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| Spotlight Destination
This small island, only 53 km (33 mi.) long 15 km (9 mi.) wide, is one of the top five dive destinations in the world. With only 3% of the island developed, much of its interior is covered by marshes, lagoons, scrub, and dense jungle.
Cozumel is located just 70-km (44 MI) southeast of Cancun, and 12 MI offshore from Playa Del Carmen.
The word Cozumel means "land of the sparrows" in the Mayan language. To the Mayans, Cozumel was a sacred island dedicated to the fertility goddess, Ixchel. Mayan women were expected to travel here at least once in their lives to pray and give offerings. The temples and ruins that were built here were invaded by Hernan Cortes in 1519, and due to the building of a US air base in WWII, many were destroyed. In the 14th century, Cozumel became an important trading port, but foreign diseases slowly destroyed the population leaving it almost uninhabited. During the 17th and 18th century, pirates used the harbors, catacombs, and tunnels dug by the Mayans for their treasure storing needs. In the beginning of the 20th century, the chewing gum industry focused on Cozumel for its large supply of zapote trees, which in turn led to the discovery of the few ruins left. In the 1960s, Jacques Cousteaus discovery of the diving reefs change Cozumels history forever. It is now one of the worlds top diving destinations. There are also about a dozen cruise lines that dock at Cozumel.
Cozumel has a climate typical of the Caribbean. From July to September, average temperatures are in the low to mid 30s. From November to May, temperatures hover around 25 to 28 degrees Celsius, warm breezes and low humidity make the evenings perfect for a stroll along the beach.
Hotels are located in three areas: Central town, North of town, and South of town. Central town: most of the budget hotels are in this area. Rates range from $36 to $250 US dollars. North of town: rates for hotels in this area range from $90 to $330 US dollars. South of town: rates are from $122 to $400 US dollars. There are quite a few all inclusive resorts, with pools, restaurants, gyms, tennis courts, diving equipment rental, moped and car rental and even massage services. Prices increase during the tourist season. Most hotels accept credit cards.
In addition to hotel restaurants, Cozumel offers a wide variety of eating establishments. From expensive, like Pepes Grill, which has grilled specialties to moderate, like El Moro, popular for its excellent food and great service, to inexpensive cafes and bistros.
Everything from live music, bands, discos, bars, and folk dance is here in Cozumel. Locals as well as tourists head to the plaza on Sunday night where you can hear island musicians play tropical tunes. In February, the island explodes with parades, dancing, costumes, parties and music for Carnival. Most discos and bars are quite during the week, but on weekends DJs play until dawn for the thriving crowds. The Havana club caters to the more upscale crowd with sophisticated jazz, cocktails, and cigars.
There are over 150 stores located on and around Avenida Rafael Melgar. Here you will find expensive resort wear from jewelery and art to clothing and souvenirs. Los Cinco Soles, Talavera and Playa del Angel offer high-quality Mexican folk art. Prices for everyday items are much cheaper on the side streets of Melgar. Located behind the plaza, there is a craft market that offers an assortment of Mexican wares. Department stores are more like variety stores, but still stock a wide variety of good. Fama, Pama, Prococo, and Viva Mexico carry items like jewelery, liquor, souvenirs, handicrafts, books, shoes, CDs and more.
As well as traditional Mexican dishes, seafood, Italian, regional, vegetarian, international, and American fare is available. From grilled steak and chicken, lobster and fish dishes to tacos and enchiladas, every imaginable dish is prepared, consumed and, savored.
Banks: There are four banks in Cozumel. All banks have ATM machines as well as money exchange desks, open only during the morning.
Transportation: Bikes and mopeds are the popular way to travel, but can be dangerous due to heavy traffic, potholes, and hidden stop signs. Due to an agreement with the government, no buses travel the north and south hotel zones. Buses usually run within the town of San Miguel. Service is irregular but fairly inexpensive. To get to many beaches and ruins you will need a jeep or a vehicle with four wheel drive. Many hotels have car rental outlets within. The majority of rental agencies have a clause that voids your insurance when you leave paved road. Most roads in Cozumel are unpaved, unmaintained and can be difficult to maneuver after a storm. Taxis run 24 hours a day, and most wait at major hotels. Rates are cheap, except from midnight to 6 am, where a 25% surcharge is added.
Playa del Carmen: Only 12 MI offshore and a 17-minute ferry ride away. This seaside village is becoming the fastest growing city on the coast.
|WHERE TO GO:
Castillo Real: (Royal Castle) A Mayan site featuring a lookout tower,
the base of a pyramid, and a temple with two chambers. The waters here are
a perfect spot for diving as there are no people to disturb the fish.
El Cedral: The first site found by the Spanish in 1518, it was the
"hub" of Mayan life. Unfortunately, conquistadors tore down most of the
temple and the US army destroyed the rest. Only a structure with an arch
remains. Take a look inside to see the faint traces of paint and stucco.
There are several more small ruins in the jungle, but you will need a
guide to get to them.
Parque Chankanaab: (Chankanaab Nature Park) Only a 15 minute drive
from San Miguel, this national park includes an archaeological park,
saltwater lagoon, botanical gardens, dolphin aquarium, and a wildlife
sanctuary. Guides will lead you through this park to reproductions of
Aztec, Olmec, Toltec, and Mayan stone carvings. Swimming is not permitted
at the lagoon, but you can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive at the beach.
Three gift shops, two restaurants, and a dressing room are also in the
Parque Punta Sur: This 247-acre preserve is Cozumels newest
national park. Exotic animals such as flamingos, crocodiles, herons, foxes,
and egrets call this park home. Bikes, small carts and public buses are
here for visitors to use as no cars are allowed.
San Gervasio: Once the islands capital and ceremonial center,
the Mayan and Toltec ruins in this area are the largest existing site on
Punta Molas Faro: The views of the jagged shoreline and open sea
are well worth the time consuming journey it takes to get to this lighthouse.
This is also an excellent spot for birdwatching, sunbathing and camping.
Mueso de la Isla de Cozumel: This two-floor museum is housed in
what was once Cozumels finest hotel. On the first floor, you will find
exhibits and artifacts dedicated to the natural history. Upstairs, the
history of Cozumel is depicted in Mayan artifacts, cannons, and swords
of the conquistadors. Guided tours are available.
WHERE TO EAT:
Seafood is the cuisine of choice in Cozumel. Pepes Grill, which started
the grilled-food custom, is a popular dining establishment among locals
and tourists. Flame broiled foods, such as beef filet and shrimp, keep
customers returning. The Lobster House has lobster only on the menu,
served boiled with herbs and spices. Side dishes, such as rice,
vegetables, and bread, accompany the lobster at no extra cost. The weight
of the lobster you choose determines the price of your dinner. Fountains,
a tropical garden, and a small pond including the ducks give this
restaurant a romantic atmosphere, making it a place youll likely never
forget. Delicious regional foods as well as Mexican dishes served up at
El Moro make this restaurant popular and busy. House specialties include
pollo?Ticuenco, from the town of Ticul, which is a batter-fried chicken
breast layered with mashed potatoes, corn tortilla, and tomato sauce topped
with cheddar cheese. Enchiladas, sandwiches, nachos, seafood, and
regional foods are also popular here. Both tourists and locals flock to La
Choza for the pork stew, chicken in a pepper sauce, platters of stuffed
shrimp, and beefsteak thats served at this Maya-type restaurant. Northern
Italian seafood dishes are the specialty at Prima. Everything served at
this Italian restaurant is made fresh daily, including the pasta and bread.
Dishes such as fettuccine with pesto lobster and crab ravioli in a cream
sauce, and shrimp scampi are what you can expect to find on the menu.
There are several caf? that serve fresh made pastries, waffles,
croissants, bagels, and muffins as well as ice cream and milkshakes.
|WHAT TO DO:
There are quite a few activities to participate in. Most have to do with
the water, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, swimming, parasailing and
boat tours. Eco tours, jungle treks, horseback riding are fun, exciting,
Beaches: The Playa San Francisco, Chankanaab Lagoon and the Playa
Palancar are Cozumels best beaches. Food is somewhat overpriced, and
equipment rental is available. Most of Cozumels eastern coastal beaches
are unsafe for swimming due to deadly undertows, but the views of the
pounding surf, rocky shore, and limestone formations are spectacular.
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling: With all the reefs, caves, crevices
and even a phony airplane wreck, diving in Cozumel is breathtaking.
There are approximately 30 dive spots, with Palancar being the best reef.
Santa Rosa and Colombia are also highly recommended. Different dive
optionsinclude deep dives, drift dives, shore dives, night dives, as well as
theme dives focusing on photography, sunken wrecks, ecology, and
archaeology. Many shops offer tours and equipment. Make sure to check
credentials, consult the experienced divers who are familiar with the
operators, and check over equipment before choosing a dive shop.
Adventure Tours: From horseback riding, bike and jeep tours,
to jungle trekking, Aventuras Naturales offers it all. These daily tours
are anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours long, and offer even the most
adventurous person a run for their money.
Sport Fishing: Sport fishing in Cozumel is mainly done by trolling,
and depending on the season, you can expect to catch bluefish, blue
and white marlin (catch and release only) wahoo, grouper, dorado,
barracuda, and snapper. Many fishing charter companies will pick you
up and drop you off at your hotel dock.
Other Activities: Other water activities such as kayaking, surfing,
and parasailing are becoming popular. Equipment for these activities are
available for rent from some dive shops.
|WHERE TO SHOP:
In Cozumel you will find Mexican handicrafts, jewelry, such as silver,
gold and gems, as well as duty free shops. Store hours are generally
9am to 2pm and 5pm to 10pm, however many stores are now staying open
during siesta hours, especially during the tourist season. The principle
shopping area is located downtown on the waterfront along avenida Melgar
and along some of the side streets around the plaza. Miro, an upscale
sportswear store; Poco Loco, a casual wear shop; and Bikinis do Brasil,
which sells sundresses and swimwear are all located along this street.
A craft market, located behind the plaza, sells just about every type of
Mexican ware. The majority of the newer, trendier shops are located along
the waterfront. Talvera, Los Cinco Soles, and Playa del Angel are the best
places to purchase Mexican folk art. Xtabay specializes in artwork by
artists from all over Mexico. The department stores in Cozumel are more
like variety shops. They carry everything from CDs and books, to shoes
and clothing, to gifts and liquor. For jewelry, which tends to be a
little pricey in Cozumel, try Diamond Creations, which lets you custom
design jewelry from an array of loose stones. At Joyeria Palancar
bracelets and earrings made from coral, gold and silver are the main
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