Take a Walk on the Wild Side of Cozumel
The island of Cozumel seems to have two distinct sides: The western side is where the cruise ships dock, the ferry from Playa del Carmen pulls in, and the beaches are populated with all-inclusive resorts. On the eastern side, the island is undeveloped and wild. Let’s take a walk on the wild side.
Cozumel is an island just twelve miles from the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula near Playa del Carmen. Its value is two-fold: It has the only deep-water port in this area of Mexico, and it is located near the largest coral reef system in the western hemisphere, the Mesoamerican Reef. So, it is a hub of tourism – from cruise ship passengers to scuba divers and snorkelers.
The middle of the island has a single west-east road, Carretera Transversal (Cross-Island Road), that cuts through mangrove forests to the east coast. A rustic coastal track heads south from that point and hugs the coast around the southern tip of the island and north along the west coast to San Miguel. However, the coastal road is now reserved for bicycles and joggers. Even mopeds (called motos) are restricted to a second roadway that runs parallel to the coastal road around the southern half of the island.
The northern part of Cozumel is simply wild. There is a very rough roadway on the east coast along the beach, inaccessible with a motorized vehicle. On the west side, there is an equally rough road from the airport north to the seashore, but it is not recommended for rental vehicles. Along the coast, you can drive from the airport to Punta Norte (North Point), and that’s where the road ends.
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North Central Forest – San Gervasio
So, the island has very little to see in the middle, and few roads to get there anyway. For history lovers, there are Mayan ruins to explore in the central forest but finding them is difficult. One option is the San Gervasio site, which is a pre-Columbian settlement dedicated to the fertility goddess, Ixchel. To the Mayans, this was sacred ground. You’ll find buildings from 600 AD, including a residence decorated with palm prints of tiny hands, and a temple called the Tall House that has small faces carved in the stone foundation. There are guides at this site, and it is one of the few that is open to the public.
The East Coast – Seashells and Seafood
You might think the east coast of the island has nothing to offer. There are few roads except the coastal route and just one hotel. But for travelers who love the sounds of the surf, calls of soaring sea birds and the breeze off the Caribbean Sea, this could be paradise. There are places to snorkel right off the beach, long stretches of white sand and the wildness celebrated by city-weary wanderers.
Heading west from San Miguel on Cross-Island Road, you’ll come to the far side in about 8.7 miles. Here, you’ll find Senor Iguana’s, billed as “the crazy beach bar at the crossroads.” It advertises fresh seafood, 20 Mexican beers and ripe coconuts for your drinks opened as you watch. Farther down the coast on a cliff is Coconuts Bar and Grill with a magnificent view and more fresh seafood.
The beaches stretch from Senor Iguana’s all the way to Punta Sur Eco Park, some 10.5 miles of some of the purest beaches you’ll ever see. Swimming is rough, with strong currents and rocky sections, so take care if you go in the water. You can find a beach with lifeguards if you are intent on swimming, and all along the coast you will find great places to walk with your feet in the surf.
The South Coast – Parque Punta Sur
Punta Sur, or South Point, is at the very bottom of the island and is home to a nature reserve. For snorkelers, this is the place to get in the water. Just walk in from the white sand beach and find a whole world underneath the waves. The entrance fee to the park includes a guided boat tour through the Colombia Lagoon, where you’ll be able to see a variety of sea birds and crocodiles. The park is a sanctuary for giant turtles, iguanas, and pink spoonbills.
The high point of your visit to Parque Punta Sur (literally) will be a climb to the top of the Celarain Lighthouse (Faro Celarain). From that height (it’s only 134 steps) you can see the different ecosystems of the park: the mangrove forest, the Columbia Lagoon, south-facing beaches, coastal dunes, and the reefs just offshore. There is also a Mayan archaeological site to explore and a small museum.
From Punta Sur, you can take the coastal route north to San Miguel along the western shore, where resorts, hotels, open-air cafes and parks line up along the sunset-facing beach. Back in the capital city, you’ll have the shops, music, and nightlife of a Mexican resort town around the town square and along the boardwalk. But what you’ll likely remember most about the island of Cozumel is your walk on the wild side.
By Kay D. Harrison
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