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Cozumel

San Miguel Cozumel Cruise Port Tips

Highlights Include Snorkeling, Mayan Ruins and Playa del Carmen
Cozumel cruise ship
The Cozumel cruise port at San Miguel is a standard stop for any western Caribbean cruise. It’s also a chance to see one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico.

When we got there during a summer cruise, it was blistering hot. But that didn’t stop of 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.

Fast Facts


  1. San Miguel has the shopping and dining and is a long walk from the cruise terminal. Plan on taking a taxi.
  2. Cozumel has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean.
  3. The island has several major Mayan ruins.

Cozumel Attractions


San Gervasio
San Gervasio. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
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 ferry rides last about 45 minutes.

Cruise lines also offer shore excursions across the water on Mexico’s mainland to major Mayan ruins at Tulum and Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park. Passengers get to the mainland by a 45-minute ferry ride.

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 an another day and will leave little to no time for touring Cozumel.

For anyone who stays on the island, 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.

Cozumel has some modest Mayan ruins and good beaches. It also 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.

Anyone with an education interest can see the largest Mayan archaeological site on the island at San Gervasio. 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.


Beaches


The largest beach near the 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.

Weather


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.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

October 10, 2018

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