What To Do in Cozumel

By Kathy Klofft

Photos by Kathy and Jeff Klofft

A crowd of ships in port in Cozumel.

It seems most cruise ships call on Cozumel, judging by the amount of them in port on the average winter day.   It can be intimidating to plan a shore excursion when there are as many as 10 ships in port, creating a crowd of 15-30 thousands visitors a day!  Here is some advice for planning a fun and even potentially relaxing day in Cozumel. 

For more about our recent Caribbean cruise to Cozumel click here to see our on going trip report Rhapsody of the Seas

Tip 1: Know where you are!

There are three major port terminals in Cozumel. They are very close to each other, but when arranging private tours or taxi rides back to port, make sure you know where your ship will be docked! Punta Langosta is downtown San Miguel, and used primarily by small ships, The International Pier and Puerta Maya, about 1.5 miles from the town of San Miguel are sued by the larger ships.

Tip 2: Know what you want to do!

The Cozumel excursions fall into to broad categories- excursions on Cozumel and excursions on the mainland of Mexico (via a high speed ferry to Playa Del Carmen)

Mainland excursions usually include:

  • Mayan Ruins
  • Cenote swims or beach breaks (these are sometimes added to a vist to Mayan Ruins)
  • Xplor, Xel Ha and Xcaret are big mainland adventure parks with a variety of beach/ ziplines/ rafting activities

(Also, before choosing to go to the Mainland, consider that the enclosed high speed ferry to the Playa Del Carmen can be rough, and some people have trouble with motion sickness.)

This Mayan ruin is on the island, much more dramatic ruins can be found on the mainland, but require a lot of travel. We were told this water front structure served two purposes; one was to create a "whistle" warning sound out of the top (like a teapot) for ancient islanders living on the interior of the islands, to alert them when high hurricane winds were beginning to blow on the coast.  The stone structure also served as a shelter for fishermen who could not make it back to their homes on higher ground during a storm. 

This Mayan ruin is on the island, much more dramatic ruins can be found on the mainland, but require a lot of travel. We were told this water front structure served two purposes; one was to create a "whistle" warning sound out of the top (like a teapot) for ancient islanders living on the interior of the islands, to alert them when high hurricane winds were beginning to blow on the coast.  The stone structure also served as a shelter for fishermen who could not make it back to their homes on higher ground during a storm. 

 

Cozumel island excursions include:

  • Beach breaks; there are several options from beach clubs that only charge a dollar or two (such as Paradise Beach) for a chair, hoping you'll buy food and alcohol at prices similar to US prices (which is well above MX prices) or all inclusive capacity controlled "quiet" beaches that charge $50 per person(such as Nachi CoCom).  Analyze how much you plan to eat or drink to decide which is a good deal for you. 
  • Mexican food or tequila tasting tours, which you can book independently ahead of time, join the ships tours, or explore the food in the town of San Miguel on your own. (it's generally advised not to drink the water in MX unless the place you are dining uses filtered water...most ships excursions and beach clubs use filtered water, but it can't hurt to ask!)
  • Snorkel and Diving and glass submarines; Part of the MesoAmerican reef, Cozumel has some amazing sights underwater.  Depending on the your training and comfort level, you can go diving, take an easy shore snorkel tour or even board a submersible with windows to enjoy the fish and coral. 
  • Jeeps/4x4s/or buggy adventures. The island offers several adventure parks and off road tours where you can take control of your own jeep or buggy and explore the island with a guide leading the way. 
  • Dolphin and Sea Lion Encounters. There are two major dolphin encounter sites on Cozumel. Dolphin Discovery and Chankanaab Park  It is one of the least expensive places to do this kind of activity if it appeals to you.  (about $100 per person vs nearly $500 per person for a US based marine park) It is worth making an advance reservation for dolphin encounters, they are popular and sell out quickly.  The parks give priority times to ships excursions, and there are so many that if you book independently, you may miss out because the only time slots left is too late. 

Tip 3: Know how much time you have (and what time it IS!!)

As a cruiser, you need to decide if you want to do a mainland excursion where the ferry takes an hour or more and often the bus to the excursion start can be another hour or more.  This means that during a 8 hour port stay, you could be traveling up to half of it just to get to your adventure.  Read the descriptions carefully to make sure you know how much actual time you'll have at the site you want to see!

Another thing to consider is if you plan a trip to the mainland, be sure you get back to the ship on time. Delays with the ferry or on the road can cause a delayed return and you could miss your ship. Taking a ship's excursion to get the mainland is a good idea because they often charter their own ferry and I have occasionally seen the ship waiting for that ferry to arrive a few minutes late before departing port. 

Another tricky time trick?  Cozumel is on Eastern Standard Time, but they don't observe Daylight Savings Time, so sometimes you'll need to reset your watches while in port during the winter.  Generally, the ship will make this clear and make lots of announcements ahead of time.  But be sure to change your watch and DON'T rely on your cell phone if you have it in airplane mode while traveling out of the country...it won't update automatically unless you have cell service!!

Make sure you get back top the ship on time!  You wouldn't want to miss a sunset like this on the ship leaving Cozumel! 

For more about our recent Caribbean cruise to Cozumel click here to see our on going trip report Rhapsody of the Seas