Costa Maya is an engineered cruise ship port, meaning it is not a dock in a pre-existing town, but rather a port area built specifically for cruise ships and their passengers. It has quite an extensive shopping area with lots of stores, bars, and restaurants. A lot of them have signs saying they don’t take cash. You need to bring a credit or debit card if you want much choice in where to shop, eat, or drink there.
The port has at least a couple sets of bathrooms, and numerous last-minute tour booths. Someone from one of those tried to interest us in a tour as we walked by and he said they charge it to the ship’s card. There were 3 ships at the dock all from different cruise lines so it must not matter who you sail with because he didn’t ask. We didn’t book anything so they may ask later, but he didn’t seem to care on the sales pitch. We were on the Holland America Veendam which was the third of the three ships to arrive and got the closest berth to shore. Not by a lot, but we were alongside the dock everyone has to walk down while the other two were on an offshoot dock at the end.
You don’t get very far into the port before coming across a small courtyard with a tall pole. We got there just as a performance started in which people dressed in traditional Mayan costumes hang upside down from ropes that spin their way down the pole while people on it play various instruments. They all righted themselves and landed on their feet as the ropes neared the ground.
The port area has a swimming pool with swim-up bar. It also has dolphin swims and dolphin encounters available right at the port. The pools for those were quite small. Hopefully the dolphins live in larger quarters elsewhere.
Overhead walkways around the port area and bridges above the pool and dolphins are an aviary experience that they said cost $12 each when we asked about it. There are birds at the junctions where the walkways connect. If you look up you can see birds there from the ground.
We found one second story restaurant with a view of the pool from tables that had swings for seats. We also saw signs for a chocolate factory tour, but didn’t go in so I can’t say if it was any good. Near the port exit people handed out little free samples of the factory’s chocolate, which is pretty expensive to buy.
One booth had a guy making quite nice artwork from spray paint. He has pictures for sale, and makes them while people watch. His pictures cost just $25 each and look nicer than a lot of more expensive art. He also had a tip jar as he is quite entertaining to watch and that gives him a way to make a bit from the people who don’t buy his paintings. He allows people to photo and video him while he works.
Besides taking tours, last minute or otherwise, you can leave the port area on your own. There are taxis just outside the port that will take people to town for $2 or to Mayan ruins for $100 for two people. The security guard just outside the port said town is about an hour’s walk, but someone at a tour booth just past the pyramid fountain said it is about a 25 minute walk, and that it is safe and a nice walk. Outside the port area people will take cash, and are quite happy with American dollars. In fact the taxi drivers quoted their prices in America dollars.
Just outside the port area there are lots of buildings that look to have once been a pretty good sized shopping center, but now most are empty. Probably that shopping center shut down when the cruise port shopping area was built since it likely took away a good portion of their business. Perhaps over time the empty shops will fill up with things aimed more towards locals or land dwelling tourists and open again. There was a hotel along that road as well. A fountain in a pyramid that probably wasn’t as old as it looked sat in center of the road a short distance from the gate into the port area. It was probably a centerpiece when the shopping area there was in use.
The nearby town is called Mahahual. It has about 3000 residents whom our taxi driver said mostly live in another area a bit away from the tourist section. Which explains why the tourist bit of town near the beach looks much too small to hold that many people.
In town there are several hotels that look solidly built, and shops of all sorts. Some of the shops appear to be cobbled together with whatever materials people could find while others look more like actual buildings. There’s a nice beach running along the edge of town, with a walkway to a lighthouse. There are also plenty of cabs available to take people back to the port, also for $2.
The tourist bit of the town is small with just a road that loops around making 2 streets for cars, one going each way, plus the seaside walkway for people which our cabdriver referred to as the third road. He might have called it something else if he spoke more English or if we spoke more than a few words of Spanish. He did pretty well with English considering he said what he knew he had learned from various tourists riding in his cab.
Ship’s Excursions in Costa Maya
Excursions offered by our ship at this port included Kohunlich Mayan Ruins, which are 2 ½ hours away and not the same ruins the local taxis take people to. It also had a Jaguar, bus, bike, cenote, paddle and beach BBQ excursion that had people riding through the jungle on a tandem bike, swimming in a cenote, riding on a Jaguar truck, and a stop on a white sand beach with options for paddle boarding, boogie boarding or inner tubing. Other excursions included beach breaks, bike and kayak, segway, ATV, dolphin swim or encounter (which is right at the port), diving, and snorkeling.