San Miguel is a typical small Mexican town, with narrow streets, tiny shops, and a central plaza, which on Sunday nights, becomes very festive. Families gather to stroll along the malecon (walkway along the waterfront) and to enjoy the food being grilled, the local craft bazaar set up around the perimeter of the central square, mariachis and entertainment on the stage by school groups, and finally, dancing under the stars.
Small inexpensive hotels are found close to this center while the luxury resort hotels and condominiums line the waterfront to the north and south of town. The best beaches and reefs are to the south of town, which is where divers should plan to stay to avoid a long boat ride or taxi trip to meet the dive boat. Unfortunately, all-inclusive hotels seem to be taking over this lovely island, in a way depriving visitors from enjoying the true Mexican flavor of the community.
The best buys are on the Mexican items, like blankets, hammocks, carved onyx figurines, and sterling jewelry. Expect to bargain for souvenir-type gifts, but don’t bother haggling in any department stores or markets selling fine jewelry or imported goods. Mexican vanilla is excellent-lots of flavor–and is sold in bottles of all sizes. The more expensive shops are along the waterfront. The further back you walk, the better the bargains-this is where the locals shop.
This is a casual island where many visitors are divers in casual T-shirts, shorts, and light sport clothes. Leave your elegant outfits at home unless the restaurants at your all-inclusive resort have a dress code. One restaurant at Occidental Grand Cozumel required men to wear long pants, and one honeymoon couple had to go into town to buy him a pair.
Seafood is the island specialty, including fresh fish, conch, lobster, and shrimp, which are served simply grilled or may even be flamed tableside. For carnivores, the beef here is excellent. It’s from the mainland of Mexico and chicken is on every menu, prepared in many ways. And of course, Mexican fare is always available.
Pancho’s Backyard at the northern end of town in the Los Cinque Solos shopping center is a good place for non-shopping husbands to wile away a couple of hours while their partner looks for bargains. It has a nice atmosphere, good drinks, and food in large portions. Make sure that you walk past all the shops to the back; a small coffee-type shop is in the front, but the lovely casual restaurant, with the plants and ceiling fans, is in the back of the shopping center.
Senor Frogs and Carlos and Charlies are popular hangouts for the cruise-ship vacationers. During the late afternoon, after the beach and shopping times, these bars are really crowded, and those tequila shots can make even the quiet ones a little rowdy.
Las Palmeras is a popular spot. It is a restaurant and bar located near the ferry in the center of town, overlooking the water and pier. The large shuttered windows give it a real open-air feeling. Its hours are from early morning ‘til late at night. It’s a good spot if you have a few minutes to wait until your ferry departs.