Most people contemplating a trip to Cozumel have concerns about the quality of the drinking water and its use in food preparation, as well as the need to speak Spanish and personal safety. For many years Cozumel has had a reputation of safety with tourists. The people of Cozumel have made a great  effort to learn english, and in general you will have very little trouble getting help or directions, or service in a store or restaurant.

Local giving directions 

The island has its own water purification plant but the water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is used for food preparation, drinking, and the making of ice for use in drinks.  Almost all locals drink bottled water which is delivered to their homes by one of several companies. The people of Cozumel are famous for the kind and friendly way they treat tourists. It seems that they welcome all to their island and enjoy sharing it and their culture with travelers, who are always welcome to mingle at the main square on Sunday evening, the main social gathering place in most Mexican communities.

As for the island it is not very large, and you can get from just about anywhere, all the way around and back to the starting point in about 2 hours or less via car. The island is fairly flat, and mostly covered in jungle. The highest elevation is 44 feet above sea level and that is in the area of the El Cid La Ceiba hotel. The east side of the island faces the open sea, and is drastically different than the west side, which is the built up side. The east side has many beaches, with powerful waves pounding them, making them a bit dangerous. The west side has a very long beach which is shared by several of the resorts in the southern section. The coastline areas each side of the town of San Miguel are made up of very weathered limestone, which is rough and sharp. To enter the water in such areas requires foot protection. The water along the west coast is generally very calm, making for great snorkeling in the many areas that have coral formations in the shallow shoreline areas. Although you can snorkel anywhere along the west side, the sandy bottom areas produce far less spectaclar results than the coral areas.

The best way to get to know the island and realize the size in 1 day is to go on a 360-view adventure of the island. There are many tours offered on the island, but if you want to drive your own dune buggy with built-in coolers for your beverages then a dune buggy tour is the way to go. Great for couples, families or lone travelers.  But if you don't want to be led around the island in a group, its very enjoyable to enjoy going around the island at your own pace in a rental car. Much more freedom and almost impossible to get lost.

The town of San Miguel is more modern than many expect and is constantly growing.  The main tourist shopping area is along the water front, and only stretches a few blocks. Further back gets you into the real flavour of Cozumel, not fancy, but generally safe and friendly (except for the sidewalk condition). The town is easily walked if you want, you can always find your way back to the waterfront. If walking, you will constantly be greeted by either a friendly smile and an "hola" (hello) or the common "come into my shop, everything almost free" which although a bit annoying is just the way of life there. Please note that San Miguel has hospitals and many drug stores, and even a hyperbaric chamber.

Currency

The official currency is the Mexican peso, but almost just as official is the American dollar. Many prices will be shown in pesos, but in tourist restaurants both are normally shown. If you need to get funds you can use ATM’s in several locations, but the money will be pesos. There are also several locations where you can exchange many world currencies. While most do not charge a fee, the exchange rate will not be as good as banks or ATMs. The most important thing to know about money is that most tourist merchants in Cozumel accept both pesos and dollars, but will give change in pesos. Also be warned they don’t keep much cash, so can not make change for large bills. It is generally considered a good idea to bring a good variety of small bills for tips or small item purchases, some people suggest up to $100 in ones, which may be a good idea for a 2 week stay.  Also be advised that they sometimes make conversion "errors" in their favour, so it is a good idea to do the math and check your change. Be careful of the condition of the bills you receive in change since most merchants will not accept a bill with a slight tear or mark. If you're arriving with a currency other than U.S. dollars it is a good idea to get some pesos and U.S. dollars rather than just U.S. dollars which you intend to convert there. Every time you convert there is a cost, which on average is 2% or more. Debit cards are not widely used, and if using a credit card be absolutely certain to verify the amount charged to it. 1000 pesos is NOT 1000 dollars, so be certain the currency is specified. That credit card issue can become very important in bars, which are dimly lit, and the customer may not be on the ball.

Electricity

Cozumel, and all of Mexico uses the same 110 volt, 60 cycles per second electricity supply that Canada and the United States does, HOWEVER, that does not mean it uses the exact same wall outlet. It is a good idea to bring a surge protector if using a laptop or other expensive equipment since the system has many power surges.Newer construction or recently renovated buildings in general do have the now common 3 hole wall receptacle which is both grounded and polarized. Some older electrical outlets were what Canada & the United States used 40 or so years ago, 2 slots, both 1/4 inch tall, and no ground pin (D shaped). If you want to be certain that all the things you want to take with you will plug into the wall outlet, old or new, then you should buy a very inexpensive adaptor which will have 2 parallel male pins both being 1/4 inch tall. The female side will have 2 slots plus a D shaped hole, which should accept any of your household appliance cords. Some people have suggested taking a power bar as well because there may not be many wall outlets in your room. Ideally you can buy the power bar and plug it into the adaptor plug and leave it in your luggage for future trips.

adaptor 

The cube tap shows what could be used as the possably needed adaptor. The 2 male pins are both 1/4" wide, so if the D shaped ground pin on the bottom was cut off it will fit the old style wall outlets. The polarized plug shown has one pin which is 5/16" wide and one that is 1/4" wide, and  the cube tap has slots made to accomodate them. The 5/16" pin will not fit the older style wall outlets. It is possible to find adaptors without the ground pin, but the cube tap is more easily found in stores.

Island transportation

The good, the bad, and the dangerous:  Although you can easily get around the main town core on foot, seeing more of the island will require a vehicle. The island has an airport shuttle which has the exclusive rights to transport incoming passengers from the airport grounds (private pick up allowed). If you have bought a vacation package this shuttle service is normally a part of the package. The remainder of the island has a very good taxi service, (which can bring you back to the airport) and also some island tours which are based at the cruise ship piers. If you arrive by ferry or cruise ship, taxis will be right there at the roadway waiting for you. Taxis are just about everywhere, so getting one is not difficult. Fares are pre set but it is always a good idea to confirm the fare to your destination, as some cab drivers will charge more if given the opportunity. Their is a local bus system but it serves areas where the locals live and is of little use to the visitor.  There has been some progress in the establishing of a bus system, but  is not currently anything to rely on. Other options are to rent a car or a scooter, moped or motorcycle.

Renting a two wheeled vehicled is STRONGLY discouraged, even if you ride one at home. Due to traffic patterns, the quantity of traffic, the usual distractions from being a tourist, plus the fact many rental units are not well maintained it is simply too dangerous to be considered as a safe form of transportation. More than once, the results of a car and moped meeting up is that the car is the clear winner. No reason to end your vacation by being an accident casuality.

Renting a scooter on the island may seem like a brilliant idea at first, but too many tourist ruin their vacation or lose their lives because of a silly accident that could've been avoided. The traffic laws are different - and they are very bent by the locals. If you do decide to rent a scooter do it with a company that took the time to explain to you how to drive and the traffic guidelines, otherwise they may just be renting to you, hoping that you'll have an accident - apparently, accidents are where the money is for some companies. 

Car rental

The best and safest way to get around is by car, and there are many rental agents, some with newer cars, some with well worn older vehicles. If you are flying directly to the island, make reservations well in advance to pick one up at the airport or at your hotel and be sure to have a copy of your confirmation agreement with you when you claim your car.  If you don't have it, you will probably be told there are no cars if they are running short.  Some of the most popular companies are Hertz, Avis, Isis and Executive. Some , such as Isis, include insurance in their price.  The price for renting a fifteen year old car can easily be fifty dollars if you do not book ahead.

The single most important thing to know here is that Mexico DOES NOT recognize out of country insurance policies. You MUST buy insurance from a Mexican company AND you had better buy total & full coverage with no loopholes. If you are in an accident you can be jailed until all damages are settled and paid.

The other thing worth noting is that when you rent a vehicle be certain to fully inspect it for damage, and have any noted, or better yet photograph it with the agent in the photo. If not you may be held responsible for the cost of having it repaired. It is very hard to prove it was there after you drive away. As part of the rental you will possably need to buy gas, be sure the pump attendant ZEROS the pump before he starts pumping the gas.

Time Shares

Something to know before arriving in Cozumel is that selling time shares is a very big business there. You may be ambushed in the airport terminal, your hotel or resort lobby, or just about anywhere on the streets. You will be given offers of budget car rentals, free car rentals, etc. to lure you to a presentation, and once you are there may have all the offers revoked if you don't buy. It is very important to realize that you are in Mexico, and any consumer protection laws you have back home do not apply. Even if you were thinking of buying a time share somewhere, do not do it without having the contract checked by your attorney. If they were such a good deal it wouldn't take high pressure, no holds barred sales people to sell them. Years ago the Mexican government had even had enough bad press due to the severe overselling of one such property in Cozumel that they took legal action.

Some of the information for this article has been gathered from submissions to questions on the Trip Advisor Cozumel forum.