Review: Cruise Day-Trip to Chankanaab Park, Cozumel

Second only to Nassau, Cozumel is the most popular cruise stop in the Caribbean. Each year millions of cruise passengers call on the port. And why not? Cozumel sits in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, with great weather, white sand beaches, and electric blue water.

The Mexican island everything a cruise passenger could want.

In fact, the biggest concern most cruisers have with Cozumel is figuring out what they are going to do. From resorts with day passes to scuba lessons to food to shopping, Cozumel’s options are seemingly unlimited.

One of the most popular places to visit? Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park. It’s a mouthful, but Chankanaab (pronounced shon-ka-nob) offers a park with something for everyone at an affordable price, all located within a short taxi ride of the cruise piers.

Chankanaab entrance

We’re not kidding about something for everyone. From swimming with dolphins to ziplining to snorkeling and kayaking, or just hanging out on the beach, there are dozens of things to do and see.

We recently visited the park on a cruise to Cozumel to provide you with a first-hand idea of what you can expect on your visit.

Location, Hours, and Getting to the Park

One of the best aspects of Chankanaab? Its location.

The park is less than four miles south of the cruise port. In fact, you can see the cruise ships in the distance once you are sitting on the beach! The trip down to Chankanaab is an easy 5-minute taxi ride.

Taxi rates are predetermined to and from the cruise port to make things easy. A ride from the pier should run $12 for up to four passengers. Rates back to the cruise pier are the same price. Frankly, while it is nice to have a set rate so that you know what you are paying, the taxi rate actually seems high for such a short distance.

Chankanaab location map
The ride to Chankanaab takes about five minutes.

Chankanaab is open Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Crowds will vary dramatically based on the number of ships in port. During our stay we were the only ship in port that day (a very rare occurrence). As a result, the park was fairly quiet and empty. If you are in port on a day when several other ships are visiting, we’d suggest getting to the park early to get your pick of beach spots.

Park Overview and Costs

It’s actually difficult to give an overview of Chankanaab simply because it has so many offerings. First and foremost, however, Chankanaab (which translates to “little sea” in Mayan is a beach park. The park sits right on the water, with a wide expanse of beach to sit and hang out underneath a palapa in a lounge chair. There are all the expected beach activities, including snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, and more.

If you’re expecting a nice sandy shoreline with the waves gently lapping the land, then put that idea out of your mind. On this side of Cozumel, the shore is rocky. That means the beach here is separated from the water with several sets of stairs down into the water. It’s not ideal for swimming because there simply isn’t a nice sandy bottom to wade into.

Beach at Chankanaab
The beach is wide with plenty of shady spots.

If you want to swim, there is a small inlet at one edge of the beach with a sandy shoreline. It’s small and gets crowded. However, if you can snag a spot it’s the ideal place for swimming — especially for kids.

Inlet at Chankanaab
The inlet with sandy beach is rather small.

Hanging out at the beach is just a small part of enjoying Chankanaab. The second-largest draw is the Dolphin Discovery center. This complex, situated right near the entrance of the park, is a large modern building containing a restaurant, gift shop, lockers, coffee shop and showers. Behind it is a swimming pool and large fenced in expanse housing dolphins and manatees. Here you can swim with dolphins — one of the more memorable experiences if you choose to purchase the package.

Dolphin Discovery
Sculpture at the Dolphin Discovery center.

Other activities around the park include ziplining, tequila tasting, a Mayan art walk in the jungle, sea lion shows, crocodile exhibition, viewing underwater sculptures. You can read more details of each below.

You can spend as much or as little as you want at Chankanaab. If you choose to stay on the cheap end, it’s a surprisingly affordable day for a family or couple. Prices are $21 (USD) for adults and $14 for kids under 12. Kids under 3 years old are free.

That admission includes only access to the park, its facilities, chairs, umbrellas, and the like. It includes a number of attractions such at the Mayan replica art walk, the botanical gardens, swimming, sea lion show, and the crocodile exhibit. The more adventurous activities — kayaking, ziplining, swimming with dolphins, etc. — will cost extra, as will things like tequila tasting and the spa. As well, food and drinks cost extra, although there are all-inclusive packages you can purchase that will include these items.

One tip: The Chankanaab website has a coupon for $2 off admission you can print and bring with you to save a little extra money.

Things to Do at Chankanaab

While we’ve talked somewhat about things to do at the park, the list below covers everything you can do at the park. Click the map below to enlarge and see in more detail.

Chankanaab Park Map
Park map (click to enlarge).

Swimming (Free)
While you can swim off the main beach, it’s much better to take advantage of the small inlet with a sandy shore. Shallow and calm enough for kids, it can get crowded quickly.

Snorkeling (Free or Extra)
If you want to snorkel, we suggest bringing your own gear. There are facilities to rent snorkel, masks, and life jackets, but it will cost you extra. The area just off the main beach in Chankanaab is world class snorkeling with coral, tons of fish, and underwater statues for you to view.

Botanical Gardens (Free)
If you want a walking tour of lush grounds, then there is no shortage of places to go in the park. The botanical gardens are a gorgeous hideaway where you can feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle despite only being a few yards from the beach.

Mayan art walk at Chankanaab
The sculptures in the Mayan art walk are impressive.

Mayan Art Walk/Historical Tour (Free)
This self-guided walk takes you through a landscaped jungle filled with replicas of Mayan art, as well as historical reenactments of ancient Mayan life. It’s a great way to get into the shade if you need a little break from the sunny beach.

Crocodiles at the park
Crocodiles hanging out in the exhibition.

Crocodile Exhibition (Free)
Yep, there’s even a crocodile exhibit at the park. It’s not much — just about a dozen crocodiles among two pens — but it’s sure to interest any kids you might have in tow. Don’t worry, all the crocs are safely behind cages.

Sea Lion Show (Free)
Great to take kids to, the sea lion shows happen three times a day. Here, the animals perform tricks for the crowd, similar to what you’d find at SeaWorld. Shows are free to attend and don’t last long.

Spa (Costs Extra)
Nothing more relaxing than a massage on the beach! Chankanaab features a spa where you can get your massage and other treatments. Prices vary based on the services you want to enjoy.

Clear-Bottom Kayaking (Costs Extra)
Getting out on the water is always fun, but in the electric blue water of Cozumel, it’s something special. One of the best ways to do so is in a clear-bottom kayak, available for rent in Chankanaab. It’s a neat way to view under the water without getting soaked.

Tequila tasting
Tequila tastings are housed in a small village.

Tequila Tasting (Costs Extra)
Tequila and Mexico are synonymous. And even though it’s actually made in a different part of the country, you can do your own tequila tasting in the park. In fact, there is a small “village” built in the jungle to explore and have a taste of Mexico in liquid form.

Snuba/Seatrek (Costs Extra)
Want to go scuba diving but you aren’t certified? This is the next best thing. In these activities you are given an air hose (Snuba) or an air-filled helmet (Seatrek) that allow you to explore the bottom of sea without scuba diving.

Dolphin Discovery/Manatees (Costs Extra)
One of the biggest draws to Chankanaab, the Dolphin Discovery attraction gives you the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim in the water with trained dolphins or with manatees. It does cost extra, but the packages also includes the $21 entrance fee to the park and lunch.

Left: Zipline towers dot the park. Right: Signposts to activities.

Zip Line (Costs Extra)
Want to sail across the treetops with stunning views of the Caribbean? The ziplines at the park offer the ability to do exactly that. With about half a dozen lines criss-crossing the park, you will see them as you enter and maybe even see riders sailing through the sky. Packages start at $70 and include entrance to the park.

Our Time at Chankanaab

As we said, there’s a lot to do at the park depending on how much time you have and how much you want to spend.

During our time at the park, our family was content to just enjoy the items included with the regular admission price.

Arriving at the park was a breeze. The $12 cab ride took just a few minutes. Once there we had a coupon printed from the Chankanaab website that gave us $2 off admission. Since we were the only cruise ship in port that day, the park was quiet even though we arrived around 11 a.m. — well after the park opened. We were able to explore the park and find a shaded beach chair.

Lagoon at Chankanaab
The lagoon at Chankanaab. Unfortunately, it’s not for swimming.

During our time we went snorkeling and also swimming in the inlet. The wind was a little strong, so we had to contend with waves while snorkeling. If you aren’t a strong swimmer or comfortable in the open ocean, we would highly recommend renting a life preserver from one of the snorkel shops on the beach.

Even though the park wasn’t crowded, there were no open chairs to sit at the swimming inlet. This area fills up fast. Instead, it’s better to find a shaded chair on the main beach, walk over and go swimming, and then head back when you are done.

After enjoying the beach, we decided to explore the park. We took walking tours of the entire grounds. In all, it took about 30-45 minutes at a leisurely pace to walk around the manicured grounds. The Mayan art replicas were the most impressive part, with a couple of dozen pieces to see. In addition, we passed by the Mayan village replica and saw the crocodile exhibition.

The walk likely isn’t high on the list of things to do with kids as they are more likely to want to see the sea lions or hang at the beach. However, it is well done and not many people were around. With the jungle surrounding you it can feel a world away from the busier beach and is a nice cool and calm place to explore.

You can see the cruise ships from the park.

If you do have kids, expect them to want to do some of the more adventurous things beyond just hanging out on the beach and snorkeling. With ziplines and more, you’ll likely be dishing out some cash to keep kids entertained.

After spending a few hours at Chankanaab, we were ready to return to the ship. Again, it was only a five-minute taxi back to the cruise pier. In total, we spent about $40 at Chankanaab for two parents and a baby, plus $30 in cab fare/tips. Considering the surroundings, that’s not a lot to pay for a day of entertainment away from the ship.

For more on Chankanaab, you can visit the park’s website here.
If you are interested in swimming with dolphins or manatees, read more here.
For details and packages on the zipline adventure, visit this page.

Looking for more things to do in Cozumel? Check out our page on excursions on the island.

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