Port Guide: Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico
Seemingly overnight, the port of Costa Maya has become a popular cruising destination. What was once a sleepy fishing town (and in many ways still is), now sees some of the biggest ships in the world, sailing to the port from everywhere from Galveston to Miami.
Still, for many people Costa Maya is largely unknown. Unlike ports that have been popular for years — such as nearby Cozumel — the word isn’t quite out yet on where to go, where to eat, and what to do.
That’s why we recently traveled to Costa Maya to bring you more details of this growing destination. What follows should provide more insight into the port and what you can expect from your visit during your cruise.
Costa Maya Overview
Situated about halfway between Cozumel to the north and Belize City to the south, Costa Maya has quickly become a favorite of the cruise lines, and for good reason. Its location near already popular ports mean that the cruise lines can add the stop to their itineraries without adding much time or fuel expense to the trip.
Meanwhile, cruise passengers get a spot to explore that’s off the beaten path and only easy to visit via cruise ship. That sort of remote location provides a destination that’s a world away from other ports.
From here, you can hit the beach, explore Mayan ruins, or stroll the walkway that runs through nearby Mahahual… and more.
That said, despite its location, it’s likely that when you visit you won’t be alone. The port of Costa Maya offers several docking spots on its pier, giving the ability for multiple ships to dock at the same time (we’ve been in port with as many as four ships in port). While there are quieter times, don’t be surprised if the port is busy during your call.
Costa Maya can be thought of at two different areas. First is the port area, which is referred to as Costa Maya. As described below, this area is built specifically for cruise tourists. The second area is the town of Mahahual. This sleepy village on the coast is essentially connected to Costa Maya and is a touch of more authentic Mexico.
The Costa Maya Port Area
As mentioned, the port complex at Costa Maya was built specifically for cruise passengers. In our opinion, that’s both good and bad.
Walking from your ship, the pier goes directly to the port area. There is no way to not pass through. The port feels much like a theme park in that it’s designed like a caricature of a Mexican village. If you are looking for authentic, this is not the place for you. However, if you want an easy and comfortable way to spend the day, then the port is perfect.
You’ll be greeted by tour guides offering up excursions if you haven’t booked something to do already. But what you’ll also notice is that in the port complex there is tons offered, including shopping, restaurants, swimming with dolphins, and more.
Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to see everything as the was designed to be a bit of a maze. Trying to exit takes you in a half circle the entire complex… and then back around for another walk through an outer ring shops. In total, it can take between 10-15 minutes just to get through the area when trying to exit as quickly as possible.
That said, there is an amazing amount of things for cruise passenger to do and see if they stay in port. For instance, there are restaurants and bars available in the port area. There is a massive swimming pool (with a manmade sand beach with loungers) that is free to use for those who are buying food/drink.
There is a spot to swim with dolphins (for a charge), an area to get a massage, pink flamingos that you can get a picture in front of, and tons of shops selling everything from chocolate to souvenirs.
If all this sounds like it was designed to keep you entertained without ever leaving, then you’d be right. You can do practically anything you can do in other ports, all within the relatively small area.
Notably, there is not a spot to swim in the ocean within the Costa Maya port.
If you prefer your visit to Mexico to be a little more authentic, then you can head into the town of Mahahual. Getting there is simple and you have several choices. You can walk — it’s about 45 minutes to the beach — or catch a cab. During our visit, the cost was $4 per person for the taxi ride, and it’s well worth it. You can find taxis at the exit of the Costa Maya cruise terminal. As well, you can rent a golf cart for around $60 per day (there’s a rental booth at the port exit as well).
On port day, the town’s beach comes alive and rolls out the red carpet to cruise passengers. A wide malecon runs from the lighthouse down through town. On one side is the beach, and on the other is a lineup of restaurants, small shops, and stores eager for your business, as well as lots of other tourists exploring the city. (Want a massage? You’ll find a ton offered on the beach for just $20 per hour.)
The town itself is decidedly a beach town; there isn’t a lot more to do in Mahahual than to shop, have a bite to eat, enjoy a drink, and hang out on the shore. For instance, you won’t find things like jet-skis or parasailing like you do in Cozumel. Instead, while it can be busy, it definitely has a more relaxed and “sleepy” vibe than other port cities.
Where to Find a Beach in Costa Maya/Mahahual on a Cruise
Of course when you’re in this part of the world, then you likely have beach on your mind. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find a spot to just sit and relax in the sand.
First, as for the beach itself, it can be hit or miss. If you’re expecting a wide, sandy beach with crystal water, that’s not the case. In this part of the country, the shore is a mix of white sand and rock. So it can be a little tough to find that classic “postcard worthy” beach.
Still, they are around. The other issue is that they might be taken up by a restaurant or hotel offering beach service. While beaches in Mexico are public, many restaurants and hotels have put out loungers and umbrellas for their guests — seemingly making it a “private” beach. So that means you don’t want to just see an open lounger and plop yourself down. Still, you are allowed to enjoy the beach itself even if you aren’t a customer.
Our suggestion? There’s no beach access from the Costa Maya port, so head into Mahahual. From there, you can walk the street until you find a spot you like at a restaurant. Head over, order a few drinks of lunch and enjoy the time at the beach.
Costa Maya Excursions
What do you do in Costa Maya? There are a variety of options, including just hanging out in the port or heading to Mahahual. However, there are a number of excursions you can take from Costa Maya that will make for a memorable day.
Maya Chan Beach
Just looking to relax? Maya Chan is your best bet. The small all-inclusive day resort is located about five miles south of the cruise port. Here you can sit on the beach in your own reserved palapa while the attentive waitstaff brings you drinks. When it’s lunch time, you are served a simple, yet delicious Mexican lunch. From there you can head out to kayak, snorkel, or just work on your tan. Maya Chan is the highest-rated thing to do in the area, and for good reason. You can read our full review here.
Kohunlich Mayan Ruins
No, it’s not as big or well-known as Chichen Itza, but that can be a good thing. Kohunlich (pronounced Co-Hoon-Leech) sits in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, about an hour to an hour and a half from Costa Maya. Here, you can explore the 1500-year-old ruins without fighting large crowds or walking all day like larger sites. As well, you can still climb some of the structures. It’s a must for any history buff.
About an hour drive from Costa Maya, Bacalar Lagoon stretches roughly 30 miles to almost the border of Belize. Here the water is clear and the bottom of the lagoon is sandy, leading to an electric blue that has to be seen to believed.
There are several excursions here that can take you tubing the lagoon or swimming at the lagoon and nearby cenotes. If you’ve never explored the natural beauty of the secret swimming spots dotted around the Yucatan, it’s a must do.
Costa Maya Restaurants
Hungry? Like with the entire area, you have two options — eat at the port or head into Mahahual.
The port area has a number of restaurants for tourists, including El Faro (a lobster grill that sits right on the beach) and Cantina Latina (Mexican food and cold beer underneath a large palapa).
For more options, you’ll want to go into town where you’ll find the following ideas.
Jaime’s at the Blue Reef
This isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense. It’s more of an all-inclusive spot. However, it’s been voted the #1 restaurant in Mahahual. Sitting right on the beach, for $57 per adult you get all you can eat and drink, as well as beach chairs, palapas, and snorkel equipment. The menu is heavy on seafood, but there is something for everyone. As the place only takes in 35 people, you’ll want to book ahead of time via the website.
The Krazy Lobster Beach Club & Grill
Sitting on the walking path that cuts through Mahahual, The Krazy Lobster seems to be a magnet for cruise passengers. For one, it’s highly-rated, coming in at 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor. As well, it’s large and directly on the beach.
So you can come and order food and drinks, and then there is everything that you need for a day at the beach. They offer loungers, lockers, umbrellas, and even wi-fi and kayaks. The menu is classic Mexican beach fare that ranges from lobster (of course) to guacamole, tacos, ceviche, and more. Perhaps one big draw? Beers costs only about $3.
There is no shortage of beachfront restaurants serving cold beer and seafood. But pizza? Believe it or not, Mahahual has a highly rated pizza spot — Pizza Papi. Here, your pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven. If you don’t want pizza, there are other Italian favorites as well. The spot is funky (we’ve seen it described as a mix between Bob Marley and Day of the Dead), with live music playing in the evenings. To get there, you go into the main town, not the beach — so that means you won’t be dining with a ton of other cruise passengers.
Cruise Tips & Things to Know About Costa Maya
During our visits to Costa Maya, we’ve learned a few things that could be helpful for your cruise.
Taxi Costs Are Consistent – $4 per person
Want a ride from the Costa Maya port into Mahahual? Taxis are everywhere both at the port and in town, and the cost seems to be a consistent $4 per person for the 5-10 minute ride between the two spots. Just ask the price before you hop in. If they quote you more, find another cab.
Free Photo Ops in Port and in Town
If you want a way to remember your stop, be sure to get a souvenir photo in front of the Costa Maya sign located right where the pier meets the port. There is also a Mahahual sign near the lighthouse. It’s a free way to remember your trip that you don’t want to miss.
Don’t Miss a Visit to the Lighthouse
If you head to Mahahual, be sure to check out the lighthouse that sits at one end of the walkway through town. It’s a great spot for a photo, and it also offers a nice view back toward the ships. To our knowledge, however, you can’t climb up to the top.
What to Know About Beach Access
It’s discussed above, but remember that beaches in Mexico are open to the public. Unfortunately, restaurants and hotels often “take over” the area with their loungers, tables, and facilities. So it can make some segments of the beach seem like they are off limits. You can find an empty spot, but most people simply visit a restaurant for lunch and then use the beach facilities while there. Also remember that in many places the shore can be rocky.
Be Prepared for a Crowded Port
We will be honest that Costa Maya can get busy! Our last visit included four ships docked on the same day, meaning roughly 15,000 cruise passengers in port at once. The port area in particular was tightly packed, but Mahahual itself was also very busy. Just know that while this port is out of the way, it’s still a major destination for cruise ships.
The Nearby Waterpark Is Closed
From the ship you’ll be able to look inland and see a recreated Mayan temple standing high above the trees. This was the main tower for the Maya, Lost Mayan Kingdom waterpark. It was just a short distance from the port and a great option for families with water features, ziplines, and more. Unfortunately, the park closed during Covid and has yet to re-open.
Want a Deal? Check Out the Tiendas for Snacks and Drinks
On the way in between Costa Maya and Mahahual you’ll pass by a number of small convenience stores selling snacks, sodas, and beers. These are a great for picking up some munchies to bring back to the ship for cheap. And while you can’t bring beers back on the ship, you can get one to enjoy in port for just a buck or two.
Have specific questions about sailing to Costa Maya? Let us know in the comments below.