Cozumel Island is in the Gulf of Mexico, off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. When our ship, MS Carnival Dream, reached the harbour there were five other cruise ships already there. It was obviously a very popular stop and for good reason.
A small limestone island, Cozumel is surrounded by clear aqua waters. It’s easy to get around on your own as there are two parallel sealed roads circumventing the island. The new road is used for cars and buses. The old one is used by bicycles and scooters.
The island’s centre is a national park, home to racoon, deer, iguana, non- venomous snakes and wild bore. All the offshoot roads towards the ocean are un-sealed and bright white because of the limestone. Along with the white-painted bases of palm trees means you’ll need a pair of good polarising sunglasses.
The island has a Mexican feel, with vibrant colours, great food and friendly Mexican hospitality. They drive on the right, the island is tax free, and although you can purchase goods in pesos, most trade is done in US dollars.
Things to do in Cozumel
Our island tour began at the Mayan Cacao Company. We saw a typical Mayan wooden house and tasted home-made ‘mole’, which is a spicy chocolate-based salsa served on a thin tortilla. It’s truly finger-licking delicious.
The Mayans made chocolate from highly prized cacao beans. The Spaniards introduced butter and sugar to sweeten it. These days, the chocolate has additional ingredients like annatto for colour, and honey, vanilla, spice and tropical fruits to add flavour.
A chocolate-making demonstration was entertaining as was the popular artisanal chocolate tasting that followed.
The Mayan Cacao Company also produces chocolate body lotion, shampoo and conditioner. The end of tour’s frozen chocolate slush also went down very well on the hot day, watched by a very curious iguana in the car park.
The island’s residents are devoutly Catholic. We made our way to El Cedral to visit the oldest Catholic Church on the island. The church was built in 1848. While we were there, preparations in the square were well on the way for a huge religious Fiesta being held the following week.
I also scored a personal record at the church with six crosses in the one photo!
Next to the church was a small Mayan temple, with its own Mayan warrior posing for photos.
The island first rose to fame due to Jacque Cousteau, who dived here in the 1960s. Cousteau introduced the world to Cozumel and its riches of the ocean. His discovery of black coral unfortunately has resulted in its harvesting for delicate carvings, jewellery and trinkets.
Our final stop was to a Tequileria to learn about the eight types of agave. Tequila comes from the blue agave, grown in Jalisco on mainland Mexico. Tequila comes from the root of the plant, which is harvested after eight to 10 years. Two further distillations produce 38% proof tequila, silver or clear tequila, used for mixers.
When matured for another 11 months, the result is yellow tequila. After a further seven to 12 years you get brown and dark brown tequila. Only 400 bottles of the latter are produced each year and its 22 years of production make it worth its price tag of $129 per bottle!
Finally we were off to the east coast for a scenic coastal drive. We stopped at El Mirador to take photos of the unusual rock formations carved by the ocean. More local crafts were on show and we tasted a local mix of coco lotto, an evil brew made out of rum, vodka, tequila and coconut water.
I think I saw a six-year-old boy holding a very large iguana but I could have been dreaming. Yes, mellowing out now, too much chocolate, tequila and coco lotto. Caribbean cruising has its perks…
On our way back to the ship, MS Carnival Dream, we passed by San Miguel, the capital of Cozumel and where most of its 100,000 population live. The standard of living is a far cry from the harbour promenade with its duty free shops, international boutiques and quality craft shops as well as a large motor cruiser pointed out in the bay, owned by Julio Englais.
It was a fantastic shore excursion with wonderful weather, glorious blue sea and sky. When you add in good shopping and great Mexican hospitality, it’s a recipe that will draw us back to Cozumel again.
Irene Isaacson travelled at her own expense.