Cozumel has many beautiful beaches that are perfect for relaxing and swimming. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): The Mexican island of Cozumel is known as a haven for dive enthusiasts. // © 2016 iStock
It’s only 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, but the island of Cozumel offers a lot of natural beauty in a small space. Here are a few of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors in this Mexican Caribbean paradise.
It would be a shame to visit the Mexican Caribbean and not spend some time on the beach. Cozumel’s silky-white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters provide an ideal setting for relaxing and swimming. Most resort-style beach hotels sit on the island’s west coast, facing Playa del Carmen and providing direct access to a variety of beaches.
To get away from it all, head to the east side, where Punta Chiqueros, Playa Bonita, Punta Morena and Playa Chen Rio are among the top places to claim a spot on the sand. For an especially entertaining day on the beach, consider a visit to Bob Marley Freedom in Paradise, a beachfront bar and restaurant on the island’s south side. Hammocks provide an ideal spot to relax while sipping a cocktail, and you can even get a massage while listening to relaxing reggae music.
Diving and Snorkeling
The world-famous French conservationist and explorer Jacques Cousteau was responsible for first putting Cozumel on the map for scuba diving back in the 1960s. Today, thousands of dive enthusiasts come to the destination to explore portions of the Mesoamerican Reef, a 13-mile-long reef system that’s reportedly the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The 30,000-acre Cozumel Reefs National Park is a prime attraction, encompassing some 85 percent of the island’s best dive sites.
Hotels such as the recently renovated InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa have on-site dive companies that can provide all the necessary training and equipment, with departures for areas like San Francisco, where marine life includes moray eels, nurse sharks, sea turtles and stingrays, and Yucab, one of the world’s longest single reefs, where sponges, crustaceans and colorful fish make their home. Hawksbill turtles, gigantic sponges and fire coral are the main draw at the Santa Rosa Wall.
Vacationers who want to enjoy some of the underwater wonders and marine life without diving can sign up for snorkeling trips that depart from various Cozumel hotels as well as from the island’s main boardwalk — or perhaps agents can suggest an outing with Atlantis Submarines, which offers submarine expeditions that provide stunning views without clients having to get wet.
Ecology and Archaeology
To observe some of Cozumel’s land-based wildlife, plan a visit to Faro Celerain Ecological Reserve, which is located at Punta Sur. Here, guides help visitors spot an array of animals, including crocodiles that live in the Columbia Lagoon and migrating birds that gather in the wetlands in April and May. There’s even a beach within the reserve area, as well as El Caracol, a group of Maya archaeological ruins.
Visitors can also explore Cozumel’s pre-Hispanic history at El Cedral, the island’s oldest remains. A place of worship that hosts the Santa Cruz festival in May, El Cedral can be reached by ATV, on foot or on horseback. The largest of the Maya ruins on Cozumel is at San Gervasio, a site dotted with small pyramids that served as a place to worship Ixchel, the goddess of fertility.
Golf in Cozumel
Considering the island’s warm climate and beautiful scenery, it’s no surprise that golf has become a popular outdoor activity. Cozumel Country Club, created by the Nicklaus Design Group, offers 18 holes of challenging play as well as Mexico’s first Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Golf Course, complete with bird-watching tours. Many hotels offer packages that include golf.