Buzzin’ Around Cozumel in our VW Bug
Beyond diving, the highlight of any visit to Cozumel is jumping into one of the island’s convertible VW Bugs and driving the southern loop road.
You might assume that world-famous Cozumel is loaded with perfect white-sand beaches. Bizarrely, it’s not. Quite apart from the mainland, much of western Cozumel is dominated by narrow, grainy, gold-sand beaches, rocky coast, and mangroves. Those postcard moments are spread out around the island and you have to drive if you want to see them.
With the wind in our hair, we bounced from beach to beach and explored some of Cozumel’s very modest Mayan ruins. Portions of Cozumel are plagued by development designed to intentionally block access to legally public areas making it hard to get to many of the western beaches. (Boo, greedy developers and resort magnates!!!) There are a few highlights in the west, including pretty Playa Palancar with its raccoons and coatis, but those who want a more Caribbean experience will have to go that extra mile.
Stunning beach in Faro Celerain Eco Park
Buzzing away in our Flintstones jalopy around the southern tip of the island, we were focused on finding those moments of perfection. Unquestionably, the highpoint of any driving trip is the stunning Faro Celerain Eco Park located at Punta Sur. It costs $12 US per person to enter, but it’s definitely worth every cent to protect this valuable stretch of undeveloped beach and mangrove swamp, which doubles as a crocodile and bird preserve. The park features a small yet interesting Mayan construction, bird and croc watching boat tours, elevated walkways and wildlife viewing towers, and one of the most perfect beaches along the Mayan Riviera.
Do you see the crocodile?
Do you see it now?
Hilariously, while I was desperately trying to get a shot of some distant pink spoonbills from the top of a wildlife viewing tower, I dropped my lens cap into the grass a few yards from a resting crocodile. I was determined to get it back, so I had Thomas keep watch while I hopped off that walkway and fished around through the high grass. He was not happy and kept insisting I would never locate it, but – HOORAY – I did find it AND managed not to get eaten in the process. I was quite the attraction as many of the tourists shifted their cameras from the crocodile and the spoonbills to me. 🙂
Thomas enjoys the isolated beach at Punta Sur
Beyond Punta Sur, the east coast of Cozumel is lined with undeveloped white-sand beaches, but since they face the open ocean, waves and undertows make swimming dangerous. Much of northern Cozumel is either too inaccessible or overdeveloped; however, those who hike around and slip in between the hotels can find some nice spots, including some tidepool areas and a couple of nice coves. There is also reasonable snorkeling off several of the hotel beaches.
Watch out for iguanas and crocs crossing the road!!!
Tony takes in the view over the east coast of Cozumel from the lighthouse at Punta Sur
Mayan ruins at Punta Sur
Thomas enjoys a giant tide pool in northern Cozumel
Cove in northern Cozumel
Peak season Cozumel gets up to 35 cruise ships a week!!!
Warning about Cozumel
We feel the need to add some additional warnings about Cozumel. The pictures in this post are not representative of most Cozumel beaches. Make sure you understand the differences between Cozumel and the mainland. Don’t get me wrong, Cozumel still has a very devoted Margaritaville following. And the wall diving is considered some of the best in the Caribbean. But as a beach destination, it really can’t compete with those along the coast between Cancun and Tulum.
Additionally, the transportation situation makes visiting the island difficult for those on a budget. Getting to San Miguel de Cozumel is easy, but once you are on the island, you really have to have a car/scooter to get to any of the attractions. When renting a car, almost everybody in-the-know heads straight for Rentadora Isis, which has a reputation for being honest and great value. That reputation also means that you should book well in advance because they are often booked out. Unfortunately, there are numerous complaints about Cozumel rental agencies stealing credit card numbers and playing games with prices (even big name agencies). We went with Smart Rental and had no problems.