Editor's Note: In late August 2007, the pier at Costa Maya sustained sizable damage from Hurricane Dean. Carnival Cruise Lines was substituting Progreso and other ports for calls at Costa Maya. Royal Caribbean was also substituting other ports throughout 2007. Mexican officials now say that Costa Maya will reopen to cruise ship visitors in July 2008. New area features include a zip line adventure option and a $15 million boardwalk in the fishing village of Mahahual. Mexican tourism officials also say that Cunard, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America, Carnival Cruise Lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, P&O Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Ocean Village, have committed to return. Visit www.costamaya-mexico.com. If you are booked on a cruise calling here, your cruise line will assess the situation as it unfolds to determine if you visit this port or a substitute.
Directly off the cruise pier, cruisers will encounter a purpose-built dining, shopping and entertainment complex just for them, including these refreshing salt water pools.*
Mayan Dreams: Costa Maya Awaits
By Lorry Heverly
Ancient discoveries and enticing adventures abound in Puerto Costa Maya, one of Mexico's newest ports of call. Purpose-built for cruising, Costa Maya had “zero” cruise travelers coming ashore just five years ago. Today, most major cruise lines with Caribbean itineraries call at Costa Maya, delivering more than two million cruise visitors annually.
Where is Costa Maya? The port destination is south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. See the map above for the location of Costa Maya in perspective to other sites and cities of the Yucatan.*
Did you know the area around Costa Maya boasts the largest Mayan population in Mexico? The region is also home to the greatest concentration of major Mayan archaeological sites.
Perched at the tip of a vast jungle, this new port creates myriad diversions for cruise visitors.
For example, cruisers might explore the mysteries of ancient civilizations, pursue jungle adventures or enjoy palm-lined beaches and vibrant coral reefs.
Or they might simply head for the beach (shown in the photo at left*)
The Costa Maya cruise pier handles up to three ships simultaneously.
Thankfully, tenders aren’t needed most of the time unless there are more ships calling at the port.
When passengers disembark, the fun starts immediately.
Surrounded by aquamarine waters and sun-kissed beaches, the cruise pier leads to a state-of-the-art, 70,000-square-foot entertainment complex (partially visible in the bottom left corner of the photo above*).
Built to resemble an ancient Mayan city, the complex’s festive conch-shell-pink buildings are topped with grassy thatch roofs.
You might go no further. These buildings house a maze of open-air shops, restaurants and facilities.
So you can shop ‘till you drop, take a dip in a salt water pool (shown at right*), or just kick back and enjoy drinks or lunch at one of the seaside area restaurants or bars.
The complex’s daily schedule of folkloric programs assures you don’t have to go far to get a taste of Mexico.
Many cruisers, though, will want to venture inland.
Following is a sampling of shore trip options from Costa Maya including a few pricing examples from Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International.
Dolphin Dream Experience
One new activity at Costa Maya is the Dolphin Dream Experience, which, as you can see above, gives up-close time in the water with the gentle and acrobatic creatures.*
The newest shore option at Costa Maya is the Dolphin Dream Experience. This new offering is part of a joint venture with the Xcaret eco-park and is available in a location adjacent to Costa Maya.
The tour, led by bilingual naturalists, allows visitors a chance to swim and learn about dolphins in their natural habitat. (As in the photo at right, this tour is a great experience for most children -- although adults too enjoy it very much).
Expert trainers give cruisers a lesson in dolphin anatomy, psychology, the dolphins’ role in nature and how the marine creatures communicate.
The dolphins also perform flips and jumps with visitors in the water. Royal Caribbean’s dolphin excursion costs $139 per person.
Costa Maya is sheltered by the Meso-American Barrier Reef, the longest reef system in the Northern hemisphere. Visibility is often 100 feet or more in these clear, clean waters.
Scuba divers and snorkelers will discover an underwater wonderland of canyons, walls and reefs blanketed in colorful gardens of corals, sponges and sea fans (in laymmen's terms the latter is similar to a soft coral). The waters teem with tropical fish.
Most cruise lines have contracts with local dive operators for guests who want to go scuba diving in waters off Costa Maya.
One certified PADI operator is Dreamtime Diving (904-730-4337 or www.dreamtimediving.com), Kilometer 2.5 Mahahual Coast Rd. Dreamtime offers boat dives to local sites, refresher courses and rental gear.
Other water options? You might book a speedboat or catamaran ride, soar over the port via parasailing, paddle a kayak or simply throw in a line for fishing.
Watersports at Costa Maya are diverse; visitors might enjoy kayaking or a catamaran ride, both shown above.
One of the destination’s newest excursions, the Mayan Reality Tour, transports visitors to the heart of a Mayan village in the shadows of an ancient pyramid.
The reward is to visit a typical Mayan home and see how the family experiences everyday life.
For example, you’ll see gardens planted with flora used in traditional herbal medicines. Crafts and weaving skills may be demonstrated such as in the photo at right*.
As you peak inside thatched-roof dwellings you’ll view earthen floors and simple furnishings. During this tour, you'll sample local Mayan dishes cooked in the ground and covered with leaves. And, you’ll hear Mayans share the stories and legends of their ancestors.
Royal Caribbean Cruises offers this type of tour at $92 per person.
Cruisers often have touring options for several archaeological sites in the region. The ruins of Chacchoben, for example, are shown at left.*
But one of the most popular day trips is to the ancient Mayan city of Kohunlich. Set in the hilly jungle near the Belize border, Kohunlich is the one of the most impressive and extensive archeological sites in the peninsula.
Highlights include pyramid-shaped temples, plazas and ball courts.
Most impressive are giant masks carved in stone, believed to be depictions of ancient rulers and portrayed with features of the Mayan Sun God.
A seven-hour Kohunlich Ruins excursion costs $82 per person on Royal Caribbean International. Carnival also offers a Kohunlich Ruins trip at $89 per person.
If more modern history is your passion, enter the heart of the Colonial world in the village of Bacalar. Here, the Fort of San Felipe, built by the Spanish in 1733, protected the town's population from attacks by pirates.
The fort (shown at right) overlooks Bacalar Lake.* The lake is home to Cenote Azul, a water-filled limestone sink hole reportedly the largest and deepest in the Yucatan. There are reportedly more than 3,000 sink holes in the peninsula.
Ancient Mayans believed Cenote Azul was the birthplace of the rainbow because of the many shades of blue radiating in the waters.
You might cool off with a swim. Or, alternatively, try fresh fish and traditional Mayan dishes at the restaurant overlooking the rim of Cenote Azul.
Several adventure options are popular with cruisers. You might journey by air boat to explore the rich mangrove ecosystem and view exotic wildlife in remote regions of the Rio Huach National Reserve.
Off-road adventures on ATV's, in dune buggies or with four-by-four vehicles offer an exciting mode of transport for scouting the terrain. Take a deep jungle excursion on horseback where riders learn about the flora and fauna and visit an unearthed Mayan village.
Carnival offers a horseback adventure for $99 per person and a Dune Buggy Jungle & Beach Safari at $89 per person.
The fishing village of Mahahual has developed faster in recent years due to cruise tourism at nearby Costa Maya.*
Another option is to explore the tiny, sleepy fishing village of Mahahual. It’s just a short walk from the port along the beachfront sand road.
If you go, you'll notice fishermen's traditional wooden homes on stilts. They’re playfully adorned in fishing nets, buoys and other eclectic trappings from the sea.
The village’s small outdoor market is a nice place to shop for souvenirs. The beach at Mahahual is also generally quieter than the one near the cruise pier at Costa Maya.
For More Information
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Costa Maya or other tourism entities in the Yucatan. All rights reserved. Do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.