June 4, 2009
By Katie Gilliland
It's summer, you need a vacation, and funds are limited. Now what? Get your plane ticket to Cozumel, Mexico. With the following tips on what to know, what to bring, and what to do, you'll have an exceptional experience on a thrifty budget.
Before you leave on a jet plane, be sure to do your research. Cozumel has been hit hard due to the H1N1 virus scare that hit its peak during spring of 2009, which has resulted in many tourist attractions to be on shortened hours or even closed. Because the island economy is based on tourism, many Cozumelanains are stressed for money. Despite the hardships for locals, it is advantageous for tourists. First off, it is not crowded; you'll have space to walk and breathe while shopping and certain beaches feel like they're your own private resort. Secondly, there are major discounts on tours, food, and souvenirs. Many tours, including snorkeling, Mayan ruins, and scuba diving, are more than half off and large tourist businesses, like Margaritaville and Hard Rock Café, are offering two-for-one deals on drinks and discounts on merchandise.
Besides knowing Cozumel's current economical state, knowledge of their culture and language is essential. Mexico's culture is much more laid back than the rigid, 'I want it now' culture of the United States. With this difference you'll notice stores do not have set hours and will be closed due to a birthday in the family or during the afternoon for the traditional siesta. Also, personal space is a much smaller 'bubble' than what most Americans are accustomed to. A traditional Mexican greeting is a hug and a kiss on the cheek and people stand or sit much closer to one another. Furthermore, Cozumel has a machismo culture, meaning men are considered dominant over women and it is expected for men to prove their courage, virility, and strength. Realize that females will be whistled and hit on while walking or even during meals, and understand that it is considered a compliment in the machismo culture.
In addition, knowledge of the Spanish language is important. Although the tourist attractions will have bilingual employees, most places do not. In order to make your trip easier, and out of respect for the language of Cozumel, learn basic conversational phrases such as '¿Cuánto cuesta?', which means 'How much does is cost?', and '¿Donde está el baño?', which means 'Where is the bathroom?'. Also, knowing numbers from 1-100 will be very helpful, especially when discussing prices. Besides the convenience and respect for knowing the language, many times vendors will give you a lower price if you speak with them in Spanish.
After becoming familiar with Mexican culture and the language, it is time to pack. Research the time of year you'll be visiting because there is a rainy season and a hurricane season, which impacts the type of clothing to bring. For the most part, however, it will be humid and hot so pack lightweight, breathable clothing so the heat doesn't make the outside unbearable. Also, pack many swimsuits, for the ocean is always just a few minutes away. In addition to clothing, packing bug spray, waterproof sunscreen, a Spanish/English dictionary, a waterproof bag, and comfortable walking shoes are a must. During my two week study abroad in Cozumel, I needed the previous items countless times.
When you finally arrive in beautiful Cozumel, Mexico, and get settled into your hotel room, you may wonder what to do next. First, pick up a copy of the The Free Blue Guide, a map of Cozumel, and La Cartelera. These items are useful in finding your way around, interpreting local street signs, knowing movie times at the local cinema, and they even have coupons. Next, use the buddy system and walk into town and out of the tourist zone. There is where you'll find the authentic, delicious, and cheap meals. Plus, you'll be able to meet the local people. Meeting locals is advantageous because they can inform you on the best places to eat or visit and can also get you discounts. Besides that, Cozumelanians are traditionally very friendly and interesting people to talk with.
During your stay there will be many things to try so don't be afraid to immerse yourself in the culture. Try Coca-Cola, for it is a different recipe than the Coca-Cola found in America, take a siesta, learn to salsa, turn off your cell phone for a few hours, if not the entire time, and try tacos el pastor. These tacos are stuffed with pork that is marinated and cooked in a traditional Mexican way. Yet, still keep in mind your body is unfamiliar with Cozumel. To help prevent becoming sick, drink a great deal of purified water, only eat fruit that you can peel, like bananas or oranges, get a sufficient amount of sleep, and know your personal limit with the heat and the sun.
Even though Cozumel is a small island, there are many things to experience. I recommend everyone visiting the island at least once in their lifetime, for there are beautiful beaches, lush vegetation, delicious food, a vibrant culture, coral reefs, and ancient ruins. However, despite all of the wonderful things Cozumel has to offer, the best attraction is their community-based, friendly culture.