Western Caribbean Stories and Tips

Cozumel Mexico

Beautiful Comzumel Mexico Photo, Western Caribbean, Caribbean

The second stop on my cruise was in the magnificent city of Cozumel, Mexico. This tiny island (only 28 miles long by 10 feet wide) is the largest island in Mexico and sits off of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is home to 75,000 people. The history of Cozumel dates back to the 13th century and the ancient Mayans. The Mayans were farmers, fishermen, and warriors. The Mayans considered Cozumel a sacred shrine and called it Ah-Cuzamil (Island of the Shallows). Ancient Mayans would sail to the island to worship the goddess Ix-Chel. She was the goddess of fertility and the wife of the sun god. Today many descendents of the ancient Mayan culture still call this beautiful island home. In the 15th century, Spanish explorers overtook it. From the 16-19th centuries, it was known more for its pirates and looters than anything else. It was pretty much closed to the rest of the world.

Cozumel first started opening its doors to the rest of the world in 1924, when they built the Hotel Louvre. But it would take until the 1950s before it became a popular tourist spot. It wasn’t until 1961, though, that the island really took off. When Jacques Cousteau visited here, he said that it was the most beautiful island and marveled at the pristine waters, offering an array of beautiful fish and high visibility for scuba divers. The rest, as we say, is history.

Today Cozumel is a major diving and cave-diving center. Millions of people come here to traverse the beautiful underwater world that awaits. Cozumel is home to the second-largest reef barrier, with Australia being the first. Just about every dive magazine lists an annual best-dive issue, and you can bet Cozumel is on every one of them. This port is also on just about every Western Caribbean itinerary. In most cases, you have a very long time in Cozumel. Most ships arrive early in the day and do not depart until the wee hours of the morning, giving you plenty of time to take in a shore excursion and still get back to enjoy this beautiful city. It is the largest port in Mexico, the third-largest in the Caribbean, and fifth in the world. More than 2,500,000 people discover the beauty that is Cozumel each year.

There are plenty of shore excursions offered here, including island tours, shopping tours, tours of the ancient city of Tulum, party boats, jeep adventures, and snorkeling and diving tours. You do have to be certified to dive here. There are no diving tours here that will allow you to dive a few feet in the water with an instructor. Not in the mood for a tour? No problem--just take a taxi into town and enjoy the hospitality. Taxis line up at the pier, and the fare into town is about $5. Or you can rent a jeep fairly inexpensively (you can rent them right at the pier) and head to the beach. If you don’t want to plunk down almost $80 to see Tulum, you can rent a jeep and explore another site, San Gervacio, on your own. It is a lesser-known ancient site that is still being discovered. Warning: if you want to do this, TAKE PLENTY OF BUG REPELLENT! Since it is still being excavated, it is not as well-tended as Tulum, and you can bet you will get a bug bite or two if you don’t use repellent.

After you return from your shore excursion, take the time to go into town and mingle with the people. Cozumel is a shopper’s paradise. As soon as you come off the ship, there is a duty-free shop for visitors. Here you will find liquor, perfume, clothes, jewelry, and locally made crafts. I picked up some beautiful handmade blankets for $4 each! On into town, you will find more jewelry shops (silver is a particularly good buy), liquor shops, and clothing shops. Take the time to try one of the local restaurants. The Hard Rock has a branch here, as well as local favorites Senor Frogs and Carlos and Charlie’s. Local cuisine from some incredible chefs abounds here. No habla espanol? No problemo; amazingly, everyone here speaks English! U.S. dollars are very accepted here. But for very large purchases I would suggest using a credit card in case of any problems. When you get your bill, though, it will show up in pesos. Currently, the exchange rate is about 10 pesos to each U.S. dollar. My hubby about had a cow when he got our VISA bill. He wandered why in the world I spent $500 on jewelry. I actually only spent $50.

Today Cozumel has been built up as a major resort area. When you pull into port, the pier looks like any other pier in the U.S. To me, it looked no different than Myrtle Beach. Along the pier, you will find TGI Friday’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, just to name a few! The sands of the beaches are pristine, and the shore is dotted with major resorts and hotels. It looks like and is paradise. Granted, all of the tourism dollars have helped this country and cities like Cozumel tremendously. Housing, education, and health have all benefited from the influx of tourism dollars.

But beneath the glitz and glamour, if you go just outside the city, you will have culture shock. Away from the big resort areas, you will see that this is still a third-world country. It is heartbreaking, to say the least. But the people of Cozumel are very generous and warm and gladly welcome you into their beautiful city. When you are traveling, please always respect the culture and the city where you are a guest. Kindness is greatly repaid here. Oh, and one more thing... what about drinking the water? Well, doctors think Montezuma’s revenge actually comes from a combination of things. They think traveling though several times zones, being in a new environment, and the hustle and bustle of travel is actually what contributes to traveler’s diarrhea. One other thing that has benefitted from tourism dollars is the water system. All major resorts, hotels, and restaurants have water filters, and the water is perfectly safe to drink. If you are eating at a small local restaurant, you may want bottled water or soda. Just remember: no ice (which is, of course, made from H2O!). For more information on this beautiful island, please check out , , or .

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