Playa del Ca
rmen is the debarkation point for the tropical island of Cozumel de San Miguel, also known as "The Island of the Swallows. The UltraMar and Mexico WaterJet ferry lines make the 40-minute trip across the Caribbean Sea approximately every hour, and for a small charge visitors can travel to this island paradise via one of these high-speed boats. Most passengers seemed
to gravitate indoors to an air-conditioned seat with TV monitors playing Spanish-language music videos. I opted to ride on the upper deck with the folks who enjoy salt breezes and the open sun. It’s a fabulous trip all by itself.
The ferry docks at the main pier leading into downtown Cozumel. D
iamonds, fine jewelry, watches, cameras and
electronic devices can be purchased at one of the many shops along the Malecón
, the island’s seafront boulevard. Cozumel is a duty-free port, and as such, is an international shopper’s haven. It’s not unusual to see at least one Carnival, Disney or Norwegian Line cruise ship anchored in the bay.
Directly off the Malecón is Plaza San Miguel, the center of Cozumel’s tourist zone. Strolling mariachis and costumed dancers frequently perform traditional Mayan songs and dances in the plaza, and
a number of sidewalk cafés and restaurants do business around it. Popular nightspots such as the Hard Rock Café, Fat Tuesdays and Seňor Frog’s are just steps away. Plaza San Miguel is a great place to people-watch, simply because every visitor to the island invariable passes through it. The Plaza is also home to countless shops and boutiques, many of which are located on Avenida 5, the main shopping street.
As a rule, the majority of tourists don’t stray too far from this area. But I'm a writer and photographer, and I’m always curious to find out what’s on the next street
, and the next street, and the street after that. Invari
ably this is where one discovers the reality of a town or city. And the reality I encountered on the back streets of Cozumel was more beautiful than I’d anticipated. What’s more, the people were genuinely warm and friendly, even to a stranger who spoke little better than elementary school Spanish. I walked the streets early in the morning and late into the night. Unlike other Mexican cities I’ve been to, Cozumel exuded a sense of safety and security, even on darkened streets well after midnight.