Cozumel, Mexico – I’ve been here several times on cruises, but this was my first weeklong stay on the island. Cozumel has never been one of my favorite cruise ports, so I was looking forward to exploring it for an extended period of time.
Getting To The Resort
The taxi drivers have a union, therefore it’s not necessarily “cheap” to get from place to place and some of the resorts are a bit off the beaten path. I recommend negotiating your fare before entering the taxi because it could range from $20-$40 to get from the airport to the resort. Because of the union, there are no free shuttles to the resorts.
We stayed at the Iberostar which is an all-inclusive, beachfront property. It boasts pools, a swim-up bar and lots of wildlife (turtles, iguanas, flamingos, parrots, peacocks, etc). After entering the gated community (armed with a security guard) you’ll make your way to reception, which is located in an open-air area at the front of the resort. Yes, open-air. Go ahead and prepare yourself…it’s hot. Unfortunately the staff also isn’t in much of a rush, so you may be there for a while (especially if you arrive before 3pm check-in and your room isn’t ready). I recommend having your beach clothes easily accessible so that you can head to the beach after grabbing a bite to eat if your room isn’t ready.
The guest rooms were recently renovated. Each room has a deck or balcony with chairs, a small table and a hammock. The rooms are actually villas with 2-4 rooms in each pod with an external entrance, which makes you feel like you have more privacy. The rooms aren’t very large, but have plenty of space for you and your belongings to coexist peacefully. The bathroom is really nice (note that you cannot throw anything into the toilet or you’ll have a backup on your hands pretty quickly). The shower has a rainfall shower head coming from the ceiling and a separate hand nozzle on the wall. You also have all toiletries/amenities you typically require, such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, lotion and hairdryer. There’s also a coffeemaker in the room, as well as a TV (that we never turned on), a minibar stocked with drinks (which are also included) and a safe. The bed/pillows were quite comfortable, so we had a restful week of sleep. Be aware that you may be on the second floor without an elevator, so if that’s a problem you should probably request a first floor room at booking. I know of at least two people in our group (one of them being me) that slipped down the stairs after a rainfall, so regardless I’d probably recommend a first floor room.
Generally there are three places to eat on the resort, which are included in your stay. An open-air area where breakfast and dinner are served, an open-air area where lunch is served and a kiosk-like snack bar near the beach where a few food options are served during the day and into the night. I once again stress that they are all open-air and the
snack bar is outside with a few tables. The only place you’re going to find air-conditioning at this resort is in your room. The open-air dining room where breakfast and dinner are served also houses the resorts cat population. No, that’s not a typo or a joke…the resort allows cats to wander the floors of this area. They’re not jumping on the tables or begging too much for food, but it’s not something most Americans are used to. I’ll also note that one evening we saw a raccoon and a couple of her babies walking along the inside of the thatch roof. The open-air area where lunch is served has a netting that keeps most of the critters out, but there were bees all over the soda machine almost every time I used it.
You’re not in Kansas anymore. Or America. Or really anyplace with super high cleanliness standards.
There are also two specialty restaurants; a steakhouse (which was not good and is housed where the lunch buffet is during the day) and an asian-style restaurant (which we did not try).
Activities In The Resort
Full disclosure: The only activity I took part in on the resort was scuba diving. However, there appeared to be fun/interesting activities every evening from fire dancers to a Mr. Iberostar contest. During the day there were also plenty of activities to take part in like archery and kayaking, or you could snorkel along the beach (there was actually quite a bit of marine life near the dock). Note that you are not close to anything outside of the resort, so it would be almost impossible to walk to another destination.
Activities Outside The Resort
As previously mentioned, Iberostar is not close to, well, anything, so a taxi or a rental car are required to get to any point of interest, neither of which are economical. If you want to splurge and get a jeep for the week, it’ll run you over $100 per day (ouch). A van taxi took us from the resort to La Perlita for $42 and then the ride home was only $30, so as previously mentioned, it’s best to negotiate before entering the taxi. La Perlita is an
authentic seafood restaurant outside of the core tourist zone of Cozumel. It appealed to our group because they sell a variety of lionfish dishes. If you’re unfamiliar with lionfish, they’re an invasive fish not native in the Caribbean and are completely disrupting the ecosystem because they have no natural predator in the area. If you want to learn more about lionfish and how to help with the problem, I encourage you to visit Lionfish University’s website. Even though La Perlita offers lionfish dishes, which are helping rid the Caribbean of lionfish, they unfortunately also offer a few endangered species on their menu, such as shark and eagle rays. I didn’t know this before visiting, but probably won’t be back, even though the lionfish burger was quite good. La Choza is also another off-the-beaten-path restaurant serving authentic Mexican food and I’d highly recommend it for it’s delicious food, friendly staff and fun atmosphere.
Beyond eateries, you can drive up the coast and find beautiful secluded beaches with the clear waters Mexico is known for. But watch where you’re stepping, because many of the beaches have areas marked where sea turtles have laid eggs. We took part in a “turtle dig” where the local Campamento Tortuguero took us to a nest that was laid 56 days prior, so they knew the turtles had hatched but not made it to the surface yet. When they uncovered the nest, 121 baby turtles made their way safely to the ocean. We could not find information about this service online and our hotel was unfamiliar, so we literally drove around looking for the truck and asked if they would allow us to join them (it’s $20 per person and the money is used to continue to protect the turtle population in Cozumel).
There is also a Tequila Tour on the island called Mi Mexico Lindo. It’s free, it’s entertaining, but I wouldn’t go too far out of the way to attend…unless you’re really into tequila. You’ll get a free tasting of several different offerings and learn a few things along the way, so it’s not a bad way to kill an hour. I love that they advertise a, “Free Pee Pee Station” (see first picture below)…
In my opinion, scuba diving is the only reason to go to Mexico. Above the water, it’s just Mexico, but below the surface there’s a magnificent underwater world that’s hard to beat. Dressel Divers is actually located on the grounds of the Iberostar, which is extremely convenient. Each morning you would walk the three-ish minutes from your room to the dive shop and get ready for the day. They have areas to store your gear in the evenings, but they aren’t secure during the day, so you have the option of carrying your equipment back to your room, bringing a lock to secure it at the shop or test your luck and leave it unsecured. Our entire group left our gear at the dive shop overnight (unlocked) and never had a problem. My husband and I would bring our mask, fins and dive computers back to the room with us (in case we wanted to go snorkeling and because dive computers are small and easy to transport/steal). The staff is absolutely amazing! Our trip included two dives a day for six days (Sunday-Friday). You could add on two afternoon dives or a night dive for an extra cost. We saw tons of rays, several turtles, lots of splendid toad fish (which can only be found in Cozumel) and crustacians, all the Caribbean reef fish (including plenty of my favorite honeycomb cow fish), a few eels and a couple sharks. Check out my video of some of the creatures we encountered. Cozumel is drift diving, which means the current will take you on an adventure. If you’re quick on your air consumption, I would highly recommend bringing your own surface marker buoy (SMB) because you’ll find yourself waiting at the surface for the boat for a while.
The diving is in a marine park, so you can’t wear gloves because you’re not allowed to touch anything. This area is far enough away from the cruise ports that you’ll run into fewer groups (even though we did have to share the reef a couple times). The reefs are in pretty good shape, with some bleaching. I would highly recommend purchasing reef-safe sunscreen before your trip to help tame any additional coral bleaching in the area – my favorite is Blue Lizard. Also, read this short bulletin from the National Park Service about protecting the coral reefs.
Dressel included very helpful staff, but you still have to carry your equipment to/from the boat and generally change out your own tanks (and analyze them since they offer nitrox at no additional cost). I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but I’ve been on dive trips where the staff does absolutely everything for you, so I want you to be aware that there will be some heavy lifting on your part. Almost all of the dive spots are a short (5-ish minute) board ride from the dock, and you come back to the resort during your surface interval, so you can use the restroom or grab a bite to eat as they fill the boat with fresh tanks.
Diving the Cenotes
Diving the cenotes (recreational cave system) on the Yucatan Peninsula is on some people’s bucket list – it’s not on mine. This was a two-tank excursion I added on for $198, which included a taxi ride to the ferry, a 30-ish minute ferry ride to the mainland, a taxi to the dive shop and a taxi to the dive site. All-in-all it took about an hour and a half to get from the resort to the dive shop, which is where you pick up your wetsuit, weights and flashlight. Since the water is a mixture of fresh and salt, I actually went diving with HALF the weight that I use in the ocean (6lbs vs 12lbs) and it was plenty of weight to keep me neutrally buoyant.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up other than I was going to go as far into a cave as I could legally/safely go without having a cave certification. When we got to the dive location, there were steps leading down to a sinkhole. There wasn’t much room at the bottom, so we put our equipment together at the top and carried it down to the water. Once in the water, we did a weight check (which is greatly needed because most people feel that they need more weight than they do). Once the weight check is complete, a team of approximately 4 divers will follow the local divermaster into the cave, each armed with a flashlight (I just used the light I use with my GoPro for filming and it worked great). Typically the order behind the divemaster is least experienced to most experienced.
It was neat to see the stalactites and stalagmites that took thousands of years to form, and we also surfaced in a couple sinkholes that were beautiful (and even had bats in them), but the best part was the few areas where the salt and fresh water met, creating a halocline (check out my video of this natural phenomenon). Other than that, I can’t say it was a very exciting dive (minimal wildlife other than bats and a few catfish) and a little part of me regretted not staying at the resort and partaking in our regularly scheduled dives. Am I glad I did it? Sure. Would I do it again? Nope.
Above the water, it’s just Mexico – bug-infested, somewhat dirty, with plenty of men ready to make an inappropriate comment or solicitation (we only encountered this outside of the resort and never felt unsafe inside the resort). But below the surface you have excellent diving for a great price that you’ll thoroughly enjoy time and time again. I would recommend the Iberostar even though it may not be 5-star by American standards, it was still a nice hotel with decent food/location for a great price.