Cozumel – what to do in this charming island

In MEXICO, QUINTANA ROO by Isabella BiavaLeave a Comment

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One of the reasons why I love Cozumel is the fact that you find history, culture, beach, nature, and fun in one tiny island and  it’s at an easy reach from Playa del Carmen.

History or Legend says that back in the day during the  Mayan civilization, women in search of a prosperous marriage would travel to Cozumel to take offerings to the temple of Ixchel, goddess of fertility; and to consult the oracle. Other sources are saying that there is no such thing and it was all a marketing strategy. The logic part of me is closer to this last interpretation, the romantic side of me likes to believe in the legendary interpretation a find it very romantic. Up to you, whatever makes you happy. 

The island, was  the most important place for pilgrimage at the time, after Chichen Itza, and although the main settlement has been totally destroyed, you can still see some ruins scattered around; the main one, and well worth a visit, being the site of San Gervasio,  located in the middle of the island, and thus easily reachable from town.

Here you will find, amongst other things, the Temple of Ixchel, in the midst of lush jungle…just be careful if babies are not in your plans… (just kidding!). Another secret corner, also known to be one of the sacred places is a stretch of land, 1 km long just outside Cozumel, called Isla de la passion (Isle of passion), a popular place now for celebrations and banquets.

san-gervasio-cozumel-mayan1Although I find Mayan history and its surrounding mysticism extremely interesting, I can assure you that this is not the main reason why hundreds of tourists and travelers are pouring onto this beautiful island on a daily basis.

Situated a 30-minute ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel can be an easy one-day tour during your stay, though you will by no means get bored if you decide to stay over for a few nights. It is also one of the main stops for multiple cruise liners…but worry not.., the cruise crowds won’t affect your peaceful escape if tranquillity is what you are seeking…

Cozumel is principally known as the mecca of divers, and the surrounding reef is considered the second-best in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I will tell you about that more specifically as soon as I have taken the plunge myself. 

If you are a diver, whether multiply-certified or simply a newbie enthusiastic on the underwater world,  this is without a doubt the place to be. Each hotel has its own diving shop, and on every corner of the main town there is a diving center, a diving-equipment shop, a diving bar… basically, everything is about diving! I did wonder to what extent the coral reef had suffered due to the numbers of tourists, but it is apparently still very attractive; amazing cave diving is very popular, too.

However, if diving is not something you are into, or you just don’t feel like it…don’ t be discouraged, there is still plenty to do.

On arrival to Cozumel by ferry, what you see around the port certainly does not look like the quaint local village which used to be there; instead, it would seem more like a touristic complex, built to welcome shoppers and party crowds alike. Once you take a few steps inland, you will, however, discover a more picturesque scene, with cute little bars and quirky restaurants, local-style houses and narrow streets. That is the main town of San Miguel, and in fact, the only inhabited area.

Nevertheless, the true wonder of Cozumel is to be found on the outskirts of the town and beyond, and if you have a few extra minutes to spare,  I can tell you how you can enjoy it to the fullest, and consequently never want to leave…

HOW TO GET AROUND

You can either choose to rent a bike, a scooter or a car, but if you are fit I would urge you to go for the bike. I went with a friend for 3 nights, which gave us 2 full days, so we decided to give it a try. It definitely turned out to be the best thing for us, but everyone

on the west coast by bike

on the west coast by bike

has their own needs and desires, thus I will tell you about our experience, whilst giving you all the possible options on where to go and what to see.

WHERE TO GO

The island is 48 km long and 16 km wide, however, the northern part is not accessible using regular transportation.  It is therefore ideal to start from downtown San Miguel and head southwards along the Caribbean coast, which is 20 km long right down to the southern tip.  I have to say that the smartest thing they have ever done is to create a cycling lane which cars – and for the initial stretch,  scooters – are not allowed to encroach upon.  This is awesome because you can ride in tranquillity without having to watch out for cars, if any, and thus concentrate on enjoying the memorable scenery.

On the Caribbean side, the water is flat, calm and open. Free spaces are interrupted by local bars and restaurants, all of them equipped to rent snorkeling gear and changing rooms for a few dollars. However, you cannot take the gear with you for the day, so we preferred to do it our own way and rent the gear in town at a very cheap rate (requiring a credit card for the deposit). This way, you are free to go snorkeling anywhere on the coast. We stopped in a few spots, left our bikes to one side and jumped in, keeping an eye on our stuff every now and then, which was generally safe.  It’s certainly not diving, but there is an abundance of marine life just off the coast as well, all very colorful and definitely worth a couple of dips. I particularly like the first part of the coast for swimming, as there is little beach; most parts are rocky which means that the water is clearer and there is more underwater life.  If you continue towards the southern point there are a couple of establishments, but I find them too crowded, the beach not so attractive and the water murky. If you like to meet people, drink and party it could be your place though.

Eco Park Punta Sur - photo courtesy www.mexicodestinos.com

Eco Park Punta Sur – photo courtesy www.mexicodestinos.com

Continue southward until you reach the lighthouse of the island, just before the route takes you up the stunning Atlantic coast, about 25 km long.  At the southern tip, you will find the entrance to Faro  Clelerain Ecological Park, which we didn´t explore on this occasion; this is a protected area with a preserved ecosystem where you can find the Colombia Lagoon, providing undisturbed shelter for much of the wildlife, including endangered marine turtles and crocodiles. Keep in mind that if you are exploring by bike, you will have to cycle another 5km to get to the lighthouse from the entrance.

If you decide to skip the park, just after it is the first beach bar on the Atlantic coast, with restrooms, a nice restaurant, and a beautiful, equipped beach.

We chose to move on, attracted by the intense blue of the water and the infinite white-sand beach, which was hailing us like a siren… the view was just breath-taking.  We wanted to continue our ride and find the best spot on the beach where we could also take a swim and found it we did… (picture).

A note on safety is due here: the east coast is known for surfing because of its currents and beautiful waves, which are fascinating but can also be dangerous for the inexperienced swimmer (as well as the experienced!), so please take care before entering the water on this side. Having said that, we managed to find an amazing spot with no current, or at least that’s what my friend said, as personally, I found it quite rough. I decided to trust my friend, a man of the sea and its language, and we both jumped right into the blue water like little kids, happy and refreshed.

To take a break from the long ride (by then we had covered 30km in total) we devoured our sandwiches, purchased from our favorite health-food restaurant, La Cuisine (which makes the make the best vegan wraps ever), and we were ready for phase two. The sun was really hot and we were continuously rubbing high protection sunscreen on our skin, which we would highly

Breakfast @ La cousine

Breakfast @ La cousine

recommend,  especially on a bike or scooter, where you WILL need it! Along the way, the view continued to mesmerize us, while the breeze from the ride was soothing under the strong sun (and is generally the easiest way to get burned!) It really was becoming the perfect day.

You can find many lovely spots on the beach along the way, as it is almost one long shoreline, rarely interrupted by nice, wooden bars and the odd art-and-craft shop.  I found myself imagining how cool it would be to spend a night on this side of the island and fall asleep to the sound of the waves, but there are neither hotels nor houses here, all the homes and lodgings are on the other coast.  Too bad.

So, we carried on right until the very end of this beautiful, easily-rideable paved road, with its preferential lane for bikers, until we literally bounced into thick vegetation.. as well as coming across a typical wooden bar situated on the gorgeous, ivory-sand  beach; a good stop for fresh water  (by the time you get there you will probably have run out of your reserves!). At this point, you are supposed to turn left and start heading inland. but my friend, not willing to take heed of the warnings of the bike-rental company, tried to go beyond that point and play Indiana Jones; we did eventually realise it was not such a good idea, as the vegetation gets very thick and the road much tougher, so we ended up back on the original track. 

The view is not so amazing in this area but can be interesting, and half-way along you will find the turn-off to the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio,  set back about 6 km down a paved road, off the main route.   You will probably be exhausted by that time, especially with the prospect of cycling 60km in total.  After a full day in the sun, even by motorbike, I would bet you would just want to go back to your cozy hotel, as you find yourself much closer to town at this point. We would actually suggest visiting this very interesting historical site early morning if you can, while it is still cool, or warm rather than hot, depending on the time of the year!

After more than 45 km, these last 16 were a joke for us, and not satisfied with the exercise we had had, we decided to discover the last piece of the island still missing from our tour, south of the harbor. We, therefore, crossed the busy town, in search of our new adventure,  but not before stopping at a local eatery, to refuel our stomachs and quench our thirst! On that side of the island, you are still facing the Caribbean Sea and the water is very tranquil. There are a few open spots in between hotels, where you can dive into the water from the lunar stone-like rocks. I would suggest you go late in the afternoon so that you can enjoy the beautiful sunset like we did. It was amazing.

We were staying in a private home, very cute,  and just outside the downtown, and after a hot shower, we walked along the inland roads to get to the center. It is all very safe and laid-back here, one of the things I like the most about this island.

It was nice to walk all the way into town in the evening and check out some new restaurants. Browsing through the reviews we had found what was to become our favorite restaurant, Kondesa, where we returned twice as we liked it so much. We normally like to explore and try different things, but at the same time, it is nice to go back to a place where you enjoyed the atmosphere and felt comfortable. Actually, the waiters recognized us from the previous night and were very excited to see us back, treating us like frequent customers. That was very cool and made us feel at home. After dinner it was nice to walk around the center, it is very lively without being crowded, and a good opportunity to walk off dinner!

On the second day, we decided to rent a scooter and try to do it the easy way, which was really fun! We did the same ride around the island, holding onto our snorkeling gear until we finally took a long dip to explore the marine life on the  Caribbean side. Before that, however, we wanted to have our cultural moment and went to visit the San Gervasio ruins, which were very interesting. I would suggest asking for a guide at the entrance as they can give you some hints on the Mayan culture and you actually understand what you are seeing. After the ruins, we took the same route of the island, only in the opposite direction, stopping off at a white-sand beach on the Atlantic coast, and then heading back from the Caribbean to stop and snorkel. Amazing. I should just warn you that the wind blows against you when you ride this way round, so keep it in mind if you are on any form of bikes!

FACTS

How to get there:

BY AIR: in Cozumel, there is an international airport where all the major airlines from the USA and Canada fly to directly; You can check here for any flight deals. 

BY FERRY: from Playa del Carmen, there are 3 ferry companies which run back and forth to the island all of them mostly every hour from 6 am to 9 pm.  The ferry terminal is located right in downtown Playa del Carmen, about a block and a half from the main square and Plaza Playacar. For the ferry schedule and reservation you can check on Ultramar Site. Here below their schedule:

cozumel

It is just a beautiful 30-minute ride in comfortable seats, where you can choose between staying indoors or enjoying the amazing view from the top deck. If you navigate towards Cozumel in the evening you will be able to see an amazing sunset (see header picture), while riding towards Playa del Carmen in the morning, the sun rising beyond the island on the Atlantic side casts a spectacular light upon the entire coast. A real show…

Sunrise from the Ferry on the way back to Playa del Carmen

Sunrise from the ferry on the way back to Playa del Carmen

 

Where to eat in Cozumel 

Cozumel is full of restaurants for any taste and choice, but I  want to suggest the two restaurants that I particularly liked and would continue to go back to again and again.

Kondesa – basically awesome! I would describe it as Mexican and International Fusion Gourmet Cuisine. Very sophisticated dishes in a cozy and fancy environment; beautiful garden, very nicely decorated, warm and friendly atmosphere. Casual/fancy dress code.

La Cuisine – as a wannabe vegan, I have to say this is THE place to go. Breakfast and lunch totally recommended, plenty of healthy options for both vegans and non-vegans, clean and cozy, decorated with love, great smoothies, and freshly-made juices. The kitchen is open, and you can see while they are preparing your delicacy.  I loved it.

WHERE TO STAY IN COZUMEL

SECRET AURA COZUMEL – ALL INCLUSIVE – ADULT ONLY Oddly enough, as I don’t normally fancy all-inclusive hotel, Secrets Cozumel is an exception I am happy to do. A little gem nestled on the busy coast of the island, with their private beach and all the comfort you need for your perfect vacation. Besides, it’s only for Adult which means peace and tranquillity guaranteed.

If you want to check out other options you can click on this banner. I love to book with booking.com They always have great deals and they are easy to deal with.

Booking.com

OTHER USEFUL STUFF

Bike Rental they are absolutely top-notch. The bikes are new and they deal in great professional brands. Service is superb, they can bring the bike to your place and pick it up .. (Swiss time). In order to reserve a bike, place your order on their website and they will get in touch with you in the late afternoon to arrange the pick-up. Very competent and nice people.

Scooter rental— the one we picked was not exceptional, in fact – quite the contrary. Therefore we have nothing to recommend. However you will find tons of bike rentals in town, or you can ask the concierge at your hotel.  Just make sure the bike is in good condition before you set off. Costs should be around 50 USD, with taxes and insurance included.

Note from the author: If you think I missed anything, or you require further information on a topic I didn’t mention, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to find it out for you!

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About the Author

Isabella Biava

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Hi there! I am so thrilled you are here! I am Isabella, I own an Italian passport but spent the last 16 years living in many different countries among which Seychelles, Antigua, Jamaica, and Mexico, until I finally realized that settling in one place was not for me. It took a while, I know. 🙂 So, I dropped all the heavy stuff and walked away, again, with a suitcase (or two) full of dreams, swimsuits and hiking gear. I am now exploring Mexico before heading to Central and South America, expanding my boundaries and documenting my new life in this blog.

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