Beyond the Diver's Paradise

Cozumel history |

description |

location & directions |

where to stay

When you have diving on the brain, look no further than Cozumel. The barrier island, just miles off the Yucatan coast, has been the destination for scuba divers since Jacques Cousteau put it on the map in the 1960s.

With vibrantly colored reefs dazzlingly rich with marine life, exciting drift diving and crystal clear visibility of up to 250 ft, it is no surprise that the island attracts tens of thousands of divers every year. Each of its magnificent and towering reefs feature different types of coral and formations. Keen divers get to experience new and exciting environments on each dive. Cozumel is also now an important cruise-ship destination.


There is evidence that the island was an important trading port for the Mayans and a sacred ceremonial site. as early as 300 AD. Every Mayan woman was expected to make a pilgrimage here to make offerings to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. Ixchel’s temple was believed to have been located at San Gervasio. There are more than 40 sites containing shrines around the island.

Small pox and genocide almost wiped out the entire population and the island remained relatively deserted until real-life pirates such as Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan starting hiding out in the coves in the late 17th century. In the wake of the Caste War in the mid 1800s, some Mayans resettled here.

In the 20th century, but for a brief boost as a trading port and as a US military base in the 1940s, the island was largely in a slump. Its fortunes picked up when Cousteau’s film brought the world’s attention to its glorious reefs.



San Miguel is the island's only town, is its most developed area.This is the best spot to set up base for day trips around the island. It has a laid back vibe and the downtown caters to cruise ship passengers, shoppers and diners.

There are many gift, jewelry, duty-free and handicraft stores here. The newest shopping is in the air-conditioned mall at the Punta Langosta cruise ship terminal

Chakanab National Park
This is a good day trip for snorkeling, picnicking or swimming with the dolphins. There is a fee to enter the park but the water is crystal clear, the grounds are immaculate and there are palapas, beach chairs and showers. Through the Dolphin Discovery program in the park, you can interact and play with the dolphins. Otherwise, take a lead from the iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and relax. Snuba is available for newbies who want a hassle-free dive experience.

Punta Sur Ecological Reserve
Take a walk on the wild side or rather drive to it. Located on the southern tip of Cozumel, this is an eco park with rugged and sandy beaches. Visitors board an open vehicle to visit the small museum, the small Mayan ruins in Caracol and the lighthouse. It has huge mangrove swamps and lagoons where flamingoes and crocodiles can be found. Some tour operators in San Miguel will run boat trips to the mangrove swamps.

Ruins at San Gervasio, Cozumel
source: Infrogmation, New Orleans

San Gervasio
Lacking the scale of other Mayan ruins, the fun is more in the journey than in the destination. Not to be ignored however is its importance as a holy city. San Gervasio is a collection of five crudely built temples which are joined by stone walkways or sacbe. There are no statues or carvings of the goddess Ixchel but Mayan historians have it that the temple priest would hide behind a large carving of the goddess and speak as if with her voice.

The Temple of the Hands
In the Temple of the Hands, there are many inexplicable small red handprints which have been painted into the walls. On your walk, look out for a partially ruined stone altar under a graceful arch where offerings to the Rainbow goddess were placed.

Cozumel Museum
This is a modest museum which features exhibits on the local flora and fauna and coral reefs on the first floor. Second floor displays narrate Cozumel’s history from pre-Columbian through to modern days, including the pirates of the Caribbean. Mayan artifacts, some colonial military equipment and shipwreck findings are here.


Location and directions

Cozumel is 12 miles southeast of Playa del Carmen and 40 miles south of Cancun. There are direct flights from all over the US


Where to stay

Occidental Grand Cozumel is an all-inclusive beachfront hotel on San Francisco Beach. Built Polynesian style with thatched palapa roofs, rooms are arranged around the pools and activity centers. It has Mexico’s highest Gran Turismo rating.

Hacienda San Miguel on a quiet street downtown, has appealing fair sized rooms with balconies. There are lovely views of the garden and central courtyard from the rooms. A superb location.


For a more complete listing of are hotels and resorts, check out our list here.

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