Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mexico Part VI: Cozumel

Cozumel (East Coast)

Day 1: Took the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel (156 pesos per person one-way). Very nice ferry ride. It took about 30 minutes. Once in Cozumel we walked to our hotel, Villablanca. It took us about 35 minutes. The taxis wanted 90 pesos to take us, which we thought was absurdly high, based on what we’d been paying in other places on our trip. Despite doing a lot of research about Cozumel, there were some things that were really surprising, like taxi rates.
The hotel: Villablanca was great. We booked our room for 6 nights on Expedia for about $50 USD a night. When we arrived they offered us the opportunity to upgrade to an ocean-view suite for $10 USD more a night, which we did. I looked at both types of rooms before deciding to upgrade. The standard rooms seemed very nice as well, just a little smaller and at the back of the hotel away from the ocean and the view. I was surprised, after reading reviews of the hotel, to discover there is no sandy beach at all and the snorkeling off the pier was nothing special. In other words, Villablanca is not really a hotel people stay at to access the water out front—unless you’re diving with the shops nearby. They have a very nice pool and hot tub and many dive shops in the immediate area. There is also a mini-mart and a couple of restaurants right next door. We didn’t eat at the hotel restaurant, which I don’t even think was open for dinner this time of year. Another thing that surprised us about the hotel was the fact that there is a cruise ship terminal about a half-mile south, which at first bothered us, but turned out to not really be a big deal. Also, the maids leave the door open when they clean and that lets in the mosquitoes.
Once we were settled into our room, we walked south along the water to The Money Bar, which we’d read good things about. The walk was pretty rough. It was very hot out and certain parts of the road had no sidewalk. But we were adamant about not letting the taxis rip us off. The Money Bar was very nice, and isolated. They have Happy Hour from 5-7 with 2 for 1 drinks. Live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 6-8. Despite the awful name, this was the best place we hung out in Cozumel. The have beach chairs and loungers and bathrooms and showers you can use for free, and decent snorkeling. The ocean is beautiful from this part of the island. All the piers and ports are out of view. We ate some hot wings which were nothing special. Then we walked back to our hotel. At this point we realized that Cozumel is a big island with no public transportation for tourists and expensive cabs. If we wanted to see any more we needed a car, which we were told cost about $40-60 USD a day. So when a salesman guy stopped us walking home and offered us a car for $20 USD we talked to him and agreed to return two days later for a 90-minute sales pitch. We ate dinner across the street from Villablanca at La Hach. My wife was craving American food. We ate chicken fingers and burgers. Good food and a great view.

Day 2: Decided to motivate and try the snorkeling by the pier in front of the hotel. Lots of fish but no reef. Lots of boats around, which was a little weird, but there are people snorkeling all along the coast and it seems like the boats are careful. Had lunch at Papa Hogs. My wife had a burger, which was good. I had a chicken quesadilla which was not good. Dollar draft beers were great. Then we walked back to The Money Bar for snorkeling and live music. Good band. The snorkeling was good, still not much of a reef near the coastline. Very strong southern current. Caught a cab home (50 pesos after negotiating down from 90).

Day 3: Woke up early for our vacation-club presentation. Got a good free breakfast from the Park Royal buffet and talked with our host. Then she showed us around the hotel and we talked with some salesman, and 90 minutes later we had our car and free passes to Chankanaab water park. Well worth the sales pitch. Got our stuff from the hotel and drove to Chankanaab. Good snorkeling. Nice reef and lots of fish. The park was nice with many activities. We didn’t spend much time there because we wanted to take advantage of the car. I would recommend this place, especially if you have kids. Then we drove south to the Playa Palancar Beach Club. Had lunch. Fish ceviche which was okay, and expensive. The beach club was nice. They actually have a sandy beach. They run snorkeling boats out to the reef ($30 USD for 1.5 hours). We didn’t go in the water here. Kept driving all the way to the other side of the island, which is very different, and very beautiful. Glad we had a car to do this. Stopped at Coconuts on the cliff for a beer. Beautiful view and very picturesque. Kind of a sleazy vibe, though. The male server had a fake stuffed penis under his apron that he liked to show people and he could make it squeak. Fun, drunken atmosphere. Strange, since other aspects of the place are very kid-friendly. They have lots of birds and animals around—like a mini petting zoo. Continued driving. Stopped at Mega in town for supplies. Then back to the hotel. Margarita in the hot tub at sunset. Very nice.

Day 4: Drove back to the eastern side of the island for an early picnic before the rental car was due back. Beautiful beach with lots of locals swimming in large tidal pools. Stopped at Mega again with the car for more supplies. Took out $3000 pesos at an HSBC ATM and only got $2000. Nightmare. There were three other ATMs in the area and I just gambled and lost. My bank has since given me my money back (provisionally). First and only time this happened to us, and based on the currency denominations we did get, it seems the ATM was just out of cash. Welcome to Mexico. You roll the dice every day. At least the cops left us alone with our rental. Returned the car. Sat by the pool. We walked to town that evening but there was nothing going on. Depressing. We weren’t sure if this was because it was Sunday, or some holiday, but lots of the shops were closed and the restaurants empty. On a positive note there was a cool drumming acrobatic show going on in the main plaza. Then we walked back to the hotel.

Day 5: Hung out at the hotel and relaxed most of the day. Went across the street to La Hach to watch the sunset and drink a beer. That’s it.

Day 6: By this point we realized the entire economy of Cozumel centers around the cruise ships, and that things are more exciting in town during the day than they are at night. We decided to act like cruise ship tourists and have lunch at Margaritaville—at least the place had people in it. Good expensive food and very strange atmosphere. Who knew so many people were still stuck in the 1980’s? On a side note, we were charged $170 pesos ($15 USD) for two diet cokes. We protested and had the price lowered to a merely ridiculous $92 pesos for both. But we did get to watch the waiter humiliate himself by dancing on stage. Glad we went. Also went to Rock and Java (I think it’s called) a small bar just south of downtown. Nice place with a good cheap menu (for a tourist place) and an ocean view. Wish we’d found this place earlier (before Margaritaville). Again watched the sunset at La Hach.
Some final thoughts on Cozumel: You really need a car here, which can be a problem if you are on an extended trip and are trying to watch what you spend. The taxis make their money from the cruise ships, which is why they’re so expensive. There isn’t a lot to do on the island other than go to beach clubs or water parks in a car, or go diving, sailing, etc. If those activities are not in your budget, you may find yourself spending a lot of time by the hotel pool or drinking beer in your room (which is what everyone in our hotel seemed to do at night).

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