San Miguel, Cozumel is not just a cruise ship stop or a blur out the taxi window on the way to one of the resorts that cluster on the north and south end of Mexico’s largest inhabited island. Few realize this buzzing little metropolis is a tempting target in its own right.
A visit to San Miguel with its safe streets, great food and family-oriented culture offers a remarkable opportunity to experience a vibrant Mexican/Mayan community firsthand.
The center city is a lively place to live, work and visit. Tailor shops, key makers, produce markets and tiny family-run restaurants intermingle closely with schools, doctor’s offices and private residences. In fact, except during siesta hours (roughly 1:30 PM to 4 PM) the streets are full of people from morning until long after dark.
Most Sunday nights towns-people crowd the large, downtown plaza with the iconic Cozumel landmark, tall clock tower and cooling views of the sea. They come to giggle and flirt, to listen to music and watch the water/light show. Parents show off carefully groomed and dressed-up children and older folks sit on one of the many cools, stone benches chatting softly in Mayan and keeping a sharp eye on the scene.
Although Avenida Raphael Melgar, the waterfront road and promenade, is often thronging with cruise ship passengers and day-trippers from the mainland, they’re gone by sunset. Plus 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. Up on Avenida 30, five blocks from the waterfront, there’s whole, mesquite-cooked chickens to be had.
And 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. You may be surprised at how many will reward you with a warm, rich grin in return.
Other 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