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Trip Report These Ports are Made for Walking Part 2: Western Caribbean

Here’s good news for budget-minded cruisers who don’t want to shell out extra money for excursions at the Caribbean ports: there’s plenty to do just on foot. In an earlier posting, I covered some walkable highlights of the Eastern Caribbean, featuring San Juan and St. Maarten.

Here, I’ll do a quick take on the Western ports of Grand Cayman and Cozumel:

Fish and other fun in Grand Cayman. Most ships dock in the center of George Town. The harbor horseshoes around the blue waters, and provides plenty of shops—both high and low end—and a Margaritaville, as well as a bit of history in the form of (very few) remains of Fort George, originally built to protect the island from Cuban invaders.

Along the waterfront’s Harbor Drive, merely steps from the cruise pier, is a small fish market on the sand, where you’ll be as likely to find a snoozing local in the shade of the market tent as an array of snapper, grouper and other fruits of the sea laid out like handicrafts.

The fishmongers throw chum into the water a few yards away, drawing two-feet long tarpon and other species, delivering an aquarium-like experience literally at your feet.

And if watching all this gives you a craving for fresh seafood, you only need to venture a bit further down Harbor Drive to find a restaurant sign beckoning with “You hook it, we cook it.”

Mexican mementos in Cozumel. The docking for most ships is Puerta Maya pier, two miles and about an $8 taxi ride into town. We did the walk a few times, but it’s not for the faint-hearted, especially under the scorching Caribbean sun. Perhaps the only benefit of doing so (along with walking off those newly accumulated calories) is the chance to spy an iguana scurrying in and out of the brush or check out the large modern supermarket (with public bathrooms upstairs) along the way.

Fortunately, a plethora of shops have sprung up at the cruise terminal and during a recent trip, we found ourselves so immersed in the shopping, we never left it. While mass produced, there are plenty of inexpensive and different trinkets to bring home as mementos—from costumed dolls (actually made in Mexico!), colorful ceramics and onyx chess sets to the local specialties of vanilla and tequila.

If you want to spend a bit more, the jewelry store owners would be only too happy to show you their silver and stone. The shopkeepers can be quite aggressive, but it does work to your advantage. The price of a silver-and-lapis piece I was eying had dropped in half by the time I exited the store door. Needless to say, bargaining is strongly recommended.

Try to make it to the far end of the shopping village, where you’ll find Los Cinco Soles, the best of the shops. It’s an outpost of the bigger store in town, but has same higher quality of ceramics, jewelry, onyx, folk art, clothing and more. One unique offering at Los Cinco Soles is a huge variety of watermelons, mangos, red peppers and other brightly colored papier-mâché fruits and veggies. Filling a lovely wooden bowl from the Western Caribbean port of Roatan (watch for a future posting) with these makes a great centerpiece (and conversation started) for your table back home.

And if shopping’s not your thing, the pier’s got several places to eat and drink. Or, get your photo taken with a modern Mayan, submerge yourself for an underwater oxygen infusion or turn yourself into mush with a massage by the sea. --musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com

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