Cozumel has emerged in recent decades as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the western Caribbean. Visitors to the island quickly understand why.
Although the island is only about 30 miles long from north to south and 10 miles wide, visitors can still lose themselves in lush patches of jungle and long stretches of secluded shoreline.
Most of Cozumel's development has taken place on the western side of the island. There you'll find most of the resort hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions. The western coast is also the location of San Miguel de Cozumel, the island's largest settlement. Despite a population of about 80,000 and a vibrant nightlife, San Miguel still feels like a friendly small town with a distinctly Mayan flavor. The streets are safe and the locals are happy to share their traditional Yucatecan culture. San Miguel is also home to Cozumel's sizable expatriate community.
Tourism has come to completely dominate Cozumel's economy, and much of the tourism industry owes its existence to Cozumel's coastal waters. Cozumel's coral reefs are among the most spectacular in the world. However, the island did not establish its reputation as an international tourist destination until oceanographer Jacques Cousteau captured the marvels of the undersea ecosystem in a 1961 documentary. Scuba divers led the wave, quickly transforming the island from a sleepy fishing community to a renown diving center. They were soon followed by travelers of all stripes in search of a tropical paradise.
The introduction of high-speed ferry service to the island gave tourism another boost. With ferries shuttling passengers back and forth to the mainland almost as regularly as buses, vacationers could choose to make Cozumel their home base while setting out on day trips to visit the famous Mayan ruins of the Yucatan.
The hurricane season of 2005 struck Cozumel with unprecedented fury. The island suffered direct hits from two huge storms -- Wilma and Emily. Wilma was especially devastating, damaging even the massive concrete underpinnings of the cruise ship piers. For nearly two days, the island endured hurricane-force winds.
With typical resilience, however, the people of Cozumel began cleaning up and rebuilding as soon as the winds passed. After Wilma, shops were open and basic services restored to much of the island within a week. As the Cozumelenos proved, they're not about to give up their little corner of paradise. Who can blame them?
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