Cozumel, the island that the Mayans considered their Eden from where they believed they came to populate the continent, like bees from a hive, is located near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It's tiny, approximately 10 miles wide and 30 miles long-but like the Eden it was for the ancient Mayans, it is a paradise for today's travelers and cruise passengers.
According to Mayan legend, the goddess of love and fertility, Ixchel, resided in Cozumel and the island was a pilgrimage site. When residents built temples in her honor, the goddess sent them, the legend goes, her favorite bird, the swallow, and the Mayans named the island Cozumel, which in their language meant "the land of the swallows."
There are a number of archeological ruins on Cozumel including an archeological park in the north of the island, the sanctuary of Ixchel in San Gervasio, and El Cedral in the south--the latter the oldest Mayan structure on the island dating from the year 800. Other points of interest include the town of San Miguel, with its pretty main plaza; the Benito Juarez Park, that is ideal for strolling, buying souvenirs, and enjoying music on Sundays; the Museum of the Island of Cozumel with exhibits about the island including its reefs; Discover Mexico Park, with scale models of Mexico's pyramids, monuments and modern structures; and the lighthouse Faro Celerain that offers panoramic views of Cozumel and has an ecological reserve where visitors can see mangroves and other examples of the native flora as well as fauna.
A popular shore excursion sold onboard ships is to the ecological reserve, the park and lagoon, Chankanaab. Chankanaab means "Small Sea" in the Mayan language, a reference to the park's lagoon, fed by an ocean current that transforms it into a natural aquarium with some 60 types of marine creatures.
In Chankanaab's botanical gardens visitors can see 350 different types of tropical plants from more than 20 nations. The Zona Maya, another of Chankanaab's attractions, is a modern reproduction of an ancient Mayan village that allows visitors to learn about the construction and agricultural methods of the Mayans. Other attractions are aquatic adventures including Snuba, Sea Trek and Dolphin Discovery--the latter offering an opportunity to get to know these fascinating marine creatures up-close. Chankanaab has changing rooms and four dive shops.
Beaches are, naturally, one of the main attractions of Cozumel, which is known world-wide as an ideal site for diving due to the clarity of its waters. A very popular beach is San Francisco on Cozumel's west coast--with fine sand and placid waters. Others on the west coast include Playa Mía, Palancar and Paradise. On the east coast, there is a mixture of sandy and rocky beaches including Punta Morena, Punta Chiquero, Playa Bonita and Chen Río. These beaches generally have wave action and currents and are often less frequented than those on the west coast.
Other pastimes include golf on an 18-hole championship course designed by Jack Nicklaus, tennis, horseback riding, hiking and tours by jeep and other vehicles. Cozumel is also a paradise for shoppers--with duty-free prices on merchandise including gold and silver jewelry, imported watches, fashions, perfumes and local crafts.
For a lunch while in port, Cozumel has more than 90 restaurants and cafes that serve varied cuisines including Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, Caribbean and others.
Among the lines offering cruises to Cozumel are Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, Regent Seven Seas and Royal Caribbean.
IF YOU GO: Visit www.islacozumel.com.mxCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun