A brief jaunt from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel offers a respite from the party atmosphere and resorts of Cancun. The powdery sand on the beaches, the crystalline ocean water and the Caribbean climate attract tourists throughout the year. Many adventure travelers make Cozumel their first stop for scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities, and it is a popular stop for cruise ships. Despite the influx of tourists, much of island has not been developed and its jungles are populated with reptiles, tropical birds and other wildlife.
Cozumel is relatively simple to navigage. There are six major sections. Costera Norte is very developed with resort hotels and restaurants. Costera Sur has more hotels and many beautiful beaches. Ixchel Ceremonial Center, located in the middle of the archaeological ruins of San Gervasio ruins, is another area. Punta Molas is both a lighthouse and its surrounding neighborhood, which features Playa Paraiso, a favorite beach. San Miguel de Cozumel is what some would call the "centro," or the center of town. The downtown area has services, shops and clubs. West of Cozumel is the mainland, reachable by ferry.
Visitors to Cozumel cite diving as their favorite experience. The Caribbean Sea is a brilliant blue, typically with excellent clarity for sighting sea life. The coral reefs are intricate and colorful, providing hideouts for tropical fish. You may see the rainbow-colored parrot fish or an aquatic turtle.
High season in Cozumel brings crowds and higher prices. The peak season begins in mid-December and extends through March. Visitors continue to come in during the spring. The crowding hits critical mass during Carnaval, the island's yearly Mardi Gras celebration. Costumes, dancing, drinking, floats and food create a week-long party in the streets. The action takes off during the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, so the dates always change.
Take a break from Cozumel's brilliant coral reefs and check out the Mayan ruins. So far, 24 archaeological sites have been found in Cozumel, although not all of them have been fully excavated. The sites date from around 5 A.D. and onward, with the Mayan population peaking in 1400 A.D. The main sites people visit are San Gervasio, El Cedral and Castillo Real. Although many of the sites are modest in comparison to Mexico City's Teotihuacan or the Yucatan's Chichen Itza, they provide a glimpse of the daily lives of ancient peoples.
Cozumel insiders recommend the following restaurants: Cabana del Pescador, Capicua and La Cocay for seafood; El Moro and La Choza for Mexican homestyle cooking; Guido's for Mediterranean; and Prima for Italian cuisine. Night owls will want to hit the clubs and discos on Avenida Rafael Melgar. There are the regular chain clubs, such as Carlos 'n' Charlie's, Senor Frogs and The Hard Rock Cafe, as well as salsa and banda clubs. Los Delfines hosts weekend drag shows. The main evening activity is to hit the central square downtown on a Sunday night.