Cozumel, Mexico
Dive Report by Ken Knezick

Just returned from another visit to Cozumel, Island Dreams' owner Ken Knezick has prepared this report for your consideration. By way of perspective, Ken cut his teeth in scuba diving leading dive tours to Cozumel in the 1980's. Over the years, Ken has made more than 60 separate trips to Cozumel, and logged well over 400 dives on Cozumel's famous reefs and walls. We hope you will find Ken's insight, photos and commentary of interest.

Nurse Shark in Cozumel, Mexico - copyright Ken Knezick, Island Dreams

Report and photos copyright © - Island Dreams, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-headings, and hyper-links, in Ken's Cozumel Report include:

Cozumel Hotel Pricing and Seasonality - Over the course of the year, many of Cozumel's hotels have four or five different rate tiers, changing by season. In general, summer is low season; while in winter, when it's snowing in New Jersey the rates go up! As you might imagine, non-holiday periods offer the best value. After Labor Day and before the Christmas holidays is an excellent time to visit. So is the spring, when rates go back down just after Easter. Barring a fall hurricane, or a storm from the north in winter, the weather is generally great - warm and pleasant, with calm sea conditions. But the real value of traveling at non-peak times is in the fact that rates are at their lowest, while tourism is light. The hotels have their best rooms available, and the restaurants and shops are happy to see you. So if you can swing the vacation days, try to visit at a non-holiday period.

Fiesta Americana Cozumel Dive Resort Fiesta Americana Cozumel Dive Resort - Please note that this hotel is currently closed for a complete renovation. Target re-open date is March 1, 2014

Juan Leca's Dive House - A Professional Dive Operation - From a scuba divers or snorkelers perspective, the best part about Sunscape Sabor Resort is the fact that Juan Leca's Dive House is the in-house water sports operator. Dive House offers superb boats and a well trained professional staff of PADI divemasters and instructors. While they also have a full service shop on the square downtown, Dive House's Fiesta Americana location starts close to the reef, so your boat rides are short, fast and comfortable. All dives are conducted to accommodate both dive computer and table divers. If you've not yet experienced the safety, and extended bottom times that a dive computer can provide, then this is a good place to start, as Dive House offers quality computer rentals. By the way, I again took the time to look over their supply of rental gear. In the "good old days" it was definitely inadvisable to rent equipment in Cozumel, but fortunately, times have changed. Dive House has a well-maintained supply of Scubapro buoyancy compensators and regulators, complete with safe second stage (octopus), and pressure/depth gauge console. Their boats are also excellent, very fast and efficient, with twin 375 horsepower diesel engines, toilet, first aid equipment, and DAN oxygen on board.

Fiesta Americana Cozumel Dive Resort As a result, Dive House has qualified as a prestigious PADI Gold Palm 5-Star Resort, and a NAUI Dream Resort. They are also sanctioned by SSI, and TDI (Technical Diving International). So I suggest that you check out Dive House for yourself. I continue to be impressed by the owner, Sr. Juan Leca, and the professionalism and concern for safety, quality, and customer service evidenced by his entire operation. This is also a great place for scuba instruction. There are six instructors on staff, teaching PADI, NAUI, SSI, and TDI. They do referrals, complete openwater certifications, advanced courses, Nitrox, and even rebreather certification. The quality of instruction is excellent.

EDP - Experienced Diver Program - Central to Dive House's operation is their Experienced Diver Program (EDP). With the EDP, Dive House will accommodate you on a custom dive boat, teamed up with fellow divers of equal skill level - New Diver, Intermediate, or Advanced. You'll be served by divemasters and crew trained to attend to your specific needs. Rest assured that you will come away from this experience a better, safer, and more comfortable diver. There is no extra charge for this excellent service.

Many Good Lodging Options - I again took the time to visit and inspect some of my preferred Cozumel lodging options. In particular, suggest you condsider Sunscape Sabor, Aura, Allegro Cozumel, and Occidental Grand. For lower cost options, consider Casa Mexicana. Here are a few other good options:

Other Dive Operations - Cozumel now has more than 120 dive operations. Some are experts and very professional, while others have only limited resources and less experienced personnel. As it is your personal well being at stake, be sure that you select an operation with the skills, equipment, knowledge, and depth of experience to serve you properly. In this category I would include the likes of Dive House, Aqua Safari, Scuba-du, Pro Dive, Del Mar Aquatics, Palancar Divers, and Scuba Cozumel at Scuba Club, among others. By and large, pricing for a two-tank boat dive is uniform throughout Cozumel, but if you find a dive operation is attracting your attention by being cheaper that the rest, please consider that there is probably a (not so good) reason why. If an operator is able to charge $5 more per day than the rest in this very competitive market, in most cases you will definitely get extra value, and most importantly greater safety, for that small additional charge.

Felipe Xicotencatl C-53 shipwreck in Cozumel An Overview of Cozumel's Diving - It's for good reason that divers flock from around the world to Cozumel, Mexico. The reefs here are unique in the entire world. A constant current brings nutrients up from the southern Caribbean. This current hits the tip of Cozumel and is forced between the island and the mainland of the Yucatan coast, a scant eight miles to the west. Over countless eons, this rich current has fostered the creation of immense coral reef structures, teaming with a wealth of vibrant marine life.

The result for scuba divers is the opportunity to drift with this life giving current on an effortless and convoluted cruise along the steep walls and through the labyrinthine passages of reefs such as Maracaibo, Palancar Caves, Columbia, and Santa Rosa. I am fortunate to have seen more than my share of the world's best dive sites, throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific, from Little Cayman to Australia, Indonesia, the Red Sea, Palau, the Philippines, Borneo, and beyond.

After all that, I still find Cozumel's wall dives unsurpassed for their sheer, imposing majesty. Divers also appreciate the color and variety of coral, invertebrates and fish life on the shallow inner reefs like Yocab, Tormentos, and Paso de Cedral. On this most recent trip I really enjoyed getting to dive Cozumel's now famous shipwreck, the Felipe Xicotencatl C-53. Sitting upright in 80 feet of clear, blue water, this wreck has colorful encrusting sponges and a nice population of resident fishes, big and small. It's an easy, safe wreck dive, and great for underwater photography. The bottom-line is that once they've experience it, divers keep coming back for more, specifically because Cozumel offers an easily accessible, varied, and uniquely satisfying diving experience.

Drift Diving - Just a quick note here. Beginners are often unnecessarily fearful of drift diving. After 50+ dive trips to Cozumel, all I can say is, "relax and go with the flow." There is simply no need to fight the current. If you want to slow down, just duck in behind an outcropping of the reef. You'll find that all the fish congregate in such eddies, so they don't have to work hard either. Basically you just drift along as part of the current, enjoy the sights, and on ascent, make your safety decompression stop while still drifting. You generally find that when you surface at the end of the dive, your dive boat is right there waiting for you. An important safety tip though: Don't surface directly behind the boat, where the Captain may not see you. The engines ARE running and may be engaged at any moment. Rather, surface ten or so yards away from the boat, be sure the Captain sees you, and then swim to the boat on the surface.

Enjoying a meal at Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Dining for Divers - While dedicated divers go to Cozumel for the value, variety and excitement of the scuba diving, even mossbacks like me are not immune to Cozumel's topside attractions. For starters, the dining options are unlimited, with choices for all tastes and budgets. Cozumel offers everything from fast food and fajitas, to superb gourmet restaurants with an excellent level of cuisine and top-notch service.

Around town, good choices in ascending order of expense are El Moro, the Mission, Santiago's, La Choza, Ernesto's Fajitas, Joe's Place, the Coral Reefer, numerous interesting Italian restaurants, Prima Trattoria, Guido's, Pepe's Grill, Cafe del Puerto, and the excellent new wave cuisine of Gallito Sol. One of my all-time favorites is the rustically romantic Cabana del Pescador (the Fisherman's House). It's about two miles north of town, on the road along sea. All they serve is lobster - you select your tail and pay by its weight. Bring someone you love and give this place a try…by candlelight no less. Fans of Costa Brava take note, due the new International Pier constructed downtown they have been forced to move to a new location, after 15 years of serving many thousands of divers their morning coffee, $2.00 breakfasts, and $1.00 beers!!

Here's another FYI. In previous reports, I've called your attention to the interesting and rustic restaurant that was located at the lighthouse at Punta Celarain on the southern tip of the island. Be advised that the road to the lighthouse has been closed, and the restaurant is no longer in business. Apparently they are preparing the area for some sort of future development. I for one will certainly miss that place.

Party People - The party people amongst us have no doubt partaken of the wild-side pleasures of places like Carlos and Charlies, or the Hard Rock Cafe Cozumel, where the "fun" never stops. There are numerous other nightspots and dance clubs that don't even start cranking until 11:00 p.m. So knock your socks off and have a good time...just remember, no drinking and diving. It's great to bring your dancing shoes to Cozumel, but do get some rest before you put your dive booties back on. Remember to keep yourself well-hydrated on the dive boat with plenty of water...not cervezas. And most of out for those land sharks. They make the toothsome hammerheads in the ocean look good!!

Attention Cozumel Shoppers - Others may prefer to partake of the prodigious shopping opportunities Cozumel offers. If you like silver jewelry, colorful clothing, a wealth of Mexican handicrafts, or just "five t-shirts for twenty dollars," you'll find yourself in shoppers' heaven as you stroll through street after street of "blue light specials." As the friendly storekeepers tout, "it's so cheap, it's almost free." I've always enjoyed a bit of haggling in the crowded shopping stalls of the Mercado de Artesanias (Artisans Market). But an expanding area of vehicle-free walking streets has sprouted up around the Town Square with scores of interesting shops to be investigated. While the steady stream of cruise ship traffic has cut into my success at bargaining, you can still have fun and shave a few pesos by haggling a bit over the price.

Here's a savvy shopper's tip: Never ask "cuanto cuesta" (what does this cost?), but rather casually inquire "cuanto vale este" (what is this worth?). The shopkeeper will immediately appreciate the difference. Have fun with it, and remember - you can always come back, or frequently find the same thing in another shop just down the street, so don't feel bad about saying "no gracias" and walking out the door.

Mayan Pyramid at Uxmal, Mexico Cultural Opportunities - When you're not shopping, diving, dining, or dancing, Cozumel still has some special surprises in store for the intrepid traveler. For starters, you will find wonderful live Mexican music everywhere, with groups of talented Mariachis entertaining in the restaurants and playing for tips in the street. On weekend evenings there are often fiestas staged on the pavilion in the middle of the town square. These events are patronized by tourists and locals alike. You'll see Cozumel's children dressed in their Sunday best, and teenage girls making the traditional paseo around the square under the watchful eyes of their grandmothers. When the band starts to play, feel free to join in the dancing and revelry. You'll soon feel like a Cozumeleño yourself.

Mayan Ruins - If you can take a day, or even an afternoon, away from diving, the Mayan ruins around Cozumel are well worth the trip. With just a few spare hours and a short taxi ride you can visit the small but interesting San Gervasio ruins right on Cozumel Island. But if you have a full day to spare, I heartily recommend the trip over to the Mayan sites of Tulum or Coba on the Yucatan mainland. This tour crosses to Playa del Carmen by ferry and then continues with a 45 minute bus ride down the coast to the stunning Tulum Mayan religious site overlooking the sea. After exploring the ruins with an English speaking guide, you'll stop for lunch and a snorkel at Xel-Ha lagoon before returning to Cozumel in the evening. This tour can be easily arranged through your hotel. If you've already visited Tulum, and neighboring Coba, you can take a full day tour that includes the flight to the extensive Mayan site Chitzen Itza. These cultural outings are truly fascinating, but you don't have to be an archeologist to enjoy them as you'll have plenty of opportunity to eat, drink and shop along the way. And they're equally valuable for your kids, who will have fun while getting an education without even realizing it.

The Bottom Line in Cozumel is more than just Bottom Time - Cozumel has plenty to offer for divers, snorkelers, sun worshippers, and water sports enthusiasts. You'll also enjoy great dining, happening nightspots, fun shopping, and enlightening cultural opportunities. The people are friendly, and most everyone speaks English, though I encourage you to try out your Spanish. Even if you only know a few words, the effort will be appreciated. In the final analysis, Cozumel is close to the U.S., easy to get to, and just plain and simply good fun! So don't keep putting it off until manaña... Enjoy Cozumel!

In Cozumel, on the water is the place to be

"Wishing you great diving, and a world of adventure!"

Ken Knezick - President, Island Dreams Travel

Island Dreams has dedicated color brochures, travel tips, magazine reprints, and detailed travel information about Cozumel and the Caribbean. You are invited to call or e-mail for additional information, advice, or assistance with resort bookings and special fares on Continental Airfares.

Cozumel - Hotel Information and Pricing

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