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Trip Report - 2 weeks in Isla Mujeres, Tulum and Playa del Carmen - Pt 1 - Isla

Trip Report - 2 weeks in Isla Mujeres, Tulum and Playa del Carmen - Pt 1 - Isla

Old May 6th, 2005, 06:37 AM
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Trip Report - 2 weeks in Isla Mujeres, Tulum and Playa del Carmen - Pt 1 - Isla

Just back over the weekend from the Mayan Riviera. Feel free to ask questions.

April 16, flew into Cancun. This was a Saturday, and we usually don't do it. Now I remember why. The wait in line for immigration was at least an hour.

This year, we decided to go to the ferry dock via a collectivo vs private taxi - $12 as opposed to $42. There were four stops before ours as everyone was going to the hotel zone as opposed to the ferry dock (where we were headed) but it's a GREAT deal for those going to the hotels (as long as it's not a slow day and you have to wait FOREVER to get a full van before they'll leave.)

Traveled to Isla Mujeres via the new Fast Ferry at Gran Puerto. Nice terminal and quick 15 minute ride over with cold drinks and beer available.

We always get a tricyclero (man with three-wheeled contraption) to take our luggage as it gives you a chance to get into island mode and check out what is going on. (This works if you are staying downtown or at Playa Norte and like to walk - otherwise you have to get a taxi.)

Normally, we stay at Na Balam, but we chose Cabanas Maria del Mar this year as Media Luna was full and I am aggravated at how much Na Balam charges for the quality of the rooms. (That ended up being a very smart move - more on that later.)

Cabanas Maria del Mar is right on Playa Norte - the best beach on IM - but not many of its rooms are on the beach. We chose the Cabana rooms as they are quieter and a very short walk from the beach. Our upstairs room was $88 per night and had a nice private balcony with table and chairs and two loungers.

We were pleased with the room for the price (half of what we normally paid at Na Balam) and the service was non-plussed but not unpleasant. The location is super.

Our first order of business is always to change and hit the beach for lunch. We go to Sunset Grill for their grilled fish with garlic, and sitting in the sand with a cold cerveza, eating chips and salsa and waiting for lunch to arrive always serves as instant decompression from the stress of traveling for me!

After lunch and unpacking (and, I confess, a nap), we wandered around downtown for a few hours and ate dinner at Bamboo. They have a rice, pineapple, shrimp and cashew entree served in a hollowed half of a pineapple that I wait all year for... Always very good.

In the morning, I suggested we pack our snorkel gear and head down to the dock to go on one of the coop tours that leave between 9:30 and 10:30 am. This is an amazing deal as it is an almost all day affair and includes a great fish fry on the beach for $20 to $25 pp. Be sure your boat has shade (ask the person who sells you the package). They are cheaper to buy on the dock (from the guys in the coop T shirts) than from the "middlemen" on the beach.

BUT, if a fellow named Vicente (wears a ball cap and strolls the beach) offers you help with golf carts, snorkel tours, etc. he is trustworthy.

We agreed to pay an additonal $5 pp ($25 ttl ea.) to go also to Manchones Reef as we know Garrafon is bad and it was one of the stops.
The snorkeling at the lighthouse was excellent, and then off to Garrafon where we stayed on the boat and to Manchones which was very good. We got to see a turtle - always very cool. It was not afraid and we watched it for quite awhile.

Next stop was Playa Tiburon for beach time and a superb Tikan Xic (not sure of spelling) fish fry. This is just a not-miss experience. Playa Tiburon is a new beach club and has nice facilities. (The only thing I didn't care for was the captive nurse shark...)

The fish du day was grouper seasoned whith achiote and grilled over an open fire with rice, tortillas and cole slaw on the side. Fresh lime to squeeze over the fish and in your beer, toes in the sand and the Caribbean a short stroll away - sigh...
We arrived back in late afternoon after a fun-filled day.

The only other day we spent on an activity was the day we rented a golf cart and went whizzing around the island. This was great fun and I highly recommend it. We rented ours from Ciro for $40 for the day (ouch). It was in good shape and easy to use. There is only one MAIN road, so it is easy to find your way around.

We headed out of town and enjoyed the view of the water and the boats and the resorts. Our first stop was the turtle farm, and it was encouraging to see the conservation efforts. There's no organized presentation, so after about 40 minutes, we got back on the road.

Next was Playa Tiburon for a cerveza y tequila break (bathrooms too). We stayed there for a little while and headed on to Playa Lancheros to see what was happening there. More day-trippers. We stayed for a drink or two and moved on. It was a little overcrowded and touristy for our tastes.

We continued to the point of the island - enjoying glimpses of the families going about their daily business and the little vilages we passed.

Across from (awful, glitzy, overbuilt and tacky) Garrafon, we stopped for lunch at a delightful local place called El Pueblito. I had the ceviche and my husband had fish. Both were wonderful, and we enjoyed watching the owner's young son watering the plants.

On our trip back, we enjoyed fantasizing about buying one of the oceanview villas for sale and loved the cool breeze off the ocean. Back through town and returned the cart after a super day.

The main plan for the 6 days there was no plan, so beach lounging was the main activity. We noticed A LOT more people this year, so get there before it is overrun. The beach at Nautibeach and Na Balam had very bad erosion problems when we were there, but that can change quickly.

Na Balam is going to lose their customer base if they continue the new practice of offering their facilities and a lunch on a package basis for day-trippers.

We started to go there to rent their great futon-style beach loungers and maybe have lunch, and on two occasions, the whole entire beach and hotel were over-run by some kind of tour package people (at least 100 of them) that were loud and obnoxious. I would have been FURIOUS if I had been staying there. Very bad news for people who enjoy the (former) tranquility of that property.

Meals we really enjoyed were - breakfast: Cafe Cito, French Bistro, Jammin', Alexia y Giovannia (delish), La Cazuela M&J; lunch: El Pueblito, Sunset Grill, Sergio's, snorkel co-op; dinner: Bamboo, Angelo's (oh, the lasagna for 2), Cocktelias Picus, Manolo's.

Let me know if I can answer any questions, and I'll TRY to get the Tulum and PDC portions done soon! Happy travels!

Diana is offline  
Old May 6th, 2005, 07:19 AM
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thank you, Diana! I'm jealous, you seem to get a lot more travel time than me !

Since you travel a lot in the Carib, can you tell me your favorite travel spot so far?
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Old May 6th, 2005, 07:49 AM
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Hi frankie!

It depends on what I am thinking of when I think "favorite."

People - Jamaica, Tobago, Caribbean Mexico, Grenada, Nevis

Scenery - St Lucia, Nevis, Jamaica

Food - Bahamas, Caribbean Mexico, Jamaica

Beaches - Provo, Turks and Caicos; Isla Mujeres, Tulum; Negril, Jamaica

Diving - Cozumel, Turks and Caicos

Snorkeling - Cozumel, Virgin Gorda

Partying - BVI's, Nevis, Jamaica

I love so much about the whole region that it's hard to pinpoint a favorite.

I have to visit them all before I make a final decision!

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Old May 6th, 2005, 08:18 AM
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Thanks Diana...I like your point of view and detail. Can't wait to read more...
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Old May 6th, 2005, 10:35 AM
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Hi, Diana......I had a couple of questions for you about Isla Mujeres & Akumal. I have traveled quite a bit in the Caribbean and have been to many of the same islands as you noted in your list. We haven't been on a vacation lately where snorkeling is easily available and are considering IM and the Akumal area. I don't expect the snorkeling to compare to Bonaire, Cayman Islands or even St. John's but am looking for a place where we can snorkel off the shore or take a day trip as you described. Cancun is one of the few places we can fly direct from Columbus and I figure the trip will have to be less expensive than Provo or going back to St. John's. How does the snorkeling compare to those spots? I really want to stay at El Secreto for a few days...is that a nice location and close to Playa Norte? Do you think 4 days in IM and 4 days in Akumal would be a nice balance? I haven't been to Cozumel since the early 90's and am worried that the whole area is going to be overrun with tourists and cruise ships. We are thinking of going next February. Thanks for your help....Lori
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Old May 10th, 2005, 03:50 AM
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Hi Lori! (Sorry I just now saw this...)

The shore snorkeling on Isla Mujeres is not very good, but it is easy and inexpensive to get to the good spots via the snorkel co-op.

You can do good shore snorkeling in Akumal in Yalku Lagoon or Half Moon Bay. (It's not amazing, but it's good.)

There are numerous cenotes in the area - kind of new and different if you haven't done it.

Hotel Secreto is close to Playa Norte and is a very nice place.

I really think the only snorkeling that is as good as some of the other islands you mentioned is Cozumel, but we have stopped going there because we do feel it has become too touristy and the cruise ship days are just mayhem. (We went every year for 10+ years, but it is just out of hand!)

Might be worth a day trip over on the ferry from PDC though.

I think your plan of 4 on IM and 4 on Akumal is ideal.

Have a great time!
Diana is offline  
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