Cozumel Feature

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The Quieter Cozumel

Blazing-white cruise ships parade in and out of Cozumel like a regatta of floating apartment buildings. There's at least one on the horizon every day of the year; some days the island gets six. The day-trippers they carry pack the tourist-trap souvenir shops and bars on San Miguel's waterfront every afternoon, making the place feel more like a suburban shopping mall than a small Mexican town.

Luckily, there's plenty of Cozumel to go around. If you're fortunate enough to overnight on the island, try these tricks to avoid the crowds.

1. Keep a low profile. Stick close to the beach and pool when more than two ships are in port.

2. Time your excursions. Go into San Miguel for early breakfast and errands, then stay out of town for the rest of the day. Wander back after you hear the ships blast their departure warnings around 5 or 6 pm.

3. Dive in. Hide from the hordes by slipping underwater. But be sure to choose a small dive operation that travels to less-popular reefs.

4. Drive on the wild side. Rent a car and cruise the windward coast, still free of rampant construction. You can picnic and sunbathe on private beaches hidden by limestone outcroppings, and watch the waves roll in. Use caution when swimming, though, since the surf can be rough.

5. Frequent the "other" downtown. Most of Cozumel's residents live and shop far from San Miguel's waterfront. Avenidas 15, 20, and 25 are packed with taco stands, papelerías (stationery stores), and neighborhood markets. While driving here can be messy, park on a quieter side street and explore the shops and neighborhoods to see a whole different side of Cozumel.

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