Take island life at your own pace on Mexico's Cozumel, a paradise working hard to maintain its nature and history. Home to the second-largest coral reef in the world, it’s teeming with marine life. That makes it an ideal, and justifiably popular place for diving, whether you already have your certificate under your belt or you're eager to learn. Soak up the Caribbean sun on one of the white sand beaches, snorkel just off the tranquil shores or go inland and visit an eco-park to appreciate the island’s efforts to conserve its wildlife.
With diving a top priority here, you can make the most of the reefs by staying at a Cozumel hostel where you can also get your PADI diving licence. A hostel with a pool gives you somewhere to cool off when the temperature climbs, while one on the beach means catching even more sunny rays. Many Cozumel hostels have self-catering facilities so you can save some pesos by cooking your own meals or mingle with other travellers by choosing a hostel with an on-site bar.
San Miguel de Cozumel is the island’s main centre and home to the Zócalo, the main square. The most metropolitan spot on the island, head here for a shopping, bars and restaurants. The Costera Sur (the south coast) is best for water sports and has calm beaches and a slower pace. For nightlife and a buzzing atmosphere, check out the hotel district in the Costera Norte (the north coast).
Cozumel is taking steps to protect its wildlife, both in and out of the water. Head to Punta Sur Ecological Park to spot exotic birds and crocodiles or take a catamaran tour and snorkel just off shore. Cozumel even has its own pearl farm, where you can take a snorkel tour to the hatchery. To explore Cozumel's history, stop by the ruins at San Gervasio, a shrine to the goddess of fertility. Palancar Beach has good waves for windsurfing and if you need a break from the action, drop by Paradise Beach: a peaceful spot for relaxing.
The ferry to Cozumel runs from Playa del Carmen on Mexico's mainland. From Cancún International Airport, the bus or a taxi takes around 60 minutes to Playa del Carmen, and the ferry to the island about 45 minutes. Getting around Cozumel is easy on foot, by taxi or on the bus.