Cozumel may be the quintessential cruise port in the Western Caribbean. An island located off the Eastern Coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is perfectly positioned to host numerous ships daily, and offer every imaginable type of shore activity.
There are several landing spots, but Carnival Cruise Lines usually anchors at Puerta Maya. The island allows piers to be built right off the coast making the trip from ship to shore an easy one. Stroll through the duty free shopping, but don’t buy just yet, as you have a long day ahead of you and there will be plenty of opportunity to spend your port dollars.
Speaking of ports and dollars, you do not need to convert your money to pesos. All of the vendors are more than happy to accept your cash and most of what you find will be priced in both US and Mexican currency. Be sure to bring small bills so that you can negotiate. It is said by locals that only American Tourists pay full price. Bundle your purchases and make an offer, you will enjoy the banter and get a great deal.
After you cross the gangway, also known as the bridge thingy off the side of the ship, the fun begins. We always stop and pose for the photo ops with the characters walking around, and the mandatory life ring shot. There are lots of photo ops setup to memorialize your vacation and time in port. To get the most out of them, wait until later in the day until the crowds have cleared.
While everyone is herded toward the duty free shops, you can bypass them if you want, or need. Those with mobility issues may find it easier to go around the outside than to navigate the maze of booze and perfume. However, if you need to cool off, or want to find a good deal on high end liquors, perfumes or even Vanilla Extract, this is the place to hang back and relax for a bit before heading out into the heat. Just remember, you have to carry what you buy until you return. Also, if you purchase booze, when you board the ship, it will be confiscated by security until you disembark.
Exiting the Dufry shops you will find the port proper. Shopping, dining and things to do are everywhere. If you are taking a ship sponsored shore excursion, you will find your guides here, holding a sign and checking you in. If you need a Margarita to start your adventure, take a left and head over to Fat Tuesdays, OR take a right and get your drunk on at Tres Amigos. Both are festive spots and offer free wifi codes on the receipt, but Tres Amigos appears to have better food. Hit up Ron Jon’s Surf Shop or Pirana Joe’s if you need swim and beach gear. Stop by Diamonds International to grab a free charm, and maybe spend a little of your cash on a new watch or diamond ring. Shop the stands in the middle for locally crafted leather goods, or wind chimes. There is a lot to choose from.
It is easy to walk around and see what is what, but here are some tips. First, definitely buy some Vanilla Extract. Some of the best to be found is here, it is cheap and it will make your cookies better than ever. Second, hit up the pharmacy. Antibiotics and other common sense drugs are available over the counter, so you may want to stock up here instead of going to your doctor for an obvious sinus infection. (do not misconstrue this as medical advice – I am a Doctor of Love, but I cannot practice medicine)
There are beach chairs setup on a man made section of beach if you want to just relax and enjoy the ocean breeze. You can get a massage, or catch some local music from the Mariachis. You can have a full day of fun here and never leave the port, but there are a plethora of excursions to explore.
Excursions are FUN
Twister Boat to Passion Island – Carnival Excursion
One of our first excursions ever was an all-inclusive beach day on Passion Island. A private resort, you arrive in one of two ways; Catamaran slowly, or Twister Boat wildly. We opted for the wild ride and got exactly what we asked for.
Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and taking a ride in the Twister boat is doing exactly that. Safety is attempted, but not exactly guaranteed. And while my seatbelt was a little iffy, in the end we made it safely to shore, though not necessarily dry. These boats are designed with an especially shallow draft that allows the driver to execute 180 degree spins pretty much soaking everyone behind him. After the fun and on straight runs you get a great view of the coastline and the beauty of the Caribbean waters.
On Passion Island you are surrounded by Palm trees, hammocks (both in and out of the water), plenty of sun chairs and fun. Drinks are free, but not necessarily overpowering, and can be enjoyed in a swing at the bar. You can get something a little stiffer at the cash-bar, but if you drink enough of the free stuff over the course of several hours, you will be feeling no pain on the ride back to the port. Lunch is served via buffet and has some pretty good food. It is not going to blow you away, but it will definitely fill you up and keep you on your feet. Don’t drink on an empty stomach in Cozumel. Trust me. Google Pier runners if you want further evidence.
Shopping is available and here again you can get some free charms just for stopping in. Beautifully crafted porcelain is available in everything from small statuettes to the bathroom sink (literally). Woven ponchos, rugs, sarapes and Jergas are adorned in the beautiful hues of the Mexican culture. Embroidered shirts and scarfs, hats, totes and backpacks can be picked up for a steal. Again, don’t be afraid to negotiate your best price.
Passion Island or Isla Pasion, has a lot of fun to offer. Entertainment can be had whether playing on your own, or by participating in the games hosted by the entertaining staff. Limbo, balloon pass, and other beach activities make the day go by way too fast. This is a beautiful island, so make sure you take it all in and explore the mangroves before you get lost in the party, and miss all there is to experience.
After your perfect day on Passion Island, your friends will be back to grab you on the Twister Boat for another crazy ride back to port. Thankfully we didn’t get soaked where we were seated, and so we didn’t have to worry about drying off before we went shopping. We always doing our shopping last. We usually find thinner lines and vendors even more willing to deal. Plus, we have to carry around our bags of souvenirs less.
Mr. Sanchos – Private Excursion
While there are some excursions that are booked directly via the cruise lines, there are many more to be found on your own. Depending on your desire for adventure, you can make your way to beach clubs, Aztec ruins, hidden Cenotes, or even Action Parks. You will have to make your way out of the port area and grab a cab outside the gates. Just keep making your way to the left if you are facing away from the ship, and you will find the exit. The taxi stand only allows accredited drivers into the queue, so you can feel comfortable that you won’t end up stranded on the coastal highway.
So, for a mere $17 you can take a taxi down to Mr. Sanchos Beach Club, and I would highly recommend you do. You will not have the back to ship guarantee, so keep you watch on ship time and get back to port early, but otherwise, this is an opportunity to enjoy another all-inclusive and private beach club.
Like Isla Pasion, there are palm trees everywhere, as well as beach palapas (thatch umbrellas) with tables, and for the romantics, private cabanas. What sets Mr. Sanchos apart from the rest is the quality of service – every guest has a dedicated server and food can be ordered ala carte, or enjoyed at the buffet. Also, the drinks are MUCH better. They are made a bit stronger, and the bartenders are very good at keeping your cups full. Additionally, the two pools with swim up bars make Sanchos the perfect place to party and let loose.
The food at Mr. Sanchos is fantastic as well. You can find the menu online and the food is delicious. The coconut shrimp were large and very tasty, and the fresh Ceviche was crisp and bright. The buffet has many favorites if you don’t want to wait. Nachos are always good on the beach with a nice margarita and some friends!
You can book a couples or private massage, take a horse back ride on the beach, take an ATV tour, or spend the day playing on the Aquatic Park where slides, trampolines and Climbing fun are found floating in the shallows. You can book these activities in advance, or the day of your arrival, but you might want to book early if it is a busy day at port.
In addition to massages, Sanchos now offers several spa experiences. I cannot say anything about most of these, as they are pretty new, but one of them was front and center while we visited. A popular treatment in the Caribbean is the fish pedicure. Doctor Fish (Garra rufa for the geeks like me) are used to eat away the dead skin from your feet, exposing new skin. Being nosey I have asked how it felt and every response has been positive. It looks kind of gross to me, but apparently there are less issues than with the foot bath in your local nail salon (seriously, look it up on CDC).
With the drinks flowing freely and the fun surrounding you, it would be very easy to become a pier runner at the end of the day. Keep an eye on your watch, and your server will too. They know their business is determined by the number of travelers that make it safely back to ship, so they do their best to get you in a taxi and back to port on time. However, if you stop off for one or two more at Tres Amigos, you may well find yourself standing at the end of the pier waving goodbye to your cruise ship.