As summer approached, I was craving a weekend getaway to somewhere with sand between my toes, a view of gorgeous blue waves, and a tropical drink in my hand. When Carnival asked if I’d be interested in going on a cruise, my immediate response was, “Um, YES! When can I go!?” I picked the 7 day Western Caribbean cruise that sails to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize, and Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan. I invited my mom to come with, and it so happened to be Mother’s Day that weekend. We departed from the Port of Galveston (about a 3.5-hour drive from Austin, 4 hours with traffic) on Sunday, and set sail towards Mexico!
Upon boarding the ship we were greeted with so many different cuisine options (Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and more). The first two days spent at sea were filled with lots of eating, relaxing at the spa, watching stage shows, and swimming in the pool. So much for doing work…
Cruise, Day 3: Welcome to Cozumel, just off of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula! The Caribbean island is perched atop a coral reef, making it one of the most popular spots for beaches, diving, and eco-parks.
Gorgeous blue waters, coral reefs, and white sand beaches at Mexico’s biggest island in the western Caribbean – here are the top things to do in Cozumel.
1. Shop at Plaza del Sol
The Punta Langosta pier leads straight to Cozumel’s main souvenir-shopping area, Plaza del Sol. You’ll find a cluster of duty-free shops and local shops selling silver jewelry, leather goods, ceramics, carved wood, embroidered Mayan blouses, and various gifts. I picked up a couple of bottles of pure vanilla extract the last time I was here.
For bargains and more hand-crafted items, walk a few blocks further inland (behind the plaza) from the shops on the waterfront. Cash is the easiest way to pay, and US dollars are widely accepted.
2. Jeep Tour
Popular excursions in Cozumel include dolphin swims, Mayan ruins, scuba diving, and snorkeling. My mom and I wanted a variety of activities so we selected the Adventure Jeep & Snorkel at Punta Sur to explore the islands. A 5-hour excursion that included a leisurely drive along the coast of Cozumel, snorkeling, lunch buffet, visiting a small Mayan ruin, Punta Sur eco-park, and Faro Celarain lighthouse.
FYI the Jeeps were standard transmission, with automatic cars available upon request. We met a friendly couple in the excursion group and partnered up for the Jeep drive. Since they were more comfortable with driving stick, we sat in the back and enjoyed the ride.
We set off for the dirt roads of Cozumel to snorkel at a private beach. Driving alongside the shores of the Caribbean Sea was breathtaking!
With waters this clear (Cozumel has 100-foot visibility), scuba diving (for those who are certified) and snorkeling are must-dos! Our first stop was at a private beach where we snorkeled off the shore. As silly as this may sound, I witnessed the most romantic gesture. Two squid swimming alongside each other in the ocean, who upon seeing my presence grabbed each other’s tentacles and swam away to the depths.
Those who do not want to snorkel can relax on the beach or in the pool next to the bar nearby. After a quick shower, we hopped back into our Jeep, and set off for lunch.
4. Head for the Beach
A trip to Cozumel isn’t complete without a trip to its beautiful beaches! The island of Cozumel is only 32 miles long and 9 miles wide, but it’s home to some of the most beautiful beaches, like Passion Island Beach, Playa Uvas, Playa Corona and Paradise Beach. You can bring your own snorkeling gear and snorkel off the beach.
Next time I want to try the Whale Shark Encounter & Snorkeling Tour Experience. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world at 30 feet long. These docile giants, who migrate to the area around early-June through mid-September, can reach up to 40ft in length and feature huge “box-like” mouths with which to trap plankton and marine life. You can swim alongside these incredible and gentle animals with an expert guide.
Our next stop was at a private beach for relaxation under a cabana and Mexican buffet lunch by the ocean.
5. Punta Sur Park Ecological Reserve
Our last stop was at Punta Sur Eco Beach Park is the largest ecological reserve located at the southern tip of Isla Cozumel. Attractions include navigation museum, Faro Celarain lighthouse (jaw-dropping view of Cozumel, see #7)), crocodiles, La Playa Mas Hermosa beach, snorkeling, and boat rides.
Admission is around $14 (included with the shore excursion).
6. Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Cozumel holds several ancient Mayan ruins sites. The Mayan city of Tulum is one of the best-preserved coastal Mayan Ruins site and the most visited of all Mayan ruins. Accessible by a quick ferry boat ride to Playa del Carmen, and then a one-hour bus ride to Tulum. El Caracol (pictured above) is a small Mayan ruin located in Punta Sur Eco Beach Park that was used as a weather warning system in the past.
The Mayan ruins date back as many as 2,000 years ago when the Mayans were practicing mathematical genius as astronomy and physics. If you have time in Cozumel, try visiting Chichen Itza, it was just named as one of the 7 wonders of the world. Tulum is smaller, but it is much closer (45 minutes vs. 2.5 hours), and has a breathtaking clifftop setting overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Coba is the largest site, but is only partially restored. It is the only pyramid that you can still climb of the three.
View from the top of Faro Celarain
7. Faro Celarain
For a spectacular panoramic view of Cozumel, climb 134 steps up Faro Celarain, the historic celarian lighthouse! The lighthouse is connected to the navigation museum at Punta Sur Park.