Although commonly relegated to a cruise ship stop, the Mayan isle of Cozumel is well worth a visit as a destination of its own. Mexico’s largest island, located just 17 miles from Playa Del Carmen, offers adventure, sports, all kinds of eating and drinking, and of course, plenty of sun, beach, and relaxation. Traveling there is a breeze: There’s an international airport right in Cozumel with direct flights from many major US cities. Below, our guide to island living.
Where to Stay:
Presidente InterContinental Cozumel
As the island’s only 5-Star resort, the Presidente InterContinental is a step above the other lodging options in Cozumel. Set on half a mile of sandy beach, the property offers some of the best views on the island–which can be enjoyed right from the hammock hanging on your room’s private terrace. Whether you’re headed to this beautiful Mayan destination for relaxation or adventure, this resort has you covered. Those who wish to unwind can laze their days away at the multiple pools on property, enjoy all their meals al fresco, or even play a few rounds of golf at the nearby courses. Thrill seekers are just steps away from some of the best scuba diving in the world and fill their days with other water sports right at the hotel. Whatever it is that brings you to Cozumel one thing is clear–you’ll be taken care of here.
Where to Eat:
This little hidden gem boasts a gorgeous view, and an even more delicious menu. The restaurant serves “contemporary international cuisine” in a sleek setting sure to please even the most sophisticated palette. The food is inventive without veering into “trying too hard” territory, and highlights include a 6-cheese soup (with prosciutto, dragon fruit, apple, and grapes), grilled octopus salad (with peppers and mayonnaise), and their signature green risotto: an avocado risotto dish topped with the freshest dorado. The real treat at ile, however, is the “Chef’s Corner,” located right in front of the open kitchen. Guests are able to order whatever they wish (including vegan and other dietary options), or be surprised by the executive chef’s preparation of the day. After dinner, stick around and enjoy a libation or two on the restaurant’s plush terrace.
For special occasions, island residents and visitors alike head to Napa Grill, a newly opened fine dining experience that combines the best of surf and turf. Guests are welcomed with illuminated menus (always a conversation starter) filled with an assortment of cuts of prime meats and selections from the Caribbean’s freshest seafood catches. The Grill also shares a wine cellar with neighboring restaurant Alfredo di Roma, which boasts the island’s largest collection of domestic and international wines.
For something a bit more laid-back, head up to Coconuts, the “bar and grill on the hill” where the drinks are large and stiff, the food is cheap and tasty, and the atmosphere can get loud and rambunctious. Set amidst lush tropical vegetation, the bar welcomes not only hungry visitors but some of the island’s most colorful bird residents as well. The menu is filled with Mexican favorites from nachos, to tacos, to ceviche and it’s easy for afternoon drinks here to turn into an evening dance party. Just remember to bring an extra tee or bikini–not because it gets that wild–but because you’ll want to leave it behind for the shirt wall.
What to Do:
Cozumel is a world class diving destination, with reefs lining the entire western coast of the island. Both novices and expert divers will enjoy exploring these natural wonders with Scuba Du. The company’s experienced and certified instructors will take you out their fleet of boats for half-day dives from morning till night. Non-divers can book a snorkeling expedition or charter one of their boats for a fishing trip. But one thing is clear: when in Cozumel, get thee to the water!
Just because you’re not a certified diver doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the exploring Cozumel’s famous reefs. The Atlantis Submarine takes you 100ft under water for a 40-minute tour, complete with a card at every seat to help you ID any sea creatures that may swim by. It veers a bit on the touristy side, but the views are worth it.
Where to Relax:
Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Spa
I’m a huge fan of always booking a spa service while on vacation–it’s the key to helping you get completely into a relaxed state of mind. The Presidente InterContinental has a boutique spa right on property with a full menu of therapeutic and revitalizing treatments infused with many local fruits, herbs, and plants and influenced by Mayan techniques. Those who need to do some extra detoxing might opt for a traditional Mayan Temazcal ritual, complete with an area Shamon, in the property’s sweat lodge. And even though vacation practically mandates wearing your hair in beachy waves, should you find yourself needing a sleeker ‘do, stylists at the on-site salon can whip your coif into any look you want.
One of the more novel services offered by the spa is a fish pedicure, where you can book an exfoliation treatment in 15-minute increments, with or without a polish change. Rest assured at the service is completely sanitary: The Fish Spa Aquarium has a built-in auto-cleaning system. But a word to the wise: this is not for the meek or squeamish.
Cozumel Country Club
If hitting a few rounds of golf is more your idea of relaxation, head over to the Cozumel Country Club, the island’s only 18-hole course and home to the local annual golf tournament. The club is also a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, which means you can book bird and wildlife tours here as well. On more than one occasion, golfers even find themselves sharing the course with crocodiles.