Cozumel - Where to Stay, What to Do
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Cozumel: Where to Stay, What to Do

 

For Cruisers

There are three busy cruise piers on Cozumel, all located at varying distances south of the main city of San Miguel. The pier your ship moors at will depend on the cruise line you’re sailing with. There is a remote possibility your ship may anchor and use tenders (small launches) to ferry you to and from shore, but this is rare.

Cabs will be plentiful at whatever cruise pier you arrive at, however you should always get a firm price for the fare before entering the cab. You should tell the driver your destination is the “ferry pier” or “Pancho’s Backyard restaurant” – both located in the center of town.

At both of these locations, centered around the ferry pier and Avenida Rafael Malagar (the same road that comes from the cruise terminal) -- your cab ride ends where you can walk a few steps inland and encounter a beautiful plaza… Now you’re in the real Cozumel!

From this point you should have plenty of cabs lined up at the ferry pier to either return you to the ship (a 10 to 15 minute ride depending on your pier location and traffic) or to take you anywhere you want to go on the island, perhaps after a break for refreshments at one of the surrounding restaurants or some shopping at the stores and stands.

Getting Around

There are numerous cabs centered around the area of the ferry pier and Avenida Rafael Malagar and these can take you almost anywhere on the island, for a price.

Perhaps the best idea is to ask a cab driver for a "charter" that covers the number of hours you would require to go wherever you want to on the island.

If you would like to explore the island without concern for variable fares, we suggest you make arrangements with a reputable tour company for a private tour or join a “set” tour going to a particular destination (or destinations).

The Mysterious Destinations Team uses Cozumel Tours whenever we visit the island. Owners Susan and Mike Beech are very accommodating. We have worked with one of their guides, Gustavo (also known as “Fish” for his diving abilities), several times and he has always been a fountain of information about the island, including its paranormal side.

Cozumel Tours can provide personalized, private tours but they also have a wide range of “set” tours. To check the Cozumel Tours website, click here.

Cozumel offers some of the finest skin and SCUBA diving in the world, as well as a scenic windward coastline and lighthouse on the southeast side of the island at Punta Sur Eco-Park and Lighthouse. (Trips to the southeast side of the island should be with a tour company, as access to the park is an extra charge best handled by a tour guide and cab companies don’t provide return service.)

The other choice for transportation on the island is with a rental car or moped, which the Mysterious Destinations Team does not recommend. The combined possibilities of damaging your rental car or moped, becoming injured in an accident, or being subject to a police traffic stop (or all of the above) are all factors in our recommendation. Especially for cruisers, who have limited time ashore before their ship departs, the Mysterious Destinations Team always recommends a tour or qualified driver/guide. Relax, and leave the driving to the locals, whether a short hop in a cab or day-long run on a tour.

When it comes to police, remember that Mexico has many different levels of law enforcement. Always ask for the “tourist police” (or policia turisma) if you find yourself dealing with a law enforcement officer or if you need a law enforcement officer. These police are specially trained for dealing with visitors.

Dining Options

The best place to start your adventure in Cozumel is at the main plaza in San Miguel; located just a few steps inland from where the ferry pier and Avenida Rafael Malagar (the main street) intersect. If you’re staying on the island, or taking a late ferry back to mainland, this plaza is a great place to visit around sunset when families and couples take a traditional evening stroll.

As you look inland from the plaza toward the beautiful Igelsia de San Miguel (Church of San Miguel) you’ll see Casa Denis, the first of our suggested dining destinations just off to the right located in a yellow house across from the southeast corner of the plaza.

This quaint, family owned location is a favorite spot of the Mysterious Destinations Team, not only for the comfortable ambiance with dining inside or out, but also for the authentic Maya cuisine offered there. The outside tables offer a great view of the plaza, with sunsets that are like watching a movie scene in Technicolor.

The restaurant has been owned by the family of Denis Angulo for over 90 years. There are photos and mementos hanging on the walls, mostly of the family but also of famous visitors including Jackie Onassis and Plácido Domingo.

Casa Denis is popular spot for locals, especially for the generous and inexpensive breakfast and lunch menus. However, it is the selection of Maya dishes that are the signature cuisine of Casa Denis. Exotic choices like Cochinita Pibil (spiced pork baked in banana leaves), Lime Soup, Avocado Cream Soup, Pollo Motule O (a chicken recipe in Maya seasonings named after a small town in Yucatan), and Filete Pescado en Salsa de Chaya (fish fillet in Maya spinach cream sauce) can be found on the menu or the daily specials board.

For a link to the Casa Denis website, click here.

Just across the plaza and back on the main drag of Avenida Rafael Malagar is Pancho's Backyard located on the Avenida between Calles (streets) 8 and 10 Norte (north). With expansive street-side seating and a view of the seaside, Pancho’s Backyard features a “gringo friendly” menu with American selections as well local favorites.

Things get busy at Pancho's Backyard when the cruise ships are in, but for those lucky enough to be staying on the island, the atmosphere becomes much more serene after the cruisers depart in the late afternoon. Pull up a chair, order a beverage, and enjoy the view as the sun settles to the west right in front of you.

For a link to the Pancho's Backyard website, click here.

Just a short walk on Avenida Rafael Malagar to Calle 6 Norte you’ll find the Museo de Cozumel (Museum of Cozumel) in which is hidden one of the best restaurant finds in Cozumel.

While it’s only open for breakfast and lunch, the museum’s restaurant is located on the upstairs floor under a canopy complete with ceiling fans and an unobstructed view of the blue Caribbean. The prices are reasonable and the menu is simple. Breakfasts include huevos rancheros with corn tortillas, fried eggs, and salsa, Mexican and American omelets, fresh fruit platters, and pancakes. Simple lunch dishes include sandwiches and enchiladas.

The museum is also worth a visit, with displays on natural history as well as human history during the pre-Columbian and colonial periods. There are also photos documenting the island’s metamorphosis from a Maya holy site to an unpopulated archipelago and then blossoming into a tourist hot spot. One of the exhibits not to miss is that of a typical Maya home.

The Museo de Cozumel does not have a website we could locate at the time of this posting, but a Google search should return numerous links.

La Choza, the final restaurant in our selection, is our personal favorite. It doesn’t have a view, and it’s not overly fancy, it is simply comida maravillosa (wonderful food). When we last visited Cozumel during the 2012 Mysterious Destinations Western Caribbean Expedition, it was where we arranged for our guests to have their only meal on the island during our cruise ship stop over and they thoroughly enjoyed it. (During this trip we also explored the Maya ruins at San Gervasio and a number of other mysterious locations on the island. For a link to those articles, click here.)

La Choza is located several blocks inland just southeast of the central plaza, on 10 Avenida Sur (10th Avenue South) between Calle Adolfo Rosado Salas on the north and Calle 3 Sur (3rd Street South). (Avenidas run north/south while Calles run east/west.)

While the menu is filled with great selections, and the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; it is a dessert that is the signature dish for this restaurant… The Chilled Avocado Pie!

Indescribable… It is simply one of those items that must be tasted personally.

Locals flock to La Choza for the breakfasts and a daily lunchtime set-price meal that includes a choice of appetizers and entrees. A full menu with excellent choices like Chile Relleno de Camaron (chile stuffed with shrimp), Pork with Pumpkin Seed Sauce and many more are also available through the dinner hour.

La Choza does not have a website we could locate at the time of this posting, but a Google search should return numerous links.

For two great sources of information on Cozumel, check these websites: To visit Cozumel4You, click here. For a link to “Cozumel My Cozumel”, click here.

Lodging

Cozumel has a wide variety of lodging choices for any budget or personal taste. The southwest section of the island is home to expansive resort properties, some of them all-inclusive. There are too many to list here, however for a comprehensive listing of accommodations, click here.

More moderate lodging is located in the town of San Miguel, which also puts you in walking distance of many restaurants, cantinas and shops.

The Mysterious Destinations Team enjoyed the clean, casual setting at Hotel Plaza Cozumel with moderately priced rooms, a beautiful rooftop pool, and including a breakfast made to order. To check the website for Hotel Plaza Cozumel, click here.

The Mysterious Destinations Team was also intrigued with the Ventanas al Mar (Windows on the Sea) hotel located on the island’s lonely and remote windward coast. While this would not be the choice for those who like to be “close to the action”, it is for those who would enjoy plenty of quiet time as the breakers crash in front of their porch. 

It is also close to the Punta Sur Eco-Park and Lighthouse, which includes the mysterious Maya structure “El Caracol” mentioned in our Cozumel: Island of Mystery article in the MysteriousDestinationsMagazine.com August 2012 edition. Click here for a link.

To check the website for Ventanas al Mar, click here.