Cozumel is a cruise hot spot for the gulf. Small and a bit isolated from mainland Mexico, Cozumel offers all of the traditions and values of Hispanic culture while being safer than the border zones and other areas affected by the cartel.
With a population of just 100,000 Cozumel doesn’t let its tourist-spot reputation stop it from having its own unique cultural significance. Most cruises stop for just one short day in this port. While you could certainly spend more time in Cozumel, a one day jeep tour shows off the best spots.
A Day in Cozumel, Mexico
8:30a: the ship docks and the long (slow) process of debarking begins.
9:30a: touch land for the first time in a couple of days. Wander the streets until you find the jeep and guide. As you hop in, he tosses you a couple of beers and you realize it’s going to be a fun tour.
10a: Packed into 250 square miles (about a quarter of the size of Rhode Island), Cozumel is lined with the clearest blue waters and filled with wildlife. In just 20 minutes of snorkeling, spot a baby squid, a lionfish and a stingray. Luckily your guide is fearless as he swims down to poke out creatures tucked away under rocks and coral. You worry a bit for his safety, but he only laughs at you.
11a: The beauty extends to land. The wind dries you off as you jump back in the jeep and head down the coastline to Punta Sur National Park, where a thin strip of land separates ocean from marshland. Climb the steps of the Celarain Lighthouse, where you begin to see how the beauty and the history of the island wrap into one.
The huts nearby sell handmade crafts (you can even catch someone painting a few bowls if you peek into the back corner). Barter a bit for one and head back to the jeep where you guide laughs at you once again for your terrible knowledge of Spanish.
12p: A short drive down the road takes you to the marshlands you viewed from above. Walk mere feet above crocodiles (something safety regulations in the USA would never allow), and you’ll laugh in terror as the guide teases a crocodile awake.
1p: Hit the road to head out for lunch, but make a pit stop at the Mayan ruins.
First settled more than 1,000 years ago by the Maya people, the temples on Cozumel were a place for pilgrimage (especially by women desiring fertility). Due to diseases brought by Spanish expeditions and attacks from pirates, the Mayan population dwindled from 10,000 to about 300 by 1570. Very few descendants remain, but your guide is one of them. He refuses to let it be lost with his generation, and he speaks the Maya language whenever he can, teaching a few words to you (that you will probably not remember).
There are several Maya ruins around the island, but it only takes a quick stop at this one to realize the Mayan population didn’t die off for lack of ingenuity: they once attached shells to these huts near the water, and when the wind was powerful enough, it would make a sound through the shells — essentially a hurricane warning system.
1:30: It wouldn’t be Mexico without the delicious food. As you wait with a view over the ocean, the cooks work in a small hut lacking air conditioning to plate up fajitas and peppers, served with house-made tortillas. You’ll start to realize time is passing today, but you wish it would stop.
3p: Mexico is known for more than their incredible food though. Head to a tequila tour to taste test and brush up on your tequila knowledge. (Fun fact: all tequila comes from Mexico. In fact, all tequila comes from one specific part of Mexico — blue agave plants grown near Jalisco, Mexico.)
A tequila guide walks through every step of the process, joking the entire time about which tequilas are for friends, which are for family, and which are hidden on the top shelf only for yourself.
“Some places use hormones to force the plants to grow faster and make more tequila,” he says. “But that’s not tequila. That’s to-kill-ya. Don’t drink it.” After tasting a few of their tequilas, you’d have to be made of steel not to buy a bottle to bring home (the kind you’ll share with family).
4:30p: A little loopy, climb back into the jeep and head back to your ship.
Unlike some places, Cozumel doesn’t despise their tourists. They welcome them with open arms. They make fun of the poor Spanish skills. They barter for souvenirs. They serve their best dishes and make sure you approve. In Cozumel, one day is short, but it only takes one day to dive in.