Cozumel is an island of Mexico just 40 minutes by boat from Playa del Carmen. The island has long been valued by the Mayan people to worship the goddess of the moon and fertility, Ixchel, in a temple on the island of Cozumel. The beloved site is almost gone. Some ruins in a park in San Gervasio do not do justice to the praise of the time.
Today, Cozumel is a popular tourist destination for water sports and scuba diving but has lost some sightseers. Exploring the seabed requires access to it on a boat trip because the Mesoamerican coral reef is depleted on the coast potentially caused by overexploitation and the passage of many liners.
The main port town of the island is San Miguel de Cozumel which is just across from Playa del Carmen. Cruise ships moor there regularly, bringing a whole new dynamic and atmosphere to the host port. We had planned our visit inversely to the days of arrival to avoid the intense overcrowding of the cruise ships in favor of a quieter day.
We rented a car and toured the island independently intending to stop here and there.
Our stops included:
- San Miguel de Cozumel
- El Cedral
- Playa Playacar
- Playa Chen Rio
- Playa de San Martin
The west coast of the island is rather reserved for a private clientele. Hotels with large infrastructures occupy the most beautiful sites and access to the beaches requires spending the day there.
A quick stop between San Miguel and Playacar could have turned into a nightmare for different reasons. At first, we noticed the presence of sharks and then people were prowling around our car. It didn’t take much for our excursion to end quickly.
The east coast of the island is wilder and allows easier stops. The tourist infrastructure is less developed probably because of the too intense waves making the beaches dangerous.
San Miguel de Cozumel
San Miguel de Cozumel is the main town on the island, the one with the largest number of inhabitants and the landing point for ferries from Playa del Carmel and near the cruise ship dock.
- La plaza
- the restaurants
- the church
The plaza is a meeting place par excellence. Around this square, you will find shops and restaurants. Take a few steps further to explore more delicious authentic Mexican meal options.
After a quick stop by the clock tower and statue, we sat on the bench for a few minutes to get our bearings and off we went!
The Church of San Miguel (Iglesia de San Miguel) is simple, serene and calm. A statue of Saint Michel (one of the seven archangels) would have been discovered during digging on the very day of Saint Michel. The coincidence is astonishing. The city and the church bear his name. The statue would have potentially been left by Juan Grijalva during his visit to the island in 1518, it is found inside the church.
El Cedral is about a 25-minute drive from San Miguel de Cozumel. The Mayan village was the capital of Cozumel and at one time the largest community on the island.
Unfortunately, the historic site has lost its charm. As the Mayan temples have been pounded, there are very few clues to the history of the oldest ruins on the island, which are believed to date from 800 A.D. The ruins are a small structure next to a small yellow stone church.
El Cedral is said to have been the first place found by Spanish explorers and the first mass in Mexico was celebrated there.
In the village, a few shops here and there. Probably busier when passenger excursions are in town and with the Tequila Museum.
I confess that I am not a Tequila lover but since we are here… why not!
We didn’t visit the site but a man convinced me to have a taste. Organic they say. It’s sweeter than I remember. I ended up buying 2 bottles. Phew! but here it is… while I negotiated everywhere else during the holidays for some unknown reason, I didn’t do it here. My husband still makes fun of this event today and that the bottles are still in their packaging.
It is a nice site with the chance to taste.
Accessible beach with clear and calm water
It was our first time in Cozumel and when we talk about Cozumel we automatically think of the beaches. We didn’t want water games or an ultra-fancy area or a crowded beach. We were looking to just spend a few hours on a beach and continue our road trip. We then found Playa Palancar.
It is a small white sandy beach, clean and not very crowded during our visit. The water is clear and calm. We brought our snorkeling gear but to our disappointment not much to see in the waters. Given the reputation of the island, we were very disappointed with the lack of marine fauna despite the presence of a turtle nest on the beach.
There is a restaurant as well as outdoor showers which were very convenient. Expect to tip for parking if traveling by car, but there was no entrance fee.
Playa Chen Rio
The east side of Cozumel is very different from the west side of the island. The east side is undeveloped and has the natural beauty that I was looking for. The road offers deserted beaches, impressive waves, panoramic views, and rare restaurants.
Chen Rio is the best beach we saw that day. The coral reefs have created natural pools of water ideal for visitors unfamiliar with the water in this area and for young families.
For me, if there was a place/beach, where I wished I had more time, it’s here.
Other beaches in the area were not as accessible. Swimming is prohibited and a red flag floats in the wind. No chances to take.
Playa de San Martin
We also stopped at Playa San Martin. The beach was deserted and the red flag was raised. The waves were dominant and the water was clear blue. A natural place but the beach looked like it had seen better days.