Since we have been away from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a month (which actually feels like eternity), we were super excited to go back to Mexico on our cruise this past January (even if it is on the complete other side of the country)! Our experiences in Puerto Vallarta with the food, people, and culture were so amazing that we just couldn’t wait to experience Mexico again.
The actual cruise ship port in Cozumel is extremely nice. If you like to shop and eat within walking distance of the boat, Cozumel is a perfect port for you. That’s not really our thing, but I know a lot of cruisers don’t necessarily want to wander around a foreign country trying to find the most explorative way to spend a day. After getting off the boat, we walked straight through the shopping area, as we weren’t really interested in Diamonds International. If you have ever gone on a Carnival Cruise, you know what I am talking about! What is their deal with promoting DI so vigorously!?
We had no idea what Cozumel was like or where we were going…but we knew we were in Mexico and that was all that mattered. We violated one of our own cruise rules by doing zero research about the port. We meandered around a busy street for awhile, found an Oxxo for a beloved Peñafiel, and eventually decided to find a taxi driver that could get us to a beach for a reasonable price. (No, I’m not exaggerating when I call those drinks beloved. Just try one with cucumber, lime, and salt and your life will change forever.)
This is where Cozumel started to lose a few points in our book. (Yes we really do keep mental score of places; no we don’t really have a scorebook). I know Cozumel is a touristy area, but we thought the taxi rates were extremely high compared to Puerto Vallarta. I realize this may be faulty logic, like comparing New York City taxis to San Francisco taxis, but with it being Mexico, we were expecting it to be cheap. Decently priced at best. We rolled our eyes, got in, and enjoyed the ride to a beach that was about 15 minutes down the road. We had no idea where we were headed or where we would be dropped off. We just trusted that the taxi driver was taking us to a nice beach that wasn’t overly crowded. I can converse in Spanish well enough to make friends with taxi drivers so I felt that we had built up enough report for this guy to take us to a good spot.
Turns out the beach he took us to wasn’t half bad…which also means it was only half good!
In typical Mexico fashion, he took us to a super touristy beach. I am sure the taxi drivers get some sort of kickback for bringing people there-it just seemed like that sort of place. We walked past a restaurant and bar on the way to the beach, trying to dodge the workers asking us where we would like to sit. (If you have tips/tricks on how to avoid spending extra money by a tourist trap salesman, we are taking all advice! Our best so far is to learn a few lines in Polish and respectfully respond accordingly.)
The beach itself was nice, but there were way too many people in the area, and there were huge inflatable toys out in the water. Talk about obstructing your view! (I must admit: the inflatables looked really, really fun and totally awesome.) But, they were huge eyesores covering the horizon and the glowing turquoise water, and they definitely were not free…and we barely had enough money to make it back to the cruise port. Why do we never have enough cash on us? It’s totally more thrilling to explore with barely enough cash to make it back to Point A?! Is THAT why?!
Being the adventurous souls we are, we walked down the beach until the inflatable toys were tiny specks. We ended up finding a pretty cool spot that happened to be near a few deserted resorts. The water was really clear and there was even a dock built out over the water that you could walk out on. Well, I think the dock was for people staying at the resort, but we just acted like we fit in (we kept our blue Carnival towels inside our bag).
The beach was pretty rocky right where the sand met the water, so the dock was a perfect place to get in without worrying about sharp rocks (three visitors cut in four months on those darn things!)After a few hours of looking out at the beautiful water and contemplating the meaning of life, we were getting really hungry. We took a taxi back towards town and asked the driver to take us to a local restaurant that was decently priced and away from the tourists. (Tall orders, I know.)
The place our driver took us was authentic Mexican alright! Complete with plastic Corona chairs, a dirty atmosphere, and music blaring, it was definitely local. The food was so expensive we ordered guacamole and a Coke to share. We left and headed back towards the port area, but not without passing a hooker, a few dark bars, and some sketchy hotels (with hourly pricing advertised?!)
In my opinion, I would be ok if we never went back to Cozumel. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it as a port city. I just wasn’t “wowed” enough to want to go back for an extended stay.
However, if you like to take vacations in which you sit at an all inclusive resort, drinking a daiquiri, gazing at the crystal waters all day, Cozumel is a perfect location. I would definitely rank it higher as a resort destination than Puerto Vallarta, as the water is much clearer and you feel more secluded. However, if you enjoy immersing yourself in different culture and exploring new cities with a flair, Cozumel may not be for you.
Cozumel is a great cruise port if you love shopping or want to go snorkeling. However, it definitely lacked any sense of authentic feel like we felt in Puerto Vallarta, Costa Rica, or Old San Juan.
Please keep in mind that these opinions were formed over the course of only 4-5 hours.. If you have stayed in Cozumel for an extended period of time, please let us know how our (very) short experience differed from yours! After all, Puerto Vallarta definitely grew on us with each day that we were there and is setting the bar high for any potential competition!
Keep it Kinetic,
Greg and Hillary