Pros: Beautiful beaches with lots of amenities; diverse shopping
We visited Cozumel from a cruise ship in March of 2004.
PUNTA LAGNOSTA PIER
Our cruise ship docked at Punta Langosta Pier. When you come off the pier, you land in a fairly large outdoor modern mall. There is a Senior Frog's there: a popular chain restaurant in Mexico and the Caribbean. There is also a TGI Friday's and a Hard Rock Cafe bar (but no restaurant). The mall has several stores selling Mexican silver jewelry, although the prices were very high compared to almost anywhere else I had been in Mexico. There are also some clothing stores, a liquor store and expensive t-shirt stores. I would skip this area for shopping because of the prices.
One thing to note: we were approached by time share salesmen in the mall offering us a free beach day for attending a one hour presentation at the time share. I strongly advise against this unless you really are interested in the time share. Cozumel has fantastic public beaches with free admission so you don't need to attend a time share presentation for the same experience.
SAN MIGUEL AND SHOPPING
As you exit punta langosta pier you can head off to the left. Off in this direction for at least 15 blocks is considerable shopping running along the ocean-front street. This area also extends back several blocks. The shopping here was the most diverse and expensive I have seen in Mexico - even compared to Cancun! There was more to buy including jewelry of all designs and expense levels; watches ranging from $10 knock-offs to rolex; pottery; t-shirts; toys; crafts; mexican blankets and almost anything else you can think of. If you are traveling here on a cruise, I found Cozumel to have less in terms of very high end jewelry than other ports such as Cayman Islands. I also found the prices of Mexican silver to be higher than Cancun, Costa Maya or Isla Mujeres - even after bargaining. I got Mexican silver bracelets in a Cancun flea market for $8-12 after extensive bargaining. Prices for the exact same bracelets in Cozumel started at $45.
The most expensive jewelry stores face the ocean. For two, and sometimes more, blocks behind this main street, the stores become less expensive although there are still some neat crafts and other objects to see.
There is a town center plaza. This area had little character or much to do. There were a few banks and some street vendors but not as much in the way of shopping or scenery.
The downtown was more pleasant that most cruse ship stops because the locals don't harass you to look in their shop or buy. Mostly, they ignore you which suited me fine. The downtown was surprising clean and easy to navigate with ample sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets. Friendly police guarded crosswalks and directed traffic. While the town was not the most beautiful I have ever seen, it did make for a nice few hours of window shopping and seeing the sights.
SHOULD WE RENT TRANSPORTATION?
We took cabs back and forth to the west side of the Island at a cost of $30 U.S. round trip. There are ample opportunities to rent vehicles, including cars and scooters, right off the pier and elsewhere in downtown. Budget rent a car is located in the mall right off punta langosta pier. If you are considering seeing several sites, it might be better to rent transportation for the day. My only caution is to get insurance: we saw two minor accidents on the day we visited.
THE BEST PUBLIC BEACH I HAVE EVER BEEN TO
My husband got a recommendation to go to a beach called Mr. Sancho's. I thought the name sounded too weird and resisted at first. However, he insisted we try it - so off we went. From punta langosta pier, the cab fare was $15 in U.S. dollars each way. Up to 4 people could ride in the cab and we had no problem getting a cab back to the pier. Despite all the amenities, the beach never felt crowded. When we arrived at 10am, it was practically empty. The crowd seemed to peak in the early afternoon.
The beach is located on the west side of the Island and is about a 15 minute drive from punta langosta. The beach had a small parking lot and admission was free. Once inside there were many things to do:
The Beach: The sand was fine - not the finest white sand you find on some islands - but pretty close. There were small pieces of coral but not so much that you had to worry about cutting your feet. The drop off in the ocean was fairly steep and the surf was considerable - although we visited on an extremely windy day. My 7 year old was fine swimming in the water alone but I kept her close to shore.
Beach chairs: Beach chairs were large, solid wooden structures that came with a water mattress for cushioning. The water mattress could also be used in the ocean. Two chairs also shared a large beach umbrella. Chair rental was $10 U.S per day and you had to pay cash.
Trampolines: There were two large trampolines floating just offshore. They were available for children 14 and under for $4U.S. per day. My 7 year old loved these trampolines.
Food: There was a large covered area with picnic-style tables where you could eat. There were also numerous chairs and tables under palm trees over looking the ocean. Additionally, there were waiters that would deliver food anywhere on the beach. Since I found it hard to leave my beach chair, we had lunch delivered to us on a tray. The waiter set it up on a stand so that it was just like a tv tray table.
There was a wide variety of food available. We had chips with salsa. The salsa was fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro chopped up. We also had fajitas which were delicious. Non-alcoholic drinks included soda, bottled water and real coconuts that came with the top sliced off and a straw. The restaurant and bar accepted credit cards and charged in pesos. All day snacks, non-alcoholic drinks and lunch ran us about $40 including a generous tip.
Bar: There was a full bar under a palapa roof. All of the seats were swings. Alcoholic drinks were available anywhere on the beach.
Watersports: For an extra charge there were banana boat rides, parasailing, snorkel equipment, kayaks and other equipment available.
Horseback riding: There was a full stable for horseback riding on the beach just outside the entrance.
Shopping: There were about 8-10 stalls selling beach supplies and Mexican handicrafts along one side of the beach. Prices were not cheap but not as bad as downtown. You can pick up a sand pail for the kids or beach towels here. The vendors were somewhat agressive but they stayed in their section and didn't bother you on the beach. There were also a couple of craft demonstrations where you could see craftspeople paint pottery or make straw hats.
Other amenities: There were lockers, outdoor showers, a clean restroom with toilet paper and a very nice shallow small pool. The lockers were a small charge, the other things were free.
Massages: You could get a massage for an additional cost under a roof just behind the pool.
More information: You can get more information on Mr. Sancho's at www.gotocozumel.com or www.mrsanchos.com.
SHOULD YOU BUY A SHORE EXCURSION?
If you are on a cruise ship, no doubt you have been offered several overpriced shore excursions. As described above, the public beaches are free, offer a lot of amenities and are very nice. I would not get a beach break shore excursion considering the alternatives. There are also numerous dive shops and Atlantis Submarines within a very short drive or walk right off punta langosta pier. I think it would be fairly easy to organize your own trip once you arrive and avoid the cruise ship premium. However, the only danger is that things may sell out. There were 8 large cruise ships in port when we visited Cozumel and the associated crowds downtown can be overwhelming.
I found Cozumel to be one of the nicest places I have visited in Mexico. I loved the beautiful beach with all its amenities. The town itself was a nice diversion, although I don't advise spending a lot of money there if you have another alternative.
MY REVIEWS ON OTHER VACATION OPTIONS
Jamaica: Montego Bay; Ocho Rios.
Mexico: Cancun; Isla Mujeres; Chichen Itza.
Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman.
Cruises: Norweigian Sun.