I was in Mexico for over 2 weeks in May. I first spent 3 days on Isla alone, then followed by 5 days in Cozumel and 8 days back on Isla with the husband. It was my 3rd time traveling to this area this year, but the husband's first. I've spent 33 days in Mexico this year, about 20 days on Isla.
For the first time, I did not book any transfers and decided to arrange it when I landed. I asked about a Bestday transfer at the airport counter before the exit but it was $20 one way, $35 return (rip-off, usual price is $17 return) so I moved on. I knew I could take the bus for only a fraction of that so I made my way to the ADO bus. On my way there, many vendors tried to sell me a ticket. The first guy looked official and was charging $10 for the bus ticket so I told him no and kept walking to the ADO counter where the girl sold me a ticket for 54 pesos, still 6 pesos more than the advertised online price but closer to the real price than the previous offers. My advice: buy from the little counter right beside the bus, that’s where you will get the real price. It was a comfortable air-conditioned ride to the Cancun Centro. Once in the Centro, I took a 60 pesos cab ride to Puerto Juarez. The usual price is 50 pesos, I told the driver I knew he was charging more than usual but it was okay as he was catching me on a good day. :)
I decided to stay at La Vida Dulce Casitas for the first 3 nights and was very happy with my choice (you can read my review for more info). It was a great place for someone traveling alone as the hosts were friendly but not obtrusive. I felt like I was staying in someone’s house without feeling like I was in their way. I really liked their palapa rooftop area, the hamacs, dipping pool and let’s be honest, I was crazy about that cute cat they have... VDC is clean, very well appointed and has great wifi, free ice. They also make a VoIP phone available to you for calls to US and Canada for free.
I spent my first few days going for walks, snorkeling at the Avalon beach, reading under the palm trees of Playa Sol and picking new places to eat (tried Poc Chuc and Bally Hoo’s for the first time, both great and also tried Tortilla Maya and Minino’s, less great). I bought a lot of meals ‘para llevar’ to bring back to the great palapa roof or my apartment of VDC. I also played poker with the Isla Poker Club (look them up on Facebook, they play twice a week). I was offered to rent 1 chair / umbrella as I walked the Playa Norte with prices varying between 50 pesos to 80 pesos without much negotiating. It was much so much slower than a month ago.
After 3 days, I went back to the airport (using ADO again) to meet up with the husband and off we went to Cozumel for the honeymoon part of our trip (we stayed at Cozumel Palace, I can’t begin to describe how much we enjoyed that hotel).
5 blissful pampered days later, we took the Playa Del Carmen- Cancun Centro ADO bus back to Isla (about 45 pesos, 1h30 long, leaving every 20 minutes.... great service). The taxi driver at Cancun Centro wanted 80 pesos to go to Puerto Juarez but quickly dropped to 60 when I told him I knew what the price really was.
I won’t name or comment on the next place I stayed at. It wasn’t for me but it would be so unfair to give it a negative review. It lacked things that are really important to me but may not be to other people. I should have asked more questions and researched more. The management was so nice and really concerned about addressing the issues we brought up and I believe they were mostly isolated to our unit. I know they have loyal repeat visitors.
For our first meal, I decided to bring hubby to Bally Hoo’s. The waiter asked if I wanted fish tacos and a Pacifico, exactly what I ordered the only time I had ever been there. I couldn’t believe it. Martial has an impressive memory!
We spent a day at the Fenix Beach Club. Husband liked the big beds, the wifi reaching all the way to them, the big tasty nachos and the well-priced beer. We were not charged for the bed as we spent over 200 pesos.
That day, the HSBC atm on Medina refused a withdrawal, stating insufficient funds and produced a slip saying incomplete transaction. I skyped my bank from Fenix and the funds were withdrawn from my account. I now have to sort it out. Always keep receipts. Next time, I’m sticking to my usual strategy, carry enough cash for the trip and leave it in the safe.
Did a golf cart day (rented from Ciro’s... I sat down, the guy recognized me and said ‘you know how to drive this’. I asked if they finally found the key to the scooter and turns out they did - story here - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g150810-i360-k5322978-Long_trip_report_Isla_with_kids_and_grandparents-Isla_Mujeres_Yucatan_Peninsula.html).
Spent a day diving with Carey’s Dive shop. Good experience, saw a turtle at least 5 feet long, Isla has less impressive coral and walls than Cozumel but much more fish life and the shallower dives were good for photography (we have a Panasonic DMC-TS3 that we can take on dives less than 40ft). It seems like turtle mating season is starting so we saw quite a few. Only weird thing, no one ever asked to see our certification... I guess they just trusted the info we wrote down on our forms.
We ended up going on the whale shark tour, it was not a success, sadly. Details here tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g150810-i360-k5417… The only thing I should add about this is we were hesitating between the tour offered by Carey’s Dive shop (which ended up being Ceviche Tours) and the vendor on Hidalgo near Lola Valentina (the one who has a little office). The vendor had pictures of his boats and after getting splashed all day, I know we would have been better off on one of those (more shelter). Can’t remember the name but it was a burgundy colored boat. At Carey’s, all we asked was if it was like the dive boat and were told no. Well, it was exactly like the dive boat, but with a tiny bathroom. Again, did not ask enough questions....
It was my husband’s first time on Isla and it was interesting to see it through his newbie eyes. His favourite meals were fish tacos at Mango Cafe and fish tacos at Bally Hoo’s. He also liked the Margarita Rocas and the hospitality of Romy at the Posada Del Mar, the chilli-lime mangoes sold on the street and the fresh orange juice of the Sunday market. He could not believe how much people talk about TA everywhere. He thought the island had a true Mexican feel.
Now for my likes and dislikes.... What I liked less
- The bugs. OMG, the bugs. For the first time, cockroaches were abundant. I had one on my table at a restaurant that shall remain nameless. While I was eating at another, a 3 inches-long one (biggest one I had ever seen) climbed along the steel curtain of the nearby closed restaurant and found its way in. There were dead ones on the street, a few in the place we rented (not at Vida Dulce)... I was raised in a totally cockroach-free area but have lived in Sydney, Australia, for a few years, where they are ‘normal’. Yet, I just can’t get used to them. I had never seen them on Isla on my previous January and April trips, I imagine they are also more present as the weather gets hotter. I ended up leaving the island earlier as they were just getting to me, it would ruin my appetite to see cockroaches while I ate (and that’s my favourite activity on Isla)... I admit I have a very low tolerance to them. I know I'm the biggest wimp, I would be curious to hear people’s opinions on that one... Do they bother you?
- The heat... So hot and humid... I guess the ideal Isla weather for me is perhaps somewhere between mid-January and mid-April.
- I was underwhelmed by the cochinita pibil from the Sunday market. The CP I had in Puerto Morelos seemed so much better. Only the man on the left stall had some, the lady on the right was sold out.... maybe that was the issue....
What I liked:
- That people are starting to know me... Which also lead to interesting encounters and conversations. I am starting to know the stories and the faces of Isla a little bit and feel even more at home.
- The diving, I am going to do more of that on my future island trips. Very affordable too, almost half the price of Cozumel at $65, equipment included.
I’ll leave you with some bits of Isla wisdom I’ve accumulated over these past trips:
- Determine your priorities and ask a lot of questions if you are going to commit to a place you’ve never been to for many days.
- Unlike others, I get bug bites all the time at sundown mostly at Romy’s bar. His stiff margaritas are numbing my ability to feel the bites I guess. AfterBite is my best friend.
- As much Spanish as you can put together and a huge smile will get you a long way. There is a great lonely planet iPhone application that translates entire sentences even when you are offline.
- Don’t trust the atm. I had cards from 2 different banks and either the chip could not be read or the money was not coming out. Thankfully, my credit card worked for money withdrawal... It was my last option.
- Pack minimally. The island is so casual that you’ll end up wearing the same shorts/sandals/camis all the time and you can get them laundered for so cheap (they will smell awesome too). Don’t bring the ‘just in case’ stuff... Anything you may need unexpectedly you can find at Chedraui for a very decent price.
- The Mexican bus services are awesome. Great economical comfortable way to travel.
So, that’s it for me until at least late Fall as far as Isla is concerned (I start my intense work season next week). I hope some of these details can be useful for a future Isla visitor. I sure have enjoyed my repeat visits these past few months. Say hola to Isla for me!