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Diving Alternatives in Cozumel – Things to Do on Land

Hola. I have now had several friends, friends-of-friends, and even a recent friendly stranger, reach out to me and ask for advice on things to do here in Cozumel, especially for those who don’t dive. I’ve sent lists of various ideas, what’s kind of become my personal ‘short list’ of ACTIVITIES and FOOD that I enjoy here on the island on my dry days. I figured it might be worth sharing in a post, so here goes.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, and there are new things I discover every day, but I think it’s a good start. But please, ask questions and add to the comments section, below – I’m more than happy to answer and can continue to update with ideas and information.

 

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Street Art. It’s cool and it’s everywhere. RS2016

ACTIVITIES:

  • The Museum / Museo de Isla Cozumel – small, but a nice visit to learn about the history and geography of the Island, plus they often have at least one temporary exhibit of local artists, smaller history stories, etc. It also has a cafe on the second floor that lots of people say is great for breakfast and lunch – sunny, facing the water, etc.

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    El Museo RS2016

 

 

 

  • The Planetarium – Cháan Káan. New facility and seems really well done. They have constant programming, new exhibits, and lots and lots of good feedback. Interest for all ages. Movies, etc. (I haven’t gone yet, but plan to any day now…).
  • San Gervasio – the ruins.  A small-mid size ruins site on Cozumel Island. Fascinating history, lovely well run site, with parking and amenities. It is well worth a trip, and something you can likely do for an hour or two, leaving time for a few other stops.  Such as…
  • Rent a car and drive to “The Other Side” of the island – over to the Eastern shore – gorgeous, easy drive, stunning beach views, little places to stop to eat, drink, buy some souvenirs that are (usually) more handmade – you can see one woman making textiles and embroidered things, e.g. – and less expensive. Really, though, the goal on the other side is to have a remote, sunny, lazy beachy kind of day. It’s beautiful.
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    RS2016

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    RS2016

  • The Temazcal Sweat Lodge  I did this with a friend – it’s a traditional Mayan ceremonial sweat lodge. A very nice and knowledgeable guy runs it. We were picked up at our hotel (Casa del Mar – my favorite hotel on the Island, and frequent home away from home) and went out to the jungly site. There, we had a short, relaxing introduction to the history and
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    RS2016

    traditions of sweat ceremonies (worldwide, and Mayan-specific), and then were guided through the motions of the ceremony – first saluting the 4 main elements, and then entering the honest-to-goodness sweat lodge for another hour or so of sweating and guided…thinking and thanking, etc. And it is definitely sweaty, but not as oppressively hot as I feared it might be. Afterward you immediately plunge into a cool, natural cenote on the grounds, and wind down, and then are taken back to your hotel. It’s really quite cool. And my body and skin felt great afterward – extra bonus.

  • Walk all through town and take pictures and try snacks and poke around – I still do this all the time. The sights and sounds, colorful buildings, flowering trees, the people – all delight.
    Fruit at Market RS2016

    Fruit at Market RS2016

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    RS2016

    I can point you to specific things if you are interested – the municipal town market (produce, meat, fish, lunch counters, some local pottery, etc.), a nice bakery, a cool chocolate maker, high-end jewelry, local tacos and food, – whatever you like yourself, ask and I’ll do my best.

  • Snorkeling, swimming, SUP (stand-up paddle-board), beach clubs, fishing charters, there is parasailing available, jet skis to rent here and there, bicycle and scooter rentals, and so on – there are lots of outdoor activities for non-divers in Cozumel.
  • There is a really nice and modern, but inexpensive, movie theater, (click here for shows, times, and language info) where features shown after 7pm are usually offered in English. There are typically 6-8 current movies showing each day. (It hardly rains here, at least for long, but you never know…you might just need a break from the abundant sunshine.)
  • Whenever in doubt, find a spot by the water, grab a drink and take in one of Cozumel’s free, spectacular sunsets. Each one seems prettier than the last.
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RS2016

FOOD:

  • I’ve started to do some fuller reviews on TripAdvisor (see here), but in the meantime, here’s a short list of local favorites: Otates (for tacos, tortas, and their famous Pozole), El Pique (great tacos, open after 6), El Foco (tacos, burritos, etc.), Cuatro Taco (sl. ‘elevated’ tacos, and closer to Melgar (the main drag).Beyond these, though, there are tons of other great little taco joints and welcoming family-run places that serve delicious traditional Yucatan-style food – all of which are good. I have literally never had a bad meal in Cozumel. All the people are nice and fun, and the prices and value cannot be beat.
  • La Perlita is also a great local fish restaurant, and they specialize in preparing the invasive Lionfish – the fish itself is truly delicious, and eating out becomes a good deed – you’d be helping the ongoing effort to rid the coral reefs of this dangerous species by creating a stronger consumer market.  (And to learn more about the Lionfish issue, start here.)

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    RS2016

  • El Billi (or “Billy the Griller”) – an open fire grill full of delectable grilled meats (chicken, poc chuc, chorizo, ribs, kebab), potatoes, and onions, and served family style with hot img_2953homemade salsa, beans, rice, slaw and tortillas. Awesome, über-casual ‘joint’ deeper into town. Oh my god is it good – especially if you’re really hungry. Order the mixed grill for the number of people you’re with, and chow down!

 

 

  • There are also several Italian restaurants – at least 3-4 I’ve liked and gone to over and over: Guidos (pronounced ‘geedos’ in Español), Rolandis, New Especiales, and La Cocay.
  • I’ve had several lovely and delicious meals at nouveau Mexican restaurants that have really pretty settings in lush gardens and patios, great salads and fish dishes, and so on – try Kondesa, Kinta, Jacinta, and a few others.
  • For an awesome café-style lunch or dinner, go to Le Chef. They are renowned for their Lobster Club sandwich, and it truly is a must-try. (lobster, bacon, cheese…holy cow) It is the best lobster sandwich I’ve ever had. (and I’m from the New England shoreline!)
  • Finally, my absolute favorite, Local 707. This place is small, so you definitely need reservations (easy via Facebook), but it is awesome –  I finally got in there, and now I’ve gone about 8 times, and plan to go a lot more. Delicious, friendly, cool, interesting. It can get pricey if you try lots of different things (and wine), but a) you’re going to want to and b) it is truly very reasonable, especially for what magic they’re doing in that kitchen. I love it.

Seasonal:

Depending on when you visit, there are many special events going on in Cozumel all year.

Carnival RS2016

Carnival RS2016

In February, the awesome Carnival parade runs through town – floats, costumes, dancing, and fun. It’s a true spectacle.

In May, there is an annual fishing tournament that draws thousands of participants, and the stakes are big!

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Ironman Half Men’s Champ 2016. RS2016

In the early fall, there are now several world championship level triathlon events, including the Ironman Cozumel Half in October, and the Ironman Full in November.

(There are several more events, nearly each month – ask and I’ll find out for you!)

 

 

So there you have it – a first batch of suggestions, at least.  There’s really more and more to find all the time.  So what did I forget?  What other kinds of things do you want to do? Let me know if you have specific questions on anything, too – I’ll respond asap.

Gracias!
Rachel

Diving Cozumel: the Splendid Toadfish

It had been far too long since I had been scuba diving in Cozumel, so I couldn’t wait to go a few weeks ago (March 2015), and it certainly did not disappoint–especially after this long, cold winter in the Northeast.

Of course, we had our typically wonderful welcome at Casa del Mar, a lovely and friendly resort specializing in dive travel. Plus, it was my first time diving with Cozumel Marine World – a newer dive operation established and run by local experts and good friends who know the Cozumel and Palancar reef areas like the backs of their hands.

As usual, Cozumel was fantastic. We saw many spotted eagle rays – probably on 4 or 5 different dives – and lots of turtles, grouper, nurse sharks, and other large fish.  We even had dolphins swimming with the boat on the first day – always a bonus.

ERAY FACE RS2015MAR

Eagle Ray Face RS2015MAR

More so than usual, though, this time I found myself really focused in on the tiniest critters.  It seemed like there were arrow crabs everywhere I looked, and I got my first decent shot of a pretty little anemone shrimp.

Anemone Shrimp CZM RS2014MAR

Anemone Shrimp CZM RS2015MAR

Arrow Crab RS2015MAR

Arrow Crab RS2015MAR

 

 

 

 

 

 

A trip there also wouldn’t really be complete without a sighting of the endemic Cozumel Splendid Toadfish. I couldn’t find a great source today online, but according to Wikipedia:

The splendid toadfish, Sanopus splendidus, also called the coral toadfish and the Cozumel splendid toadfish is a species of toadfish entirely endemic to the island of Cozumel. Commonly found under coral outcroppings. Dens can be spotted by the sloping sand patch. They are very difficult to coax out in the open.

I’ve seen them before, but these guys turned into the real diving highlight of this trip, for me.  Not only did we see a bunch throughout the week in their typical little hiding spots, like this:

Cozumel Splendid Toadfish RS2015MAR

But on the week’s night dive, our skilled dive masters, Paulino and Jeremiah, also found one out swimming around, fully exposed, so we could see its unique patterning and coloration. We all spent a good, long time with the fish, getting a good look at its markings.  Just beautiful.  I didn’t have my camera that night, but am still hoping we might get a picture from a fellow diver on the boat (a new acquaintance who I’m not in touch with, so…I’m actually not too hopeful…), but then again, I have the memory burned in my brain.  In the meantime, here’s an example of this beautiful fish:

Beautiful Splendid Toadfish; source unknown

Beautiful Cozumel Splendid Toadfish; online-source unknown

That sighting pretty much made our whole night.

Bottom line is, though, any trip to Cozumel is always fun, and packed with great diving, great reefs, and great people. Especially our friends at Cozumel Marine World and Casa del Mar.

I already miss being there, so here’s looking forward to the next one.  Gracias, gracias, gracias.

Diving the Shark Cages: Isla Guadalupe, MX

Best chomp shot, RS 2014Oct

Best chomp shot RS2014Oct

That picture pretty much sums it up! After a lot of anticipation, and a loooonng – but fun – trip from NYC to Guadalupe Island, we were in the cages and getting some fantastic photo ops with the great Tiburón Blanco!  A once in a lifetime adventure…that I hope to do again, someday.

Isla Guadalupe is definitely off the beaten path.  Once in San Diego, we took a 2-3 hour road trip south across the Mexican border, down the Baja coast to the marina, and boarded our live-aboard vessel, The Sea Escape, around Noon.

The Sea Escape RS2014OCT

The Sea Escape RS2014OCT

It was mid-afternoon once we were settled, cleared by the harbor authorities, and underway. From there, we enjoyed a beautiful, all-day ride on the open ocean and toward the setting sun, followed by a lovely dinner provided by the chef and his assistant, and a perfectly good but undeniably cramped night’s sleep (please listen to advice when you go: do not pack a lot.  It’s unnecessary, and only leads to sharing your tiny top bunk with a half-full duffel bag.)

Not a bad way to wake up - Isla Guadalupe approach RS2014OCT

Not a bad way to wake up – Isla Guadalupe RS2014OCT

We were all champing at the bit to get into those cages, so we geared up and with the help of the awesome Sea Escape crew, were in the water and ready for some Great White action!

That's me - very excited!  2014OCT

That’s me – very excited! 2014OCT

Awesome crew, awesome fishermen, muy guapos RS2014OCT

Awesome crew, awesome fishermen RS2014OCT

 

 

 

 

 

First Encounter! RS2014OCT

First Encounter! RS2014OCT

Unfortunately, that first encounter, shown above, was the last for the first day.

And the second day…

Turns out, there were some environmental factors conspiring against us. We were lucky not only to have a top-notch dive operation aboard the Sea Escape, but some visits by a well-known marine scholar in the area, who was busy with various research tasks–including checking in on the two dive boats at Guadalupe that day.

Dr. Mauricio Hoyos Padilla is the founder and Executive Director of Pelagios Kakunjá, a marine conservation organization based in La Paz, MX, that studies the migratory marine species in the Mexican Pacific. He came on board and treated us to a lesson on the local great white sharks of Guadalupe.  Mauricio gave us a power-point presentation on general GWS biology and behavior, showed photos of the local sharks and explained how to identify them by their various markings, and so on.  He also let us know that the lack of activity that week was very likely due to the recent storm in the area.  The storm created warmer surface waters than the sharks typically respond to, and had also churned up the ocean a bit more, so the visibility was lower than normal; Great white sharks are quite visual, so they couldn’t necessarily see the nice big tuna and yellowtail being served up by our crew.  Those conditions were probably contributing to the local sharks hanging out way down deep – and not circling our cages.

The cages we had traveled so far to climb into, and that we only had for one last day!

Well…luckily, the last day was well worth the wait!  We saw at least 7-8 different great whites, perhaps more. They came early in the morning, and treated all of us to a constant show, all day long.  It was such an incredible thing to see, and from virtually all angles – they swim below you, above you, around you, under the boat – which gives a pretty awesome sense of scale so you can understand their large size (many we saw were in the 15-16 foot range).  The crew kept up their incredibly skilled pole fishing, too, so we got to see a lot of surging, chomping and wrestling with those big fish.  Truly a breathtaking thing to watch, up close and personal.

Good bite shot RS2014OCT

Good bite shot RS2014OCT

Best Crew RS2014OCT

Best Crew (and Donnie) RS2014OCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, none of this would’ve been possible without the beloved Ocean Horizons Scuba in Brooklyn, NY, and the wonderful work and guidance of our dive master, Antonio Aguilar.  I also loved the Sea Escape from La Paz’s Club Cantamar, and want to give thanks to the whole crew–for their masterful skill and service, and their fun and camaraderie.

This is a true diving must, at least once in your life.  I’ll certainly never forget it.

Guadalupe RS2014OCT

Guadalupe RS2014OCT

Next up – a return to lovely Cozumel, at long last.

Thanks for reading!

Diving the Donations: Baja Sur and Hurricane Odile

Just a quick post while I’m thinking of the residents of Cabo, La Paz, and all of Baja Sur – who could surely use our help after the recent destruction by Hurricane Odile.

I was scheduled to travel for a second time to beautiful La Paz, MX, this coming weekend for a week of awesome diving with a group of friends – and of course with sea lions, large schools of fish, and a lot of hearty ‘small stuff’:

01 SEA LIONS OPP 2

Sea lions, La Paz, MX 2012

A pretty hefty sea horse.  La Paz, 2012.

A pretty hefty sea horse. La Paz, 2012.

Swarmed

Swarmed. Big schools in the Sea of Cortez. La Paz, 2012

Sadly, those plans have changed due to the storm a couple of weeks back.  The Cabo airport is still closed, power is not fully restored, potable water is a problem in places, etc.  Selfishly, I’m very disappointed, of course, but have also been looking around the web for advice on how to help the folks who live there.  The short version: It comes down to the ease and versatility of the almighty dollar.  (Donating “stuff” is well-meaning, but rarely effective in the long run.)

I won’t be fortunate enough to spend my tourist dollars there, so I figure I’ll still send some of the green stuff by making donations to disaster relief efforts.

Now, I’m not “pushing” for these organizations, but after consulting a number of articles and organizations on-line, these two seem like pretty good options to me, so I just figured I’d pass along the info.  Here are two reputable sites that offer donation services:

The International Community Foundation programs in Baja Sur

The Mexican Red Cross via the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

And, if you ever get a chance to dive (and spend some dough) in the La Paz area, take it!
It’s a beautiful place with great diving conditions in the Sea of Cortez, and a ton of sea life you don’t see every day.  I really enjoyed my stay at Club Cantamar and had a lot of fun and wonderful dive masters from their Baja Dive Services.  Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 10.32.46 AM

Here’s to the people of Baja Sur – wishing them all a speedy recovery.

sea lions

Divine. La Paz, MX. 2012

Next up:  Great Whites in Guadalupe!