Cozumel Tourist Attractions
How to get thereBy air from Mexico City in about 2.5 hours, Mérida in about 40 minutes, Cancún in about 15 minutes; also from other Mexican and U.S. airports; by ferry from Playa del Carmen (passenger ferry) in about 1 hour or Puerto Aventuras (car ferry) in about 2 hours.
A hovercraft service operates from Cancún.45km/28mi long and 18km/11mi across at its widest, Cozumel, one of the largest Mexican islands, lies 20km/13mi off the north-east coast of the Yucatán peninsula. The flat terrain is covered for the most part with dense green scrub, while around the shores magnificent white sand beaches contrast vividly with the blue-green sea. Because the seabed consists of very fine white coral sand, the water is crystal clear.The island, an excellent diving ground, was first opened up to tourism in the late 1950s.HistoryCozumel, known to the Maya as Ah-cuzamil (''land of the swallows"), was apparently a site of major significance during the Mayan post-Classic period, particularly between AD 1000 and 1200. As the most easterly of all the Mayan sites, the island was almost certainly a sanctuary associated with worship of the rising sun. Old records also suggest that it was from Cozumel that several Mayan tribes set off on their migrations across the mainland. In addition the island was undoubtedly an important place of pilgrimage dedicated to the goddess of fertility Ix-chel and patroness of birth. As Moon goddess and wife of the Sun god Itzamná (the supreme deity), Ix-chel occupied a central place in Yucatán Mayan mythology. Mayan women were especially fervent in their veneration of such sites.The first Spaniard to discover the island was Juan de Grijalva in 1518, followed in 1519 by Hernán Cortés and in 1527 by Francisco de Montejo. The latter aimed to use it as a base from which to take control of the entire Yucatán. When Cortés landed, there were some 40,000 people living on the island.In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Cozumel served primarily as a refuge for pirates and smugglers, including Henry Morgan, Laurent de Graff, Long John Silver and Jean Lafitte. In the second half of the 19th c. many refugees from the "Caste Wars" fled the mainland to Cozumel. During the Second World War the old town of San Miguel was bulldozed to make way for a U.S. airforce base.In September 1988 hurricane "Gilbert" swept over Cozumel at 370 k.p.h (230 m.p.h.), causing severe damage to everything in its path.In 1997, in spite of protests from environmental protectionists, plans were provisionally agreed for a large pier to be built near Paradise Reef as part of the Puerta Maya Project.
San Miguel de Cozumel
In addition to a small marine aquarium, San Miguel de Cozumel, the island's "capital" on the north-west side, has an interesting museum, the Museo de la Isla (Avda. Rafael E. Melgar/C. 6 Norte). Exhibits reflect the island's geography and history, as well as the fascinating world beneath the sea.
Among the most popular and attractive of Cozumel's beaches are the Playas San Juan and Pilar (north-west) and the Playas San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Palancar (south-west). On the east side, open to the Caribbean, are the Playas Encantada, Hanan, Bonita, Punta Morena, Chen Río and Chiqueros.AdviceUnder certain conditions the heavy swell and strong currents can prove dangerous.
The Laguna Chankanab (Mayan: "little sea"), a small freshwater lake situated 7km/4.3mi south of San Miguel de Cozumel and linked to the sea by underground channels, is particularly popular for outings. The crystal-clear water, home to a variety of creatures, make it an enchanting place to swim and snorkel. Recent years have seen a nature reserve and botanic garden established beside the lagoon. (A wildlife reserve is also being set up on the Isla de la Pasión, off Cozumel's north coast.)
Although marine life in the waters around Cozumel has already suffered considerably (mainly from over-fishing with harpoons), snorkellers and scuba-divers can still find much to interest them. One of the best spots to dive is the Palancar reef, rising from depths of 80 m (262 ft) to just beneath the surface at the south-west end of the island, where a bronze figure of Christ has been erected underwater, 17 m (56 ft) down. There is also good diving on the San Francisco, Paraíso, Columbia and Maracaibo reefs and the Santa Rosa Wall.
More than 30 small Mayan sites have been found on the island, of which only a handful have been investigated and still fewer have undergone any restoration. Although most of the unexplored ruins are of no great architectural interest, some are delightfully situated, hidden away in the jungle. The most important of the sites is San Gervasio, about 16km/10mi from San Miguel de Cozumel and accessible by vehicle. Its temple of Ix-chel was the chief focus of the island's religious life and the centre to which pilgrims were drawn. Near by are more ruins at Santa Rita. Other sites include Santa Pilar in the north and Castillo Real to the north-east, the latter boasting Cozumel's largest Mayan structure. There are also Mayan remains in the south-east of the island at Buenavista and in the south at El Caracol, near the lighthouse.
More Cozumel Pictures
Map of Cozumel Attractions