Divers can be obsessed when it comes to diving and fanatical when it comes to dive travel. Our bucket list often forces us to endure multiple flights to areas with few or no amenities, carrying 100 pounds of dive & camera equipment all for the chance to swim with a particular nudibranch (think multi colored sea slug). We are happiest when we travel in groups with like-minded divers or for some, solo. Occasionally, we find ourselves facing travel situations that require compromise; family or group vacations that aren’t focused solely on diving. Is there a place where everyone can feel satisfied regardless of whether their interests are underwater or dry on land? The answer is a resounding yes! The destination: Cozumel!
Cozumel Mexico is an island situated about 6 miles off mainland Mexico’s east coast in the Caribbean Sea. Due to airport upgrades, direct flights to the island are plentiful from US hubs such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Houston. I’d like to take a moment to discuss entering Cozumel or Mexico for that matter. Due to drug activity on the mainland the Mexican authorities are hyperaware of “suspicious” activity. Please be smart and don’t attempt to enter the country with ANY kind of weapon or large sum of money! Screening of all luggage is common practice. Please have patience. For the most part Cozumel has escaped the violence that occasionally occurs on the mainland; that said, common sense travel practices are encouraged.
Times have changed
Twenty years ago you went to Cozumel for one thing…diving! The hotels were cheap (divers are underwater all day…what do we care what a room looks like), beer was plentiful and the diving spectacular. Today, diving is still the primary attraction for many visiting the island but that doesn’t mean it’s the only attraction! Many of the “cheap” (as in poor quality hotels) are gone in part to a few strong hurricanes & economic growth during the 1990’s. In their place are state of the art, luxury resorts that cater to divers and non-divers alike. The newer hotels range from expansive multi-acre mega resorts to smaller more personalized properties. All inclusive food and alcoholic beverages are common however some properties allow for half board fare. All inclusive options may be a bonus for divers; boat schedules often make it difficult to go “off property” to find food between dives.
Planning to dive?
Many resorts offer dive shops on the property allowing for gear storage, and short walking distances to boats for early morning departures. Properties that don’t have in house dive facilities are usually affiliated with a shop within a couple blocks.
What about the folks that aren’t diving? Is there anything for them to do? YES! There is more than enough to keep even the most adventurous traveler busy; activities range from ATV tours, the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio, spa packages, cooking classes, jet skiing and horseback riding. Many tours can be arranged from the comfort of your hotel lobby. Some properties even include a select number of tours with your hotel reservation. Make sure to examine the “included” section of your reservation or simply ask the hotel for details.
The close proximity of Cozumel to the mainland is an added bonus. A simple ferry ride (approximately $15-$20 USD) across the channel lands you on one of the more recognized beaches in Mexico, Playa del Carmen. From there your group will be able to find a number of tour operators with excursions to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Chichen Itza, and Coba. If you book a tour with a travel company be forwarded, time at the ruins is not extensive; long enough to get a general understanding but too short a time to examine details. It is possible to hire an independent tour guide. Depending on the number in your party it may also be the more cost effective.
Not in the mood for Mayan ruins, what about a marine eco archaeological park? Xcaret is a natural park known for its underground rivers, butterfly sanctuary, manatees, spider monkeys and jungle trails. If you’re traveling with the kids you could easily spend the day at Xcaret.
Where to find entertainment
Are you looking for some entertainment after the sun goes down? Cozumel’s nightlife is welcoming and relaxed. Senior Frog’s is popular with the tourists but smaller bars are available as well. Due to the recent expansion of the cruise ports the shopping and dining options in Cozumel resemble tiny snapshots of Florida. Brick oven pizzerias and gourmet seafood are found in amongst the traditional Mexican fare.
Why choose Cozumel?
In all, when you consider the ease of travel from the USA, exchange rate, sights and activities, and the easy, welcoming nature of the Mexican people Cozumel is a win win for groups that desire a variety of options upon arrival at their final destination. Are there places with better diving, better food, or a more rich history? Maybe, but while you’re on a quest for perfection…I’ll be sitting on the beach, watching a fantastic sunset after a great day of diving enjoying all the riches that Cozumel has to offer!
Andrea Leschak is an avid diver, sailor & all around adventurer. She’s traveled extensively throughout the United States, Caribbean, and overseas. She and her husband own a dive center focused on education, dive travel & photography in Connecticut. She recently launched a dive travel blog at Anywhere There’s Water directed at travel throughout the Caribbean and the Red Sea.
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