Rich in gastronomy, outdoor adventure and Mayan culture, even a day or two on Cozumel, an island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, is an unforgettable experience. The island is easy to navigate by car or bicycle, with plenty of shopping and dining options downtown. But explore beyond the well-known areas and the experience deepens, as the island is largely undeveloped, with swaths of beaches that are home to some of Mexico’s best scuba diving and snorkeling. Here are 10 things to do in Cozumel, whether you’re visiting for a day or a week.
Cozumel’s downtown is filled with craft markets and art galleries. Unique souvenirs from the region include carved wood, embroidered table linens, hammered metalwork and silver jewelry. Don’t be fooled by the commercial logo and large space at Los Cinco Soles — plenty of handmade treasures, including talavera (colorful Mexican pottery) can be found here. Other notable stops include Galeria Azul (Greg Dietrich’s working glass-art studio) and Bien Raices (a curated collection of handmade art that includes paper lanterns).
Travel to the southernmost point of Cozumel and you’re greeted with the stunningly beautiful Faro Celarain, a lighthouse within the 2,700-acre Faro Celarain Ecological Reserve. Work out your legs by climbing to the top: your reward is the 360-degree view.
Considered a spiritual tradition to Mayans, this Mexican version of a sweat lodge takes place inside a stone, adobe-style structure, heated by fire. A shaman chants and coaches newbies through the experience, guiding the group to relax and release negative energy. Located in the jungle, Temazcal Cozumel offers a secluded setting for the adventure: after the experience, jump in a cenote to cool off.
Boutique hotels with a luxury bent are still relatively new to Cozumel, but Hotel B Cozumel fits the bill. Splashy folkloric art and sculptures from Mexican artists line the walls of this 45-room hotel on the beach. The property offers a weekly workshop to teach painting and how to make alebrije, brightly colored folk-art wood carvings.
Cozumel is known for its snorkeling, particularly at Palancar Reef, part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park. A four-hour tour with Cozumel Tours includes a ride to the reef in a glass-bottom boat and a guided excursion with a PADI certified snorkeling guide, plus all the equipment you’ll need.
History buffs won’t want to miss the island’s most important archeological site: San Gervasio. Because of its deep connection to Ix Chel, the goddess of fertility, Mayan women have long journeyed here. While the ruins are smaller than Chichen Itza and Coba (both are on the mainland), San Gervasio’s compact size means you have more time to spend at the beach.
Short on time? Mr. Sanchos Beach Club appeases one’s limited hours on the island because you get beach and pool time, plus you can book water sports excursions (scuba diving, snorkeling and wave runners) or a massage in a private cabana. Don’t leave without visiting the club’s Aquatic Park, a collection of trampolines out in the water.
Try Authentic Mexican Food
Stray from Señor Frogs in search of authentic Mayan cuisine and you won’t regret it. Located downtown across from Parque Benito Juarez, Casa Denis holds the title of Cozumel’s oldest restaurant, in business for nearly a century. Its Yucatan specialties include empanadas, carne-asada tacos and enchiladas with mole sauce, served in a casual environment with outdoor seating.
Learn How to Make Chocolate
The Mayan Cacao Company features an interactive museum-type experience that shows the important role that cocoa played in the lives of ancient Mayans. Visit a traditional Mayan hut for tastings, watch a cooking demo to see how they prepared the delicacy, peruse the exhibit about artisan chocolate making, and score chocolate bars and lotions in the gift shop.
The island’s winding, paved roads are a dream for cyclists, especially when paired with sea views. Give your legs a rest by hopping onto an electric bike with Pedego. The company’s three-hour East Coast Scenic Road Cruise tour explores the island’s eastern coast.