What to do in Cozumel Without a Shore Excursion

This was my second time cruising to Cozumel. The first time was with Princess Cruises and most recently with Royal Caribbean. The first time I booked an excursion through the ship and went to the ruins, but this time my friend and I decided to explore on our own.

About Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel is Mexico's largest island, nestled just 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean sea. It's mostly undeveloped but is a popular cruise ship port of call and for all-inclusive resorts Mexico due to its famed scuba diving and beaches.

It's pretty safe! The drug-related crime in Mexico that makes the headlines is concentrated near the borders. Violent crime in Cozumel is rare. It also helps that it's not attached to the actual continent.

TIP: There isn't any need to exchange USD for Pesos as merchants will take cash or card. So, we only used credit cards and USD dollars, which they would convert for us with a calculator for us to see. This way we didn't get stuck with foreign money or coins when we went home.

Things to do in Cozumel, Mexico Without a Cruise Shore Excursion Booked:

Exit the Port Gates 

Once you walk down the large pier, you'll see Bubba Gumps, Senor Frogs, Duty-Free shopping, jewelry stores and a large marketplace of wares. This is definitely fun to explore, but if you want better deals you need to leave this area. Even Hard Rock Cafe is outside the exit gates, past the taxi lines.

Note:  We are two young-ish women and we felt perfectly safe leaving the port area in the afternoon just the two of us. Neither of us speaks Spanish either.

Walk to Mayan Plaza 

Once you exit the gates turn right two blocks, cross the street on your left and you'll see an outdoor restaurant serving $1 cerveza (beer) and lots of fruity drinks. On the other side of this restaurant is the start of the colorful plaza filled with souvenir shops selling blankets, ceramics, silver, replica bags and much more. There is also another tequila store at the end.

Pose in front of the other Rainbow Cozumel Sign

Besides the brightly colored walls in the Mayan Plaza, which had me in Instagram heaven, the best part is seeing actual Mayan ruins in the back and posing in front of the rainbow COZUMEL sign in front of the building. There is a similar sign by the port as you can see in my top post image, but this one is less visited and offers the additional historic significance.

Enjoy a Fish Spa Pedicure

Also in the same plaza, you will see what looks like a bunch of aquarium tanks with chairs above them. This is a fish spa. It's popular in Europe, but not allowed in the States. Basically, you sit in the chair, the staff cleans your feet and then you plunge your bare feet into the tank full of little small fish called Garra rufa or "doctor fish" because they eat away dead skin found on people's feet, leaving newer skin exposed.

Sounds weird? It is, but it's also fun and better than any scrub I have ever used. I tried the experience in Barcelona and in Prague before and I know some have argued the cleanliness of this practice since it's not regulated, but whatever. Each time my feet have never felt so baby smooth after and the only side effects suffered was being tickled by the fish as they feasted on my calluses and dead skin. It doesn't hurt, it just feels like the fish are swimming and rubbing up against your feet. 15 minutes for $30 USD.

Free Tequila Tastings

Within walking distance of the pier, you will see several shops offering free tastings. Our favorite with over sixty different flavors is Chile Tequila. The storefront is inside the covered bazaar area. Coco and Peanut Butter Tequila were surprisingly delicious. The staff was very friendly and they took credit card too.

I've been told no matter where you buy tequila though to watch them wrap your purchase so they don't do a bait and switch with the cheaper stuff. We didn't have this problem, but we heard other locations doing this scam.

If you can still stand ... you could go to several of these spots, but for all the samples you drink you are expected to at least buy a bottle or travel size portion to take back home. Once you board the ship they will confiscate any liquor purchased, but it will be returned to you on your last day.

Clear Lounge Underwater Oxygen Bar in Cozumel

Dive into the Underwater Oxygen Bar

Clear Lounge is the world's 1st underwater oxygen bar! Near Carnival Cruise's port of call — Puerta Maya. Guests can enter this underwater lounge and breathe enriched, scented oxygen while shooting bubble guns, playing Jenga, writing messages to each other and guests on the outside, and having their photo taken in our underwater photo booth– complete with a unique digital wall background and entertaining props. The fun lasts approximately 30 minutes including a short briefing. No diving experience necessary! If you can walk and breathe and are 8+ then you can participate. Be prepared for lots of people stopping to watch and take your photo too.

Chocolate Factory Tour 

Follow the signs to the taxi terminal and hail a ten-minute ride to Kaokao Factory from the pier. Make your own Mayan Chocolate from scratch! Discover the bean to bar chocolate making process inside this little great chocolate factory in Cozumel. All along the tour you will try the different flavors of the Cacao during its process (Rosted cacao beans, cacao paste and our product line) and the Mayan drink made with the original ingredients.

Each intimate 90-minute tour starts on the hour (09:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m.) and costs $25 US dollars per person. Since they are a small factory, space is limited, which is why they request online reservations with pre-payment. Regardless if you have a tour booked, you can still visit their Factory Store for chocolate souvenirs.

Get a Baloon Hat at Senior Frogs

Cheesy, a tourist trap, whatever you want to call it, it's fun. We sat at the bar and drank a very large daiquiri in a souvenir cup, and enjoyed watching the different ways the staff entertained everyone like by balancing beer on their heads. They also played a name that theme song game and I answered the very first song, which was Sex and the City lol. I thought I was just going to get bragging rights, but instead, they had me come up on the stage and take a free shot too.

We requested one of the balloon hats for each of us and we weren't the only ones walking back on board with these silly hats. It's free, just tip the balloon maker.

It's not cheap, but groups of all ages seem to congregate here and it's a fun time.

Find Your Own Last Minute Tour

The minute you get off the pier you will be bombarded by "Free Information" booths and people with flyers offering tours to beaches, snorkeling and to different hotels on the island. These are typically cheaper than the cruise offerings, but of course not protected by or affiliated with the cruise. This can be a risk, but in Panama and Cancun, we did one of these without incident.

In the Dominican Republic, we simply went up to one of the taxi drivers and asked how much for 5 five hours exclusively and he then took us to different Rum, Chocolate, Cigar and beach spots privately for only $100 and with four of us in the van.

Ride Over to San Francisco Beach

Playa San Francisco is known for its clear, calm waters featuring boat & jet ski rentals and seaside cafes & pubs.

Beaches on the eastern side of the island are rocky, and the water is often rough, but they’re beautiful and feel much more undiscovered than others on the island. Northern coast beaches, north of San Miguel, tend to be popular with families with kids, since the water is calm and shallow. Limestone “iron shore” beaches are top spots to go snorkeling -- just make sure to wear water shoes.

All of the beaches on Cozumel are public, but that doesn’t mean they’re free. Technically, the use of the actual beach is free, but many impose cover charges that apply toward your bar or beach club food tab.

Guide to Port Cozumel Mexico without a shore excursion or tour booked

1 comment

  1. Nice suggestions. Will be in Cozumel in a month and might check some of these out! thanks!