Cozumel, Mexico Scuba Divers' Paradise - I'm fortunate to have been visiting this unique tropical island since the late 1970's. The immense amount of change that has occurred over those decades is truly astonishing. What was once a sleepy fishing village with a handful of dive operations has been transformed into a tourism destination with more than 6,000 hotel rooms and 130+ dive operators. Each day more than 250 dive boats set forth to ply the many diving sites. Despite what you may have heard of other parts of Mexico, Cozumel Island remains completely safe, secure and inviting for tourism. At this point I have well-developed opinions as to Cozumel's best lodging options and scuba diving services, but I'm always working to update my knowledge. So on this most recent visit I conducted inspection tours to three of Cozumel's newest all-inclusive lodging options, as well as visiting a few of the islands most renowned and well-established properties.
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 year-round - 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.
Sister All-Inclusive Resorts - Sited side-by-side along 800 meters of soft, white sandy beach, Secrets Aura Cozumel and Sunscape Sabor Cozumel are sister resorts, sharing some of their dining, spa and gym facilities. Guest services include complimentary use of bicycles, kayaks for paddling and small Hobie catamarans for those who enjoy sailing. Juan Leca's Dive House is on site at both properties to provide all scuba diving services including referral check out dives and full certification courses. Both properties have remarkably motivated service personnel, uniformly friendly and effective on all fronts. While they share many fine attributes, each resort also has its own character.
Secrets Aura Cozumel (Up-scale, Adults only, All-inclusive) - With its 238 lodging rooms set among a variety of satellite groupings, this gracious property provides an atmosphere of calm and privacy. The rooms are suites, with a kind-sized bed, excellent marble bathroom with both shower and tub, a comfy sitting area, and a porch or balcony. Secrets Aura has multiple pools, bars, restaurants, and my personal favorite spot, the Cocos Cafè coffee shop, serving barista brewed premium beverages along with sweets, snacks and sandwiches available throughout the day. This comprehensive resort offers a nice array of dining options including true fine dining with top-notch service. It may take a day or two become fully versed on the layout of the property. Once you know your way around, the stolls along the beach or via pathways through carefully-tended gardens are all part of the fun. In addition to its own array of services, Aura guests are welcome to make use of all facilities and service outlets of neighboring Sunscape Sabor Cozumel. Details and pricing: Secrets Aura Cozumel
Sunscape Sabor Cozumel (Family-friendly, Value-priced, All-inclusive) - Designed to be family friendly and more budget oriented, Sunscape Sabor Cozumel still has the same nice beaches, multiple swimming pools, spa, gym, and an Explorer Club for kids. The 218 lodging rooms are divided into smaller groupings for greater privacy and tranquility. The dining options are a bit more casual than those of Secrets Aura, but still very good. The all-inclusive value provided by Sunscape Sabor can be truly exceptional, especially when booked well in advance to make use of the Early Booking Bonus (EBB) pricing. Details: Sunscape Sabor Cozumel
Fiesta Americana Cozumel (Up-scale, All-Inclusive) - This well-known Cozumel resort has just reopened following an extensive upgrade. The lodging room count (now only 102 rooms) has been reduced to include more Master Suites, each of which now encompass what had previously been two rooms. All rooms are in one tower overlooking a large pool and the ocean. Each room includes a nice balcony with seating, coffee table, and an inviting hammock. There are multiple restaurants and bars, a fun swim-up bar at the main pool, a nice coffee bar, a spa and a small gym. Across the street from the main property is the beach club with a man-made beach fronting on the rocky shore line. There is a newly built dive shop and an excellent pier for boarding dive boats, but the installation of a professional dive operation was not yet completed at the time of my visit. With both a Fiesta Kids Club and a Fiesta Teen Club, this property is a great up-scale family option. Mom and dad can enjoy water sports and quality dining, while children are offered their own attractions. Note - With all lodging rooms facing the swimming pool, it can sometimes be a tad noisy on your balcony if kids are having fun in the pool. Details and pricing: Fiesta Americana Cozumel
Explorean Cozumel Resort, by Fiesta Americana (Adults-only, All-Inclusive) - This unique resort is located just behind the Fiesta Americana tower, with 56 Casita Suites nestled among jungle vegetation. Explorean Cozumel's concept is relaxation and tranquility, coupled with daily included activities such as kayak tours, horseback riding, jungle tours and more. Explorean has its own private dining room and an inviting, fresh-water infinity pool. Guests are also welcome to use all services of the adjacent Fiesta Americana Cozumel.
Hotel Cozumel (Value-priced, All-Inclusive or E.P.) - This is an unpretentious, low-key, good value option closer to town. With a circular grouping of 210 lodging rooms surround Cozumel's biggest swimming pool, this multi-purpose property is great for couples, families, and serious scuba divers. There are two restaurants, multiple bars, and activities all day around the pool. A tunnel under the road connects to the beach club, with spacious lockers for divers and Dive Paradise in-house. The man-made beach fronts on iron shore, but provision has been made for easy shore diving. At Hotel Cozumel, you have the option of purchasing an all-inclusive package, or the basic European Plan (with no meals included). Details and pricing: Hotel Cozumel
Scuba Club Cozumel (Great-value, Meals-Inclusive) - Now in its 40th year, Scuba Club Cozumel is a dedicated, meals-inclusive, divers resort. It offers few frills, but definitely serves up all a diver needs. Three daily meals are included in the program, but drinks are additional. Scuba Club has its own dive operation with five dive boats in a range of sizes. The resort fronts on iron shore, so it's also great for shore diving and snorkeling. The line of shaded hammocks facing the sea is always inviting, and Cozumel's fun downtown of San Miguel is only a ten-minute walk to the north. The most salient fact I can share with you about Scuba Club Cozumel is that it has the highest repeat-guest percentage of any dive resort we know. Details and pricing: Scuba Club Cozumel
Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa - If you seek the finest accommodation in Cozumel, there remains only one choice. Remarkably this hotel is now celebrating its 45th year of top-notch customer service. When first developed, Presidente was able to command the very best stretch of beach (almost ½ mile of beach front), and a protected sandy cove for swimming and snorkeling. From Pool View rooms to the Presidential Suite, all lodging rooms are spacious and very beautifully appointed. There are excellent restaurants on site. Island Dreams' package rates include daily breakfast, but other meals are additional. The dive operator Scuba Du is on-site, or if you prefer Dive House also picks up at the Presidente's pier. Details and pricing: Presidente InterContinental Cozumel
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 locations at Secrets Aura and Sunscape Sabor Cozumel start 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.
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.
Cozumel Palace Resort - Cozumel Palace is a luxury all-inclusive dive resort, on the water, walking distance to town. The rooms are spacious Junior Suites, the majority with ocean view. There is a very nice oceanside restaurant and pool with swim-up bar. Cozumel Palace is an excellent up-scale lodging and diving option in Cozumel. Details and pricing: Cozumel Palace.
Casa del Mar - Another good value-priced option is the Casa del Mar. It is located about three miles south of town, near one of the cruise ship piers, so there is occasionally a lot of activity in the street. But the rooms are well kept, and there is a nice restaurant and swimming pool. A bridge over the road connects the hotel property to the beach club which includes lockers for the scuba diving guests. There are two in-house dive operators at Casa del Mar, Del Mar Aquatics and Dive House. Details and pricing: Casa del Mar.
Casa Mexicana - This is Cozumel's newest and finest downtown lodging. Ideally located in the heart of downtown Cozumel, Casa Mexicana overlooks the sea, surrounded by restaurants, boutiques, dive shops and plenty of local entertainment. Casa Mexicana has a contemporary Mexican style united with a colorful modern decor. The property includes a Lobby-bar with a shallow swimming pool and a sun terrace overlooking the ocean, and an open-air breakfast restaurant. A breakfast buffet is included in the lodging price. Details and pricing: Casa Mexicana Cozumel.
Condumel Condos - Located on the beach, just two miles north of the town of San Miguel, Condumel is a small, simple, pleasing and effective condominium-style lodging. Designed in a modern-day representation of the Puuc Mayan style, it's an intriguing place. Once you've had a look at the prices, you'll see that Condumel is also an excellent value. Each mini-suite includes complete kitchen, bedroom, sitting area, hammock, full bathroom, and balcony overlooking the sea. Rooms are air-conditioned with ceiling fan. Daily maid service is provided. It's a short drive or inexpensive taxi ride into town to enjoy the shopping, dining, and nightlife of San Miguel. Of course, you can just swing in the hammock and watch the sun set in your front yard, or snorkel and swim in the beautiful blue ocean that is your front yard. Details and pricing: Condumel.
An Overview of Cozumel's Diving - I continue to be amazed and gratified by the beauty of the diving around Cozumel Island, and it's for good reason that divers flock here from around the world. This is a unique physical situation, where the powerful Gulf Stream is forced between the island and the Yucatan mainland. The result of this life-giving flow is healthy coral reefs swarming with all manner of marine life from tiny invertebrates and reef fishes to big grouper, giant turtles, eagle rays and nurse sharks. From shallow reefs to steep drop-offs, Cozumel's diving is a unique and exhilarating natural wonder that should not be missed by any serious scuba diver. 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 very satisfying diving experience.
Drift Diving - Just a quick note here. Beginners are often unnecessarily fearful of drift diving. After more than three decades of 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 more yards away from the boat, be sure the Captain sees you, and then swim to the boat on the surface.
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.
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 all...watch out for those land sharks. They make the toothsome hammerheads in the ocean look good!!
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.
Getting There - Cozumel (airport code CZM) may be accessed by direct flights from various USA departure cities, or via a flight to Cancun followed by car and ferry transfer to Cozumel Island. Island Dreams Travel stands ready to assist you with the details.
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!
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.