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Cozumel: Exploring the Island

Cozumel Scuba Diving
 

Exploring Cozumel Island

Take a "walk on the wild side" and explore Cozumel's nearly deserted east coast.

For a lot of folks the phrase "exploring Cozumel" means diving, diving and more diving. But although the reefs that curl around the southern end of the island offer spectacular opportunities for discovering the world down under, there's plenty to look at above the water as well.

Here's a few suggestions:

Get Wild: The Beach Shack and Swim Tour

Get Real: Exploring downtown San Miguel

Go Natural: Exploring the Jungle, cenotes and other beautiful but hard-to-reach spots.

Touring Cozumel by Car

Unless you're staying far north or south of town, you really don't need a car for every day of your vacation in Cozumel. And even if you're staying way out of town, you still may be better off using taxis. It's hard to over-emphasis what a presence taxis are on the island except to say that these red and white vehicles are everywhere and, as long as you get yourself out on a fairly large road where they can spot you, you're not going to wait long to be picked up.

 

Figure if you're staying at El Presidente and you want to make one round trip into town per day, for dinner or shopping. You're looking at around $12 each way in taxi fares or $24/day for one RT into town. So with the cheapest available rental vehicles being in the $30 range and these will tend to be a little banged up--on up to $75/day for a fancy jeep, you may find the convenience of cabs is more to you and your pocketbook's liking.

 

But whether you decide to rent a car for the full week or not, you should definitely consider acquiring a vehicle for one day and doing the Island Tour. With a car you can cruise the straight, ten mile road that bisects the island from the west to the east coast. Once there you'll find yourself driving a long, semi-winding but very flat stretch of road that edges wild, deserted beaches. You'll see rocky outcropping for tidepool hopping and long stretches of pristine white sand for dipping and surfing.

On Cozumel island, the condition of rental vehicles is all over the board from brand new cars (fairly unusual here) to semi-junkers where the window falls out when you try to roll it down and the clutch is nearly shot. So be careful about renting sight unseen. There are several exceptions. One is Jose Crespo's new op, Rentals 2000. New scooters, VW convertibles and Chevy Pops and he'll bring them right to you. We recommend him. Click the Logo above to read more about this new rental business.

 

In between there are several quaint little beach bar/restaurants that are open only during the day because there's no electricity on this side of the island. So plan to spend at least half a day beachcoming or surfing interspersed with stop ins for refreshment at places like Coconuts (gorgeous view up on a little cliff above the ocean, decent food and clean restrooms) or Mescalitos (great burgers and hammocks on the beach. )

A new place to stop on the east side of the island: the new Punta Sur National Park. Climb the old lighthouse for a stunning view of the coastline, watch crocodiles being fed and, in winter months check out bird nesting grounds on a deluxe pontoon boat ride in Colombia Lagoon. Good snorkeling here also.

After you've done the east coast Beach Shacks 'n Swim Hop (which could turn into an all day affair.) you can either continue on around the point and start back heading back north on the west coast road, stopping if desired at one of the beach clubs along the way like Nachi Cocom, Mister Sachez or Dzul Ha.

Or retrace your path through the center of the island and stop off at the San Gervasio ruins. Although not as impressive as many mainland ruins (See Exploring the Mainland), the setting is lovely, the paths and informational signs well marked and entertaining, inexpensive guides are available.

 

Touring the Jungle and Hard-to-Reach Spots

Cozumel is still 96% jungle which means there are plenty of opportunities for investigating the flora and fauna of a subtropical island.

Although you'll get lots of chances to see tropical birds and some rather large iguanas just about anywhere you stay on the island, to truly delve into the jungle environment where you can swim in crystal clear cenotes and sight coatis, crocs and monkeys along the way, consider signing up for a guided tour.

There are quite a variety of these from jungle or beach horseback riding trips (around $40 for 2 hours) to mountain bikes ($75 for 3 hours), hiking or ATV and Jeep tours. Canadian-owned Aventuras Naturales offers quite a variety of tours most of which involve a swimin a "crystal clear cenote" deep in the jungle. Their horses look very healthy, too. E-Mail for More Info about These Tours.

 

The Aventuras Horses are in good shape and well-cared for.

 

Exploring Downtown San Miguel

Unless you've chosen an all-inclusive resort and never got around to leaving the grounds, by the end of your first trip to Cozumel you've probably discovered that San Miguel is a Lot of Fun with a capital F. There's the great restaurants, nightlife and shopping, of course. But there's lot more to San Miguel, Cozumel than just the downtown tourist district.

Get off the beaten path and mingle with the locals in a friendly way (See our article on How to Be More Than Just Another Tourist) and you're likely to find yourself walking around town with a sappy smile on your face from all your encounters with friendly Cozumelenos. Walking or biking the back streets of San Miguel is a safe, fun way to explore the rich and fascinating Mayan/Mexican culture of the island.

 

In the morning stroll 5 blocks back from the waterfront to the island's traditional market (Avenida 25 and Salas) and take in the scene of busy restauranteurs and Mayan housewives purchasing the freshest spices and produce for the day's meals. Buy a liter of freshly squeezed juice or a coconut candy from one of the vendors and root among the stalls for interesting, unusual souvenirs.

In fact, if you like to shop, give some of the little Mom and Pop stores back in town a try. You may find some unusual souvenirs to bring back and for a fraction of the price of purchasing them on the waterfront. For example, Spanish comic books and magazines are wonderful gifts for anyone who's taking a class en español.

 

The same goes for restaurants. Like most of Latin America, Cozumelenos generally eat their largest meal of the day between around 1:30 and 4 PM. So if you're hungry at this time of the day, look for small, open-air restaurants on neighborhood side streets.

If they're full of locals snoufing down gigantic portions of home-cooked food at prices that seem too low to be true, you've found a good place. (Remember--local folks get the same bugs tourists do. And if a place makes people sick, word gets around REAL fast.) Another sign that you've found a good place is if you see people coming in with covered pots and dishes to get take-out meals for the family at home.

If you like spectator sports, another inexpensive way to join in and enjoy the local culture--attend a professional basketball or semi-pro baseball game. We've got some rabid fans here because the teams are so good. Games tend to be a lot of fun--both for player AND spectator watching.

Another place to hang out if you want to be around a lot of merry Mayan families having a lot of fun--Sundays at beaches like Chen Rio on the east side of the island or Playa Azul at the north end of Cozumel's west side.

Or join locals in another of the favorite island sports--people-watching. Sunday nights in the plaza when folks gather to flirt and catch up on gossip is a good bet. But almost any night--from sunset on--find a seat downtown on the seawall near Plaza del Sol and join on-their-break taxi drivers and the occasional couple or family in watching the Human Comedy Parade taking place across the street.