Cozumel – Getting There / Getting Around

So you’ve made the decision to visit Cozumel and are wondering what is the best way to get there?

The Cozumel airport (CZM) is currently served by non-stop international flights from Houston via Continental Airlines, from Charlotte, NC on US Airways, on American Airlines from Dallas/Ft. Worth, on Delta from Atlanta United Airlines from Chicago O’Hare and Sun Country Airlines from Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas/Ft. Worth

In addition, virtually every major US and Canadian airline including all of the above plus Jet Blue and low cost carriers Spirit Airlines and AirTran fly into Cancun (CUN).

There is regular commuter service from Cancun to Cozumel via Mayair (codeshare with Aeromexico)

You may also be able to take advantage of a charter flight from many cities across the U.S. into the Cozumel International Airport. Many tour operators that fly charter flights will sell air-only tickets but you may need to ask specifically for that option.  Some of these include: Fun Jet,  Apple Vacations, Sun Holidays (from Canada),  Worry-Free Vacations, and Sun Trips (from Oakland and Denver).

For additional information on air, dive & hotel packages, have a look at our Cozumel Packages page.

Click here for current weather conditions at the Cozumel airport.

  1. credit: bobbyedwards on Flickr

In March 2011, United Caribbean, a newly capitalized company located in Orlando announced plans to begin a cruise ship/car ferry from Tampa to Progresso, the port near the Yucatan capital of Merida.  A similar service offered by another company closed down in 2003. 

Published reports stated that United Caribbean Lines would run two trips per week via a vessel that would serve up to 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. In 2011, service was scheduled to begin in the first half of 2012 but in March 2012, a press release announced the start date had been pushed  back to “early next year (2013)”. 

Each way of the journey is estimated to take 30-hours.

To be very honest, this is not the first time we’ve heard announcements of plans to resume the service but until now, it has remained inactive.   But we still think what a great trip this would be…drive down to Florida where you could drive your own car onto a ferry and a day or so later, drive it off the ship in Mexico.  Maybe one day…

Getting To Cozumel Through the Cancun Airport

As noted above, virtually every major North American airline flies into Cancun. You will often find that you can save hundreds of dollars per person by making that your destination and then finding your way over to Cozumel either by Mayair (codeshare with Aeromexico), commuter line, which flies the 43 miles to Cancun 8 times per day or by traveling by land to Playa Del Carmen where you can catch a ferry to Cozumel.

Despite what others might have told you, there is no ferry service directly from Cancun to Cozumel. The passenger ferry service from the mainland to Cozumel departs from Playa del Carmen and crosses the 12 miles of the Yucatan Straights in 25 to 40-minutes 12-15 times per day from the downtown pier at a cost of $110 pesos or about US$10 each way.

A car ferry between Cozumel and Puerto Morales makes the 3-4 hour round trip 3 times daily arriving at the Cruise Ship Pier near La Ceiba Hotel. The charge for a standard car is approximately $65 plus $5 per passenger. There is another car ferry service from Calica, just south of Playa del Carmen that costs $5 per passenger and $67 per vehicle for the 2-hour trip

While not overly large, transfers in the Cancun airport can be confusing for any traveler, especially on the first visit. When you arrive in Cancun, an agent will meet your plane and lead everyone to the “Immigration” room. This is where you will present your passport and the immigration form you should have received at your home airport or on the plane. You need to fill out both the top and bottom sections of the form and sign in two places on the back. The immigration agent will give you back the bottom portion of the form, which you should keep in a safe place as you will need to present it at the airline ticket counter upon your departure from Mexico.  If you do lose the form, you can still leave Mexico but you’ll have to go through a process with Immigration to replace it.  It’s easier to keep track of the original form.

  • Travel Tip:
  • If your international flight’s first entry into Mexico is Cozumel, the immigration and customs procedures will be the same as described above for Cancun.

After you go through immigration, turn left and you will come to the baggage claim area. Carousels aren’t marked too well but there are only three of them so it shouldn’t be too hard to find your luggage. Baggage handlers are not allowed in the baggage claim area but rental carts are available for US $1. Once you get your bags, you have to go through “customs”. If you didn’t receive a “customs declaration” form on the plane, there is usually someone near to the carousels giving them out. As a tourist, you are allowed to bring in all of your own personal articles plus $300 worth of gifts duty free. Unless you’re bringing in more than $300 in gifts, find the section of the form that says “Nothing to declare” and simply sign that. As long as your total is less than $300, you don’t have to list the items you are bringing in. Once you get to the customs desk, an agent will take your form and ask you to push a button at the bottom of a green and red stop light. If the light turns green, just walk on through. If it turns red, agents will want to look in your bags. If it does turn red, it doesn’t mean they think you have more than $300 worth of gifts. It’s a random sampling. In all likelihood, the search will be minimal. If it turns out you are bringing in more than $300 worth of gifts and did not declare it, you are subject to a fine.

If you are flying from Cancun to Cozumel and have a lot of luggage, you’ll probably want to hire a porter. He’ll be glad to lead you to the check-in counter in the other terminal but if you’re going it alone, walk out of the building and turn right. The departure gates are in the first building you reach. As you enter the building there is a long line of ticket counters. You should go right to the Mayair/Aeromexico commuter desk and even if there is no agent there when you arrive, wait, as there are at least eight flights per day and the schedules are a little irregular. If they have room and you are there in time, they may put you on an earlier flight than the one you are booked on. Make sure you tell the gate agent you are in transit and the flight number of your international flight because otherwise, he will try to charge you a domestic departure tax. Travelers that are just passing through Cancun on their way to other Mexican destinations do not have to pay that tax. If you are in transit and the agent insists on charging you the departure tax, tell him you want a receipt. You can then get a refund from Aeromexico with the receipt and proof that you were in transit. Once through security, you enter a room looking out over the tarmac. The sound system in this room is pretty horrible but listen to announcements for the word “Cozumel”. Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what is going on because no one else (not even the Mexicans) does either. Somehow, you will hear the announcement and board your plane for the 15-minute flight to Cozumel. Food and drink services in the commuter departure room are minimal so if you have the time and desire, you will find a better selection and quality in the main terminal area before you pass through the departure gate security.

  • Travel Tip: To call Cozumel from Cancun, dial, 01 987 and then the local Cozumel seven-digit number beginning with 872.

International and domestic flights arriving in Cozumel have separate baggage claim carousels but the gates are side by side. Unless you are picking up a rental car, once you’ve claimed your baggage and cleared customs (if your first point of entry into Mexico is Cozumel) you will need to buy a transit ticket for transport to your hotel or rental house. This will be the most expensive cab ride of your trip but the concession for the transport from the airport excludes taxis from picking up there. Once you buy your ticket, walk outside where you will be herded like cattle into groups going to the same hotels or areas of town. Eventually you will be loaded into a van or SUV for the ride. The only other ways around the expensive ride from the airport is to either have a friend pick you up or to walk off of the airport property where you can pick up a taxi that has just dropped someone off at the airport.

Getting To Cozumel by Ferry

But there is another way to reach Cozumel from Cancun that will take a little longer but is cheaper and in some ways less stressful. And that way is via the ferry that runs between Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel. Of course, the first thing you have to do after collecting your bags and getting through customs is to find your way to the ferry pier in Playa.

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  2. Cozumel Aeropuerto sign
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There are other ways to make the trip down to Playa but the easiest and most economical is the Express Bus that runs between the Cancun Airport and the Playa Del Carmen bus terminal, which is about a block and a half from the Playa ferry pier. After you get through immigration and customs look for a counter that says either Riviera Bus or Express Bus to Playa Del Carmen. Tickets are roughly US $7.50. If by chance you can’t find the counter, go outside and look for a white bus with blue waves and fish along the bottom and “Riviera” on both sides and just buy a ticket from the driver. Buses depart the Cancun airport almost hourly on the half hour beginning at 10:30am until 9:30pm. The return buses leave Playa Del Carmen almost hourly, usually at the top of the hour but with a few exceptions.  If you’re traveling in a group of least 4, it’s a little more expensive but not out of the ball park to take a shared taxi van to Playa Del Carmen. Pick up your ticket at the transportation desk inside the terminal. Look for a sign that says “shuttle bus to Playa Del Carmen”.  You will be put into a van or a Chevy Suburban for the 40 to 45 minute drive down the coast to Playa. The driver will let you off about a block from the ferry pier. If you’re traveling solo, a shared ride for 1 is approximately $15. That translates to a one-way price of US$60 for a group of 4 or about what the one-way commuter flight for one would cost.  Once you arrive in Playa Del Carmen, you can either hire a porter who will carry your luggage to the ferry pier on a tricycle or if you’re traveling light, just walk towards the shore and turn right and you’ll see the ticket booths for the ferry about a block away. Once you decide on how to get to Playa, you will find that ferries depart virtually every hour for the 35-45 minute trip across the straight. Don’t be too concerned about whether you’re getting on a “fast boat” or one of the older ferries but if you’re on one of the older boats, try to sit upstairs in the open air. One-way cost is about $10.00. You will arrive downtown in the middle of San Miquel and find a taxi line at the end of the pier. If you reach the pier in Playa just in time to see a ferry pulling out, don’t get too uptight. Remember that you are on vacation and have a beer or a snack at Sr. Frogs and wait for the next one.

You’ll want to buy your ticket at the pier but for reference there are 2 ferry companies serving the Playa to Cozumel route. The older of the companies is Mexico Waterjets and the other is UltraMar. Both offer basically the same service and sometimes leave within minutes of each other.  You can access schedules by clicking on the links above.

Getting Around Town

When driving in Cozumel, keep in mind that except for divided boulevards, most streets in town are one way. Look for a sign on the side of a building at the corner for which direction to take. The other way you can tell which way you should be driving is by the direction the stop signs are facing. Most of the streets perpendicular to the waterfront will have stop signs on every corner. Except for the divided boulevards, the streets that are perpendicular to the waterfront are called “Calles.” Those north of the center of town all have even numbers. Those south have odd numbers.

  1. credit: pasujoba44 on Flickr

One exception to the numbering system is Ave. Adolpho Salas, which is one block south of the square. Another is Ave. Bonito Juarez, which runs from the central square east all the way to the other side of the island. The streets that run parallel to the waterfront are called “Avenidas” and are numbered in multiples of 5. The main drag is Ave. R. Melgar but the next street is 5th, the next is 10th, etc. Ave. 30 (aka Ave. Pedro Joaquin Coldwell) and Ave. 65 are divided boulevards.

No parking zones are marked with red painted curbs. There are some areas with restricted parking in the downtown area for certain hours of the day so just be aware of that if you are looking for parking and happen to see a whole block with no cars parked on it.

There are quite a few attended parking lots all over the downtown area that usually stay open until around 10:00 pm.  Fees typically run 8-10 pesos (or less than $1) per hour.  Look for signs reading “Estacionamiento”

While convenient, you really don’t need to rent a car for the whole week. Except for the ride from the airport to the house, cabs are very cheap in Cozumel. Point to point in town should be less than two dollars. There are a few cab stops in the downtown area (one is right at the end of the ferry pier) but usually, all you have to do is hold your arm out and a cab will stop. Sometimes they will blow their horn or blink their lights as a way of asking if you are interested. Cab fares are supposed to be standard but if they think you are off a cruise ship, they will charge a lot more.  With the exception of the US$7-$10 per person ride from the airport to your hotel or house and the N$100 pesos (roughly $10) for two persons ride back to the airport, taxis tend to be very reasonable. While no meters are used, fares are regulated. Although it’s not always expected, a 10% tip is appropriate. Telephone 87 20041 to have a taxi dispatched to your location for an additional fee of N$5 pesos. While the cab drivers will take dollars, (and most of the prices below are listed in dollars) it will be easier if you pay in pesos in as close to exact change as possible. It is hard to believe how often the driver will tell you he has no change when trying to use even a small bill. Approximate fares (in dollars) are:

  • Point to point in town – $1.50 to $2.00
  • Town to north or south hotels – $3.00 to $4.00
  • Chankanaab Park to town – $10.00
  • Town to Playa Corona – $9.00

You can hire a taxi for longer terms for roughly $15 an hour. The published fare for a 3-hour tour of the island by cab is roughly $50 but with some negotiations, you can hire a cab to stay with you for half a day for $35 to $40.