Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue January 31 2017

Spotlight on Cozumel

Destination & Tourism Dawna L. Robertson January 31, 2017

Spotlight on Cozumel

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Thank you, Jacques Cousteau! What was once a pilgrimage for Mayan females venturing from the mainland to exalt the fertility goddess Ixchel, Cozumel has revealed its natural assets making it a coveted destination by global scuba divers seeking the treasure trove of marine marvels.

When the oceanographer shared its stunning underwater beauty in a 1961 documentary, Cousteau elevated the island’s profile from off-the-radar to off-the-charts. Divers rave that the pristine water is so clear that they can spot clouds when submerged 20 feet below the surface.

Cozumel is home to the famed Planacar Reef, one of the world’s primo diving destinations that gain glory by its ring of more than 40 dive sites driving scuba enthusiasts to a salivation state. Yet, landlubbers can engage with ample diversions locked into terra firma. 

While much of the 189-squre-mile island remains undeveloped, Cozumel is sprinkled beach clubs like Mr. Sancho’s that appeals with eateries, motorized and non-motorized water sports, palapas for snoozing in the shade, snorkeling, diving and bottom boat tours.

Those into revving it up can rip through jungles on Jeep and ATV tours, or tap into horsepower at Rancho Buenavista with its lush wildlife.  

The island’s most significant archaeological site, San Gervasio was a sacred Mayan center serving as a hub of commerce and politics. It was also Ixchel’s sanctuary. While playing a bit of a “second fiddle” since its ruins aren't deemed as impressive as those in Chichen Itza or Tulum, the park still dazzles with its Temple of the Hands that intrigues with mysterious small red hand prints painted on the wall.

On the island’s southern tip, eco-adventurers thrive within the massive protected area of Punta Celarain and its historical lighthouse, Colombia Lagoon that shelters endangered marine turtles and endemic species, and the Parque Punta Sur Ecological Reserve that’s plush with reefs, coastal sand dunes, mangroves, scenic beaches and lagoon systems.

Despite this allure, few encounters say “local” quite like a Sunday evening at San Miguel’s Plaza. Authentic Cozumeleno flavor sweeps visitors away while rubbing shoulders with locals jointly perusing crafts vendors as they hawk their finest creations, artists as they create exquisite works and lively music as it sweeps through the night air.

When To Visit

Naturally, prices are steeper during high season (December through mid-April). Since the nortes (north winds) are expected to blow through and temperatures tend to be slightly cooler, it’s smart to pack a sweater or light jacket for evenings.

April and May are considered primo months for visiting since the weather is warm and dry. For a less pricey time, hit the summer season from June until mid-August. It’s generally hot, humid and rainier. As a result, prices drop and visitors find it less hectic from a tourism standpoint. But count on a higher count of divers hitting the island since the water is an inviting 75-80F degrees, and visibility levels are to up to 200 feet. 

Those visiting Playa del Carmen should consider any time as ideal for hitting the island via a 30-minute ferry ride. The major perk is being able to experience the vibe and decide if whether Cozumel as a place worthy of investing more time.

For those craving cultural events and festivals, Cozumel is definitely a dandy. As the island’s most significant event, May’s Sacred Mayan Journey recreates the traditional pilgrimage of Mayan women crossing the Cozumel Channel from the mainland to worship Ixchel.

One of the grandest festivals on the island, Carnaval de Cozumel is typically held in February in conjunction with Ash Wednesday. Colorful events include rhythm-rich parades, costumed dances and parties filling the streets. As a highlight, the Cozumel Carnival Parade rolls out in the evenings during the course of the entire weekend.

Other major Cozumel events include the Mexican Independence Day and Patron de San Miguel in September, Day of the Dead (a remembrance of the deceased) in early November and Ironman Cozumel in late November.