The island of Cozumel, just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, is home to the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest of its kind in the Americas—an underwater world of hundreds of fish, sea turtles and other creatures that put on a show for the many divers that come from around the world to explore its tunnels and caves. Much of the clear waters around the island also allow for excellent snorkeling, with some beaches more swimmable than others and quite a few with their own beach clubs and restaurants. Most hotels on the island, including the new Secrets Aura Cozumel, can easily arrange a scuba, snorkel or glass-bottomed boat excursion for guests. Families have added options at Stingray Beach for close encounters with friendly rays and at Chankanaab National Park, a conservation area with nature trails, the only inland coral reef formation in the world and a Dolphin Discovery where they can swim with dolphins or sea lions.
Cozumel is also an important Mayan sanctuary that houses several notable archaeological sites. Among these is El Caracol, once used to determine the coming of hurricanes; the Royal Castle; and San Gervasio, where the love goddess Ix Chel would be worshipped. A must-see each spring: the Mayan Sacred Journey, a cultural project co-sponsored by eco-park Xcaret in which hundreds of oarsmen depart the mainland and reach Cozumel on wooden canoes, recreating the annual pilgrimage of the Maya to pay tribute to Ix Chel.
Visitors can explore the island by car, bike or moped, or else explore jungle areas on all-terrain trails. Downtown, they can catch up on shopping for local souvenirs. On the mainland, Playa del Carmen is just a fast 30-minute ferry ride away.