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Caribbean Cruise

9 Best Western Caribbean Cruise Ports

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.

The cruise ports are most popular from winter through spring during the dry season. They also are popular because of Mayan ruins, natural attractions and ecotourism shore excursions.

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.

Nine western Caribbean ports are common with cruise lines:

  1. Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands
  2. Cozumel, the largest island in Mexico
  3. Jamaica, including Ocho Rios and Montego Bay
  4. Roatan off the coast of Honduras
  5. Costa Rica’s Limon port
  6. Belize, including Belize City and Harvest Caye
  7. Panama, including Colón and the Panama Canal
  8. Costa Maya in Mexico, just north of Belize
  9. Progreso, Mexico, on the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula

Each one has distinct reasons for being popular. Of the entire list, Cozumel, Jamaica and Grand Cayman are especially popular.


Cruise port tips | Best time to visit | Shore excursions | Weather forecast

Cozumel is the most popular island in the western Caribbean with more than 3 million cruise visitors every year.

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

It also has a great shopping and entertainment excursion across the water at Playa del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. It’s 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.

Cayman Islands

Caribbean cruise photoOne island dominates the Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman. The second most popular island in the western Caribbean has more than a convenient location. It also has several major attractions.

Stingray 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 of them into the wild.


Jamaica’s two western Caribbean cruise ports at Ocho Rios and Montego Bay make it almost as popular with cruise visitors as Grand Cayman.

The most famous waterfalls in the Caribbean are the cascading Dunn’s River Falls, which visitors can climb in a daisy chain 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.


Roatan is an 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 some 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. It 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.

Costa Rica

Cruise visitors to Central American destinations such as Costa Rica often embark from San Juan, New Orleans or Galveston because they are closer to Costa Rica than the major Florida ports.

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.


Belize cave tubing

Belize 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 for adventurous visitors is cave tubing on the Sibun River. Tubers float through a series of underground caves where Mayans once performed religious rituals. Cave tubing on the Sibun along the stretch that goes underground is one of the best excursions in the Caribbean.

Despite the country’s small size, it still manages to attract about 1 million cruise visitors every year.


Panama is world famous for the Panama Canal. Colón is the main port of call on the Caribbean coast.

Colón cruise passengers can take tours 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 lakes of the canal.

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

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 Belize City or Roatan.

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.

Progreso Yucatan

Progreso is about 90 minutes west of Cancun on the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

It is not as well known as other western Caribbean destinations, but it’s a convenient location to visit for cruise ships that embark from Gulf Coast ports.

The most famous attraction is actually more than an hour and a half away at the massive Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. The drive is long but worth it for many visitors as a remarkably educational and awe-inspiring attraction.

Santo Tomás de Castilla

Only a few dozen large ships visit the small Santo Tomás de Castilla cruise port on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala each year. So it isn’t on the list of popular western Caribbean cruise ports like the ones above.

The port was built specifically by a private company to serve cruise ships. But it’s worth mentioning for anyone who spots it on an occasional cruise ship itinerary.

The port has a cruise terminal with shopping and especially some nice entertainment. There are no shops or restaurants at the port other than the modest terminal.

Attractions and excursions focus mainly on smaller Mayan ruins and nature tours in the area.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
September 16, 2023

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