By Tom Dwyer
To the ancient Mayan, Cozumel was a very special place. The largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, it was a place where every Mayan hoped to travel to at least once in their life in order to fulfill some deep spiritual yearning. Today, a different kind of group visits Cozumel. Divers from all over the world flock to this laidback island paradise to partake in some of the best scuba diving in the world. But what this 30-mile-long island paradise is really known for is its drift diving; currents that zig zag at a moments notice – as unpredictable and exciting as a diver might ask for. Diving in Cozumel is very safe as long as you are prepared, and dive with a dive master who understands the local waters and its currents.
There are roughly 40 or so dive sights that ring the island, and about 28 dive shops ready to get you going. I stayed at the Casa Del Mar, a very reasonably priced hotel that caters specifically to divers. The hotel was clean, service was excellent, and the price couldn’t be beat. They offer dive packages that start at $188 dollars for three nights/two days of diving to $417 dollars for seven nights/ five days of diving. Most of the hotels on the island offer dive packages including the very swanky Presidente Inter-Continental, which offers some surprisingly inexpensive dive deals. If you want to dive first class, this is the place. The President of Mexico, Vicente Fox; a diver himself, was staying at the Inter-Continental the week I was there. Recently, U.S News & World Report Magazine recognized Cozumel as the North American and Caribbean destination offering the best vacation value.
On the handful of dives that I managed to fit in on my trip, I wore just a swim suit, including on my night dives, and never felt cold. I was very impressed with the visibility; 70 to 100 feet in many places, and the abundant marine life including rays, angelfish, nurse sharks, and large lobsters. My favorite dive was at Columbia, where my group drifted at a depth of 85 feet, marveling at the colorful coral pillars that rose 50 feet around us as a large sea turtle drifted along beside us.
An enjoyable encounter I had while visiting Cozumel was meeting up with local legend, Peco Castello; a master diver, biologist, and the dive guide for Jacque Cousteau when Cousteau “discovered” Cozumel back in the early 1960s. Peco is the dive master many people still go to when looking to experience some serious drift diving. His favorite dive site in Cozumel is Santa Rosa. You can find him at Paradise Divers.
The island of Cozumel is quickly becoming more than a dive destination. The main town of San Miguel is a lively, thriving town with many good restaurants, a wide range of shopping opportunities, a fabulous small museum – Museum of the Island of Cozumel – and very friendly people. There is a new 18-hole golf course on the island located at the Cozumel Country Club, Chankanaab Park – an ecological water theme park, is a great day out for the family, ancient Mayan ruins to marvel at, plus, for honeymooners – a number of excellent packages to take advantage of at many of the top resorts on the island.
But diving is, and I think will remain, the main draw of this magical, unspoiled island. Take just one dive into the turquoise waters that surround Cozumel and you will quickly find out why divers from all over the world return again and again to this special place.
For more information on Cozumel contact: www.islacozumel.com.mx