Known as the second best place in the world to scuba dive, the oldest Caribbean island, and a once vital part of the Mayan culture, Cozumel sure sounds like its has a lot to offer. So… does it? After spending a week on the island, exploring every adventure-packed activity/experience and every hot spot on the island, here is my personal review.
Now, keep in mind, I am not the ‘all-inclusive’ type of gal who sits on the beach all day long drinking and tanning. Don’t get me wrong, I did get my fair share of tanning time in, but that was NOT the main purpose behind my vacation. My goals going into this trip were as follows:
Background: flew into Cozumel on a Saturday (5am flight, running off 1 hour of sleep because I took Miss Iowa out in KC the night before), happened to get upgraded to first-class on the way (woo!), stayed at Club Melia (pretty sure it was an old Club Med that was converted), and went in prepared to gain a few pounds (worth it).
Goal 1. Success: Began making friends with locals on the airplane to Cozumel, as I sat luxuriously in first class (this is not a normal thing for me), sipping Mimosas with my new pal Ronda. Ronda lives in Cozumel, but works out of Chicago, and had a million and a half recommendations for the best places to go. A few recommendations that I would absolutely pass along to you (from both Ronda and other locals I met through my journey):
Goal 2. (Scuba Diving) Almost a success: I have done a lot of scuba diving since getting certified seven years ago. This was actually my third time to dive Cozumel- but every time is completely different. I got to dive this time in perfect conditions: 80-degree water, perfect clarity, private charter, wonderful dive master, brand new dive shirt… ideal in every way. I was hoping to explore the Palancar Caves (recommended by local friends), but did not get the opportunity- meaning I’ll just have to go back to Cozumel again one day… darn ;). Instead, I dove Paradise Reef and Barracuda Reef, both of which were fantastic! Despite the fact the Paradise Reef was only a 45ft dive maximum, I still got to see beautiful sea turtles, eels, beautiful fish (its way too difficult to put into words their beauty), massive crabs and lobsters, barracudas, etc. The highlight was the 6ft shark I dove with at Barracuda Reef. This shark swam so effortlessly and with such ease, like it had absolutely no worries in the world. And to be part of the shark’s world, even for just a few minutes, is indescribable. Especially considering such a large percentage of the ocean is believed to be unexplored and undiscovered. It is like a whole new world down there- yet, all of it was hand crafted by our God. So cool. Anyways, after completing the second dive, I ascended (very slowly- I have made the mistake before of experimenting with decompression sickness) to find the most breathtaking sunset.
Goal 3. (Explore the entire island) Success: I was beginning to feel like there was a lot of Cozumel that I had not yet seen. So, we decide to rent a Jeep and make a day out of exploring the island. Using recommendations from locals throughout the week, we mapped out a plan to cover the entire island. I quickly learned that Cozumel is TINY (literally can drive the entire island in a few hours), and the locals seem to live off of the bare minimum. Along the way, we stopped at any place with live music, we stopped for drinks and appetizers on the beach, we stopped at huts on the side of the road selling handmade goods, we even stopped for a good tequila tasting. Traveling around the outskirts of the island I was absolutely mesmerized by the beauty in creation, and couldn’t help but pray and thank God for allowing me to witness all of it. The clear, aqua sea; the hot rays from the sun counteracted by the soft breeze in the air; the marinas filled with people, fish, scuba divers; the tourists and the locals filling the beach sun bathing, surfing, diving, snorkeling, parasailing, paragliding, sand volleyball, water sports; even the beachy smell in the air filled my heart with happiness and gratitude.
Goal 4.(Find the best beaches) Success: San Martin Beach was by FAR my favorite beach on the island (And trust me, I explored a lot of beaches). After hearing about this beach from multiple locals, I knew I had to try it out. This beach had the softest sand, the perfect breeze, and the best up-beat environment. It was filled with so many genuinely happy people. I would go back to Cozumel solely to visit San Martin Beach again.
Goal 5. (Mexican food and Caipirinhas) Success: Trust me when I say I ate and drank my way through Cozumel. And Playa Del Carmen for that matter… Clothes are feeling a little tighter as I sit here traveling home… but completely worth every bite of food/ sip. My rule when traveling is to never go to a chain. I want to try the food the locals eat, I want to understand their culture in every way possible. So I order foods I have never heard of- what is the worst that can happen? The best food I had on the island was the seafood (ceviche specifically) and the guacamole. Absolutely delicious. I have to mention my favorite drink to order in Mexico, the Caipirinha. Made with sugar, limes, vodka or Cachaka (from Brazil), and ice, this drink is perfect. If you haven’t tried one, you are missing out.
Goal 6. Success: Tequila? NOT FOR ME. I went in with an open mind, I mean, I do enjoy a good margarita, so why not sipping tequila? To test out my palate, I did an hour-long tequila tour, finished off by a tasting of three 100% agave non-commercial tequilas. Apparently this is supposed to be the best of the best. The tasting was intense- rinsing and preparing your palate and nose between each tasting using water, limes, cinnamon, and coffee beans. Needless to say, the tasting did not go well for me. I don’t know if I developed a taste aversion to tequila in college or if I simply don’t enjoy the flavor, but either way it is not for me. I did learn, however, the chocolate tequila exists… Being the chocolate fanatic that I am, I fell in love with the stuff! You cannot taste the tequila flavor at all- simply creamy chocolaty goodness. Highly recommend chocolate tequila. One more thing I learned… Jose Cuero (and ANY tequila that is not 100% agave) is for mixed drinks only, not for sipping.
Goal 7. (Explore the nightlife) Success- kinda: Well, turns out Cozumel is pretty chill at night. It definitely does not compare to Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Cabo nightlife (don’t worry, I have explored all of those as well). All tourists seem to LOVE Senior Frogs (although I am convinced they water down their alcohol). I went twice while I was there and had a fun time- but in the sense of a bar, not a club. Viva Mexico is said to be the fun local spot at night. Like I mentioned earlier, I did not have the chance to make it there, but every time I went past it, it didn’t seem too busy. Definitely on my bucket list for the next dive trip to Cozumel. Overall I would say- Cozumel is fantastic for watersports, diving, fishing, having very busy/ adrenaline filled days. However, it is not the hot spot for a wild nightlife. One other thing I have learned throughout my trips to Mexico- ALWAYS WATCH YOUR DRINK. You do not have to have a prescription to buy pharmaceutical-grade drugs in Mexico. Therefore, anyone has access to very powerful drugs and can slip you something any time. Be smart. Do not accept drink from strangers.
Tourist traps: I don’t know about you, but I do not go on vacation to be suckered into tourist traps. I prefer to dive into the culture of each place- which is whyI rely on making friends with locals for recommendations. A few tourist traps I want to share with you (just in case you ever plan on visiting Cozumel).
Overall, Cozumel is absolutely incredible. If you are the adventurous type of traveler, this should definitely be on your bucket