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Cruise Diva Goes Ashore: Sights to see, things to do, where to shop & hit the beach

Cozumel ~ Mexico

Nearby ancient Mayan ruins are the main draw to cruise passengers alighting on the tiny island of Cozumel or tendering into the shore excursion centers at Playa del Carmen or Calica on the mainland. This is Mexico. Naturally Spanish is the native language, although English is widely spoken in tourist centers.

Most passengers on ships docking in Cozumel will find themselves at the downtown pier or one of the two outlying international pier, close to the beaches, but about four miles from tiny downtown San Miguel. Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful and open-air jeeps are a popular choice of rental transportation. Mopeds are also available but are not usually recommended due to the heavy traffic, bad roads, and the high accident rate. If you are anchored and tendering in to the downtown pier, or fortunate to arrive on a ship that can dock there, you’ll find yourself in the heart of the activity.


San Miguel is so small that walking is the easiest way to have a look around. You’ll find a Tourism Office on Plaza del Sol that distributes information and maps. The highlights of the Museo de la Isla de Cozumel include two floors of exhibits covering pre-Hispanic times to the present and a reproduction of a Mayan house. Actual Mayan ruins on the island are meager, with little but a few columns and arches remaining at El Cedral and San Gervasio. Many cruise passengers eventually find the favorite tourist watering holes, Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s and Señor Frogs. Take care when ordering more than one of the traditional Margaritas—they are often made with over-proof tequila and very potent.

Chichén Itzá is the largest and most well known of the Yucatán ruins. Dating to A.D. 445, the area covers seven miles so only a fraction of it can be explored in a day. The walled city of Tulum, the only Mayan city built on the coast, is eighty miles south of Cancún. As at Chichén Itzá, its most prominent structure is a pyramid. Because of the distance to the ruins (and the advantage of disembarking the ship in Playa del Carmen), shore excursions are the best ways to reach Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and the ruins at Cobá, a half hour drive northwest of Tulum.

Just outside San Miguel is Chankanaab Nature Park, where visitors find an archaeological park with reproductions of Mayan dwellings, a saltwater lagoon, offshore reefs, and underwater caves to explore. With a wide white-sand beach and full facilities, it’s a favorite spot to spend the day scuba diving or snorkeling to discover the sunken ships offshore.

Located near Playa del Carmen is the Ecological Theme Park, Xcaret, a 250-acre site that includes Mayan ruins, lush landscaped grounds, a botanical garden, and underwater river ride through a series of caves. It’s somewhat touristy, but a nice place for families to spend the entire day.


Most excursions will include a shopping stop, but the main center for shopping is in San Miguel. You’ll find silver jewelry, loose stones, onyx chess sets, and a wide selection of Mexican crafts and clothing items. Some downtown merchants have shops at the foot of the international pier and also offer competitive pricing, as well as duty-free commodities.

While the nuevo peso (or new peso) is the local currency, American dollars and credit cards are widely accepted.


Playa San Francisco is a three-mile stretch of powdery white sand beach on the southwestern shore of Cozumel. Water sports equipment is available for rent. About a mile south of Playa San Francisco is Playa del Sol, another popular beach. 

Made famous by Jacques Cousteau, Palancar Reef, featuring giant sponges, deep caves, canyons, and black and red coral, is the finest diving spot. For non-divers, the best bets for snorkeling are Playa San Francisco and Chankanaab Bay.

Fodor's Caribbean Ports of Call 2013
is all you need to plan your days ashore, PLUS a cruise primer section and cruise line profiles by Cruise Diva, Linda Coffman

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