Sunrise over Cozumel
As we approached Cozumel, I realized that this would be our third visit to the island. In planning the day, the decision was made to hire a taxi and have the driver show us sites beyond the downtown area. Our last visit came in 2007 while the people of Cozumel were recovering and rebuilding after the wrath of Hurricane Wilma. I noticed recovery right away. One building that was nothing but a shell has been transformed into a beautiful hotel. Other new construction was evident all along the coastline with new restaurants, hotels, and shops. The International Pier is all brand new along with the welcoming shops as you step on to the mainland.
A Big Change Since 2007
What a huge difference!!!!!
How easy was it to get a taxi? Pretty easy! We approached a gentleman who seemed to be coordinating taxis, tours, and groups. He asked our wishes (Tequilla Factory and Mayan Ruins) and determined we needed an English speaking driver and a small car. I can't remember his name, but his taxi number was 247. The driver spoke excellent English which is good because my Spanish is very, very limited!
First, he showed us where the upcoming Carnival celebration would be held on the weekend. He said that we would see decorations all over the downtown commemorating the event. It is one of the big local celebrations of the year.
We just happened to pass the fire station.
Cozumel Fire Department
My husband is the fire chief in our town, so he was immediately curious. The driver pulled over for a couple pictures, but when he found out that was Bill's occupation, he opened the doors, greeted the men at the station, and allowed us time for a tour! This proved to be a highlight stop for Bill! He met the sergeant on duty and a couple other firemen, toured the station, learned a little about their runs, and sat in one of their trucks. We learned that this was the only station for the whole island of Cozumel, and they do not have many fires in buildings. Most fire runs are for rescue and brush fires. Their trucks come from mostly the U.S. and are ones purchased cheaply mainly for the U.S. departments to get rid of them.
Telling the story of tequilla
The equipment is old, but well maintained. He learned of their work schedules which aren't all that different from Bill's full time firemen. The group was a very friendly bunch, and were very proud to show off their station and equipment.
Our next stop was the Tequilla Factory. Admission was $10 per person and included a margarita! We learned that the drink isn't really made on Cozumel, only in a few areas on mainland Mexico where the weather and ingredients are prime. This place was actually an agave cactus nursery. Here the plants were allowed to grow to the age of 3 or 4 years, then transplanted and transported to the mainland. The cactus will be harvested around 8 years old. The plant sends new roots out and regenerates from the new growth.
Our guide then showed us into a building where the process of making tequilla was told with pictures and displays. The art of making tequilla has mainly remained the same over the years. Several different cultures have brought new ideas, but for the most part, the process has continued on in the ways of old. A store completed the tour where we were allowed to "taste" the different varieties produced by this company. I had no idea of all the flavors and kinds of tequilla! This was a very interesting tour and one I would highly recommend! One tip - the ship's Tequilla tasting tour was much more expensive. I don't know if it was to the same place, but definitely much cheaper to do on your own.
The driver took us to the east side of the island.
There wasn't electricity, only solar energy powering the shops and restaurant where we stopped. A very large statue of a pirate stood in the center of the area as a tribute to the pirate heritage. There were a couple places to eat, and many local shops with natives selling their wares. They were willing to dicker on the prices, and I was able to come away with a couple Mexican blankets for a reasonable price. The hurricane really hit this area hard, and the beach area was still very rugged. They say that in a few years the beautiful white sand will be back due to the tides.
On down the road (which in places was all new construction), the driver pointed out the beaches, vegetation or lack of, and showed us some limited resort hotels on the coast.
We got out at one beach and allowed to explore the exposed lava rocks and dip our feet into the warm water. The coast definitely took a hit from the wind and rain of Hurricane Wilma. The vegetation is about 6-7 foot high with no large palm trees. Our driver told us that this area was completely flattened and the growth has been slowly coming back. One resort hotel has 10 rooms and are lighted with solar energy. There were a few restaurants and shops, but for the most part just rock, sand, and the sound of waves crashing into the shore.
The driver wanted to show us Mayan ruins. Nursing a knee problem, my walking was limited, so he took us to an area where the Mayan people still live and work. We were shown a statue of a Mayan man and woman in traditional dress.
No Services Today
A large thatched roof pavilion is center of activities which host several traditional celebrations throughout the year. We were shown an ancient Mayan house in pretty good shape. He told us a story of the person living there and how he would use the features to his advantage. Beside the house was a Catholic church. The beautifully decorated building holds regular services each week. The three crosses on the altar were once the only remaining pieces saved from a church fire. Standing there looking in through the open doorway, I could imagine the church full of worshipers in brightly colored dress sharing in the good word of God. What a wonderful experience!
Our next stop was to visit a beach club, Paradise Island - popular with tourists.
Paradise Island Beach Resort
These clubs offer all the amendities one could want while playing and relaxing on the beach. Parasailing, water activities, jet skiing, snorkeling, and just a comfortable beach chair were popular activities. There was a restaurant and bar for anything you needed during your stay. Clean showers and restrooms were also available. Many cruise ship tours to a beach head here.
By this time, our tour ended in the Forum shops area of downtown Cozumel. Total time of the tour lasted about four hours which was perfect allowing us plenty of time in the downtown area to shop and grab some food. Armed with the ship's recommended shops map and coupons for free items, we set off hunting bargains! The area was decorated with fun, brightly colored statues for Carnival, and all the shops were advertising specials for Carnival.
Decorations for Carnival
The area was extremely busy today with 6 cruise ships in port, but the area could handle that many people without a lot of crowds. Carlos and Charles and Senor Frogs were very busy, and we ended up not getting anything to eat before we ran out of time to get back to the ship. A 10-15 minutes taxi ride back to the pier and some last minute shopping got us back just in time to set sail.
What a difference a couple years makes! The area is rebuilding and rebounding fine. The tourist trade seems to be booming which is what is needed as that is the number one business on the island. Hurricane Wilma lasted for 63 hours, but has left many months and years of recovery behind. Things to not miss on a stop in Cozumel - Mayan ruins, a trip around the island, and if you are in the party mood - the downtown establishments!