Cozumel Health and Safety

If you’ve never traveled to Mexico before, or you’ve been once and had a bad food experience, you may have concerns about Cozumel as a vacation destination. Worries tend to fall into two categories: crime and food/water related.

Here’s our FAQ’s on these two important issues. 

There are so many horrendous stories in the news about the drug wars in Mexico. Could this be a problem while visiting Cozumel? Cozumel possibly holds the record for one of the safest places to live in North, South or Central America. News in the local rags here is filled with tales of moped accidents, true. But there are seldom reports of violent crimes and these are typically crimes of passion.

Why is Cozumel so safe? It’s partly the culture–conservative, deeply religious with a very strong Mayan component. But it’s also the fact that this is an island and isolated from the mainland. So the growing crime statistics we read about for Cancun and the Yucatan coast don’t impact much here. You have to realize that it costs more than a typical day’s wages to take the ferry over here and another day’s work to get back. This definitely keeps the riff-raff down.

It should also be remembered that most of the horrible violence that has been reported is in border towns like Juarez. Cozumel is a very very long way from the rest of Mexico — all the way across the Yucatan Peninsula, a state larger than Montana — and miles out in the ocean. Drug-related incidents are beginning to creep into Cancun and Playa del Carmen although nothing that impacts on tourists. But Cozumel remains quiet, sleepy — but vigilant!

There is a huge navy presence here and they have been known to step in as needed when needed. And taxi drivers, believe it or not, are a major crime deterrent. There are hundreds of taxis roaming the city and the island round the clock. They see everything that’s going on and they report it to the police and then join in the chase and capture. It’s not good for business so they pitch right in and are a real force for keeping the island safe.

Finally, Cozumel is considered by the Mexican government to be one of their crowning gem destinations. It is regularly visited by presidents and other high-up officials and is a huge diving mecca for the Mexican upper classes. Any serious crime problems and the government is watching — and caring what happens here.

What about crimes against persons like purse snatching, pick pockets and the like?

You will feel safe walking along the waterfront on the main street. This is not to say the island is crime free. House robberies are a fact of life for those that don’t spend some time paying attention to home security. And there have been some purse snatching of late — a small gang of youths on moped. But incidents like this are still big news in the local rags which shows you how infrequently they happen in the large scheme of things.

It’s always good to keep your eyes open and your wit’s about you anywhere in the world you’re in crowded areas or there is a sizable population of people that make a lot more money than you do. But here a thief might take a camera if you leave it in plain sight on the back seat of your unlocked car here. But you’re not going to get murdered in your sleep or caught in the crossfire from a police shoot out. In some other parts of Mexico this is a real possibility. On Cozumel? Not likely! And it’s one of the special charms of visiting this place.

 Is the water safe to drink?

Cozumel My Cozumel drinking waterAlthough Cozumel’s water supply is chlorinated to some extent, you should never drink the tap water. (This includes anywhere in the Yucatan, by the way–even if you are staying at a major resort with its own filtration system.) Vacation rentals provide bottled water in 5 gallon water cooler jugs and some hotels provide small bottles each day. You should drink that. In addition, this water is made via osmosis and tastes great and isn’t salty and hard like the tap water.

Contrary to popular belief, locals don’t become ‘immune’ by drinking the water long term and letting their bodies adjust. Any local with a grain of education also drinks bottled water. And this is what’s served in restaurants and it’s what they use to make ice. Which is why you won’t automatically be giving a big glass of water when you sit down at most restaurants here. It costs them a little money for that water–it doesn’t come from the tap.

Being kind of a germ freak, we take it a step further to be safe — never brush your teeth with the tap water. And we would also advise not running shower water over your face and into your mouth. Follow these rules and you will NOT get a water-borne digestive problem.

 How Safe Is It to Eat in Local Restaurants?

All the Restaurants recommended on this site use bottled water for food prep, drinking and ice. Although we have not yet had time to review every good restaurant in Cozumel, the ones you’ll see listed on this site continue to pass our stringent standards for cleanliness. We would, however, urge you not to buy food from street vendors unless it’s good and hot and of the well-cooked variety.

I Want to Eat the Local Produce. Is It Dangerous to Do This?

Cozumel My Cozumel mercadoThe selection of vegetables and fruit available on Cozumel is outstanding and so are the prices. If you like pineapple, mango, papaya and so much more, you can enjoy it all you wish on your trip. But it’s a very good idea to cleanse this food before you begin to use it.

By the way, when you eat unwashed produce in the U.S. you run some of the same risk, although in the U.S. produce is washed (well, usually) and when YOU wash it in the U.S. you are using safe water (well, usually). So after you treat local produce with one of the methods described below, it is safer than what you often get at home. We have NEVER been sick from consuming locally-bought raw produce that was first treated in the manner described. Try it, you’ll like it. Here are 3 good methods we use all the time here.
Any of these suggestions should be applied to unpeeled produce that you plan to eat raw or (safest) cook.

Method #1 Rinse fruit in tap water then give it a good scrub wash with soap, rinse again and allow to thoroughly dry before peeling/consuming.
Method #2. Rinse fruit in tap water. Then soak it for 20 minutes in a solution of tap water to which you’ve added bleach at a ratio of about 2 T to a gallon on water. At the end of the 20 minutes, pour off the bleach water and rinse again using bottled water.
Method #3. Rinse produce then soak in a solution of iodine and water. The solution you mix should contain .01% iodine. Iodine is available at all local pharmacies or bring a bit yourself. Widest available brand is Bentadine. Rinse afterwards in tap water and allow to dry thoroughly or use bottled water for the rinse and enjoy immediately.

Do not waste your money on food sanitizers that contain colloidal silver dyed to look like iodine. This has been discredited although it is still widely sold both in the US and on Cozumel.

Are There Any Other Measures I Should Take to Avoid Becoming Ill in Mexico?

Let us begin by saying that, if you use common sense and follow the advice on this page, its unlikely you’ll get sick. Here is a reminder on the ‘common sense’ rules to follow.

–Watch it on the alcohol levels especially mixed with fruit juice as many of them are here so you don’t realize how much you’re taking in. Most everyone enjoys drinking on vacation, however. So if you find yourself overdoing it a little, be sure to drink plenty of water — like a quart minimum — before going to bed that night.

–Watch how much fruit you eat on the first couple of days. The fruit here is so good and so plentiful that it is easy to eat 3 or 4 times what you normally would at home. Which can also cause temporary digestive problems. So keep an eye on this as well until you see how your bod reacts.

–Wash your hands a lot and carry a high alcohol content hand sanitizer with you everywhere. This isn’t just for Mexico. It’s a very good idea for plane travel and we follow these rules after public trips out when we’re in the states as well. A very good practice to get into. The wife will add to get in the habit of rubbing your nose or eyes with the knuckle of your hand instead of your fingers.

What happens if I get ill anyway

The vast majority of digestive tract upsets among tourists is drinking to much alcohol, eating too much fruit and/or not hydrating enough with plenty of fresh water. If you come down with Montezuma’s Revenge and simply can’t just stay put and/or near a bathroom, Imodium AD (sold everywhere locally as Lomotil) will slow things down, take away the cramps and allow you to get on with your vacation. It will also slow down moving whatever is bothering you out of your system. So use this handy drug judiciously

Another thing that makes you feel great when you have a hangover or a digestive attack such as diarrhea — Pedialyte. Again, all the drugstores and groceries here carry Pedialyte, electrolyte solution, in a variety of flavors. Chill down and drink a liter and you will be amazed at how much better you feel.

If your problems don’t clear up within 12-24 hours with this treatment, you may have picked up something. In which case, it’s time for an antibiotic. Never, ever take these as a prophylactic. But if you’ve been sick for awhile and it isn’t going away, it’s great to have a supply of Ciprofloxicin on hand. According to the CDC, the recommended dosage is 500 mg twice per day for 3-5 days. You can get a scrip from your doc back home while will be honored at any pharmacy on Cozumel should you need to use it.

What Kind of Medical Service is Available Locally?

Cozumel My Cozumel medical servicesThere is excellent medical service on the island now and your insurance will cover you for problems. You also will have the novel experience of Not Having to Wait Very Long. We like the San Miguel Clinic on Calle 6 between Avenida 5 and 10–a block back from the waterfront behind the Cozumel Museum.

We had a guest a couple years back who had a recurrence of a kidney infection while visiting. We whisked her in there and they had her in an observation room with a nurse taking her blood pressure in a matter of about 5 minutes. Within 10 minutes a doctor who spoke beautiful English was at her side. They diagnosed the problem, kept her overnight, fixed her up and sent her home. The parents told me that their insurance covered all but $100 of the expenses.

Another good-sized well-equipped facility with many capable English-speaking doctors is the Cozumel Medical Center (CMC) which is on Calle 1 between Avenida 50 and 55.

And should you experience a problem while diving, your operator will whisk you right over to one of the two state-of-the-art hyperbaric chambers on the island.

So — that covers all the bases. Follow the simple advice given here and you will have no problems. And on the off chance that you do….now you know what to do about it. So if you’re a worry wart like the wife, you now have it covered. So Enjoy!

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