Family Vacations to Cozumel, Mexico
|COZUMEL: Island Mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers (Photodisc)|
It's the marine life that draws most vacationers to Cozumel, the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean. Cozumel, a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland, captures kudos for its spectacular diving and snorkeling. The surrounding sea nourishes the second largest reef system in the world, the Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which runs for 450 miles down the Caribbean to Central America. With visibility sometimes approaching 100 feet, it's easy for snorkelers and divers to view the boulder-size gardens of brain coral along with sponges, nurse sharks, grouper, and schools of rainbow-colored fish.
Although Hurricane Wilma devastated hotels on Cozumel and damaged some of the reefs, the fish and coral formations are still well worth exploring, and many of the island's hotels are more opulent than ever, after receiving an estimated $100 million in renovations following the hurricane.
Most families, especially those new to snorkeling or diving, take to the waters at Chankanaab Park, part of the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. The park is abundant with sea life, and guides make sure you swim by the sunken statue of Christ, the grove of swaying purple fan coral, and other reef highlights, all the time keeping an eye on you as you tackle the current. Tots and non-swimmers play in the sand at this family-friendly park with facilities including bathrooms, chairs, and eateries, not to mention souvenir shops.
Cozumel's strong offshore current can be a problem for divers and snorkelers. Still, Cozumel has some great sites. Novice divers should head to Paradise Reef and the Junkyard. Intermediates gravitate towards the San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Palancar reefs, all of which have restaurants on their beaches.
For those who prefer their beaches more feral, rent a car and head to Punta Sur Ecological Reserve, a 247-acre largely undeveloped area on the island's southern tip. Near the visitors center, the main beach, with its palapas (thatched shade umbrellas) and calm waters, attracts most of the visitors. For truly secluded sands board the park's tram for outlying beaches. Always check with park officials before swimming, as the currents and conditions at these and other park beaches can change quickly. On a boat ride through the Colombia Lagoon, one of Punta Sur's watery reserves, a guide points out crocodiles hiding in the mangrove thickets and the cries of spoonbills and cormorants fill the air. From November to March, nesting pink flamingoes also take up residence.
For Maya ruins, visitors flock to San Gervasio, the island's largest site. While interesting, these structures are not as impressive as Tulum, accessible from the Mayan Riviera.
Save time to walk along San Miguel's waterfront strip, El Malecon, officially the Avenida Rafael E. Melgar. This is the place to troll for bargains on pottery, paper machÃ© fruit, wood carvings, brightly colored hammocks, and especially for silver. Store after store sells bracelets, necklaces, rings, serving pieces, pitchers, and plates. Browse and bargain before you buy that take-home treasure.
Tip: When in the water always be mindful of Cozumel's strong offshore current, which can be a problem for swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba enthusiasts. Be sure to go with a buddy and if snorkeling or diving, a guide is a good idea.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication