If you’re booking any type of Western Caribbean cruise, there is a very good chance that it’s going to stop at the Cozumel cruise port. In fact, it’s such a popular destination that Cozumel has space to dock as many as 8 cruise ships each day. There are 3 separate piers for the boats to dock at. The northern most pier has 2 spaces and is located closest to the downtown area. There are also two piers that are located further south. These two piers are located in a port-area and can hold up to 6 different cruise ships. If you’re like us and tend to cruise on Carnival, then you will most likely be at the Southern-most pier which is right next to the Three Amigos restaurant.
There is absolutely no reason to worry about cruising to Cozumel. I believe it is perfect for a beginner’s cruise port. It’s tropical, it’s warm, it’s safe, and everyone speaks English so you won’t have any trouble getting around.
- 1 Map of Cozumel
- 2 Shore Excursions and DIY Options for Cozumel:
- 2.1 Mexican Cultural/ Historical Sites:
- 2.2 Mexico’s Natural Wonders:
- 2.3 Mexican Ecological Parks:
- 2.4 Typical Cruise Water Activities & Beach Breaks
- 2.5 DIY Cozumel Shore Excursion Options:
- 3 Cozumel Port Area – Things to Know/Do
Map of Cozumel
Cozumel is a small island off the eastern coast of Mexico. To help plan, I’ve included two maps, one close-up of Cozumel and one with some of the shore excursions that you can do on the mainland of Mexico.
Shore Excursions and DIY Options for Cozumel:
I’ve been to Cozumel three times. Once I took a Carnival cruise ship excursion and two times I did different DIY Options. I’ll go over my experiences in each, but first a summary of what you can expect in terms of Shore Excursion Options:
The cruise lines offer about 50-60 shore excursion options. I would break them down into the following categories.
- Mexican Cultural/Historical Sites (Chichen Itza, Tulum, San Gervasio)
- Mexico’s Natural Wonders (Cenotes, Underground Rivers)
- Mexican Ecological Parks (Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, Xenses)
- Typical Cruise Water Activities & Beach Breaks
One of the main things that you should consider when looking at Cozumel shore excursions is time, Cozumel is a little island off the main land of Mexico. Almost every activity that is located on the main land requires you to take a ferry to Playa del Carmen. The ferry ride significantly cuts into the amount of time that you get to spend having fun. Yes, really. So make sure you read the fine print to know what you are signing up for.
Cozumel is also a great port to DIY. I’ve got two different, inexpensive options if you want to skip the shore excursion and go exploring by yourself!
Mexican Cultural/ Historical Sites:
The main cultural site for the Yucatan is Chichen Itza. If you’ve never been and you like ruins, I cannot recommend this site enough. It’s stunning! But I’ll be honest with you, is Cozumel the best way to see Chichen Itza? That depends! Chichen Itza is about 8 hours round-trip from Cozumel and only allows for about 45 minutes on site (which is not much at all since it’s a whole complex). So if Cozumel is the closest you will ever get to Chichen Itza and you’re cool with long bus rides, then go for it. But if you think you may find yourself staying on the Riviera Maya at some point in the future, or visiting one of the closer cruise ports (Progresso or Costa Maya), then I’d hold off on this one. We stayed at an all-inclusive in Puerto Aventuras and took a day-trip to Chichen Itza and had enough time to swim in a Cenote as well! You can read all about it here.
Note: If you’re feeling really fancy, some cruises offer an airplane excursion to visit Chichen Itza!
Tulum is another popular Mayan Ruin, which in my opinion is easier to see when staying on the Riviera Maya and not just visiting Cozumel for the day. That being said, Tulum is slightly closer to Cozumel than Chichen Itza and it’s located on a beach, so you have about 1.5 hours to walk around the complex and to enjoy the beautiful beach. Tulum is much closer to Costa Maya’s Cruise Port, so that may also be an option for you.
Much less popular, these Mayan ruins are actually located on the island of Cozumel and only require about a half-day to visit. We’ve never had the opportunity to visit these lesser known ruins but would love to hear in the comments about your experience!
Mexico’s Natural Wonders:
In terms of natural wonders, only one phenomenon really comes to mind when I’m thinking about Mexico – Cenotes. Cenotes are giant sinkholes caused by weaknesses in the limestone underground that fill up with water. There are cenotes all throughout the Yucatan peninsula. Many of these are open to the public for swimming and there’s at least one that features a restaurant.
We were able to visit a cenote when we went on our excursion to Chichen Itza. The Ik Kil cenote is about 200 ft across and 130 feet deep with a stairway that winds all the way to the water swimming platform (85 ft.) The water is chilly which is unsurprising because there isn’t a lot of sunlight that gets into the bottom of the cave. It was a lot of fun visiting and the vines hanging down are really neat.
Unfortunately the cruise ship excursions from Cozumel don’t stop at the Ik Kil cenote because there isn’t enough time.If you want to visit a cenote your best bet is is to look at some of the underground river tours. For example, Carnival offers an “Amazing Secret River” tour which takes you to the Mexico mainland to the Rio Secreto Nature Reserve where you get to explore underground caves and swim in a cenote. If you’ve done one of these underground river tours, we would love to hear about it in the comments below!
Mexican Ecological Parks:
One unique feature in Mexico is a group of Ecological parks. Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, and Xenses are separate parks, so you would have to choose just one for your day. We have only visited Xel-Ha so far. Xel-Ha is essentially a natural water-park. It features a lazy-river which is a real river, a zip-line, cenotes to swim in, and several animal encounters. Each park costs roughly $100 admission, but many of the park’s activities require additional cash. We had a great day and even paid extra to do the Sea Trek which lets you walk on the ocean floor with helmets on to breathe.
One of the negative things that I have heard about the Ecological Parks excursions is just the time it takes to get to the park. All three are located on the mainland and the travel time getting from the cruise ship to the park significantly cuts into your time spent at the park. We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Xel-Ha (although we visited from an all-inclusive in Puerto Aventuras) and we cannot wait to visit the other parks.
Summary of the Different Parks:
Each of these parks is quite different and it’s hard to tell the differences upfront. Here’s my take on what you can expect from each park:
- Xel-Ha – Described as a waterpark. Basically a massive lazy river with water activities and ziplining all along the sides. Animals are primarily water animals like dolphins.
- Xcaret – More animals (big cats, birds, butterflies) and shows. Has underground rivers to swim and snorkel.
- Xplor – For Adventure lovers. 4×4’s, ziplines, underground rivers. Supposed to get the adrenaline going.
- Xenses -Half day park with activities that are designed to wake up your senses. Think dark caves, light and color shows, and water attractions.
Have you been to any of the ecological parks? Did you enjoy Xel-Ha like we did? What about the other parks? Tell us in the comments below!
Typical Cruise Water Activities & Beach Breaks
Cozumel has all of the typical cruise-ship water activities that you see at any of the ports. You can snorkel, scuba, you can ride a catamaran, swim with dolphins, visit sea turtles, take a submarine ride, and pretty much anything else you can think of. The only excursion of this type that I’ve participated in is the Catamaran, Snorkel, and Beach Break which I describe below.
Pretty much all of these shore excursion options are also available at other ports in the Caribbean. So if you don’t do them in Cozumel, don’t worry, you have other opportunities. For example:
- Atlantis Submarine – Also in Barbados
- Snorkeling – Amazing in Honduras
- Scuba – Supposed to be Awesome in Belize
- Catamaran – Pretty much everywhere – we enjoyed the catamaran at St. Kitts!
- Swim with Dolphins – Also in Costa Maya, Jamaica, Bahamas, and probably others!
I did see that Cozumel has a really fun looking high speed boat. Has anyone gone on this tour? I’d love to hear about it!
Catamaran, Snorkel & Beach Break
The first time I visited Cozumel we booked a catamaran and beach break excursion through the cruise line. It was my first trip so I really enjoyed the catamaran ride, snorkeling, and the beach. I believe this excursion compared to other catamaran excursions out there, it didn’t stand out as being good or bad. It’s been a few years since I did this tour but I remember seeing lots of fish and also the guide pointing out things like stingrays. The food at the beach was also comparable to other places in the Caribbean. It was a simple, filling lunch, but nothing spectacular. And on the beach there was a guy carrying an iguana around who would let you take pictures with it for money. On the way back the rum punch was flowing and my friends had a great time drinking punch and dancing. I recommend this tour for beginning cruisers – it was fun.
What about you? Did you go on any shore excursions in Cozumel that you thought were just amazing? Let us know in the comments so we can plan our next trip!
DIY Cozumel Shore Excursion Options:
If you’re not feeling excited about any of the cruise line shore excursion options, or you’re just looking for a way to save some money, I have two options for DIY shore excursions in Cozumel. Both are easy, inexpensive, and offer different experiences.
Paradise Beach is a beautiful beach and swimming pool that welcomes cruise ship travelers. It is the place to go if your ideal day involves palm trees, soft sand, and a beach lounger.
Getting There: To get there, all you have to do is take a taxi from the port. If your cruise ship parks at the southernmost pier like ours did, the taxi stand is easily found. Just walk past the shops area (away from the shore) and you’ll see the taxis lined up. A taxi of 4 people only costs $15 to get to Paradise Beach (as of January 2019). Within 15 minutes of hailing your taxi, you will find yourself escorted to a beach chair and then free to enjoy yourself for as long as you want.
Costs: The entrance fee to Paradise Beach is $3 per person. If you want to participate in the inflatables (they have probably 20 different ones), then the cost is $18 per person. You also agree to spend at least $10 per person on food when visiting Paradise Beach. Drinks are between $10-15 each and the food is in the same range, so it’s pretty easy to meet the $10 minimum and still feel like you had a relatively inexpensive day.
We thought Paradise Beach was absolutely beautiful and the food was great too! Sorry that I didn’t get a picture of the pool area, just know that it’s lovely!
The Money Bar
If you are interested in doing something on your own and are more into snorkeling, then the Money Bar is another great choice. The Money Bar is a restaurant and bar located right on the beach where you can eat a nice lunch, relax, and spend time swimming and snorkeling.
Getting There: To get to the Money Bar all you need to do is go all the way through the cruise terminal and catch a taxi outside (same as for Paradise Beach).
Costs: No entry fee, your only expense is the taxi and food or drinks!
Bring: Your own snorkel gear. I don’t remember there being a place to rent gear. And water socks!
There really isn’t much beach at the Money Bar, but if you want to snorkel the water is very shallow but they have a lot of concrete structures in the water that the urchins and small fish like to hide around. I highly recommend wearing water socks to protect your feet because it is very, very rocky.
I don’t remember much about the food at Money Bar, but I know friends who absolutely loved the Ceviche and look forwarding to going back.
Cozumel Port Area – Things to Know/Do
Three Amigos – The very first restaurant at the end of the pier is the Three Amigos and I highly recommend stopping there if you have some extra time in the afternoon. They have a full drink menu and offer lots of Mexican dishes which make a yummy afternoon snack. They also have a few picture spots onsite.
Shopkeepers are aggressive in many Caribbean islands, but I think more so in Cozumel than anywhere else. Don’t be surprised if you are constantly yelled at and asked to visit their shops. If you aren’t interested, a polite “No, Thank you” works just fine.
Ride a Rickshaw
Okay, the cruise ship pier isn’t very long, but sometimes you are just too exhausted from a week of cruising. Or sometimes your boyfriend sprains his ankle the day before you leave for your cruise. Either way, the rickshaw is a fun, inexpensive way to get a lift down the pier. We had fun crossing it off our to-do list!
My Time Spent on the Island:
- 1 day cruise port in February 2013, on the Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
- 1 day cruise port in January 2015, on the Carnival Magic
- 1 day cruise port in January 2019, on the Carnival Vista
Hope you find our travel guide helpful!