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Cozumel is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. It is also the most populated island in Mexico with an estimated population of around 90,000.
Cozumel is situated near the eastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in the State of Quintana Roo. The island is approximately 30 miles [48 km] long and 10 miles [16 km] wide. It is about 12 mi [20 km] from the mainland, and some 36 mi [60 km] south of Cancun.
Isla Cozumel [or Cozumel Island] derives its name from the Mayans who once lived there and regarded the island as a sacred place. In Mayan, Cuzamil [Cozumel] translates to "land of the swallows," a reflection of the indigenous birds that inhabit the island.
The Mayans are believed to have settled the island over 2000 years ago harvesting the rich abundance of seafood for commercial use. Conch shells were collected as an ingredient for stucco, which was used extensively on the mainland. The ocean also supplied a large number of other valuable items such as shark teeth, stingray spines and seashells that were used for ritual purposes.
The Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva first landed on the shores of Cozumel in 1518. The visit was proceeded a year later by the butcher Hernán Cortés. The conquistadors ruthlessly invaded the island destroying everything that lay in their path. Whether or not the Spanish knowingly imported smallpox on purpose is a matter of speculation, however to the ravaged Mayans the disease soon eclipsed their very being. Those who did not die a miserable death were shackled and sent to Cuba to live out their lives as slaves.
Between 1519 and 1570 the island's population dropped from 40,000 to 30. By 1600 the island was desolate, its once flourishing community gone. Soon the island's numerous coves provided safe havens for marauding pirates.
In 1848 during the "War of the Castes" the island was reclaimed by the Maya and used as a sanctuary for those seeking refuge from the war. Slowly the island was reinhabted and in 1910-1917 the Mexican Revolution resulted in land reforms and freedom for the Isleños.
The popularity of a new "candy" called chewing gum in the U.S.A. led to the island's growth. Cozumel was a port-of-call on the gum and coconut export route from Central America. During World War 2 the U.S. Air Force built a base on the island in order to launch aircrafts, in the pursuit of German U-boats.
The first hotel, the "Louvre" opened in 1924, followed by the "Yuri" in 1932 and the "Playa" in 1938. After the the economic crises in the thirties, tourist development stopped.
During the fifties, with the advent of modern scuba equipment divers started coming to Cozumel.
World-famous explorer Jacques Cousteau and his team discovered the wall of reefs just off the island's shoreline and declared them to be one of the most incredible diving destinations in the world. After that diving exploded on the island!
By 1970, Cozumel's population quickly grew to 10,000 and with the influx of tourism this once desolate island has now become the jewel of the Mexican Caribbean.
SAN MIGUEL, COZUMELWhen you get off the ferry in Cozumel you are met by a barrage of sales representatives for various dive and snorkel operations. Also in the mix are representatives for hotels and resorts who often carry photo-albums of pictures of the resorts. Once you get through this you are in the city of San Miguel right in the tourista shopping zone.
There are public information booths present however these are manned by sales representatives for time-shares. Once you ask a question you are a step away from a free lunch, tour and a wasted day [don't get trapped into this].
There are numerous restaurants, cafes and shops selling everything that is carried on the mainland so shopping is not a problem and one does not have to leave the island. In fact some people prefer to shop in Cozumel instead of Playa del Carmen although the two are quite similar.
The San Miguel tourist zone extends from the coastline back several blocks and north/south several blocks. Outside of this you have residential neighborhoods and general Cozumel industrial zones.
The town of San Miguel, the airport, and the hotels are all located on the western side of the island. Fortunately, massive resort development is paralyzed by a lack of portable water and a strong desire to protect the island's delicate ecosystem.
COZUMEL CLIMATEAverage air temperature: 80°F [27°C]
July/August - High 80's to low 90's°F [32°C]
December/January - Mid 70's°F [24°C]
Winter Months: Cold fronts may create windy, cloudy and cooler weather. Afternoon thunderstorms are common, usually lasting for an hour.
Water temperatures range from 77°-82°F [25°-28°C] throughout the year.
GETTING THERECozumel has an international airport with connecting routes to Playa del Carmen, Cancun and other destinations in Mexico, Belize and Guatamala.
There is immigration at Cozumel airport. It is basicaly the same as Cancun airport or Merida. You press the button at the trafic light then proceed.
The most common method of transportation to the island is by boat. There is a ferry service that connects Cozumel to Playa del Carmen for pedestrians and a ferry out of Calica for vehicle transportation. The ferry connecting to Playa del Carmen runs quite frequently [there are 3 ferries on duty].
Getting to Cozumel from Cancun Airport
If you are landing in Cancun you need to either:
* Taxis are not allowed at the airport but sometimes you can get one when the taxi is dropping somebody off. They are not allowed to hang around.
From Playa del Carmen you take the ferry to Cozumel.
For diving info see Cozumel Diving
Cozumel's limestone shore is surrounded by temperate, crystal clear waters, which range from stunning turquoise to deep indigo.
With over 30 kilometers of reefs, water visibility to 200 feet, and over 200 species of tropical fish, Cozumel is considered by many as the finest dive destination in the Atlantic. Water temperatures range from summer highs in the low 80's (F) to winter highs in the low 70's (F).
Water depths range from as shallow as 10 to 100 feet. Water current conditions vary from light to moderate to strong.
For snorkelers, there are plenty of places to go off the shore if you have your own gear and a rental car.
Snorkeling trips by boat are available at the lobby of any hotel or the ferry docks.
Snorkeling Cozumel is a lot differnet than snorkeling the mainland. In many locations on Cozumel as soon as you go out a few yards you are in deep water, but the visibility is good.
The fish are bigger too. Many species of fish you see snorkeling the mainland are young and habitate there to avoid larger preditors.
The two most common snorkel spots on the island are Chankanaab and Dzul Ha. Having snorkeled both locations we can offer this advice:
Snorkeling quality is the same at both locations. In fact they are rather close to each other.
What is different is this:
If you're traveling with your family Chankanaab is recommended as you can spend the whole day there. If you are a couple looking for a cheap snorkel experience go to Dzul Ha.
Both places rent snorkel gear and there are lockers and restaurants at each.
You need to rent a car or take a taxi to get to either of these places. From San Miguel it is a short drive along the coast south.
NOTE: It is advisable that all children and weak swimmers wear life-jackets when snorkeling here. Available at the rental stands.
Other interesting snorkel locations:
Hotel Presidente Intercontinental and La Ceiba Hotel beach. There is an underwater plane wreck used as a movie prop.
Laguna de Colombia is a lagoon at the south tip of the island offering interesting snorkeling.
Isla de la Pasion is a tiny island in Bahia Abrigo with secluded beaches and rocky shorelines. Isla de la Pasion is a state reserve and there are absolutely no facilities here. It is located north of San Miguel and you need to contact a fishing/dive charter to take you there.
Generaly summer is the low season and hotel rates are reduced competatively. In the winter prices go up and availability goes down. Best to book months in advance for winter vacations if you have a specific date in mind.
After Labor Day and before the Christmas is an good time to visit but September and November are traditional huricane months. Crowds are down but the tempturature is still high. Rates are still lower than high-season.
Rates go back down after Easter and low season begins. Availability at hotels is best during low season and room selection is best during this time.
THINGS TO KNOWWater conditions on the beaches on the west side of the island [tourist zones] are usually excellent because the island blocks the currents and winds.
You can buy almost anything your heart desires in the shopping zone.
All popular snorkeling beaches have lockers and snorkel equipment for rent.
Most streets in San Miguel are one way. The coastal highway is two-way and circles the island.
Most stores have English speaking staff.
All stores accept US dollars.
Cozumel is a great place to find hard-to-get scuba and snorkel gear.
There is a Sunday evening fiesta in San Miguel at the central plaza with live music.
You can buy Cuban cigars here.
You can get a taxi anywhere on the island [except the dirt road going north of Mezcalitos on the east side of the island].
There are a few Internet Cafes in San Miguel. Just walk around downtown and you will find one in no time. The further away from the waterfront, the cheaper the rates.
There are laundromats in San Miguel.