Having explored beautiful paradise beaches, historical Mayan pyramids as well as small colourful villages in the Yucatan Peninsula, it was time to hop on the boat and head to Cozumel, a small Caribbean island just off the Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. Cozumel offers deserted, windswept beautiful natural beaches, wild and vibrant natural parks, long stretches of coral reef, friendly people, and colourful safe streets in the town of San Miguel.
Cozumel is also a popular Caribbean cruise ship destination that welcomes more than one million cruise passengers each year and up to eight ships per day. That sounds like a huge amount of tourists but I actually found the island relatively quiet. I also heard that the island was badly beaten in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, but, with few exceptions, the island has been completely repaired.
Cozumel is Mexico’s third largest island and located just 19 km off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The island is easily accessible by ferry from Playa del Carmen town centre, right by the main beach. There are hourly ferry rides costing around MXN 160 (10 €) one way. There are two boat companies, so buying a single ticket is smart as you may need to use the other ferry company to come back and I suppose the tickets are not transferable. Two one-way tickets cost the same as a return ticket anyhow.
During the crossing the sea was very rough and the boat went heavily up and down with the waves. I had never experienced such a bumpy boat ride before and it was 30 minutes of pure torture, as I get seasick fairly easily. At arrival in Cozumel we were greeted by hundreds of vendors at the pier trying to sell activities, accommodation, transportation etc.
I had not booked a hotel in advance, which would have been ok on a regular weekend. However, Cozumel was celebrating the annual Mardi Grass carnival during that particular weekend. So, the island was busy and all hotels were fully booked. But in the end I did manage to find a hotel in the heart of San Miguel, the one and only town on the island. San Miguel is a charming and colourful small town with a beautiful seafront promenade offering shopping, and amazing views and sunsets over the Caribbean Ocean.
Plaza Central is the heart of San Miguel, directly across the road from the pier. Residents congregate here in the evenings, especially on weekends, to stroll and dance to live music. As it was carnival time, there were lots of people on the move, partying and dancing around in colourful outfits and enjoying outdoor concerts and carnival atmosphere.
Heading inland (east) from the centre of San Miguel takes you away from the tourist zone towards the residential areas of the town. This is where you get to see local living and experience local markets. I also found several small and simple authentic restaurants offering the most delicious and inexpensive tacos and tortas. Menus were colourfully written on the restaurant walls.
Cozumel offers incredibly diverse options for water sports lovers, partly because of its proximity to coral reefs. Along with snorkelling, beach bumming and boating, scuba diving is very popular. But as water is not really my element at all I decided to rent a scooter, leave the tourist area behind me and drive around the island.
The most worthwhile sites, such as the island’s Mayan ruins and pristine windward beaches of the east coast, are only accessible on wheels. I believe there is no public transportation out of San Miguel town so if you want to get around the island, you should rent a car or a scooter. Another option is to go on a guided tour or take a taxi.
Just a few steps off the beaten path the small island offers big rewards. A couple of kilometres north of San Miguel I found a beautiful marina of Puerto de Abrigo with amazing views, luxury yachts and sailing boats.
Driving further north the coastal road turnes into a narrow dusty road with millions of bumps, humps and holes and goes through lush forests as well as agricultural fields leading to the shore.
The east coast of the island is definitely the place to visit! It is mostly undeveloped, and there are lots of absolutely stunning natural beaches and rocky outcrops over the ocean.
The day was very windy and waves were huge so I think it would have been too dangerous to go for a swim so I was happy just to enjoy the magnificent ocean views, and soak up the sun and fresh sea air.
The road on the east coast runs right along the shore and offers spectacular sea views on one side and lush mangrove forest views on the other side.
The island is small enough to drive around within one day, but I would rather recommend spending at least two or three days discovering the natural beauty of the island, especially if you decide to do it on scooter.
Read more blog posts about Mexico: