It is a calm, charming island with a prime diving reputation. Known as Ah-Cuzamil-Peten (Island of Swallows) by its earliest inhabitants, it is Mexico's largest and most populated island.
Thanks to a Jacques Cousteau documentary on its world-class reefs it has been a favorite international diving destination since 1961. It is literally swimming with diving sites - about 100 have been identified around Cozumel, and at least a dozen of them are shallow enough for snorkeling.
Isla Cozumel, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, measures 53km (33mi) by 14km (9mi) and sits 71km (44mi) south of Cancun. It's 19km (12mi) off of the Yucat?n Peninsula's east coast. The island's only town, San Miguel de Cozumel, is easily traversed by foot. Its waterfront boulevard is Avenida Rafael Melgar; along Melgar south of the main ferry dock (the 'Muelle Fiscal') is a narrow sand beach. The main plaza, Plaza del Sol, is just opposite the dock.
Ancient Mayan ruins worth visiting lie in the north and south parts of the island. The nicest beaches, Playas San Francisco and Palancar, start 14km (9mi) south of San Miguel, while the world-famous coral reefs are off the island's southern shores. Much of the east and northeast region of the island is 4WD territory - and provides great opportunity for peaceful escape.
The airport is a mere 2km (1mi) north of town; there is a minibus that will take you into town. Unfortunately, no minibus service runs the other way, so from town you'll have to take a taxi to return to the airport.
The reefs are where it's at for prime scuba diving off this island. One of the best is the kilometers-long Arrecife Palancar (Palancar Reef), where stunning coral formations and a 'horseshoe' of coral heads offer some of the world's finest down-under - all at an amazing 70m (230ft) visibility. Underwater photographers should come ready to shoot like mad. The water around the reef is about 24m (80ft) deep, providing pros opportunities for fantastic deep-water diving. The north end of the reef, called Palancar Gardens, is shallower but just as gorgeous. There are caverns and plenty of brightly colored sea creatures.
The Palancar Reef areas are popular, so their much-lauded coral is always vulnerable to attack. Be careful to leave the area no less pristine than it was before your arrival. To get to this reef, which is over a kilometer (not quite a mile) off shore, you can sign up for a day cruise or charter a boat from a tour agency.
This Mayan ruin, which functioned as a jail in the 19th century, is the oldest on the island, dating way, way back to AD800. It's not a very obviously alluring attraction, but is the most accessible of Cozumel's ruins; it's 3.5km (2mi) down a paved road that heads off to the left a kilometer or two south of Playa San Francisco's access road. The ancient structure is only the size of a small house, so keep your eyes peeled for it. El Cedral is thought to have been an important ceremonial site, and today there is a small stucco church sitting next to the ruin.
This park provides world class snorkeling and scuba diving in the ocean, swimming in a pool or in the sea with dolphins, great food, exotic drinks and so much more. It is located at 9 km south on Cozumel Island. This is Cozumel?s largest monument to nature designated as a national park in 1980 to shelter, refuge and protect flora and marine fauna.
The lagoon at Chankanaab Park has ancient history in that it was at one time occupied by Mayan settlements and was possibly a pirate refuge. The word Chankanaab comes from the Mayan words, Han (small) Kanaab (sea or ocean).
Visitor services include: parking, customer service desk, sand wheelchairs, handicap accessible restrooms, showers, lockers, volleyball beach court, hammocks and lounge chairs for relaxation, children?s playground and covered beach areas to enjoy the sand and pristine ocean, free snorkel guided tour every hour trough our concessionaries, free tour guide trough our prehispanic zone every hour, Dolphin observatory.
Isla Cozumel's only town is San Miguel de Cozumel, and it is where you'll find many restaurants, bars, hotels, tour agencies, banks and other amenities. It is well-equipped to deal with the global influx - you can chow down on food ranging from vegetarian to Mediterranean to local mesquite-grilled chicken.
The waterfront Avenida Rafael Melgar is generally bustling with cruise-ship tourists; wander off the track a little for a dose of the vibrant local scene.
Plaza Del Sol, the town's main square, is a popular spot for strolling, hanging out and people-watching, especially on Sunday evenings when all of the locals seem to be out, soaking up the atmosphere.
Conceived as an instrument of ecological information and education, the Museum informs people, young and old, on the preservation of equilibrium and its fragile ecosystems.
It offers a geographic view of the history of Cozumel in four exhibit rooms:
Services include: Bilingual guides, bookstore, library, restaurant with an ocean view, internet, restrooms and permanent and temporary exhibits of local and international artists.
About 17km (11mi) from the Carretera Transversal, down the same intimidating road that leads to Punta Molas, are the large Mayan ruins known as El Castillo Real. The archaeological site, as well as the hike-in ruins a few kilometers away called Aguada Grande, are both quite far gone, their significance having blown off into the breeze some time ago.
Located 27 km on the south Costal Road, this destination is an ecological reserve which contains a variety of natural wonders. Approximately 1,113 hectares provide conservation and preservation of its 5 ecosystems.
Originally Faro Celarain was the lighthouse keeper's home. Currently, it is a museum dedicated to navigation with five exhibit rooms depicting Maya navigators, buccaneers, marine navigational signs and a display on how lighthouse keepers lived in the 1930's.
The highlights of this park include: beautiful beaches that serve as a sanctuary for sea turtles, as well as for relaxing in lounge chairs or hammocks, Colombia Sur lagoon for the observation of birds and mangroves, internal transportation to access Cozumel history, crocodile observation towers.
Services include: Access into the lighthouse where you can climb up to the top and enjoy scenic views of the area, transportation along the ecological reserve, 40 minute catamaran ride within our flora and fauna system (subject to weather conditions), bilingual guides and restrooms.
You can witness the Mayan culture and its mysteries at the most important Mayan site on Cozumel Island. San Gervasio, originally a sacred Mayan sanctuary to Ixchel Goddess of Fertility and Love, was an obligatory site for Mayan women to visit once in their lifetime. During the post-classic period (1200-1500) it became the biggest and most important site on the Island for commerce and politics in the area.
The original name is believed to have been "Tan Tun" (Over Rock) found in a specific note in the Chilam Balm of Chumayel. It takes its present name from the agricultural and cattle ranch ?San Gervasio? founded by Mr. Gervasio Novelo on September 14th 1858. At the central square, you will find the most important temples, nine buildings that form an enclosed patio with roads communicating with other squares. The area covers approximately 1.2 square miles and includes: Manitas structure and annexed temple "Chichan Nah", Central Plaza, Murcielagos structure, El Ramonal (no public access).
For beautiful seascapes, head over to the eastern shoreline - it's as wild west as it gets on this here island. Punta Chiqueros, Playa Chen R?o and Punta Morena are peaceful alternatives to the island's more crowded west-coast niches. Unfortunately, at many of the east-coast beaches the riptides and undertows can make swimming a precarious venture.
There's always something happening at Cozumel's international airport, which sees many direct flights from other parts of Mexico and the USA. Flights from Europe and other continents are usually less direct, routed through Mexico City or the USA.
You may flight from Cancun to Cozumel and viceversa trough Mayan Air. Check schedules at www.mayair.com.mx
Aside from the minibus from the airport into town, there is no bus service on the island. Taxis are available, however. For a look-see at the sights, you could probably haggle with a taxi driver to give you a tour of the island, drop you at a beach, and come back and pick you up, and still pay out less than you might for a rental car. But for more freedom, a rental car is definitely the go.