going local in cozumel
chances are most of you have heard of cozumel. in fact, i bet many of you have made some terrible life decisions in cozumel due to a heady combination of spring break, a cruise, tequila, and señor frogs. but if this is the only side of cozumel you know, then i’m afraid you need to uncheck it from your travel list, because you have completely missed the point.
yes, cozumel is a party island. how could it not be? it’s off the coast of playa del carmen, the mexican peso is pathetic against the dollar right now, and beer and liquor flow faster than water. it’s a major cruise destination and where there are cruise passengers, there is a party. however!!!...you’ve only scratched the surface. the island is home to 100,000 residents who have real jobs and social lives JUST LIKE YOU. beyond that, the island is epically stunning, and amazingly rugged. if you’re ready to put down your beer bong, open your eyes, and see this island for more than a body shot buffet, read on.
where to eat
downtown cozumel is a shared space between tourists and locals, but there are neighborhood hangouts tucked between the dive shops and domino’s. start your day off at el coffee cozumel, a coffee shop known to locals as the “coffee bean.”
le chef is a small restaurant that doles out lobster and sandwiches. tasty tip: try the lobster burger.
for a local lunch, consider la choza. here they offer a local menu, where 75 pesos (about $4) gets you water, soup and a main course, of which there are five to seven options. you will have to ask for the local menu. also in downtown is la cozumelena, a small cafeteria that has been in business since 1962.
one of the most beautiful restaurants is casa mission, which was built on the wraparound porch of a gorgeous, historical hacienda. though popular with visitors now because of its excellent traditional mexican food, casa mission has been a local favorite for many years.
for cheap eats, locals like to visit small bars known as botaneros, which are essentially cantinas that give out free snacks with your beverages. like tapas culture in spain, as long as you keep drinking the snacks will keep flowing. consider la yucatequita or amigos.
and if it’s tacos you seek, el foco and mister taco serve delicious ones. for cochinita tacos or tortas, a yucatan specialty, visit el amigo mario. this hole-in-the-wall taqueria serves only three things: cochinita tacos, cochinita tortas, and beverages. service is fast and friendly, and the food is cheap and delicious.
where to get a drink
it’s not difficult to find a drink in cozumel, but if you want to go where the local are going you’ll want to head to the beach. beach bars and cantinas line the entire coastline, and the farther away from the downtown you go, the more local they become. on the east side of the island is local beach bar-meets-fish-shack, the liquor box. cheap mojitos and mango daiquiris pair nicely with fish empanadas, all which can be enjoyed in a lazily swinging hammock that overlooks the turquoise sea.
but if you’re sticking to the downtown area, viva mexico is a nightclub and bar right on the avenida melgar. money bar, near the fiestamericana, is one of the local hot spots, with live music every night and a blend of locals and expats. if they don’t already know your name here, they will by the end of the night, and if you’re not dancing by closing then you’re doing something wrong. the fun here is heavily fueled by cheap drinks and beautiful ocean views.
tiki tok restaurant bar is also on touristy avenida melgar, but is a popular place with cozumelenos, as well, especially if you’re interested in dancing salsa.
lastly, believe it or not, is señor frogs. and while you might gasp in horror, the truth is this is one of the only nightclubs on the island, so the locals don’t have a ton of options. you’l find young cozumelenos tearing i tup with cruise ship passengers every night of the week.
gorgeous beaches with crystal water and dreamy white sand line the east coast of cozumel, but the one that the locals prefer is playa de san martin. this beach boasts excellent waves and so is popular with young people who love to surf. locals also like to frequent chen rio, a more family-oriented beach that has smaller tide pools perfect for kids to wade in.