By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
It is all about Mayan magic and water sports on Cozumel, the picturesque island off of the Eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Initially a port of trade for Mayan seafarers, ancient relics of their endeavors are now scattered throughout the area. El Cedral has little trace of its former bustling self but it is the oldest ruin here and dates back to 800 AD. Discovered by the Spaniards in 1518, it is believed that this is where the first Catholic mass took place.
Snorkeling and diving show off reefs and treasures under the sea while parasailing, windsurfing and waterskiing highlight its environs. Some of the prettiest beaches are along the Western side of Cozumel’s coastline. As an alternative to swimming, head to the Eastern side to explore amazing rock formations, seascape coves, coral bridges and tide pools at the point of El Mirador (Looking Glass). There are also fantastic natural reserves to visit. Parque Punta Sur, on the southern part of the island, is an ecological sanctuary and home to the Celarain Lighthouse and Nautical Museum. Here visitors can observe sea turtles and birds, climb towers for incredible oceanic vistas and see Tumba del Caracol, another Mayan edifice. Xcaret is the other eco-archaeological wonderland on the Rivera Maya. Swim with the dolphins, scuba dive or snorkel or follow the jungle trail paths, chase butterflies or lounge in a hammock on one of the sandy lagoons.
The Yucateca kitchen blends its Mexican roots with its Caribbean setting for delicious spicy fare. (See Sip & Savor below). Tequila is the drink of choice and the Tequila Museum has an informative exhibit and offers a fun tasting of different types and blends. Chiles grow in abundance and all types, sizes and “heat” are prominent ingredients in diverse dishes complemented by salsas as condiments or dips.
SAIL: Cozumel. Before sailing away, bring the city’s flavors and flair home. Bottles of tequila, jars of salsa and dried chiles are the food favorites to bring home. Coral artifacts and seashell jewelry, colorful folkloric hand painted wooden figurines and terracotta tabletop pieces make fun memorabilia.
SIP: Tequila. Distilled from the blue agave plant, this is the national spirit of Mexico. Purists go for a straight shot with a lime. Cocktail drinkers should try a traditional Margarita, tequila mixed with Cointreau and lime juice with salt on the glass rim or enjoy one enhanced with fruit such as strawberries or pineapple. Salud! (Cheers!)
SAVOR: Salsas. Mexico grows over sixty types of chiles. Every table feature salsas roja (red) and verde (green) made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and different chiles for varied heat. Use condiments for any dish with pollo (chicken), carne (beef) or pescado (fish) alongside tortillas or as a dip with tortilla chips. Buen Provecho! (Enjoy your Meal!)