Ah, Cozumel. When I was in college, Cozumel was one of my favorite spring break destinations. As a SCUBA diver, Cozumel was one of the best places in the world for diving. I spent many a day exploring reefs along the island and many a night wandering the streets of San Miguel de Cozumel, enjoying exceptional coastal Mexican cuisine. After all those trips, I finally made my first visit to the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park on a Western Caribbean cruise.
In the intervening decades since college, Cozumel has become one of the busiest cruise ship ports in the Western Caribbean. Long ago, there was only one cruise ship dock located within walking distance from San Miguel (the main town on the island of Cozumel). Over the years, they have added two additional cruise ship docks, allowing for a total of eight ships to be docked at any one time.
While the northern dock is perfect for exploring San Miguel, the two southern docks are fully equipped with restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the ships. The southern two docks are, however, about three miles from San Miguel.
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Shore Excursion: Punta Sur Jeep and Snorkel Tour
For our visit to Cozumel aboard the Regal Princess, we chose a Jeep and snorkel tour to Punta Sur Eco Beach Park with our friends Dave and Jen. Punta Sur is the southern point of the island and is home to the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park. After meeting up with our tour group right after walking off the pier at Puerto Maya, we had to wait a bit for two stragglers to join us. Once they arrived, we were able to hop in our Jeeps and head south.
A note about our Jeeps: they worked, mostly. They were comfy and a pleasure to drive. That said, I am pretty sure every single warning light was on. Don’t let that bother you too much, though. The reason for that is there is no dealership on the island and parts can be hard to come by, especially during the pandemic, so the mechanics do what they can and keep the Jeeps running. The Jeeps got us there and back without any significant difficulty, so I won’t complain too much.
Lagoon and Mayan Warning System
Our first stop along the tour was at a brackish lagoon. This simple stop really highlights that there is a lot of natural beauty to be found in the interior of the island, not just on the sandy beaches. Our guide spent some time pointing out the various features of the lagoon, explaining why it is such a popular spot for migrating waterfowl (we were there in November, so not a lot in the way of birds) and to keep an eye out for crocodiles which frequent this area.
We climbed to the top of the observation tower, which seems a bit rickety but it held up nicely. The views were spectacular, with great views of the lighthouse in the distance, but, sadly, no crocodiles.
As we got down from the tower and started to walk back to the Jeeps, that’s when I found the crocodile… right under the boardwalk! All you could really see was its snout but it was still really cool to see one right there.
The other cool thing that was right by the lagoon was Caracol, an early warning system built by the ancient Mayans. Basically, if the wind started gusting over a certain speed, the noise it would make rushing through this small stone structure would warn the Mayans living on the island that a big storm was coming so they could take shelter. Learning how early civilizations had systems like this in place without modern technology really is fascinating.
Once we arrived at the lighthouse, we stopped in for a tequila tasting. Of course, the tasting is not much more than an attempt to get you to buy some of the tequila to take home. Still, it was interesting and the tequilas were really pretty good. If we were bigger tequila fans, we would have likely taken home a bottle of the Tequila Anejo, or aged tequila, which was quite smooth and good for sipping.
After tasting the tequila, we decided it was time to climb the lighthouse. The very narrow concrete stairs were a bit tough for Bonnie and the very tight hatch out to the platform at the top was a bit tough for me.
The view, however, was magnificent! Gorgeous blue water stretching to the horizon and a bird’s eye view of the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park, including the lagoon and jungle to the north, made the trip up more than worth it.
At the base of the lighthouse, in the old keeper’s quarters, are several informational displays on the history of the island. Outside the lighthouse is a bar and there is a great spot in the shade to sit and enjoy the views of the Caribbean Sea. You will also find plenty of iguanas scurrying about.
Snorkeling at Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
After spending time at the lighthouse, we hopped back in the Jeeps for a drive through the jungle to a secluded beach with a restaurant and plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs. Our guide for the tour made a point to get our lunch orders going before we started snorkeling so they would have time to prepare the food.
We geared up to get out in the water and, for the first time, Bonnie decided she would really like to try snorkeling. While she grew up in Florida, there is something about swimming in the ocean that really bothers her. Still, she wanted to try it out, hoping the clear, calm waters would reduce her anxiety.
Unfortunately, as we got in, she had a small panic attack and decided she just couldn’t do it. She just doesn’t like open water, despite the fact that she is a pretty good swimmer. Luckily for us, there was an extra guide who offered to take her and our friend Jen on a slower, shallower tour while Dave and I went with the main group.
The snorkeling was some of the best shore snorkeling I have done in Cozumel. While the reefs weren’t as gorgeous right off the beach as they are further away from the island, the water clarity was still great and we were able to see quite a few fish and some small reefs.
Meanwhile, Bonnie and Jen’s guide helped them settle into the shallower waters and they saw just as much interesting sea life as we did. We are very thankful to the tour guides for taking care of everyone in the group who needed a little extra attention.
Pro tip: If you really want to see beautiful reefs and fish, it typically takes getting on a boat and heading away from shore in Cozumel. So, if that is your goal, take a look for a tour like that.
After exploring the waters, we enjoyed a well-prepared lunch of quesadillas and fajitas.
The Shops of Puerta Maya
Once we returned to the dock, we spent some time wandering the shops of Puerta Maya. Right by the cruise docks, there were several good stores, including a couple of duty-free shops for me. I’ll admit, I am always looking for a good deal on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, or some other interesting Scotch, and I always check the prices.
Sadly, there were no good deals, which I kinda expected. The shopping area, like Costa Maya, was only sorta open. This was due to COVID and the lack of cruise ships in port. Additionally, the ships that were there had reduced capacity. There were simply not enough folks to warrant opening most of the shops.
Still, the port area was well done and is perfect for anyone who wants to shop before getting back on the boat. There are even some nice lounge chairs under the shade of some palm trees to relax and enjoy a margarita.
Other Things to Do in Cozumel
As I said above, I have spent a lot of time on this island and really enjoyed it in the past. It is great for SCUBA diving and if you are dive-certified, you should certainly look into booking a dive trip with one of the many dive companies on the island.
I particularly love San Miguel de Cozumel, the island’s main town. It is the perfect small Mexican town and the main plaza is great for strolling and shopping. There are some particularly good restaurants I used to enjoy, like La Mission, which has exceptional Mexican seafood.
One of my favorite things to do when staying in Cozumel on the final day of the trip (you can’t SCUBA dive on the last day of the trip due to the build-up of gasses in your blood) was to rent a Jeep and drive on the backside of the island. The windward side of the island is far less developed and has a beautiful rocky coastline, plus some great little bars, including my favorite, Mezcalito’s Last Frontier. This little dive bar right on the beach is the perfect place to relax.
Final Thoughts on the Punta Sur Eco Beach Park
All told, we really enjoyed the tour. It was just the right amount of adventure in the water for Bonnie and Jen while giving Dave and me the chance to see a bit more. While the Jeep tour through the jungle was really just driving on a dirt road, it was still fun and we enjoyed it – and definitely better than riding in a big tour bus. The lighthouse is really cool and, as a whole, the tour was certainly worth our time.
That said, Cozumel is full of things to do both on the excursion list and off. On our next visit, I plan on taking Bonnie (and any friends who are along for the ride) to see some of my favorite spots on the island in a Jeep.
Still, the tour we did was a great excursion and the perfect way to see the southern end of the island. I recommend it.
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