Isla de Pasión

On a tangled northern corridor of Cozumel, you can slip a boatman $200 pesos to motor you to your own private island … your island of passion!

I swear that’s really the name: Isla de Pasión. During the weekday, Passion Island is overrun with tourists and cruise shippers who’ve overpaid fancy tours to be carried alongside drunk strangers to this wild, tucked away world. But on the weekends, Isla de Pasión is a local’s secret. (Traveler’s tip: Go on a Sunday, when there’s no cruise ships in port.)

Getting to the island involves a bit of struggle, but it’s worth it. You’ll navigate seemingly endless gravel roads teeming with potholes. Mexican potholes. Kill-your-tires potholes. And in the middle of nowhere, with shoddy cell reception, you’ll want to go slow or you’ll be camping out in the jungle until morning’s first turistas come claim you.

But the inconvenience, the tinge of danger, slows you down. And on my jungle ride to Isla de Pasión, there was surprisingly good radio reception, and so I basked in the schmaltzy 80s jams I so love. Hungry eyes, anyone?

Cozumel is largely jungle, though you wouldn’t know it unless you’re looking down at the island from an airplane. But the path to Passion Island is a thick maze of gnarled brush. I wondered aloud if trekking through the wilderness might turn up some long lost Maya artifacts; Cozumel was one of the Maya’s most sacred pilgrimage sites, after all. But once at the water’s edge, one thing I wasn’t expecting was the sudden arrival of this critter, the Cozumel raccoon, also known as the pygmy raccoon, or Procyon pygmaeus. They’re endemic to the island and critically endangered by the island’s development, and just about the cutest thing ever.

Though nocturnal, this guy just couldn’t refuse my daylight photoshoot.

Boatman lounge around the docks in the heat, waiting for a fare. Once we settled on a price, we set forth into the dizzying afternoon for about a 10-minute ride, slowly pulling in to the isle’s beautiful clear green bay and driftwood-speckled shore. The boatman would return for me in, oh, about three hours.

Other than a family barbecuing in the distance, the island was totally deserted. Growing up, one of my favorite films was the 1960 classic Swiss Family Robinson. Watching this movie and reading books like The Boxcar Children — which features orphaned kids looking out for themselves in abandoned train cars — I desperately dreamed of being cast away, living on a remote island. Walking the shore, I felt like I was fulfilling some of these younger dreams.

In mid-July, the water felt like a jacuzzi. But Passion island is so beautiful, you’ll feel like you’re in a Corona commercial. It’s worth a go at least once.

Checklist for Passion Island:
1. Sheet, or large picnic blanket
2. Oxxo cooler full of beer or white wine
3. Snacks, cheeses, and miscellaneous goodies from Guido’s Tienda
4. A hot Sexican to oil you up (duh)