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8 Best Western Caribbean Cruise Ports

Top Destinations Known for Excursions and Ecotourism
Ocho Rios
Ocho Rios. © Jamaica Tourist Board
Western Caribbean cruise ports deliver great excursions on Jamaica and Grand Cayman and great ecotourism in Belize and Costa Rica.

Many of the most famous Caribbean excursions and attractions are found in the western part of the region. All of them are outdoor, family oriented and require a moderate level of exertion.

Eight Western Caribbean cruise ports are popular:

  1. Cayman Islands
  2. Cozumel
  3. Jamaica
  4. Roatan
  5. Costa Rica
  6. Belize
  7. Panama
  8. Costa Maya

Each one has distinct reasons for being popular.

1) Cayman Islands

Caribbean cruise photoStingray City is among the best and most memorable excursions in the Caribbean. It also is among the most exciting and at the same time an educational experience. Visitors get onto a sandbar with three feet of water and interact with stingrays who have become comfortable with human contact.

Seven Mile Beach is one of the largest and best known beaches in the Caribbean. It is accessible right by the cruise port.

Another popular attraction is the Cayman Turtle Farm, which attracts 500,000 visitors a year, according to the farm’s website. This breeding farm has 8,000 green sea turtles and has released more than 30,000 into the wild.

2) Cozumel

Beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins and a heavy emphasis on snorkeling and scuba diving are among the highlights of this popular Mexican island visit.

It also has a great shopping excursion across the water at Playa del Carmen's 5th Avenue, a long and pedestrian-only street lined with shops, hotels and restaurants. Cruise visitors who spend a day or more in Cozumel can take a ferry to Playa del Carmen.

3) Jamaica

The most famous waterfalls in the Caribbean are found at Dunn's River Falls, which visitors can climb to the top. It is one of the best excursions in the region and a memorable family experience. It is near Ocho Rios, which also has the popular Dolphin Cove.

Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are the most active cruise ports in Jamaica, while Port Antonio and Falmouth are up and comers. Falmouth emphasizes Old Word history, culture and architecture.

4) Roatan

This up-and-coming island off the coast of Honduras is one of the less-developed destinations on a western cruise. It receives fewer visitors than most of the other destinations.

It is known for its beaches and especially for its snorkeling and scuba diving thanks to the second largest barrier reef in the world that stretches from this island down to Belize. For the same reason, Cozumel and Belize also are known for snorkeling and diving.

Most ships will dock at Coxen Hole while others will visit the Carnival-owned port at Mahogany Bay.

5) Costa Rica

Cruise visitors to Central American destinations such as Costa Rica often embark from San Juan, New Orleans or Galveston because they are farther south than the above islands.

While some island such as Cozumel emphasize water recreation, Costa Rica focuses on the land. Many adventures are available in the rain forests involving hiking, canopying, gardens, rafting and more. The canopying high over the rain forests is a particular highlight.

6) Belize

Belize cave tubing
This small nation may have the most well-balanced set of excursions. They include good snorkeling and diving, Mayan ruins, animal sanctuaries and more rainforest adventures.

But the overwhelming highlight is tubing on the Sibun River. Tubers float through a series of underground caves where Mayans once performed religious rituals. Cave tubing on the Sibun is one of the best excursions in the Caribbean.

7) Panama

Multiple tours are available to see the Panama Canal in different ways. People can simply go to the locks to see how ships pass through. They also can kayak or boat in the canal itself or fish for freshwater bass in one of the lake's of the canal.

The tours aren't as exciting as others in the western Caribbean, but they are interesting and educational for children.

8) Costa Maya

Costa Maya is one of the smallest cruise ports in the western Caribbean, but like Roatan it is rising in popularity.

It lies about halfway between Cozumel to the north and Belize City to the south. It’s a convenient stopover for cruises that go to both of those major destinations.

The privately owned port emphasizes shopping and dining. The nearby Mahahual beach and town of Mahahual are about two miles away. The Mayan ruins at Kohunlich, Dzibanche and Kinichna are two hours away.

Cruise Weather / When to Go

Western Caribbean weather is known for heavy rainfall in the fall months, especially in September and October. The heaviest rains fall in Belize and Costa Rica, which is why both countries have lush rainforests and popular ecotourism excursions.

The most popular time to take western cruises is December through April for people wanting to escape from the cold northern winters. Temperatures in the western Caribbean are warm this time of year, but it also is the time of year with the lowest risk of rain.

Waters also are a bit cooler, so beach lovers may want to go in March or April. People who enjoy land activities and want to get away from the cold might want to visit from December through February.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   Destinations   

April 16, 2019

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