We used USA Transfers and were on Isla exactly fifty minutes after locating our driver at the airport.
Hotel Paraiso (booked through Islabudgetrentals.com) located a little out of the thick of it, next to the navy base was very pleasant for $50 per night in January. Could not understand why there were so many vacant rooms.
The aggressive nature of the vendors and restaurateurs was our single biggest dislike on Isla. We appreciate how competitive it must be for them, but it was a bit annoying for us.
Next time we would stay out of town, someplace like La villa Bella (which we visited for drinks) or the NEW Mar Y Sol. We like a little more peace and quite, though we would still visit Centro for dinner or to visit Sergio's Beach Club.
Yes, Sergio's Beach Club is everything it was promised to be and more! Great service, good drinks, decent food and a great location right on the corner of Playa sol and Playa Norte. Also it is reasonably quiet, except when the Cancun day trip tours arrive and they crank the music somewhat.
Can someone please help prevent some of these tour sharks from exploiting these helpless day trippers! some people we met on our flight back from Cancun, who were based there and visited Isla on day trips felt so ripped off on their tours, they vowed never to make a full vacation to Isla.
Our favorite place to hang out in Centro was Cafe Mogagua, which also gets our award for coolest T-shirts!
Our second favorite coffee shop was Cafe Hidalgo with coffee, crepes and croissants to die for.
Best Mojito was at Victor's Viva Cuba Libre (2 for 60 pesos) and El Patio was number two.
Best outdoor Centro dining was at El Patio.
Other great dining experience took place at French Bistro (Coq au Vin to die for), Rolandi (ice cream cake flambee), Comono (this is how Chili should be made) and Victor's Cuba Libra.
Biggest dining disappointment: Olivia's. Beautiful place, but food was for us overrated. Maybe we just didn't hit it on a good night (for us or them). Also the atmosphere of other garden settings such as El Patio was more inviting for us.
Best ice cream: Cool on Hidalgo. Their banana is the best single flavor I have ever tasted.
Best lower island eating and ambiance experience was at Tikin Xic Playa Lancheros.
Our favorite characters on Isla.
Most memorable characters on Isla: the cats, the lady who feeds the cats at night and the black dog one often finds near La Lomitas. Also "Roger" at Sergio's. He's the king of Playa Sol.
Most unexpected sight: The morning parade at the navy base we could see from our hotel room.
single most important purchase prior to visiting Isla: Mapchick's Maps are worth their weight in gold. If we had purchased one BEFORE we booked our hotel, we would likely have had a simple beach front rental lower down on the island.
My recommended way to spend a morning or afternoon. Rent a bike at David's and ride around the island, taking a few minutes to take in the sights and sounds of the Colonias. Stop for a drink (just one) at Oscar's which also has a very real island atmosphere to it.
Would we return to Isla? Probably, but next time we'll seek quieter refuge. For 2011 we return to Puerto Morelos. It's not a beautiful or as interesting as Isla, but it's got a more laid back vibe to it and the vendors wait for you to show interest in their wares.
I will also be posting individual reviews on many of the establishments we visited.