Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Grant
Located along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, south of Cancun and Cozumel, Costa Maya is a relatively small cruise port near the Belize border. The entire port area was built specifically for cruise ships and tourism, so you’ll find a wide variety of shopping, beach activities, and excursions available right off the boat.
We have now visited Costa Maya twice – in November 2021 and February 2023. Before our first visit, I don’t think I’d ever even heard of Costa Maya. Now, though, it seems to be a regular stop on most Western Caribbean cruises and it’s easy to understand why. I guess I just wasn’t “in the know” before our first visit!
Costa Maya really is a nicely done port for cruise visitors. It offers a good balance of activities. For those who want a more relaxing cruise vacation, you’ll find plenty of laid-back things to do, like lounge by the pool or the sandy area on the water, at the port complex. There are also a good number of excursions for those who want to explore the area.
Updated March 2023
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What to Expect in Costa Maya, Mexico
We first visited Costa Maya during a five-night Western Caribbean cruise on the Regal Princess. That cruise happened right as the industry started opening back up after COVID and the ship only had around 700 guests aboard. And, ours was the only ship at Costa Maya that day, so the port itself was quiet. We spent most of our day visiting the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, which is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Maya.
Our second visit was part of a seven-night cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. This time, we opted for an excursion to the cultural show Aldea Mahahua, Mexico Through the Ages. Thankfully, we also had time to wander around the port, which was packed to the gills by three full cruise ships with virtually all COVID restrictions now a thing of the past.
When you first disembark the cruise ship, you’ll have to walk a long pier to reach land. There are also some trolleys that will take you across the pier if you can’t or don’t want to make the walk. As you exit the pier, you’ll find the ubiquitous Costa Maya welcome sign as you enter a large outdoor mall area.
If you’re taking an excursion, there is a covered hut right at the end of the pier where you’ll likely meet your tour guide. Just check the signs for your particular excursion.
For those not taking an excursion, continue to the left and you’ll enter a large shopping area, where you’ll find all the usual cruise port shops and a few local specialties. There are also several restaurants and a swimming pool, complete with a small lounge area and swim-up bar.
Seriously, if you just want to relax, there are plenty of things to do right at the port (more on that below).
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins Shore Excursion
One of the most popular excursions in Costa Maya is the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins. We chose this excursion because, when possible, we always like to tour something authentic and not built specifically to entertain tourists. Our excursion just took us to the ruins and back. We did this so that we’d have a little time to explore the port area as well. If you prefer to stay active all day, just look for an excursion that includes additional activities… I know there are plenty!
We loaded a large tour bus to make the nearly one-hour drive out to Chacchoben. While the drive wasn’t particularly exciting, it is always nice to see some of the surrounding areas and observe how the locals live.
Human settlement in the Chacchoben region dates back to about 1000 BC. This particular site was occupied several times and likely abandoned around 1000 AD. The ruins were discovered in the 1940s by a private landowner, at which time the temples had been completely overgrown by the surrounding jungle and just looked like hills in an otherwise flat region.
Excavation of the area began in the 1970s and it is estimated that most structures date to around 300-700 AD. The site was opened to the public in the early 2000s and is popular with cruise and land visitors alike.
When you arrive at Chacchoben, you’ll find an open-air shopping area where you can buy souvenirs handmade by locals. This is also where the bathrooms are located. There are no other bathrooms along the tour route, so be sure to go here if you need to.
Your guided tour will take you through the jungle and past several excavated pyramids. The walking trail is mostly flat and easy but it is on natural ground, so wear sturdy shoes and watch out for rocks and tree roots along the way.
We stopped at several different pyramids where we listened to a quick presentation by the tour guide. We also had time to wander around some on our own and take pictures. Since you are walking through the jungle, there is also the potential that you may spot some wildlife. We were lucky enough to see some spider monkeys, which were fun to watch.
The entire loop around the ruins was just over a mile and took 1.5-2 hours.
Do We Recommend Visiting Chacchoben?
Overall, we enjoyed visiting the Chacchoben ruins. While they aren’t quite as impressive as Chichen Itza or Tulum, they are certainly worth a visit. In fact, we always tend to enjoy the “less polished” sites since it allows you to better envision how they were “lost” over time.
Our tour was just the right balance of listening to information from the tour guide and exploring on our own. And, the walking path was not too difficult or long. Perhaps the one drawback was the long bus ride (especially when we had to wear a mask). Still, it gave us the opportunity to see the countryside, which we always enjoy.
You should have time before or after your tour to explore the port and do a little shopping before heading back to the ship.
Aldea Mahahua, Mexico Through the Ages Shore Excursion
On our second visit to Costa Maya, we chose to do a shore excursion to Aldea Mahahua. This cultural show takes place at an entertainment complex that is just a short bus ride from the port.
We chose this in an effort to learn a little about the Mayan culture, which we definitely did! Also, it was relatively short and inexpensive. We hoped that would leave us time to go into the small town of Mahahual after the show. (Keep reading to find out if we made it there.)
After checking in for our tour, we boarded a charter bus for a short 20-minute ride to the Aldea Mahahua venue. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with a traditional drink made from the chaya plant. Chaya is similar to spinach and is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The simple yet refreshing drink is made from cooked chaya leaves mixed with a little sugar, lemon and water. Note: raw chaya carries a toxin but is safe to eat in small doses. Still, it’s best to cook it to remove the toxins.
What to Expect at Aldea Mahahua
From there, we participated in a Mayan welcome ceremony meant to cleanse the spirit. This involved chanting, dancing and burning some sort of incense. The main entertainment consisted of four traditional Mexican dances from around the country. Of course, the performers wore traditional dress for each.
Each dance told a different story and showed off the incredible skills of the performers. Seriously, anyone who can dance while balancing a glass bottle on their head has some serious talent!
Lunch was included in the excursion and consisted of a variety of small bites including empanadas and tostadas. We also were treated to a variety of different margaritas including traditional lemon-lime, mango, passion fruit and strawberry. We enjoyed all of the various flavors, with traditional and mango being our favorites.
Following the dancing, we had time to wander around the small outdoor venue. They have a few peacocks on site, which are always fun to watch. There is also a small shopping area where you can purchase a variety of locally-made trinkets.
Do We Recommend Aldea Mahahua?
Overall, we enjoyed Aldea Mahahua. It definitely was entertaining and gave us a nice glimpse into Mexican culture. It you are looking for a relatively short excursion (only about 3 hours) that is not physically demanding, this is a great option. The food and entertainment were both spot on and we had a great time.
Additionally, this excursion included more margaritas (and tequila) than we were expecting. That is not necessarily a bag thing, we just weren’t expecting to be served four different margaritas over the course of a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, after several margaritas and some relatively intense sunshine, we opted to skip our independent trip into town… we were definitely ready for shade at that point! So, we decided not to walk another half mile into town. After returning to the cruise port, we wandered through the shops briefly before getting back on the ship.
Bottom line, this is a good excursion that is reasonably priced and leaves you plenty of time to check out the port. If you’re familiar with the Polynesian Cultural Center in Ohau, Hawaii, it’s somewhat similar but much smaller. In particular, it would be great for anyone with limited mobility. If you’re looking for a low-key excursion that isn’t too adventurous, Aldea Mahahua is a good option.
Exploring the Costa Maya Port
Whether you have just a couple of hours before or after your excursion or want to fill an entire day, there are plenty of things to do right at the Costa Maya cruise port. The easiest to enjoy is the large mall with shopping and dining right at the end of the pier.
Right in the middle of the mall, you’ll find the Aviarius, which houses several different birds and a series of connected hanging bridges. There was a fee to explore this, so we skipped it, but we did enjoy seeing the flamingos and macaws at the entrance.
There is also a small courtyard for shows in the middle of the shopping mall. During our second visit, we caught the tail end of a performance by a team of acrobats. The show ended with four acrobats hanging upside down by one foot and “unwinding” to lower back to the ground. Yes, I was a little dizzy just watching them!
After our tour of Chacchoben, we spent a little time wandering through the shops and enjoyed lunch at Flavors of Mexico, which is poolside. Our friends, Dave and Jen, sipped on a couple of pina coladas before a tasty lunch of tacos and quesadillas.
Also in the port area is Dolphin Discovery, where you can swim with dolphins. Just a short distance away, you’ll find Maya, Lost Mayan Kingdom, which is a large adventure park with a Mayan ruins theme offering aquatic and aerial activities. You could easily visit either of these without an organized excursion.
You’ll also find a number of white sandy beaches and some excellent snorkeling near Costa Maya and the nearby town of Mahahual. While you can walk to Mahahual, it’s about 2.2 miles each way. We recommend taking a cab, especially if it’s hot. Whether you take a ship-sponsored excursion or book something on your own, there are plenty of opportunities for soaking up some sun!
We enjoyed both Chacchoben and Aldea Mahahua but we still wish we had more time to explore the beaches and the town of Mahahual… that is definitely something we’ll do if we return to Costa Maya a third time!
Final Thoughts on Costa Maya
On our first visit, we really weren’t sure what to expect from Costa Maya but were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s built specifically to cater to tourists, as most cruise docks are. But the visit to Chacchoben made it feel like we actually got to experience some local culture.
When it comes to Mayan ruins, Chacchoben is not nearly as well known as Tulum or Chichen Itza, which are closer to Cancun. But, if you’re cruising, getting to Tulum, Coba or Chichen Itza from the port of Cozumel is generally a full-day tour due to taking the ferry from the island to the mainland. In fact, when we first visited Cozumel, our excursion to the ruins at Coba was canceled due to not having enough people signed up.
That makes Chacchoben a lot more convenient for folks on a cruise. It is just an hour by bus away. It may not be as large or well-known as Tulum or Chichen Itza but it is an excellent example of Mayan ruins and an excellent excursion.
For an even lower-impact excursion, Aldea Mahahua provides guests the opportunity to learn a little about the Mayan culture and enjoy the flavors of Mexico. From the food to the dancing to the lovely venue, it was a nice excursion.
Getting to Chacchoben or Aldea Mahaua from the ship was easy and both excursions left us plenty of time to do a little shopping and explore the port area. If you’re looking for an excursion that shows off the local culture but isn’t too adventurous, we highly recommend a tour of Chacchoben or the Aldea Mahahua performance.
When it comes to other excursions, there are plenty of options in Costa Maya, for adventure-seekers and beach bums alike. Having that kind of flexibility is one of the main things we love about cruising, making Costa Maya a good stop on any cruise!
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