Sailing the high seas is a tradition that has been around for centuries. There’s something very old-world and romantic about boarding a floating palace and setting off for a new corner of the globe. We recently found ourselves setting sail on our first Caribbean cruise, and we realized how fun and relaxing cruising can be. While we thoroughly enjoyed exploring three different ports (and only having to unpack once), we wished we were able to spend more than just a day at each destination.
One of our favorite ports on the itinerary: Cozumel, Mexico. After our experiences in Cozumel, we discovered that this island city is ideal for day-trippers as it is a relatively small and easy to traverse. Between the ice-cold cervezas, white-sand beaches, and pristine diving (vetted by Jacques Cousteau himself), you’re sure to find a little something to please everyone while docked at this port.
For those who want it all
Shopping, drinks, and authentic Mexican comida can be found as soon as you exit the port in Cozumel. Our first recommendation for any visitor to Mexico is to head straight to a nearby market, stand, or grocery store where you can pick yourself up a nice cold Mexican Coca Cola. This beverage tastes like magic (slow clap for real cane sugar) and pairs well with the hot Caribbean sun.
Viewfinder Tip: Get to Chankanaab National Park early if you want to secure prime beachfront real estate and shaded lounge chairs.
Once you’ve got your Coke in hand, hail a cab and head to Chankanaab National Park. The park is open to visitors from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, and the admission price includes access to the beach, pool, botanical garden, and educational sea life shows. Chankanaab is perfect for groups with limited time and varying activity preferences, as you have your choice between tanning on the beach, hiking nature trails, or chartering your own snorkel or dive tour. Word on the street is you can even get a massage with the beautiful lagoon as your backdrop. And never fear, there’s a Tequila Factory on the premises for those of legal drinking age.
For the independent traveler
Trade the taxi for a bicycle and take yourself on a self-guided tour of downtown San Miguel. For about US$15, you can rent an iron steed to ride for the entire day. There are many bicycle outfitters to choose from. Ask around for the best price and feel free to negotiate if you need to. A little haggling can go a long way.
Secure your helmet and start your day with a little bit of local history by pedaling to El Museo. This museum features art displays by local artists and an exhibit on the island’s heritage and history. To continue on your “Tour de Cozumel,” head to El Mercado. This traditional market is a great place to sample fresh squeezed juices, grab a snack, and interact with the locals.
You may whet your appetite at the market, but save room in your stomach for some authentic Yucatán dining. For a sample of fresh seafood, head to Camillos (across from the The Sports Bar on Avenida 5). Breaded shrimp tacos start are cheap and the shrimp stuffed avocados are not to be missed. La Candela (on the corner of Avenida 10 and Calle 6) is a dining haunt that’s popular with locals. The restaurant offers large flavorful portions with hot plates and cold beer. Try the chicken tacos or a generous helping of the chicken and rice soup. If you’re only in the mood for a light snack, order the guacamole with freshly made tortilla chips.
Once your bellies are full, spend the rest of your bike tour exploring inner San Miguel. The colorful houses, eccentric murals, and friendly locals make for a captivating ride. If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you even can cycle yourself to the aforementioned Chankanaab National Park for a little afternoon frolic on the beach.
For adventure lovers
Some of the most beautiful beaches on Cozumel are on the east side of the island. Those who love the feel of the wind in their hair will enjoy exploring the island by scooter. Do a little research to find the best rental shop for you. But consider this: We recommend only renting a scooter if you’ve had previous experience operating a 2-wheeled motorized vehicle, as there’s nothing like an unexpected road accident to ruin a good vacation.
Once you’re on your new speed machine, the fastest way to cut across the island is on the Carretera Transversal (cross island road). This 10-mile thoroughfare will lead you to the beautiful Playa Punta Morena. The views only get better from there. The east side of the island is significantly underdeveloped and lacks the monstrous hotels that line the port. There’s only green shrubbery and blue ocean for the majority of your drive.
Follow the steady line of white sand beaches and straw-thatched cabanas east until you reach Mezcalito’s Beach Bar and Grill. This is the place to enjoy a cold margarita while taking in the blue hues of the ocean. Spend a few hours sobering up in the cool ocean water or swaying in one of Mezcalito’s many hammocks. Once you’re good enough to motor out, follow the road southeast until you’re back at port.
What sorts of activities do you seek out on shore days of a cruise?