It’s not another Cancún yet, but Cozumel’s days as a rustic divers’ hangout are history. Whether arriving at the airport or the gleaming ferry terminal, visitors soon realize there’s nothing deserted about this island.That has its advantages. It’s rare to find such stunning natural beauty, crystal-clear aquamarine seas, and vast marine life combined with top-flight visitor services and accommodations. As a result, Cozumel’s devotees are legion. Divers sharing stories of lionfish and sharks sit table-to-table with families tanned from a day at the beach club, while Mexican couples spin and step to salsa music in the central plaza. But the elephant in Cozumel’s big and bountiful room is the throngs of cruise-ship passengers who take over the countless craft and jewelry stores along the seaward boulevard downtown any day there are ships in port—which is to say, just about every day except Sunday. But take just a few steps off the beaten path and you’ll soon see that the country’s third-largest island offers big rewards. Windswept beaches, wild and vibrant natural parks, and miles of coral reef are still yours for the discovering.Irregularly shaped, Cozumel is, at most, 48 km (30 miles) long and 15 km (9 miles) wide. Plaza Central, or just "El Centro," is the heart of San Miguel, directly across from the ferry docks that serve Playa del Carmen. Residents congregate here in the evening, especially on weekends, when free concerts begin at 8 pm. Heading inland (east) takes you away from the tourist zone and toward residential areas of town. Most of the island’s restaurants, hotels, stores, and dive shops are concentrated downtown and along the two hotel zones that fan out on the leeward coast to the north and south of San Miguel. Cozumel’s solitude-seeking windward side has a few beach-bar restaurants, one hotel, and miles of deserted beaches.
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Diving and snorkeling define Cozumel, so sign up for a guided tour. If you’re a beginner, head to a quiet, protected spot such as Palancar or Chankanaab.
Not comfortable in a mask and flippers? Hop aboard a glass-bottom boat or submarine to marvel at sharks, sea turtles, rays and tropical fish.
This largest Mayan site on Cozumel was a thriving community for 1,300 years. Guides tell tales of its past as a trading post and center of worship.
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Take time to stroll around the town of San Miguel and browse the morning produce market. Watch the sunset from el zócalo, the seaside town square.
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This ecological preserve on the southern tip of Cozumel is home to a lighthouse with a lovely view, a Mayan temple and nesting birds and sea turtles.
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In downtown San Miguel, the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel hosts exhibits on natural history as well as the ways humans have interacted with the land.
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