Shopping in Cozumel

Lots of items for sale don't have price tags for a reason. You're supposed to haggle. It only takes a little bit of time and it's fun and it's expected in the owner-operated open air markets and beach/street vendors. If an item does have a price tag, go ahead and ask how much it sells for, they might tell you a lower price!

Silver jewelry and Tanzanite jewelry is sold in abundance here. When is comes to silver, be sure it has .925 stamped on the back for the highest quality.

Partying in Cozumel

There are street vendors down the main strip who will sell you drinks and street merchants who will give you free shots of Tequila. The loudest, funnest places to party in Cozumel is Senior Frog's and Carlos & Charlie's. Upon my visit, Carlos & Charlie's was a bit too loud and ruckus but I found the service, food and atmosphere top notch at Senior Frogs. Try a drink from "The Yard" plastic cup. It's a great souvenir.

Weather in Cozumel

As Adrian Cronauer says, "It's hot! Damn hot! Real hot!" Even in March, it's frickin' hot in Cozumel. According to weather.com, the average low is 68F December through March and the average high is 82F to 85F. Stay out of the sun and be careful with the liquor. Use your sunscreen.

The rainy season for the whole Yucatan peninsula is from October to January and April to July. That makes the best times to go from Feburary to March and August to September.

Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island. It is situated in the beautiful azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. The island measures 28 miles long by 10 miles wide and is 12 miles off of the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The climate is sub-tropical and is only unpleasant during hurricane season.

Cozumel is 50 minutes from Playa del Carmen by ferry, which in turn is 1 hour to Cancún by bus or car. You can fly from Cozumel to Cancún in a nice prop-plane for as little as $30 through Aero Caribe.

Cozumel is primarily inhabited by Mayan descent peoples. You will also find many “foreigners” taking up roots in Cozumel, from Canada, the US and other locations.

There is only one city; it is known as San Miguel. It is located on the western side of the island. You can see the lights of Playa del Carmen at night. The city has a population of around 90,000 people and is well known for being crime free (*see note). There are 2 cruise ship docks near the center of town and 4 more just south of town. You can often see 5 to 10 cruse ships off coast or docked on any given day. There are several shops, restaurants and modern malls near the ship docks. It is wise to avoid this area while a ship is docked, because it can be very crowded with “tourists”.

Cozumel is known for being one of the top diving locations in the world. The water visibility is 100 to 200 feet and the marine life is abundant. There are over 50 dive companies to choose from and most hotels have their own dive programs/packages. You can choose from around 150 dive locations; from hard corals to vast forests of soft corals. You can swim with dolphins, sharks, eels and manatees, to name a few.

There is somewhere around 100 hotels on the island. You can choose from luxurious to economy to cheap. A nice hotel will not cost you an arm and a leg and often will throw in many bonuses like free meals or dives.

Getting around Cozumel is easy but can be expensive. Taxis charge a set rate per location, which is to say that if you need a ride from downtown to your hotel, they will have a predetermined rate for you. The taxis do not have meters. The rates are fairly steep. One trip in a cab could easily purchase a large meal for 2. The best way to get around Cozumel is to rent a car or a scooter. You will find that the streets are covered with scooters. Be sure to get insurance, because if you wreck the bike or car, you will have to buy it before you can get off the island.

The eastern side of the island is known as the ‘Wild Side’. There are a few restaurants and bars scattered along the far side of the island that are well worth the visit (especially Coconuts). The wild side has amazingly beautiful white beaches with large surf. Be warned, the undertow in this area is severe.

For the most part the people of Cozumel are warm and welcoming and will always give you a smile. The people are very communal and conservative. Feel free to drink and dance, but for god’s sake keep your shirt on. Once you prove yourself to be the obnoxious tourist, you will no longer get the smiles.

* There are a few scams in the tourist areas that you will need to recognize while traveling in Cozumel. You will often be approached by Time-Share salesmen and/or package deals that might include car rentals, boat rides, dives and hotel stays. The majority of these are not good deals and they all have some sort of catch. I was offered 3 dives and a car rental for $40, which in my opinion was to good to be true.

My father and I arrive by plane
to spend a week beneath the waves.
Our taxi stops a dozen times,
repairs, reconstruction, rebirth.
The roads and hotels recover
faster than the trees, from Wilma,
the bitch goddess, born to destroy.

When an area’s natural beauty is considered to be a certain order of magnitude above the perceived poverty and savagery of the locals the best business investments tend to be “all-inclusive-resorts.” Wealth for those in the third world and those who travel to it is a hermetic bubble that prevents contact with the unknown and the difficult to predict. These spread around the beaches first, the skin of the island. From the Yucatan side of Cozumel down south along the best reefs for scuba diving the resorts came, claiming their own strips of sand. The back side, or Caribbean side of the island is much less congested with these resorts but does have a much quieter brand of Tiki bars, and mostly snorkeling areas. The backside of the island seemed to suffer much greater consequence from Hurricane Wilma, the tropical storm cum Category 5 hurricane that spent 64 hours battering Cozumel in October of 2005.

The Mayans thought or, if the dead
never change their minds, still think
a goddess lives here, a moon goddess
of fertility. Which makes sense
I suppose, with its starlight sonograms.
Women waited here for full moons
to pay respects, their babies dropping

Cozumel was originally a Mayan enclave for oceanic trade either between parts of the Mayan empire or with other powers in South and Central America. There seems to be some variations in the origins of the name but the one I like the best is Ah-Cuzamil-Paten or “Land of the Swallows.” I would imagine because there were a lot of the aforementioned bird residing there. Although trade was important it seems secondary to the main function of the island; it was a temple to Ixchel , the moon goddess of fertility and childbirth. It seems that pregnant women, women about to give birth, or women wanting to conceive generally made a kind of Hajj to the shrine on the island. The irony of course is that women going to see a fertility goddess during a full moon are a little more likely to give birth on the spot.

like snacks from tipped vending machines
onto the piles of rocks marked brown
on the resort’s tourist maps. Ruins.
A good word to describe any place Cortes
passed through. He found 40,000 Mayans
and chased the last three hundred back
to the mainland with their moon babies.

Cozumel was of course not overlooked by the Conquistadores. The first incursion with the Spaniards happened in 1518 when the nephew of the governor of Cuba, Juan de Grijalva left Havana with four ships and 300 men. Sailing around as sailors are wont to do they found Cozumel 18 days later on May 3rd, Holy Cross Day. It is rumored that Grijalva’s reports of the island, which had no gold reserves, may have sparked Spain’s quest for gold. It did not take long for the infamous Hernan Cortes to follow the rumors of gold for the plundering and he arrived at Cozumel one year later in 1519. I have read conflicting reports but apparently Cozumel was one of the only places where no major battles between the Spanish and the Maya occurred, even with Cortes throwing down all the temples of Ixchel and claiming the land for Spain. There were 40,000 people on the island when Cortes arrived. However, regardless of whether skirmishes ensued all sources indicate that smallpox from the Spanish nearly annihilated the inhabitants of the island, whereby somewhere between 30 and 300 of the last survivors high tailed it for the mainland.

On rented scooters we retrace
The steps of musket martyrs through
hurricane hovels, still smiles linger here.
Though a paradise by most standards
without gold it was a barren land.
But an empty century called
pirates to the nest of sand and ruin.

Most of the maps distributed by the resorts in Cozumel are nearly identical, and they don’t dispute the locations of the half dozen or so Mayan ruins scattered about the island. Some of these ruins are said to be almost 2,000 years old, but most were destroyed down to the foundations, even Ixchen’s temple. Oddly enough, even after going through all the effort of destroying these things the Spanish basically abandoned Cozumel shortly thereafter. There were more strategic ports of call, and places much richer in gold to spend their time, and the Mayans did not seem in any hurry to return to the place they could only associate with strange diseases that killed everyone. It was in the 17th century that pirates began using the deep coves and bays of Cozumel to ply their trade. This area was obviously ripe for the plundering as war broke out between the Spanish, English, Dutch, French, and Portuguese. You may check your history books for the exact times and dates when the dance partners changed mid-song. Many of the areas most famous pirates were actually privateers, getting their orders to umm…pirate from the kings and queens or navies of their home countries. Though the Cozumel based websites all agree I can’t find any real validation for the rumors that Henry Morgan, of rum fame, and Jean Lafitte visited or based their buccaneering adventures from Cozumel for any length of time.

In the luxury of silence
black markets thrive and wenches scream
prayers to the goddess left behind
Bound in sails, and plumed with parrots.
The ravaged island shelters ravagers.
With a flashlight and vacation friend
I spend my nights drunk and spelunking

through quiet, dark places – hoping
that light will meet its gold reflection.
But it may be that memories
are the last guardians of that
Swashbuckling legacy. Those men
Were long gone, long dead, by 1848
when the island again answered prayers.

After the pirates and the era of pirating was long finished the Mayans tried to take one final stand against their oppressors. This is often referred to as the Caste War or The Chamula Rebellion. Apparently beginning for the usual reasons that an underclass majority resents an all controlling upper class minority the battles lasted until into the 20th century. Much of the conflict seems to have been fueled by the fact that the Mayans were armed by the Mexican government to fight the independent nation of Texas. It was during this conflict that 20 Mayan families moved to the abandoned island of Cozumel. They began sowing crops, building houses, and all the other things people do when they settle somewhere. They breathed life into an island that hadn’t had any permanent residents since the smallpox epidemic of the 16th century. It is said that the descendents of these families still call the island home. Though considered a fairly backwater hovel for a few decades Cozumel did capitalize on a strange resource it had in abundance, the zapote (sapodilla) trees which produce a substance called Chicle. This substance remained heavily used by the chewing gun industry until synthetic substitutes came into use.

In wars of attrition, time and blood
are the same measurement. Twenty
families fled the mainland chaos
to a forgotten paradise.
One war finished, they farmed and grew
into a useful outpost for another
war, and an American airport.

During World War II the Americans found ample use for the island, and no doubt the islanders found ample income from the G.I.’s. The Americans built the island’s first airport, and a submarine production facility, which supposedly was the cause for the destruction of some Mayan ruins (maybe accidentally). It was also rumored that planes were constantly flying over the island doing training exercises for spotting enemy submarines.

From whose steel birds it rained frogmen
encased in rubber beneath the waves.
Their eyes and voices alight
stories of the choral began to spread
into the waiting eyes of Jacque Cousteau
whose words radiated out
further than any light house beam

The most important aspect of this early American intervention on the island however is its use as a training ground for frogmen. Now what the hell is a frogman? A frogman was an underwater demolitions and reconnaissance soldier, known today in the U.S. Navy as a Seal. It was the frogmen training in Cozumel, the first divers with oxygen tanks, who got the first view of the spectacular array of choral and marine life around the island. As their stories spread around the USA they attracted the attention of the infamous Jacque Cousteau who upon diving near the island remarked that it was one of the best scuba diving locations in the world.

To his clarion call came the divers
And we sat in a small speedboat
Like a bird perched on a tall branch
Above a circus, with a rainbowed
life beneath. The choral tells a story
as well. Adapting to hurricanes
in its own way, which is to say

After Hurricane Wilma struck that damage was not relegated to the surface of the island. The Choral beds were also irrevocably damaged. I never dove there before the hurricane so I can’t comment on the effect to the bio-diversity, but according to the long time Cozumel divers I spoke to, the most notable damage was the great rents torn into the previously unbroken walls and chains of choral outcrops. This does provide a much more fun dive however, as we can now swim through all of these new holes and caves created by the hurricane.

allowing pieces of itself
to be obliterated, lost
so that we tank strapped lost ones
wandering through a maze of questions
can swim through its beautiful wounds


http://www.eagleraydivers.com/History.htm http://www.usatoday.com/weather/stormcenter/2005-10-21-wilma-weekend_x.htm http://www.divetrip.com/hurricane_wilma_report.htm http://www.cozumelmexico.org/articles/CozumelMexico.cfm http://cozumelrentalvillas.com/History.html http://www.islacozumel.com.mx/eng/dest-history.asp http://www.fodors.com/world/mexico-and-central-america/mexico/cozumel/feature_30006.html http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/yucatan/tales/0303yucatan.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Frogmen


And for anyone interested in reading the poem by itself:

My father and I arrive by plane
to spend a week beneath the waves.
Our taxi stops a dozen times,
repairs, reconstruction, rebirth.
The roads and hotels recover
faster than the trees, from Wilma,
the bitch goddess, born to destroy.

The Mayans thought or, if the dead
never change their minds, still think
a goddess lives here, a moon goddess
of fertility. Which makes sense
I suppose, with its starlight sonograms.
Women waited here for full moons
to pay respects, their babies dropping

like snacks from tipped vending machines
onto the piles of rocks marked brown
on the resort’s tourist maps. Ruins.
A good word to describe any place Cortes
passed through. He found 40,000 Mayans
and chased the last three hundred back
to the mainland with their moon babies.

On rented scooters we retrace
The steps of musket martyrs through
hurricane hovels, still smiles linger here.
Though a paradise by most standards
without gold it was a barren land.
But an empty century called
pirates to the nest of sand and ruin.

In the luxury of silence
black markets thrive and wenches scream
prayers to the goddess left behind
Bound in sails, and plumed with parrots.
The ravaged island shelters ravagers.
With a flashlight and vacation friend
I spend my nights drunk and spelunking

through quiet, dark places – hoping
that light will meet its gold reflection.
But it may be that memories
are the last guardians of that
Swashbuckling legacy. Those men
Were long gone, long dead, by 1848
when the island again answered prayers.

In wars of attrition, time and blood
are the same measurement. Twenty
families fled the mainland chaos
to a forgotten paradise.
One war finished, they farmed and grew
into a useful outpost for another
war, and an American airport.

From whose steel birds it rained frogmen
encased in rubber beneath the waves.
Their eyes and voices alight
stories of the choral began to spread
into the waiting eyes of Jacque Cousteau
whose words radiated out
further than any light house beam

To his clarion call came the divers
And we sat in a small speedboat
Like a bird perched on a tall branch
Above a circus, with a rainbowed
life beneath. The choral tells a story
as well. Adapting to hurricanes
in its own way, which is to say

allowing pieces of itself
to be obliterated, lost
so that we tank strapped lost ones
wandering through a maze of questions
can swim through its beautiful wounds

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