Port Guide: Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico

Seemingly overnight, the port of Costa Maya has become a popular cruising destination. What was once a sleepy fishing town (and in many ways still is), now sees some of the biggest ships in the world, sailing to the port from everywhere from Galveston to Miami.

Still, for many people Costa Maya is largely unknown. Unlike ports that have been popular for years — such as nearby Cozumel — the word isn’t quite out yet on where to go, where to eat, and what to do.

Furthermore, simply finding more details about the port and what to expect is difficult. We found pictures and reviews of the port and nearby area to be much more scarce than established ports like Cozumel or Grand Cayman.

That’s why we recently traveled to Costa Maya to bring you more details of this growing destination. What follows should provide more insight into the port and what you can expect from your visit.

Costa Maya Overview

Costa Maya sign

Situated about halfway between Cozumel to the north and Belize City to the south, Costa Maya has quickly become a favorite of the cruise lines, and for good reason. Its location near already popular ports mean that the cruise lines can add the stop to their itineraries without adding much time or fuel expense to the trip.

The port of Costa Maya offers several docking spots on its pier, giving the ability for multiple ships to dock at the same time. During our visit, there were three large ships in port, meaning that the pier and port areas were extremely busy. While there are quieter times, don’t be surprised if the port is packed during your visit.

Costa Maya can be thought of at two different areas. First is the port area, which is referred to as Costa Maya. As described below, this area is built specifically for cruise tourists. The second area is the town of Mahahual. This sleepy village on the coast is essentially connected to Costa Maya and is a touch of authentic Mexico.

Click the pictures below to get an idea of what you might see in the port area and around Costa Maya.

The Costa Maya Port Area

As mentioned, the port complex at Costa Maya was built specifically for cruise passengers. That’s both good and bad.

Walking from your ship, the pier goes directly to the port area. There is no way to not pass through. The port feels much like a theme park in that it’s designed like a caricature of a Mexican village. If you are looking for authentic, this is not the place for you. However, if you want an easy and comfortable way to spend the day, then the port is perfect.

The Port Complex at Costa Maya

In the complex there is tons of things to do, including shopping, restaurants, swimming with dolphins, and more. Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to see everything as the port complex feels like it was designed to be a maze. Trying to exit took us through the entire complex… and then back around for another walk through a maze of shops. In total, it can take between 10-15 minutes just to get through the area when trying to exit as quickly as possible.

That said, there are some neat things that you might want to check out, such as fun water features, pink flamingos, and a large pool with beach that’s available for passengers to swim and have a drink.

If all this sounds like it was designed to keep you entertained without ever leaving the port, then you’d be right. You can buy souvenirs, eat a meal, hit the spa and have an adventure, all within the walls of the port area.

Mahahual

If you prefer your visit to Mexico to be a little more authentic, then you can head into the town of Mahahual. Getting there is simple and you have several choices. You can walk — it’s about 45 minutes to the beach — or take an open-air trolley ($3 per person), or catch a cab.

On port day, the town comes alive and rolls out the red carpet to cruise passengers. You’ll find lots of restaurants pushing for you to come visit, small shops and stores eager for your business, as well as lots of other tourists exploring the city.

The town itself is decidedly a beach town; there isn’t a lot more to do in Mahahual than to have a bite to each and hang out on the shore. Restaurants sit right on the water and provide chairs and umbrellas in exchange for your business.

One thing to know is that some cruisers complain of pushy vendors. A simple “No, gracias” should let them know that you’re not interested in what they are selling.

Costa Maya Excursions

What do you do in Costa Maya? There are a variety of options, including just hanging out in the port or heading to Mahahual. However, there are a number of excursions you can take from Costa Maya that will make for a memorable day.

Private seating area

Maya Chan Beach
Just looking to relax? Maya Chan is your best bet. The small all-inclusive day resort is located about five miles south of the cruise port. Here you can sit on the beach in your own reserved palapa while the attentive waitstaff brings you drinks. When it’s lunch time, you are served a simple, yet delicious Mexican lunch. From there you can head out to kayak, snorkel, or just work on your tan. Maya Chan is the highest-rated thing to do in the area, and for good reason. You can read our full review here.

Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
No, it’s not as big or well-known as Chichen Itza, but that can be a good thing. Kohunlich (pronounced Co-Hoon-Leech) sits in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, about an hour to an hour and a half from Costa Maya. Here, you can explore the 1500 year-old ruins without fighting large crowds or walking all day like larger sites. As well, you can still climb some of the structures. It’s a must for any history buff.

Costa Maya Adventure Park
If you have kids, then they will likely be begging you to take them to the adventure park. It’s just a short walk from the port and you’ll be able to see it from your ship. The park has something for everyone, but kids 8-18 will get the most out of it. They will love the waterslides and ziplines. Parents will be more interested in the relaxation pools and lazy river. There is also a smaller water park area for smaller kids.

Costa Maya Restaurants

Hungry? Like with the entire area, you have two options — eat at the port or head into Mahahual.

The port area has a number of restaurants for tourists, including El Faro (a lobster grill that sits right on the beach) and Cantina Latina (Mexican food and cold beer underneath a large palapa).

For more “authentic” cuisine, you’ll want to go into town where you’ll find the following ideas.

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef
This isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense. It’s more of an all-inclusive spot. However, it’s been voted the #1 restaurant in Mahahual. Sitting right on the beach, for $48 per adult you get all you can eat and drink, as well as beach chairs, palapas, and snorkel equipment. The menu is heavy on seafood, but there is something for everyone. As the place only takes in 35 people, you’ll want to book ahead of time via the website.

Tropicante
Another option for those who want to dine with their feet in the sand and a cold drink in their hand. Tropicante is in the middle Mahahual’s beachfront. Your can reserve a table ahead of time or just show up on cruise day. As you might expect, the menu revolves around fresh fish and Mexican food, with everything from shrimp dinners to enchiladas. Be sure that you bring cash — no credit cards are accepted. And if you want, you can also get an hour-long massage for just $30.

Pizza Papi
There is no shortage of beachfront restaurants serving cold beer and seafood. But pizza? Believe it or not, Mahahual has a highly rated pizza spot — Pizza Papi. Here, your pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven. If you don’t want pizza, there are other Italian favorites as well. The spot is funky (we’ve seen it described as a mix between Bob Marley and Day of the Dead), with live music playing in the evenings. To get there, you go into the main town, not the beach — so that means you won’t be dining with a ton of other cruise passengers.

Other Things to Know

Trolley in Costa Maya to Mahahual

  • Taxis or the trolley from the port should only costs $2-3 per person to get into town. Be sure to confirm your rate before you enter the cab.
  • The beach situation can be iffy depending on when you go. This area of the coast has problems with seaweed and sometimes the shore can be covered.
  • Don’t be worried if it takes you a while to leave the port area. In our experience it can be 10-15 minutes of walking and crowds before you finally make it out.
  • Be sure to get a souvenir photo in front of the Costa Maya sign located right where the pier meets the port. There is also a Mahahual sign near the lighthouse. It’s a free way to remember your trip.

Have specific questions about sailing to Costa Maya? Let us know in the comments below.

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