Where Adventure and Relaxation Meet
The largest island in the Mexican Caribbean—and third-largest in the country—Isla Cozumel sits off the tip of the peninsula, near Playa del Carmen.
Measuring about 30 miles long and 9 miles wide, Isla Cozumel, whose Mayan name translates to “Island of the Swallows”—a nod to its indigenous bird population—has become a cruise ship favorite, as well as a hotspot for divers, since it’s one of the best dive sites in the world, with reef walls plunging to incredible depths.
Where to Stay
Across from the ferry docks, San Miguel’s main square, Plaza Central, or "El Centro" is where locals tend to hang out, especially during weekends. Here’s where you’ll find most of the restaurants, shops, and hotels, like charming boutique properties or all-inclusive resorts. It’s easy to get around the island by renting a buggy or scooter; you can also go snorkeling right off the coast, and you can catch some of the best sunset views while strolling along the boardwalk.
Day trippers tend to hover around the western side of the island in the main town of San Miguel, where craft markets and jewelry shops line the seaside boulevard.
What to Do
Most of the island´s roads are one-way, and while a coastal highway circles the island, the rest of Cozumel—particularly along the western coast—is quaint, with just a few beach restaurants dotting stretches of deserted sand. The eastern side is lined with rugged limestone cliffs and a wide-open ocean, meaning plenty of waves that are better suited to surfing than swimming.
For those who want to go exploring, rent a car and cruise through the natural parks, mangroves, and jungle.
In the 1950s, after explorer Jacques Cousteau and his team discovered the wall of reefs off Cozumel, the island grew in popularity and has since been declared one of the top 5 dive sites in the world. Home to 40 different dive zones with depths ranging to 30 meters, or 100 feet, the surrounding reef features limestone tunnels and caves and attracts turtles, sharks, parrotfish, and the namesake Cozumel toadfish.
You’ll also spot eagle rays if you’re diving from December to March and sea turtles from May to September.
While scuba diving is one of the main draws to Cozumel, visitors can soak up the local culture in plenty of other ways. Head deep into the jungle to visit the once-sacred Mayan site of San Gervasio, or taste your way through the melting pot of Mayan cuisine, sampling food along the main street, Rafael Melgar Avenue. Be sure to try the Lionfish! The coral reefs of Cozumel are home to this species and local restaurants often serve it on their menu.