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Jaques Cousteau's Playground

© By Adam Southwood






























  Each March Break, a friend who is a teacher, takes his family to Cozumel. He claims that it's a win-win scenario. He and his eldest son dive while his wife and their younger son drink Piña Coladas on the beach. I trust he is joking about the younger son; however, what's not to like about an average daily temperature of 80 F/27C and water temperatures that range from 77-82F/ 25-28C throughout the year?
     Accustomed to freshwater diving with chronic poor visibility in Georgian Bay, Cozumel's crystal-clear water, marine life and extensive reefs offer them an unparalleled underwater experience. The waters are so clear that visibility extends to 250 feet with many species of fish easily observed in their flashy, neon-like colours, particularly the Queen Angelfish, arrayed in bright blue and yellow with its unique blue crown. Aside from coral that offers protection to the smaller fish yet attracts larger predators, there are also stunning sponge formations to explore, Elephant Ear growing to 12 feet in width. Iguana and crocodile are the largest lizards with a myriad of amphibians such as tree frogs that exhibit bright hues to warn away predators. Turtles are afforded protected nesting areas on the sand.
     With beautiful beaches, Cozumel is a romantic destination offering spectacular sunsets, moonlit walks and candlelit dinners. If you tire of water, the Cozumel Country Club's 18-hole, 6734-yard, par 72 golf course offers up a challenge amidst surrounding mangrove marshlands and tropical rainforest.
     Hernán Cortés and his army arrived here in 1519 and Cozumel was the start for the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Pirates such as Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte used Cozumel as a base in the 17th century. During WWII, the U.S. built an air base here to help hunt Nazi U-boats in the mid-Atlantic. However, the turning point for tourism were the crystal-clear waters which enticed "frogmen" to train here and soon inspired a young Jacques Cousteau in 1960 to make his first documentary and rave about the richness of the coral reef, making it a prime draw for divers. In 1970, Cozumel's population quickly grew to 10,000, and today boasts more than 75,000.
     SAM or Sistema Arrecifal Mesoamericano is the largest reef system of the Americas, extending 1,000 kilometers, and Cozumel is the largest inhabited island in Mexico, measuring 48 km (30 miles) north to south and 16 km (10 miles) east to west, beaches forming a long, white sandy coast. With more than 2 million visitors per year, Cozumel is one of Mexico's most important tourist destinations.
     The atmosphere is relaxed, clothing quite casual, so bring only a light sweater but comfortable walking shoes such as sneakers to help explore and discover the Mayan heritage and traditions. Mayans believed the island was a sacred shrine. The largest archaeological site, San Gervasio, acted as a sanctuary to Goddess Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. It was also a political and commercial hub.
     There is plenty to keep one active in Cousteau's playground. Here is a quick list of some notable attractions:
  • Discover Mexico: http://www.discovermexico.org a cultural theme park. Enjoy Mexico's most important archeological sites, colonial buildings and a museum.
  • Chankanaab Park: http://cozumelview.com/chankan.html south of San Miguel within Isla Cozumel's Reefs National Marine Park, it features the only inland coral reef formation in the world. Home to the renowned eco-system and natural aquarium, Chankanaab Lagoon, features 60 species of tropical fish, crustaceans and corals and the most diverse species of tropical plants.
  • The Museum of the Island of Cozumel: http://www.cozumelparks.com/eng/parks-museum.asp in San Miguel, showcases the island's history and natural environment; its origins, wildlife migration patterns, reefs, archeology, galleons and pirates.
  • Punta Sur Light House: http://www.cozumelparks.com/eng/parks-puntasur.asp a park and nature reserve, a wondrous environment of mangrove jungles, white sand beaches and reef formations at the south end of the island. Giant turtles come to shore between June and August to lay their eggs.
  • Playa Mia Grand Beach Park: http://www.playamia.com - water activities, snorkel tours, diving, parasailing, banana rides, wave runners, sunfish sailboats, pedal boats, etc.
  • Atlantis Submarine: http://www.atlantisadventures.com a 48 passenger submarine takes you 100 ft. below the surface

     A glass-bottom boat's three-hour tour provides an opportunity to snorkel two beautiful shallow reefs, Palancar and Colombia. Also, there are myriad fishing opportunities. Bone fishing takes place in the flats around Cozumel, red snapper and grouper, the principal game while deep-sea fishing involves blue and white marlin, sailfish, dorado and tuna as well as Wahoo, mackerel, barracuda, amberjack, bonito and snapper. And as my teacher friend suggests, don't forget the Piña Coladas on the beach.

Adam Southwood writes for Canadian, U.S. and European magazines and newspapers. He is a graduate of both McMaster University in Hamilton and UWO in London with an interest in culture and history. He has produced several educational programs for TV..

Photo Credits
Mexico Tourism Board

If you go
This Destination
as seen on
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Tourism Cozumel: http://www.islacozumel.com.mx/
Visit Mexico: http://www.visitmexico.com/wb2/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cozumel
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Cozumel

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
 


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