The first thing you notice is the water.
Looking out from our sixth floor balcony on the Carnival Glory, the Caribbean Sea is a soothing turquoise blue, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen in the Maldives.
Ever since Beth and I started dating a decade ago, we’ve been drawn to Mexico. At that time, we lived in San Diego, making it easy to explore the frontier coast of Baja California whenever we pleased.
Yet, we had never been to Cozumel, aside from catching a ferry to Playa del Carmen. And with a half-day in port, we decided to pass on a shore excursion and explore Cozumel on our own.
Located off the Yucatán Peninsula, Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, known predominately for its superb diving and gorgeous beaches. A flat, mostly undeveloped island covered with mangrove forest and Mayan ruins, the majority of the island’s population lives in San Miguel.
At the port, where our cruise ship docked, there is a charming Mexican village, complete with a massive duty-free shop, restaurants and bars, and lots of shopping opportunities. We moved through this district fairly quickly, stopping only at the tourist information desk and then at the “Puerta Maya” for a photograph, as we wanted to make the most of our time in San Miguel.
Fixed taxi rates are another way the Mexican government is trying to make traveling around Cozumel easier and more stress free for tourists. While standardized fares do a great job of preventing being cheated by a cabbie, they can also inflate the rate, which seems to be the case in Cozumel. For example, a one way, three-mile cab ride from the port to San Miguel, Cozumel’s main downtown area, costs approximately $18 for up to four people.
We decided to walk. Along with a recommendation for a monstrous margarita in San Miguel, the tourist office also mentioned a few public beaches along the way we wanted to check out.
To get to San Miguel by foot from the port, walk through the tourist village to Avenida Rafael E. Melgar. It is the main road and you’ll see other cruisers and tourists walking it too. You can’t miss the avenue, and if in doubt just ask someone. It runs along the water and there are bars and restaurants along the way; however, the beaches along the avenue, in my opinion, aren’t as picturesque as those to the south and east of the port and are better suited for drinks and food then swimming and snorkeling.
When you get to the Punta Langosta ship terminal, keep walking up Avenida Melgar. You are getting close. Punta Langosta has some shopping but it’s more touristy and mall like. Keep walking. When you get to the next cruise terminal you have arrived at San Miguel.
From Avenida Melgar, San Miguel looks like nothing more than another cluster of waterfront restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. However, since it’s the island’s main downtown district, San Miguel caters to locals as well as tourists.
Stepping off the avenue into the zocalo (town square) reveals a bustling network of streets and corridors with restaurants and shops that are further off the cruising trail. This is where to go for cool Mexican trinkets and souvenirs.
Keep in mind that haggling is part of the game. Never pay the first price they throw at you. And remember, bundling items is always a good option to get a cheaper price. If all else fails, walk a way—there’s a good chance they may follow up with a better price.
We were told Wet Wendy’s has delicious, Everest-size margaritas for a good price, so that was our main point of interest in San Miguel. The outdoor restaurant didn’t disappoint. Not only were the margaritas big and tasty, but the food was equally as delicious. Wet Wendy’s prices are all in pesos; however, they do accept American dollars. They’re exchange rate isn’t the best, but it’s not awful either. Margaritas cost about $6.50.
If you like cigars, right next to the restaurant is Havana Bob’s. He may have the most authentic Cuban cigars in Cozumel (be careful, the city is full of fakes), despite being pricey. For example, a pack of Cuban mini cigars cost about $7 in Italy, Bob was selling them for more than five times that. I asked him why, and he told me he’s taxed heavily on them. Fair enough. I treated myself anyways to a Cuban mini for a few dollars.
After lunch we poked around San Miguel for a bit and then set out for the cruise ship. Midway there we broke down and got a taxi back to the village at the port. Since there was a line to get back on the ship, we grabbed two beers at a waterfront bar.
“If a friend asked, would you recommend exploring Cozumel on your own?” Beth asked in between sips.
“Yeah, I would.”
“Though, I’d let them know this: If they’d like to swim or sunbathe, then they would be better off skipping San Miguel and going to one of the many beaches south of the cruise port, like Playa Palancar or Dzul Ha Beach. I think San Miguel is best for people who have never been to the Mexico before or for lovers of the culture looking for a fix.”
This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.