Cozumel has always held a special place in my and Deidre’s hearts. We took our first trip together there, hatched our plan to move to the Riviera Maya there and, ultimately, got married there. So revisiting Cozumel for a couple days was a treat.
Cozumel is an island about 6 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen and is a world-renowned scuba diving destination because of its proximity to the second largest barrier reef system in the world and is also a major stop for most of the Caribbean cruise lines. We often watch the cruise ships entering and exiting port from our balcony.
This time getting to Cozumel didn’t involve a several hour plane ride, just a short 30 minute ferry ride. There are two companies that operate the Playa del Carmen – Cozumel route and you can catch one for about $12 one way, every hour, on the hour. The ferries are clean, comfortable and the full bar and sometimes live music can make it pretty entertaining as well.
We arrived on a lazy Sunday afternoon and checked into the lovely Villas Las Anclas, an awesome little hotel where we were treated like family. The owner even opened up his home and his fridge to us giving us a couple of beers from his own stash when he found out we didn’t realize the Sunday beer laws are different on the island versus the mainland. The entire staff was great and when they heard we were going to be on the island after the normal check out time they insisted that we leave our bags in our villa and take full use of the shower and any other amenities we needed – no charge – before we got back on the ferry home. That kind of hospitality is pretty common here and one of the many reasons we love Mexico.
Cozumel is a port of destination for many of the cruise lines, and a lot of businesses in town depend on the influx of tourists to stay in business. From my perspective, Cozumel has an almost Jekyll and Hyde persona. When cruise ships are in port the restaurants are full, all shops are open and the streets are teeming with people. Some of the tourists are great, some are a nuisance, but they infuse much needed cash into the local economy. When the cruise ships depart in the evening or there is a day with no ships in port, Cozumel is a very different town. This is what makes Sunday evenings in Cozumel so special. A six day work week is the norm here, Sunday is a day off for most people, so for locals, it’s a day to spend with family and friends. The main Plaza area (think town square) is transformed into a giant open air party. There is a stage with live music, street performers, street vendors selling every type of food imaginable (and some I’d never imagined before), and sidewalk cafes full of laughing, smiling people enjoying themselves as we all do on our day off.
The atmosphere is great with entire families entertaining themselves by joking with the kids, watching one of the dozens of people dancing with fire or practicing their break dancing, having a cold cerveza or a warm plate of hot cakes with honey and in general, just relaxing and enjoying the evening.
Once the band takes the stage and the day’s heat has dissipated the dancing starts and the party can begin! It’s great to see everyone from day laborers to well-dressed elders to children to the occasional tourist out on the dance floor strutting their stuff. While it’s a place to see and be seen it’s not a judgmental place. Everyone is welcome – as long as you’re having a good time.
We spent a great evening strolling through the plaza and soaking in the fiesta that was happening all around us but eventually it had to end – we had plans.
Two of our oldest friends (not age wise but length of friendship wise) and their family were coming to town on one of the cruise ships and we had plans to meet them in the morning. Once they arrived we met up with them at Playa Uvas for a day of snorkeling from a catamaran and just enjoying each other’s company.
In 2005 two Category 5 hurricanes struck Cozumel with massive force and obliterated many of the shallower reefs. Since these reefs only grow a few centimeters a year the Mexican government has stepped in with a little helping hand and has created hundreds (if not thousands) of artificial reef structures to promote coral growth and provide fish habitat. These reefs are extremely important for healthy oceans so it’s great to see these things in action, it looks a little weird but it is working and the fish and coral stocks are rising each year.
Although the reef will take many years to fully recuperate there are still plenty of fish in the sea (see what I did there?) and many are very friendly – especially if you’re holding a bit of watermelon in your hand.
It was great spending a day on the water, enjoying the snorkeling and warming up in the sun but watermelon could only hold us over for so long and soon it was time to eat! Everybody wanted to try some of the local fare so we headed to Sabores, an excellent local place run by a family out of their home. As is common in smaller, locally owned places, we had to walk through the kitchen and into the backyard where we found our seats in the shade. They started us with the best vegetable soup I’ve ever had, followed by some excellent ceviche prepared with fresh conch, mahi mahi and shrimp with homemade chips. Most of us were already full by then but when the heaping platters of roasted chicken, Poc Chuc (a mayan dish of orange juice marinated pork), tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas arrived, you bet we found room for them! It was an excellent meal including soup, ceviche, main courses for eight people and several rounds of beers and soft drinks for about $80 U.S., hard to beat!
As much as we would have liked to keep our friends here with us, they had to get back to the ship and we had to catch the ferry and get back to the real world here in Playa del Carmen. We had an awesome time catching up with both our friends and Cozumel but it’s nice to be home. As they say where we’re from “There’s no place like home”.
Do you have a special place that you return to time and again?