Just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula sits the island of Cozumel. The name comes from Mayan words meaning the land of swallows. At about 30 miles long and 9 miles wide, Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island. It has an average temperature of 80 degrees farenheit. Although a major tourist destination for divers, snorkelers, and cruise ship passengers, much of the island remains undeveloped. The island has some small Mayan ruins of its own, and sits close enough to Tulum and Coba to make day trips to those more impressive ruins possible. Tourists also enjoy Chankanaab National Park, whether diving on its sunken ship or visiting other attractions such as the gardens or wildlife sanctuary. Many enjoy swimming with the park’s dolphins, watching the sea lion show, or visiting the manatee exhibit.
Cruise ship passengers visiting the island have plenty of shore excursions to choose from. Cozumel has lots of opportunities to snorkel or dive, many of which include boat rides, beach time or swimming with stingrays. Horseback riding, parasailing, zip lines, or ATV’s offer more choices for island pastimes. Some guests prefer fishing, golfing, submarine rides or just shopping. Every cruise port has plenty of shops. Although the Mexican peso is the currency used there, most shops in or near cruise ship ports or where cruise ship excursions stop accept American dollars.
Cozumel belongs to the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Most of the island’s population lives in the main town, San Miguel de Cozumel, on the western shore. The highest point on this flat limestone island peaks at less than 50 feet above sea level. Centuries of erosion from seawater created deep water-filled inland sinkholes called cenotes. The top layer is freshwater from rain, with saltwater underneath. Cenotes link a vast network of underground galleries and passageways containing breathtaking formations including stalagtites and stalagmites.
Early Spanish explorers passed smallpox on to Cozumel’s resident Mayans, devastating their population. They also destroyed the Mayan temples which had existed on the island, once a place where Mayan women made a pilgrimage to their fertility god. Later pirates used the island as a safe harbor. During World War II Cozumel’s largest Mayan ruins were razed to make a runway. The current island population includes descendants of people who fled to the island in the mid 1800’s to avoid the war of the castes between the Mayans and people of European descent on the mainland. People from both sides of the civil war escaped to Cozumel. Most were devout Catholics, still the predominant religion of the region.
Walking up the dock from the Carnival Liberty, we came to the typical cruise ship shopping port. We couldn’t stop to look at anything because we had to catch the ferry waiting on the smaller dock. Everyone with excursions on the mainland boarded the ferry. After the ferry docked at Playa del Carmen, each person found the appropriate bus for their excursion. We chose to visit the beachside Mayan ruins of Tulum. Other options included the Coba Mayan ruins in the jungle, and some cave tours that included either swimming through caves or a 4 x 4 jeep tour. We saw some videos of the cave swimming on the return trip on the ferry. It looked like a lot of fun.
We had just a small amount of time to spend at the shops by the cruise ship dock after returning from our excursion to Tulum. Ship’s time isn’t always the same as shore time, so the wise cruise ship passenger keeps their watch on ship time so as not to miss the boat. Passengers who board without watches never fear, the gift shop on board has plenty of inexpensive watches. Just about any watch costs far less than cab fare or a plane ticket to the next port.
Most cruises end up leaving someone behind somewhere. People often tend to miss the boat in Cozumel. Mostly those who have one too many at the bar and are not so alert when the time comes to leave. People who speak neither English nor the language of the port are also at risk. So are people on tours booked outside of the cruiseline. We left three people behind in Cozumel and two in Puerto Rico.
What happens to those who miss the boat? Often just before the scheduled departure time, the names of missing passengers get announced in hopes they will check in. On Carnival, if they don’t, the next step is to try and help them out. People from the ship will check their room for their passport. The safe is the first place they look, because most people keep it there. They have an agent on the dock waiting for the missing passengers with their passport in hand (assuming that the person brought it to begin with and the staff found it.) The agent will help them make arrangements for transportation to the next port, at that person’s own expense. It’s nice to know Carnival looks out for their guests, but it’s a whole lot cheaper not to miss the boat.