If you’re taking a cruise, there’s a good chance that it will have a stop in Cozumel. The island is among the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. A record-breaking 4 million cruise passengers visited the island last year. That makes it among the most popular cruise ports in the world.
The appeal of Cozumel is obvious. As an island sitting just about 11 miles off of mainland Mexico, it has some of the most beautiful water in the world, numerous resorts, history, shopping, restaurants, and a relaxed atmosphere that can only be found in the Caribbean.
Of course, many cruise passengers and other visitors coming to the island aren’t exactly sure what to expect, how to get around, or even the basics like dealing with the language barrier or spending money in Cozumel.
For that reason, we’ve put together this exhaustive guide of everything you need to know about visiting Cozumel on your cruise.
First things first, let’s begin with a quick overview of the Cozumel. As we said, the island sits just 11 miles across the water from the Mexican mainland and the town of Playa del Carmen.
While most people just call everything on the island Cozumel, the main city that you will no doubt visit is called San Miguel. Home to about 80,000 people, San Miguel is a bustling medium-sized town, and gets especially busy when cruise ships are docked (which swells the population of the island).
In town you’ll find everything you’d expect from a city of its size, including supermarkets, restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining, baseball stadiums, even a planetarium.
While San Miguel and Cozumel might have been a sleepy tourist spot decades ago, that’s no longer the case. It offers an amazing assortment of things to do for tourists, including everything from visits to Mayan ruins to snorkeling to diving, to shopping and much more.
Of course, so much of visiting Cozumel revolves around the beach and water. Unfortunately, the beaches right near San Miguel (and the cruise ports) aren’t the best. While some small beaches exist in this area, the larger and nicer ones are on the southwest side of the island, and on the eastern side.
With millions of American tourists each year, there is a definite American influence on the island. You’ll notice a number of restaurants that are common in the U.S. English is widely spoken by just about anyone on the tourism industry. Meanwhile, U.S. dollars are also widely accepted.
When it comes to hosting cruise ships, it’s hard to beat Cozumel. With three different cruise piers, the port can host up to eight ships at once. That can mean tens of thousands of cruise passengers in town on the same day.
Puerta Maya Pier
The most southern pier, Puerta Maya, has the capacity for four cruise ships at once. It’s often visited by Carnival cruise ships. Walking from the ship to the port area can be a lengthy walk — especially in the heat and humidity. As you reach the shore, you’ll enter the port area. Essentially a small city is built here to cater to cruise passengers before they head out to the city and before they return back to the ship.
In the port area you’ll find a number of restaurants such as Fat Tuesday, Three Amigos, and Pancho’s Backyard. There are also a number of souvenir shops, duty-free shopping, and even small stores where you can pick up just about anything you might have forgotten at home. There is also a small beach area where you can lounge with a perfect view of the cruise ships.
The Puerta Maya Pier is about 2.5 miles to San Miguel.
Right next to the Puerta Maya Pier but just to the north is the International Pier. It often serves Royal Caribean ships, including their large Oasis-class ships. Just like its sister pier, the International Pier also has a small “city” that caters to cruise passengers.
There are souvenir shops, restaurants, shows, and more, including its own pharmacy in case you forgot something at home. There’s even a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville right at the port. Be sure to check out the large Cozumel sign (pictured above) for a great photo opportunity with the ships in the background. It’s free and makes a memorable souvenir for your trip.
The third cruise port in Cozumel is a few miles north of the other two. Punta Langosta sits right in downtown San Miguel. This is highly convenient if you plan to spend some time in the city. Instead of having to get a taxi back and forth from the port, restaurants, bars, and shops are all within walking distance.
Unlike the other two piers, there isn’t an enclosed area you have to walk through to get outside of the port. Simply walk off the pier, through the pier complex and you’re in town. You do exit into a complex of shops and restaurants, but you don’t have to go through in order to leave the pier area.
If you want to get around Cozumel, then you’re likely going to take a taxi. Cabs are at each port as you exit and cruise up and down all the tourist hotspots. If you’re anywhere that tourists go, you’ll likely be able to hail a cab whenever the ships are in port.
One nice thing about catching a taxi in Cozumel is that prices are set and displayed prominently at the cruise port. The prices are listed in U.S. dollars, and you can pay without having to exchange money. Be sure to bring correct change, plus a few bucks extra for a tip. Prices are based on the number of people taking a ride.
We suggest that you take a photo of the price chart yourself so that you have it with you should there be any discrepancy. Rates are in U.S. dollars.
If it’s nice that there’s a set rate for the taxi so you don’t have to worry about price, the bad part is that the rates are high. Most popular spots can be 15-20 minutes from the cruise piers yet the rides can be pricey in our opinion.
Want to save money? We’ve seen some cruises that partner with shopping centers downtown to offer free rides to their shops from the cruise pier. If you plan to head to town, it’s an easy way to save some cash. Look for a flyer in your stateroom on the day before you port in Cozumel to see if this deal is offered on your cruise.
Things To Do on Cozumel
Cozumel is a playground for those looking to get outdoors at the beach or in the water. But it also has a number of things to do for those who want to experience history, culture, or just relax and be pampered.
For a full list of things to do in Cozumel for your cruise, we’ve covered more than 60 ideas here, ranging from adventure sports to cool indoor activities. Below we have a few of the more popular things for cruise passengers to do, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg for things to do.
Want to spend a day at the beach without having to worry about a thing? Then you might be interested in Mr. Sanchos. It’s an all-inclusive day resort for cruise passengers. Come, hang out on a beautiful beach under a palapa, or near one of the two pools. Eat and drink to your heart’s content, or just swing in a hammock. When it’s time to head back, there are showers available to wash off the salt and sand. There is also an aquatic park for the kids (costs extra), as well as paragliding, horseback riding, ATV or jet ski rentals. Prices start at $55 for adults.
Pronounced Shon-ka-nob, this park is just a short ride from the cruise ships. In fact, you can see them up the coast. At the park there are tons of things to do, including a wide beach with palapas, snorkeling, sea lion shows, botanical gardens with a walking tour, kayaking, tequila tastings, restaurants, ziplining, and even a chance to swim with dolphins. It costs around $20 per person, and that includes a number of free things to do (adventures like ziplining and swimming with dolphins are extra).
Hotels With Day Passes
Want to just enjoy the amenities of resorts on Cozumel — such as a private pool, a beach only to hotel guests, showers, meals, and drinks? A number of hotels on the island (including some right near the cruise ship) offer day passes. Pay a daily fee and you can relax all day. It’s a great deal if you simply want to have a leisurely day at the pool or beach without having to fight large crowds. See our article on Cozumel hotels with day passes here.
Where to Eat
While you may not realize it, Cozumel has a wide variety of great places to eat. You have hundreds of choices around the island. Here are some of the places that seem to be most popular with cruise passengers.
If you’re staying at an all-inclusive with a day pass or you are on an extended excursion, then you are likely going to eat lunch there.
We’ve found that many of these all-inclusives offer up some great food that’s also a nice break from the fare on the cruise ship. Tex-Mex specialties are common, so come ready to eat your fill of tacos, nachos, burritos, and more.
If you’re not an adventurous eater, don’t worry; much of it is similar to what you’d find in the United States as many flavors have been adapted to please American tastes. One plus is that the food always seems fresher than what’s on the ship or back home. As well, alcohol and beer seem to be free-flowing. For lunch you aren’t likely to see fine dining, but a fun “beachy” lunch is always tasty.
We mentioned above that the International and Puerta Maya piers have enclosed areas that cater to cruise passengers. Even Punta Langosta in downtown San Miguel funnels you to a similar area. These spots all have restaurants catering to cruise passengers that want to have a good time.
Across the three you have a number of options, most of which fit into the party atmosphere. They usually serve bar food and Tex-Mex staples, have lots of tropical, fruity drinks, and the music is often pumping. For instance, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Fat Tuesday, Hooter’s, and Senor Frogs all have locations within the port areas.
For a quieter time, try Pancho’s Backyard if you are at Puerta Maya. It offers great Mexican food, along with gorgeous views of the cruise ships in port. They also have free wifi if you need to connect to check on things back home.
Tips for Visiting Cozumel on a Cruise
Having a call to port in Cozumel is a great time. Here are a few tips on what to expect during your stay.
Bring Cash (With Small Bills)
Whether its taking a taxi, or simply providing a few bucks propina (that’s tip in Spanish), it’s a must to pack some cash and small bills when you head to port. Small souvenir stands or other merchants may not be equipped to take credit cards, or you might not feel comfortable swiping your card in an unfamiliar place. Bring plenty of cash to ensure you can cover any expenses that might come up.
Take a Photo of the Taxi Rates
At the taxi stand outside the ports, there are large signs with posted rates. Cozumel uses flat rates from the piers to points of interest around the island. Grab a quick picture of the sign before you head to get a cab. This way there is no dispute in the price of the cab ride.
Bottled Water Is Everywhere
If you’re worried about drinking the water in Mexico, don’t be. Restaurants and other spots all serve bottled water, and its widely available in stores. You don’t have to ask specifically for bottled water, it’s assumed that’s what you want. As well, ice is made from purified water.
Beach Access Is Limited Near the Cruise Piers
Want to just head to the beach on your day in port? Unfortunately, the shore around the cruise piers is rocky and jagged. The “postcard” beaches are further down the island and on the eastern shore. As well, beach access isn’t that great here either. Hotels and development block off each access to get to the water. There are a couple of beaches nearby, but you’re usually best off just going to an all-inclusive where there are open beaches and facilities.
The Two Ports Are Separate
If you arrive at the International Pier or Puerta Maya Pier, you’ll see that they are right next to each other. Even so, they are separated and at least in the recent past there wasn’t an easy way to get back and forth between the two. To be honest, the offer similar amenities so if you visit one, you’ll get much of the same experience as visiting the other.
Wi-Fi is Available in Some Spots
The Internet on the ship can be pricey and unreliable. One good thing about being in port is that some spots have free wi-fi that you can use to connect. For example, Pancho’s Backyard at Puerta Maya features free service so you can catch up back home while enjoying a margarita.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Cozumel Safe to Visit?
Safety in Mexico is always a big concern. News headlines spark a lot of fear in people not familiar with the area. To be honest, Mexico is seeing higher violent crime rates even in places that used to be untouched by the violence like Cancun.
That said, we’ve seen little to suggest these sort of problems exist in Cozumel — especially during busy time like when ships are in port. Most violence seems to stay on the mainland and away from the popular tourist areas.
One concern is that a ferry boat that travels between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen had an explosion thought to be a bomb and another ferry with a device attached to it. That was some time ago, and nothing further has occurred regarding the ferry boats.
Yes, Mexico definitely has problems but for the most part those violent stories you hear don’t occur in Cozumel. Any harm to cruise ship passengers on the island is very rare.
What About Bringing Alcohol Back from Port?
Mexico is known for its tequila and there are all sorts of stores that sell bottles to tourists. Want to bring it back on the ship? Know that you won’t be able to enjoy it in your cabin. When you get back on the ship, the alcohol will be checked and held in the ship’s storage. It will be returned to you the last night of your cruise before debarking. So feel free to pick up a bottle or two to enjoy back home, but any margaritas you drink will be from the ship’s bar.
Do I Need Pesos? What About Knowing Spanish?
As we said at the start, 4 million cruise passengers visit Cozumel each year. The majority of those folks are Americans. To cater to these tourists, U.S. dollars are widely accepted. You should be aware of the exchange rate to know if you’re getting a good deal, but your dollars will be taken just about everywhere.
As for Spanish, it’s always nice to know a little bit, but again there’s no need to worry. English is widely spoken anywhere there are tourists, including restaurants, shops, and taxis.
Have more questions about visiting Cozumel? Let us know in the comments below…