Cozumel is without a doubt one of the most popular cruise ports in North America. Each year literally millions of cruise passengers — and other visitors — call on the Mexican island.
As you would expect with such a popular destination, the tourist industry around Cozumel is booming. If there is anything you can think to do on the island — from taking out a sailboat to fishing to exploring the jungle via 4-wheeler — someone offers a trip… for a price.
In fact, it’s not unusual to find Cozumel excursions that costs $100 — or more — per person. That’s not to say they aren’t worth it, but for many people the extra cost is way too much, especially if you’re a family traveling together.
The good news? There are a ton of things you can do in Cozumel that won’t break the bank. We’ve rounded up some of the activities you can do that are either cheap ($20 per person or less) or free. If you’re looking to stick to a budget while on your vacation, these ideas can save a ton of money.
1. Visit Playa San de Martin
Want a wide expanse of white-sand beach, electric blue water, and no huge crowds? That’s Playa San de Martin, and it’s free to visit. The beach is the east side of the island, opposite of the cruise piers. Because of that, not a ton of cruise passengers make the trip. Those that do are greeted with a postcard-like beach with hardly anyone on it. There is also a little beach bar you can go to when you want a shady place with a cold drink.
To be sure, you won’t find the facilities like you do at the beaches on the more developed side of the island, and you will need to grab a taxi over to the spot. Still, the more rustic feeling may be just the thing you’re looking for compared to the touristy part of the island.
2. Hit a Beach Bar for Free*
You’ll find that many of the beaches on Cozumel near the port are part of hotels or restaurants. So if you’re a patron of those spots, then you can enjoy the facilities provided (like showers, chairs, and umbrellas) for free or a small fee.
There are several beach bars on the Western side of the island that cater to day guests like cruise passengers. Admission is free, but you’re expected to order lunch/drinks from the restaurant. You might also have to pay a small fee for things like loungers. A few examples to check out are Money Bar Beach Club, Alberto’s, and Playa Palancar.
3. Explore San Miguel
Many people visit San Miguel (the main town on the island) when in Cozumel, but they normally just hit the shops along the waterfront. One neat thing to do is explore the city a little more.
Head back into the town, and you’ll see some authentic Mexico. Sure, it’s not whitewashed and ready-made for tourists, but you didn’t come all the way to Mexico to hang out at Senor Frog’s the entire time, right? Getting off the beaten path a little bit can be a fun experience that you won’t soon forget.
4. Visit the Cozumel Island Museum
Today Cozumel is known as a tourist hotspot, but the history on the island goes way back. The Museo de la Isla de Cozumel (Museum of Cozumel Island) tells you everything you could want to know about the island, its past, and the ecological area. See artifacts from ancient peoples that inhabited the land, up through present-day Cozumel.
Best of all, it only costs $11 per person and kids under 4 are free. It is also air-conditioned. You can learn more about visiting on the museum’s website.
5. Visit the Ruins of San Gervasio
The Mayan people inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula for centuries. Today there are ruins of their towns and cities throughout the area, including on Cozumel. This is a great option if you’re curious about Mayan culture, but don’t want to pay for an expensive (often $100/person or more) excursion to Tulum.
With a short taxi ride you can visit the ruins at San Gervasio. The area was abandoned sometime in the 16th century, but many of the structures are still standing today.
Historians believe this site was once devoted to Ixchel, Mayan goddess of love and fertility. The ruins are worth a look, especially if you are curious about ancient Mayan culture. Bring water and bug repellent for this DIY excursion and opt for closed shoes rather than sandals
Admission is about $10 and free for kids under 3.
6. Take a Picture with Your Ship
Want a great photo to remember your trip? Head into port and you’ll find the Cozumel sign that looks back out to your ship. While there is likely to be a small crowd grabbing a photo, when it’s your turn, ask someone to grab a picture for you while you stand in front of the sign with your ship in the background.
It’s completely free, easy, and is a must-do for your cruise.
7. Go Snorkeling
Want something a little more active than just sitting on the beach? Bring some snorkel gear and hit up one of Cozumel’s many beaches. With the crystal clear water, this is one of the best places on the planet for beginners to try their hand at snorkeling. We recommend finding a beach on the west side of the island where the seas are usually calmer.
Snorkeling fans can spot sea turtles, eels, barracudas, and colorful exotic fish while visiting Cozumel. There are some restaurants on the beach that will provide beach access as long as you buy food/drink.
8. Go Souvenir Shopping
Cozumel’s booming popularity as a travel destination means an increasing number of shops offering any sort of souvenir you can imagine..
Sure, shopping costs money… if you buy things. But sometimes window shopping can be just as fun. Cozumel has a ton of shops selling everything from fine jewelry to cigars to kitschy knick-knacks. Just walk up and down the main boulevard in San Miguel and duck into any of the shops that catch your eye. Who knows? You might find something you can’t live without.
There are also tons of shopping opportunities in the port area as you depart the ship.
9. Enjoy a DIY Foodie Tour of San Miguel
If you want a taste of authentic Mexican life, walk a little further (or take a short cab ride) to go beyond the tourist sector near the San Miguel cruise piers. You’ll find stores, bars, and restaurants which primarily serve the 80,000 people who call San Miguel home.
The food you’ll find here typically cost far less – and often taste much better – than the fare at most tourist-oriented establishments. Look for small, family-run restaurants where plenty of locals eat.
Not that adventurous? Get away from the main port areas, and you’ll still find plenty of spots that aren’t Cozumel versions of American chains.
10. Down a Few Cheap Drinks at the Port
One benefit of going ashore that the cruise lines don’t publicize — the drinks cost far less than what you pay onboard. Get off the ship and you’ll find plenty of bars right in the port area. These spots offer beers, margaritas, and more just a short walk away from your ship.
They may not be authentic, but they are right next to the cruise ships and the drinks can be half as much as what you’d pay on the cruise ship. If you just want to have a good time, it’s hard to beat the convenience.
11. Don’t Forget to Use Coupons & Specials
Many bars and restaurants entice tourists to visit by handing out coupons for a free drink or appetizer… or offering discounts to get you in the door.
But instead of letting one freebie tempt you to order more food and drinks with abandon, enjoy their free offerings and keep an eye on the budget. At the very least it can save you a few bucks you would otherwise spend.
12. Buy Some Groceries and Have a Picnic
Near the main city in Cozumel is a major grocery store (called “Mega”). Head in to pick up some cheese, bread, beer, and fruit at a grocery store where the locals shop. From there it’s a short walk to the main promenade that sits on the water’s edge. Here you can enjoy your food along with a beautiful view. (Costs vary depending on what you buy, but typically a DIY-picnic lunch will set you back less than $10 for two people. Unless you walk the two miles, don’t forget to add in taxi fare.)
13. View the Wildlife at Punta Sur
At the southern end of Cozumel sits Punta Sur. This 2,500-acre ecological park lets you see wildlife like sea turtles and crocodiles in their natural habitat. You can also explore coral reefs by snorkeling. Climb the lighthouse for a stunning view. Or just soak up some sun at their beach — all for just $18 per person. Bathrooms, showers, and beach chairs with umbrellas are all available as well. There are also snorkel and kayak rentals for guests.
Keep in mind it will cost you a few bucks in taxi fare to get back and forth between Punta Sur and the cruise port. (Check out more details on Punta Sur here.)
14. Stargaze at the Cozumel Planetarium
We don’t know anyone that thinks of a planetarium when they picture Cozumel, but if you’re a fan of stargazing, include a visit to the island’s planetarium when your ship docks here.
The planetarium features a 2D/3D full-dome planetarium where you can travel through the stars. Note that there is a fee (approximately $8/per person) to see their films — including one about Mayan astronomy.
If your ship overnights at Cozumel (not common), you can view the night sky through the planetarium’s telescope. Otherwise there are daytime solar viewing available. (Check their website for their schedule, since some activities here are not available seven days a week.)
15. Stock Up on Basic Supplies
Forget something? You can normally get it on the ship, but it’s much cheaper in port.
If you forgot to pack any necessities like band aids, deodorant, sunscreen, or anything else, stop at a bodega or pharmacy onshore. You’ll find one in the port area. Running errands onshore not only gets you what you need, but it also gives you a chance to pick up anything that might make your trip more comfortable at a less expensive price than on the ship.
16. Visit the Patas y Alas Butterfly Sanctuary
Over 85 species of butterflies make their home on Cozumel. A netted tropical garden area enables visitors to see butterflies amidst some of the native trees, orchids and other flowers native to the island.
This attraction is located only 5-10 minutes from the cruise pier. Admission — recently seen for about $20 for adults (12+ years) and $8 for kids (3-12 years) — includes two beers, sodas, or waters per adult, and one soda or water per child.
Snorkeling equipment may also be rented for an additional fee at the beach club nearby. The number of visitors per day is limited, so it’s advisable to make reservations via their website in advance.
(Note: The sanctuary was temporarily closed at last check. You’ll want to confirm their availability before you arrive.)
17. Tour the Mayan Cacao Company
Hot chocolate was once the sacred drink of Mayan rulers and priests. Learn about the pre-European history of chocolate in a 50-minute tour which includes watching a chocolate-making demonstration, seeing cacao plants, and sampling chocolate. The gift shop sells not only chocolate to eat, but chocolate-based soaps and lotions.
It’s best to book in advance if you plan to visit. Tour admission is $15 per person. If you’re a huge chocolate fan, you might want to splurge on one of the more expensive experiences here like participating in a chocolate-making workshop or crafting — and then consuming — a chocolate margarita.
18. Toast Farewell to the Island From Your Ship
Many cruises depart Cozumel late afternoon or early evening, providing a great opportunity to take in a gorgeous tropical sunset as your ship pulls away from the island. Compare your day of exploration with fellow cruisers over drinks, or silently absorb the beauty of the sky over the ocean.
Need more ideas? Check out our article on 64 Things for Cruise Passengers to do in Cozumel.