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Cozumel: Home to Cruise Ships, Shipwrecks and Crocodiles

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View Mexico 2021/2022 on millerburr's travel map.

After a rather harrowing 30-minute high-speed catamaran ferry from Playa del Carmen, in which many of us emerged nauseated, if not actually vomiting, we landed into the welcoming arms of Cozumel's many, many vendors, tour operators and strangely, diamond salespeople. Big tip for travelling by catamaran? Sit in the middle of the boat and keep your eyes on the horizon. Big tip for avoiding vendors as you emerge into a new place in a state of confusion and disorientation? Keep your eyes on the horizon and do not engage.

In spite of my finely-tuned resistance to the sales pitch, on our second day in Cozumel, I found myself whisked off the street and into a salon where a dazzling young woman patted cream onto the bags under my eyes and clucked sympathetically as I held a small dryer to allow the serum to set. For just US$180, (normally $800), I could solve the problem of my baggy eyes; and in a critical error of judgement, she elicited an opinion from Stephen, who had just wandered in with his rumpled hat, eating a bag of chips. Nonplussed, he stared at my eyes, trying to guess which one had been worked on. To give the salespeople their due, they had a good-natured laugh about it. We were so clearly not their target market.

Honestly, although the streets are lined with shops, the vendors are not aggressive. They welcome you in to their shops and when you decline, give a smile as you walk by.

So, on to the cruise ships - part of the reason these shops exist in the first place. I can't tell you the numbers in 2021, but Cozumel is the busiest port of call in the Caribbean, and they average between 25-35 ships every week, spilling out up to 100,000 guests in that space of time.


We were dreading their impact on our visit: anticipating the "sidewalk shuffle", long lineups for restaurants and beaches packed to capacity. We don't know where they all were, but those thousands of passengers were simply not in evidence. One restaurant owner told us that the larger cruise lines have specific shopping plazas and attractions that their passengers are steered toward, and the overall economic benefit for smaller businesses is not that great. He told us that many business owners and residents would be much happier if the cruise ships were not there.

Cozumel's malecon is scenic - running for a few kilometres along the west side of the island. One side is lined with shops and restaurants, and the other runs right along the water.

Sculptures line the walkway.


This boat was wrecked in a hurricane and became permanently beached. It has since been painted and is now something of a tourist attraction.


Cozumel has a large number of resorts that line the northern edge of the island; many of them fully contained with pools, restaurants and amenities.

This leafy boulevard runs through the hotel zone.


There are a number of small hotels right in town, but we opted for an Airbnb located in a pretty Mexican neighbourhood. This is the gate to our second-floor casita.


Our studio was well appointed and designed, with a small deck in the front, and windows that let in light and breezes and birdsong. Our host is a cellist with the Quintano Roo symphony, and she and her architect dad designed the space.


We really enjoyed wandering the streets in Cozumel - an architectural feast for the eyes.



We discovered a few great little spots to eat. This one was just around the corner from us:


Our host recommended Novena Ola, so we had our final lunch in Cozumel there today. It was such a delightful surprise, for many reasons. First of all, prices were in pesos, not US dollars. Most shops and restaurants in Cozumel are priced in US dollars. Secondly, we were the only non-Mexican guests there, which is often a good sign - eat where the locals go, or at least where the Mexican tourists go. Everything clicked - the setting, the service, the view...


...and the food. Chilaquiles - so delicious.


We really liked Cozumel and it was way more laid-back and less touristy than we had thought it would be. It has a very Caribbean feeling to it - so lush and slightly different even from Puerto Morelos. However, beach access and getting around the island can be a costly endeavour. There are no buses, and unless you are staying at a beachfront resort, there are no beaches within walking distance. You have two choices - taxi or car rental. We had plans to go to a few different beaches, but one day we stayed home because Stephen was not feeling so well. Yesterday we did not go to the beach because we had a full day the day before and were a little sunned out. So, we cannot give a full description of beaches and particularly of snorkeling options, as we really only had the one day.

We chose to go to Punta Sur, which is an ecological reserve right at the south end of the island, featuring swimming, snorkeling, a lagoon that is home to crocodiles, and a lighthouse. After that, our plans were to drive up the east coast of the island, which is far less-visited and far more wild.
For that, we needed to rent a car (US$55). What $55 buys you in Cozumel is a tiny white high-mileage vehicle with mountain-bike sized tires, innumerable scratches and dents and a resident ghost. I was hearing indistinct voices and then our radio kept flashing on and off until I gave it a good bang. Still, it took us where we needed to go and once we were out of town, the road was practically empty.

Once we arrived at the Punta Sur entrance, we still had four miles to go down a dirt road in hilariously poor condition; an obstacle course that meant we drove at 20 kph the whole way. This photo does not begin to show the axle-bending potholes. Still - a change of scene and a reminder that much of Cozumel is uninhabited and rugged.


Along the way, we saw signs warning that swimming was prohibited due to the rough waves. Then we spotted the lighthouse - the signpost that indicated the road was leading us back into the calm bay.


We had our almost-new snorkeling gear to try out, and no sooner were we settled into our sunbed and chair than we were heading for the water.


Pure heaven, this water, but although we have developed a much higher comfort level with snorkeling, we did not see anything more exciting than several schools of fish, some fan coral, and an eel. We needed to swim out a little further to see the big "catches", but the water was a bit bouncy. It is a shame really, as Cozumel has a reputation for some incredible snorkeling and diving.

Still, we had a fantastic day enjoying our beautiful surroundings, and the nearby wildlife reserve. We had an up-close visit with the Great Egret, who watched us closely, but stayed still for a photo.


We saw this Roseate Spoonbill, who did not cooperate with me by lifting up their beak for a photo op.


As we were leaving the beach, we noticed a couple taking photos and there they were - the pygmy raccoon that is endemic to Cozumel. So adorable (not a word I normally attribute to a raccoon), but these little guys are a bit shy, with ropy tails and curved snouts. The restaurant owner had tossed down a coconut at the end of the day, which coaxed them out of hiding.


We had the opportunity to take a boat ride into the lagoon, but decided against it as the boat was just crammed with people. Also, I had forgotten my mask back at our beach site and wouldn't have been allowed on the boat anyway, so it was a moot point.

Luckily for us, on our way out of the park, we stopped at the lagoon lookout point.


And as is always the case in wildlife sightings, timing is everything. Just as we were walking up the boardwalk, this large fellow slid out of the shallows and went for a languid glide into deeper water. I grabbed a couple of photos and a minute later, he was gone.


We drove back up on the east side - largely uninhabited and home to rough surf-y water, and large parties of Mexicans, who want to get away from the tourists.


We wish we were here a bit longer, to more fully explore the other beaches, but time to move on. We will be in Merida for nine days, using this city as a base to explore other sites in the Yucatan interior.

Posted by millerburr 02:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cruise punta sur ships swimming snorkeling malecon cozumel novena _ola

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🎶 Back in the saddle again 🎶
Thrilled to be sharing your travel adventures (good & bad)!

by Kris & Gord

Lots of fun!! Lovely B&Bs and that white building with the fringe thatch over the two balconies - restaurant. So there is hope for Cozumel if one gets through the vendors …. There was another name for them that we used. When we get of the bus they are there in hordes wanting your service.
The east side looks worth while! :) What a great trip. Looking forward to the Merida adventures.

by Robin Louise Pile

That restaurant and those Chilaquiles look dreamy!

by Junita

Hey Ginny...so great to see your photos and that you enjoyed Cozumel as much as we do!!
Novena Ola is virtually down the street from our condo...one of our favourite places!
Take care on the rest of your journey...my best, Di

by Diana Coryn

Cozumel post didnt come to my email but ive read it as its listed on the side posts. Cozumel is my favourite spot in the Caribbean. We stayed there for a week a few years ago. I know what you mean about the ferry over....;-((

by Annie


by Jenny

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