Welcome to Cozumel cruise port!
Nestled off the northeastern coast of Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is an island of cheerful people, salsa vibes, stunning nature, and rich Mayan cultural heritage. In this article, I want to share with you my detailed insider knowledge and useful Cozumel cruise tips that would help you plan your cruise to Cozumel. Read about:
- Cozumel cruise port (Cozumel cruise terminal info, getting around, helpful tips)
- Top 11 things to do in Cozumel port (both island and mainland) and best Cozumel shore excursions
Cozumel Cruise Port
Due to the large number of cruise liners coming to Cozumel on daily basis, Cozumel cruise port consists of 3 cruise terminals, located within walking/short driving distance of each other. One of them (Punta Langosta) is located in Cozumel’s capital city – San Miguel de Cozumel, whereas the other two (International Cruise Terminal and Puerta Maya) are situated within less than a 10-minute driving distance from the town.
Punta Langosta Cruise Terminal
- This terminal is located within a walking distance of San Miguel downtown and its main attractions, shops, bars, and restaurants. The cruise lines such as Disney, NCL, MSC, Oceania, Silversea, Marella Cruises, and several others normally dock here (this can change, though, so always check beforehand).
- Upon exiting the cruise terminal, you’ll spot a long street filled with shopping malls, souvenir stores, cafes, restaurants, and several historic landmarks. If you turn right, within a short distance, you will reach some of the best ocean-view cafes and bars, such as No Name Bar, crew members’ favorite spot with pool facilities, fantastic food, Caribbean vibes, and a laid-back atmosphere.
- Some great eateries and hotels are located here, including Rock ‘n Java bar & grill, Subway, Hotel Barracuda, Jeanie’s (restaurant), Rolandi’s (Italian restaurant), El Muellecito (Seafood restaurant), La Internacional Cerveceria (great craft beer!), Cozumel Palace 4-star hotel resort and El Cantil Condominiums. Here, you’ll also find car rentals, tour operator offices, shopping malls, and beautiful parks.
- If you turn left upon exiting the Punta Langosta cruise terminal, you’ll spot a long boardwalk offering fantastic sea views, lined with shopping malls, brand stores (Tanzanite International, EFFY, Victoria’s Secret, Cartier, Del Sol), souvenir shops, hotel resorts, tour booths, restaurants, and bars (Hard Rock café). Here, you can explore some historic landmarks and monuments, such as the Coral Reefs Monument, the Mexican War Memorial, the Birds Monument, and the Museum of Cozumel. Housed in a beautiful bright building overlooking the sea, the museum features a large collection of artifacts and exhibits on the island’s history and an amazing restaurant where you can indulge in the Mexican specialties while enjoying the stunning ocean views.
- In front of the Punta Langosta cruise terminal, you can find shops, bars, restaurants (Diamond International, Starbucks), Punta Langosta Mall with a cinema, and a bit further away – the historic landmarks (Iglesia de San Miguel), markets, and parks. Taxis are everywhere, prices are reasonable, however, I would suggest you always agree on the price first.
- Cozumel Ferry – The main ferry terminal is located within a 5-minute walk from Punta Langosta, and offers daily ferry transportation between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. It is easy to find, just turn left upon exiting the Punta Langosta terminal and you’ll spot the ferries close by. There are two ferry companies providing round-trip transport from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen: Winjet and Ultramar. The ride takes about 40 minutes one-way (or less, depending on the company), and ferries run every hour (sometimes they run less frequently, make sure you check Cozumel Ferry Schedule for more details). When you are buying the ferry ticket, make sure you buy a one-way ticket, as the companies don’t accept each other’s tickets. You can check the cost and ferry schedule on Winjet and Ultramar’s official websites.
- Note: Although the official currency in Cozumel is the Mexican Peso (MXN), U.S. dollars are widely accepted. 1 USD equals 19.93 MXN. See the currency converter
- Ferries are double-deckers, modernly equipped, and feature a cafeteria where you can buy coffee and snacks. Keep in mind that a ferry ride can be extremely bumpy (when I say extremely, I mean that I’ve seen dozens of people throwing up each time I went to the mainland), so seasickness pills are highly recommended. Normally they give you a plastic bag upon embarking.
- On the mainland side, the ferry docks a 5-minute walk from Playa del Carmen city center and its shopping streets, attractions, bars, and restaurants. Plaza Playacar is the place where you usually meet your tour guides for the mainland tours, and it is located within a 5-minute walk from the main square.
- To get useful packing tips for your cruise to Cozumel, check out my article What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials
International Cruise Terminal
- This terminal is located less than a 10-minute drive from San Miguel de Cozumel downtown (around 4 km/2.5 miles). It consists of two piers and is usually used by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ships.
- In front of the terminal, you’ll spot a spacious area featuring a large Margaritaville, usually filled with cheerful people dancing salsa, drinking tequila, or eating delicious Mexican food. There are plenty of tour booths, shops, several bars, and restaurants (Bar Mandy, Senor Frog’s, Bubba Gump Shrimp…) in this area. This is where you meet your tour operators when joining the shore excursions. Normally they hold the signs with tour names, so you can easily spot them.
- If you are taking the mainland tour, the ferry picks you up at the pier (no need to go to the San Miguel ferry terminal). However, if you decide to go to the mainland on your own, you need to take a taxi to the ferry terminal in San Miguel and it costs around $6 one-way. The taxi ride lasts less than 10 minutes.
- Upon exiting the terminal area, you’ll see many taxi vehicles and mini-buses, as well as large Mercado Popular and Royal Village shopping malls. This area is packed with brand stores (Tag Heuer, Diamonds International, Harley Davidson) and fabulous bars/restaurants (Hard Rock café).
Puerta Maya Cruise Terminal
- This cruise terminal is located a 5-minute walking distance from the International Cruise Terminal, and a 10-minute drive from San Miguel de Cozumel. Puerta Maya is the largest of all terminals and Carnival Corporation cruise ships dock here (Carnival, Princess, Costa…).
- The terminal consists of three piers. Here you’ll find over fifty brand stores (Cariloha and Del Sol, Tanzanite International…) and shops selling souvenirs and authentic handicrafts, as well as restaurants and bars (Three Amigos is one of the most popular ones – it offers a great selection of tequilas, beers, and yummy food). In this area, you meet your tour operators for the tours, and ferries normally come to the terminal to pick up the cruise passengers joining the ship shore excursions.
- When you exit the terminal, you’ll see large parking with many taxis, a few shopping malls, bar-restaurants, and a flea market.
Top 11 Things to Do in Cozumel Cruise Port
It’s hard to make a list of the best things to do in Cozumel on a cruise, as there are so many fantastic places and activities to do! However, below you’ll read about the top 11, including island and mainland tours and activities. Before I share the best things to do in Cozumel port, I invite you to sign up below and get my insider SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE for FREE!
1. Swim with Dolphins
There are a couple of locations in Cozumel where you can interact with these fascinating mammals. I’ve been to Chankanaab Adventure Park and Dolphinaris, both located within a 5-10 minute driving distance from the cruise terminals.
Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park
- This is where I’ve had one of the best dolphins swim experiences ever! The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the dolphin interactions are done in their natural habitat (not in pools).
- The dolphin trainers will teach you about the dolphin’s life, behavior, and preservation, and you’ll get to choose between several dolphin programs that usually last up to 30 minutes each: Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Swim, and Royal Dolphin Swim (if you want to know the difference between the programs, I wrote about it in details in my article Grand Cayman Cruise Port Guide). Some of the programs include manatee interactions as well.
- Chankanaab Adventure Park includes many other attractions and facilities, so for those of you who don’t want to interact with dolphins, you can simply book a day pass and enjoy the park’s facilities, such as the bar restaurant, beach, showers, beach chairs, umbrellas, hammocks, nature trails, archeological replicas, sea lion shows… It is highly recommended to book the Chankanaab day pass in advance, as it might be crowded at the entrance. The park can generally be crowded as all cruise lines offer shore excursions to Chankanaab.
- There are various Chankanaab tours and packages you can choose from, and the prices vary. The main attractions are Zipline, Diving, Kayaking, Eco-archeological tours, sea lion show, manatee interaction, snuba, sea trek and snorkel tours, tequila tours, dolphin interactions, spa services, and more.
- The park covers a vast area in a beautiful, natural setting. It is family-friendly and suits people of all ages.
BLU by Dolphinaris
- Another place where you can spend an amazing time interacting with dolphins is Bly by Dolphinaris resort, set along the western coast, a 5-minute drive from the cruise port and Chankanaab Adventure park. This dolphin park offers fewer facilities and attractions compared to the Chankanaab but still guarantees an unforgettable dolphin experience.
- There are various dolphin interaction programs you can choose from (Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Swim, Dolphin Royal Swim, Dolphin True Connection & Virtual Reality Experience), and the activity normally takes place at the vast pool by the sea.
- Besides dolphins, here you can enjoy the Tequila Mexology experience, an interactive margarita-making lesson where you learn how to make different types of margaritas, Mexican cocktails, guacamole, and some other local dishes. The activity takes place at the bar overlooking the pool with great sea views, so the whole experience is unique. Once you are done with tequila mixing, you get to treat your taste buds with light bites and drinks you made.
- Within the resort, you can enjoy other facilities such as unlimited food and drinks, a pool, kayaking, and snorkeling. There are different packages you can purchase and the price depends on what is included.
Insider tip: Both Chankanaab and Dolphinaris can be crowded due to the large number of cruise ship passengers coming to Cozumel. The cruise lines offer shore excursions to both places, but these can be overpriced. I would suggest you compare the ship prices, independent tour operator prices, and the parks’ prices for different packages. If you book a tour through your cruise ship, they often give you a limited time at the parks, but normally offer you the possibility to stay longer and return to the ship on your own (you need to pay for the taxi back). The parks are very close to the ship. Also, note that the photos with the dolphins are not included in the price. The prices vary depending on how many photos you want, but keep in mind they can be quite expensive.
2. Off-Road Adventure
If you seek an unconventional, adrenaline-packed way to explore Cozumel, you should hop on an ATV, Jeep, or Dune Buggy and set off for an unforgettable adventure! There are many off-road Cozumel tours offered, as this is one of the most amusing and attractive ways to get to know the island.
The off-road trails will take you to hidden Mayan ruins and villages (El Cedral), Jade Cavern – remote cenote (the natural underground pools considered sacred by the Maya), secluded beaches, ecological parks, Mexican jungles, and caves. ATVs can be single or double, and you can choose to be either driver or a passenger. Dune Buggies can normally accommodate two people, one driver, and one passenger. As for the jeeps, up to 4 people can fit in each, and one must be the driver (you can switch along the way). If you want to be the driver, make sure you have a valid driver’s license and check with your tour operator what the minimum driver’s age must be (usually it’s 16 or 18).
If you book an off-road tour, you are normally provided with safety equipment (helmet, bandana) and you get the briefing before the start. You also need to stay with your group all the time. There are on-site lockers that you can use, and these are normally free. Bring clothes and comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dusty and dirty. I wouldn’t recommend this experience to those with knee, back, and neck issues, as the roads are bumpy and you can get hurt. Also, if you are not ready to get dirty and muddy – think twice before booking an off-road trip!
3. Tequila and Chocolate Tasting at Discover Mexico Park
Discover Mexico Park is an amazing theme park located a 5-10 minute drive from Cozumel cruise port. If you want to go for the tequila tasting – this is the best place, as the tasting tour is both educational and fun, and you get to taste the best tequila in Mexico – Jose Cuervo! The tasting includes three different sorts of tequila: Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo.
You also get a tour of Discover Mexico Park where you’ll learn about Cozumel’s rich cultural and historical heritage. There is a buffet-style restaurant as well, gift shops, a snack bar, gardens featuring Mayan ruins replicas, live performances and entertainment (The Papantla Flyers Show). If you don’t want to go for a tequila tasting, you can join the chocolate workshops or Alebrije Atelier Room where you’ll learn how to create this authentic Mexican handicraft.
4. Cozumel Beach Break
If you want to spend a relaxing day at one of Cozumel’s beaches, you have a few options. Most of the beaches in Cozumel are located on the western coast and are maintained by beach clubs offering all-inclusive service. You can choose between different packages and most of them have an entrance fee as well.
The eastern coast of the island also boasts some beautiful beaches (Playa Chen Rio, Punta Morena) but it is quite challenging to get to some of them due to the rugged terrain and bumpy roads. Waves and wind are also frequent.
Below is the list of the best beaches in Cozumel near the cruise port and those that are relatively easy to reach.
- Paradise beach – Located a 10-minute driving distance from Puerta Maya and International cruise terminals, Paradise beach features an all-inclusive resort with a large pool, a restaurant, bars, beach facilities, several shops, and a variety of water sports (paddle boarding, snorkeling). The beach is sandy with a little bit of seaweed and is family-friendly as there is an aqua park that kids can enjoy. The food, service, and cocktails are excellent! Paradise beach is set among the dense palm trees and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. The entrance fee is $3 per person (beach chair and an umbrella are included) and there is a requirement to spend $10 per person on drinks.
- Carlos’ n Charlie’s beach club – Situated near Paradise Beach on the southwest coast of the island, only a 10-15 minute drive from the port of Cozumel, Carlos’ n Charlie’s is a popular beach club featuring an amazing restaurant that offers a rich selection of dishes, such as Ceviche Santos, BBQ ribs, grilled shrimps, and tacos. The place has a beautiful, sandy beach, a volleyball court, a pool table, an area for kids, and a souvenir shop. It offers various water sports activities (parasailing, banana boat, wave runners, snorkeling), spa massages, and beach facilities (umbrellas, beach chairs, lockers, and showers). There is no entrance fee, and there is free wi-fi. If you look for fun, a party atmosphere, fantastic food, and a wonderful beach – this place is for you!
- Playa Mia – This lively beach club is located a 10-15 minute drive from Cozumel port, and is situated near Paradise beach and Carlos’ n Charlie’s. Playa Mia beach park is the largest Cozumel beach resort featuring a wide range of facilities (beach chairs, umbrellas, cabanas), a large buffet-style restaurant, a pool, bars, shops, a Starbucks coffee shop, a chocolate shop, an inflatable aqua park and water sport activities (kayaks, snorkeling). The sandy beach is lined will palm trees offering a lot of shade. At Playa Mia, you can also book Mexican cooking workshops and learn to prepare ceviche, guacamole, tortillas, and other traditional Mexican dishes – you get to eat your specialties afterward! There is an entrance fee, and there are also different beach club packages and day passes. The only disadvantage is that Playa Mia is often packed with cruise ship guests, as all cruise lines offer shore excursions to Playa Mia. You can get there on a tour, or independently – whatever you choose, prices are more or less the same. See the list of Playa Mia beach break tours
- Mr. Sanchos Beach club – This famous beach club lies on the southwest coast like Playa Mia, Paradise beach, and other beach clubs, a 15-20 minute drive from Cozumel cruise port and San Miguel downtown. The place is set in fabulous scenery and boasts pools, a restaurant, bars, a stunning sandy beach with crystal clear water, all beach facilities, and a wide range of adventure sports (water bike, paddle boarding, horseback riding). The access is totally free, and it’s not required to spend additional money. They have free wi-fi as well. The place is incredible and if you seek an ultimate, all-inclusive beach day – Mr. Sanchos is waiting for you! Explore Mr. Sanchos Beach Club tours and activities
- The Money Bar Beach Club – It takes a 5-minute drive to get to the Money Bar beach club from the Cozumel cruise port. The beach is gorgeous, with clear turquoise water, rich marine life, and fantastic service. Bring your snorkel gear, as the snorkeling experience is great and you can explore the stunning coral reef around you! The beach bar offers facilities such as umbrellas, beach chairs, a bar restaurant (food is amazing!), and live entertainment. For those in search of traditional Mexican food, not much crowd, and great snorkeling – this is the place to go!
- Playa Palancar – Located about a 15-20 minute ride from Cozumel cruise port, south from the beach bars I’ve mentioned above, Playa Palancar is a beautiful stretch of sugar-white sandy beach that has a nice, no-entry-fee beach club (however, $10 is minimum spend) where you can get great food, drinks, a beach chair/umbrellas. It also features water sports and you can book Playa Palancar snorkeling excursions. If you look for a beach with fewer facilities, tranquility, more nature, and not much crowd, Playa Palancar is the top choice! See the list of Playa Palancar tours
- Playa Palancar Reef – Nestled in the lush scenery, south of Playa Palancar, Palancar Reef is a long stretch of white sandy beach with turquoise water that doesn’t offer any facilities except for pure nature, peace, and quiet. You can snorkel here, so make sure you bring your snorkel gear. This place is amazing for nature lovers and those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of civilization. Check out Palancar Reef snorkeling/diving tours
- Playa “El Cielo” – Located in the south of Cozumel, this gorgeous piece of heaven (“El Cielo” means heaven) is set in scenic surroundings and offers amazing snorkeling (beautiful marine life and thousands of starfish). The color of the water is absolutely surreal and offers great photo ops! You need to take a boat to get there (you can book a tour or take water taxis from nearby beaches). The beach is absolutely stunning and you won’t find that watercolor, corals, and aquatic life anywhere else in Cozumel! See the list of El Cielo snorkeling tours
- Punta Sur Eco Beach Park – Nestled in the very south of the island, a 40-minute drive from Cozumel cruise port, Punta Sur is Cozumel’s largest ecological park boasting a beautiful beach with crystal clear, turquoise water and an abundance of wildlife. The beach is very clean and organized, and there are two bar-restaurants offering delicious food and drinks for an affordable price. Nearby, you can admire Mayan ruins, a lighthouse where you can climb and observe the spectacular panoramic view of the island, or take to boat to see the crocodiles. If you seek peace, history, and a beautiful natural environment, this place is a great pick! There is a fee to enter the ecological park. Explore Punta Sur Eco Beach Park tours
- Isla de la Pasion – Lying just off the northwestern coast of the island, a 30-minute driving distance from Cozumel cruise port, the Passion island is a small peninsula with a breathtaking white sandy beach and an all-inclusive beach resort. There are a bar restaurant, hammocks, umbrellas, beach chairs, and activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding. You can drive to the island, or take an all-inclusive boat trip. The island is quiet and beautiful and suits people of all ages. Check out Isla de la Pasion tours
5. Explore Mayan Ruins (Cozumel Island)
If you want to explore the big Mayan ruins, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. On the island of Cozumel, there are no big ruins! There are some, but these are small so don’t expect anything like Chichen Itza or Tulum. The most famous ruins in Cozumel are San Gervasio ruins, a part of San Gervasio Archeological Park, located a 30-minute driving distance from the Cozumel cruise terminal. If you want to learn about the history of the Maya, I suggest you take a guided tour of the ancient ruins. Another option is to explore it on your own.
The ruins are situated in the north-central part of the island and are surrounded by a lush jungle filled with iguanas and beautiful wildlife. There are several ruins to be explored, and you can either take a tour or explore on your own. The network of paths connects the ruins and ancient temples, and there are information boards to be found along the way. There is a fee to enter the park ($10.50 per person/kids under 3 are free, and the price includes free parking), and the park is open from 9 am to 3 pm.
To explore the ruins, you need to be in moderate physical shape. There are some shaded areas, but most of them are with no shade. Bring comfortable shoes and a hat, and keep hydrated. There is a gift shop within the complex and some benches where you can sit.
6. Snorkeling and Diving
For water activity lovers, snorkeling, helmet diving, scuba diving, or discover scuba diving are the best experiences you can get! The best Cozumel snorkeling and diving sites are located along the west and southwest coast of the island, as the north and east are quite rough and windy. The island is part of Cozumel National Marine Park and the water is aquamarine blue and crystal clear, offering an abundance of sea life, which makes it perfect for all kinds of underwater activities.
Snorkeling – You can snorkel from the beach, or in the open sea, depending on what makes you feel more comfortable. There are many snorkeling tours offered, but if you want to snorkel on your own – find a perfect beach, get snorkel gear, and snorkel from shore. Most of the beaches in Cozumel are public and free, but if the beach is maintained by a beach club, you may be required to pay an entrance fee or purchase drinks or snacks in order to freely access the beach. The best offshore snorkel sites include:
- Playa Palancar – a shallow reef that is part of Arrecifes de Cozumel Marine Park, home to beautiful tropical fish, turtles, rays, nurse sharks, and sea stars.
- Chankanaab Park – The popular adventure park offers amazing snorkeling in shallow water perfect for beginners and kids. If you swim 300m/0.2 mi further from shore – you’ll come to the reef teeming with colorful tropical fish such as angelfish, snappers, morays, eels, and sea urchins.
- Villa Blanca Reef – This reef is located between the International cruise terminal and San Miguel, and the most beautiful part of the reef is in front of the Villablanca Garden Hotel. Rich marine life, sponges, and beautiful corals await you in this shallow reef. However, the sea currents can be strong and boat traffic quite dense, so this site is more recommended for advanced snorkelers.
- Punta Sur Eco Park – Another great snorkeling spot, however, you need to swim a long way out to spot stingrays, turtles, and lobsters besides other tropical fish.
If you go snorkeling by boat, there are several locations you should check out:
- El Cielo Reef – The magical color of the water and fascinating sea life make this site one of the most beautiful ones! El Cielo is filled with starfish and is shallow, so kids can enjoy it as well.
- Columbia Reef is one of the top snorkeling and diving spots in Cozumel, situated near Palancar Reef. It’s deep, the visibility is excellent, and you can spot fantastic marine life featuring eagle rays, turtles, and huge corals. Make sure you bring your best waterproof camera for your Cozumel underwater adventures!
Diving – Diving in Cozumel is one of the top experiences you can get on your Cozumel cruise, and there are several wonderful sites you should check out. To go diving, you need to have a professional PADI certificate and fulfill some requirements before joining the tour. If you book a Cozumel scuba dive tour with your cruise ship, make sure you check the details with the diver onboard/shore excursions representative (regarding the gear size, paperwork, etc.), and the same goes with the independent tour operator in case you decide to book with a third party. Some of the best Cozumel diving sites are C53 Wreck, Maracaibo, Cun Chacab, Palancar, Chankanaab, and Santa Rosa Wall.
Helmet diving – One of the most exciting underwater activities I’ve done in Cozumel is helmet diving or sea trekking. There is no certification or experience required, so anyone who is healthy can do it. I wrote about helmet diving in my article 8 Incredibly Fun Things to Do in Cozumel, so feel free to check it out.
Discover scuba diving and snuba are two other activities you can do in Cozumel that don’t require any previous experience or certificate. If you don’t want to get wet, or don’t feel comfortable snorkeling/diving, you can book an Atlantis Submarine tour. Explore the depths of Cozumel Marine Park while sitting comfortably in this powerful, state-of-the-art submarine taking you to depths of 100 ft (30 meters)!
7. Tulum Ruins
The iconic Tulum Ruins are located in mainland Mexico. Before I continue writing about Tulum, I invite you to read these important notes on mainland tours and activities:
- Cruise ships normally offer shore excursions to the mainland where you can explore the world-famous ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, climb the Coba pyramid, swim in underground caves, or spend the day at adrenaline-packed adventure parks.
- I highly recommend you book a shore excursion when going to the mainland, either with your cruise ship (the best option), or with an independent tour operator (their tours can be cheaper), but only if their tours are cruise ship friendly (the arrival and departure time of the tour must be compliant with the cruise schedule). Mainland tours are full-day tours (tour duration is up to 8 hours) and in order to avoid the risk of missing the ship, the most convenient way is to travel with an organized group.
- To go to the mainland, you need to take a 40-minute ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, where you’ll meet your tour guides who will take you on a tour (There are some important things to know about the Cozumel ferry and I mentioned them at the beginning of the article, check it out!).
- If you are joining a cruise ship shore excursion, the ferries normally come to the cruise ship’s dock and you don’t need to go to the ferry terminal. The tour representatives escort you on a ferry, and upon arrival to Playa del Carmen, they will take you to the tour guide meeting point where your tour officially starts.
Back to Tulum… The Mayan city of Tulum lies on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a 1-hour drive (about 64 km/40 miles) south of the Playa del Carmen ferry dock. Once an important seaport and trading center, the site of Tulum is enclosed by the 784-meter limestone wall on three sides, whose height varies between 3 and 5 meters. Tulum is perched on 12-meter-high cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea and consists of a large number of ruins and fortifications dating from the 13th to 15th centuries.
The views of the ocean are absolutely breathtaking, and the ruins are beautiful. The great thing about taking a guided Tulum tour is that you get to learn so much about the Maya, their history, everyday life, and the development of the city. The tour operators are normally very experienced and guides are knowledgeable so they will provide you with precious information and share local stories.
Tulum – Useful info:
- The site of Tulum is quite vast and takes at least a couple of hours to explore. Besides the ruins, you’ll find many restaurants, cafes, gift shops, street sellers, public restrooms, parking, and several other facilities around the site. It can also be very crowded due to the large number of visitors.
- Once you arrive at Tulum on a guided tour, your guide normally tells you the meeting location and time for the way back. Your bus drops you off at the parking lot, and then you need to walk about 10-15 minutes on flat surfaces to reach the ruins. In case you can’t walk, there are trams to take you to the ruins for a small fee. Tulum excursions are not suitable for guests in wheelchairs, as the terrain at some parts of the site is cobbled and uneven.
- During the tour, your guide walks you around and shows you the most important fortifications, houses, and temples, and then gives you free time to enjoy the exploration on your own. The best photos are made in front of El Castillo, the main and largest ruin, however, it’s forbidden to climb it.
- The site has a very limited shade, so it’s of paramount importance to keep hydrated. Bring your hat, sunglasses and comfortable shoes, as it can be very hot in Tulum.
- Very often, cruise ship passengers can’t decide whether to go to Chichen Itza or Tulum. Both ruins are impressive and worth visiting, however, if you hate long-distance rides and prefer scenic sites – the Tulum is a perfect choice.
8. Chichen Itza
One of the world’s seven wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chichen Itza ruins are one of the most important Mayan archeological sites covering an area of about six square miles in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula. The main attraction is a square-based, 80-foot-tall step-pyramid – El Castillo, also known as the Kukulkan Pyramid, constructed in honor of the Feathered Serpent deity by pre-Columbian Maya civilization between the 8th and 12th centuries AD.
Chichen Itza was an important religious site and nowadays you can explore not only the central pyramid, but also other massive ruins such as the Temple of the Warriors, the Great Ball Court, and many other imposing sculptures and monuments. It is forbidden to climb the ruins, only photos are allowed (you can make a video for an extra charge), so make sure you bring your best camera.
Chichen Itza – Useful info:
- The distance between Chichen Itza and Playa del Carmen ferry dock is approximately a 2 h 15-minute drive (185 km/115 miles). Therefore, if you book a Chichen Itza tour, be ready to spend at least 4 hours riding on a bus (round-trip).
- Cruise passengers usually get up to 2 hours of time to spend at Chichen Itza, including both the guided portion of a tour and free time.
- The archeological complex covers a large area and there is a parking lot where buses drop passengers off. From the parking, you need to walk approximately 10 minutes to reach the entrance to the site. Some areas are shaded, but most of the ruins are in the sun and there is a significant amount of walking involved, so make sure you bring water, comfortable shoes, a hat, sunglasses, and a light umbrella in case it rains.
- The archeological complex is mostly flat but has a lot of cobbled and uneven surfaces. Therefore, it is not advisable for guests in wheelchairs and mobility issues to select the Chichen Itza tour.
- There are a lot of souvenir shops, street sellers, café-restaurants, restrooms, and other touristy facilities within the complex, and it is packed with tourists so be ready for large crowds. As the Chichen Itza tours take a full day and there is no time for proper lunch, the box lunch is normally provided and included in the price.
9. Rio Secreto – The Secret Underground River
For those who want to feel an adrenaline rush while exploring the millions of years old human history hidden deep below the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, this experience is a must! The Rio Secreto is a magical underground river located a 20-minute drive from Playa del Carmen, deep inside the tropical forests and underground caves of the Yucatan Peninsula. The river is about 1 km/0.6 miles long and the cave consists of surreal crystal stalactites, stalagmites, and other impressive mineral formations. The water is light blue and crystal clear, both shallow and deep in some parts.
Rio Secreto is part of the long Mexican cave system that is considered one of the largest in the world! The river was a sacred site of the ancient Maya and is full of history. Some rare flora and fauna can be found here, and during your tour, you’ll perform some rituals that Maya used to do.
Rio Secreto – Useful info:
- The cruise passengers joining this tour normally meet their tour guide at Playa del Carmen (if you are joining a cruise ship shore excursion, tour representatives give you the instructions and normally wait for you at the cruise terminal). At Playa del Carmen you take a 20-30 minute bus ride to Rio Secreto, one part of the road being bumpy as you drive through the uneven terrain of the Mexican jungle. Once you arrive on-site, you’ll meet your instructor who tells you about the safety procedures and provides you with equipment.
- The equipment is included in the tour price and consists of a helmet with a lamp, a life jacket, a wetsuit, and a wooden stick to get around the cave more easily. The free lockers and changing rooms are available, too. Once the tour starts, your specialized guide guides you through the caves and points out the different chambers and points of interest. The groups are small, with up to 10 people per group.
- The overall experience requires a moderate physical shape and you don’t need to be an experienced swimmer to do the tour because you’ll get the life jacket anyway.
- On a tour, you spend around 1 h 15 min inside the cave, swimming and hiking through this spectacular cave system and enjoying the silence of pure nature. The water is quite cool, but you’ll be provided with safety equipment and will feel so much adrenaline that you won’t think about the cold!
- You can’t bring your phone with you, but don’t worry – there will be a professional photographer who will make plenty of photos that you can purchase afterward.
- Once you finish the exploration of the sacred river, you’ll be given some time to relax, change your clothes, purchase souvenirs and pictures (for an additional fee), and enjoy the buffet-style traditional Mexican meal with non-alcoholic drinks included in the price.
10. Climb the Coba Pyramid and Swim in a Cenote
If you want to climb the highest Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, book a Coba archeological site tour that usually includes a swim at the Mayan cenote, a natural sinkhole used by ancient Maya as sacrificial offering grounds. Coba is an ancient Mayan city located a 1-hour 30-minute drive (110 km/70 miles) from Playa del Carmen ferry dock. Set in a deep jungle in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by wilderness, the Coba ruins are less crowded than Tulum and Chichen Itza and are a great place to visit for nature explorers. The place is quite big and you can visit it either on foot or rent a bike to get around more easily.
Besides the main pyramid, you can see the ruins of ancient Mayan houses, temples, ball courts, palaces, and more. If you take a guided tour, you’ll learn about the history of the Maya, their rituals, and daily life, which is quite cool as the stories behind the ruins are pretty amazing. The Coba ruins and the nearby village have several souvenir shops, café-restaurants, restrooms, and all necessary touristy facilities.
The Coba pyramid – Useful info:
- The Coba pyramid, known as Nohoch Mul, is 137 feet high and has 120 steps. The steps are not that steep, so it’s safe to climb, however, make sure you wear comfortable shoes, a hat, sunglasses, and bring enough water.
- The site is not suitable for guests with mobility difficulties, as you need to walk more than 2.5 km/1.5 miles over cobbled, uneven, and dirty surfaces.
- One part of the tour includes swimming inside the local cenote, an underground pool filled with fresh turquoise water offering some amazing snorkeling (make sure you bring snorkel gear).
11. Adventure Parks – Xcaret, Xplor, Xenses
If you look for some adrenaline rush, head over to one of the three famous Riviera Maya adventure parks! Xcaret is one of the most famous Riviera Maya theme parks, located a 20-minute drive (18 km/11 miles) from the Playa del Carmen ferry dock. Consisting of over fifty natural and cultural attractions, Xcaret is surrounded by lush jungle and features underground rivers, Mayan archeological sites, and a village, water activities such as snorkeling in a natural lagoon, swimming with dolphins, nurse sharks, stingrays, snuba, helmet dive and so much more! One day is not enough to explore this fascinating adventure park, but if you plan ahead, you can visit the highlights of the park in just several hours. The cruise ship shore excursion department offers Xcaret tours, but in case you decide to go there on your own, check the Xcaret official website for more details.
Xplor – Set in the heart of the lush jungle, Xplor is another popular Cancun and Riviera Maya adventure park situated only a 10-15 minute drive (7 km/4.3 miles) from Playa del Carmen ferry terminal. Zip lines, underground caverns, rafts, amphibious vehicles, and hammock splash are only some of the attractions you can enjoy in this theme park. Cruise ships normally offer an Xplor tour, but if you decide to go on your own, check all the details beforehand on the Xplor website.
Xenses – Another popular outdoor amusement park with sense-themed activities, and optical illusions, a very family-friendly place where kids love spending time! For more information, check the Xenses park website.
The port of Cozumel offers a wide range of choices so make sure you organize your day ahead to maximize your stay in port.
You May Also Like:
Don’t forget to subscribe below and get my exclusive SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE FOR FREE!
This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.