’11 August 3114 BC’ is the date that life began, according to the Mayans who were ancient astronomers. This is just one of the many interesting facts that you can learn at the historically and culturally rich port of Costa Maya Mexico or Puerto Costa Maya as it is locally called. The port is one of the most diverse ports to cruise to in the western Caribbean.
The small Costa Maya cruise port, famous for the largest Mayan ruins is located in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula south of Playa del Carmen, near Belize. It was transformed into a cruise ship destination in 2001 and was rebuilt in 2007 after the devastating hurricane Dean destroyed it.
So, when Holland America visited the port a year later, the cruise ship destination business was back in business and has been growing steadily since then. If you want to experience a historical adventure coupled with the 3 S’s that is sun, sand and sip, then Costa de Maya is the place to be.
The port is located approximately 130 miles south of Cozumel. This area isn’t as developed as some other ports, but it still offers a lot for passengers to do. From the ancient Mayan ruins to scuba diving or just trying new and local cuisine, you definitely won’t get bored even if you stay in the port area.
Things to Do in Costa Maya Mexico
There is so much to do in this port that you might get easily confused as to where to start. Luckily, this detailed article is aimed at informing you everything you need to know about the port, including fun things do in Costa Maya.
First things first, everything you need to know about the cruise port of Costa Maya:
1. Relax at the Port
The port is designed to resemble a blissful modern tropical village. It offers a lot of amenities like 3 saltwater pools that feature swim-up bars, restaurants, a shopping plaza and artisan markets. If you don’t want to wander away from the ship, this is a great area to relax and enjoy your port day.
When you get off the ship walk down the long pier to the port, no tendering is necessary. However, if you are not comfortable walking for one reason or another, there are usually free shuttle buses ferrying people to and from the ship.
At the port, you will be welcomed into the port’s culture with energetic Mayan drum beats music from Señor Frog’s restaurant or Carlos and Charlies where you can relax at the saltwater pools or have a Mexican/Italian style meal from their restaurants. The Mexican mariachis will also entertain you with great tunes.
Near the pier is a secluded dolphin excursion area, where you can go swimming with dolphins, or snorkel to explore the marine life.
One of the easiest ways to explore the port and surrounding areas like Mahahual fishing village is by bicycle, rent one for $10-30 for 4-5 hours or rent a golf cart for $75 a day.
Tip 1: A “no gracias” with a smile is enough to let the people hawking stuff know you are not interested.
Tip 2: When using the shuttle bus to go downtown, don’t alight until you are at the baseball dome. That is the center of the downtown, and from there you can easily access beach clubs, restaurant, shops and other amenities in any direction.
Tip 3: To get to the beach, walk towards your right from the port entrance past the shops up to the grand staircase on your right. Go through the small pathway at the bottom of the stairs, and you will find a ticket selling table on the other side, where you can purchase tickets for a taxi, or a trolley ride at $3 each.
Ask the taxi to take you to any popular beach club like Tropicante, 40 canons, Maya Chan or go further to the remote resorts (though you have to book in advance for such resorts).
Secondly, all the fun things you can do outside of the Costa Maya port area:
2. Explore Mahahual the Fishing Village
About 30 minutes away from the cruise port is a beautiful quaint fishing village known as Mahahual. You can take a 5-minute cab ride, a $3 shuttle, a bike or just walk to this little village. It has beautiful beaches and restaurants to eat at.
Don’t listen to any anyone trying to make you pay for using the beach, visit the restaurants and find the ones that give you an all-inclusive pass to the beach for buying drinks and food at their premises, place your stuff on a chair and enjoy the beach.
Mahahual has beautiful white sandy beaches and shallow warm, clear water. This is attributed to the reef system that is 100 yards out in the water, that helps keep the water relatively calm and safe to splash around even for the kids.
You can enjoy some beach games while you are here like volleyball, do some light snorkeling if you are not a pro and splash around in the ocean if you are not a confident swimmer.
There is an abundance of beach clubs and shopping areas in this town. You can get a beach massage for half the price on the cruise at $40 for 1 hour. You can rent water gears like jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards and go on a water adventure.
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Costa Maya has over 500 fish varieties like tuna, marlin, snapper etc. While on this village charter a local captain and go on a tropical fishing trip, catch fresh seafood and even have it cooked for you at an extra cost.
If you are the adventurous type visit the Xcalet, a small nearby village within XCalak national reef park and explore the shipwrecks at the Chinchorro banks while snorkeling in the reef.
When going back to the ship, try and leave an hour earlier to get cabs and make it to the pier in good time too.
3. Explore the Mayan Ruins Chacchoben
Just as the name Costa Maya suggests, this port was inhabited by the Mayan civilization back in the 200BC-900AD era. It was also a major maritime trade route. The Mayan civilization being great engineers, had beautifully crafted and designed building structures on the coast.
The kingdom fell into ruins after the Mayans were defeated by the Spaniards in the early 1500s. The ruins remained undiscovered until the 1990s when a group of rubber farmers discovered them on their search for rubber trees.
This port has the largest Mayan ruins ever discovered to date, and that is just but a scratch as it’s believed that under the many hills in the area lies more ruins.
There are three sites to explore the ruins from, mainly Chacchoben, Kohunlich, and Dzibanche. Chacchoben is an hour away from the port and is the most famous of the three sites. It features the large pyramid structure, climb, explore and have a great view of the historic ruins and the general beauty of the region.
Book an excursion with your cruise to explore Chacchoben and the rich history of the amazing Mayan people. The knowledgeable tour guides will tell you all about the history and the culture of the place. If you are lucky, you might even get a chance to tour the local communities around and be taught about their ways.
Tip: There is no need to spend a fortune with a cruise booked tour, Native Choice, a local tour company, is highly rated and recommended. It gives excellent walking tours of the ruins, takes you to the local communities and gives you a thorough history of the Mayan people and their cultures.
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4. Tour the Spanish Fortress at Bacalar
Another beautiful site to visit while at this port is the Spanish fortress otherwise known as Fuerte San Felipe Bacalar. Located an hour and a half from the port the fort offers another historical journey of the ancient inhabitants of the region.
The fortress was used as a protective barrier by the Spaniards against pirates and attacks from the locals. For a small admissions fee, you can tour the museum, the fort and have a beautiful view of the Bacalar lagoon from its rooftop.
While in this area you can also visit the Cenote Azul, which is a 300 foot deep clear water spring, great for diving and snorkeling. When you get hungry just grab a bite from any of the nearby restaurants.
Tip: There may not be guides at the fort, ask for one at the tickets desk or look for a willing local to help you tour the site.
5. Beach Break Relax on Loungers and Hammocks
If you are not the touristic type and actually went on a cruise for the relaxing aspect of it, then there is something for you too, it’s called sun and sand. Relax at any one or more of the many beaches on the port.
If you booked beach excursions with your cruise, you are most likely to end up at a private beach on Uvero beach. But if you are a DIY kind of person and don’t fancy paying high prices for things you can access yourself affordably, then visit any one of the beach clubs in Mahahual.
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Some of the famous beaches on the town are Los 40 Canons or as the locals call it in Spanish Cuarenta Canones, Tropicante restaurant, and beach club, Nohoch Kay, and Maya Chan. The Maya Chan is a particularly great beach for kids; it organizes exciting and adventurous kid activities like kayaking, glass-bottomed boat rides, snorkeling and scavenger hunts.
Look for one of the beach clubs that offer an all-inclusive beach pass with their meals and drink prices and enjoy the beach on a lounger or hammock. On some beach clubs, the price might even allow you to rent a kayak for free.
If you want a more private and quieter beach that is not crowded, then head to the southernmost part of Mahahual and there you will find less populated beaches on the more quiet and serene resorts and beach clubs like the Almaplena Eco beach resort.
6. Get Active
Not a beach bum and love getting active? There are plenty of activities and water sports to engage in at Costa Maya. This cruise port is located along the 2nd largest reef system in the world, the Meso-American reef system.
This is an exciting fact, especially for divers as the coral reef offers a wide variety of sea life where you can see dolphins, different types of colorful fishes and even sharks.
Most cruise lines that visit this port and local tour companies offer a number of excursions so that you can explore the port fully, they include:
Are you a curious water explorer or do you want to try out snorkeling? Go snorkeling and have a closer look at the coral formations and check out the tropical fish.
If you take the catamaran cruise and snorkel package, you will have a professional snorkel guide give you a 45 min tour to an offshore snorkeling site.
Where you get to snorkel in the clearest turquoise waters exploring the varied sea life in Costa Maya and get a complimentary drink on your ride back.
This is mostly meant for beginners. You get professional divers to teach you how to scuba dive, and you get to experience the beautiful marine life of the coast past the barrier reef.
If you are a more experienced diver and want the most visible waters, ask to be taken to the site near the lighthouse, it has better visibility.
Kiss, swim with, shake, push and boogie board with the dolphins. Get there early to avoid the queues and enjoy quality time with the dolphins petting them, swimming with them and even get a kiss. Afterwards, get photos of you and the dolphins which were taken while you interacted with it. Be ready to carry about $50 or more for this, if you want them, they take an insane number of pictures.
Glass Bottom Boat Rides
Fun for everyone especially kids, if you are not a confident swimmer but would still like to get a view of the ocean life just like the snorkelers get, then taking the relaxing glass bottom boat ride to explore the marine life offshore is your go-to excursion.
Note though that the boats are small and don’t exactly give you a comfortable room to view the glass floor, and if you have back problems, this might be a little strenuous for you.
If you don’t want to walk and want to explore the port more conveniently, rent a bike for anything between $10-30 for 4-5 hours. Carry your bug spray though, especially if exploring the jungle, to keep the mosquitoes away.
Glide along the coral sea life and the coastlines on a paddleboard standing upright. This is a fun activity that also tests your stamina and balance. The highlight of this excursion is the wonderful trainer and guide Julie and her husband.
If you like activities that will make you break a sweat while still having fun, then go for kayaking.
Rainforest and Wildlife Tours
The jungle offers unique animal species and a great variety of lush green plants to explore. The guides are good and have a keen eye to spot wildlife such as monkeys and birds. This is a walking tour.
To get closer to some tropical birds in Costa Maya, you can visit the Aviarius. It is located within the port and allows you to encounter the many tropical birds that frequent this area. Some of the tropical birds you can expect to see include flamingos and macaws.
ATV, Jeep, Cycling and Dune Buggy Tours
Explore the beautiful lush greens of the Costa Maya jungle using an ATV, a golf cart or even a dune buggy for about $70-100 a day. If you love speed and want to take a rough terrain, get muddy and explore the Mayan jungle, then this excursion is for you. Note though that some of these vehicles are poorly maintained or old and might give you some issues along the way.
Get a panoramic view of the island while soaring above the rainforest on a zip line. Located at the Disney themed Lost Mayan Kingdom water park, the zip lining excursion is one you shouldn’t miss. Note however the zip lining charges are not inclusive of water park charges, if you want to use the water park, you will pay more.
7. Food and Drinks
Cruise trips to foreign destinations would not be complete without the foreign culinary experience, and Costa Maya doesn’t disappoint either. The port offers a great variety of popular Mexican and Italian dishes; some boutique restaurants will offer you other European themed dishes. Enjoy anything from shrimp fajitas, prawn tacos, freshly caught lobster, cheese quesadilla, delicious guacamole, meat burritos and pizza.
Love chocolate? At Kakaw, which is located in the port area, you can get a tour of the history of chocolate. You will learn how chocolate originated and also have the opportunity to see how it is made. Don’t forget the samples, either!
The port has a large shopping plaza 70,000 square foot in size where you can do your shopping for Costa Maya themed ornaments, t-shirts, pottery, silver, and other types of souvenirs. You can also find drug stores and convenience shops in the shopping center.
Tips for Cruisers in Costa Maya Mexico
Costa Maya and Mahahual
First, Costa Maya and Mahahual are often used interchangeably, but there is a big difference between the two. Costa Maya is the port area and complex that was specifically built for cruise ship passengers to enjoy. Mahahual is the city located just outside of this area. Both offer you a good look at the genuine culture of Mexico.
When you visit a town that was built on tourism, then you should always expect there to be a fair amount of aggressive vendors in the area looking to make a few extra bucks. If this is the case on your trip, a simple no thank you should be enough to get you moving on your way.
Did you know that dollars are actually widely accepted in Costa Maya Mexico? You should also remember that you probably won’t get the absolute best exchange rate at the port.
Relaxing at the Beach
The beachfront has a ton of restaurants, and you are able to enjoy the beach area for free, but many expect you to purchase food and drinks while you are there. To avoid this, don’t use the seating that is offered by the many restaurants. Instead, find your own area to sit and bring your own food and drink to enjoy.
To sum it up, Costa Maya is an amazing port to visit. Not only do you get to dive and snorkel in the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, but you also get to visit the largest Mayan ruins in the world. On top of all that you get to learn and interact with the great Mayan culture, enjoy sumptuous Mexican and Italian delicacies.
Using this guide, which has revealed to you some if not all of the best-kept secrets about the place, you are guaranteed to enjoy Costa Maya more on your next visit.
You don’t even have to leave the ship in order to have a good time. While everyone else is out exploring Costa Maya, you can take a day to relax on the cruise ship where you will find that the swimming pool is far less crowded, the lines for food are a lot shorter, and you will feel as if you have the ship to yourself for a little bit of time.
So, go ahead and give a deaf ear to the naysayers, and get off the ship when you dock at port Maya, there are lots of stuff to see, do and enjoy.