Me gusta Cozumel. Me gusta Cozumel mucho.
Cozumel, Mexico's largest Caribbean Island, lies 12 miles off the Yucatan coast. This stunning tropical retreat offers visitors archaeological wonders and a rich Mayan and Mexican culture. With white sand beaches, turquoise waters and beautiful coral reefs, Cozumel offers great scuba diving, water sports or just lazy days at the beach.
Cozumel has developed fast as a cruise ship port. Four piers along its west coast are used to dock or tender cruise ships: the Ferry Pier downtown, Punta Langosta, the International Pier (SSA) and Puerta Maya. Apart from the Ferry Pier, all of them offer world-class facilities, shops, food and drink, and taxis are readily available. "Puerta Maya is currently closed for repairs, it is expected to re-open in 2009. Plans are underway to upgrade the SSA International Pier so it can receive the massive new 5,400 passenger 'Oasis-class' cruise ships from 2010."
On busy days in the high season (December - April), more than 10 ships could be in port, but the island's infrastructure is well-designed, so passengers shouldn't experience waits or delays even on the busiest of days.
The name Cozumel comes from the Mayan cuzamil, which means Land of the Swallows, after the birds that frequent the island. To the Maya, the island is the home of Ixchel, their goddess of fertility and the moon.
San Miguel, Cozumel's main town, offers restaurants to suit all tastes. Cuisine ranges from a perfect blend of Mexican and Caribbean tastes to more traditional international dishes like pizza and sushi. Fresh seafood dishes are a specialty, and no visit is complete without trying the famous local clawless lobster.
In the evening, you can see a fiery sunset over the glistening Caribbean Sea before heading to one of the island's countless bars or nightclubs. During the day, you may want to look for some gifts in the many shops that offer Mexican handcrafts, hammocks, ceramics, leather, straw hats, souvenirs and jewelry.
From Cozumel, a variety of excursions is available. You can snorkel, take a jeep ride, or visit ruins on the island. Or you can take a day trip to the mainland to visit famous Mayan ruins at Tulum, Coba or Chichen Itza. The more adventurous might want to go deep-sea fishing or swimming with dolphins. And if the sea's reefs don't offer enough for hardened scuba divers, try diving in one of Yucatan's many freshwater cenotes instead.
Transportation Major car rental firms including Hertz, National, Budget and Avis are all represented on Cozumel. Fiesta Car Rental is a local operation (987-872-0433); another is Marlin Cars & Scooters (987-872-5501). Cabs are relatively inexpensive, but ask the fare before you enter. Pedi-cabs are often available from the ship to the street. A ferry plies the water between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel almost every hour from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Lunch Choose your cuisine: Italian, Caribbean, seafood, and of course, Mexican. A favorite for food and fun is Carlos 'n' Charlie's -- even if all you want is a cold cerveza and a taco or two. If you're looking for American-style fare, Hard Rock Café is always a good bet, on the seafront at Avenida Rafael Melgar 2A (987-872-5271).
Shopping For original fine jewelry, try Tanya Moss. Tucan carries the ubiquitous silver goods and craft items from throughout Mexico. Los Cinco Soles and Mi Casa are great for folk art and crafts as well. Local hot sauces make good gifts for your hot-blooded friends. Cozumel mavens advise shopping early in the day, if possible, before passengers from too many ships pour into the shops. Be aware that street vendors may offer goods of a lesser quality (yes, including T-shirts) than those in the shops. Silver bracelets, necklaces, earrings, etc. are very inexpensive, but quality varies.
Attractions Cozumel's reefs are federally protected as a Marine Park. The park authority enforces rules and regulations about water and underwater activities to protect the environment. There's plenty of water around, and if diving is your thing, this is the place for you.
Some of the most popular dive sites include Palancar Reef, the San Francisco Wall and Tormentos. While you're at it, try to see some of the Mayan ruins. You might have to choose one or the other, but either way, you're a winner.
Watersports There are many to choose from. Want to take a dive in a submarine? Consider an undersea adventure from Atlantis Submarines (www.atlantisadventures.com), at about $80 per person. Dive at Chankanaab Park, with its black coral trees and coral mounds called "Bolones." Visitors can also swim with captive dolphins there. Chankanaab is the island's natural landmark; in addition to dive and snorkeling, it offers a lagoon, a beach, a botanical garden and refreshments. Providers of diving and other water sports options include Aqua Safari (987 872 0101); Black Shark (email: email@example.com); Blue Bubble Divers (www.bluebubble.com); Deep Blue (www.deepbluecozumel.com); or a range of other operators (www.thisiscozumel.com/diving).
Golf Cozumel Country Club has a championship 18-hole, par-72 golf course. Reservations are recommended. (www.cozumelcountryclub.com.mx).
Families To really experience the island, your best bet is to visit one of the ruins that make this area unique. Remember, it's a hot trip and little ones really won't enjoy the day. Plan accordingly. Teens are better suited to trekking through ruins and imagining past civilizations. Your best bet? Chichen Itza. Another good choice might be a day on the beach at Playa San Francisco with its clear waters, golden sand and refreshment stands. Ships supply towels. Chankanaab Park offers a variety of marine life, dive experiences and more, including a museum and gardens.
Horseback riding is another option, at Buena Vista Ranch (987-872-1537 or 987-872-4374, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). This is Cozumel also offers a range of tours including ATVs and catamarans (www.thisiscozumel.com/tours).
Honeymooners Find one of the less-populated beaches (maybe on the island's east side) and enjoy this Caribbean Riviera, or ask the shore excursion desk or the concierge for the name of one of the island's most posh hotels and have a long, romantic champagne lunch. Hint: Ask your travel agent for the name of a popular honeymoon hotel.
For more information: Cozumel Tourism Board (www.islacozumel.com.mx)
This article was contributed by the editor of the Cozumel Web site "This is Cozumel."