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After spending some time on the Mexican mainland, the island of Cozumel feels extremely Caribbean. The houses are colorful, and life takes place in first gear. Find out what to do on Cozumel.

Turbulent history

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. The island has a rich history of Mayans and pirates. Thousands of years ago, every Maya woman had to make a pilgrimage to the island. This was a tribute to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, midwifery, medicine, the earth, rain, and war. A busy lady!

For a time, Cozumel was uninhabited because of a chickenpox epidemic. Refugees returned to the island from 1848 to escape the Caste War (the war in which the Maya from Yucatan faced the Mexican government and the white elite). If you’re interested, visit the Cozumel Island Museum (Google Maps location).

Stocking up on pills in San Miguel

Cozumel is Mexico’s premier cruise destination. The center of San Miguel is wholly focused on American tourists. Therefore, many prices are quoted in dollars only. There are many souvenir shops and pharmacies with cheap medicines. Literally everything is available without a prescription, from Viagra to Zanax and diet pills to steroids.

About 90% of the tourists on Cozumel are American, and the majority come to dive. I skip both the diving and the shops full of souvenirs and medicines. It feels much more pleasant a few streets outside the center of San Miguel. It is less crowded, and Mexicans are in the majority. Be sure to have a good look around you when you walk around San Miguel because there are several beautiful murals.

I want a Volkswagen Beetle!

I rent an old Volkswagen Beetle with two friends. In Tulum, we already drove an old Volkswagen van. What’s up with Mexico and old Volkswagens? We actually planned to discover the island by scooter, but the sight of the cute Beetle convertibles immediately changed our minds. We rent our Beetle at Isis for $40. If you book online, you can save $5. Book via this site.

Fake fines and gas pump rip-offs

Today the office is staffed by friendly Isis herself, who explains where we have to fill up the gas without being ripped off and warns us never to pay a police officer immediately. Some people pretend to be cops to cheat tourists out of money. The real police remove the license plate from your car in case of a traffic violation, and you can only pick it up again at the police station. But, of course, you do have to pay the fine. But don’t let anyone fool you!

Resorts on the west coast of Cozumel

There is only one route across the island; you follow it to the left or right. On the west side of the island are mainly resorts and beach clubs. If you want to go to the beach, you must eat or drink something here. Ask if there is a minimum amount that you must spend before you get a nasty surprise. We made a short stop at Playa Palancar (Google Maps location).

On the way to Playa Pacalar with the Beetle.

The sunny south of Cozumel: Parque Punta del Sur

Our favorite stop is Parque Punta del Sur. We have a few doubts about the hefty entrance fee (2023: 19 dollars), but we are grateful to ourselves that we paid for it. It is an eco-park through which we must drive a long way with our yellow Beetle to visit the lighthouse (with a tiny staircase that tall men can barely pass), a small maritime museum, the beach, and the lake.

This is the most beautiful beach in Cozumel. It goes a pretty long way, so you can take a nice walk on the beach. The sand is white and wonderfully soft, and the sea is calm. There are maybe twenty or so other tourists walking around. Go for it!

Google Maps location

Crocodile hunting in Cozumel

In Parque Punta del Sur, we take a boat trip over Laguna Colombia (included in the price). We’re looking for crocodiles. There should be about 400 living in the lake, so our chances are pretty good. Soon we find the first one. The crocodile is posing so perfectly that all passengers wonder if it is a plastic crocodile placed especially for tourists. The guide assures us that this pose prevents crocodiles from overheating. He or she is real. The trip takes approximately half an hour and runs thrice daily (11am, 1pm, and 2pm).

Dashing east coast (including dashing Americans)

The wild east coast is much less built up. You can go to the beach here, but that is simply unattractive in many places because of the rocks and high waves. However, it does produce landscapes you can stare at for hours, such as at El Mirador.

Google Maps location

El Mirador is worth at least a quick photo stop.

We stop at the touristy Coconuts Restaurant & Bar. There are a few Americans around that are loud and drunk. Their behavior irritates me so much. Judging by the bar’s layout, this is exactly Coconuts’ target group. But, take a moment to have a drink here anyway. Because the view from the rocks over the sea and the beach is magnificent. Especially when the sun sets and sends sunbeams between the clouds. That has an almost theatrical effect. So, grab a beer and some nachos with guacamole and hit the road as soon as you’ve finished. You then have just enough time to hand in the Beetle before closing time.

Google Maps location

This is what you visit Coconuts for: the view!

Overnight in Cozumel

Amaranto is a small-scale residence outside the tourist center. Owner Jorge has many tips for restaurants in the area and is easily accessible via Whatsapp for all kinds of questions. We stay in the penthouse. It’s a round-tower room with many windows and a homely interior. You can also have breakfast at Amaranto. You must inform the owner in advance. Due to personal circumstances, assistant Manuela cannot prepare breakfast for us during our stay. Check availability at Amaranto.

If you walk a little towards the boulevard from Amaranto, there is a cheap launderette on your right. The cheerful lady will have your laundry ready within a few hours.

Penthouse Amaranto, Cozumel.

Food tips in Cozumel

We don’t regret the lack of breakfast at Amaranto for long because we discover the Maple Bake House. The bread is so good! Most bread in Mexico is white and sweet, so a piece of brown bread is a real treat. The coffee is also good, so this is immediately the regular breakfast spot for our stay.

Google Maps location

Los Tacotales is a local eatery. Tacos, tacos, and more tacos. They cost between 10 and 30 pesos and will be served before you know it. The kitchen is super fast. The bar next door is also from Los Otates, which is a bit slower. 🙂

Google Maps location

How do you get to Cozumel?

Cozumel has an airport, so you could take a local flight. We choose the Ultramar boat from Playa del Carmen. That is the same company that also sails between Cancún and Isla Mujeres. You can buy your tickets online.

At first, I am angry. We buy three return tickets at the office, and as soon as we stand in line, we discover that they have sold us first-class tickets. Motherf*$%(@#s! It’s much more expensive. But as soon as the boat leaves, my anger slowly becomes gratitude. The sea is very wild, and the boat sloshes in all directions. I have to concentrate very hard not to get sick. So it is actually quite nice to be allowed to sit in the first-class section. A good ‘investment’ after all.

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First published: February 2018 The article has been updated since.

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