Cozumel Mexico is the largest inhabited island in Mexico and the oldest in the Caribbean group, Cozumel is located 12 miles off the eastern coast of the mainland (Yucatan Peninsula). The limestone plateau that forms the base of the island is 34 miles long (north to south) and 11 miles wide (east to west).
Cozumel has experienced tremendous growth over the past 20 years. But there is nothing here like the boom town atmosphere of constant building currently occurring on the nearby mainland coast from Tulum to Cancun.
The Miami-like resort of Cancun is on the mainland approximately 35 miles north as the crow flies. You can fly into Cancun and take the airport bus/ferry crossing or quick flight on Mayair. The best option is to fly directly into Cozumel’s small, modern airport.
Main Attraction—Diving and Snorkeling
The island is one of the top 5 dive destinations in the world thanks to the stunning coral reefs (second largest in the world) that are located just off it’s southwestern coast.
Add in unusually clear water–with visibility often as great as 200 ft–and you have the formula for some incredible underwater adventures. The diving is fabulous with over 100 dive ops offering far more service than you are probably accustomed to at other Class A dive destinations. The snorkeling is not too shabby either. Although for the most spectacular views down under, consider a Boat Tour.
East Side vs West side
The west side of the island, facing the Yucatan Channel and the Mexican mainland coast is where everyone lives and stays when they come to visit. This is because, unlike the east side of Cozumel which faces the open Atlantic and Cuba, the west side has electricity. Unlike the east side, the west side of Cozumel is largely sheltered from the strong winds and battering surf.
Despite the boom in tourist and residential development over the last several years, Cozumel continues to have vast expanses of untouched jungle and shoreline. The large central portion of the island is mostly undeveloped jungle brimming with wild life.
North vs South
At the north end of Cozumel’s developed west shores, there are 6 or 7 high rise condos and several resorts and hotels. The southern end has approximately the same number of all-inclusive hotels.
And right in the center you have the the vibrant city of San Miguel, population 90,000. This relatively safe, extraordinarily friendly Mayan/Mexican community has somehow managed to retain its own customs and cultural identity despite the increasing influx of visitors.
San Miguel, in fact remains one of the very few places left in the Mayan Riviera where visitors can truly experience and even become involved in traditional Yucatan culture. It’s also a great place for shopping and sampling a wide variety of Mexican, Yucatan and international cuisine.
The main waterfront road, Avenida Raphael Melgar, and promenade, is often thronging with cruise ship passengers and day-trippers from the mainland during the day. However, you need only wander a few blocks inland at any time of the day to discover a different, mellower world.
Here riots of pink or purple bougainvillea tumble down over bright-pastel walls, church bells toll and children laugh and play soccer in the streets until long after dark.
San Miguel is a a food lover’s paradise, too. Stores sell fresh yogurt laced with walnuts, crystallized limes and sour orange juice squeezed while you wait. Five blocks from the waterfront, on Avenida 30, you can find whole, mesquite-cooked chickens.
The Mercado market on 25th displays enough prime and inexpensive produce to make a vegetarian’s heart sing for joy. But the best thing about San Miguel is its people. You’ll meet all kinds: stout Mayan housekeepers in embroidered finery, glossy-haired mothers proudly pushing baby prams, sailors strolling with their sweethearts. Listen for the bread man’s clap as he peddles past. He’s announcing to the neighborhood that his pan dulce is ready to eat. Or the knife sharpener who plays a haunting tune on his flute as he wheels slowly through the quiet streets.
Dignified, merry and kind, Cozumeleños judge you not by what you do for a living, but by who you are as a person. So next time you’re in San Miguel, be sure to smile and say “hola” to the people you meet.
Cozumel Related Links:
Walking Tour of San Miguel
Sampling Yucatecan Cooking
Is a Downtown-Based Vacation Right for You?
How to Be More than “Just Another Tourist”
Hot Tips: Where the Locals Eat