Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mexico Part II: Isla Mujeres

Playa Norte

Day 1: Cancun to Isla Mujeres (revised). To save money we decided to take the ferry out of Puerto Juarez instead of taking it from the Hotel Zone. It was a bit of a hassle. We took the R1 from our hotel to the end of the line and then a cab to the ferry port (30 pesos). The cab driver took us to the local ferry part of Puerto Juarez instead of the main part (with the nice boats that have AC). Don’t know why he did this other than maybe he got a kickback. Clearly he knew we were tourists and wouldn’t be hauling fruit to the island to sell,,,but we didn’t realize anything was wrong until we left the island 7 days later and had a much nicer trip back for basically the same cost. Just one of those things that happens when you travel in Mexico. You want the blue and yellow boats that leave Puerto Juarez from the part of the port with the McDonalds. It’s only 5 pesos more and well worth it.
So we arrived in IM…We had reservations at Maria del Mar on Playa Norte. Walked from the dock to our hotel instead of taking a cab, which wasn’t bad at all, about 8 blocks. Very hot, though. We stayed in the budget room in the main building closest to the beach.
Hotel pros: Free purified water. Best part of a great beach. Shade from palm trees so you don’t have to pay for chairs and an umbrella if you’re on a budget. Watch out for falling nuts. Nice outside patio in front of our room with chairs and lines to dry wet clothes. Very clean. The maid was a delightful woman.
Cons: Apart from the maid, the rest of the staff was fairly unfriendly, like they’d be a lot happier if we’d just not come to their hotel at all. I’ve seen this attitude at hotels all around the world. Maybe I expect too much (a smile, a “Buenos dias”). I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. But who cares about the attitude of the front desk people when you have this great beach and excellent AC in your room, right? More cons: The room was tiny. There was construction during the day. One of the employees who lived on site had a dog that yelped all morning long (how do people get away with this stuff?). There was occasional raw sewage in the shower. The hotel’s section of the beach had the most expensive beach chairs on all of Playa Norte. Also the AC was extremely loud (but very effective).
We paid about $50 US dollars a night which was probably a good deal. The hotel next door, Xchilt (or something like that), looked really great but rooms are $120-170 a night. Highly recommended if you’re not on a five week budgeted trip like we are.
Had a drink at Buho’s bar which was affiliated with our hotel. Over-priced drinks and poor service, which was a shame since the venue is really nice. Maybe just bad timing.
We sat on the beach and then ate at a very mediocre restaurant on the tourist strip. We were exhausted and sat down at the first place where someone called me “amigo” (apparently they sell Rice-a-Roni in Mexico).

Day 2: Great weather. Sunny and hot. Sat on the beautiful beach. Went for a late lunch at Sancochos, which is on the tourist restaurant strip close to the Playa Norte end. They had great prices on drinks and good food and good service (tacos for 15 pesos). Then we had dinner at Jax Bar and Grill. Great view from the second floor balcony. They had 65 peso beer buckets (5 Coronas) which was the best deal in town (and was gone the next day, never to return).

Day 3: Again, sat on the beach. Beautiful weather. Went to the Xpress to get supplies. I don’t recommend going anywhere during the middle of the day. It’s brutally hot and miserable to be away from the water and the shade of the palm trees (I’m an extra white guy). Nobody really in any of the restaurants during the afternoon…but we did pick up lunch from one of the venders outside the Xpress. Some sort of deep fried stuffed gordita that was cheap and very delicious. There are many food venders in front of the market and everything looks and smells great—more venders at night. For dinner we went to the Taqueria (that’s actually what it’s called) on the main tourist strip. Great food. Tacos pastor. Very affordable. Cold beer. Probably a great option if you have kids with you.
Day 4: Again, sat on the beach. Another hot sunny beautiful day. Ate cheese (Fud) and crackers for lunch on our hotel porch. Headed out for a steak dinner. We ended up at the Argentinean Steak place on the tourist strip. Very popular, but I don’t know why. The menu they sell you on in the front isn’t the same menu they give you at the table. Thankfully it started raining before we ordered so we moved to the bar to wait it out. Had margaritas which cost 80 pesos each, which was absurd considering most bars offer two for one specials on drinks for about 50 pesos. These were not top shelf drinks or anything like that. This made us angry so we left without eating. At this point we realized that you have to be extra careful. Make sure you know what you’re paying before you order anything. It never feels good to get ripped off.

Day 5: More sun. More beach. In the morning we walked in the water to the bridge near the Avalon Beach Club because we’d heard there was some snorkeling there. There wasn’t. But the area was interesting and the water was nice. For dinner we went to the restaurant across from the busy steakhouse. I think it’s called Brisas Mexicanos. Excellent restaurant. I had the whole red snapper, which was great. My wife had rolled tacos which were also very good. Nice friendly staff, reasonable prices. Great mojitos (two for 50 pesos). The owner told me he didn’t understand why so many people went to the Argentinean steakhouse instead of eating fresh Mexican seafood when they’re staying on an island. He said it would be like him going to China and ordering enchiladas. Poor guy. Give him some business.

Day 6: We decided to “splurge” and pay for beach chairs and an umbrella. We chose the Sunset Beach Grill on Playa Norte because they had an offer where they would deduct the price of the chairs and umbrellas from your food and bar tab. Basically, if you order 250 pesos worth of food and drink, the chairs etc. are free. Great deal. Others charge less for chairs but don’t include them in the price of food and drink. We had some issues with the food quality and service (and apparently everyone else did too), but they had great beer bucket prices and overall it was a bargain. This was a sunny Sunday and by far the busiest day we’d seen at Playa Norte. Many boats and people and an all around good time.

Day 7: More sun. More sitting in the shade of the coconut palms. We went to lunch at the Loncheria Alexia y Geovanny, which was part of a group of small restaurants near Playa Norte that are only open for lunch and breakfast. Very good cheap food. Highly recommended. Good mix of locals and tourists. Maybe the best meal I had on the island (fish in green sauce). Had a small dinner at El Patio on the tourist restaurant strip, just guac and beer late night. We’d been eyeing this place all week but it always seemed empty. Glad we went in. There was great live music (if you like crazy psychedelic flamenco with extra delay pedal looping) and a friendly staff. Their dinner menu was expensive but the venue is very unique and charming.
Overall we loved Isla Mujeres. Playa Norte was wonderful. One of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen. Clean sand and clean water without much seaweed. Crazy blue color that reflected on the clouds. Have you ever seen blue clouds? Despite the name, the beach seems to face due west and at this time of year the sun sets right over the water. Highly recommended. For us, Isla Mujeres had a lot more to offer than Cancun. We are not into the all-inclusive thing, or the club thing. Also, we don’t have kids. The Hotel Zone in Cancun didn’t have the dining options we found at Isla Mujeres, and the beach wasn’t as nice (but it’s still very nice). Oh, and if you like “House” you’ll love Mexican TV.

I hope this was helpful. Now get back to work.

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