So at last our time in Cozumel has ended. For now. Today we take the ferry over to Playa del Carmen. While in the area we’ll visit Isla Mujeres and possibly Holbox Island. Most likely we’ll also check out Chichen Itza and Coba from here as well. I’ll work out the details later when I have a better grip on what we’re doing and when. Right now the big focus in Playa is getting our tickets to Cuba (since I can’t pay for them with an America-based bank card, I need to do it in pesos). Also plan on snorkeling with the whale sharks.
Now that we’ve been in Cozumel for almost a month, figured I’d share some of my recommendations.
Lodging: Beachouse Hostel Cozumel It’s a great location far away from the tourist zone and is within easy walking distance to some of the best snorkeling and beaches on the island. Every time we were on the beach we either had it to ourselves or shared it with 4 other people maximum. Tina, the owner, became a surrogate aunt to Tigger. She’s very helpful and will also make a deal with you, so don’t be afraid to haggle. The rooms are very comfortable, the place is pretty spotless, and Tina has a LOT of contacts. Who she doesn’t know, her husband Adolfo does. They’re great for tips on what to do and see, will help you get a good deal, etc. Adolfo also leads fishing and snorkeling trips and is a scuba instructor. I did my advanced open water & rescue diver certifications with him. He’s a really good teacher, and you’ll get a LOT more individualized attention, and a better rate, than going through the dive shops in town.
Restaurants: We ate at a lot of “hole in the wall places;” however, some of the better places were Los Seras on 30th and Chilango’s (just south of Los Seras). At Los Seras try the gringa tacos, and they have fabulous pastor (meat roasted on a big skewer). At Chilango’s the huaraches are very good, but definitely try the tamales de mole poblano. We’re talking near foodgasm. I have been told the taquerias Super Hit are pretty good. There is a wonderful little chicken place on 65th and Hidalgo next to the laundry place as well. Tigger said their roasted chicken is better than mac & cheese, which is quite the compliment if you know him. La Parilla Mission is fair but a little more expensive. It’s also a good place if you or others in your group are just needing something a little more American-Mexican. Breakfasts are very inexpensive there, and you get plenty of food. My only “don’t bother” with place that’s outside of the tourist zone is El Moro. Tourists flock there, the food is so-so, and the prices are very high for the island. The service is fantastic, and they make wonderful large margaritas (also expensive), and the complimentary digestif they give you at the end of your meal is also phenomenal, but the aforementioned isn’t enough to make this a place I could recommend. The best ice cream on the island is Mr. Chelato hands-down. You can find them next to Hotel Barracuda across the street from Mega (a large supermarket). My favorite is the banana split ice cream.
Beaches: I detest the beach clubs so would recommend avoiding all of them really, esp the ones on the southern point of the island. They catch the majority of cruise ship visitors. I have been told Playa Corona (yes, the beer) is a good one, however. The snorkeling is probably better there since they’re very close to Paradise Reef which is full of cool fish. My favorite beaches are near Playa Azul (top-notch snorkeling too) and Playa Chumul. I was surprised many of the locals haven’t heard of that beach, but then again I’ve never seen more than a handful of people there. Usually we’re the only ones. This beach isn’t good for snorkeling, but they have bigger waves which the kids seem to enjoy more. If you get sick of fighting the waves, then it’s time to pack up your stuff and head just a little more south (as you face the road from the beach, turn left) and go to Chen Rio. Don’t enter through the beach club part but along the side. There is a protected, small, shallow lagoon, and to the right of that is a much better area for snorkeling. There are some really cool rocks and the water is crystal clear. The large rocks break up the waves so this area is much calmer. I have been told the food at Chen Rio is extremely good, especially if you enjoy seafood, but the prices are also very steep (at least for Mexico, compared to US it’s fairly cheap). Playa Azul is on the north side of the island and is easily accessible by taxi. For the other two it’s best to rent a scooter or car and take the “middle of the island road” (aka Benito Juarez) and follow it until you hit the beach. Playa Chumul is most easily found by watching out for the large wood structure that enables you to get from the road down to the beach. It will be more crowded on weekends, but the island version of crowded (maybe 15 people instead of 2). Chen Rio usually has at least a handful of people in the water.
Scuba: Palancar is world-renowned and earns the reputation. The Santa Rosa wall is also extremely good and has a lot of swim-throughs if you enjoy those. Yucab is one of my favorite places to dive. The reef has a nice combination of shallow and deep dives (I did my 130-foot/40-meter deep dive here). I have seen turtles, eagle rays, nurse sharks, and a plethora of colorful tropical fish here. On the boat ride over you’ll see lots of flying fish most likely. The water is super clear. There are some strong currents in places which makes for some fabulous drift diving. Paradise Reef is also a very nice dive. You can do a shore dive from here, and within an extremely short distance you will see tons of fish. I’ve also seen a few octopuses here.
Groceries: Mega is really a pretty good store, and you can find almost anything there. The only grocery store I’ve been to that has cheaper prices is Soriana’s, which is away from the tourists. Both accept credit/debit cards which is nice. Mega also has bilingual cashiers (look for the signs) if you don’t speak Spanish. They also have more “imported” items. If you need WiFi while you’re there, head to the little food place in the corner by the produce area. You’ll have to buy something to get the code, but it’s a great, comfortable place to relax and continue to escape the heat. People will tell you taxis are cheaper on the street, but I’ve actually had better luck with the taxis right in front of the store. If you’re after beer, hold out and go to one of the many cervezarias in town. It will be a LOT cheaper.
For some other recommendations or further details on some things, check out my soon-to-be-published articles at TravelGeneration.com. Feel free to email me or comment here with any others you may need.