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The island of Cozumel is only 12 miles (19 km) off the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula's east coast and 44 miles (71 km) south of Cancun. For years, Cozumel was a quiet sleepy island that didn't get many visitors until Jacques Cousteau did a documentary on it after discovering the world class scuba diving at the Palancar Reefs nearby.
Since 1961, Cozumel has been known as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. In fact for decades since that time, the only tourists visiting the island have been primarily scuba divers. Mainstream tourists went to the resort intensive Cancun in the mainland instead. However, Cozumel became a regular cruise ship port of call in recent years and today it is one of the busiest with two separate terminals. It is common to have five or even six different cruise ships at port on any given day. I've been to Cozumel twice, the first time staying several days on a scuba diving vacation and the second time for a day via cruise ship (also scuba dived during my second visit).
As a result of the cruise ship boom, there has been lots of retail development along the main waterfront road of Avenida Rafael Melgar in the island's only town of San Miguel de Cozumel. There are countless jewelry and t-shirt shops most with staff standing in the entrances enticing visitors to enter their stores. Both silver and liquor can be good bargains here. There are also some nice Mexican crafts shops too. The one problem that we found was that after about 4 jewelry shops, they all started to look the same. It was almost a retail overload. For those who came for a wilder time, there are some bars such as Carlos 'n' Charlie. The town's main outdoor square, Plaza del Sol, is just opposite the main ferry dock to the mainland. There are usually street vendors and artists in the Plaza as well local entertainment during some evenings. The artists do some amazing artwork with spray paints and their prices are very reasonable. San Miguel's main tourist area can be very busy during the day when the cruise ship passengers are in town but since most ships depart at dinnertime, the evenings are actually very quiet. The only tourists left at night tend to be the scuba divers staying in Cozumel.
Most of the hotels and resorts are south of San Miguel and are not within walking distance. However, there are numerous white taxicabs that are readily available. The larger and more luxurious resorts tend to be even further south of town along the southwestern shores. This is actually not surprising since most of the best scuba diving sites are southwest of the island. An easy way to see the 33 mile (53 km) by 9 mile (14 km) island is by renting a scooter or a 4x4. I once rented a scooter and zigzagged along most of San Miguel's streets to see the neighborhoods. Then I went on the main road leaving town and went south. After passing by the larger resorts and going around the southern tip of the island, I found the beaches along the southeastern shores. The shores near San Miguel along the crowded west coast are not known for beaches but the southeast part here have some really spectacular ones. Even better is that there is very little traffic here so the beaches are pretty quiet. Sometimes people can park their scooters and enjoy a beach all for themselves. There are a few stops with refreshments and more souvenirs at prices even better than in San Miguel. After traveling north again, there is a road about halfway up the island that goes across and takes you back to San Miguel entering the town's east side. My scooter tour of the island took just over 2 hours and cost $25 US for the rental. Cozumel has several ancient Mayan ruins but they are not nearly as large or spectacular as the ones on the mainland. After seeing some photos of them in advance of my trip, I didn't even bother to see the ruins.
Cozumel is a nice port of call for cruise ships as there are many shopping opportunities. Passengers who scuba dive or snorkel can easily book directly with the many dive shops in San Miguel without going through their cruise ships which will cost much more. For cruise ship tourists who do not intend to do any water sports and have some time after shopping, it is highly recommended to rent a scooter or 4x4 to tour the island. This is also a nice way to spend the last day of a scuba dive vacation in Cozumel.
About the Author
Clint Leung is owner of Free Spirit Gallery http://www.FreeSpiritGallery.ca , an online gallery specializing in Inuit Eskimo and Northwest Native American art including carvings, sculpture and prints. Free Spirit Gallery has numerous information resource articles with photos of authentic Inuit and Native Indian art as well as free eCards.
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