Although Cozumel is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island (and its most populated), it wasn’t until the 1960’s that this once-sleepy fishing village became a tourist attraction in its own right, following a documentary in which Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the most beautiful areas in the world for scuba diving. These days, Cozumel is a major cruise port that welcomes more than one million cruise passengers each year and as many as eight ships per day. But even with all this progress, Cozumel has held onto its non-touristy side; only one-third of the island has been developed, leaving large stretches of pristine jungle and sandy beaches basically untouched.
Cozumel owns a rich history. In fact, the island derives its name from the Mayan civilization that settled there approximately 2,000 years ago. According to Mayan legend, Cozumel was the home of Ixchel, the goddess of love and fertility. It’s said that when religious temples were dedicated to her, she sent her favorite bird — the swallow — as a sign of her gratitude. For this reason, the people called the island “Cuzamil” — Mayan for “Land of the Swallows.” Several important Mayan sites, such as San Gervasio and El Cedral, populate the island.
Cozumel has three piers, all of which are found on the built-up western side of the island. Punta Langosta is ideally situated in downtown San Miguel. The International Pier, the oldest cruise ship pier on the island, is located about 3 miles from San Miguel (a long but scenic and safe walk). Carnival Corp.’s Puerta Maya, located about 5 miles from San Miguel, acts as a standalone destination, with restaurants, jewelry stores, local craft carts and a beach.
I visited Cozumel on the Carnival Paradise, and we docked at Puerta Maya. Once you leave the ship, you will roll down a long pier and have to go through a similarly long duty-free gift shop. You will exit the gift shop into a large shopping village. At the exit, you will briefly go through a security check. Please note that if you return to the ship close to your all-aboard time, the pier area will be utter chaos, as it’s likely that thousands of passengers from multiple ships will be returning at the same time. Many of them will likely be fall-down drunk, and walking slowly and erratically through the crowded confines of the duty-free gift shop. Proceed with caution so that you don’t run anyone over, and so that no one bumps into, trips over, or falls on top of you.
Puerta Maya’s expansive cruise center houses over 50 different outlets offering apparel, fine jewelry, artwork and other merchandise from such recognizable retailers as Milano Jewelers, Del Sol, Piranha Joe’s, Dufry, and Diamonds International. The facility also features 15 stand-alone carts where local merchants market colorful handmade crafts, costume jewelry and souvenirs. On-site dining options within the Puerta Maya complex include the Tres Amigos Bar, a new theme restaurant inspired by the 1986 hit movie starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. The waterfront eatery – the first of its kind in the Caribbean – offers traditional Mexican fare, along with an extensive beverage menu. Every store and restaurant I rolled past was wheelchair accessible.
If you would like to leave the port area, the taxi stand is at the back end of the Puerta Maya village. There are wheelchair accessible taxis available in Cozumel, and while I was waiting for our accessible tour van to arrive, I did see one accessible taxi pull up in the taxi queue. There is no curb from the sidewalk to where the taxis pull up, which is very convenient for wheelchair users. I would highly recommend making taxi arrangements ahead of time to reduce the time you have to wait in the taxi center. I cannot comment on the accessibility of San Miguel or the surrounding area. However, as we were driving past the seaside promenade, I noticed there were curb drops at each street crossing, the sidewalks were in good repair (if a bit narrow on the ocean side), and the stores had flat entry.
There are several accessible shore excursion options available in Cozumel, both through the cruise lines and through independent tour operators. My children and I chose to use This is Cozumel for a fantastic 6-hour accessible tour that included a Mayan Encounter at Puerto del Maíz and a stop at Discover Mexico. We learned all about the history of Mexico and the Maya culture, and took a beautiful drive along the coast and through Cozumel’s various neighborhoods. They also offer an accessible beach excursion.
Are you ready to book an accessible cruise that stops in Cozumel, Mexico? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel and we’ll get started!