It’s easy to see why this island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is a frequent stop on Caribbean cruises. With white stretches of sand and turquoise water that's optimal for snorkeling, it’s a delicious dive into the Caribbean. But beware — Cozumel has its share of tourist traps, which means you could easily spend far more money than you intended. Our advice? Skip pricey shore excursion packages and plan your own day to save money. Here's what to do:
Hit the beach.
March straight past those shore excursion vendors lining the pier, and hail a cab straight to the island’s best (free) attraction.
Skip: The rocky Playa San Francisco along the West coast (closest to the cruise terminal) is usually crowded and attracts hawkers.
What to do instead: Head to Playa Azul Beach Club & Restaurant on the northwest side of the island, where there’s free entry (just be prepared to pay for a drink or food). To escape the crowds even further, you can also try Playa Bonita, Playa Chen Rio, or Punta Morena on the less-developed East side of the island by cab (around $15).
Go scuba diving.
Cozumel’s clear water and coral reefs make it a prime spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, with up to 100 feet of visibility.
Skip: The cruise line shore excursion, which can cost up to $75.
What to do instead: Try Buccanos Grill & Beach Club at Club Cozumel Caribe, where, for $25, a van with six to eight people takes you to the resort and back, plus entry and cheap decent snorkeling on a quiet beach.
Tour Mayan Ruins.
Cozumel is close to Mexico’s most famous Mayan ruins, including the beachside Tulum, pyramid-shaped Chichen Itza, and jungle-surrounded Coba.
Skip: Cruise line excursions to Tulum or Chichen Itza cost around $140 and take more than an hour of driving in addition to a ferry to mainland Mexico.
What to do instead: Though they’re not nearly as famous, there are authentic Mayan ruins right on the island at San Gervasio, once a sanctuary to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and love. Access to the archaeological site costs just $5 to enter for adults and is free for kids under 10. Plus, it saves you the time and energy of booking a ferry ride and van to the mainland sites.
Get bang for your buck at Chankanaab National Park.
One of the top tourist destinations — and decidedly most family friendly — this marine park gives you access to the island’s top attractions in one spot, including the beach, reefs, and a lagoon.
Skip: Booking through the cruise line for an “all-inclusive” pass. It could cost up to $89 per person and chances are you won’t have time to try everything included.
What to do instead: Book it yourself. Entrance costs $21 for adults and $14 for children (but you can snag a $2 discount code at Cozumel Insider) and includes beach access with chairs, reef and lagoon access, plus the option to add on activities like tequila tastings, swimming with dolphins, and zip lining. Bring your scuba equipment to avoid the rental fee.
Shop on 8th Street.
When you're shopping in Cozumel, note that most stores accept U.S. dollars, but if you pay in pesos you will likely get a better deal.
Skip: Shops along the pier are typically tourist traps with overpriced t-shirt shops and mass-produced trinkets.
What to do instead: Head to 8th street, where you’ll find Los Cinco Soles which, for more than 30 years, has sold handcrafted artwork and jewelry, more than 200 brands of tequila, and natural, organic vanilla from the island.
Eat (and drink) local specialties.
Head inland to the area of San Miguel for the best prices on ceviche, tacos, and frozen margaritas -- Cozumel's specialties.
Skip: Señor Frog's. If you can find it in Las Vegas, it’s probably not an authentic dive into authentic Cozumel food culture.
What to do Instead: Order tacos al pastor at Kinta ($8), ceviche at Mezcalito’s ($11) or grab a margarita at Pancho’s Backyard (free for first time guests who sign up for the newsletter) — and raise a glass to vacation.