Tucked into the Caribbean coast between Riviera Maya and Belize, Costa Maya has an enviable concentration of Maya archaeological sites and the largest existing Maya population in Mexico. Even a cruise day-tripper with a few hours on land can experience traditional culture on excursions into nearby towns and communities, or step back nearly 2,000 years into the past at one of the impressive nearby ruins. Popular with divers, snorkelers and kayakers, Costa Maya offers waters protected by an extensive coral reef supporting a variety of sea life. On shore, the landscape changes from beach and small villages to lush jungle, inviting exploration by bike, dune buggy, Jeep and ATV.
Close to the cruise pier, a development called New Mahahual attracts visitors with swimming pools and other amenities. A new seaside malecon — pedestrian walkway — along the beach is lined with inviting restaurants and shops, so passengers who want to simply relax and enjoy all that was built just for them can.
The concentration of accessible Mayan ruins such as Chacchoban, Kohunlich and Dzibanché.
Snorkeling, kayaking and diving along the send largest reef in the world.
Cultural experiences with local Maya communities.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableTemple of the Owl, the main stepped pyramid at the Mayan ruins of Dzibanche, dates to 309-600 A.D.
Things to see & do in Costa Maya
Culture & history
Three primary Maya archaeological sites close enough for a day visit. Note that Mexican law requires a fee of about $5 (US) for the use of video cameras at these sites.
Chacchoben dates to about 350 AD. The tallest pyramid rises above the trees, and though visitors could once climb to the top, that is no longer permitted. Several smaller ruins may have been the houses of nobles. Until 1972, this site was unknown, but today it's the most popular Maya ruin in the Costa Maya region.
Kohunlich covers 21 acres and encompasses some 200 mounds, most of which have not been excavated. Its most renowned structure is the Temple of Masks, which features five well-preserved stucco masks along its central stairway. Plazas, courtyards and a palace complex are among the other structures here.
Dzibanché was once a major Maya city and believed to have been the early capital of the Kan dynasty. It's considered the most spectacular of the region's archaeological sites. Among its important structures are the Temple of the Captives, Temple of the Lintels and Temple of the Owl. The largest structure is the Cormoranes Pyramid, a funerary pyramid of a Kan dynasty king. This is the only site accessible from the cruise port where visitors are still allowed to climb to the top of the pyramids (the laws change so check to be sure).
Courtesy of Morph KiteboardingEver want to try kiteboarding? It's a new extreme sport that combines windsurfing, paragliding and wakeboarding.
Beach & water fun
One of Costa Maya's defining natural features is the chain of reefs just off shore, part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which stretches nearly 700 miles from the northern Yucatan Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and the Bay Islands of Honduras. Costa Maya waters, protected by the reef, are calm enough for snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and diving, all of which are offered by cruise ships in port.
It is required by Mexican law that the VAT (Value Added Tax) is already included in the price on an item's label.
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise LineShop for souvenirs in Costa Maya during your Norwegian Jewel cruise to Mexico.
When you arrive
The Costa Maya Port was built exclusively for cruise ships in 2001. Up to three ships can be accommodated at the same time. From the pier, travelers are transported to the Mayan entertainment complex. Pools, restaurants and bars as well as a modern shopping center featuring artisan crafts are part of the complex.
In the pier area you can get taxis and shuttles to the village Majahual, which is only half a mile or a $5 USD taxi ride away.
Bazar Costa Maya, Centro comercial del Paseo del Puerto, Mahahual
Loco Ricky’s Sports Bar & Restaurant, located in the Las Casitas area
Mamasita’s Restaurant, located in the port area across from the pool
Mobius Internet Cafe, Othón P. Blanco, Q Roo, located 1.5 miles west of the port at the end of the main street
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A longtime travel writer and editor, I'm on the board of the Society of American Travel Writers and chair of SATW's Western Chapter. I've taken 20 cruises on 13 different cruise lines...so far.