Shopaholics of all types can have a field day shopping at the Cozumel cruise port and nearby San Miguel. If you'd like to pick up a branded souvenir, just stick to the two open-air shopping malls adjacent to Cozumel's three ports. You'll find Senor Frog's, Margaritaville and Pirana Joe stores selling all manner of branded merchandise, a Diamonds International and Colombian Emeralds and a number of stores selling overpriced trinkets and "authentic" Mexican goods.
But what if you're after something a little more local and authentic -- handmade in Mexico, rather than China, for example? We recommend heading to the Mercado Municipal (Calle Dr. Adolfo Rosado Salas), about a 10-minute walk east of downtown San Miguel, the biggest town on the island. It's the best place to pick up local goods at significantly lower prices than you'd find in the main street Quinta Avenida, just off the town square.
No matter which type of shopper you are, here are nine of the most popular souvenirs and our advice on what's worth buying when you go shopping in Cozumel.
Editor's note: There are a few natural items that you do not want to buy in Mexico because they will be confiscated on your return to the United States (or possibly before that, upon your return to your ship). These include coral (particularly black coral, which is endangered), turtle shells and any marine life, such as pufferfish and starfish.
One of the few woven items that are made locally (at least in the Yucatan, specifically Merida) are hammocks (hamacas). At the Mercado Municipal, you'll find them on display in the tiny hole-in-the-wall stores just outside the central market (which mainly sells food), where the locals shop.
Hammocks from this region are among the finest and most comfortable in the world. There are six main sizes, but the most common are "matrimonial" (doubles), suitable for two adults, and singles, suitable for one adult or two small kids. Expect to pay around $35 to $55, depending on size, with singles costing roughly half the price of doubles.
You'll want to evaluate your hammock before handing over any cash. First, stretch out your hammock to its full size and make sure it's large enough; a matrimonial should be at least 16 feet long and between 10 and 15 feet wide, while a single should be roughly half that size. Then check the label to read the materials. You'll want to buy a cotton, rather than a synthetic hammock because those are the best quality and longest lasting.
A good-quality hammock will be tightly woven, without spaces between the threads, and the matrimonial hammocks should have 200 strings at either end (half that for the singles). There should be at least 15 strings along each edge, and the loops at the end should be tightly wrapped.
2. Blankets and Throws
Blankets are sold in every other doorway in Cozumel, but although they are made in Mexico, the majority is imported from Chiapas, in southern Mexico. However, there are shops that sell soft woolen blankets in a wide variety of designs that are handmade by the owners.
The best place to find these are in the Mercado Municipal, where you can pick up large blankets for as little as $11, or two for $20. These soft blankets make a lovely gift for small kids.
Your one-stop-shop for ceramics, pottery, carvings, trinkets and sculptures made in Mexico is Los Cinco Soles, which you will spot as soon as you get off the ship at the International and Puerta Maya piers, and also in San Miguel, a few blocks north of the main square. The goods here are not cheap, but they are authentic.
On each display, you will find a mounted card explaining the history and the provenance of the ceramics, as well as a sticker on each plate or bowl authenticating that it's made in Mexico. The majority is made by Alba Ceramica, in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. You can get all sorts of designs and colors, but perhaps the most fun are the Day of the Dead-themed ones. Expect to pay around $14 for a midsize bowl.
At one time, Mexico produced the finest vanilla extract in the world. Vanilla is still a popular purchase in Cozumel, but beware: The majority of bottles labelled vanilla extract in Cozumel are imitation. How to tell? If it's in a large bottle, is a dark color and costs $20, it's a fake.
Look for the words "pure vanilla extract" -- not "pure vanilla flavor" -- if you want authentic, rather than imitation, stuff. A small bottle of pure vanilla will also cost $20. Our view: You are better off buying back home.
You can't leave Mexico without a bottle of tequila, or mezcal. The good news is that there is an entire store dedicated to it downtown: Tequila House (Calle 2 Norte and 5 Avenida Norte), where before purchasing, you can sample the goods via a tasting experience with the experts. You may also be surprised to know that tequila does not have to be slammed -- that's really just for gringos -- it should be tasted, sniffed and sampled just like you would whiskey. Just make sure you look up current customs guidelines about bringing alcohol back into the U.S.
6. Leather Goods
There are some fine leather goods you can pick up in Cozumel, including handbags, wallets, change purses and sandals. Deja Vu (Av. Rafael E. Melgar No. 26, Local 5 Entre 7 y 11) is rated highly on our parent site TripAdvisor and on the Cruise Critic forums for high-quality, reasonably priced leather goods, as well as hand-crafted jewelry. You can actually watch the jewelry being made, so you know it's local.
7. Diamond and Gemstone Jewelry
You can find plenty of chain jewelry stores in Cozumel. There are two branches of Diamonds International, one in San Miguel, the other in the main port. You can also find Tanzanite International, Milano Diamonds, Cartier and others.
The Cruise Critic Forums and TripAdvisor reviews are fairly consistent about buying jewelry in Cozumel; they recommend you do not do it, unless you know exactly what you are doing. If you want to buy, do your research in advance. Prices should, in theory, be cheaper than in the U.S. as you can claim back taxes, but much of the time there is a significant markup and you will have to spend some time bargaining the price down. Yes, the diamonds are authentic, but it goes without saying they are not native to Mexico.
If you are on a time constraint, i.e., you've dropped in here on the way back to your ship, you may feel pressured into making purchase. Don't buy anything in haste because you're likely to regret the decision later.
8. Logowear from Popular Brands
Restaurant-bar chains Senor Frog's, Margaritaville and Pirana Joe all have standalone shops selling logowear and other branded items. You will find branches of all three of these brands as you leave your ship and enter the open-air shopping mall. There is also a branch of Senor Frog's right by the Playa del Carmen ferry port, also selling branded merchandise.
The Mexican federal drug administration is not quite as stringent as the United States', and you'll find farmacias selling all sorts of pharmaceuticals, including Viagra and Cialis, over the counter that would require a prescription in the U.S. You can also pick up Valium, Ambien and Temazepam over the counter. If you take anything more than a reasonable amount for personal use, you could be arrested either on the ship or when you return to U.S. shores. (Refer to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidelines for information on how to legally purchase medication abroad to transport into the United States.)
If you do want to purchase pharmaceuticals, make sure you do so from a licensed farmacia, not from a counter in a warehouse discount store.
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