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Getting to Cozumel

Waiting room of Cozumel's cozy, modern little airport. All other things being more or less equal, a flight directly here beats a trip to Cancun and the journey down the coast.

As of this writing ( March 2007) the only practical way to reach Cozumel from outside Mexico for a short-term visit is via cruiseship or air. There was a ferry from Tampa to nearby Puerto Morelos for a short time but it is not in operation now. We'll update you if it starts up again as this can be a very economical option if you can get to Tampa cheaply.

A cruiseship 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.

 

 

 

 

For those of you who opt to spend a week or more on this lovely, friendly little island, you have more air options than every from which to choose. Three major airlines now fly directly into the island's airport (Continental, US Airways and American) with a fourth (United) reportedly planning to join the pack high season 2005.

There are also several charter companies that fly directly into Cozumel from selected cities. MLT Vacations has the best prices we've come across. (Choose the Airfares Inclusive Section and then choose Air Only from the drop down box). We understand that there will soon be charter service directly to Cozumel from Manchester, England.

An alternative to flying directly to the island is to catch a flight to nearby Cancun, take the airport bus to Playa del Carmen and then the ferry across to Cozumel. This is a pleasant and very doable trip. However, unless you can save more than $100 per ticket by flying into Cancun, we'd advise opting for a direct flight to CZM. We'll talk more about the Cancun arrival/departure options later in this article.

For now, suffice it to say, that, all things being more or less equal flying directly to Cozumel is going to be your most convenient choice for getting here. The airport here is much less busy so your wait at immigration will be less than 15 minutes as opposed to the one to two hours you may run into in Cancun. And by flying into Cozumel, you can skip the bus and ferry trip (See text below) which, although pleasant and fairly inexpensive, does mean you'll get to Cozumel a good 3-4 hours after you clear immigration in Cancun.

If you find an "offer you can't refuse" read Cancun to Cozumel for exact information on taking the $7.00 US airport bus to Playa del Carmen (50 minutes) and the $12 US ferry from Playa to Cozumel (US$20 RT)

Tips for Finding Good Airfare

We live in Cozumel, go back to the states once every year and bring our college age daughter down here several times a year for vacations. Here's the method we always try to line up the best air deals for the dates we need.

#1.Research Airline Pricing.See what's available from airports within comfortable driving distance from your home to both Cancun and Cozumel. For major airlines, check www.expedia.com. We always also check with www.hobbittravel.com which specializes in travel to Mexico from the US. And we use the QuikFares option at www.bestfares.com as well. Check Monday through Thursday prices as well as weekend fares. Jot down notes of the lowest prices you can come up with for one stop only flights.

#2. Check for Charter Flights. Sometimes these aren't any less expensive then taking a major. Other times you can realize some great savings if you can fly out of the right city. Be sure to check www.mltvacations.com if you're in the US and www.selloffvacations.com if you're in Canada.

www.spiritair.com also has some great deals to Cancun from their Ft. Lauderdale hub.

Be Cautious about 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.

We've looked at several of the lower-end lodgings being offered lately in rock-bottom vacation packages and personally wouldn't stay in any of them if we had the choice. If you're college kids, sure. But we're a little old for that.

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.

Step #3 Priceline.com Once I've located the cheapest available fares (and didn't find any great deals on air only charters that would work for me) I head over to www. priceline.com and see if I can get the exact dates I want and directly into Cozumel instead of Cancun.

You can only bid once on priceline for a specific trip. If your bid isn't accepted you have to change one element of your schedule to take another shot at it. So, if you only have a narrow window of opportunity for your flight, our strategy is to bid the lowest published fare we've found elsewhere on the internet. This is usually travelling to Cancun midweek.

Let's say we've found a bargain fare from San Francisco to Cancun travelling on a Wednesday. There's a flight to Cozumel as well but, typically, its higher -- even though the two places are only 35 miles apart.

We make a note of the Wednesday to Wednesday fare to Cancun and then bid that amount -- but to fly on the day we want -- Saturday, for example,-- and into Cozumel instead of Cancun. So far we've almost always gotten what we wanted because it doesn't cost the airlines any more to fly to CZM than to CUN -- provided they already have a flight there to begin with.

Another good thing about bidding for Cozumel and choosing only 1 connection is that by doing so, you're are sure to get a good connection on a major airlines. Because, while a huge number fly into Cancun with every sort of connection you can imagine, only three fly directly into Cozumel. Continental from their Newark and Houston hubs, US Airways from their Charlotte hub and, recently, American from their DFW hub.

NOTE: Although we haven't actually tried this one, we've heard from several readers who have had great success bidding for air only tickets to Cozumel on www.skyauction.com. If you want to try this approach, purchase tickets at least 6 months ahead if you want to come to the island between Christmas week and May 15. And three months ahead if you want to come June 15-August 15. August 15-December 15 and May 15-June 15 you can generally purchase tickets last minute and still have a large choice of accommodations still available. At the most popular times of the year, book last minute and you may find yourself stuff in one of those grotty rooms we were talking about earlier.

Cancun to Cozumel -- the "Land 'n Sea" Route

If you end up having to fly into Cancun, have no fear. It's so much easier, faster and cheaper than it used to be to make the trip from the Cancun airport to Cozumel. In fact with the right frame of mind the journey itself can provide a mellow time to begin unwinding. You ARE in Mexico, after all. It's time to start relaxing!

The land part of your journey begins with an air conditioned 45 minute trip down the coast to the little resort town of Playa del Carmen which sits directly across the 12-mile wide Yucatan Channel from Cozumel. You have three reasonable choices for getting to "Playa" from the airport.

#1. The Airport Limo. This is a good option if you are travelling with a group. Buy your ticket for, say, 4 or 6 people and you'll pay the same price -- around $65 US --as you will pay if there's just two of you. The advantage of this method is that the van is right outside the door so no long hauling of luggage. The disadvantage? You may wait for 20 minutes or more while they collect enough people to fill the van for the trip, load all the luggage in and get everyone settled.

#2. The Airport Bus. This is a fairly recent development and if you ask anyone inside the airport, they will likely tell you that there no such bus exists. All you have to do is grab a porter -- either inside the terminal or just outside the door. Tell them you want the airport bus to Playa del Carmen.and you'll be whisked right down to it with all your luggage being carried for you.. Tip your porter $1 US per bag.

The bus costs $7 US and will hold all your luggage, stowed underneath. It's air conditioned and has a bathroom. The ride to Playa del Carmen where you take the ferry across takes about 50 minutes. It runs pretty much every hour from around 8 AM to 9 PM.

#3. Private Limo Service. Set up a private limo service in advance. We're hearing good things on our Discussion Boards about http://www.agitours.com/ The report we read said it was $114 for 4 people and $5 each for additional passengers and that they were very reliable.

No matter which transportation option you choose from the above selections, they'll all drop you at the same place. To get to the ferry pier, you simply cut down at a diagonal and to your right through the middle of the little plaza. The ferry pier is on the waterfront one block down and one block to the right of where you'll be let off. If you have a lot of luggage, wave at one of the guys with three wheeled bicycles called tricyclos. They'll take your bags down to the pier for you. Tip $1 US or so per bag for the service.

There are now two ferry companies running the 35 minute shuttle between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel and they run virtually every hour on the hour from 6 AM in the morning until 10 or 11 PM at night 7 days per week.
You will see ticket booths for both of these as you approach the ferry pier on your way from your drop off point. The Ultramar line is to your left, under the large palapa. The Aviomar line is to your right, lined up on the straight sidewalk to the pier. Both ferries charge the same price -- $10 US per person each way. No need to buy a RT ticket.

While you wait, climb the stairs to the second story of the shaded palapa waiting room. The view is breath-taking and the breeze marvelous. You'll see your ferry coming a long way off and, in the meantime, enjoy! You're in the Mexican caribbean at long last.

When you get off the ferry on Cozumel island, there will be other tricyclo guys waiting if you're loaded down. In fact, if you're staying somewhere downtown, the tricyclo guy will take you and your luggage right to where you're going. Just ask the price in advance but it should be less than $10 US unless you're staying way back in town. If you're staying outside town, there'll be a long line of taxis waiting to pick you up and take you where you want to go.

TIP: 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.

TIP: Check the ferry schedules back to the mainland the night before your departure. If you're taking the airport bus back to the airport, this is a good opportunity to purchase your ticket ahead of time. There's a bus ticket window to the right of the Avior Mar ferry ticket window, on your right hand side as you face the ferries and the ocean. Buying the ticket in advance ensures they won't be sold out on the bus -- which has been known to happen for popular times during high season. Buying your ticket the day before is a great way to make certain that doesn't happen to you!

Red Tape

Documentation

Since you're entering a foreign country, you'll need proof of who you are to receive a visa. A current passport is your best bet. But if you don't have one, a copy of your birth certificate with a raised seal, (not a photocopy), will do in addition to a photo ID like a valid US driver's license.

If you're traveling with children and one parent is not on the trip with you, you'll need a signed and notarized letter from the parent who is not traveling with the child. (This authorizes the traveling parent to bring the child into a foreign country.) You will likely be denied boarding privleges by your airline if you don't have this so plan ahead!

Customs and Immigration--How it Works

On the last leg of your journey to Cancun or Cozumel the flight attendant will hand out customs forms for you to fill out on the plane. This form is to be handed to the Mexican customs agent who will briefly examine your entry papers once you've landed.

You are allowed to bring in up to $300 US worth of personal possessions duty-free and without declaring it. (Laptops are not included in this amount). So unless you're bringing in a pile of stuff to sell in Mexico or you're carrying more than $10,000 in cash, check the "nothing to declare" or "O" option on the form. Also be sure to sign the bottom of the back of the form in addition to filling out the front. Many people don't realize they have to sign the bottom of the back and it slows things up for everyone going through immigration at the airport.

Once your plane has landed, you'll deplane and join one of the lines waiting to go through immigration ("immigracion"). In Cancun these can really get long but be of good heart, they move people through quite fast. If you fly in to Cozumel's small but completely modern airport you shouldn't have to wait more than 10 minutes to clear immigration.

When it's your turn at the immigration desk, present your passport or birth certificate plus the customs declaration form you filled out on the plane.

Next proceed to the luggage carousels and collect any baggage you didn't bring on board with you. If you've got more stuff than you can handle yourself, signal for a porter to give you a hand. (They're everywhere.) Tip them around $1 US per bag to carry your stuff through customs and out to whatever means of ground transportation you plan to take.) Note: if you're coming into Cancun, they have free push carts you can use to get your luggage and wheel it all the way up the exit door of the airport. You will need your luggage checks to get your bags, however. Not so in Cozumel where things are a lot more informal.

Once you have all your luggage in tow, shuttle it over to the exit. There you'll see a large stoplight. Yes, you read that right. Looks just like the ones you see hanging above intersections in your own country but in this case, it's sitting on a pole--at eye-level.

When it's your turn, push the giant button on the pole. If the light turns green, you can go whisking through and out to ground transportation. If you happen to be the one in 5 to 10 people who get the red, just haul the stuff over to the table where a couple of pretty young girls will take a quick, unmeticulous look through one or two of your bags. They'll take away food sometimes if they see it. And, if you're traveling with a large amount of pills they might query you about that-Just bring a copy of your prescription in that case.

TIP. Be sure and hang on to the visa stub the immigration official hands you, by the way. Stick it in with your airplane ticket as you'll need to show it to the agent before leaving the country at the end of your trip.