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Cozumel, Mexico

About Cozumel

Sitting just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel, or Isla Cozumel, is a tropical island marked by white sands, sky-blue waters and tall, green, swaying palms. Outside of its famed scuba diving, Cozumel is known as a window to Mexico’s ancient past, home to Mayan ruins as well as remnants of the country’s colonial days.

Cozumel’s history begins in the early 1st century, when Mayans are believed to have first settled the area. A number of ancient ruins remain on the island, though many have been destroyed by progress and time. Today, most of Cozumel’s approximately 100,000 residents live in its largest town, San Miguel de Cozumel. Diving, fishing and tourism are the major industries.

Cozumel Lifestyle and Culture

Though Cozumel is often associated with Mexico, it boasts a unique identity all its own. Mesoamerican ruins and tiny village lifestyles underpin the culture here. The island’s economy is supported by its luxury resorts and silky sands of white, glimmering beaches.

The people of Cozumel enjoy various celebrations throughout the year. The Festival of Santa Cruz and El Cedral Fair are held annually in the town of El Cedral. The event is said to have begun when Casimiro Cárdenas survived an attack during the 1848 Caste War of Yucatán. While his fellow villagers were all killed, Cárdenas managed to survive while holding a wooden cross. The lone survivor swore to start an annual festival wherever he settled in order to celebrate the power of the cross that he believed saved his life. Bullfights, competitions, music, fairs and feasts are all part of the celebration.

The Cozumel Carnival is the oldest and one of the most popular carnivals in Mexico, drawing large numbers of both locals and visitors. Children, teenagers and adults alike gather to enjoy traditional food, music, dancing and parades, many of them donning extravagant costumes. One of the carnival’s most celebrated activities is a dance competition in which singers and dancers perform in a whirlwind of color and music.

Cozumel Sights and Landmarks

The port city of San Miguel is lined with colorful brick sidewalks and quaint storefronts, and offers sweeping views of the Atlantic’s azure waters. Early evening strolls around the city reward travelers with cool breezes and sunset skies painted with broad strokes of purple and orange.

Outside the city, the ancient site at San Gervasio draws crowds with its fascinating Mayan ruins. Here, offerings were made to Ix Chel, the jaguar goddess of the moon and fertility. Pre-Columbian women attempted to travel to the site at least once in their lives to make an offering. Today, fascinating structures here provide insight into an ancient culture, from the Nohoch Nah, a temple built in honor of the feathered snake deity Kukulkan, to the Ka’na Nah, a pyramid that is regaled as San Gervasio’s single largest structure.

More recently, the Spanish left marks of their early presence in the colorful colonial architecture and lively traditions of San Miguel and at the scenic lighthouse at Punta Celarain, part of a nautical museum. Today, this island off Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula attracts as many snorkelers as it does lovers of history; the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park is the second-largest coral reef system in the world and renowned for its magnificent diving.

Cozumel Entertainment and Activities

With the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park right offshore, many of the activities on Cozumel revolve around exploring the marine ecosystem, or simply wading in the waters. Snorkeling and scuba diving shops are never far away and some of the islanders’ favorite beaches, such as Playa Palancar, are a short drive from San Miguel.

Cozumel also has options for those who prefer land exploration. The Parque Punta Sur ecotourism park features a lighthouse, a nautical museum and a Mayan ruin, with a nearby observation tower for bird-watching. Those who enjoy strolling among island flora can visit Parque Chankanaab. Among its many features are a botanical garden with 400 species, a zip line and a Mayan house.

Cozumel Restaurants and Shopping

San Miguel de Cozumel’s menus tempt visitors with a variety of Yucateco and Mexican cuisine. Sopa de lima is a favorite dish on the island, a tangy combination of rich chicken stock, savory vegetables, shredded chicken meat and lime seasoning. Tikin xic is another beloved meal, blending baked fish with orange juice, dried oregano and layers of various spices and vegetables.

One excellent restaurant on the island is Kinta, where you can enjoy Mexican cuisine with a twist. The menu is inspired by the traditions and history of Mexico. Reservations are required. Also upscale, Pepe’s Grill serves steaks, seafood and pasta. And to try a traditional taco in the nation that invented it, stop by El Foco.

For fine Caribbean shopping, head to Avenue Rafael E. Melgar. Jewelry, souvenirs, watches, precious stones and all manner of keepsakes are on this mile-long, duty-free main street that connects the Forum Shops and the entertainment complex of Punta Langosta.