Tag Archives: Invasive Species

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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  • 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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    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.
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    Fruit at Market RS2016

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    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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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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  • 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.

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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 the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef: Roatan, part I

My first SCUBA diving destination trip was in 2006 to Roatan, the “big island” of the 3 Bay Islands in Honduras.

honduras-bay-islands1

from www.Honduras.org

It was a very cool locale to do my check-out dives, and then roll right into my first week of boat diving.  I was able to build on that initial momentum and improve my fledgling skills, while surrounded by a fun bunch of skilled – and generous (and opinionated) – divers. (Good advice, PB!)

So I had finally scored my NAUI Open Water Certification, was on my first big trip, and was very happy. But I was so focused on new skills, not making a fool of myself, not dying, and the new people I was meeting, I didn’t pay close attention to the place, itself. 

That said, a few great things stood out immediately:

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AKR View from Bar 2006

The dive operation at the well-known Anthony’s Key Resort was very good (not that I had anything to compare it to at that point, but my seasoned pals were impressed), and set in a beautiful landscape.

ROATAN AK LAUNCH BOAT DIVE DOCK 2006

Shot from Bungalow AKR 2006

We were situated right along the Roatan Marine Park (RMP) so each day we paid our park fees and received our bracelet tags – as in many marine protected areas (MPA), these need to be displayed on your wrist or your BC at all times to show that you have permission to dive there.  This system helps the RMP in its mission to “protect and provide a healthy and sustainable marine environment off Roatan.”

I was also reassured to know that we were steps away from the only re-compression chamber (or hyperbaric chamber) in the area, at Anthony’s Key’s own Cornerstone Recompression Chamber and Clinic.  In partnership with DAN, the chamber is available to commercial and recreational divers, and in turn, the wider clinic provides general medical care to the local community, who might otherwise not have access to treatment.

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My first dive site map 2006

May 15, 2006.  It’s hard to describe my first “real” dives, descending over dense coral walls and through the spectacular coral canyons along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) – the second largest barrier reef in the world.

Everywhere I looked I saw one more beautiful, weird, creepy, funny, intriguing thing after the next.  It felt like the closest thing I could imagine to being in space – exploring an environment that I couldn’t comprehend until I was in it.

I wasn’t tuned in to the state of the MBRS (a.k.a. the Great Mayan Reef) back then, but I remember a lot of the other divers talking to the dive masters about it, and being cautiously but pleasantly surprised by what seemed like good size and density of the corals.

They were relieved, I learned, because much of the reef had been badly damaged about eight years earlier, by a double-whammy of weather conditions. First, El Nino effects caused sustained ocean temperature rise and resultant, widespread coral bleaching in 1997-98. Then the destructive Hurricane Mitch struck in October of 1998.  [For more on this period, check out this 2001 report from the United States Geological Survey.]

As for the current state of the MBRS, now another eight years later, I found a good resource in the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and their frequent “Report Cards” that assess the situation. 2012-RC-cover-straight

I’ve been reading their clear and thorough Mesoamerica Barrier Reef’s HRI Report Card from 2012.

As anticipated, the news is not good.

Like coral reefs world-wide, the MBRS suffers the very common but serious problems of:

  1. Urbanization and over-development on land
  2. Ocean acidification leading to coral bleaching (that’s climate change, people)
  3. Over fishing and by-catch depletion
  4. Marine debris from litter and run off
  5. Chemical pollution and marine oil leaks

And then another great threat is our ol’ frenemy, the Indo-Pacific red lionfish, a dastardly invasive species that has spread widely, and increasingly threatens marine ecosystems in the Caribbean and the Eastern U.S.

Pretty but Unwelcome!

Pretty but Unwelcome! Cozumel circa 2010 RS

These beauties live harmoniously in Indo-Pacific Ocean environs, but are now wreaking havoc in places where they don’t belong.  Stay tuned for more on the lionfish problem.

I’ll also have more to come on my (limited) experience in Roatan, but for now – if you have a chance to dive the Bay Islands, definitely take it.  It is a beautiful part of the world, with great diving and important marine conservation initiatives going on, but the reef is in trouble.  (Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s already an “it” market for U.S. & Euro expats to (over)develop, so…better get a move on!)

Have any of you been to Roatan recently?  Or maybe to Utila and Guanaja?  What was your experience?   Please leave a reply – I’d love to know the latest.

Thanks!  Until next time.

 

UPDATE: On Feb. 27, 2014, I came across a new article in Marine Science Today.  The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) has recently released a new report on the state of the Mesoamerican Reef System.  Here’s a quote from this article:

The Eco-Audit revealed that encouraging progress has been made on some issues, particularly with marine protected areas, but the overall pace of implementation of management actions is far too slow.  Since the last Eco-Audit in 2011, 80 percent of the 22 indicators measured in both 2011 and 2014 had no changes; only 18 percent increased. If this pace continues, it will take 50 years to fully implement all of the recommended management actions, which is too long for reefs that are already in danger.