Cozumel is an island. So the only way to get here unless you happen to have access to your own private yacht is by airplane, ferry or cruise ship.
A cruise ship is not the best way to experience Cozumel, to say the least. Not nearly enough time for one thing. But for those of you who aren’t sure yet that you want to spend your whole vacation on the island, a cruise does allow you to get a quick taste that will probably bring you running back for more — especially if you break away from the pack and explore on your own. See Cruising Cozumel for plenty of ideas on exactly how to do this.
We’ll assume if you’re still reading this, you’re planning to spend a little more time here. In which case, you have several options for getting here.
Cozumel’s small but modern airport bustles with international flights with near-daily non-stop service from US hubs in Houston (United Airlines), DFW (American Airlines) Charlotte (American Airlines) Atlanta (Delta Airline) and Miami (American Airline).
Frontier flies non stop out of Denver part of the year and Sun Country flies nonstop from Minneapolis from Christmas to Easter. Ditto for Air Canada which flies a nonstop to Cozumel from Toronto. Also check into special charter flights from your area. We’ve noticed them coming from Canada and Britain as well as various locations in the US. Funjet.com usually worth a check out.
Here’s What Happens When You Get to Cozumel by Plane
This is for folks flying directly into the Cozumel airport from outside the country. You may also opt for a flight into Cancun and take a puddle jumper flight or a bus and ferry ride over. This is very doable but not ideal and we’ll discuss the details of this option at the end of this article.
Since you’re entering a foreign country, you’ll need proof of who you are to receive an entry visa. You will need a current passport so if you don’t already have one and are planning a trip, get busy now or pay a lot extra for expedited service. It should be noted that if you are a single parent traveling with a child you must carry along a certified letter from the other parent giving permission for travel out of the country.
Customs and Immigration–How it Works
On the last leg of your journey to Cancun or Cozumel the flight attendant will hand out 2 forms for you to fill out on the plane. The flight attendants don’t give out pens so be sure to pack one in your carry on. There is one immigration form per person. Fill out all the required info including your passport number and be sure to sign it to avoid being held up in line waiting on the desk once you land. There is also a customs form to be filled out one per family which asks things like are you bringing in more than $10,000 US in cash, fresh fruit etc.
Cozumel Airport Logistics
You must get on and off the plane the old fashioned way via a staircase plus walk possibly as much as 1.5 blocks across the tarmac between the terminal and the plane. If you have mobility issues, be sure to call your airline ahead and let them know. If necessary, they will send a couple of burly Mexicans up the stairs to carry you and your wheel chair down. No problem on that. But you should be aware that this is a factor to contend with.
Here’s the sequence when you get off the plane:
- Down the stairs and across the tarmac, in through the glass doors to the air-conditioned customs and immigration area. There is a bathroom here.
- Wait your turn with the customs agent. An official will come down the line while you wait to be sure you signed the back of your immigration form so do that ahead and avoid having to write on someone’s back in the line.
- When its your turn or your family’s turn with the agent, present your passport(s) and immigration form(s). Keep the customs form for your next stop down the road. The agent will stamp your passport and rip off a section of your immigration form and hand it back to you. It is VERY IMPORTANT to stow this small document somewhere safe. You will be required to have it when you leave the country.
- The arrival area is very small so you can’t get lost. And lo and behold, after you come through customs you will see the baggage carousels about 15 feet away and right in front of your nose. Grab your bags and head to your left about 15 feet where you’ll see the customs x-ray machines.
- When it’s your turn in this line, load all your bags including carry on bags onto the conveyor belt and pass through to the other side. Set up your bags in preparation for leaving. But don’t go anywhere yet.
- Hand the customs agent standing right there your customs form. He or She will then tell you to push a button below a stop light. (Yes, you read that correctly). If a green light pops up, your bag will not be inspected unless the x-ray machine noticed those 400 pills and a pineapple you were trying to smuggle in. In which case you’ll get your bag inspected even though you got the green light. Red light means you are unlucky today and will have to hoist your bags up on the table for a quick look through. Just smile and be patient. It will be over soon.
- Once through the glass doors of customs and immigration, there’s one other trip wire to watch out for. We mention this elsewhere in the article as well but it bears repeating. Once through the doors to the outside world, the first thing you will see is a line of Mexicans wearing matching outfits–typically a solid colored short sleeved shirt with a contrasting solid color tie. They are time share salesmen pretending to be there to help you with your transportation needs. They can be pretty convincing in this role. Feel free to be polite when they accost you. But be firm in refusing to go anywhere with them unless you want to view a time share presentation somewhere down the line.
- Instead, hang a hard right. You will see the ticket window for the van service down at the end of the room on the exterior wall.By the way, there is no way to leave the airport except by rental car, on foot or in one of the white vans. No taxis can pick you up. So unless you are renting a car at the airport, just get your ticket and head out the nearest door where the drivers and dispatcher will be ready to take care of you and your luggage. Don’t forget to tip the driver!
Flying into Cancun
You may also opt for a flight into Cancun and take a puddle jumper flight or a bus and ferry ride over.
This is a particularly attractive option for west coast US and Canadian visitors wishing to avoid a Red Eye Special. If you find an “offer you can’t refuse” pricing or schedule wise, however, consider this. There will be added costs for puddle jumper or the ground transport/ferry options not to mention 4-6 hours of your time getting there. So you should be realizing savings of minimum $100 US/person to be considering this option.
We would also advise not arriving on a plane into Cancun any later than 6 PM. The last ferry to Cozumel typically leaves Playa del Carmen at 11 PM (Check schedules on this before you travel as it changes often.) At popular times of the year, say, Saturdays from mid December through March, count on potentially long waits at Cancun customs and immigration. Christmas is particularly heinous.
If you’re still decided on a Cancun arrival, here’s the low-down on getting to Cozumel. Many people now opt to grab a ‘puddle jumper’ flight on Mayair.com.mx, an inexpensive and fast option for reaching the island from the airport. 6 flights back and forth per day and takes 20 minutes. Free bus service from the main terminal to their location.
You can also opt to hop a shared or private van (around $80 US for a private van for up to 8 people via USA-Transfers.com). But most economical is the airport bus which whisks you down the coast in air conditioned comfort in about 50 minutes. Buy your ticket from the driver on the way down or get them ahead online.
Yet another ground transportation option is to arrange a ride in advance with a private car company (USA-Transfers.com is $65 one-way for up to 3 people). The driver will be waiting for you with a sign on the side walk outside the exit doors. This is your fastest ground transport option as you can get going right away. We’ve used USA-Transfers many times and been happy with this service.
Once you reach “Playa” as the locals call it, it’s a mere 2 block, downhill walk to the ferry that takes you to Cozumel. There are several crossings from 6 AM until 11 PM.
If you’re loaded down with baggage, grab a tri-cyclo driver. For $10 US he’ll not only load all your bags on his bike cart and wait for you while you get your ferry ticket but he’ll see your bags are stacked safely out on the pier for the sailors to load. This means you aren’t saddled with handling your baggage yourself while you wait for the ferry. And if you just missed the last ferry, that could mean an hour wait!
Ultramar Ferry Schedules & WinJet (formerly Mexico WaterJet) Schedules
Two ferry lines now make the crossing every hour of the day from 5 AM until 10 PM Fares are around $12 each way for adults and $7 for kids. Seating is comfortable on this 35 minute crossing and there’s even a bar on board.
The ticket booths for all the ferry companies is just to the left of the terminal entrance as you face the water in Playa del Carmen. On Cozumel they are built in at the street end of the terminal.
And keep in mind that the last ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel is usually at 10 PM. But if you choose this option, unless you want are going to take Maya Air back to the airport, you’ll have to leave Cozumel at least 4 hours before your flight out of Cancun — which is kind of a drag. So be sure to check the multiple destination options of flying into Cancun and out of Cozumel when you’re booking a trip.
General Travel Tips
We live here full-time but travel back to the states to visit family frequently. Here are some of our tips for a pleasant, low-stress trip.
#1. Fly into Cozumel if possible.
If not look at multi destination tickets flying into Cancun and out of Cozumel. You’ll be able to leave Cozumel as much as 4-5 hours later if you are able to work this option. The Cozumel airport is 5 minutes from most downtown accommodations and tops 25 minutes from the most far flung resort.
#2. Be Cautious with Vacation Packages
It’s true you can sometimes find some really good deals particularly in off season when hotels may be trying desperately to fill rooms. But on Cozumel as elsewhere, you pretty much get what you pay for.
If you jump on a deal that seems almost too good to be true, don’t be surprised if you end up with watered down drinks, tired buffet food and a room with grotty tile, lumpy mattresses and a view of the thorn forest jungle. In short, unless you’re familiar with the particular accommodation offered in a package either from personal experience or from careful research on the internet, you’re usually better off building your own trip. For one such guide check the Accommodations Overview section of this site.
#3. Airport Bus Ticket Purchase Tips
The airport bus is your best deal from the Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen where you catch the ferry to Cozumel. You can buy your ticket at the Cancun airport for the trip down. If you’re going back by bus to the airport, however, buy your ticket online ahead of time. There is often a long wait at the Playa del Carmen bus ticket office. Not so at the Cancun airport.
#4. Airport Van Transport from the Cancun Airport
If you have a group — or can make friends with others going down the coast while you’re on the plane–you’ll get down the coast faster in one of the white Asur vans. Buy your ticket at the window just before you head out to the curb after customs and immigration. But be warned that if you are solo or a couple only and don’t make a deal before hand for the van, they will charge you the full fare and then they’ll charge the other party the full fare as well.
Always make the taxi driver tell you the price before you get into a cab. This holds true for Cancun and other parts of the Riviera Maya as well. If they refuse to give you a price to a specific destination, move to the next cab and ask them the price.
There are regulation fares for going to various places but because you are picking up a waiting cab, your fare will be somewhat more than the base rate. However, the driver does have a regulation base rate he’s supposed to charge you. If he won’t tell you what it is, an alarm bell should go off. Check the next cab in the line. There is a surcharge if you are picked up at a taxi stand of perhaps $1.50 US.
If you’ve brought along food to eat on the plane, finish off your sandwich, apple or bag of nuts before you hit customs. If they find them, they’ll take them away from you. If you’re a tourist, you’re not going to be bringing in anything else that raises red flags — like 4 laptops as some of us locals might do on occasion. So there’s really not much else to worry about. Although perhaps in light of a couple of Darwin Award winners in recent years it bears mentioning: Don’t wear a vest with empty shotgun shells caught in the lining and forgotten. Guns and ammo are totally illegal and they will throw the book at you. Ditto for that roach stub. Don’t go there. It will be bad if they catch you. Very bad.
So steer clear of guns, drugs and stuff down those sandwiches and fruit before you deplane.