cozumel diversCozumel “Land of the Swallows”, once the pirate hangout of Jean Lafitte, is Mexico’s largest island. Twelve miles off the Yucatan coast, this island paradise is only a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. For thousands of years Mayan women have made the crossing from the mainland to worship Ixchel, the fertility Goddess of the Moon and Lady of the Rainbow.

Cozumel diving is world-class and famous for the spectacular Palancar Reef (the 2nd largest on Earth after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). A habitat for thousands of species of marine life, the coral walls drop a dizzying 1,000ft. Jacques Cousteau considered these waters “some of the finest on the planet” with a visibility of 200ft.

The snowy-white clouds and fine talc beaches contrast brilliantly with the myriad shades of blues and greens. To capture the dazzling water and sky on film don’t forget your polarizing lens. The UV is intense. A composition tip: Never (never say never) center your subject. It’s too static. Think in terms of 1/3 (thirds) to create eye movement and direction.

The Cozumel beach on the Eastern (windward) side of the island is, as to be expected, more rugged due to the wind and wave action, with more “iron shore” instead of the powdered coral one generally imagines of a tropical island. The best Cozumel beach on the windward side is Chen Rio which is stituated in a cove and protected from the large waves, the undertows are not as strong. This beach is rather isolated and private with no hotels or public transportation. You’ll be able to find small restaurants all along the coast road for food and refreshments. Swimming is not encouraged on the eastern (windward) side, so take precautions. Don’t go far from shore, and NEVER swim alone. The undertows are treacherous. However, if you’re looking for someplace very quiet and secluded for sunbathing and or passing time with someone special, this Cozumel beach is perfect.

The Cozumel beach on the Western “leeward” side is where you’ll find the grand resorts and the crowds of people. The Cozumel beach here is the vaunted, pure white, powdered coral that remains cool to the soles of your feet no matter the temperature. The water here is flat with no waves and little undertow. San Francisco beach (on the south end of Cozumel with Playa Sol Playa Francesa, Playa Palacar and San Clemente) is considered the best of this type. Playa San Juan, next to the Cozumel Melia Resort has great windsurfing, fine restaurants and lots of shade. It’s a family favorite.

On the north coast you’ll find Playa Azul, Playa Pilar and Playa San Juan. This Cozumel beach is fronted by the fancy resorts and exhibit a “Club” like atmosphere with restaurants, bars, and water sports activities. This isn’t the optimal snorkeling location as the constantly moving sand doesn’t allow coral to grow.

Where ever you find the rocky limestone shoreline (“Iron Shore”), you”ll find good snorkeling. You’ll generally be entering the water from a boat or ladder off the end of a pier. Cozumel’s prime snorkeling site is Chankanaab Bay. This popular full-service beach with its excellent facilities invites both divers and snorkelers to explore the area’s limestone shoreline caves. Other popular sites are Villa Maya, Casa Caribena, Coral Princess Hotel, Plaza Las Glorias, Dzul-ha reef area, and Playa Corona. If you don’t have your own diving or snorkeling gear, you can rent them for about $15 dollars at your hotel or from shops on Cozumel beach.

In addition to the diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing, there’s tennis, windsurfing, sailing and jet-skiing. Or, you may want to simply relax by the pool or laze the day away on white, powdered coral beaches. In keeping with the Mayan Riviera‘s new eco-friendly outlook, horses are the preferred mode of transportation.

Much quieter than Cancun, the island is perfect for moped treks down untrammeled roads and bar-hopping in clubs with live jazz as intoxicating as the tequila. The best place to begin your island exploration would be the central plaza of the island’s only town, quaint San Miguel, where unique shops and restaurants are hidden throughout.

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