Here is a report on Cozumel I wrote for one of the travel industry trades. I hope you find it interesting.
Cozumel, Open for Business
I was escorting a NACTA Western Caribbean/Panama Canal cruise seminar on Celebrity’s Galaxy and was fortunate enough to be on the first ship to call on Cozumel since hurricane Wilma. I had heard of the vast destruction in Cozumel and was anxious to see first hand the status of Cozumel’s infrastructure. Celebrity had cancelled the port call, but then decided to include it in the itinerary at the last minute. After a day at sea, the Galaxy eased into her anchorage and set anchor off of downtown Cozumel. As an Elite member of Celebrity Cruise lines, I was invited to be on the first tender into the port. One of the agents and I took advantage of the offer and were visitors number 5 and 6 to set foot on the ferry pier directly in front of main square in downtown San Miguel, Cozumel’s main city.
There was a Mexican band playing and hundreds of people were on the pier. The Mexican media met our tender and the first lady down the gangway was greeted with a huge bouquet of flowers and subsequently interviewed by several reporters. All in all, it was a wonderful greeting and displayed the gratitude the people of Cozumel was showing Celebrity Cruise Lines for calling on Cozumel.
The damage that hurricane Wilma inflicted upon Cozumel was quite evident, what was surprising was that the streetscape, storefronts and general condition of the downtown area was better than the last time that I had visited the island. The oceanfront seawall had just been painted, the sidewalks were perfectly clean, the streets looked brand new and about 70% of the stores were open for business and looked like nothing had happened at all. Palm trees had been planted the entire length of the city’s ocean front street. All in all, Cozumel was open for business as usual. Merchants were renting cars and scooters, selling snorkeling, diving, fishing, and other excursions. Taxis were queued up waiting for passengers to be taken anywhere they wanted to go. It looked to me like the old Cozumel I have come to love and enjoy. It was quite obvious that the Mexican government had put the redevelopment of Cozumel’s tourist infrastructure on a very high priority.
I decided to explore the downtown area and was delighted to find that the vast majority of the stores and markets were open for business. I was greeted with smiling faces and a warm welcome and many of the shopkeepers thanked us for coming. While one doesn’t have to search very far to find the devastation Cozumel suffered, it is just as easy to see the resilient nature of the people and almost unbelievable progress they have made in rebuilding. No one should hesitate to visit downtown San Miguel for its shopping, sights, restaurants and bars. Cozumel is back and will only improve as construction continues. While the main downtown pier and adjacent shopping center were hit hard, only the ocean front exposed businesses were destroyed and even then the buildings still stood and were in the progress of being rebuilt. All of the interior stores in the mall are open and waiting for everyone to show up. Carlos and Charlie’s’ are still closed, but the Shrimp Bucket is open.
I also wanted to know what the situation was at the beach clubs and hired a taxi for a close look at each one of them. Here is the situation. All of the east coast beach clubs are closed with the exception of Chen Rio. On the west coast we visited Playa Palancar, which was open for business with all their facilities open including their dive and snorkel boat. The beach is in great shape with tons of sand. Don’t hesitate to spend the day at Playa Palancar. Nachi Cocum is closed, but under construction. Mr. Sanchos is open, but the restaurant and bar are under construction and the beach is all but missing; however the shops are all open. Playa Mia is open for business and is the ship’s beach break destination. We stopped for a break at Paradise Beach, which is operating at 100% with all the water toys intact, kayaks, lounge chairs and tons of sand. The water is crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling and/or diving at all the beaches mentioned above. The restaurant and bar at Paradise beach is open and in full swing. Don’t hesitate to visit Paradise Beach for a second. Note that the two-story building and restaurant is completely gone and the former bar now houses a restaurant. Playa San Francisco is open for business, but there is a considerable amount of damage still evident. They have set up a temporary bar and are playing music for their visitor’s enjoyment, however the beach bar, restaurant and shops are still in ruins.
The areas surrounding the beach clubs and outside of San Miguel are still in shambles, but electricity, water and all of the roads are now back up to their pre-hurricane standards (actually, better in some cases). Construction workers were everywhere and construction continues at a breakneck pace. The agent with me said, “Give these guys another 30 days and Cozumel will be like brand new.”
Additional Comments From the Agents
“They are ready for business. 80% of the shops were open and offering great specials. The shop owners and population are friendly and are eager to get back to work. It is amazing what has been accomplished in just a short three weeks.”
Les Schuller, Owner, Highpoint Travel and Cruises, LLC. Sherwood, Oregon
“It was amazing that most of the glass has been cleaned up and replaced and how clean the streets and downtown area was. It was great to that Poncho’s Backyard was open for business. I wouldn’t hesitate to send my clients to Cozumel”
Bruce Peterson, Brulee Travel, Georgetown, Texas
It was amazing that the cathedral lost only pane of stained glass. We did the SNUBA trip and found that the coral had been damaged, but we saw a lot of fish and sea life. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend clients return to Cozumel.”
Joe & Gladys Koontz, Donation Travel, League City. Texas
Wow, thanks Tom. This makes me even more excited to be in Cozumel. And it will be in 30 days so things will be even better! It just goes to show what can happen when a community of people come together for a common cause.
Great report Tom - sorry I didn't get to meet you when you were here.
Would you mind if I publish your report on my website too?
I've just added some information about how people can still help in Cozumel and also new photos and a much-requested report about the reef. See http://www.wilmacozumel.com, feel free to register for updates too.
Thanks for continuing to update us. As closely as you have been tracking and reporting on the day to day progress of the recovery effort, maybe you should consider publishing it as a book when all is said and done (vbg).
BTW - Internet access on the Galaxy has been very sporadic and totally unreliable, so you may not get a response from Tom right away.