Cozumel, Mexico, should not be compared to Cancun, the splashy resort just 40 mi/65 km to the north and one of its nearest neighbors. In the past, Cozumel had a laid-back, sedate atmosphere, and its superior fishing, snorkeling and diving gave it a definite edge.

Today, Cozumel retains its unique vibe and remains a better choice for those who don’t like planned resorts, but the island is no longer an escapist’s paradise. The snorkeling, diving and fishing are still great, but no one would mistake present-day Cozumel for the sleepy backwater it once was.

One reason is cruise ships. Cozumel is the most popular cruise stop in Mexico and can host as many as four large ships simultaneously. When more than one ship looms on the horizon, Cozumel’s restaurants, bars and shops fill with day-trippers. Everyone, from shopkeepers to bartenders, gets a bit stressed by the crowds.

Still, Cozumel tourism can be fun, especially for travelers interested in exploring its coral reefs on scuba and snorkeling outings. Cozumel’s only town, San Miguel, fortunately has retained much of its pleasant, small-town atmosphere. Those with enough time for a day trip will find the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan mainland, within striking distance of Cozumel attractions.


Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island—33 mi/53 km long and 8 mi/13 km wide. The island is very flat. From the mainland, the tall hotel buildings appear to float on the horizon. Shops, restaurants and nightlife are concentrated in San Miguel, the only town, which is on the west coast of the island.

Cozumel has two highways. One makes a half-circle around the southern end of the island. Heading south out of San Miguel, it’s a four-lane road for about 5 mi/8 km before narrowing to two lanes. The other highway is the Carretera Transversal (the cross-island highway), which is a well-maintained road that cuts straight through the jungle-covered center of the island and connects the east and west coasts.

It’s hard to get lost in downtown San Miguel if you know the layout: Avenidas (avenues) run north-south, and calles (streets) run east-west. Except for the large thoroughfares, such as Avenida Melgar, Calle 11 and the island highways, most roads are one-way.