Cruising – Hiring a Car in Cozumel - Orlando / Florida Guide
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One of the most interesting parts of a cruise is deciding what you want to see when your ship arrives in port. You can, of course, play safe and go with a tour organized by your cruise company, but Cozumel is one port where you can easily hire a car and see more of the island and its culture. If it is your first visit to this interesting island you may well decide to go and visit some of the fascinating Mayan ruins, or go snorkeling, so an organized tour may suit you. But if you have visited before, or are feeling adventurous, then consider hiring your own car.
We have hired a car in Cozumel and it is well worth while as the island is relatively small - there is only one road which goes round the island and across the middle. Going it alone will give you an amazing insight into this island, which is full of contrasts. There is the Caribbean coast where most of the hotels are located, and this is a rapidly developing area. In contrast the almost uninhabited Atlantic coast is wild and rugged and the sea is much rougher. It is quite barren, too, with large stretches of rocks along the beaches. If you drive around this island you will see extreme poverty contrasting with spectacular first class hotels.
When you arrive in Cozumel you will be in one of two terminals, either right in the centre of town, or a little to the east. Either way, you can still hire a car, as agents will be waiting for you to get off the ship, and they will be keen to get your business. This is ONE place where you can haggle over the price of the car, as they are very keen to clinch a deal and will offer you a discount. Don’t expect a pristine, just out of its box, vehicle. They tend to be well worn, dusty, dented and pretty grubby, but half the fun is experiencing other cultures, so it is a great way to do so. I would, however, advise you to book a car with one of the well known dealers like Hertz, rather than ‘Manuel’s Make-Me-an-Offer-I-Can’t-Refuse Hire Car Company. ’ It may look tempting, but it is simply not worth taking any risks just to save a few dollars, and it is better to have the backing of a multi-national company. Hopefully they will at least maintain their cars to an acceptable level of safety.
Before you accept the car check it over and get them to write down any dents etc – this may take quite some time! Make sure the tyres have plenty of tread – on all of them, and try out the brakes! Hopefully your car will have a working air conditioning system, but do check it out. Again, watch your timings and make sure you get an emergency telephone number in case of accidents, break downs or delays. If you have to return the car with a full tank of petrol find out where the petrol stations are before you leave the hire car company. Note them on a map so you don’t forget – this will save you valuable time on your return as you don’t want to be searching for a petrol station thirty minutes before your ship sails – there are very few of them to be found. On our first trip with a hire car we pulled into a petrol station where there were no prices displayed. A Mexican came out of a tumbledown shack and wandered over before putting the petrol in. When we asked how much we owed he just shrugged and pulled a figure out of thin air. Unfortunately it was nearly as much as the car cost to hire. We were eventually able to haggle him down to a reasonable amount for the gallon or so of fuel we had used!
As you leave the town, drive east, along the coast where most of the international hotels are located. The area round Cozumel has been heavily modernized, with a shopping mall and endless diamond shops. If you drive along the seafront towards the eastern side of Cozumel, and past the modern hotels, you can stop for a swim in one of the resorts. As you reach the furthest point and turn northwards you will see that the sea is much wilder. If you drive along the northern Atlantic coast there are broad sweeping beaches of soft golden sand, but be careful where you swim. The sea can be quite dangerous and the rollers can be deceptively strong. We found a beach in front of an isolated restaurant. The sand was gorgeously soft, but the surf was really strong, and whilst the children enjoyed it I found it too rough. The one good thing is that the roads are pretty empty outside of the commercial and tourist areas.
The road then traverses the middle of the island and brings you back to town from the northern side. There is still a lot of poverty around, and you will see tumbledown houses, half built, with no roofs, but already occupied. Ragged children can be seen playing on the dusty roadsides whilst skeletal dogs roam around. There are a few ramshackle shops and an occasional roadside stall selling Mexican ponchos, blankets, shawls and other local crafts. This is in great contrast to the plush marble floors and glittering glass displays of precious stones which you will find in the diamond and watch outlets in the centre of the town. Sitting cheek by jowl with ‘Diamonds International’ you will find some smaller shops, selling local crafts and souvenirs. There are some which are tacky but if you look hard enough you will find some which genuinely offer some beautifully hand crafted silver jewellery. Cozumel is famous for its silver jewellery, and you can often pick up a bargain.
Don’t forget all the usual rules about keeping track of the time. Your ship will not wait for you and missing the boat could be a very expensive mistake. Always overestimate the time it will take to get back to where the ship is docked. That way, when you have returned your hire car you will have time for a leisurely shop and a gentle stroll back to the ship, rather than having to run!
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