Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Cozumel Cruise Port: Tips, Excursions and Weather

Cruise ship docks at Cozumel. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Cruise ship docks at Cozumel. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The Cozumel cruise port at San Miguel is a hugely popular stop for any western Caribbean cruise. It’s also a chance to see one of the best tourist destinations on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

When we got there during a summer cruise, it was blistering hot. Temperatures were in the low 90s Fahrenheit. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the visit.

Part of what makes Cozumel so popular is the wide variety of quality experiences. Those experience start with the ability of a cruise visitor to see either Cozumel island or take a ferry across the water to the larger city of Playa del Carmen.

Quick Travel Tips

  1. San Miguel has the shopping and dining and is a long walk from the cruise terminals. Plan on taking a taxi, especially on a hot day.
  2. Cozumel is known for some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean.
  3. The island has several modest Mayan ruins.

Where is Cozumel?

The Mexican island of Cozumel is 680 miles south of New Orleans and 374 miles west of Grand Cayman. The western Caribbean port closest to Cozumel is Progreso, Mexico, followed by Belize City, Belize. Both of them are south of Cozumel. Cancun is only 34 miles north of Playa del Carmen, which is right across the water from Cozumel.

Cozumel Tourist Attractions

San Gervasio
San Gervasio. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The Cozumel cruise port has three terminals at Puerta Maya, Punta Langosta and the International Cruise Terminal. Each terminal has plenty of shopping and dining right by the docks. They also are starting points for various shore excursions.

Snorkeling shore excursions are common. So are beach visits. Cozumel also is one of the Caribbean destinations that has a submarine tour.

For beach lovers, Chankanaab Park claims it is the most popular attraction on Cozumel. It has a beach, snorkeling, scuba diving, botanical garden and family entertainment. It also offers visitors a chance to interact with dolphins. Fees vary according to the experiences chosen. Many cruise lines offer a trip here as a shore excursion. Prices usually start at about $85 per person.

But one of the most popular attractions for cruise visitors to Cozumel is not on Cozumel. It’s across the water at Playa del Carmen.

Visitors freely walk along a lengthy Fifth Avenue that is mostly closed to traffic. Two ferry services provide shuttles between San Miguel and Playa del Carmen. The slower ferry rides last about 45 minutes and cost $7 per person. The faster 20-minute ferry costs $10. Each has discounts for children. (Prices subject to change at any time.)

Cruise passengers don’t have to sign up for a shore excursion to Playa del Carmen from cruise lines. They can reach the ferries from the docks.

Cruise lines also offer shore excursions across the water on Mexico’s mainland to major Mayan ruins at Tulum and Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park. Like Playa del Carmen, passengers get to the mainland by a ferry ride. The excursions cost about $90 to $100 per person depending on amenities.

Tulum is the one to visit mainly for ruins. Xcaret has an underwater archeological site, a Mayan museum, an aquarium, a butterfly pavilion, a bird-breeding aviary and swimming on lagoons, natural pools and an underground river.

All of the above excursions will take a full day and leave little to no time for touring Cozumel. The island offers a small number of interesting attractions other than shopping in San Miguel or spending the day at a nearby beach.

Cozumel Cruise Port Map

Cozumel has some modest Mayan ruins at San Gervasio and good beaches. Some excursions combine the two at a cost of about $80 per person.

San Gervasio is the largest Mayan archaeological site on the island. It was both a sacred and commercial center from 200 A.D. until the Spanish conquest. Other Mayan sites include El Cedral, formerly the largest Mayan site on Cozumel, or Castillo Real, near the northern tip of the island.

The island is famous for scuba diving and offers decent snorkeling. Although coral reefs are found all around the waters surrounding the island, the reefs are best on the west side.

The island has a good reputation for snorkeling, but our snorkeling excursion was not as good as others we have taken in the Caribbean. Experience shows that snorkeling is often a matter of luck with finding colorful fish and other cool sea creatures.

Cruise visitors should know that scuba diving has better coral views than snorkeling because of the depth of some of the reefs.

One benefit for divers and snorkelers alike is the quality of Cozumel beaches compared to Cancun. For that matter, any visitor to Cozumel who likes beaches should take advantage of the opportunity. Some snorkeling excursions enter the water from the beaches.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

The largest beach near the Cozumel cruise port is Chankanaab National Park Beach.  It’s just under four miles from the cruise terminal and requires a taxi or rental car to reach it. The park includes a lagoon, Mayan village and botanical garden.

All of the most popular beaches line the west coast with easy access for cruise visitors. A second cluster lies along the east side of the island only about five miles from the cruise dock.

If transportation isn’t available from the cruise ship via a planned excursion, try taking a taxi to get to the beach. Taxi fares are standardized, but make sure to ask the driver about rates before getting into the vehicle.

We have taken taxis to Caribbean beaches and worried about getting back to the boat in time to leave. Plenty of taxis usually are available at both the cruise docks and at the major beaches. Some taxi drivers will return at pre-arranged times.

Shopping / Dining

Anyone who wants some hardcore shopping and dining can find plenty of it in the San Miguel cruise port. But much more is available by taking a ferry across the water to Playa del Carmen.

The Playa del Carmen shopping district on Fifth Avenue is long, packed and often festive with entertainers. It is one of our favorite shopping destinations in the Caribbean.

For those people who choose to spend the day on Cozumel, shoppers and anyone with a taste for real Mexican food can find plenty of options in the malls right by the cruise port and farther into San Miguel.

Restaurants have a heavy emphasis on local establishments with a handful of major chains such as Hard Rock Cafe. Likewise, the shopping has a strong local flavor with original arts and crafts.

Getting Around

Cozumel has a taxi driver union with standard rates for getting around the island.

Drivers are supposed to carry a laminated rate card that they show to anyone who requests rates. Rates include zones, point to point and other information. Like anywhere else, ask for the rate before getting into the cab.

Although Cozumel has a public bus system, it does not cater to tourists.

Cruise Weather

Cozumel monthly rainfall
© 2021 Scott S. Bateman

Cozumel is popular with western Caribbean cruises from December through March because that time period is a dry season for the region. March and April are especially dry with an average of only four days of rain each month. The total rainfall is only about one inch.

Temperatures are among the warmest in the Caribbean during March and April with an average high temperature of nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit. January and February are cooler with an average high of about 84.

Rainfall begins to climb in May and eventually reaches a high point of 10 inches a month in September and October during the peak activity of the annual Caribbean hurricane season.

Other Tips

  • U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but coins are not. Expect to be paid back in pesos. Know the exchange rate before leaving the ship.
  • English is widely spoken in the more populated and tourist-oriented areas.
  • If you rent a car, note that Mexican insurance is required.
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.
January 26, 2024

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