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Cozumel’s Punta Sur

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The Faro Cerlain Eco Park is the official name of the reserve which extends across the southern point of Cozumel, but most refer to it as the Punta Sur. Here, you’ll find one of the island’s best beaches, a lighthouse offering a tremendous view over the Caribbean, and a natural mangrove lagoon in which crocodiles dwell. We visited toward the end of our week in Cozumel.

The first (and last) thing you’re going to notice about the park is the horrifically pot-holed road which leads in and out. After fifteen minutes of neck-breaking bumps, you’ll find yourself at the Cerlain Lighthouse. Be careful if you decide to climb it… or at least more careful than me. I was jogging up, trying to beat Jürgen to the top, and smashed my head against the ceiling. So despite the bright daylight, the view I enjoyed from the top was full of stars.

After shaking off my concussion, we took a quick look into the small maritime museum on the bottom floor of the lighthouse, and then embarked on a boat ride around the lagoon. Just inland from the coast, a thick mangrove forest is home to a number of interesting birds, including kingfishers and pink spoonbills. It’s a birdwatcher’s paradise, but I was more concerned about watching the water, because the lagoon is filled with crocodiles. Just a few minutes after our tour began, we saw one… a huge beast, moving with terrifying agility.

The best part of Punta Sur is the beach found at the very end of the park, with great snorkeling at the nearby reef. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for this, and the water was too rough for swimming anyway. But we still had a great day out. It’s not the easiest place to get to, and that potholed road is no joke, but it’s worth the effort, particularly if you have an entire day to spend there.

Location on our Map

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December 17, 2013 at 12:14 am Comment (1)

El Cedral and Cozumel’s Eastern Coast

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The eastern coast of Cozumel is completely different to the west. It has none of the calm, crystal blue water, nor anywhere near the tourism. After stopping in at Cozumel’s original town, El Cedral, we took a short drive up the coast and ended at a rollicking bar named Coconuts.

El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast

To most visitors, Cozumel feels small. Its true size is obscured by the fact that almost all the sights and services are concentrated around San Miguel. But once you take the time to venture out of the city, the island reveals itself to be surprisingly large. The vast majority is uninhabited, and much of it is protected from further development by law.

Although ocean-front San Miguel has become the island’s biggest town, it’s not the only one, nor was it the first. We drove inland to visit El Cedral, where Cozumel’s original inhabitants settled down. Save a beautiful old church and a statue of a traditional dance which somehow involves a pig’s head on a platter, there’s not much there today, but it provides a nice reminder that Cozumel isn’t all cruise ships and scuba divers.

El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast

Past El Cedral, we came to the island’s eastern edge. The waters are rougher here, with craggy rocks lining the coast, and it’s not as favorable for snorkeling or swimming. We stopped at a few of the beaches, including one packed full of families sitting around coolers. This, it seems, is where Cozumeleños come to escape the crowds.

We ended our day on the eastern coast at Coconuts. Set atop a cliff overlooking the sea, this is the kind of place where the music is loud, the customers are foreign, and the atmosphere is drunk. Or the music is foreign, the atmosphere is loud and the customers are drunk. Idont’membrph. We had a blast here. Maybe after all the sight-seeing, we were ready for some fun. Maybe it was the crocodile they keep in a cage. Maybe it was the games.

When we entered, I saw a guy trying to swing a ring dangling from a string onto a bull’s horn. “I’ve been playing this game all night,” he said. “It’s impossible.” I took the ring from him and said, “Watch, I’ll hit it on my first try”. And I actually did! (Amazing in itself, since I’m terrible at games like this.) The bartender applauded and gave me a free tequila shot, and when I turned to celebrate with my new friend… he was gone. I scoured the restaurant, but the guy had vanished without a trace.

Within five minutes of entering the bar, I’d won a game of skill, drank tequila, made a friend and just as quickly lost him; it was an accurate preview of what would evolve into very boisterous night. By the time we took our leave, I’d done a couple more shots, drank more than a handful of beers, eaten a plate of delicious tacos, and had a long conversation with a death metal singer in perfect Spanish (at least, it sounded perfect to my inebriated ears). A fun evening out on a side of the island most people don’t get to see.

Location of El Cedral | Coconuts Beach Bar

-Best Way To Get Around Cozumel: Rent a Jeep!

El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
El Cedral and Cozumel’s Atlantic Coast
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December 13, 2013 at 1:19 am Comment (1)

Río Secreto

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A vast system of underground rivers flows through the limestone earth of the Yucatán Peninsula, with the largest found just south of Playa del Carmen. The Río Secreto allows visitors an exhilarating chance to walk, wade, and float through an extensive network of subterranean chambers.

Río Secreto is one of a number of attractions along the Riviera Maya promoting themselves as family-friendly theme parks. Despite rave reviews, we almost avoided it for this very reason. (A special adventure for the whole family in the Secret River? What are we, twelve?) But once we put away the glossy brochures and got past the front gates, the park revealed itself to be much more serious and interesting than expected.

After a bumpy bus ride to the site, we put on wet suits and helmets, and followed our guide into the woods. Soon, we had arrived at a gateway to the underworld. Illuminated perfectly by light filtering in from above, we entered into a mesmerizing cave full of stalactites whose reflections shone off the still blue water covering the ground. Although it has long been known to locals, Río Secreto was only discovered by the world at large in 2007, and was almost immediately made into a national park, which helps explain the immaculate condition of the caves.

For 90 minutes, we followed the river into vast chambers and underneath delicate, chandelier-like stalactite formations. Sometimes we’d wade, sometimes float, and occasionally the darkness was complete. Our guide once had us turn off our helmet lamps in order to experience being alone in pure, pitch blackness. But more often, there would be light shining through. The Maya considered these caves to be sacred, and it’s not hard to understand why. Their beauty is absolutely sublime, and their size is difficult to comprehend. Although our tour lasted 90 minutes, we saw only around 3% of the entire system.

At $69 USD per person ($99 if you need transport), Río Secreto isn’t among the cheapest entertainment options in the Yucatán, and I’m sure the high cost turns a lot of people off. Even more frustrating, a professional photographer who follows you into the cave will take some truly excellent pictures, but the CD costs another $99 USD (with the option to buy individual pictures at $25 a pop). Shameful. Still, we can’t recommend a trip to Río Secreto enough. We’ve visited a lot of the Earth’s special hidden corners, but this was among the most unforgettable.

Location on our Yucatán Map

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December 9, 2013 at 11:15 pm Comments (7)

Where to Eat in Puerto Morelos

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For such a small town, Puerto Morelos has a number of great places to grab a bite. There were a few we loved so much, we returned to them over and over again. Here are our favorites, and one that we would urge you to stay away from.

Our unofficial office for the week was at Restaurante La Pirata. When we’re traveling, it’s always difficult to find a comfortable place in which to work, so we were thrilled to discover La Pirata. Speedy internet, friendly service, and a pleasant and relatively quiet atmosphere. Great food, as well. Apart from our hotel and Wet Set, this is where we spent most of our time during the week. [Location]

To eat like a local, head to Mimi’s, where the tables are packed, decor is kept to a bare minimum, and the tostadas are delicious. Outrageously so. Seriously, outrageous. After biting into one of Mimi’s tostadas (which cost next to nothing, by the way), I was outraged. How dare they make something so good?! I was furious. Those incredible tostadas covered with insanely delicious beans and perfectly seasoned meat… damn you Mimi, where do you get off?! I’ll have three more. [Location]

For great value set lunches on weekdays, our favorite was Al Chile. For about $5 USD, you get an appetizer, main dish and drink. The place is cute and the food is great. And if you get sleepy after such a big lunch, grab a cup of the best coffee in town at nearby Cafe de Amancia, on the corner of the main plaza. [Location]

If you’re in the mood for amazing fish tacos, search out Caribe’s, a small and speedy cafe near the water. When we ate there, a group of kids was playing around our table and teasing us, but the fish tacos I was scarfing down were so good, I likely wouldn’t have noticed if they’d been smacking my head with baseball bats. [Location]

With so many good restaurants to choose from, you have no excuse to waste your time at Olé, on the “other side” of town away from the beach. Our hotel warned us that they have a reputation for ripping off foreigners, but we went anyway. It looked like such a cool little place! The food was alright, but unspectacular and, as warned, our bill was more than double what it should have been.

Great Place To Stay In Puerto Morelos

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December 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm Comment (1)

Learning How to Scuba Dive

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One reason Jürgen and I chose the Yucatán Peninsula as our home for 91 days was our desire to learn how to scuba dive. This is one of the best places in the world to do so. After some research, we decided on the four-day certification course offered by Wet Set, a scuba-diving shop found in Puerto Morelos.

We were introduced to scuba diving almost ten years ago, when we participated in a two-hour beginners-level course offered on a cruise ship. Being able to breathe underwater was an exhilarating experience; the course gave us a tantalizing sample of scuba diving, and we immediately wanted more. But the years passed by, and we never found ourselves in a position to properly learn.

Until now. Puerto Morelos was the perfect spot to complete our certification. Just offshore is the world’s second-longest reef, and the town itself is peaceful and quiet, ideal for studying. Most importantly, the pros at Wet Set couldn’t have been more helpful. This small shop near the Ojo de Agua Hotel, run by an American/Scottish husband and wife team, boasts a tremendously friendly and qualified staff.

Under the watchful, critical supervision of our instructor, Lisa, we went from clueless scuba newbies to certified divers in four days. Scuba is a lot more knowledge-based than I realized. There are a lot of facts and skills with which to become familiar. Now that I’m certified, I can tell you what nitrogen narcosis is and, without any problems, could calculate your post-dive pressure group. I can confidently assemble your diving equipment and communicate potentially important phrases like “I’m out of air, give me yours”, using my hands.

Of course, the classroom was just part of it. A huge chunk of our time was spent in the water, practicing and demonstrating necessary skills. Things like taking our masks off underwater, recovering our regulators, providing air to our buddies, ascending to the surface in one breath, and hovering mid-water without moving a limb. These skill checks were not just important, but kind of fun. Upon completing each, I felt a little less anxious about diving. It’s a relief when you know that you can now deal with a situation as serious as running out of air.

We made four dives as part of our course, visiting various spots along the reef. These initial underwater forays were split between fun and work; we had to practice specific tasks, but also had time to sight-see. We swam past a giant sea turtle, trumpet fish, and even found a moray eel staring at us from his cave. And with each dive, our confidence grew.

After four exhausting days, we received our Open Water Certifications with a feeling of accomplishment. If you’re looking for a great place to learn how to scuba dive, make your way to Puerto Morelos and find Wet Set. If you’re already certified, they offer good-value dives in various spots along the reef and, for those not into scuba, they do snorkeling, as well as something called “snuba” diving: a hybrid between scuba and snorkel.

Location of Wet Set on our Map
Wet Set – Website

Great Place To Stay In Puerto Morelos

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December 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm Comments (7)

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Cozumel's Punta Sur The Faro Cerlain Eco Park is the official name of the reserve which extends across the southern point of Cozumel, but most refer to it as the Punta Sur. Here, you'll find one of the island's best beaches, a lighthouse offering a tremendous view over the Caribbean, and a natural mangrove lagoon in which crocodiles dwell. We visited toward the end of our week in Cozumel.
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