Cozumel (Photo:CAN BALCIOGLU/Shutterstock)
2017 Top-Rated Western Caribbean & Riviera Maya Destinations
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Cozumel

Although Cozumel is Mexico's largest Caribbean island (and its most populated), it wasn't until the 1960's that this once-sleepy fishing village became a tourist attraction in its own right, following a documentary in which Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the most beautiful areas in the world for scuba diving. These days, Cozumel is a major cruise port that welcomes more than one million cruise passengers each year and as many as eight ships per day. But even with all this progress, Cozumel has held onto its non-touristy side; only one-third of the island has been developed, leaving large stretches of pristine jungle and sandy beaches basically untouched.

About Cozumel


Pro

Hidden local gems abound for foodies, history buffs and beachgoers

Con

To find authenticity, cruisers have to pass through a building of duty-free wares

Bottom Line

Cozumel seems like a tourist trap, but it offers lots for cruisers with varied interests


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Yes, it's true: There's much more to Cozumel than duty-free shopping. (That being said, Cozumel offers darn good deals on jewelry, Mexican handicrafts, T-shirts and other souvenirs, mostly in the main town of San Miguel.) This small island, measuring just 28 miles long and 10 miles wide, lies off the coast of the country's Yucatan peninsula and offers incredibly diverse options for water sports-lovers, partly because of its proximity to spectacular coral reefs. Along with snorkeling, beach bumming and boating, scuba diving is one of the biggest draws to this sunny destination.

Cozumel owns a rich history. In fact, the island derives its name from the Mayan civilization that settled there approximately 2,000 years ago. According to Mayan legend, Cozumel was the home of Ixchel, the goddess of love and fertility. It's said that when religious temples were dedicated to her, she sent her favorite bird -- the swallow -- as a sign of her gratitude. For this reason, the people called the island "Cuzamil" -- Mayan for "Land of the Swallows." Several important Mayan sites, such as San Gervasio and El Cedral, populate the island. Even better preserved ones are on the accessible mainland; Chichen Itza and Tulum are hot spots for daytrips and shore excursions.

Where You're Docked

Cozumel has three piers, all of which are found on the built-up western side of the island. Punta Langosta is ideally situated in downtown San Miguel. The International Pier, the oldest cruise ship pier on the island, is located about 3 miles from San Miguel (a long but scenic and safe walk). Carnival Corp.'s Puerta Maya, located about 5 miles from San Miguel, acts as a standalone destination, with restaurants, jewelry stores, local craft carts and a beach.

Good to Know

Be aware of mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles. They're prevalent, and drivers won't always yield to pedestrians. As you should when visiting any city, leave unnecessary valuables in your cabin safe. Finally, be sure to negotiate and settle on a fare before getting into any taxi.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Local currency is the peso. However, most stores prefer U.S. dollars, so it's not necessary to change money. ATMs are located in several areas throughout the main plaza in Cozumel, near the cruise docks.

Language

Spanish is the official language, but nearly all shops and eateries have English-speaking personnel.

Shopping

Mexican arts and crafts like hammocks, jade jewelry, ponchos, carvings and leather goods, make great souvenirs. Tequila is also a popular take-home item; though the prices might not be the lowest on the island, the selection of premium tequilas at the Los Cinco Soles store in San Miguel is impressive.

Note: Remember this about the sale of black coral, which is an endangered species: Though there are dealers wielding government-issued permits to sell the stuff, coral jewelry is listed on the U.S. Department of State's list of "wildlife and wildlife products" to avoid. Buyers risk confiscation and fines.

Best Cocktail

No drink can beat the luscious giant margaritas served at Pancho's Backyard at the Costa Maya cruise terminal and in San Miguel, although the margaritas at Nachi-Cocom Cozumel Beach Club offer a steady challenge. Another tasty libation imbibed in many bars is the "michelada" (beer mixed with lime juice).


Cozumel Awards

Cruisers' Choice Destination Awards

2017 Top-Rated Western Caribbean & Riviera Maya Destinations
2016 Top-Rated Western Caribbean & Riviera Maya Destinations