A vacation to Cozumel is relatively affordable, but for many reasons, it still may seem out of reach.
You can certainly eat on the cheap (awesome local tacos, anyone?), and spend most of your time chilling on the (free) beach.
But even before you get to all that stuff, how do you make the absolute most of your base traveling budget?
The 2 most impactful ways to save money on your vacation to Cozumel are to fly into Cancun airport, saving a great deal of money on airfare, and to book accommodations in downtown Cozumel, where you’ll be close to lots of activities without having to add lots of small transportation costs that add up over several days.
For more, read on below about our two absolute best foundational money-saving tips for vacationing in Cozumel.
Visit Cozumel via Cancun Airport to Save Big Money
The first major money-saving tip for a budget trip to Cozumel is also probably the most impactful.
To cut hundreds of dollars off of your overall travel budget, start by looking for flights that fly directly into Cancun International Airport (CUN), rather than the Cozumel airport (CZM), itself.
As a general rule, flying to Cancun’s International Airport (CUN), rather than straight to Cozumel (CZM) is significantly cheaper and usually offers more direct flights and time options, and from a lot more points of origin.
Most flights from the U.S., Canada, overseas, and within Mexico fly directly to Cancun (CUN) at a MUCH lower cost.
If your time is at a premium, or you have any major mobility issues – or you just happen to score a great fare on a flight straight to the island – then, by all means, do it.
Flying directly to Cozumel is certainly a bonus, and may well be worth the cost and a few saved hours – especially while we’re all still grappling with lingering Covid-19 concerns, etc.
But flying straight here is almost always far more expensive. (I come and go a lot, and I can’t remember the last time I flew straight from Cozumel International Airport. It’s always CUN airport for me, lately – because it’s usually at least a savings of $2-300 USD.)
So, what’s the catch?
The only downside is, you have to get yourself from Cancun down to the cute, coastal mainland town of Playa del Carmen, and then take a 40-minute ferry boat ride over to Cozumel.
Really not that bad. And once you know how to do it, it’s really easy, and super cheap.
Step-By-Step Guide to the Cancun-Cozumel “Bag Drag”
The absolutely cheapest way to get from Cancun Airport to Cozumel Island:
- Land in Cancun, go through immigration and customs
- Purchase an inexpensive ticket on the next “ADO” bus, going to Playa Del Carmen (current price is $210.00MXN or about $10.00USD); proceed to the assigned and numbered bus parking spot (indicated when you buy the ticket)
- Take a nice ADO bus (with AC, plush seats, and a movie playing) from CUN (departing from any terminal you land in) to Playa del Carmen town
- Retrieve your bags from under the bus
- Walk – or take a bicycle “cab”– down to the ferry terminal on the pretty shoreline of Playa del Carmen
- Purchase a ticket for the next ferry (approx. another $10USD), and get on the loose line in the shaded waiting area, right at the beachfront (lots of bench seating available)
- Ride a fun boat for 40 minutes – music and drinks on board
- Arrive in Cozumel, and take a taxi to your hotel or rental
That’s it. And again: it is VERY easy.
The process is familiarly known to locals and frequent visitors as “the Cozumel bag drag.”
This refers to dragging your suitcases from the plane to the bus, and then from the bus to the ferry, and ultimately into your hotel room.
Honestly, though, that makes it sound much worse than it is, especially if you’re an experienced lithe and limber budget traveler.
No worries. You’ve got this!
Cancun-Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 1
When you land at Cancun International Airport (CUN), you’ll go through immigration, collect your luggage, and pass through customs.
Lately, Cancun has been lightly checking through more bags, but the whole process usually doesn’t take more than 30-40 minutes.
As you leave the airport, find the red and white “ADO Bus” logo and purchase a ticket on the next departing bus to Playa del Carmen. As of 2021, the current fare is $210MXN/about $10.00USD.
The ticket looks like this (below) and will have an assigned seat – look for “ASIENTO”:
Cancun-Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 2
When you arrive in Playa del Carmen after approximately one hour (depending on traffic), you will get off the bus at the very last stop.
To me, the worst part of the whole thing comes right now: If you have a bag stowed under the bus, it’s a big bottleneck situation to retrieve your bag and maintain your patience.
But just do so, and you’ll also maintain your dignity.
And truly, you’ll have your bag in hand in just a few minutes – just be patient.
Soon enough, you’ll be on your way.
It’s a nice, vibrant stroll through the beachy area of Playa del Carmen, and just about 6-8 blocks downhill to the ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen.
If you have any mobility issues or general trouble with luggage at that point, there are always loads of bicycle “pedi-cabs” to help you with your bags (for a small fee, of course).
And also as of 2021, Playa del Carmen has repaved the whole waterfront area, making the “bag drag” route to and from the Cozumel ferry terminal much smoother on suitcase or wheel-chair wheels, easing previous walking paths, and offering a lot of built-in bench seating to take a little break if the tropical Mexico heat is getting to you.
It’s now even easier to get from the ADO bus station in Playa del Carmen, down to the Cozumel ferry terminal.
Cancun-Cozumel Bag Drag – Step 3
Purchase a ticket for the next ferry to Cozumel for approximately $200 MXN (another $10 USD)
**Please note: During the Covid-19 period, the two ferry companies serving Cozumel are alternating days, and have fewer crossings (though more are being added each week). The Cozumel ferries typically cross every hour, on the hour. However, currently (as of early 2021), while more have been added, there are still fewer departure times, which occasionally creates crowding.
So again, be patient, wear your masks, and just prepare to enjoy the breezy beach air and the relatively comfortable waiting area in Playa del Carmen if you have time to kill before the next boat.
Pro tip: Please do wait there in the terminal, or very nearby. You’ll want to be sure to get a good place in the queue and get on that next available ferry, especially if you sense there might be a good number of people on board.
I prefer the Ultramar ferry (Blue and Yellow), so you’re in luck if it’s running on your arrival day.
Ultramar has very nice boats, and fun, live entertainment. That will do wonders to erase your minor travel frustrations from the bag drag, and you’ll be on a cool ferry boat, on your last leg of the journey to Cozumel.
The other ferry is called Winjet, and its logo and boats are bright orange, so you can’t miss them. Winjet is also clean, timely, and staffed by a great crew of people. Either way, they’ll get you safely to Cozumel in about 40 minutes.
Winjet (the orange one) is really the same process, the boats are just a tad older and a little less cheerful, IMHO.
(See our FAQ page here for a little more info and the link to both ferry carrier Facebook pages.)
No matter which ferry company gets your business that day, after a quick 30-40-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, you’ll arrive in Cozumel.
From there, you either have a short walk if you’re staying downtown (see below) or there will be lots of Cozumel taxi cabs to take you to your final accommodation.
Just ask for the final taxi price first, before you settle in, so there are no misunderstandings.
And if you have any questions about how to take taxi cabs in Cozumel, their standard fares by zone, or have any concerns about whether the island’s taxis are safe, please also read THIS post all about taxis in Cozumel.
Save Big by Staying in Centro San Miguel
The second important way to travel on a lean budget in Cozumel is to find reasonably priced accommodations in the downtown area, and simultaneously cut out most of your typical transportation costs, once you’re on the island.
If you find a nice hotel or private accommodation rental in downtown San Miguel – or “centro” as Cozumel’s downtown area is called – you’ll have a ton of things to do and see within walking distance of your home base.
Plus, you’ll be very close to the airport and/or the ferry terminal, so even your arrival and departure will be a quick and cheap fare (or perhaps even included in your hotel deal – ask about that when you’re booking your room).
Whether it’s one of downtown’s cool but cost-friendly hotels like Casa Mexicana, Hotel Las Anclas, or Stingray Villa, OR you go the AirBnB route – which is growing by the minute in Cozumel now, it seems – you can find some really great deals on accommodations in Cozumel, often with breakfast or other small amenities included.
But those small amenities add up!
Keep a Lid on Cozumel Tranportation Costs
More to the point, staying in Cozumel’s “centro” area is a great way to avoid taking taxis, or renting a car while you’re here. Plus, it’s very safe and very cool to walk around centro on foot, and look into all of our essential downtown Cozumel recommendations.
If you’re comfortable really exploring a place on foot, the main town in Cozumel will NOT disappoint you.
Finally, after all this, if you’re not sure you want to stay right downtown, no problem.
Maybe you have your heart set on a beach-front resort (and who could blame you?) OR you could just use a little more info on Cozumel’s centro neighborhood vs. the other main hotel zones in Cozumel, to know for sure.
If that’s the case, skim through this related post, for some information on Cozumel’s other hotel areas. Hopefully, that will help you get a better sense of which one might fit YOUR vacation style the best.