Overview | What to Do | Other Attractions | Get Around | Eat & Drink | Stay in Touch | Shopping
Cozumel, which means Land of the Swallows in Mayan, is an island off the Eastern coast of Mexico. Long known for its white sandy beaches and remarkable ocean clarity (sometimes 100-200 feet), Cozumel has a mix of archaeological sites, excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, and underground rivers and caverns to explore. Cozumel is a fairly compact island, measuring only 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. There are three cruise ship piers in Cozumel; all three are about a 10-minute taxi ride from the downtown area and each cruise lines’ ships dock at a specific pier. Walking to the downtown area is possible, but not recommended. The area is generally safe, but there is often construction along the sidewalks. If you are heading to the beaches on your own, take a taxi from the pier or visit downtown first for some shopping and then head to the beach to catch some waves.
Spanish is the official language, but since Cozumel is such a popular tourist destination, most locals speak at least limited English. Still, it is always appreciated if you at least make an attempt to converse in Spanish. The Mexican peso is the National Currency of Mexico, though you can use US Dollars for just about everything in Cozumel, including tips, bus fare, etc. Note that you will generally get a better exchange rate if you pay in pesos. Remember that Cozumel, as with most Latin American countries, operates at a much slower pace than we are used to in the United States or other commercialized countries. Many things can and will take longer than you expect – just relax and enjoy being away from work.
Note: Roads going to and from the waterfront are called Calles and roads running parallel to the waterfront are called Avenidas.
Chankanaab Park is the most popular attraction in Cozumel. This National Park offers a myriad of opportunities – you can swim with dolphins, sea lions, or manatees – and is an excellent choice for family fun. Extremely clean and beautiful, you can relax on their beach, swim, snorkel, or dine at their restaurant and bar. There is also a replica of an ancient Mayan village to explore. There are plenty of chairs and shady palapas available, as well as snorkel equipment to rent. If you truly want to SWIM with dolphins (not just pet them), be sure to book The Royal Swim before leaving.
How to Get There: This park is a little over two and a half miles away, a 6-minute taxi ride south from the cruise ship docks (see map).
Check out this video of the Dolphin experience in Chankanaab Park:
Tulum is a pre-Colombian Mayan site located on high cliffs overlooking the ocean. These tours start early and are 5-6 hours in length. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and be sure to book these tours in advance.
How to Get There: These tours begin at the Ferry Pier, which is adjacent to the cruise ship terminal in Cozumel. The ferry will take you to Playa del Carmen, from where the land based transportation to Tulum will begin.
Chichen Itza is an even larger pre-Colombian site, but it is farther away from Cozumel and requires a full-day trip. Over 1,500 years old and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World" in 2007. You will see former palaces, ball courts, and pyramids.
How to Get There: Because of the distance, the best tour option for cruise passengers originates at the Cozumel Airport (see map); from here you and your group will be taken to Chichen Itza's small airstrip by small plane. This scenic trip takes about 45 minutes each way and is well worth it.
During the 1950’s, Jacques Cousteau and his team discovered the wall of reefs off Cozumel, which is the second largest, and considered one of the best, reefs in the world. There is also cave and cenote diving for the more adventurous, in the hundreds of miles of underground freshwater cave systems. Cozumel has become a very popular destination for divers and snorkelers alike, and is also known as an excellent place to find and buy many types of scuba gear. If you are a certified diver, it is mandatory that you have your certification papers with you.
Below are some of the best Scuba operators in Cozumel:
Isla de Pasion State Park
Isla de Pasion State Park This is an all-inclusive tour to a private island, which costs about $65 per person. It’s about 5 hours long, includes an open bar once you reach the island, as well as food and snacks available all day. There are inexpensive massages available on the beach (approximately $35 for 30 minutes) as well as beach chairs and beach beds. This island is where the Corona beer commercials are filmed.
How to Get There: Tours leave from the Punta Langosta dock area. They will take you there by van and then either by a very fast speedboat or by a more sedate boat ride.
Cozumel Country Club
The Cozumel Country Club, in the midst of the jungle, was the island’s first golf course ever built, and remains one of the best and most challenging. Designed by Steve Nicklaus, Golf Digest listed this 18-hole, par-72 course as “one of the best places to play” in 2008 and 2009. Greens fees are between $105-$169, depending on the tee time.
How to Get There: The course is about 7 miles north of the cruise ship piers (see map), and can be reached by a 15 minute car ride.
Cozumel has beaches for all types of beach lovers:
The east coast beaches, also known as the “windward side” of the island (about 20 minutes from town) are beautiful and significantly less populated. These beaches are great for surfers, as well as those that just like to lay in the sand, but it is not great for swimming due to the strong surf and possible undertow.
The west coast beaches are protected from the winds of the open sea, thus making for calm, serene waters, which is great for swimmers and waders alike. The most popular beaches near the port are:
Cozumel Bar Hop Bus Tour
Cozumel Bar Hop Bus Tour is a fun, safe way to visit a variety of bars and clubs in Cozumel. Lasting approximately five hours and circling the whole island, tours depart around 10:30 am from the Punta Langosta pier area, and stop at five bars and restaurants where food and drink specials are available. The guides on the bus all speak both Spanish and English, and you must be 18 or older to participate in this tour.
How to Get There: The meeting point is at Cozumel's only Starbucks, which is across from the downtown cruise ship pier, Punta Langosta (see map). Start times vary according to the various cruise ship schedules. You will receive full rendezvous instructions about a week before your ship's departure.
Cozumel Charters is the ultimate fishing tour. Sport fishing in Cozumel is extremely popular because it is one of the few places in the world where you can go for the “Grand Slam” of fishing – catching all 4 types of billfish in one day! Both blue and white marlin, sailfish, and swordfish are all found in these waters. You can also hope to catch mahi-mahi, grouper, wahoo and many other types of fish. Cozumel Charters offers an all-inlcusive approach to the chartered fishing tour, so you won't go hungry or thirsty even if you don't catch the big one.
How to Get There: Cozumel Charters is about four miles south of the pier, or a 10-minute taxi ride (see map).
Fury Catamaran and Snorkel Party
Fury Catamaran and Snorkel Party offers four hours of sailing on a custom, 65-foot Catamaran, swimming, snorkeling, and enjoying unlimited beer, cold drinks and margaritas. You will also spend time on their private beach, where you can use a kayak or rekindle your childhood with water toys.
How to Get There: Fury Catamaran is a short 10-minute walk from the terminal (see map).
Warning: Be wary of the port-based excursion with El Dorado Cozumel. One of our members did not have a good experience with them.
It is very safe to walk around San Miguel. It is an easy area to navigate as the streets are laid out in a very easy to understand way. You need to exercise caution; however, as drivers here can be a bit aggressive and tourists unfamiliar with the area can be seen driving the wrong direction on one-way streets. A pleasant place to walk is the Malecon (boardwalk).
Taxi rates in Cozumel are regulated by the government and are quite affordable. Be sure to agree on the fare before stepping into the cab. It is also a good idea to write down the name of your destination for the driver to avoid confusion due to the possible language barrier, as most cab drivers speak limited English. The cruise ship terminals have taxi stands and you will often be placed with other riders and charged a per head rate. You can also flag down a cab along the street. Drivers will accept either pesos or US dollars.
There are water ferries that will take you from the Punta Langosta dock area for a 30-minute ride to Playa del Carmen, a small fishing town with beautiful beaches. Playa del Carmen is also the where you will begin a tour of Tulum and other nearby attractions.
Several car rental companies have offices at the cruise ship piers. Avis and Alamo have offices at the Puerta Maya pier. Alamo also has an office at the Punta Langosta pier. It’s a good idea to reserve your car before leaving home to be sure that one is available when you arrive. It is also highly recommended to purchase the additional insurance offered by the car rental companies – not all credit card companies cover even a small fender-bender in Mexico.
Scooter rentals are available on Cozumel, but are not recommended. The roads are rough with numerous speed bumps and you will encounter a lot of construction vehicles. The scooters on Cozumel are very low to the ground, with very small wheels, and handle differently than scooters that you may be used to. You need to guard against theft of your scooter as well. All in all, renting a scooter is probably more trouble than it is worth. Be very sure to have a helmet for both the driver and the passenger if you do decide to rent one.
Fish tacos combine the island nature of Cozumel and a distinctive Mexican recipe. The best place to get this is Pancho's Backyard, which is located along the boardwalk, 3.5 miles north of the port (see map). Pancho's Backyard has the added benefit of great service and ambiance – it lies right in the middle of one of the best shopping areas in Cozumel.
Fresh Lobster at Casa Mission, or virtually anything else on the menu, (including the lime soup that comes with every meal) is mouth-watering. One of the best restaurants in Cozumel, Casa Mission is located less than 4 miles from the port (see map).
Queso Fundido, an appetizer of melted white cheese sprinkled with chorizo, is another local specialty. Head over to Plaza Leza, located just across from Plaza Central in downtown Cozumel, and accompany this delicious appetizer with a cold Dos Equis for maximum enjoyment. Add a locally caught snapper in red sauce to cap off the meal.
A Margarita is the obvious “must drink” in any Mexican port. Either on the rocks or frozen, this tequila, orange liquor, sour mix and lime juice concoction is a distinctly Mexican festive beverage. There are several places along the Malecon (boardwalk) to get one, but one of the best places is Carlos' n Charlie's, just 3 miles north at the Punta Langosta Mall (see map).
Dos Equis is actually more popular than Corona in Mexico. Have a Dos Equis with a wedge of lime and ask for it "helada" (ice cold).
In case you haven't heard: Don't drink the tap water in Mexico, only the bottled.
Cafe Internet Blaunet and Cafe Internet & Call Station are located 3 miles northeast of the port (see map). Both offer computers, Internet access, WiFi and long distance calling at a much more affordable rate than the cruise ship rates.
Rx Internet Cafe, located 2.8 miles northeast of the port (see map), also has computers and Internet access.
Where to Shop
There are also many shops in San Miguel, which is a duty-free zone, where you can find items for as much as 30% less than US prices. Bargaining is not nearly as common as in other Caribbean ports, but there is some wiggle room for those that like to haggle.
Plaza del Sol is the center of civic life in San Miguel. The plaza is surrounded by all kinds of shops and restaurants, and although they tend to be a bit pricier than those further outside of town, the ocean breeze and beautiful views truly set it apart. The crafts market behind the plaza is also an excellent place to pick up some art at bargain prices. Be sure to stick around for sunset, and not just for the view. When the sun goes down, the street scene comes alive. Locals come out to the plaza to socialize and enjoy live music and dancing (see map).
Punta Langosta Pier's is the northernmost cruise ship terminal and the closest to Cozumel itself (see map). There are plenty of merchants here selling clothing, jewelry and local artwork. Shop around before you buy, as you may find a much better price from the one of the many vendors.
Gourmet vanilla extract is an excellent alternative to the traditional Mexican blankets, paper mache crafts, and leather items. You can find it at Los Cinco Soles, located 3.5 miles north of the port (see map). You can also sample tequilas in their restaurant, Pancho’s Back Yard.
Tequila, of course, is another great souvenier. Visit a store devoted entirely to tequila, the Tequila House, at the North end of the town plaza (see map). Not only do they have the best tequila, they'll let you taste it before you buy it.
Mexican silver jewelry is among the finest in the world due to Mexico's rich silver deposits, and can be found in many shops in Cozumel and make excellent gifts. One of the shops with the best variety and quality is Nudo Marineri in Villa Mar (see map). Beware of fakes; if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Note: Beware of black coral jewelry found in many shops in Cozumel. The harvesting of this coral is illegal, thus the buying/selling of the jewelry that come from the coral toes, at best, a murky legal line. That legal line is defined more clearly in United States Customs where this jewelry will be confiscated. Cuban cigars bought in Cozumel and brought back to the U.S. may face the same fate with customs officials.