Leave winter behind for the island of Cozumel and soak up Mexico’s golden sunshine.
Rimmed with white sand beaches, graceful palm trees and the deep turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the island of Cozumel lands on many travelers’ must-see lists — particularly when the rest of North America lies frozen beneath ice and snow. Cozumel sits some 45 miles south of Cancun, near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It promises plenty of beachside attractions, from active watersports to lazy days in a hammock, accompanied by a stack of books and an umbrella drink.
But visitors who succeed in pulling themselves away from Cozumel’s legendary beaches quickly find themselves rewarded with a glimpse of Mexico’s rich Caribbean culture. Ancient Mayan ruins remind visitors of the island’s long cultural heritage. And locally-sourced seafood, tropical fruits and family-owned bodegas turn mealtime into a pleasant cultural experience. Measuring just 29 miles long and 10 miles wide, Cozumel’s size makes it easy to experience all that this island promises: spectacular natural beauty, outdoor recreation, cultural attractions and Caribbean Mexico’s local flavor.
1. Caribbean Charms
Cozumel ranks as Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, and its day-time temperatures seldom drop below 80 degrees. As a result, Cozumel offers a wide range of activities that revolve around the water.
The Mesoamerican Reef, the world’s second largest, skims the edge of Caribbean Mexico, including Cozumel. Stretching nearly 700 miles and populated with more than 60 varieties of coral, the reef serves as home to more than 500 species of fish, five species of turtles along with other colorful marine creatures. The reef’s spectacular and varied beauty, with dive sites suitable for both beginners and experts and shallow waters ideal for snorkeling, combine to make Cozumel a favorite destination for water lovers of all ages. Imagine gliding through Mexico’s tropical waters, watching rainbow-colored queen triggerfish and queen angelfish dart in and out of equally brilliant coral banks. Green turtles, loggerheads and rays seem to fly gracefully through Cozumel’s crystalline waters. There’s a world of brilliant life and activity in Cozumel’s Mesoamerican Reef, and it lies just beneath the water’s surface.
Even on dry land, life revolves around the water in Cozumel. Head to the island’s favorite beaches for long days of beachcombing, sunbathing, seaside relaxation and Instagram-worthy sunsets. El Cielo, Spanish for heaven, satisfies all expectations, with sugar-sand beaches, swaying palm trees and views that look across the Caribbean Sea. Cozumel’s Parque Punta Sur ecological reserve includes nature trails, a museum and a towering white lighthouse as well as pristine beaches. And in Cozumel’s lone town, San Miguel de Cozumel, the city’s waterfront is bordered by public art and a waterfront promenade perfect for romantic evening strolls.
Legend has it that in ancient times, the island of Cozumel was home to the goddess Ixchel. Local Mayans built temples in her honor, Ixchel sent her favorite bird, the swallow, as a gift of thanks.
Cozumel, which translates to “Land of Swallows,” takes its name from this early tale, recalling the legend with a bronze statue of swallows at San Miguel’s ferry dock. The island also remembers its ancient Mayan culture at the ruins of San Gervasio, the remains of an ancient Ixchel temple. Other Mayan ruins on Cozumel include El Cedral and El Castillo Real, the Royal Castle.
Visitors who long to explore more of Mexico’s Mayan ruins discover that Cozumel isn’t far from the Yucatan’s spectacular seaside ruins of Tulum. But there’s a lot more contemporary culture in Cozumel. The island’s 150-year-old Carnival tradition, a celebration that includes dancers in brightly-colored costumes, local music, lively parades and food stalls, takes place along San Miguel’s waterfront.
Also along the San Miguel waterfront sits the city’s central square, a plaza surrounded by historic stone buildings and busy with local families. Watch children playing in the fountain, shop from the local flower and art vendors and watch dusk fade into sunset overlooking the tranquil Caribbean Sea.
Given its Caribbean location, it’s no surprise that Cozumel’s best restaurants make fresh, locally-caught seafood a menu staple. Dine on fresh-caught tuna, scallops or shrimp at romantic waterfront restaurants, served with locally-sourced Mexican staples like citrus, avocado, tomatoes and peppers. Can’t decide what to order? Try the comida corrida, a prix fixe menu of several courses, which allows a sampling of the island’s traditional flavors.
Mexican favorites, ranging from grab-and-go tacos to mouth-watering tortas, sandwiches of local meats, cheeses, fresh vegetables and avocados, provide a flavorful and inexpensive way to sample the flavors of Cozumel that you can pick up en route to a day at the beach. An authentic and inexpensive offering of local foods fills the stalls at San Miguel’s Mercado Municipal, selling fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as prepared sandwiches and tacos. Looking for something quick and sweet? Pick up a couple of churritos, small fried pastries perfect for a morning snack.
Whether your getaway to Cozumel includes a romantic hotel with a sunset view, or a simple, budget-priced hotel, you can discover an array of comfortable lodging on the island. AAA partner Travel Impressions assures that travelers find their preferred lodging at reasonable prices, beginning with the luxurious Secrets Aura Cozumel, an adults-only, all-inclusive resort. Tastefully-decorated suites include private patios or swim-up access as well as use of three swimming pools, land and water sports equipment and the services of an on-site dive shop.
Families can enjoy their own all-inclusive luxury at resorts such as the Fiesta Americana Cozumel or the Occidental Cozumel, with private balconies and terraces, freshwater swimming pools, water sports and close proximity to Cozumel’s best shopping, snorkeling and diving, and Mayan ruins.
For guests looking for more authentic Mexican charm, there’s the Playa Azul Golf Scuba Spa, a lovely seaside hotel owned and operated by a local family. Enjoy a home-away-from-home experience on the Caribbean. Here, guests can pass their days playing unlimited golf, snorkeling, bicycling, snorkeling and diving, and exploring Cozumel’s ruins on a guided tour.
Your Cozumel escape is just a phone call away! Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 and book your vacation today!