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. We spent most of our day in port visiting the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, which is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Maya.
Since Costa Maya is not quite as big or popular as some other cruise ports, you might be unsure about choosing a cruise that stops there. And, honestly, we ended up here accidentally as the itinerary for our Western Caribbean Cruise on the Regal Princess got changed after we booked it.
Costa Maya really is a nice port, though, and 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 right at the port area. There are also a good number of excursions for those who want to be more active.
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What to Expect in Costa Maya, Mexico
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
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. Our tour was just the right balance of listening to information from the tour guide and exploring on our own. After the tour, we had a little time to do some shopping before heading back to the port.
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.
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. Whether you take a ship-sponsored excursion or book something on your own, there are plenty of opportunities for soaking up some sun!
I’m very glad we visited Chacchoben but I do 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!
Final Thoughts on Costa Maya
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 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.
Getting to Chacchoben from the ship was quick and easy and still 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.
After that, you’ll have plenty of time to add on another excursion, do some shopping, or just head back to the ship and relax. 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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