Situated just off the coast of Playa del Carmen is Mexico’s third largest Island, Cozumel. We decided to experience Island life for a day and headed over on one of the fast ferries which depart regularly from the port at the southern end of town.
Tickets are around $12 per person, one way, and can be purchased at the ticket counter at the port. Ferries run all day from early morning to late evening to ensure you maximum time on the island. As it was our first time to Cozumel, we didn’t know what to expect so decided not to make plans and to simply take the day as it came.
We took our snorkels as we’d heard about the fantastic coral reef fringing the island. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest barrier reef.
Upon alighting the ferry at the port, we were surprised by the designer store fronts and high end brands in residence on Cozumel. A glimpse of the large international cruise ships docking at the port put the pieces of the puzzle together; it is a popular stop-off destination for Caribbean cruises.
We bypassed the shiny stores and headed through the town into a quaint, brightly painted square. Old men sat peacefully watching the world go by while women gathered to gossip and wrangle small children. This was the sort of laid back island life I had hoped to see, and it was lovely to stroll through the square under the shade of old leafy trees.
It was nice to see that despite the importance of cruise ship tourism to the local economy, there was still a local flavor alive and well on the island.
We wandered through the back streets of the town and admired the brightly painted buildings and quaint local restaurants. It was mid morning and the sun began to beat down strongly, encouraging us to seek out relief in the Caribbean Sea. Somewhat stubbornly ignoring calls from enthusiastic taxi drivers looking to make a fare, we resolved to explore on foot and headed south along the coast.
We passed a few waterfront restaurants with access to the water, wondering where we would find a suitable access point into the cool Caribbean. The water shone like bright blue crystals, reflecting the sun’s rays, begging us to submerge in it’s cool embrace.
We came to a lighthouse which sat on a lovely bay and decided we could wait no longer – we were going in! Only two other people were on the tiny beach as we laid our bags down and prepared to cool off. The water was deliciously refreshing and small colorful fish darted around the rocks beneath the surface.
Rejuvenated by our swim in our ‘private bay,’ we then guzzled down ice-cold sodas and snacked on chips and salsa at the waterfront restaurant, admiring the view. It was a weekday, and we had to pinch ourselves that we were sitting beach-side on a Caribbean island, while most people we knew were slaving away at their jobs back home.
We decided to explore more of the island on foot, and cut through the center of it. We emerged at a bustling town full of locals going about their busy days. Squares, government buildings, hospitals and stores buzzed with the midday rush. It was hard to believe that just across the water from Playa del Carmen, there was a busy, functioning city with a thriving population.
We stopped in at a local restaurant for lunch, far form the tourist trail. While we dined, we chatted to the owner of the restaurant who was more than happy to fill us in on the state of the island. He told us that the economy was suffering a little since the hurricane of ’05 which damaged some of the reef system and washed away some of the beaches on the east coast.
But he enjoyed the slow pace of life on the island – it was the only life he ever knew. He dreamed of moving to the colonial town of Valledolid some day, but wasn’t sure when that would be.
It was great to get a local’s perspective of the island from someone who has seen all the changes occur over the years. It struck me how vulnerable islands are to the natural environment, compared to the mainland where growth simply continues along the coast or inland.
I was glad our experience of Cozumel consisted of a nice swim, a good walk, and some interesting conversation with the locals.
Slow paced island life on Cozumel…
As we made our way back to the dock to depart on the ferry, I wished the island well in it’s attempt to balance large scale cruise ship tourism with the local culture, and hoped the local people, especially the friendly restauranteur, would continue to thrive in their beautiful island home.