Info about Cozumel for Cruise Passengers

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About Cozumel, Mexico

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Satellite image of Cozumel island also shows the 12 mile wide Yucatan Channel and a stretch of the Mexican mainland coast. The Miami-like resort of Cancun is on the mainland approximately 60 miles north. You can fly into Cancun and take the airport bus/ferry crossing. Or zoom directly into Cozumel's small, modern airport.

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) and, despite the boom in tourist and residential development in the past few years, continues to have vast expanses of untouched jungle and shoreline.

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.

Between the north and south hotel zones on the island's west coast you'll find the vibrant city of San Miguel, population 90,000. This safe, extraordinarily friendly Mayan/Mexican community has somehow managed to retain its own customs and cultural identity despite the increasing influx of visitors.

Decorative banners adorn the pavilion at El Cedral, the island's oldest town.

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 Yucatecan culture. It's also a great place for shopping and sampling a wide variety of Mexican, Yucatecan and international cuisine.

LEFT, a large, lovely flamboyan tree shades a portion of Cozumel's downtown Plaza del Sol. Just beyond the picture, the turquoise & violet blue of the Mexican Caribbean.
The eastern side of the island is uninhabited save for a few ramshackle but charming restaurant/beach bars. The shoreline here is wild, lovely and isolated with beautiful white-sand beaches and crashing surf as well as blowholes, tidepools and exposed coral shelves cut into arches by the sea action.
The combination of great diving, snorkeling amd fishing on the west coast, lovely isolated beaches on the east and a thriving city full of shops, markets and restaurants make Cozumel an excellent vacation destination for anyone who feels that variety is the spice of life. And with a fast modern ferry to the mainland running 10 trips per day, its also great as a base from which to launch out on side trips to attractions like Playa del Carmen, Chitzen Itza, Coba, Tulum and Xcaret.
One of the modern, air-conditioned "fast jet" ferries that take passengers back and forth between Cozumel and the Yucatan Mainland 10 times per day.
The Mayan ruins of San Gervasio are not as spectacular as those that can be reached via daytrips to the mainland but they nonethless make for a lovely and peaceful jungle stroll. Recommended for a day when you've rented a car.

A Brief History of Cozumel

Mayans are known to have been inhabiting Cozumel since 300 AD and during the height of the Mayan empire the island became an important port for trade because of its strategic location between Honduras and Vera Cruz. In addition, salt and honey were produced locally and used for trade.

The Mayans believed that Cozumel was the spiritual home of Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility and love, and Mayan women are said to have journeyed from all parts of the vast Mayan empire to worship at her shrines on the island. In fact, the name Cozumel comes from the Mayan word "Cuzamil-Pectin" or "Land of the Swallows" because, as legend has it, she thanked the women for dedicating temples here to her by sending her favorite bird as a sign of gratitude.

(A sidenote for birders: There are two species of birds on Cozumel found nowhere else in the world: the Cozumel vireo and the Cozumel thrasher.)

Today more than 40 shrines still survive although most of the major ones were destroyed by the Spanish after Cortes discovered the island in 1517 and claimed it for Spain.

By 1570 a smallpox epidemic, another humanitarian legacy from Cortes, had reduced the Mayan population to less than 300 and by 1600 the island was virtually deserted making it an ideal base for pirates who terrorized the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 1848 Cozumel's population began to grow again as it was reinhabited by Mayan and white Spanish refugees from the long and bloody Caste War on the mainland.

Over the next hundred years the little town of San Miguel developed into a small, relatively prosperous fishing village until the early 60's when it was discovered by explorer and documentary film maker Jacque Cousteau who put it on the map as one of the greatest diving destinations in the world.

For years after Cousteau's discovery divers were the island's only visitors. But in the 1970's the island began to experience the same kind of tourism growth that was effecting Cancun-although, thankfully (!) on a much smaller scale.

Clock tower in downtown San Miguel's central plaza (zolaco). Photo courtesy of Don Householder.

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