Though it's only 12 miles off the Riviera Maya, Cozumel shares little of that coast's glamour. In fact, it sometimes seems mired in the mid-20th century—not that loyal visitors are complaining. Hurricane Wilma did a lot of damage to Cozumel—cruise ship piers and hotels were destroyed, neighborhoods were flooded, and some of the coral reefs damaged. Since Cozumel is one of Mexico's busiest tourist ports, though, the cruise ships were quick to return; they're now back to disgorging crowds of sightseers several times a day. Now that the 2006 hurricane season is underway, Cozumel is still recovering its beaches, but most hotels and restaurants have reopened.
The island is just 24 miles long and seven miles across, and less than half of the land mass is developed. The main town, San Miguel, begins at the ferry and cruise ship piers on the central west coast and sprawls inland for several miles. Avenida Rafael Melgar runs along the waterfront and is packed with jewelry and souvenir shops geared toward cruise ship passengers. Small restaurants and more interesting shops line the streets closest to the ferry pier. Most hotels are located along the waterfront north and south of town (south is closer to the reefs). The island's wild windward side shelters nesting turtles and blissed-out isolationists.
WHEN TO GO
Weather in Cozumel is generally hot and humid, with temperatures and humidity levels peaking during the June–October rainy season. The water is warm year-round, though locals shiver in lightweight wetsuits in winter when the air sometimes dips into the low 70s. Diving visibility remains much the same all year, decreasing slightly during summer rainstorms, but creatures change with the season. Nesting sea turtles are abundant from May to August. Hotels are packed for Carnival during the week before Ash Wednesday, when there's a parade for everyone from kids to family pets.
HOW TO GET THERE
Continental, Delta, Frontier, US Airways, and American Airlines serve the Cozumel airport from the mainland United States. The island can also be reached via Mexico City on Mexicana. There are still no flights linking Cancún and Cozumel. You can fly into Cancún and take a bus or taxi south to Playa del Carmen, then take a ferry to Cozumel. You can fly into Cancún and take a bus or taxi south to Playa del Carmen (about 45 minutes), then take a ferry to Cozumel (hourly, more or less).
The downtown area of CozumelSan Miguelis laid out in a fairly logical street grid, making most destinations easy to reach on foot. For longer journeys, taxis are easy to find and offer set prices depending on your exact destination. Most journeys should cost under $10 unless you're based at one of the all-inclusives on the southern tip. Locals pile several family members on scooters to putter around the island, dodging novice scooter drivers in the guise of sunburned tourists. Be sure to use a helmet, stick to side streets and scooter lanes, and stay alert at all times. Rental cars are available at the hotels and airports. They're often in run-down condition, so make sure the air-conditioning works and all the tires are intact.
Cozumel Tourist Board and Hotel Association
Calle 2 Norte 299, between Avs. 10 and 15
Tel: 52 987 872 7585
Fax: 52 987 872 2809
View Mexico Factsheet