There are usually street vendors and artists in the Plaza as well local entertainment during the evenings. The artists do some amazing artwork with spray paints and their prices are very reasonable. San Miguel’s main tourist area can be very busy during the day when the cruise ship passengers are in town but since most ships depart at dinnertime, the evenings are actually pretty quiet. The only tourists left at night tend to be the scuba divers staying in Cozumel.
Most of the hotels and resorts are south of San Miguel and are not within walking distance. There are numerous white taxicabs that are readily available. The larger and more luxurious resorts tend to be even further south of town along the southwestern shores. It follows that the best scuba diving spots are just off the southwest shores, near the large resorts. If you are up for an adventure I suggest renting a scooter and picking a direction. At 33 miles by 9 miles, the island is fairly small if you have transportation. Although the shores near San Miguel along the crowded west coast are not known for their beaches, the southeastern shores have some really spectacular ones. Oftentimes there is very little traffic here so the beaches are pretty quiet. Sometimes people can park their scooters and enjoy a beach all to themselves. There are a few shops with refreshments and souvenirs at prices even better than in San Miguel. After traveling north again, there is a road about halfway up the island that goes across and takes you back to San Miguel entering the town from the east. It’s not hard to traverse the whole island on a scooter for under $50 US. Cozumel has several ancient Mayan ruins and although they are not nearly as large as the ones on the mainland, they are still worth the visit.
Cozumel, once a well-kept secret, now has the best of all worlds. For those who love shopping and haggling the tourist shops and bodegas of San Miguel have what you want. If you are a scuba diver or snorkeling enthusiast the clear blue waters of Cozumel will not disappoint. If you just want to do some exploring, maybe stopping to test the waters on a sparsely populated beach, a short trip from the busy port will do it. Of course, you can stay in the city for drinks, dinner, and dancing. If you’ve got the time you can try to do it all when you visit the beautiful island of Cozumel!