There are 3 cruise ship docks in Cozumel. Carnival has its own dock called Puerta Maya. Ships from any of Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines can go to the 4 berths there. The nearby International Pier, which is the oldest pier on the island, holds 2 ships and Punta Langosta Pier in downtown San Miguel is also available for other lines so ships not from the Carnival family do have places to go. If there are more ships in town than available dock space they can anchor offshore and tender to Punta Langosta. We’ve never seen it that crowded, but apparently it does happen. Carnival Corp owns a lot of other lines besides Carnival Cruises so their dock will sometimes have ships from other lines, like our ship when we came there on the Holland America Veendam. All the other berths were empty that day, but even though our ship had Puerta Maya to ourselves it docked at the farthest spot from shore.
Most of our visits to Cozumel have been at the Puerta Maya dock, though we did dock at the International Pier once when sailing with MSC. We have not been to Punta Langosta, though I have seen Norwegian ships docked there from a distance when sailing into a different pier.
At Puerta Maya dock passengers have to walk through the longest duty-free shop ever to get to the entrance to the port area. Sometimes we have been able to bypass part of the shop and walk outside, but other times that area has been marked for crew only.
Once you finally get to the end of the shop you have to pass by fruit-sniffing dogs so don’t bother trying to smuggle any fruit to shore from the ship. Normally when we pass through there the dogs actively sniff everyone, but on our last visit two dogs snoozed lazily while their handlers hand-checked all the bags. It took them a whole lot longer to look in bags than it takes for dogs to sniff them so it pretty well stuffed up the line of people trying to get to shore. We also saw fruit-sniffing dogs the time we were at the International Pier. The ones there were actually hard at work with their noses busily sniffing everything anyone brought to shore though so people pretty much just walked by while they sniffed without them really slowing anyone down unless they had a suspicious smelling bag.
After the bag check in Puerta Maya you come to an open space with signs designating meeting places for ship’s excursions straight ahead, and bars to either side. Either Straight ahead beyond the shore excursion signs or off to the right past Fat Tuesdays leads to a lot more shops, bars, and food, or you can go to the Three Amigos bar on the left – the one with giant chairs out front.
Upon making your way to the far end of the port there’s a taxi stand with a sign saying how much the ride is to Chankanaab Park or a variety of beach bars. A lot people who don’t do ship’s excursions will take a taxi either to Chankannab or one of the many little beach bars scattered along the coast. The price varies slightly depending on how far away each bar is, but it is by distance rather than by person so if you have a few people to split the bill with it hardly costs anything. Just beyond the taxi stand you can leave the pier to walk toward town.
The International Pier also exits passengers through a shopping area as they leave their ships. The pier entrance may not be downtown like Punta Langosta, but it certainly feels like you are right in the heart of a town there with shops and hotels all around. Carnival’s pier isn’t much farther out so it’s just a short walk from there to all the things along the road near the International Pier.
The main ferry dock in town for those wishing to go to Playa del Carmen on their own is near Punta Langosta, but there is always a ferry to Playa del Carmen right next to the cruise ship dock for people with excursions on the mainland. When we came on Holland America Veendam one ferry picked up all of the people with mainland excursions right off the ship before disembarkation started rather than at the nearby dock. A lot of the mainland attractions have a bus ride after the ferry and excursions there run for around 7 or 8 hours so if there is something on the mainland that you really want to see it’s easiest just to book it through the ship – plus if your excursion gets back late the ship will wait when it is their excursion, but not if you go on your own. And the return ferry drops you off right by your cruise pier for their excursions.
To explore Cozumel on your own from either Puerta Maya or the International Pier, going to the left as you exit either of these piers leads into town where there are options for things to do. Although the actual downtown area is about a half hour’s walk or a short taxi ride away, there is quite a bit right there within easy walking distance of the two piers. Scooters and jeeps are readily available for rent and little “information” booths offer rides to beach bars as well as snorkel or island tours. It’s a pretty short walk to Atlantis Subs so anyone who didn’t book through the ship, but decides they’d like to go can find it there. Next to the Atlantis place there’s a little beach with stairways into the sea where people can go to dive or snorkel. It’s free if you have your own gear, and there’s a dive shop on the far side of the beach that can rent gear or even provide snorkel tours or diving lessons. They did recommend taking a float along if snorkeling from there so the boats can see you as that area does get some boat traffic if you get very far from the beach.
Most of Cozumel’s beach bars are out the other direction and too far to walk, but easily accessible by taxi. There are a few beach bars along the stretch of town near the piers as well. Most of the beach bars in Cozumel have a cover fee to get in. One fenced off stretch of beach belongs to a hotel across the street, and they will give cruise ship passengers a cheap day-pass that includes a buffet lunch if those passengers want to take the time to see the hotel and its rooms and listen to their spiel about staying there should you ever come to visit the island without the cruise ship. Kind of like going to a timeshare presentation just to get the prize offered for attending.
Cruise ships offer quite a variety of excursions in Cozumel. Some of these excursions stay on the island while others take a ferry to the mainland, landing at Playa del Carmen. The Veendam had mainland tours to several different Mayan ruins as well as one to the Amazing Secret River, which is swimming and walking through an underground cave, and one to Xcaret park. Tours on Cozumel included island tours or San Gervasio archeological site, wine and or chocolate tours, a teqilla tour, atlantis submarine, America’s cup sailboat racing, ATV, zip line, fishing, snorkeling, kayaks, snuba, and diving. Other lines offer some of the same excursions and some different things.
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