GUEST ARTICLE: Cozumel is a little island situated in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a 3rd world location but has plenty to offer with its crystal clear azure waters and white sand beaches. It’s beautiful, the food’s great but beware the tourist rip-offs!
We landed at their little airport in the mid afternoon and noticed the greenhouse effect of the weather immediately, back to no blow dryer land. We found this great little hotel called Casita de Maya on TripAdvisor, it was perfect because it was located just across the street from the airport. Dan the owner (a Canadian from LA) was really great and made us feel at home right away.
After tucking into our comfy little abode we went on walkabout throughout the little city of San Miguel. The first obvious thing that struck us was the poverty. No fancy streets to strut down there, all of the buildings looked pretty old but with lots of character. The people were all really friendly and mostly just kept to themselves. As you neared the main part of the town near the water more modern buildings started to materialize and the swarms of silver and diamond jewellery shops became ever present.
Our first glimpse of the water was mesmerizing; the colour is really incredible especially under clear skies. Cozumel is a big port for Cruise ships and there can be up to 3 or more docked for the day which can make the centre a frenzy of shopping, tequila shooting and Cuban cigar smoking. The food is great but we found the best food and most reasonable priced to be with the locals away from the centre.
Unfortunately most places in the tourist zone charge in US dollars and if you’re not careful you can be easily ripped off. Actually we found most prices there to be a bit much especially for being a 3rd world country from experience. It was strange to me though that they would even deal in US dollars? Just when you thought you were in Mexico. The good news though is that a Cerveza drink is dirt cheap $1-$2 depending where you go.
One day we decided to rent a scooter to go around the island. Its a fantastic way to see the sights and don’t forget to barter. We got our scooter for $25US with gas and highly recommended insurance. While we were leaving we heard a couple of other tourists getting one for $35US no gas. Unfortunately we were only able to drive around half of the island, the other half is inaccessible but no worries there was still plenty to see.
The beaches on the southern end were some of the best we’ve seen, with scatterings of cool little pubs and eateries along the way. There is quite a bit of untouched land there and rumour has it Bill Gates purchased a big section to keep it just that way. We also checked out the Mayan Ruins of San Gervasio which date back to 300 – 400 A.D., they were really interesting and definitely worth the visit.
Beware the taxis of Cozumel. If you want to go just a few kilometres AND you are a tourist, the driver will pull out is “official” rate card and charge you some exhorbitant amount in US$. For instance the poor people coming off the cruises are charged US$6 to travel to the centre of town. That might not seem too bad except that the centre of town is less than a kilometre away. Locals don’t have to pay those prices.
Beware also the private beaches. Sometimes you spend money just to sit on the beach (sometimes you don’t) and then you pay New York prices to do anything. Diet Coke? That’s about US$3 on a private beach. On the streets a Diet Coke costs less than US$1. Have lunch on one of the private beaches and you’ll be leaving a LOT of cash behind.
The last few days we were there we met some really great people, the crazy Dr. Mike and Shari the Prof. They’re from New Orleans and are frequent visitors to Cozumel and were kind enough to give us a real tour of the island. One afternoon they took us out for lunch at this cool little restaurant at Playa (beach) Bonita and we ate some freshly caught fish cooked Mexican Style, delish!
The next day they took us snorkelling. I have to admit it was some of the best we’ve ever done. The water was perfectly warm and the visibility fantastic not to mention the mass of bright beautifully coloured fish, we got to see a baby sandshark, a huge spotted eel and a lobster; I could have stayed in there for hours!
The Doc and Prof’s hospitality was really touching; we just hope they get their butts to Australia one day so we can return the favour.
Overall we had a pretty good stay in Cozumel and are glad we got to explore a bit of Mexican culture for the first time, but for now we’re totally taco’d out!
This travel diary has been written by Rob Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!