Cozumel

Overview

As far back as 2,000 years ago, when the Mayan civilization first discovered and settled the island of Cozumel, this quiet patch of land about 19 km off the eastern shoreline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula existed as place of rest and rejuvenation.

During the 17th century, pirates like the infamous American buccaneer Jean Lafitte used the island to lay low and to quietly organize clandestine operations. Before that, the Mayans considered Cozumel (or Ah-Cuzamil-Peten, which translates to “land of the swallows”) to be the second-most sacred pilgrimage site after Chichen Itza near Cancun.

Legend has it Mayan women were required to visit the island at least once in their lives to pay homage to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and childbirth. Not surprisingly, thousands of years later, the Mexican getaway is still a hotspot for honeymooners and families looking for a quiet place to reconnect with nature and with each other.

One of Cozumel’s biggest assets is its size – or lack thereof. Even though it is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, it is still less than 48 km long from north to south and 16 km wide from east to west.

The majority of the island’s 90,000 residents live close to the western seaboard, between the north and south hotel zones in the city of San Miguel. It is possible to circle the island by car in less than two hours, making it an ideal destination for travellers who visit each year looking for a safe and manageable getaway.

A side effect of the island’s close-knit quarters is the friendly, laid-back hospitality extended to tourists and locals alike. In Cozumel, it’s often harder to avoid friends than to make them.

Interestingly, Cozumel is not known as a party destination. In fact, most of the hotels on the island have policies deterring spring break crowds.

What it is famous for is diving. The clear turquoise waters on the southwestern part of the island are home to the second-largest reef system in the world. This places Cozumel on the map as one of the top five dive destinations on the planet. Here you’ll find qualified guides and tour operators to help you explore the waters.

Snorkelling, windsurfing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and surfing are among the top activities to try during your visit to Cozumel.

Cozumel is a fantastic destination for:

  • snorkelling and diving
  • beaches
  • outdoor adventure

Airport served by: CZM

Destination basics

Cozumel’s location east of the Yucatan Peninsula and close proximity to the Caribbean Sea means it is blessed with a steady subtropical climate all year long.

You may notice the humidity the moment you step off the plane – especially during rainy season, which typically runs June through November. If it’s the hotter temperatures you seek, visit between April and September, when temperatures average around 27 C, a few degrees warmer than the annual average of 25 C. The two hottest months in Cozumel are June and July.

Things cool down in the early mornings and late evenings, when the fragrant tropical winds roll in off the waters. It’s not a bad idea to bring along a cover-up of some kind to ward off a chill, if you plan to be out late.

During the hottest part of the year, the coastal waters warm up dramatically, creating perfect conditions for snorkelling and scuba diving. The balmy water teems with colourful fish and aquatic life.

Besides a swimsuit, make sure you bring along a hat with a good-sized brim, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Cozumel

As a culture, the Mayans are known for their peace-loving practices and warm hospitality. In fact, for thousands of years, Mayan women were welcomed to Cozumel so they could pay homage to Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility and love.

It’s no wonder that Cozumel – an island with a Mayan presence dating as far back as 300 A.D. – is inhabited today by a culture of people who know a thing or two about making visitors feel at home.

Tourism is the main industry, thanks in part to the vibrant cruise-ship industry, as well as the steady supply of professional and recreational divers who frequent Cozumel’s stunning coral reef, ranked second largest in the world. The cruise ships dock across from San Miguel in the west central part of the island, while the two hotel zones sit further out on the north and south sides.

In total, more than 2.5 million people visit Cozumel each year, significantly adding to the local population that hovers around 90,000 permanent residents. Spend a few days visiting the shops and cafes lining the Malecon and don’t be surprised if you end up making a few good friends. The majority of the population is centered in San Miguel.

This small, close-knit island has an incredible advantage in regards to safety. After all, it’s hard to be a bully when everybody in town knows your business (besides the fact Cozumel is known for its exceptional and helpful police force, and for its overall safety).

Another advantage is the small-town vibe and ongoing presence of local people in everyday street life. If you want to hang out like a local, all you have to do is ask one where to go. Generally speaking, locals are more than happy to share any information to enhance your visit and make you want to return.

The Mexican peso is the official currency in Cozumel. Canadian currency and travellers cheques are not widely accepted, and most stores in Mexico do not accept debit cards, so using pesos for purchases is usually simplest.

To exchange your Canadian cash or travellers cheques, stop by one of the many banks, exchange kiosks or your hotel front desk. Just don’t forget your passport – it’s required to cash your travellers cheques. You can also withdraw cash from ATMs found in banks, grocery stores and hotels.

Although American money is widely accepted, regulations are now in place to limit the amount of U.S. cash both residents and visitors can exchange in Mexico.

By regulation, the maximum visitors can exchange per month is US$1,500. Many financial institutions have imposed additional rules, limiting this amount further to US$300 per transaction.

As for using American money for purchases, local businesses will only accept a maximum of US$100 per transaction; however, there is no limit on the maximum number of transactions per customer. You should also keep in mind that many businesses in Mexico have chosen to forgo accepting U.S. money altogether. The best way to pay is therefore with Mexican pesos or credit card.

Cozumel is located on the eastern side of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. It is the most populated island in the country.

It takes less than two hours to completely circle the entire island by car, since the actual land mass is only 48 km from north to south and 16 km from east to west. The island is divided in half by a transversal road running to the Caribbean Sea.

From the sky, it is easy to see how the majority of the island’s commercial development and infrastructure is centered close to the city of San Miguel, located in the northwest quadrant of Cozumel Island.

Further north, you find one of two hotel zones – home of the island’s only golf course, the Cozumel Country Club, as well as the family-owned and operated El Cozumeleno Beach Resort, the first all-inclusive property to open in the area back in the 1970s.

The other hotel zone is along the shoreline south of San Miguel, close to the cruise ship terminals and not far from world-famous Chankanaab National Park. Follow the road south past popular beach clubs and public beaches until you reach Celarain Lighthouse, located at the southernmost tip.

The east side of the island is home to tiny beach cafes and rugged, windswept beaches popular with surfers and locals who want to escape the crowds.

Cozumel is known for its clear blue waters and Mesoamerican Reef. The island also happens to be a popular habitat for the birds and waterfowl that make their homes in the mangrove jungles and marshlands populating much of the interior.

Cozumel may be the biggest island in Mexico, but it’s still only 16 km wide and takes well under two hours to cross by car. This makes it a safe and manageable chunk of land to explore with the help of a rental vehicle. There are many options for getting around the island.

Public buses are virtually non-existent, so most locals rely on mopeds and bicycles, which can be rented at shops and kiosks throughout town. It’s a fun and carefree way to get around, but be forewarned that road rash (or worse) is a souvenir you don’t want to be bringing home with you. Make sure to learn the rules of the road before heading out on your own.

Other transport options include Jeeps, small sedans and even dune buggies. You will be amazed at the bizarre and colourful vehicles coasting up and down the main roads.

Those who prefer their creature comforts can rely on the good old-fashioned taxi system. Drivers are everywhere and easy to spot. Just make sure to ask for a price before heading out. Also note that fares on the island are fixed. There is absolutely no need to tip the drivers – in fact, locals discourage the practice.

Arrival

During your flight into Cozumel International Airport, you’ll receive two forms to fill out. One is your Customs Declaration Form. The other is your Multiple Migratory Form for Foreigners or FMM for short. One Customs Declaration Form needs to be filled out per family, while each guest must complete an FMM.

In Mexico, there is a tourism tax of US$20 per person. For your convenience, when you fly WestJet, this tax is included in the price of your airfare

Upon arrival in Cozumel, a Mexican immigration officer will ask you for your passport and photo ID and for your FMM. The immigration officer may ask you a few questions as to the purpose of your trip, how long you will be staying and if this is your first time in Mexico. The officer will then stamp the card and return a portion of it to you.

Keep your FMM in a safe place – you will be asked for this document when you depart Mexico.

After passing through immigration, you will collect your bags and proceed to customs. A customs agent will ask you for your Customs Declaration Form and ask you to press a button on a device that looks like a traffic light. A green light means "pass through without inspection" and a red light means "your baggage will be inspected." If you get the red light, you will have to open your bags for a quick inspection.

If you’ve booked hotel transfers with WestJet Vacations, look for a friendly Fantasy Travel Experts representative holding a WestJet Vacations sign once you depart customs. Be sure to identify yourself as a WestJet Vacations guest.

Do be aware that there are timeshare sellers who may try to stop you to chat as you make your way out the glass doors. Unless you’re looking to purchase a timeshare, feel free to walk past these individuals.

Departure

When departing Cozumel, you’ll need to provide officials with your signed FMM card. Lost FMMs can be replaced at the airport or at the immigration office before you check in for your return flight. However, there is a fee to obtain a replacement card.

Vaccinations

Be sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, typhoid and tetanus are commonly recommended. The Public Health Agency of Canada also recommends that all travellers to Mexico get vaccinated for the H1N1 flu virus before leaving Canada.

Mexico uses the North American standard plug, however some properties have only two-pronged receptacles in the room rather than three-pronged receptacles.

Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau put Cozumel on the map back in the 1960s with the discovery of the island’s chain of coral reefs at the south end of the island. This eventually turned the tiny fishing community into an internationally recognized dive destination, now ranked as one of the top five scuba diving areas in the world.

By the 1970s, the population had grown to 10,000, exploding over the next four decades to reach its current status of more than 90,000 people. Most are employed or live on the island as a direct result of tourism, Cozumel’s biggest industry.

As is the case with most islands, there is a laid back, casual charm that won’t necessarily be found on the mainland. With a special police force in place just for tourists, and a built-in safety net that comes courtesy of being such a small island and close community, Cozumel is extremely safe – even late at night.

People come here for the low-key, friendly vibe evident in the warm hospitality and genial nature of the Cozumel people. These are traits associated with the early Mayans who first inhabited the island. It’s not uncommon for visitors to make long and lasting friendships with the locals.

Families and couples looking for a perfect sun vacation appreciate Cozumel for its reputation as a friendly, welcoming destination. Only two resorts on the island are adult-only facilities, and almost all of the hotels have policies in place to deter and discourage spring break party crowds.

Departing from:

ˆTotal price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions. *Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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