Cozumel is one of my favorite spots in the Caribbean. It has a special place in my heart. I spent several spring breaks here during college, leading SCUBA diving trips to explore the gorgeous reefs which border the island. Now, Cozumel is a bustling cruise port. Indeed, virtually every western Caribbean cruise docks in Cozumel.
When you spend a week on an island, you can’t help but get attached to some of the quirks and nuances of the place. Since then, I have returned to Cozumel several times on cruise ships. While one day in port isn’t enough to discover all of Cozumel’s secrets, it is still enough time to understand why it is such a popular destination.
So, let’s talk about some of the things you can do in Cozumel and how to make the most out of your limited time on the island.
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The Basics of Docking in Cozumel
There are three cruise ship docks on the island of Cozumel: Punta Langosta, the International Pier and Puerto Maya.
Punta Langosta is located just south of the main square of San Miguel de Cozumel. San Miguel is the main city on the island. This dock is used by Norwegian, MSC, Disney, along with ferries and smaller cruise lines.
The International Pier is about three miles south, and Puerto Maya is another two miles south. The International Pier is generally used by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and some Norwegian cruises. Puerto Maya is a Carnival and related cruise line-only dock (including Princess Cruises).
We have docked at all three, most recently Punta Langosta and Puerto Maya. All three docks have plenty of shopping available right there at the port. Punta Langosta has a two-story mall you will walk through. Puerto Maya and the International Pier both have shopping plazas you can walk through just off the piers. Prices, though, are going to be higher than you will find in the town of San Miguel.
If you want to go to San Miguel, it is easy enough to get a cab. You can get one from either the International Pier or Puerto Maya. The prices for a cab into town are fixed. There are zone maps indicating how much a cab ride will cost to wherever you want to go.
From Punta Langosta, all you have to do is walk about five minutes to get to the main square of San Miguel.
Things to Do in Cozumel
Explore San Miguel
San Miguel is one of my favorite small towns in the Caribbean. Perhaps it is a bit of nostalgia but walking the streets of the town again a couple of months ago felt like coming home again. I even walked down to see if my favorite dive hotel was still there! Yup, the Hotel Barracuda is still there!
We spent a couple of hours wandering the streets, checking out the main square, doing a little shopping, and generally enjoying the great atmosphere this town has. If you have nothing else to do in port or you like to shop, go walk the streets of San Miguel and look for a good deal.
Don’t be afraid to do a little haggling, too! You might find some exceptional deals well away from the shops which cater to the cruise ship passengers.
Relax on a Beach, Go Snorkeling or SCUBA Diving
As you head further south from San Miguel, you will find several resorts, beach complexes and eco-parks. Most of these beaches are developed, with plenty of amenities and comforts. If relaxing on a beach is what you want to do, you will find plenty of opportunities to do just that.
If getting out in the water is on your agenda, Cozumel is known for exceptional reefs and serious water clarity. While the addition of the two southern cruise terminals definitely disrupted the reefs, you will still find outstanding water clarity.
There are several good reefs you can snorkel from shore, like Playa Corona and Chankanaab. Chankanaab is an eco-park and you will have to pay to visit the park, plus a fee for snorkel gear. Playa Corona is further south. It does not have a fee but you will want to spend some money with the restaurants to support the facilities.
You can also book a snorkeling tour, either on the cruise ship (our recommendation) or on the shore.
If you are dive certified, there are plenty of dive boats on the island. I recommend contacting the dive shop in advance. You want to make sure you can hop on a boat with them, especially one of the faster boats. You also want to make sure they know to have you back at the pier in time for your departure.
It has been more than 20 years since I dove in Cozumel. That said, the reefs around Palancar, Paradise, and Santa Rosa Wall stand out in my memory as great dive spots. Cozumel is known for drift diving where you let the current do most of the work for you. Seriously, Cozumel will spoil you as a diver.
Rent a Car and Drive the Island
Most of the resorts are on the west (leeward) side of the island, out of the wind and surf. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the east (windward) side of the island!
Truly, driving around the back side of the island is one of my favorite memories. One of the rules about SCUBA diving is you can’t fly within 24 hours of diving. So, that always left us with the last day to do something different! One year, we rented a Jeep with no top. We spent the entire day checking out the various beach bars and exploring the rugged eastern coast.
You will find plenty of places that will rent you a car in San Miguel. You will also find rentals right at your cruise dock if you are at the International Pier or Puerto Maya.
There are plenty of cool places to explore, like Punta Sur, where the lighthouse is at the southern end of the island and Mezcalito’s, my favorite tiki bar located at the northeastern corner of the road.
Head to the Mainland
There is one more pier at Cozumel. That is the ferry pier which is located right across from the main square of San Miguel. If you want to take a ferry to the mainland and spend the day in Playa del Carmen (which has grown so much since the quiet beach town I remember!) or take a tour of the Mayan Ruins at Tulum or Coba (my favorite!), you can.
A word of caution about taking the ferry if you are in Cozumel on a cruise: the ship will not wait for you if the ferry is having problems UNLESS you booked a shore excursion to the mainland through the ship. Indeed, we have noticed fewer and fewer offered shore excursions that take guests to the mainland for this reason.
Still, you can easily hop a bus in Playa del Carmen to the ruins in either Tulum or Coba. Those were other trips we did on the last day before flying home on SCUBA trips.
Take a Tour to Explore the Island
If striking out on your own feels a little overwhelming, you can take a shore excursion through your ship, through a company like Viator, or book one on your own when you arrive on the island.
When we went with our friends Dave and Jen in 2021, we opted to take a Jeep and Snorkel Tour of Punta Sur. This allowed us to get off the main drag and see some of the more remote spots of Cozumel.
We drove Jeep Wranglers, which mostly worked, on dirt roads to see the lagoons at the southern end of the island, see the lighthouse, do a tequila tasting and then head to the beach for snorkeling and lunch.
It was a stress-free way to see a good bit of the island and we had a blast. I recommend the tour as a way to get a good taste of Cozumel without a lot of planning or stress.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Cozumel
Whether you come to Cozumel to relax on the beach at a resort, get out on the water, explore a quaint Mexican beach town, or explore the rugged, undeveloped eastern shore, you will find plenty to fill several days in Cozumel. If visiting on a cruise, you might be overwhelmed by all the options. Just remember, if you’re a frequent cruiser, you’ll likely have the opportunity to return to Cozumel!
While this island has definitely changed (a lot!) since I came here in the late 90s, every time I return, I am reminded of everything I love about this place. It is easy to get around, easy to explore, and easy to find something for just about everyone.
If this is your first trip to Cozumel, I hope you find your way past the shops at the port to get a taste of this lovely Mexican port.
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