Generation Z. Cruising in an RV.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Christmas Holiday in the Caribbean Island of Cozumel, Mexico

a public beach along the eastern shore of Cozumel

We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas in our brand new Arizona home. Having spent lots of time in Australasia this year, however, it is no wonder that El Cid, where we own a timeshare, called to tell us that we would lose 4 weeks’ worth of points if we didn’t use them by yearend. Bill couldn’t be happier. He loves Mexico and would have retired there; Arizona was a compromise.

So, we flew to Cozumel, Mexico for our Christmas Holiday 2017-2018. Just a 35-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is a much-sought-after stop on a western Caribbean cruise. It is entirely flat, about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, and is Mexico's largest Caribbean and largest permanently inhabited island. Its population of 80,000 is concentrated in San Miguel de Cozumel in the middle of its western shore.  

Downtown San Miguel

downtown's Main Plaza in San Miguel, Cozumel on the western shore

archway near the ferry terminal  
What a town, especially with the cruise ships and ferry boats lined up along the shore at any given time. To protect the environment, public transportation is nonexistent. The only means of getting around are walking, taking taxis or renting cars, scooters, and bikes. We would take a cab to run errands but frequently, Bill would walk the 2+ miles! San Miguel is an excellent place to shop, dine, visit the Main Plaza, hear Mass, walk along the Malecon, and imbibe Mexican culture.

International Cruise Terminal

seven ships in a row right outside our resort

Filipino restaurant
La Ceiba Resort sits right beside the island's International Cruise Terminal. On any given day 2 to 6 huge cruise ships dock there seemingly right at our doorsteps. I was impressed by the many shapes and sizes of these luxury vessels. During our stay, the world's first, second, and third largest vessels docked in front of us! It was exciting to mingle with cruisers as they swarmed the shopping villages around the terminal. But it was finding YES, a Filipino restaurant catering to the thousands of Filipinos who expertly man the cruise crews from around the world, that got me!


Punta Sur Eco Beach Park

Laguna Colombia

One day, we drove our rented car south on Avenida Melgar, the only road that circled the island. There were many inviting beaches but we chose to go to the 247-acre ecological park that covers the reefs, beaches, lagoons, and low forest of the southernmost part of Cozumel, part of the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park. They make Cozumel a highly sought-after world-renowned diving destination. Included in the $14 entrance fee is a host of features that small vehicles can access via a dirt road that cuts through the low mangrove forest.

Caracol Ruins

Celarain Lighthouse
Right after entering the Park, a wooden Observation Tower lords over bird watching and crocodile sighting. Just southeast of the Tower is the Caracol (Tumba del Caracol), a Mayan building erected during the post-classic period. Legend has it that it acted as a weather alarm to warn about a hurricane’s arrival. At the southern promontory sits the Celarain Lighthouse and Nautical Museum. And just a few minutes more of driving will get you to the two Beach Clubs and the Laguna Colombia, where four hundred crocodiles live.

The Papito's Beach Club Restaurant/Bar and the Punta Sur Beach Club were great places for chillaxing, especially on the colorful hammocks. But what I treasured most was the deep fried grouper, reminiscent of a favorite Filipino staple, deep-fried Lapu-Lapu, that I have sorely missed. After lunch, we made it to the last guided boat tour at the Laguna and spotted six crocodiles and the ubiquitous swallows, the origin of the name Cozumel.

Tequila Tour     
                 
Hacienda Antigua

agave plantation
We turned north after Punta Sur and turned left when we got to the Carretera Transversal that crosses the island’s center. We were going to spend some time at a bar we were eyeing downtown but a bright yellow fence with the sign “Tequila Tour” caught my eye. You know how I am with the color yellow! Bill gladly stopped, wanting to add tequila tasting to wine and beer tasting as a favorite thing to do. The tour is free but, since tequila thrives in higher elevations like in Jalisco, Cozumel doesn't have production facilities. It was all just show and tell. But there were rows of blue agave, replicas of the 10-year old huge agave fruit that produces the drink when cooked, the equipment used in the process, and many samples of different grades of tequila: blanco, oro, reposado, anejo, and extra anejo.

Chankanaab Park

Chankanaab saltwater pond and Dolphinarium
the sea lion and me

The other famous Park in Cozumel is Chankanaab ("little sea"), just 2 miles south of La Ceiba Resort. It lies within the National Marine Park of Cozumel, ideal for snorkeling and diving.  And there I found the Sea Trek Adventure and SNUBA diving. Both will offer any participant not only the gorgeous underwater flora and fauna but also the submerged sculptures, including one of Jesus Christ! Bill, a certified scuba diver egged me no end to try one. As usual, I, not knowing how to swim despite my island upbringing, chickened out. It would have been my first underwater experience. Crocodiles, manatees, and dolphins to swim with took my mind off the missed opportunity but my greatest thrill was to be kissed by a sea lion at the Sea Lions Show!

El Cid's La Ceiba Resort

morning scene right outside our door
every morning, a new towel/flower  creation

But what makes a holiday extra special is getting a home away from home. La Ceiba Resort is an 85-room boutique hotel that is part of the El Cid Vacations Club. Every morning upon waking up, we stepped outside to a bright new scene with new cruise ships lined up along the pier. Every evening I delighted at the unique sunsets carved behind these ships that also lit the dark waters with multi-colored reflections. During days when we didn't go on a tour, we had plenty of ways to spend the day:  the salt water pond, a regular pool, a large hot tub with a swim-up bar, two restaurants (Mexican and Italian), a small beachhead, a volleyball beach area, a diving, snorkeling, and small docking area, a tennis court and table, and a giant chess set. For the easily bored, there were Spanish, cooking, and handicraft classes. The evenings were either movie, barbecue, or Mexican Show night.

evening scene without the cruise ships
rocking the night away

Extremely friendly and helpful staff made La Ceiba our home away from home. The Christmas Party on the waterfront was a blast. Even the New Year's Eve Party at Hard Rock Cafe Cozumel truly rocked. Facebook and smartphones helped us connect with our loved ones but the island and the resort offered us many ways to forget the absence of familiar souls. And it even turned out to be our nth honeymoon! But if ever we go back to any of the El Cid resorts during this time of the year, we will  bring family and friends to complete the scene!

La Ceiba Resort