Cozumel’s Unspoiled Beaches
by Michael Lewis
Among Cozumel’s special treasures are the beaches on the east side of the island. Of course, the reefs on the west side are world class, but so are the eastern beaches. The Riviera Maya is known for its beaches, and they are nice, but they are loaded with big resorts, something you won’t find on the east side of Cozumel.
Often referred to as “the other side” or the “wild side”, Cozumel’s eastern beaches have soft sand, rocky arches and blow holes, small lagoons that are safe for kids, a couple of beach bars, a ranch with horseback riding and one hotel, Ventanas al Mar. The only electricity comes from generators or solar and wind power.
After seeing the development along the beaches on the Riviera Maya, the natural, undeveloped nature of Cozumel’s east side is remarkable. I wonder if even half of the visitors to Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos realize what we have here on the island?
We like going to a couple of different spots along the east side, depending on our mood. But, our preparations are almost always the same. We stop at a small, family-owned take-out place for seafood. I’m afraid I can’t divulge the location, but lots of mom & pop places specialize in seafood or cochinita. Try Conchita del Caribe on 30th, if you don’t have a favorite neighborhood joint. We choose mero or boquinete from a cooler, pay for it according to weight and they expertly fry it. It is usually pretty fresh, and the oil is so hot, that it never comes out greasy. Our spot also has a terrific ceviche mixto on Sundays only.
We don’t visit the beach restaurants (although the Rasta Bar is great for sunsets and margaritas), since we prefer to be away from the crowds (which is not always possible) and we like bringing our own food and cooler with adult beverages. In most spots, if you arrive before 11:00 am, there will be unclaimed posts or bamboo poles stuck in the sand for shelters. We’ve tried plastic coverings, but they blow too much and a tarp is too heavy. We’ve found that an old sheet works really well. Bring some twine and a knife and you can secure the sheet for a nice shelter that keeps you cool in the heat of the day. If you don’t have an old sheet, or if you arrive too late and all of the poles are taken, plan ahead and pick up a couple of the simple beach umbrellas from Chedraui or Mega for adequate shade.
Put down a couple of cheap blankets or rugs purchased for less than $5 at the local souvenir shops to keep the sand off of the dining area. Add a couple of chairs and you’re set for the day.
One of our favorite spots is Chen Rio. It’s great for soaking in the tidal pools, but it is very popular, especially in summer. Be prepared to share the beach. On the plus side, the people watching is great: little kids learning to swim, people setting up dining areas under their shelters, and vendors walking by selling kibbehs and cut fruit.
Playa San Martin, a little further south, is another favorite spot. It is a wider stretch of beach, people can spread out a little more and there are usually good waves for body or boogie board surfing. There is a sandy water entry that is easy on your bare feet.
BEWARE ! ! !
There is usually a strong rip or undertow at this beach. Do not go out deeper than your waist unless you are an exceptionally strong, fit swimmer. It’s pretty easy to get tired fighting the crashing waves. Believe me, I’ve done this and you won’t forget the bad feeling if you live to remember it. IF, you don’t follow my advice and get caught in a rip current (which will pull you out to sea away from the beach), don’t panic! Float with it and it will eventually lose its strength and you’ll find a spot where it is easier to swim to shore. DO NOT try to fight a rip current.
Lifeguards patrol this long stretch of beach on foot, but don’t count on them being there when you might need them. A short, styrofoam board adds a margin of safety and will allow you to have longer rides in the waves. I highly recommend a board, since the waves break quickly and turn foamy. Body surfing can beat you like a drum on this beach.
As most of you know, Sunday is family-at-the-beach day on the island. The east side will be more crowded, but never New York crowded. Regardless of the crowds, sit back, open a book, open a cold one, and enjoy one of the few unspoiled beaches on the Riviera Maya of Mexico. It would be a terrible place for a wind farm.
Do you have another favorite spot or beach tricks? Please comment here.