Coming from a big tipping culture, I get it when new arrivals to Cozumel nervously wonder, should I be tipping for services? And what’s the going rate?
The short answer is yes, you should tip for services in Cozumel. It is an expected part of our tourism culture, and it is absolutely earned. The service sector in Mexico is frankly unparalleled, and like many countries, workers’ tips are a good portion of their overall salary. There are many different tip-worthy services here, including scuba diving, so I’ll run through everything I can think of from taxis to tanks, to help give some guidance on gratuities.
Disclaimer: Of course, there are always differing opinions on the amount one should tip. I’m going with cultural norms, my opinion, and some local gossip to gently steer you in the right direction.
You Say Tip, I Say Gratuity
One quick note on a familiar myth in the U.S. about the word, tip.
Many used to jest, and have now come to believe, that the true origin behind our tipping practice is “To Insure Promptness”.
Plenty of dictionary sources now bust this myth.
Gratuity is the more accurate term.
A gratuity on a service comes from the Latin gratus, meaning pleasing or thankful.
While we’re at it, the Spanish word is propina – also stemmed from Latin, meaning to give, or to drink to one’s health.
The good news? No matter what the word origins, you won’t have to worry about prompt service when you see the hard work on display here.
Besides, relax a little. You’re on island time, now…
When in MX, Just Ask for Your Check!
There is one particular area of promptness-related confusion that I want to try to clarify, up-front: The getting of the check here in Mexico.
I have seen this scene unfold countless times with U.S. travelers to Cozumel, when out in restaurants.
After a lovely meal and charming service, they’re suddenly befuddled and frankly somewhat pissed off. Their attentive waiter has confirmed they don’t need anything else but then proceeds to leave them sitting there. Waiting and waiting for the check! What gives?!
Rest assured, that rather than a lack of promptness, your wait staff is trained in this very hospitable custom – one I wish more cultures shared.
As gracious hosts, establishments here would never presume to give you a check without you requesting it. This would imply that you should pay up and leave more quickly.
This leisurely attitude is a way of making sure you know you are welcome, and that you should relax, enjoy, and take all the time you need.
The solution? Just ask for the check (“la cuenta, por favor?”) and you’ll be on your way in no time.
Tipping at the CZM Airports
When you arrive in Cozumel (CZM) or Cancun (CUN), you will proceed through the immigration procedure, having filled out your Mexican form, and showing your passport.
From there, you’ll locate your baggage-retrieval carousel, and find your bags. Usually, your bags are on the carousel very quickly, often beating you there. If you don’t see them right away, look around the carousel a little – often the flight’s baggage has already been neatly arranged off to one side.
Once you get your bags, make your way through the customs declaration area and follow the instructions on whether or not your bag needs to be spot-checked (usually not – it’s typically randomized – but if so, it’s a polite and painless delay)
Once you’ve done ALL of that, you may need to start thinking about tipping, here and there. If you can have small bills handy, you’ll be ready.
Baggage Handlers’ Tips
If you are taking a van or a bus to your hotel or down to Playa del Carmen for the Cozumel Ferry (if you landed in Cancun), you might offer a few bucks (or the MXN equivalent of 20-50 pesos) to the workers who load your bags in and out of the vehicles and make sure everyone’s is secure and nicely stacked.
If you have a lot of bags, you will also have the opportunity to tip a porter at your hotel to bring the bags to your room.
Or bike pedaled-cab from the Playa del Carmen bus or taxi stand, to ride your bags down (several cobblestone blocks) to the ferry terminal entrance, and save you a longer (and sweatier) walk.
A heavy load on a bicycle is likely worth a bit more than a light weekend bag by a bell-hop, but follow their lead and plan to share a few more bucks in gratuity.
Of course, aside from the bicycle taxi, which will have a given fee, the others are optional. You won’t get any attitude, but even very modest tips are very much appreciated.
Tipping at Cozumel Hotels
We’ve covered baggage. I have to say, I’m 50/50 on bags. I usually travel light, and I feel uncomfortable making other people carry my bags. That said, it is a service, so I go by my mood, fatigue level, and vibe I get from the hotel staff.
Generally, once settled in your hotel, expenses are pretty much the same as you’d expect.
If you get room service or some special accommodations, show your appreciation with a small gratuity. If not? Don’t.
Cleaning service staff are usually full-time employees, so I like to leave a small amount each day – especially if you make a particular mess – or leave one sum at the end of the week.
Generally, I think tipping rates in Cozumel could be a bit more modest than you might pay in Vegas or New York or something, but tips for the maid and laundry services are definitely customary, as elsewhere.
Note: All of this also depends on the type of hotel or other accommodations you’ve arranged. A hostel for backpackers will likely be all DIY, and that’s the idea. Whereas an expensive all-inclusive might include some of these gratuity fees in your daily bill, so you should kick back, and enjoy it. Just know what to expect beforehand.
Cozumel Restaurant & Bar Tips
I’ve been out to eat several times with local Mexican friends, and I have observed that they tend to tip a bit less than the standard 15-20% most people follow in the U.S. Especially in local or casual joints.
I also know many people working in those industries, and they would say that 15% is most common, and that they find people from the U.S. to be very generous.
I’d say that’s a win-win. Furthermore, most of the restaurant prices here are very reasonable, compared to U.S. prices, so overall you’re still coming out ahead.
And if you read our related post with advice on using pesos (MXN) while in the country (here), your overall bill will sometimes be a percentage lower in some establishments, so you could share the wealth.
One thing you won’t lack is great service, and that work helps make your vacation even better.
Taxis and Groceries
Two unique categories here in Cozumel are Taxi Cabs and Grocery Bagging.
It’s common to tip taxis in the U.S., but here in Mexico, it’s slightly different. Taxies set their rates by zone, and don’t expect a tip. But they also often help with bags, advise, and just generally give helpful and pleasant services, so of course gratuities are becoming more common, and definitely appreciated. They certainly won’t refuse them. I’d stick to about 10-20pesos, or just round up your fare.
However, oftentimes, taxis are the way that you experience the island on a tour, for example. A private island tour is very often performed by a cabbie who is also an experienced and licensed tour guide.
In those cases, you would offer a gratuity at the end of a long tour, and likely this would be more in the $20USD, range – or whatever suits the length of the tour and the level of service provided.
Please note, that generally, taxis in Cozumel do not accept credit cards, so you should pay in cash. As noted in our other post about Currency in Cozumel, you’ll do better if you pay using Mexican pesos.
Now on to the groceries.
This is somewhat odd to many visitors, as those of us in the U.S. and other countries typically no longer have “baggers” at the grocery store. If we do experience that, it’s normally another staff worker, so tips are not a thing.
Well, in Cozumel, the baggers are usually volunteers, and from the older, retired age group, or sometimes people with other abilities. Their work in the stores is often their only source of income, so it is customary to give your grocery bagger a modest tip when they help you fill your bags, and/or your grocery cart. (I try to give about $5-10pesos each time, often more. Sometimes I’m caught without change so I make up for it the next time. But don’t blow this off – it’s important to them.)
Scuba Diving and Excursions
When you’re new to scuba diving, or other water sports in Cozumel like snorkeling or even deep-sea sport fishing, the customs around gratuities are a little mysterious.
At the very least, most people need some help unpacking the beginner’s questions on who to tip, when, and how much?
Since I’m primarily a diver, I’ll outline that as a solid case-study example, below.
The “rules” vary a little. But just do your best to pay attention to who’s involved, and consider which of the following categories best describes you:
Learning to Dive – Instructor Gratuities
If you are in Cozumel learning to dive, be it a Discover Scuba Diving (“DSD”) Class, or maybe you’ve planned ahead to take your full Open Water Certification here while in paradise, you will have paid for the instruction and materials, first off.
With Discover Scuba Diving, you’ll very often need help from your instructor that might go a bit above and beyond. He or she might carry all your heavy tanks and gear if you struggle with it, spend extra time with you to refine certain skills in the water if you need more help, and guide you underwater on several preliminary dives.
In an Open Water class, your scuba instructor will do these things, and likely more – including showing you the ropes on your first boat dives, giving your extensive briefings before (and after) you enter the water, so you know what to expect and how to communicate.
Your instructor will generally be looking out for you constantly, and saving you from your newbie-diver self in the deeper waters. She is likely carrying extra weights in case you need them, and so on. All with an earnest smile.
And that’s just it – a good dive instructor would do all these things happily. Most just want to teach you properly, safely, and to provide not only instruction but kind mentorship. It is part of what makes them tick.
But keep in mind they also have prepared and worked hard to earn a great deal of expertise, not to mention to earn your trust and keep you safe.
IMHO, you should show your appreciation with a nice gratuity at the end.
And maybe a cold beer – after all the diving is done, of course.
Certified Divers / Boat Dive Tips
As for certified divers, I find the world-wide standard for tips is calculated “per tank,” and the going rate is $5-$10 U.S. dollars (or equivalent), per tank, per person.
So, if you go out on a two-tank boat dive, you’d figure $10-20 per person, for the day.
If you have below-average or terrible service, of course, you should use your discretion, and lower that amount. Luckily, that seems rare.
I would also recommend asking the dive operation when arranging your diving and filling out your paperwork, etc., about who to give your tips to on the boat. Each shop might have its own system.
For example, often, you give it all to the divemaster who you had the most direct contact with, and she or he will put it in the boat’s ‘pool’ of tips for the day.
Other times, it’s customary to hand all tips to the captain of the boat, who will split it up among the boat and dive crews.
When in doubt, just ask. There’s no need to be too bashful about it – it’s just the name of the game.
Large dive groups, please take note:
If you’re diving in a pre-arranged group trip, as I often have, we would sometimes pool all of our tips throughout the week, and then give the dive and boat crew one big lump sum at the end.
This can work well, but don’t assume that’s the best way to handle it. Ask the shop ahead of time.
Lots of times, the divemasters rotate days, or the dive shop might need to hire a freelancer one day, or an extra boat and crew for one of the days – who knows?
In these scenarios, a tip only on the last day might leave a few hard-working crew members out in the cold. When in doubt, tipping by the DMs and boat crew each day is the best for everyone.
But really, no need to stress! Do your best to think it through. Try to make sure everyone who helps keep you safe and having good fun – on the boat and under the water – really knows that you appreciate them.
Now…I’d say for snorkeling or other watersports, use the above guidance, and apply it to your activity of choice. Snorkeling, e.g., is perhaps not as labor-intensive, but still… a nice healthy gratuity after a day of hard but safe fun on the water is well worth it.