For anyone who was ever looking for a quick and inexpensive scuba diving trip from Texas has been to Cozumel. And anyone who has ever been to Cozumel once, has been back time and time again. Better than drugs, it is addictive. The people are wonderful. The dive locations are diverse, and the dive operators can accommodate everyone from the first time diver to the most advanced divers. I don’t know of any scuba diver who has ever been disappointed by spending 3-4 days in Cozumel, Mexico (and few who don’t dive have been disappointed either). But Cozumel is not just about scuba diving. There are many wonderful things to see, taste, small and experience in this wonderful little jewel off of the coast of Cancun.
Scuba. Yes, the French man himself, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, put this island on the map in the 1960s. Since the time of his first expose’ of this barrier reef the scuba divers, tourists, and now the cruise ships all have found a dock in this Mexican oasis. I have scuba dived in Australia, Hawaii, Jamaica, Belize, Gulf of Mexico, Grand Cayman Islands, and Bali, and my favorite place in the world to scuba is still Cozumel. The reefs are protected and have a great deal to offer to the drift diver. You can dive the honey-combs, and you can get your fill of night diving here as well. There are sheer underwater cliffs that sink deep into the deep blue abyss, where you will not find a deeper, darker, more beautiful color under heaven or earth. You can find shallow (60’ deep) reefs teaming with the color of tropical life, or you can dive the depths with the largest Jewfish (grouper family) that you may ever see in the open water. I don’t know what else I can say, except—if you have not been diving in Cozumel, you are missing out on one of the top dive locations in the world.
Diving in Cozumel.
The basics of diving in Cozumel are pretty simple. The first rule is, if you are not certified, get certified before you go. Don’t settle for a "Resort Certification". These are dangerous, and have very little to do with real scuba training. Once you get certified and get to the island, you have some choices to make. Fast Boats or Slow Boats. Fast boats are good if you want to get to the back of the island or the southern tip, and get back in before noon. The slow boats are good if you like to talk to other divers and enjoy a slow, peaceful ride back to the dock. Everyone is different in this respect, but if you get sea-sick on the water, choose the slow boat route. It is much easier on the stomach. The next question is—do I take my own gear? Most divers will say yes here, but I can tell you that I have been to Cozumel many times, taken my own gear, and rented gear, and the difference is minimal. I do recommend that you take your own mouth piece, mask (of course), snorkel, weight belt, fins, booties, and shorty. No need for a knife, because you probably won’t be able to take it with you. And don’t forget your computer, though this will be more for your own enjoyment, as the dives are carefully monitored by the local dive master for maximum safety and enjoyment. I don’t take my own regulators any longer when I go to Cozumel. I use the local gear, but I do take a "fix it kit" filled with "O" rings, fasteners, mask fog, and such. Many of the tanks have old "O" rings, and the air leaks out when you dive.
Dive Shops. There are a number of dive shops on the island, and each have something different to offer, but I like diving with the big shops. They have more resources, more money, and are very experienced. My favorite dive shop is Dive Paradise. DP is owned by a little dried up lady named "Apple" who has lived on Cozumel for many years. She is a fixture, as is her company. DP is mostly large (slow) boats, but the experience is memorable (unlike flying, this is a good thing with scuba diving—you want more to remember about your trip—not less). Dive Paradise has a dive shop very close to town (maybe two), and will pick you up at your hotel dock close to 8am in the morning. I highly recommend using Apple’s crew.
Don’t just visit the square. The town on Cozumel island is called San Miguel. You will drive through the edge of town if you drive down the coast south from the airport. There are many wonderful restaurants, shops, and general tourist stuff to do. There is a very nice museum just north of down town on the coastal road that is worth a visit to learn of the island history, and how the Wrigley gum company put this place on the commercial shipping destination map before the scuba divers arrived. Start you journey near the square and you will find Carlos and Charlie’s bar (a must see if you like evening excitement), and a host of great restaurants. But don’t stop with the establishments near the square, or you will miss the local color and the real excitement. On the square you will find a beautiful old Catholic church—typically filled with children in white dresses or Sunday’s best. If you take a scooter ride beyond the immediate area, you will find additional places of worship. You will also begin to see how the locals live. Don’t be surprised to find that many of the residents of Cozumel actually live in very small huts, made from fresh cut trees and bound together with rope. Sounds like a 1970s TV episode of Gilligan’s Island? Yep. That is exactly what you will find. Dirt floors and all. There are many nice houses on the island as well, but when you are eating at the restaurants, negotiating on the street, or considering leaving a tip for the cleaning staff, you have more in your pocket than many people in Cozumel have to their name. If you got a good service, don’t assume that these individuals get paid good money to service your account (without your generous subsidy). In spite of the poverty that can be found in parts of Cozumel, I encourage you to get a scooter or open air rental car, and scoot around the island one day. Drive all over, but one piece of advice here—get directions to the two gas stations before you set out. You don’t want to run out of gas on the wrong side of the island.
Scooters. As I alluded to earlier, scooters are available to rent on the island, and are a source of great fun. Buy the insurance. You don’t want to be liable for a scooter in Mexico. Hit the road, and have a good time.
The lizard park. Chankanaab National Park is another mainstay fixture in Cozumel. This is also one of the big islands attractions for cruise ships, so don’t expect small crowds when you see cruise ships hitting the docks. Whether you are a strong swimmer or not, this beach side park is a wonderful place to wade into the water and snorkel. You can see some of the "re-created" Mayan ruins here (not the real thing), and get an up-close look at a dolphin show—just like SeaWorld. But the real attraction of this great park is an area where huge iguanas live. With winding trails, trees, sand, and fresh underground water, these medieval dragons are quite at home. The iguanas are typically pretty easy to find. Follow the trails on the ground, and don’t forget to look up in the trees—these guys like to climb. This is a very cool experience, but don’t leave your small children unattended… just kidding.
The back side of the island. One last thing to note about Cozumel. The east side of the island is covered with beach front property that has not been developed. If you want some private time away from people, this is an OK journey. The beaches are not real clean, and the waves are high. It is like a different place, but interesting nonetheless. This is a good place to ride your scooter after you have been all the way down the island to the southern tip. Return via the east side and you will get to see the areas of Cozumel covered with vegetation to collect fresh drinking water (it doesn’t come from the ocean—you know).
Say hello to Cozumel for me. I have not been there in a few years, and I miss it sorely.