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A guide to Isla Cozumel

By: Catherine Gordon

February 9, 2016

If you are planning to visit Isla Cozumel, you won’t be short of things to do. This is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean and has consistently been a tourist hotspot since the “˜60s. So no, you won’t be exploring lesser-known local sites here, but the compensation is that there are loads of activities, beaches, restaurants and hotels to satisfy any visitor, from the younger crowd to families. And it’s not hard to escape the herd and discover there is more to Cozumel than you might have anticipated.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Hire some wheels to get you around the island © Cozumel & Riviera Maya Tourism Board

The first thing you’ll see when you arrive in Isla Cozumel’s principal city, San Miguel, are the giant cruise ships and crowds of tourists flocking to the main square. So the second thing to do is locate a mode of transport (rent a Jeep, bicycle, scooter or just grab a taxi) and get moving around the island. Cozumel is big, 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, so even with a weeklong trip, you won’t have time to do everything, but you can have fun trying.

 

A good place to start is at the southern tip of the island, where you’ll find the wild and untouched Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, with its endless stretched of fine sand, crocodile-filled lagoons and amazing views from its lighthouse. Here you can snorkel, take boat ride or visit the small museum.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is Cozumel’s largest ecological reserve © Cozumel & Riviera Maya Tourism Board

If you take the main road leading across the island from San Miguel you’ll get to the east side, known as “˜the wild side’, with its secluded beaches, jungle terrain and hidden water caves. Stop off for a margarita and guacamole dip at Mezcalito’s, where you can swing in a hammock and watch the waves. The northeast side of this coastline is only accessible on guided dune buggy tours, so you’ll have to put goggles and helmets on if you want to explore the sand dunes. One of the best places to swim and snorkel on the wild side is Playa Chen Rio, or take a picnic lunch to the quiet Playa Bonita. Track down Playa El Mirador for natural arches, splashing waves and sea spray.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

El Mirador on the wilder east side of the island © Cozumel & Riviera Maya Tourism Board

Mexico has some of most innovative street art in the world, and at the end of 2015, the Seawalls: Murals for Oceans Festival invited some of the best international street artists to paint permanent murals in Cozumel to highlight ocean environmental issues. Take a stroll and look out for more than 30 stunning and unique pieces of urban art around the main city of San Miguel.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Aquatic-themed street art mural by Aaron Glasson in San Miguel © Serfati Photography

It goes without saying that an island in the Caribbean will have one major activity: water sports. Cozumel is a firm favourite with scuba divers due to its incredibly clear water visibility of more than 100 feet and its deep wall dives where you can see everything from turtles to lobsters. There are countless boat tours to take you snorkelling, as well as stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, kite surfing, parasailing and even an underwater submarine ride. But to get away from the pack, try a surfing lesson with Cozumel Surfing on the crowd-free east side of the island. It is the perfect place to learn on a long board in the rolling waves.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Take your pick of boards and learn to surf on Cozumel’s east coast © Cozumel Surfing

The best time of year to visit Isla Cozumel for a more lively experience is in early February, when the weeklong Cozumel carnival takes place. This is a major event in the cultural calendar with music, vibrant costumes, parades and concerts during the day and through the night into the early hours. Carnival in Mexico means two things: non-stop drinking and dancing, so if you like to party this one is for you. For some events you need to buy tickets in advance but there are plenty of free events in the various parques (parks) in San Miguel.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Chocolateria Isla Bella is a family-run boutique serving handmade chocolates © Chocolateria Isla Bella

For foodies, there is a glut of restaurant options on the island, serving everything from lobster to burritos. But if you’ve got a sweet tooth, head straight to the decadent boutique Chocolateria Isla Bella in San Miguel for deliciously big, handmade truffles including a tropical variety made with tequila, lime and coconut. The traditional Mexican hot chocolate was a sacred beverage to the ancient Mayan civilization that once lived in Cozumel; to find out more about its history, join the KaoKao Factory Tour, where you can use traditional tools to make your own chocolate mix to take back home.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Ancient Mayans worshiped the Mayan goddess Ix Chel at the San Gervasio ruins © Cozumel & Riviera Maya Tourism Board

The ancient Mayans who inhabited Isla Cozumel left many sites that have been unearthed as ruins. By visiting them, you’ll gain an understanding of the indigenous inhabitants of the Yucatan region. The San Gervasio ruins contain a temple built to honour the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ix Chel, and in Mayan times, Yucatan women were expected to visit the temple at least once in their lives to make offerings. It’s well worth taking some time out from the beach to visit some of these important historic sites.

 

In 2015, Cozumel recorded more than four million visitors arriving on flights and cruise ships. But that doesn’t mean you can’t escape the crowds for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. The island has many great yoga classes, spas and massage therapists, but to avoid a costly visit to a fancy five-star spa, try the more convivial surroundings of the Healing Arts Wellbeing Center in San Miguel. Here you can choose from reiki, water therapy and many other treatments.

A guide to Isla Cozumel

Take a trip to Isla Pasión for a carefree day on the beach © Cozumel & Riviera Maya Tourism Board

If you’re travelling with your family, or with a group, and want a stress-free day of seaside fun (with everything taken care of for you), then spoil yourself with a trip to Isla Pasión, an all-inclusive private island a short “˜twister’ high-speed boat ride away from Cozumel. You’ll get three hours on the island with a guide to make the most of the pristine beaches, hammocks swinging over the sea, water trampolines, quad bikes, water bikes, kid’s playground and kayaks. DJs spin Latin tunes, while tropical drinks and food is included in the price.

 

These are just a few of the many things to do on Isla Cozumel, so why not explore for yourself and see what you can discover.

 

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Cancun from London Gatwick, making it easy to discover Cozumel on your next trip.

 

Have you visited Isla Cozumel? What did you do there? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Written by Catherine Gordon

Catherine Gordon

British freelance journalist Catherine Gordon is based in Cancun, Mexico. She writes about Cancun, the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan for newspapers, magazines and online media. She specialises in travel, culture, health, luxury, water sports and off-the-beaten-track city guides. Her website can be viewed at www.catherinegordon.net

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