Often, unfairly, pegged as simply a cruise ship destination there is an effortlessly cool vibe to Cozumel. The island in the Caribbean Sea, which lies off the coast of Playa del Carmen, is a haven of incredible beaches, excellent diving spots, interesting towns and everything in between to create an amazing holiday destination.
Despite being battered by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the island has been completely revived with a host of resorts for holidaymakers to enjoy. The capital of San Miguel offers a pleasant place to spend an afternoon while the coastal roads bear the remnants of the Maya era. There is a wonderful Caribbean energy to Cozumel and this is felt in the bars, cafes and restaurants dotted around the island.
Cozumel represents a departure from the popular resorts on the mainland. Let’s take a little tour of this slice of the Caribbean in North America.
Scuba diving and Caribbean vibes
The star attraction of the island of Cozumel is undoubtedly its incredible diving spots. It is widely regarded as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world surrounded by coral reefs and crystal clear waters. There are a host of diving schools dotted around the city of San Miguel catering for everyone from beginners to experienced divers creating unforgettable holiday memories.
Grab your scuba gear and head to Stingray Beach where you can get up close and personal with this playful marine life. There’s no need to worry about being stung by these fascinating creatures as their barbs have been clipped. If you get there early in the morning you’ll be able to beat the crowds and have a chilled-out swim with the rays.
Immerse yourself in Cozumel’s unparalleled natural beauty by spending the day at Faro Celerain Eco Park. This 2,500-acre slice of paradise is home to an abundance of wildlife including crocodiles, sea turtles and exotic birds. Climb up to the Faro Celerain Lighthouse and take in the picturesque views that spread over the horizon and explore the El Caracol Mayan ruins. Don’t forget to bring your swimming costume and take a dip in the calm waters of Laguna Colombia.
Learn a little about Cozumel’s past by visiting the San Gervasio Ruins. During the time of the Mayans, the local people used to visit this shrine to pay homage to Ixchel - the goddess of love and fertility. While it may seem diminutive in size, the ruins have a special place in the hearts of the locals of Cozumel.
Why go to Cozumel?
If you want to come home with an once-in-a-lifetime experience ticked off then a holiday to Cozumel is for you. Not only can it boast some of the best diving spots in the world but the tranquil nature of its countryside will allow all the stresses and strains to simply melt away.
Tour the Mayan monuments and learn a little about where Mexican heritage was born. Take a stroll through the square of San Miguel stopping off to enjoy some delicious local cuisine and, not to forget, basking in the warm Caribbean sunshine.
Templo del Caracol: This often overlooked gem is hidden in the Parque Punta Sur, to the south of the island. It's actually a very interesting ruin to see on your holidays in Cozumel, because even though it's only a rather small, square structure it's believed the Mayans used it as a lighthouse. This would certainly make sense, as it's in the perfect position for viewing possible invaders from the sea.
San Gervaiso: The temples at this ruin site a few miles inland may be small, and completely dwarfed by the bigger structures at Chichen Itza, but they're still worth the (very low) admission price. Many of the temples were actually built to honour the Mayan god of fertility and Mayan women would travel here to pray in the hope of getting pregnant. Look out for the giant iguana lizards here too; they're well worth taking pictures of to impress your friends and family when you're back home from your holidays.
Swim alongside marine life at Stingray Beach or explore the reefs that surround the island. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced diver or a complete amateur, there are plenty of diving schools to show you the ropes. Alternatively, you can grab your snorkel and swim in the crystal clear waters on the western side of the island.
Back on dry land, Cozumel has a rich and interesting history that you can immerse yourself in. The main attraction on the island is El Castillo. It can be an adventure in itself simply trying to reach these huge Mayan ruins. Hike along paths from Punta Molas and you’ll find archaeological ruins which also include the temple of San Gervasio, a monument erected by the Mayans in tribute to Ixchel, the moon goddess of fertility.
Discover a slice of paradise in Cozumel by visiting the Parque Punta Sur. This ecological nature reserve is the largest of its kind on the island and highlights Cozumel’s rugged side. The beautiful expanse is home to wild flora as well as colourful wildlife such as exotic birds and crocodiles relaxing in their natural habitat.
Make sure you climb to the top of the historic Celarian Lighthouse and admire the breathtaking panoramic views across the bay.
Cozumel is an island of resilience. It has picked itself up and dusted itself down following the impact of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and become one of the most attractive destinations in Mexico. Snorkelling and scuba diving is hugely popular around these parts with a large number of beaches providing excellent starting points for underwater adventure.
Among the most popular stretches of coastline is Sunset Beach, the closest beach to the town of San Miguel. As its name suggests this is the ideal spot to watch the sun go down either from the white sand shore or with a refreshing mojito in hand at one of the many tiki bars along the promenade.
While Sunset Beach is a favourite among snorkelers there are two other excellent beaches for exploring the underwater paradise. A couple of minutes away is Dzul-Ha, one of Cozumel’s best kept secrets. Regarded as one of the best spots on the island for snorkelling it has become a hotspot for tourists and locals alike with a number of beach bars providing a hugely vibrant atmosphere.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter then Playa Corona is for you. This pleasant cove is an excellent place to snorkel with the crystal clear waters acting as a portal to this paradise below. Explore a rustic side to Cozumel by heading to the eastern side of the island and head to Playa Bonita, a remote beach home to a number of Mayan ruins. This is the place to be if you want to bask in blissful tranquillity.
As an island in the middle of the Caribbean, it won’t come as much of a surprise that Cozumel is blessed with some pretty special beaches. Like many of the destinations around the Quintana Roo coastline, scuba diving and snorkelling is a favourite pastime here. The beaches are relatively calm affairs with many visitors heading out on boats to explore the reefs below.
Have you got a craving for tacos? Then look no further than La Parilla Mission on Calle 1 Sur which cooks up some of the best of the tasty morsels on the island, it is also a great spot for breakfast. A little further up the road is one of Cozumel’s best kept secrets – Casa Denis.
This family-run restaurant has a beautiful homely feel from the moment you walk in. Sit down to traditional Yucatecan recipes that have been handed from generation to generation. Be inspired with a mix of Mexican and Caribbean flavours and enjoy the friendliest service you are likely to find in Cozumel.
If you fancy something a little different then relax with a jug of sangria and tuck into homemade pasta and pizzas at Guido’s. You can also taste classic American dishes at the Hard Rock Cafe.
However, you cannot leave Cozumel without visiting La Conchita del Caribe. This iconic restaurant near the island’s cruise terminal is renowned for having the best seafood in town as well as an amazing steak menu. It is a place that simply cannot be missed.
When it comes to food, Cozumel takes itself very seriously. The island is awash with a host of incredible eateries serving everything from authentic Mexican dishes to a wide range of international delicacies. While sometimes it is nice to have a taste of home when on holiday, you simply cannot miss out tasting some delicious Mexican homecooking.
Many holidaymakers spend the evening wandering the promenade soaking up the atmosphere and warm weather. Start the festivities in the laid-back Senor Frog’s situated right on the seafront. Kick back with a couple of cocktails and watch the sun disappear over the horizon. Alternatively, so enjoy something a little livelier at Fat Tuesday – a real favourite during spring break time.
If you’re looking for a bit of refinement then head to 1.5 Lounge for a classy evening as you peruse the sea view with a glass of champagne.
Carry on the party at Viva Mexico, the best known club in Cozumel. Situated in the downtown area of San Miguel you can dance the night away as the cocktails and tequilas flow. If you don’t fancy Viva Mexico you can opt for the avant garde Neptuno club.
The bright lights of Playa del Carmen may flicker from across the bay but Cozumel offers a nightlife that can rival the bigger resorts in the region. Naturally, the island isn’t as crazy as its mainland counterparts but there are still plenty of bars and clubs to let your hair down at. Like with many aspects of the island, the hub of Cozumel is San Miguel.
San Miguel’s downtown area is a little more upmarket with a number of reputable stores like jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels. Stroll down to the waterfront and spend an afternoon enjoying the ambience of this bustling part of the town. Prices for most goods are fairly reasonable but if you want to get a real bargain then practice your bartering techniques.
Shopping in Cozumel is all about immersing yourself in the island culture. Peruse the market stalls and boutiques of the Plaza del Sol area of San Miguel and hone your haggling skills. Here you’ll find a range of handmade goods which can be excellent mementos to Mexico. Take your pick of traditional Yucatecan hammocks, silver jewellery, ceramics, wood carvings and embroidered and lace clothing.