My boyfriend and I decided to take one week off our engineering jobs and head to Mexico, more specifically, to the Riviera Maya zone. I had already been to this part of Mexico before, about 3 years ago, and had always wanted to go to Cozumel but didn’t make it the last time there. This time, Cozumel was not going to slip through my hands. No way.
Cozumel is an island in the Caribbean Sea located off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo. It is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, famous for its storybook coral reefs and natural beaches. It is located south of Cancún and right in front of Playa del Carmen.
How to get there
We were staying at Playa del Carmen and decided to go to Cozumel for the day. All you have to do is get to the ferry pier in downtown Playa del Carmen, and there you will find many kiosks of the companies offering the route. They have departures from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel from 6:30am to 11pm, and from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen from 5:30am to 10pm. The crossing takes about 40 minutes, and a one way fare cost is usually about $10 USD for adults and $6USD for children. We went on a weekday and guess what? We caught a promotion! We used Mexico Waterjets Company and only paid about $15USD each for the roundtrip ticket. The funny part of the story is that I was still not used to the exchange rate and was questioning the lady at the kiosk counter because I thought she was charging us more, when in fact, we were getting somehow a 25% discount. Bit embarrassing. Advice: Just take your cellphone out and do the math.
What to do in Cozumel
Once in Cozumel, at the ferry pier you’ll find a bunch of tour companies offering snorkeling tours, one day passes to the private beaches or just renting you a car or a motorcycle. Do negotiate, they will certainly start at a higher rate and with a little push back you’d be surprised how much the prices fall. Right outside of the ferry pier there is a very commercial area full of restaurants and little shops to get souvenirs, clothing etc. I wouldn’t stay here for the whole day, there is so much to see in Cozumel, and you do need transportation to get around. You could take a taxi, however if you want visit many places it is cheaper to go for any of the renting options.
In our case, we are sea lovers and adore snorkeling, so we had already booked a tour that would take us to Palancar and Columbia coral reefs and to El Cielo for 4-5 hours. Palancar and Columbia are the most famous coral reefs in Cozumel, they are popular diving and snorkeling spots because of their shallow depths and richness of marine life. All I’m going to say about El Cielo for now is that it means ‘Heaven’ in Spanish.
Our journey began when we found José, our guy from the tour company that was going to take us to the marine to get us on a boat and start snorkeling. The comical part of this story began when José told us we had to walk a couple of blocks (actually like 10) and then somebody else was coming to take us to the marine. This ‘somebody’ turned out to be a mother and her son (both grown-ups of course), who picked us up in what seemed to be their family car, they brought bags from the supermarket and were arguing about things the son should have done but didn’t… It was just so weird; we were beginning to think it was a scam.
We finally arrived at the Money Bar Beach Club which is where we caught our boat to begin our little adventure of the day. For our great surprise, the boat ride was going to be led by two local guys and another couple taking the tour with us. This was definitely super different from the crowded tours we’ve taken in other countries, so we wiped out the scam idea.
Columbia Coral Reef
After 45 min our first stop was Columbia Reef, located at only 15 to 35 feet deep, allowing you to explore the coral gardens and swim with a bunch of fishes. We even saw a turtle here, they are just so cute. There was an intermediate current on this reef but definitely beautiful and worth the ride.
Our captain proposed a change of course, and instead of heading to Palancar reef, he’d take us to his own special place to visit a friend. This was an unknown little spot where we got to see a morena, a sea spider, and the of course the captain’s friend: the cat shark. It is my first shark in open waters so it was a big deal, the other girl actually screamed and ran off, but then she came back.
Finally, we headed to El Cielo, a secluded area at the bottom of the island where you can only get by boat. It is a shallow and crystal clear inlet filled with starfish and withe sand at the bottom. You’ve got miles of water that would only reach up to your chest (at the most), the place is just mesmerizing.
Around the island
After 4-5 hours of snorkeling, we came back to the ferry pier and decided to rent a motorcycle to go around the island (it was $18 USD for the rest of the afternoon). Cozumel’s west side (the one facing Playa del Carmen) is mostly full of private beach clubs where you need to pay an entry fee usually around $10-12 USD, they are a very good option if your seeking to relax on the beach, grab some drinks and food. If you are feeling more adventurous, the east side of the island is the wild side. There are a set of virgin beaches, natural stone arches, the scenery is breathtaking.
We stopped at Coconuts Bar and Grill for lunch and we loved the place, the food was delicious and prices were lower than on the western side, I’d totally recommend the shrimp tacos. Coconuts is located uphill so there’s an amazing view of the beach and the place is so relaxing, the staff was super friendly also.
It takes about 1,5 hours to go around the island, we made a few more stops but then, it was time to get back to catch the ferry to Playa del Carmen, so we put our helmets on and hit the road. Beware of Iguanas, raccoons, pigs, and other animals on the road, they just come in and out of the forest.
…Back at the ferry pier, after a delightful day, we had to sadly say good-bye to Cozumel. Well, at least for now, we are taking the PADI Scuba Divers certification so I know we’ll be back