Cozumel has ranked for years among the top five dive destinations in the world. Tall reefs line the southwest coast, creating towering walls that offer divers a fairy-tale landscape to explore. For nondivers, it has the beautiful water of the Caribbean with all the accompanying watersports and seaside activities.
The island gets a lot more visitors from North America than Europe for reasons that probably have to do with the limited flights. It is in many ways more "cozy and mellow" than the mainland -- no big highways, no big construction projects. It's dependable. And one of the favorite things about this island is that the water on the protected side (western shore) is as calm as an aquarium, unless a norther is blowing. Most of the island terrain is flat and clothed in a low tropical forest.
The only town on the island is San Miguel that despite the growth of the last 20 years can't be called anything more than a small town. It's not a stunningly beautiful place, but it and its inhabitants are agreeable -- on Sunday evenings, everybody congregates around the plaza to be sociable and have a good time. Staying in town can be fun and convenient. You get a choice of a number of restaurants and nightspots. Because Cozumel enjoys such popularity with the cruise ships, the waterfront section of town holds wall-to-wall jewelry stores and souvenir shops. This and the area around the town's main square are about as far as most cruise ship passengers venture into town.
Should you come down with a case of island fever, Playa del Carmen and the mainland are a 40-minute ferry ride away. Some travel agencies on the island can set you up with a tour of the major ruins on the mainland, such as Tulum, or a visit to a nature park such as Xel-Ha or Xcaret.
The island has its own ruins, but they cannot compare with the major sites of the mainland. During pre-Hispanic times, Maya women would cross over to the island to make offerings to the goddess of fertility, Ixchel. More than 40 sites containing shrines remain around the island, and archaeologists still uncover the small dolls that were customarily part of those offerings.
Travel agencies can arrange a variety of tours, including horseback, jeep, and ATV tours. However, you should know a little bit beforehand what is worth seeing while in Cozumel.
Maya Ruins -- one of the most popular island excursions is to San Gervasio. When it comes to Cozumel's Maya ruins, getting there is most of the fun -- do it for the mystique and for the trip, not for the size or scale of the ruins. The buildings, though preserved, are crudely made and would not be much of a tourist attraction if they were not the island's principal ruins. More significant than beautiful, this site was once an important ceremonial center where the Maya gathered, coming even from the mainland.
A History Museum -- The Museo de la Isla de Cozumel, is more than just a nice place to spend a rainy hour. On the first floor an exhibit illustrates endangered species, the origin of the island, and its present-day topography and plant and animal life, including an explanation of coral formation. The second-floor galleries feature the history of the town, artifacts from the island's pre-Hispanic sites, and colonial-era cannons, swords, and ship paraphernalia. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm. A good rooftop restaurant serves breakfast and lunch.