Discover the offbeat delights of the largest island in the Yucatan, free from the crowds that flock together across the water in Cancún – and book via Culture Trip
Covered in lush forest and fringed with reef, Cozumel, the largest island in the Yucatán, was Hernán Cortés’s gateway to Mexico. The conquistador met Malitzen (La Malinche) here, an enslaved woman of noble origins who became his interpreter and military advisor. Today, cruise ships dock where galleons once arrived. When they leave, it’s far quieter than across the water in Cancún – populated by locals and the few who choose to stay overnight in a scattering of chic boutique hotels. Many are scuba divers: Cozumel has some of the best diving in the Americas.
A block from the sea in Cozumel town, with dive shops, restaurants and bars outside the front door, El Encanto sits in tranquil gardens and offers a range of rooms at great-value prices. Best of all are the deluxe suites: a modest upgrade from the standard villas but with bedrooms opening onto secluded private plunge pools and lounge decks, and oodles of extra space, including a dining room and fully equipped kitchen.
Just across the road from the international airport, La Casita may be just walking distance from the plane that brought you here, yet with lush garden surrounds and colorful, cozy rooms (painted in warm ochres and sunny yellows and decorated with bright Mexican textiles) – it feels tranquil and secluded. The breakfasts (with generous portions of huevos rancheros) and dinners are authentically Mexican and excellent value. Meanwhile, the staff can organize island tours and excursions.
The rooms are modish, in off-white with scattered color from Mexican-textile cushions, and there are great views of the sea from the rooftop sundeck, but that’s not why guests come to the Flamingo. They come to dive – the hotel has attractively priced scuba-and-stay packages, and the on-site dive shop has one of the best reputations in Cozumel. The hotel sits in the town center, with the best restaurants and bars on the island within a few minutes’ walk.
Unlike Cancún or Playa del Carmen, there are sunset-over-the-sea views in Cozumel. At the Explorean, you can see them cocktail-in-hand from the bar-balcony, the extensive lounge areas or the big, jewel-like pool, before retreating to the intimate, minimalist rooms, whose all-white interiors are offset by the lush jungle framed in the wall-to-ceiling windows.
The rooms to book at the Unique are the Ocean Front Grands – a little costlier than the standards but with wonderful sea and sunset views from their private balconies and, indeed, from the foot of your bed. There’s no beach, but the hotel infinity pool merges with the open waters, and there’s kayaking and snorkeling right off the shore beyond the yoga deck; the hotel can also organize diving.
One of the oldest hotels in Cozumel, the Hacienda Boutique feels like a family home – painted in warm Mexican yellows, pinks and terracottas, with just a handful of rooms, and with public areas dotted with privately collected arts and crafts (hand-woven floral cushions, Taxco silver, kitschy masks from Oaxaca). Breakfasts of Mexican eggs, fruit and pastries are generous, plus there’s a pool, and the hotel is a five-minute cab ride from the airport and the ferry pier.
This luxurious hotel overlooks the white sands and warm Caribbean waters of Dzul-Ha Beach. It has 63 stylishly designed and decorated residences, each suite with a private balcony offering uninterrupted sea views. The restaurant will draw you with its extensive Mexican and international menu, yet the biggest draw is the proximity to the Dzul-Ha reef, close enough to reach from the shore without the need of a boat or tour. Teeming with exotic fish and plants, the reef is the ideal place for snorkeling or swimming.
With more than 260 luxurious suites, Secrets Aura is a vast complex. Yet you shouldn’t let that fool you into thinking this is a busy or noisy destination. Each suite is tucked away, so you will barely notice the other guests, and they all have a private terrace or balcony and a bathroom with a whirlpool. First-rate amenities include four gourmet restaurants, a buffet venue and a world-class spa.
Slotted between azure waters and tropical jungle, Grand Park Royal is a large resort complex offering all-inclusive packages. All 342 rooms have furnished balconies and 24-hour room service. And with a huge central swimming pool, two whirlpools and scenic gardens, you won’t be short of places to relax. Direct beach access is available through a private underpass from the main garden. The resort has an impressive buffet venue plus two excellent à la carte restaurants. You can also indulge at any of the five cocktail bars and lounges.
This swish beachside venue offers gorgeous views of the Caribbean, and a stylish interior design gives the place a bright, welcoming vibe. The all-inclusive resort has 251 spacious and comfortable guest rooms in two complexes. And it’s well-suited to families, with a children’s activities center, and a dive center for snorkeling excursions. There is also a variety of swimming pools, plus an air-conditioned fitness center.
A destination that makes great sense if you have kids, Sunscape Sabor offers all-inclusive packages with a family focus. The beachside hotel has spacious guest rooms with scenic views of tropical gardens, pools or the Caribbean Sea. It also offers a family-friendly program featuring a kids’ check-in experience with red-carpet stairs, welcome treats and children’s passports. Watersport activities include aqua aerobics, water volleyball, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. And with three à la carte restaurants, a buffet and a private wine cellar, you’ll also have plenty of options when it comes to imbibing and dining.