Beautiful, relaxing, jungle, Caribbean clear water; just some of the words and phrases I’d use to describe our recent visit to the island of Cozumel, Mexico. Shannon and I went to Cozumel on May 5th for a whole week. It was a wonderful trip.
The island of Cozumel is relatively small, something like 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. It runs mostly North to South and sits about 12 miles off the mainland of Mexico near Playa del Carmen. Although we haven’t been to the ‘Mexican Rivera’, we were told by many that Cozumel is much more relaxed and low-key than the more glitzy and night-clubby areas like Playa del Carmen and the Cancun area.
We stayed at a nice but not fancy resort called the Occidental Grand Cozumel. It was a hacienda-style resort with lots of open courtyards and hallways between the various buildings. Let’s see if I can describe this accurately; the resort is built perpendicular to the beach, which seemed different from the traditional resort that runs parallel to the beach. One disadvantage to this is that there is no room with an ocean view as the rooms are all set back in the jungle. The advantage to this is that the jungle separates each of the buildings making your room feel very isolated from the others. The rooms sat in one of about five three-story buildings, each with about 20 rooms set in a kind of circular fashion. Our room had a king bed, large bathroom with both a shower and a large tub. Modest furniture including a dresser and sitting area sat on a beautifully marbled floor. There was also a small patio with room enough for two chairs that faced the large banana trees about 10 feet away where the jungle started.
To get to the restaurants we walked away from the beach no more than 60 yards (or meters in Mexico). There were four to choose from, two fancy ones, a semi-fancy pizza place and a buffet. You needed reservations for all but the buffet, which were surprisingly hard to come by considering the relatively low occupancy level. None of the food was shockingly great. All of it was adequate and some of it was pretty good. Naturally, the drinks flowed freely and the staff was very attentive.
Turning the other direction and heading to the beach, you had to cross a beautifully crafted hardwood boardwalk suspended above the mangrove forest that stood between the rooms/buildings and the beach/pools. We often wondered how anyone would have found their way into the island without the use of a bulldozer to cut a path. The walk to the beach invariably required walking around a few iguanas ranging from two feet to six feet long (including their tail, which made up more than half of their total length).
The beach consisted of semi-fine, peach-colored sand and amazing transparent turquoise water. The hotel had covered much of the beach with lounge chairs and thatched roof pergolas that required only your presence to claim (and sometimes no more than a towel or piece of clothing).
Shannon and I spent much of the time in the lounge chairs until we got too hot. Then we would don our snorkel gear and lazily float around the beach. Since this hotel is one of the few on the island with an actual beach, there wasn’t much coral to see but there were many different fish to watch. We saw small sting rays, parrot fish, angel fish, needle fish and trumpet fish, and those were just the ones we could recognize. We had the unfortunate luck to have a close encounter with a giant barracuda. This thing was more than five feet long, black on top and had the head of a dragon. Unbeknownst to me, it investigated me rather closely while I was diving down to swim among a large school of grunts. I was alerted to it by an odd chirping sound that I discovered was coming from Shannon through her snorkel while watching the whole thing unfold. Turning the direction she was pointing and still about ten feet underwater, I saw the imposing prehistoric fish. As you can imagine, I quickly, but not so quick as to appear panicked, surfaced and recommended to Shannon that we head in. I kept checking my ‘six’ on the way back to make sure the dragon wasn’t following us. And that was only the first full day on vacation!
The next day we signed up for swimming with the dolphins and manatees. We both expected less than reputable conditions at the park but were pleasantly surprised. The Chankanaab Park was well maintained, had many large pens for the animals, a few places to eat and a plethora of lounging areas. The actual event was truly wonderful. The dolphins were larger than we expected. We got to touch them several time including holding your hands in specific positions to get them to react, or perform, in a particular manner. Holding your hands out caused them to come up and give you a kiss (incidentally, the dolphins closed their eyes when they were kissing people; it was priceless). We got to float in the water and have them push or drag you. After that performance, we moved over to the manatee pens and were able to touch their rough, elephant-like skin and thick tails. It was an amazing experience.
After the dolphins, we stayed at Chankanaab Park and took advantage of some very good snorkeling on the reef off the park. It was a little deep for Shannon but there were some amazing coral formations that we investigated.
The following day, I left Shannon in the hands of two women from Maine and Carlos the beach waiter while I boarded a boat to make a couple of dives. I was seriously out-experienced by my diving comrades. We dove on Palancar Caves and bottomed out at about 85 feet. Having not been diving for more than 12 months, I was burning through my air like a novice (which I guess I am as I’ve only been on about a dozen dives).