Cozumel, Mexico is a staple port of call on the Western Caribbean cruise circuit, and, at first glance, it may seem like any other Caribbean port of call. To be sure, there are plenty of shops and cheap drinks bearing familiar names near the port’s three separate cruise piers. Seen from the ship, Cozumel is absolutely flat and featureless in terms of landscape – and that can lead experienced and new cruisers alike to wonder why they should go ashore in the first place.
But scratch the surface, and Cozumel offers new and experienced cruisers plenty of diversions that have nothing to do with drinking or shopping.
Here’s Cruise Critic’s top reasons to get off your cruise ship in Cozumel:
Cozumel offers plenty of sun-and-sand time, thanks to the island’s proliferation of beaches. Some, like the popular Playa Mia and slightly more out-of-the-way Playa Planacar, are just a quick taxi ride away from most of Cozumel’s cruise piers. To escape the crowds, it’s worth heading to the eastern side of the island, where more remote beaches like Playa Punta Morena are located.
While some beaches are public, others are attached to resorts and are accessible to cruise passengers as day passes purchased via cruise lines or independently by contacting individual resorts ahead of time. These can be a great value for those who want some time in the sun but don’t want amenities (let’s face it, like a cold cerveza) to be far from hand.
While Cozumel’s main town – San Miguel de Cozumel – is located on the western side of the island, its eastern shoreline is worth a visit. Not only is it home to several beaches and surfside bars, but the rugged shoreline is an attraction in its own right. Powerful waves come ashore from the Caribbean Sea, making this a natural spot for surfing.
It’s also away from the hustle-and-bustle of town and its cruise piers. Head to Coconuts for some authentic eats and drinks without the crowds but with plenty of island vibe and flair.
We recommend doing this one in conjunction with a cruise line excursion to ensure the ship waits for you, but taking the ferry over to Playa del Carmen on the Mexican mainland can be a great way to spend your time in Cozumel if you’ve already “been there, done that.”
From Playa del Carmen, the ancient ruins of Tulum are offered on many cruise line-sponsored shore excursions, particularly on itineraries where the ship sails late from Cozumel. It makes for a very long day (trust us: we’ve done it), but it’s worth it to see one of Mexico’s most famous historical landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Of course, you don’t need an excursion to enjoy Cozumel at all. A walk into town can be the perfect way to spend a day, particularly if your ship ties up at the Punta Langosta pier, which puts passengers right into the heart of the city. (Cozumel’s two other piers, the International Pier and Puerta Maya, are further out of town and will require a short taxi ride).
Punta Langosta pier is adjacent to a large shopping mall with vendors selling goods both domestic and import. It’s also next to numerous popular bars and restaurants, from big chains like Starbucks and Hooters to smaller, locally-run venues.
Cozumel’s Malecon, or oceanfront walk, is pretty in its own right, and the further into town you go, the less touristic it gets. Some noteworthy stops include Benito Juarez Park, the Coral Reefs monument, and the Iglesia de San Miguel cathedral.
How do you know what pier you’ll be docking at? A quick rule of thumb is that Carnival ships typically use Puerta Maya, while Royal Caribbean and Celebrity favor the International Piers. Most other lines, including Disney, MSC and Norwegian typically tie up at the Punta Langosta pier.
One of the most profound shore excursion experiences I’ve ever had in my life occurred in Cozumel. It was an otherwise standard tour of Cozumel’s most noteworthy sights, coupled with a visit to Ciudad de Ángeles (the Orphanage City of Angels), where orphaned, abandoned and abused children who would otherwise have nowhere to go are cared for.
While the Orphanage is Christian-run, the focus here is on the kids. The entire day was incredibly moving, as we were introduced to kids who were, in some cases, being taught by staff members who themselves grew up at the orphanage as children.
Carnival Cruise Line is one of the few lines that offers this tour. I hear it gets cancelled every so often for lack of participation. I, personally, have done it twice now. I usually take the toiletries I’ve amassed in my travels and donate them (they're surprisingly in-demand), or other items from the orphanage’s current needs list. To me, it’s a lovely antidote to the otherwise overly commercial aspects of tourism. If you’re looking for something different in Cozumel, it is, as Carnival describes it, truly heartwarming.
This one works best for passengers arriving on Carnival Corporation ships, but those coming on Royal Caribbean vessels are within walking distance, too. Puerta Maya was designed for cruise passengers in mind, and in many respects it’s a bustling little village in its own right, filled with shops, souvenirs, bars and restaurants – and even some beach access for those looking for an impressive view of their docked ship.
Sure, much of this is very commercial in nature, but we’re not going to pretend like we’re above stopping at Margaritaville for a couple cold ones. And, if you only have a limited amount of time on port or are just looking for something low-impact, a stroll around Puerta Maya might just be what the cruise doctor ordered.
No matter what you choose to do in Cozumel, it is an island that continually offers passengers more than they might expect – all within easy reach.