Mexico's largest island, Cozumel, is a heady mix of cosmopolitan restaurants, hotels and shops set amidst astounding natural beauty. It has become famous for its superb scuba diving, and also as a cruise ship destination where stylish amenities are offered in a simple island atmosphere.
San Miguel de Cozumel
Cozumel's only town, San Miguel, has a laid back elegance combining the charming remnants of colonial Mexico with the conveniences of modern life. Its heart and soul is the center plaza, known officially as Parque Benito Juarez, but often referred to as the zocalo, or simply as Plaza Central . Shops, restaurants and hotels surround the plaza, and since the whole area is blocked off to traffic, it can become quite crowded. Still, the area is a pleasant place for a paseo (walk), particularly on Sunday evenings when the locals gather to enjoy the free open-air concerts and dances. The main stretch, Avenida Rafael Melgar, is lined with high-end jewelry boutiques, souvenir shops, department stores and restaurants.
Running parallel to Avenida Melgar is the malecón, an ocean-side boardwalk decorated with sculptures commemorating events in Cozumel's history. Follow it north to the tidy Museo de la Isla de Cozumel to learn more about the Maya. Downtown San Miguel is also the place to find family-owned hotels with lower prices and a more Mexican atmosphere. When the plaza or main streets get congested from cruise ship traffic, walk east from 25 Avenida A onwards into the more residential neighborhoods, where the small tiendas (stores) and markets charge local prices.
North and south of San Miguel are where the luxurious hotels and beaches start. The Costera Norte (North Coast), informally called Zona Hotelera Norte, begins just past the airport road. Much of its beachfront has been taken over by posh resorts with their grand lobbies and pools. The longest beach is Santa Pilar Beach, followed by San Juan Beach . Here the north road ends and you must take a boat to reach the pristine north coast lagoons, such as Laguna Ceiga or the uninhabited Passion Island .
The Southern Hotel Zone, located along Carretera Chankanaab, and also known as the Costera Sur, offers the best beaches beginning at Corona Beach and ending at Palancar Beach . The famous coral reef running parallel to this part of the coast is a protected zone called Parque Marino de Cozumel .
The first attraction along the way is the popular Chankanaab Park , a park with a landlocked lagoon connected to the sea. Just off the fine sandy beach is excellent snorkeling where you can spot tame fish, underwater statues, a sunken ship and a pirate cannon.
The two largest beaches, San Francisco Beach and Mia Beach , are popular spots with the cruise ship crowd that swarms both beaches by early afternoon. On Sundays, San Francisco Beach is the gathering spot for Mexican families who come to enjoy the beach and bring along their music, games and family picnics. You may want to visit Mr. Sancho's for its free admission, laid-back beach atmosphere and good Mexican cuisine. Crowds and noise aside, both beaches offer excellent swimming and snorkeling. Those in search of more tranquility can follow the highway west to where Costera Sur takes a northern turn becoming the Costera Este (Eastern) Highway. Here the beaches are wild, wind-swept and, for the most part, deserted. Along the way is Cozumel's original settlement founded in 1847. El Cedral is now a charming farming community known for its country fairs. Beside its modern church are the remains of the oldest Mayan structure on the island. Signs along the highway will point you in the right direction.
Parque Punta Sur to Punta Molas
Just as the highway turns north you will find Punta Sur Park , a national wildlife refuge. Inside the park is the ancient Mayan lighthouse, El Caracol, which was built as an early hurricane warning system. At the southernmost tip is Celarain Point Lighthouse , a historic lighthouse that has been transformed into a navigational museum.
Paradise Beach is the first beach just outside of the park's entrance. Close to Chen Rio Beach are two smaller Mayan ruins, El Mirador and El Trono. The best beaches for swimming are found at the crescent shaped Chiqueros Point cove and at San Martin Beach . If you are on this beach during the full moon in May or June, you may see giant sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Further north is Morena Point , which is popular with surfers and boogie boarders because of its pounding surf.
Punta Este has a blustery beach, perfect for beachcombing, and is the final stop before the paved highway turns west and becomes Avenida Benito Juarez, leading back into San Miguel. An unpaved road continues north, leading to some of the most unspoiled beaches: Ixpal Barco, Los Cocos, Hanan Reef, Ixlapak and Playa Bonita are all what you would expect from a Caribbean beach. Along the way is the Mayan ruin of Castillo Real . The roads end at Mola Point Lighthouse , the island's most northern point. A tour is recommended to explore this extremely rugged area.
Ixchel's Ceremonial Center
Located in the lush sub-tropical forest, the serene San Gervasio ruins were once a ceremonial center where Ixchel, the Maya goddess of fertility and childbirth, was worshipped. Believed to have been occupied from 300 to 1500 CE, San Gervaiso has many excellent examples of Classic and Post-Classic Mayan architecture. Guides are available at the site, but you can also buy an excellent guidebook at the museum in town.
Cozumel is 11.5 miles (18 km) from the mainland and Carmen Beach , one of the largest cities along the Riviera Maya coastline, is a 45-minute ferry ride away. From there it's a one hour bus ride south to the Mayan ruins of Tulum , or north to the mega-resorts of Cancun. Other nearby attractions include underground caves, snorkeling at Xel-Ha , and the unashamedly commercial Mayan theme park, Xcaret .
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Located south of San Miguel, this park offers a combination of history, archeology and recreation. There is excellent snorkeling and diving at the underwater park where you can spot ...
Due to the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma, the following description may no longer be accurate. Please consider this when making your travel plans. Pancho's is practically a ...