Let’s start with the basics. Cozumel is an island. In fact, it’s Mexico’s third largest island after Tiburón Island and Isla Ángel de la Guarda.
It's located in the Caribbean off the eastern coast of the Yucatan Penninsula. So, now we know where we are!! How did I get here? Well, I flew directly into Cozumel. It has an airport. I live in Los Angeles and there are no direct flights from Los Angeles to Cozumel, so I flew Continental to Houston and then caught the connecting flight to Cozumel. I could have flown Aero Mexico or Mexicana and connected in Mexico City. Other airlines that have service to Cozumel are.... Air Canada, USAir, United and Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and American. Now, I booked my flight and hotel through APPLE VACATIONS. I found they give me the best service with the best rates. Chic, one of the other Boomers who travels with us, uses Expedia and swears that's the best.
He stays at the Coral Princess and I stay at the Playa Azul Golf and Beach Hotel. The other way to go (and this is how Leslie and Mario go) is by flying non-stop to Cancun. When I’ve gone this way I’ve flown with Air Alaska but the Cancun airport handles most all major airlines. Now this way is a lot of fun. OK, I’ve landed in Cancun, now what do I do?
Well, you can either grab a cab or you can take a bus to Playa Del Carmen where you’ll catch the ferry. I’m going to take the bus for two reasons and the fact that it's cheaper is not one of them. The drive to Playa Del Carmen is about 45 minutes to an hour so I’ll want a certain amount of comfort. Believe it or not the bus is very comfortable. It’s air conditioned and they run a movie. Every time I’ve taken the bus it’s been an english speaking movie. It’s an express bus and costs about $7.00 (american). You can catch it at the airport.
When you get off the plane at the Cancun Airport there will be a lot of people soliciting you.... you don’t have to engage them. Get your luggage and head straight to the bus or a taxi which will be outside the building. You can purchase your ticket at the Riviera counter just before you leave the terminal.
When you arrive at the Riviera Bus Terminal in Playa Del Carmen, you’ll be at the corner of Juarez and Avenida Quinta by the town square. You’ll walk a couple of blocks (a very enjoyable little trek) through the town square to where the ferry’s dock. You can purchase a ticket ($11.00 one way and either $16 or $20 round trip depending on which ferry you get). There are two ferries, one is a little faster than the other and both are very comfortable. They both have refreshments and the last time we crossed there was a little band playing salsa and merengue live. So by the time you dock in Cozumel, you are way in the right mood!!
So now we’ve arrived either by plane or ferry.... so now what do we do?
Next we need to get to our hotel. If we booked our flight through Apple, Expedia or another one of these agencies we'll probably have a transfer. As you exit the airport you can look for the representative (a guy in a colorful shirt). He’ll have a little sign that says Apple Vacations. There will be a van that’ll be picking up and dropping off all the passengers that are traveling through Apple Vacations to their respective hotels. Now this is very time consuming but on the upside you are on vacation so relax and enjoy the ride. It also gives you an opportunity to check out at least on a superficial level the other hotels in the area. I usually tip the driver a $3 to $5 depending on how many suitcases I’m carrying. Other people you may want to give a little gratuity to that you might not in the U.S. are, the person who bags your groceries and the gasoline attendant (there is no such thing as self serve). OK, you came via Playa del Carmen... So now you get off the ferry... get your luggage... you are right in the center of the little port town of San Miguel. There is a plethora of cabs .... very inexpensive... very reliable and accommodating. Do you want to stop at the market for supplies? I know I do. They’ll wait while you shop. Cozumel is a very small Island about 30 miles long and 12 miles wide. It’s impossible to get lost. The main road runs all the way around the Island and then there’s another road running all the way across. Other than the streets in the town of San Miguel that’s it!!! So you can pick up a cab from anywhere or...... you can rent a car.
You can either have your travel agent handle the rental at the same time you book yourtrip and then pick up the car or jeep at theCozumel airport when you arrive Or, you can ask yourhotel to recommend a car rental agency and set it up for you, This would be my recommendation. I’ve done all the above and your hotel wants your continuing business so it has a vested interest inrecommending someone reputable so this would be my choice.
We’ve arrived in one piece. We either flew into Cozumel or we traveled via Playa del Carmen. We have checked into our hotel and we’ve decided on some sort of transportation. Are you hungry yet!!! I know I am ..... so let’s look at our restaurant selections:
I like to take the red-eye so I usually land at lunch time. As I mentioned on the Cozumel DVD, after all my preliminaries, I head for the Cozumel Caribe. Remember? (aka the Shining).
Just a short stroll from the Playa Azul Golf and Beach Hotel (where I stay) is the Buccanos Grill Restaurant where you can enjoy lunch right on the beach. I can’t tell you enough how much I love this place. Jorge and I (you should get the Video so you know who these people are!!) split a grilled callamari and rock shrimp salad and then I had the blackened fish (soft shell taco’s) and Jorge had Cozumel’s best burger.
The Buccanos Grill hrs? Mon---Sun 9:00 to 5:00 and Sun 10:00 to 6:00. It’s cuisine is Caribbean---Mexican. The prices are very moderate and they accept Master Card and Visa. Located on the Playa San Juan Beach on the Costera Norte Km 4.5, this is one place I know won’t disappoint you.Their website is clubcozumelcaribe.info
If your traveling to the east side often referred to as the other side. I would recommend Coconuts.
As I mentioned in the video there is only one hill on Cozumel and "Coconuts" sits high on the cliffs
giving it arguably one of the most spectacular views on the island. The menu is very moderately priced with traditional fish tacos at about $8.00 and fajitas at about $9.00. The menu also includes lobster and garlic shrimp. Coconuts has a full bar with Margarita’s costing about $5.00 and beer will run you $3.00 or so. Located on the Costera Este (east side) 3 miles south of the Cross Island Highway. Hrs? 10 till Sundown (and please no credit cards bring CASH). It’s a fun afternoon after hitting the beach.
Now for dinner there are many great restaurants and you’ll see them as you walk around. I picked two that are not as obvious and I’m afraid you might miss if you didn’t know about them.
The first is El Gucamayo and it's famous for it's seafood. If you are looking for an authentic and traditional Mexican experience, this is the place for you. Set in a rustic setting by a lagoon and tropical gardens all I can say is.......ambience, ambience and more ambience...... and oh yes.... Great food!!! This is a family owned and operated business. There are two brothers, Arturo and Enrique and there are two restaurants sitting side by side. They constitute La Cabana del Pescador (Fisherman’s Cabin). One is a Lobster only restaurant and the other is El Guacamayo specializing in Crab and other types of fish dishes as well as Lobster.
La Cabana del Pescador is located across the street from The Playa Azul Hotel in the Zona Hotelera Norte. It’s open every evening from 6:00pm until 10;00pm. El Guacamayo does not accept credit cards or debit cards.... (CASH) only! The meals are moderately priced and the cuisine is excellent. So give it a try. You can e-mail me and thank me later!!!
My other pick is "Especias", meaning spices. This is an intimate open air restaurant very centrally located in downtown San Miguel.
The owners are the gregarious and handsome Adrian Angulo and his beautiful wife Leti. Especias is on Calle 3 Sur (South), between Avenidas 5 and 10 just 2 blocks from the ocean front. It’s actually upstairs so you need to look for the sign. The food is freshly prepared with a slight Argentinean flair. You must try the fresh baked empanadas, stuffed zucchini and oh yes, a fantastic chimichuri sauce.
Like all the restaurants we choose, the prices are very moderate. The hours are from 6:00pm until 11:00pm. Monday through Saturday. They are closed on Sunday and like El Guacamayo no credit cards. Let’s look at our hotel picks. Cozumel has many wonderful hotels to meet every need. All Inclusive Resorts, Boutique style Hotels, Hostels and even B&B’s. There are accomodations in different areas of the island but mostly in midtown (San Miquel ), the southern zone, the northern zone and an area called Corpus Cristi. One of the hotels I picked was on the easterly side of the Island. It’s the only hotel there, so it's easy to find. Cozumel has a hotel to suit every type of guest. A five star luxury hotel for a romantic get away, or one with proximity to shopping and entertainment. There are many different choices.
When I’m going somewhere that I have never been before I spend a lot of time on my computer doing research and trying to get exactly what I want. One of my favorite websites is “ tripadviser.com”. The reason I like this website so much is you can read reviews from people who have recently been to wherever you are planning to go and more importantly they show pictures that the guests have taken with their own cameras as opposed to the standard publicity enhanced photos. Oceanfront is not the same thing as beachfront so things like this are important to watch out for.
So back to my hotel picks. I picked two hotels on the north westernly side of the island for a couple of reasons. I like to walk a lot so you might find my concept of walking distance unreasonable. The hotels that I have chosen I would consider within walking distance to the small port town of San Miquel. If you don't feel like it's within walking distance, then it's at least a five dollar cab ride. Finding a cab in Cozumel is never a problem.
Playa Azul Golf and Beach Hotel is my first choice. Why did I have this as my first choice? First of
all The Playa Azul has a beach. Yeah!! Cozumel is a coral reef so there’s a lot of rocky coastline. There are some walk-in beach areas which for me is
very important. Most of the hotels have a beach area but not a walk-in beach. So that was number one. This is a small beautiful but secluded hotel with a wonderful staff and oh yes, a complimentary breakfast that is delicious. Sometimes I have it in my room and sometimes I go downstairs and have the buffet right on the beach. The hotel has two really wonderful restaurants. Palma Azul Restaurant, a casual open air restaurant and the Chan Ka’an Restaurant, a more formal inside air-conditioned restaurant featuring a more upscale cuisine again at very reasonable prices. The Playa Azul is five minutes from the airport, the city of San Miquel and the Golf course. When you stay at the Playa Azul Hotel you enjoy unlimited greens although the mandatory cart per person is not included
Across the street is the Cabana del Pescador so I can just walk there. I live in Los Angeles so just being able to walk anywhere always feels great. For more information on the Playa Azul Golf and Beach Hotel their website is playa-azul.com.
Leslie and Mario always stay down the street at the Coral Princess. They love it. Located like the The Hotel Playa Azul on the north westernly side of the island. It's about 2 miles from downtown, 5 min. or less to get there by car, cab or motor scooter (which all the islanders drive).
Coral Princess is located in front of the Punta San Juan Reef so it’s really great for snorkeling or scuba diving.
The Coral Princess is beachfront (however they don’t have a walk-in beach). It has 136 rooms overlooking the Caribbean Sea or the jungle area of Cozumel. I would suggest getting an oceanfront view because in this hotel the VIEW is BEYOND SPECTACULAR! Another great thing about this hotel is they have 36 one-two-or three bedroom ocean view suites with kitchenette, dining and living areas too. These are great for families but also for people who may want to stay inside (like me when I’m writing) or honeymooners ....... (just use your imagination) You can sit out on the balcony, make your own dinner or order room service and just take in the view (for some of us, taking in the view is a vacation). In fact as I’m sitting here writing this I think that sounds like a bang up idea.
For you more social types, I think The Coral Princess has the best Happy Hour in the world. They blow the conch shell at 4:00pm and then everything is two for one and then they blow the conch again when it’s over. Oh yeah !!! Jorge, Matt and I were staying up the street at The Playa Azul but we never missed Happy Hour at The Coral Princess.
I think this hotel gives you a lot bang for your peso!! The Coral Princess’ website is coralprincess.com and we highly recommend it.
For my last (but not least) pick, we must go to the other side of the island. The easterly side of the island. We are going to” Ventanas al Mar”. This is the perfect escape. This is a small eco friendly Inn that runs on wind and solar power. The rooms are really cute and comfortable and have microwaves, refrigerators and coffee makers. They don’t have phones computer hookups or televisions (except in the suites. there is a television and a DVR in the upstair rooms). What they do have is unmatched privacy. You can stroll along a private beach.... enjoy the ocean ......have a swim...... lay in the sun and not meet a single soul. Watch the night time sky filled with stars over the Caribbean from the only hotel on the windward side..... Sound good?
This hotel isn’t for everyone but if it sounds like something you may like... they have 14 rooms with 2 suites. The rooms are under $100 dollars and the suites are about $150 to $184 (depending of the time of year). You're going to need some form of transportation because other than Coconuts which is right next door and is open til dusk, there isn’t too much that is within walking distance.
In the morning a full breakfast is served either in your room, or in the lobby at the front of the hotel which is actually a little open air patio. The breakfast is included in the price. Our friends Amy and Kurt stay here for at least a couple of days every time they visit Cozumel.
The hotel participates in the sea turtle protection and every summer the turtles come to their beach to lay their eggs.
There is a 2 day minimum stay required. To contact “The Ventanas Al Mar go to ventanasalmar.biz . Today I tried to go on their website and I didn’t get anything but a blank page so I went to ventanasalmar.biz/rates and got through. I also have another website address that I think is pretty good....ventanasalmar.com.mx.
I also have a number for them. When phoning Mexico dial 011 first then the number in this case it’s......011 521 987 105 2684. They will accept Visa and Mastercard. Sorry Amex. I noticed that a lot in Cozumel. I tend to prefer Amex but in Cozumel bring your Master or Visa.
Places to go:
Chankanaab is my first choice. It is at km 9 on the ocean side road. If you are taking a cab there, it will cost you about $5.00 (one way) from the International pier and about $10.00 (one way) from the downtown piers. If you plan to be sightseeing a lot, it may be cheaper in the long run to rent a car. We rented a car and we took 3 days to do all the sightseeing we wanted to do. If you're at almost any hotel they will order a car for you and the representative will come to the hotel and do all the paperwork there. Then they’ll come and pick it up too!! So that would be my advice on that.
Chankanaab is Mayan meaning little sea. It was named for the natural formation located in the interior of the park. In 1980 Chankanaab was decreed as a National Park to protect diverse and ecologically sensitive regions of flora and fauna.
Admission is $16 for adults and $8 for children (3yrs. to 11yrs. old). The park is open from 7am to 5pm.
Now that we have the business taken care of we can get on to the fun part. I would plan to spend the day at Chakanaab because there’s so much to do. Of course my first concern is, are there any restaurants at Chankanaab? Yes and pretty good ones too.... Like, Chakanaab Oceanfront Restaurant which is beachfront and El Bucanero Restaurant which is located in a secluded area back from the beach that has an excellent seafood chowder that I would
The park has different sections..... The first place you will see will be the entrance palm house. Here is where you can buy your admission tickets. If you are going to Dolphin Discovery you would also pay for it here (I’ll come
back to this). You can find restrooms, the directors office, a photograph center, a souvenir shop and many other things. When we leave the palm house you will see a path leading to the park. We’re going to go left towards the botanical gardens. There are meandering paths that lead you through a maze of beautiful plants that are indigenous to the region. Most are grown in the park nursery. The diversity of the vegetation is amazing.
All of a sudden you will see a little archway that leads to a replica of an actual Mayan village. You can enter a Mayan home built just the way the Maya built theirs. You can see
Magdaleno work the land just as his ancestors had. His wife Ofelia makes tortillas in the old way and will even make you a yummy taco.
When you leave the village you will enter the archeological region of the park, Here you will find over 50 statues and sculptures of Mayan, Aztec (and other ancient
cultures) gods. The statues are life size or larger and quite impressive. They are placed in a jungle like setting so you kind of stumble on them.
When you leave the archeological section of the park you’ll hear the sound of a waterfall falling into a stream. The stream becomes a pond, and the vegetation around this area is beautiful and breathtaking.
One of the main attractions is the salt water lagoon. It’s hard to do the lagoon justice in a picture. The lagoon is the reason for the name Chakanaab (little sea). It is a unique formation in Cozumel's calcareous limestone base, shaped by erosive forces. The lagoon is connected to the ocean by a series of underwater limestone caves. They used to let in snorkelers and divers but chemicals from things like suntan lotion etc. started affecting the ecosystem and killing the fish...........
.....so, not anymore. There is plenty of swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving on the beautiful west coast beach.
The beach is a tan and relax type of beach. You can rent most everything you need at very low prices so that way you're not shlepping everything. Also waiters will bring you drinks and food if you wish to order something. Scuba and snorkeling equipment can be rented again at very reasonable prices. I wish I could remember the prices but if I can’t, that means it was pretty inexpensive. You can find facilities such as bathrooms, lockers and showers easily and towels can be rented also.
Now this is where Dolphin Discovery is located. You can swim with the dolphins!! There are several different types of programs you can choose. I swam with the dolphins several times. It’s always great. I’m no authority, but they appear really happy to me and I must tell you one story. When I first swam with the dolphins it was many years ago on Isla Mujeres. The program was fairly new. The two dolphins we swam with were Lizzy and Fatima. It
Well many years later I went back to Isla Mujeres and swam again with the dolphins. Well I was hooked up with my old friend Fatima and another dolphin. Fatima kept taking off and going to chat with her friend Lizzy. No one seemed annoyed and the trainer told me she’ll come back when she f
eels like it. I really liked this because I felt the dolphins were not forced to do anything they didn’t want. Dolphins are pretty playful by nature and seemed to be enjoying our reaction to them. Our friend Laurie started crying as she felt overwhelmed by the amazing experience.
Generally, swimming with the dolphins is pretty expensive anywhere. From $80 to $150 (the royal swim) but I feel it was worth it and I usually factor that in when I’m planning my trip. dolphindiscovery.com
I have one more tip for you. It's the end of your vacation so all your clothes are pretty funky and probably could use some laundering? I take my clothes to a laundromat where there is a very nice person who will fluff and fold my clothes for about $10(US). In Cozumel all laundromats offer this service so I drop my clothes the morning before I leave and then pick them up in the evening and Voila! My clothes are clean and ready to be packed. When I arrive home I just need to put them away.
These are our picks for Cozumel. Believe me there are many more we could have added so stay tuned for our next trip to Cozumel.
If you take our advice and a plan a trip to Cozumel there were a couple of websites I found very useful. cozumelinsider.com and travelyucatan.com
All our picks are from our own experience while vacationing. Hasta luego!!