FAQs updated May 7, 2016
IS COZUMEL SAFE?Crime is almost non-existent in Cozumel. It is generally recognized as the safest Caribbean island — that’s one reason we like it so much! I never worry about my wife Alison walking by herself, day or night. I never worry about my wife Alison walking by herself, day or night. Part of the reason there is virtualy no crime in Cozumel is the relatively small population and very family-oriented culture. Another reason is that since Cozumel is an island, criminals would have to buy a round-trip ticket on the ferry, which costs almost a day’s wages. They would then have a 40 minute ride in order to get to the island. After they committed their crime, they would have to wait up to an hour to get the returning ferry.
Here’s what Tripadvisor.com says: “Cozumel is one of the safest travel destinations in Mexico and may be one of the safest places for travelers all across the world. The people of Cozumel are friendly, the government of Cozumel is legitimate and the area is designed with the needs of tourists in mind. Nevertheless, common sense precautions should always be taken when traveling, especially when traveling to a new location or foreign destination.
“Crime: Crime is almost non-existent in Cozumel, which is not true of many Mexican vacation spots. Violent crime is almost unheard-of and travelers don’t need to worry about it at all. There is very little to fear in Cozumel.” http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g150809-s206/Cozumel:Mexico:Health.And.Safety.html
Here’s a website you may find useful: http://mexico-update.com/index.jsp
And this was published in the Spokane Spokesman-Review Spokane Spokesman-Review
U.S. owners in Mexico offer different perspective
March 27, 2011
A presenter at the Mexico Resort Development Conference in San Diego asked anyone in the room to stand up if they knew of any good news regarding the tourism/housing market in Mexico. More people stood to tell their stories than time allowed.
The presenter ended with: “See, there is good news out there – but what is anyone doing to promote it?”
Not all of Mexico is awash in blood and drugs. Much of the violence occurs in border towns, downtown Mexico City and the community of Culiacan, two hours north of Mazatlan. Recently drug-related problems also surfaced in Acapulco. However, much of the country remains a laid-back, comfortable place to live and visit with inexpensive housing and a low cost of living. The flow of North American traffic in the last quarter of 2010 has increased.
“When someone gets killed in New York City, people in Europe don’t boycott the United States,” said Marino Tomacelli, a San Diego resident who owns property on the Riviera Maya. “There’s a general perception that only negative things are happening in Mexico. That’s coupled with an American ignorance of the geography. If there is a mugging at night in Tijuana, they think there is going to be a problem in Cancun and Cabo.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. I continue to feel safer in Mexico than I do in the states. In fact, I think some people are promoting the violence in Mexico to keep tourist dollars in the states.”
Jeffrey Hill, a former Seattle resident, has four vacation rental homes in Puerto Vallarta and one in Florida. He spends most of his time south of the border and part of his year in Fort Lauderdale. He bristles at the mention of crime in Vallarta.
“Would I ever go out walking at 5 a.m. alone in Lauderdale or Miami? Hell no. Just the thought of that scares the hell out of me. There are many neighborhoods in Seattle where I would never go out walking alone in the dark. I feel far safer in Vallarta than anywhere in the states.”
The major tourism markets in Mexico are still appealing destinations to a variety of visitors, particularly with the heavy travel discounting that has occurred over the past year or two. As a result, new second-home projects are being planned in some of the country’s major tourist markets. Many second homeowners and tourists, however, prefer to be removed from major cities.
“There have been no incidences of drug violence in our little beach community of 15,000,” said Glen Triplett of his 5,000-square foot villa at Rincon de Guayabitos, 45 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. “The local people are very friendly and it is a great place to live. We have spent the summer in Oregon and Washington and have frequently been asked about the ‘drug violence’ much more so than in the past.”
Hill has been going to Puerto Vallarta for more than 30 years and has owned property there for more than 11. He estimates 10 percent of his rental clients ask about the drug violence.
“So what do I tell them? If you are a major drug dealer transporting drugs and money back and forth between the U.S. border states and the Mexico border states, then you should be very concerned about your safety in Mexico, or in the U.S.” he said. “If you are a tourist coming to Puerto Vallarta to soak up the sun and put your feet in the sand, then it’s a waste of your time to even think about the drug wars impacting you in any way. There is absolutely no connection between drug issues and tourism in resort locations like Puerto Vallarta.”
Bill Mencarow spends part of his year in the San Antonio area and owns two luxury vacation rental condos in Cozumel. He and his wife have been in vacation rentals since 2004 and regard it as a business, not just a way to try to pay the expenses of owning personal getaways. They aggressively market these units and others that they own on rental sites.
“We hear, ‘I’d never go to Mexico,’ but more from people we know or meet, not from rental inquirers,” Mencarow said. “Those who contact us have already decided to go to Mexico, specifically Cozumel, and they almost never ask about violence. At most, we occasionally are asked if the neighborhood is safe.
“If someone does ask about violence, I tell them that being afraid to go to Cozumel because you’ve heard about violence in Mexico is like being afraid to go to Hawaii because you’ve heard about violence in Detroit.”
Here’s part of an article from a local Cozumel newspaper“Cozumel enjoys a security that is envied by many other entities in the country. According to a recent survey, 93% of tourists to the island said they planned to return and 100% said they thought Cozumel was a safe place to visit.
“Cozumel Police Chief Rudy Erosa Navarrete informed that as of today they have not registered a single public murder, bank robbery or kidnapping, making Cozumel one of the safest cities in the country.
“Police commander Victor Alvear Martínez informed that the principal crime here on the island is motorcycle theft. This month a total of 8 thefts were reported, however, the police have recovered all but two.” (Cozumel News in English, www.CozumelMyCozumel.com)
Airlines have set up bargain-basement sale racks for select customers. All you have to do is sign up.
Travelers can land promo codes, which generally can be used even for previously discounted tickets, by signing up for alerts from specific airlines, or from fare-watching Web sites like Airfarewatchdog.com and FareCompare.com.
Airfarewatchdog sends out alerts about promo codes; FareCompare posts them on a blog on its site.
Do I need a passport?
All U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Mexico are required to have a valid passport to enter the U.S. This is a change from prior travel requirements, which in many cases allowed travel with a driver’s license or birth certificate. See www.CozumelParadise.com/airlines.htm for more information.
These are some of our favorites. Cozumel has a huge number of restaurants, and there are many we haven’t tried. Most have full bar service.
Tio Jose A beach bar/restaurant that is a must-do! Excellent margaritas (no Sprite, which is what many of the tourist traps use to make their “giant” margaritas). The baby lobster pizza is great.. Everything is very reasonably priced — probably why the place is a locals’ favorite. You won’t see many tourists here, if any at all. The owner, Jose, believes in keeping prices down and attracting returning locals as the core of his business. He lived in Atlanta for many years working as a top-level engineer for IBM, so his English is as good as yours and mine. He decided his “retirement” would be a beach bar/restaurant. He’s also an accomplished chef and loves to experiment with new dishes. It’s a 10 minute walk south from Casa Phoenix along the ocean, just past the lighthouse on the beach.
Chedraui and Mega are the two grocery superstores across the street from the condo (Chedraui is immediately opposite; Mega is two blocks away). Since Casa Phoenix has a fully-equipped kitchen, you might want to shop at either store and prepare your own meals. A tip: don’t buy the beef. It’s shoeleather.
La Conchita del Caribe on 65 Ave. between 13 & 15th streets — fantastic shrimp ceviche. Ask for the whole fried fish — you pick out your fresh-caught fish (usually red snapper and hogfish) from the cooler!
Rolandis, right next door to our condo building. Northern Italian and more
. New Especias restaurant 3rd St. between 5 and 10 is a mix of locals and tourists. Try the lionfish!
La Chosa restaurant 10th Avenue # 216 | between Adolfo Rosado Salas and 3rd South. Authenic Mayan/Yucatan cuisine. A Cozumel institution, and deservedly so. Recommended: the whole fish with garlic (seasonal, not on the menu). A favorite with locals.
For a change of pace, go to 30 Ave. for hamberguesas (hamburgers). Cooked outdoors on a majorly smoking wood fire, cost about 12 pesos each last time we were there, carry-out or al fresco. A local place, most tourists never find it.
Kinta — a fabulous new gourmet restaurant off the downtown Plaza, 5th Ave. between 2nd and 4th north, local phone 869-0544). I’d call the cuisine “Continental-Mayan fusion.” Full bar, wine list.
Il Giardino: An Italian Grill Everyone is raving about it. Open from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Plaza Leza — On the downtown Plaza. Gets raves for shrimp ceveche, fresh fish.
La Choza — 10th Ave. off the Plaza. A Cozumel institution, and deservedly so. Mayan cuisine. Recommended: the whole fish with garlic (seasonal, not on the menu). A favorites with locals. FYI: If you already know La Choza, it’s no longer where it was. It was torched on Aug. 10, 2008, and they rebuilt around the corner.
The restaurant upstairs at the Museum — great outdoor oceanfront terrace for breakfast or lunch. Haven’t tried it for dinner.
Rock ‘n Java Caribbean — American-style for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just a block from the condo toward town. American-owned, gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads, unbelievable homemade desserts (apple pie almost half a foot high!).
Rock ‘n Java Thai Noodle Bar — in the Mega Superstore building. Local phone 869-2794. We get carryout here every time we’re on island.
Coffee Bean — local gringo hangout that serves a variety of American and European coffees, espresso, cappucino and yummy desserts. No bar.
Chilango’s — a couple of blocks east of the condo, in a private home. You eat in their living room. Only open for lunch. Very local. Ask for fish if it isn’t on the menu. Don’t expect anyone to speak English. A different experience! No bar.
Mescalito’s on the deserted east side. A beach bar with strong Margaritas, good burgers, great shrimp dishes, Mexican food. THE LAST TWO TIMES WE WERE THERE THEY OVERCHARGED US — WORD TO THE WISE.
Coconuts Next to Mescalito’s. A popular beach bar.
Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville just a block from our condos. This is not a recommendation, just FYI. It has a nice patio. Inside it can be very loud, lots of drinking games, etc. The food is OK, the margaritas fair and overpriced. In other words, it caters to American tourists. Senor Frog is a couple of blocks farther, same type of place.
There are many others we haven’t tried, so this list is by no means complete. If you discover a great place, please let us know! There are hundreds of restaurants on Cozumel. It’s fun to explore and find new ones.
Outside the tourist area are many hole-in-the-wall places. Thanks to having a close friend who is Mexican and lives in Cozumel, we’ve eaten at many of them that few tourists ever see. Part (most?) of the fun is discovering these places yourself or, better, with a local friend who knows them and who will steer you away from places that leave a lot to be desired in the areas of good food and sanitation. If you decide to venture outside the tourist area in search of the “real” Cozumel dining experience, do so at your own risk. Don’t misunderstand — the risk is not to you externally (crime is virtually nonexistent), it’s internally.
A good friend who has been going to Cozumel several times a year for over 20 years sent this report on a new restaurant:
Last night we ate at a local seafood restaurant and everyone deemed it the best and it is very inexpensive. The waiter is named Victor and we have known him for 17 years. He worked at Capi Navigante, but they closed and we were pleased to see him again.
Victor made the original Margarita from Capi Navaganti with what he called a small improvement I must tell you it was fantastic. Different than mine, but what a kick. We all intend to go again.
Jason and I both thought this was the best cerviche, even better than La Conchita which is very good. The fish filet was from a fish we had never eaten and none of us can say the name, but we deemed this the best fish we have eaten.
Just asked Victor what the options are for preparation. Jason had fish stuffed with seafood like crab, and shrimp and with a plant something like spinach but not. It was just excellent.
I have been told they are fishermen who started their own restaurant. All the fish, and lobster is fresh
The Name is La Perlita. Address is Calle 10 Norte/bis y70Avenue.
————————————————————————————— Here’s a trip report from one of our guests with lots of ideas for things to do, restaurants, etc.:
kentmorrdave Kent Island, Maryland We arrived in Cozumel Friday April 3 to perfect weather, which held true our entire 10 day trip. We picked up our bags, stressed through the x-ray of the bags, purchased our van tickets and waited in the van to leave for El Cantil. During the x-ray, the inspectors picked through each food item so make sure not to bring any meat or cheese, they will take it if seen.
A quick check in with Bill and Alison’s managers and we are un-packing at El Cantil Casa Phoenix, 7A at Sur. El Cantil is across the street from Chedraui and just two blocks from the Mega store. It is so convenient for our group of 6. We have brought along our oldest daughters boyfriend and our youngest daughters longtime friend from down the street. We head to Mega and 1100 pesos later we have a start on the week’s groceries. Be careful on the escalator at Mega as the cart got stuck on the landing, causing my wife a cut and bruise.
We have a full fridge and dive boat reservations for the week. Our first night we have dinner at Los Otates, which we always find good. Pozole, frijoles charros, guacamole, etc. We finish our night with a trip to the plaza and Tony Rome’s to say hey and our first night is done.
My regular dive op was not working Saturday so I booked a dive trip on Belinda, The fast boat of Aqua Safari. We are off to Colombia Reef; DM Mariano is our guide today. He is very good and of course he finds a pipe horse and a seahorse. Deb is very busy with her reef research. Our second dive is at Colombia Shallows, always fun, and we are back at the dock by 1 p.m.
I have some prep and baking to do for some guest I have coming to the condo Palm Sunday. We are going to Kelly’s for the Final Four. They had lots of big screen viewing available. We had dinners, appetizers and a few drinks, $1100 pesos for six of us. Back to the square for some music and we are home by 10 p.m.
I had no diving planned for Sunday and Monday. We have a dinner party today and our family is going to Punta Sur parque on Monday. Our dinner and swim party Palm Sunday was such fun. Jeremy and his crew from the Jewfish, Captain Francisco and mate Ricardo and their families joined us. Jeremy and his crew from Living Underwater spoil me so much on the boat I wanted to return the favor. Debbie (DS2) from the boards also joined us. Along with roast beef I also had fried chicken, mashed potatoes and for dessert chocolate coconut torte and banana cream pie. Good ole home cooking Americano style. After dinner we swam for a couple hours before everyone headed out around 7 p.m. Our family once again headed to the plaza for the traditional Sunday night activities.
Monday at 9 a.m. our two rental beaters show up right on time. Sol y Mar brought us a VW convertible and a Geo Tracker. We head south down the beach road and arrive at Punta Sur parque around 10 a.m. After paying $10 USD per person you slowly drive along the ocean past the crocodile viewing and park at the lighthouse. A bus takes you the last couple miles to a beautiful beach park. Shaded hammocks, a restaurant, snack bar and rental stands are available. We grab a couple umbrellas and the s shaped chairs and take it all in. You swim to the southern end of the reef and drift northward while you snorkel. Rest areas are located every so often to provide a rest area. Men in kayaks keep a watchful eye on the snorklers. A beautiful area and very peaceful and quiet, much different from the beach clubs to the north. We head out about 2 p.m. and go to Playa Bonita. Severe erosion has ate away the beach and undermined the walk ways at the restaurant. If it keeps up it will be Playa feo. Our lunches were very good and the service was fantastic.
Monday night was the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. Our kids stayed at the condo and we head again to Kelly’s. We reach it at 7 p.m. and it is standing room only. Oh, well. We head to town with the idea of Jeannie’s, which has several televisions. However, as we approached we decide on the Cigar Bar. It is a nice little place and when we went in we see CozSally who was meeting friends for bridge. We settle in and order great cheese steaks and an avocado salad. The game was a blow out and we head back at half time. As we walk down the street I noticed a cool north breeze has come in. It continued through the night and blew all our porch furniture into a big pile. Jeremy calls at 7 a.m. to say the boat will not sail today. Some boats did sail around noon but it stayed rough all day. Tuesday turned into a lazy pool day, oh well.
Wednesday we load at Caleta because of rough seas at El Cantil. We head south to Colombia deep and roll back at 8:24 for 70 minutes at 92fsw. Colombia is always beautiful and today was no exception. We do a 1 ½ hour surface interval at Caracol pier. Our second dive is at Yucab for 78 minutes at 56 fsw. The kids spend the morning at San Gervasio. The low humidity and cool breeze made for a perfect day at San Gervasio. Wednesday night we go back for Pozole at Los Otates and an early evening.
The Jewfish pulls up to the condo pier at 7:30 Thursday morning. We are off to Maracaibo. Maracaibo is always one of my favorite sites. A dramatic wall, awesome sea fans and growth. As you ascend from the deep you go up a curved face on the wall which is a site to see. We come upon a splendid toadfish at 110 feet, which may be the deepest I have ever saw one. This was a planned deco dive and I reached 149 fsw, my personal deepest dive ever. I don’t know how it happened but my strobe flooded either on the dive or shortly after. The pictures from that dive came out, but as I descended on Santa Rosa, our second dive, smoke came out of my strobe. Boo-hoo. Maybe Ikelite will be able to save it. Santa Rosa was perfect today, 70 minutes at 82 fsw, a gentle current and great viz. We had two juvenile Eagle Rays below us on our safety stop, the only two I saw all week. I am diving with Guppie, Bayless and Dave Miller this week, all of which are very good divers. We pick up a kilo of aracherra from HC Monterey, when added to a stack of warm tortillas and some beans and rice from Chedraui make a fine dinner, for under twenty bucks total.
After diving at the far south end of the island Thursday we head north to Barracuda on Friday. Barracuda is usually a thrill ride and today was no exception. Two divers had issues on descent, so we waited for them, and we find ourselves having to swim to the wall. We were huffing and puffing when we reached the wall. Once we got settled we just go for a ride. I did not even bring my camera on the dive. It is too much effort to stop and shoot. 96 fsw for maximum depth. Our surface interval is at the dock near Playa Azul hotel. We have the Captain’s masa/egg/tomato casserole, chicken salad tortas, banana cream pie and cookies. A very pleasant SI. Our second dive is San Juan. It has much less current and is a nice reef to cruise along at. There is lots of fish and great growth on the reef. Since the northern reefs are close to town I am dropped off at the dock at noon. Tammy and the kids have gone to Paradise Beach club. 10 dollars gets you all the water activities including kayaks, snorkeling, water slides, icebergs, etc. The posted taxi fare was 190 pesos for five from El Cantil to the club, which what was charged.On the way back, cab 268 said no way, 26 bucks. Make sure you have a settled price before departure, the cabbies are hungry. Every one had a good time at the club and had lunch at the new Parilla Mission sur between Puerto Maya and International pier.
Casa Phoenix is a large 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom condo with a huge deck and hot tub, 7 stories up looking over the sea. It has plenty of room and the house keeper was the best ever. She traded me my cookies for her chicken salbutes, a good deal says I.
Saturday morning arrives all to fast and my last two dives of the week are upon me. Palancar Caves, bricks, gardens and my now ritual last dive of the week, Cedar Pass or Cedral. Tad and Tom from Houston are with us today, I had dove with them previously on Jewfish in November of 2007. I settle up with Jeremy and lay back to enjoy our last night on the isla for awhile. We have dinner at Parilla Mission with all our favorite tortas, tacos and sopa de lima.
Tammy and I head east past Corpus Christi church before packing. The aroma from the Sunday morning pork stands cooking cochinita pibil is awesome. It is like a magnet, but we stay strong, just enjoying the aroma. Out on 35 is the Mecca from what we understand. A little market named el Aro was just about to open at 7:15. Last week we walked by at 11 a.m. and he had sold out so get there between 8 and 9. It is worth the walk just for the aroma. We head back on five to the sea, grab some turkey and fresh tortas from mega for the plane, and begin the dreaded task of packing up to go home.
Easter activities were far fewer than previous Easter visits. I saw no carnival or much activity outside the plaza this Holy week. We had 10 great days of sunshine with low humidity.
Friends ask why I go back time after time to Cozumel. It is a different adventure each time and after a dozen trips I still eagerly look forward to my next trip. The Ravens have an away game the first week in November, so maybe then, I sure hope so. I always meet new folks and look forward to seeing the ones I know. Cozumel is also a very good value, IMHO. I highly recommend Living Underwater and Casa Phoenix for your family vacation.
Driving: From personal experience since 1989: Walk or take taxis in town. Rent a car for a day to explore the rest of the island. Fortunately, you can walk to almost all the restaurants, shops, etc.in 3 to 20 minutes from the condo. If you don’t feel like walking, take one of the taxis that fight for your business right outside the front door. Or just take the elevator to Prima restaurant on top of our building for terrific food and the most spectacular view on the island.
Renting A Bicycle: Right across the street.
Renting A Scooter: Not unless you want to test out the Cozumel hospital. They are extremely dangerous in Cozumel for a variety of reasons: the insane traffic, the road conditions, the aggressive auto and taxi drivers, and the poor rental scooter maintenance (such as bald tires, faulty brakes, etc.). The number of tourists who rent scooters and end up in hospitals –if not sent home by air ambulance — are legendary. You don’t want to hear the horror stories. Please don’t rent a scooter.
Water: Everyone knows that “you don’t drink the water in Mexico,” and that’s excellent advice. However, the water in our condo is safe. Not only is it filtered, it goes through UV light treatment to kill all germs. After that, we take the extra precaution of running it through reverse osmosis at the kitchen sink (there’s a special faucet there) for drinking. Restaurants in the tourist area serve bottled water and purified ice.
Is this a good place for children?
There’s lots for them to do on their own right on the property: depending upon their age, swimming in the large freshwater pool, in the kiddie pool, in the ocean, snorkeling, the beach, etc. They can walk across the street to the new multiplex cinema (first-run American movies, stadium seating, surround sound), shopping mall and brand-new bowling alley. There’s a “swim with the dolphins” attraction a block away. For the older ones, the museum, locals disco and some American-style nightlife (Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Senior Frog) is within a couple of blocks. The Cozumel Hard Rock Cafe is a 15 minute walk or a short taxi ride. Horseback riding and tennis are options as well. We have several TVs in the units with Dish Network, free Netflix and a library of DVDs, plus board games, playing cards, books, magazines, etc.
We discourage children under 5 in Casa Phoenix, because there are four balconies and it’s on the 7th floor.
Should we fly into Cancun or Cozumel?
It’s much more convenient to fly directly into Cozumel International Airport. It’s a small airport and a 15 minute shuttle ride to Casa Phoenix.
There is an air shuttle service that flies directly into Cozumel International Airport in 15 minutes from Cancun. Last I checked it costs $63.00 per person. http://www.mayair.com.mx
Here is other information on Cancun Airport transportation: www.cancun-airport.com/transportation.htm
See http://www.cozumelparadise.com/airlines.htm for information about airlines, visa, etc.
What is the configuration of the bedrooms?
Casa Phoenix four bedrooms. Each bedroom has an attached private bathroom with sink, vanity, commode and shower. There are three bedrooms with one king bed each and one bedroom with two queens. Every bedroom has its own attached private bath. Of course, linens, pillows, towels, etc. are furnished, along with daily maid service at no additional charge. See htty://www.CozumelParadise.com/interiorphotos.htm
How many people can stay in the condo?
The maximum occupancy for Casa Phoenix is 8. It has 3 bedrooms with one king bed each and one bedroom with two queen beds.
We can increase this for a couple of children.
There is absolutely no sleeping permitted on the couches or chairs (or floors, walls, ceilings, etc.)
Is there a washer & dryer in the unit? A safe?
Yes and yes. If you would like to use the washer and dryer in the condo, let us know and it will be made available to you. There is a digital safe in each bedroom.
Are towels, linens, beach towels, soap, dishes, silverware, glasses, pots and pans, etc. provided?
Yes, all of the above and more.
Do the “Mexican Super Wal-Marts” across the street have items we will be familiar with, or will there be mostly Mexican products?
Chedraui is directly across the street. There is a second Super Wal-Mart-type store, Mega, two blocks away that’s even better stocked. There are quite a few U.S. and other familiar brands. If you want to cook there’s plenty to choose from. They both also have a pharmacy, deli, bakery, fresh fish, imported gourmet items, liquor, a fairly extensive wine selection from around the world, beer, toiletries, clothing, etc. Everything is safe to eat, but if you buy produce get some iodine solution (they sell it in the produce dept.) and wash all fresh produce.
Do we need shots before going to Mexico?
You are more likely to experience Montezuma’s Revenge. Here’s information from webmd.com: “40 percent of visitors to Mexico experience traveler’s diarrhea and it can wreck a trip. Being careful what one eats and drinks and being prepared for illness if it occurs are the keys.” So be sure to take anti-diarrhea medicine. If you forget, pick some up at the pharmacy across the street from Casa Phoenix. www.webmd.com says “The medication in Mexico should be as safe as the equivalent product in the U.S.”
“One of the things…about travel to a developing place like Mexico is the regard for public safety that we are accustomed to in the U.S. is missing. There won’t be guardrails, there will be huge holes in the sidewalk, wires stretched between buildings at eye level…So the first thing I say to people is exercise extreme caution, because accidents continue to be the most serious problems we see in travelers.” (webmd.com)
Speaking of safety, once again: DO NOT RENT A SCOOTER!!
Is it safe to drink the tap water?
Yes, in the condo. But never anywhere else. Even locals don’t it unless they are very poor. Everyone drinks bottled water. That’s what you’ll get in restaurants when you ask for agua (water). It’s also what the ice is made from. However, there are no guarantees of any of this if you decide to try a place out of the tourist areas. If you do, it’s best to get bottled water, a soft drink or beer and drink out of the bottle. No ice.
The tap water in our building goes through an extensive filtering process and is also exposed to UV light which is supposed to kill everything. We brush our teeth with it, some people drink it. We prefer to err on the safe side, so we’ve installed a reverse osmosis system (R.O.) in the kitchen for drinking. There’s a spigot on the sink.
Do most people speak English?
Despite the huge growth in tourism and the fact that the tourists are almost all English-speaking, quirky little Cozumel remains charmingly Mexican and Spanish-speaking. The exceptions are in the main tourist area right around the Plaza, where, unfortunately, timeshare salesmen and store hawkers have found it pays to know English. Most taxi drivers and waiters in restaurants that cater to tourists know a smattering of English. The Mega superstore two blocks from the condo has an English-speaking cashier which is prominently labeled. Take your English-Spanish app to the grocery store and anywhere out of the tourist area. What time of year is the best?
Summer in the tropics is very hot and humid (of course, the condo has central air conditioning). But it’s less crowded and cheaper then, and you may get (somewhat) used to the heat. Plus, the days are longest in the summer. The coolest time of the year is October – April. From November – February, days are usually in the 60s – 70s°F and nights in the 60s°F or sometimes even a bit cooler. Winter is the driest season. Spring brings warmer weather, moderate humidity and pleasant cool nights.
Our favorite time of year in Cozumel is Fall. It’s low season and the weather is delightful. And we have the lowest rates of the year in September and October!
Hurricane season is June through November. Historically it’s unlikely a hurricane will hit after September.
Cozumel rarely gets hurricanes. We had the biggest one in recorded history in 2005 (Wilma). Historically we’re not due for another big one until 2025. BTW, nobody on Cozumel was killed or seriously injured by Wilma, and our building sustained very minor damage.
Do you have a beach?
Yes, a very nice sandy one. But it is not the wide beach that gently slopes into a long shallow sandy bottom. Cozumel has few beaches like that, and they are all miles from anywhere. You can’t have both great snorkeling/diving and a beach sloping into long shallow sandy bottom. They just don’t go together. Sandy bottoms are not conducive to coral formations and fish life.
If the traditional sloping sandy beach is of primary importance to you, and you are not that interested in great diving or snorkeling, I recommend staying at Puerto Aventuras on the mainland.
Our beach is built on a seawall that is on almost gin-clear water perfect for snorkeling, swimming and scuba diving, but there is no surf to play in. The beach is white sand with palapas (large thatch umbrellas), a large (50′ x 25′) freshwater pool, flagstone sundeck, plenty of beach furniture, etc., built on a seawall.
We do have a small natural rocky/sand cove where you can enter the water in the traditional beach way, but it’s not an easy entrance. Or you can use the swim ladders, or just jump in (it’s about 10 feet at the end of the dock). Here’s a picture of part of the beach: http://www.cozumelparadise.com/beach.htm
Will we need to rent a car?
No! That’s one of the main reasons to stay at Casa Phoenix. You are pretty much in the middle of everything and you will save money, because you won’t need a rental car or taxis. Restaurants and shopping are right in the neighborhood. The main plaza and ferry dock is about a 15 minute walk along the oceanfront promenade. If you don’t feel like walking, taxis are plentiful and a short ride to almost anywhere.
But it’s great fun to rent a car for a day or two and explore the island (see the q&a below under “other recommendations”). Driving around town is a challenge and we don’t recommend it (make sure you get the insurance), but when you get out of town it’s no problem.
Here’s a tip from a discussion at www.CozumelMy Cozumel.com: “One thing I did was to rent a (non-motorized) bike for the entire time I was there. Probably one of the best things I have ever done in Cozumel. It allowed me to tour all the different neighborhoods at a leisurely pace and to pick up various groceries from the small markets and juice shops.”
Should we rent a moped/scooter?
NO!!! The injury and death rate is horrible, even among people who know how to operate them. Combine unfamiliar traffic laws and Cozumel drivers on Cozumel and you have a recipe for disaster. See: http://www.cozumelmycozumel.com/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=104&topic_id=16321&mode=ful
How easy it is to get a taxi? Are they expensive?The taxis fight for your business. You can get to the Plaza from our condo for about $5.00, the airport for about $10.00. Set the fare BEFORE you go. The fares are supposed to be standardized, but we’ve found that some drivers get creative with their prices.
A tip: You’ll save a few bucks if you aren’t picked up or dropped off right in front of our building, the grocery store across the street, or at any tourist attraction. The taxis charge more for trips from and to hotels, tourist attractions, grocery stores, malls and condos. Walk half a block down the street from the condo and hail a taxi, and when you return have them drop you at the Palacio Municipal (City Hall), across the street from our building.
Are there cars for rent? Do you have reserved parking?
Most of the major U.S. car rental companies have offices in Cozumel, and there are some local companies as well. Avis is about a block from the condo. tip: Rent a car online instead of walking in to the local office. You’ll save a lot.
Avis and Hertz have counters at the Cozumel airport.
You can park your rental car in our underground garage.
Should we get the insurance offered by the car rental company?
Check with your insurance agent at home.
All I can tell you is that my agent says I’m not covered in Cozumel for anything, collision or liability included. However, if I charge the rental to my Visa card and decline the Collision Damage when I rent (which Visa insists you do in order to have Visa cover it), Visa says I am covered for collision, theft and vandalism. Fortunately, I’ve never had to test that.
But neither Visa nor my U.S. auto insurance will cover liability on a rental car in Mexico, so I get the rental car company liability insurance.
BTW, I have found that Avis in Cozumel usually has the best rates. But don’t wait until you get here — book on-line for the best deal.
What is it like driving in Cozumel?
In town, let’s just say it’s a challenge. You’d better be a good driver — because nobody else is.
Almost all of the streets, except the major ones, are one-way, and they don’t always have signs that tell you that. Most of the streets, especially downtown, are narrow, and people don’t always obey the stop signs (there are few traffic lights). Sight lines at corners are usually obscured. The challenges are compounded by the numerous scooters driven by locals. They don’t seem to get the idea that there are cars on the road.
Again, your U.S. car insurance is no good in Mexico. See above.
Bottom line: Unless you are very confident in your driving and have experience driving in Mexico, don’t drive in the downtown area — walk or get a taxi.
That said, DO rent a car and drive around the island. Go up north to the golf course and hotel zone, south to the beaches, Punta Sur park, lighthouse, around the southern tip and up the deserted wild east coast. Or go straight across the cross-island (east-west) road. Stop along the way for pictures, the great beaches on the east side (don’t go in the water — very treacherous undertow), and have a libation and lunch at one of the beach bars (see the warning about Mescalito’s above).
An another local tip: If you are stopped by a policeman for a minor traffic violation, give him 100 pesos. Yes, that’s bribery, and it is the system. George Washington Plunkett, the boss of New York’s Tammany Hall in the 19th century, called such a system “honest graft.” The police are paid very little, even by Mexican standards, and this is how they are (unofficially, of course) expected to supplement their income. I wish we had that “user fee” system in the U.S. — it would keep our taxes down!
Any other recommendations?
The Plaza, or town square, is a 15 minute walk from the condo (or a 5 minute taxi ride) and steps away from the ferry docks. You MUST spend some time there. When, is another story.
When the cruise ships are in port, the downtown is jumping. If you are into being surrounded by people and hawked at every 10 seconds by street salesmen, go for it when you see the ships disembarking. If you don’t want to be harassed, walk on the ocean side of the street.
If you would rather visit another time, then do so when the ships have left. Some of the stores will be closed, though.
Sunday evening is a very special time downtown. All the ships are gone and the locals come out for the free concert in the Plaza bandshell. You won’t see many gringos, and you will find the people are very friendly and welcoming.
Rent a car and drive straight east to the undeveloped east side of the island. Stop and see the San Gervasio Mayan ruins (don’t expect Chichen Itza — it’s pretty small, but it’s still an authentic Mayan ruin), the roadside shops and tour the Tequila Factory. Drive all the way to the east side of the island, then turn south (the only way the road goes) along the coast (the road north is unpaved and for 4-wheel drive vehicles only — no services if you break down, and it’s a L-O-N-G walk back to civilization). You’ll be going along the east coast of the island, which is the windward, wild side. Don’t worry about getting lost — there’s only one road!
The beaches on the east side of the island are great, but the water is very dangerous, with strong ripping cross-currents, so look but don’t go in.
At the south end, stop and tour the Punta Sur eco-park. Then continue your drive up the west coast, maybe do some snorkeling at Chankanaab Park, go horseback riding, and drive up along the waterfront road past your condo, past town to the north end, see the marina, the high rises and the Nicklaus-designed golf course at the end of the paved road (or play — it’s open to the public if you want to pay the greens fee). Have drinks, lunch or dinner at one of the hotels on the beach.
You can’t do everything in one day, of course. Pick and choose or keep the car for a few days. You can park it in our underground garage or on the street.
Our manager can give you a lot more ideas. These are just some of our favorites.
WORDS FROM THE LOCAL POLICE CHIEF ABOUT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS and “Courtesy Tickets” El Semanario de Cozumel (translated by “Cozumel News in English” www.CozumelMyCozumel.Com)
The Coordinator of the municipal police, Comandante Ramón Chi Alcocer, stated that there is a subsection of the traffic rules that allows for so-called “Courtesy Tickets” given as a warning only. But normally this possibility is valid only when the infraction is minor and not for a grave offense.
“For example, I have noticed that tourists arrive on Cozumel and rent some type of vehicle or other in order to get to know the island.They are unfamiliar with such things as not parking in places where there is a red curb or right next to a corner. It is in cases like this that the courtesy ticket becomes worthwhile.”
“Right now if the regulations violation is for excessive speed, driving while inebriated or if he is implicated in a road accident, the visitor can no longer enjoy this right,” the Commandante explained.
But fortunately and particularly in the case of tourists that come from the United States and Canada, the great majority have an excellent level of road education, he maintained.
The commandant stated that if a police officer notices a tourist has parked in a restricted area—by a store, for example– his assignment is to notify the driver immediately and make a judgement about how long the tourist plans to stay there–a long time or just for a little while. Because it is not intended to drive away this market by applying the regulations drastically.
But, if the visitor takes a long time more than what he promised, then the ticket of infraction is given and this has to be paid completely.
However, the Commandante added, if the tourist who has commited such an infraction comes in and acknowledges his mistake, there is a good possibility that the ticket will be cancelled. And this is an attitude encouraged by top management in the police department.
If, on the other hand, the visitor comes in trying to cover up or acting in an aggressive manner, then he is not given this solution.
A Great Intro to Mayan Grandeur
The Mayan ruins of Tulum, only an hour from Playa del Carmen, undoubtedly has one of the most breathtaking settings of any city past or present. The only significant large scale Mayan ruin on the coast, it is perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
The city of Tulum was at its height during the 13th-15th century, and is thus one of the later Mayan outposts. It flourished during the 14th century and was still inhabited when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century. Tulum was an important trading post for the Post classic Mayans. There is a beach where merchants could come ashore with their canoes. The highest building, El Castillo, was also a lighthouse to make navigation easier. When two torches aligned, it showed the way through the reef. During the Post classic period, the Maya started to use large seagoing canoes. The canoes were 40-50 feet long and hewn from mahogany or other tropical hardwoods. These canoes revolutionized trading in the Mundo Maya. Prior to the advent of this practice, they could only move what could be carried on a person’s shoulders. The Maya didn’t use wagons or beasts of burden, simply because their were no suitable big mammals in the area. Their trading voyages ranged from trips to the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, and extending all the way to what is today Honduras. There is even evidence that they went as far as Costa Rica and Panama.
In 1518, an expedition lead by Juan de Grijalva sailed past Tulum. The captain and crew were amazed by the sight of this walled city, with its buildings painted red, blue and white and with a fire on top of the main temple. Some 75 years after the conquest, Tulum was abandoned, but was still visited over the years by Mayan pilgrims. During the War of the Castes, Indian refugees took shelter here from time to time. Because of its location, Western scientists of the late 19th century became aware of Tulum, and excavations started in the early 20th century.
Apart from its setting, Tulum is also unique for the wall that surrounds the town on three sides. The wall averages seven meters in thickness and is three to five meters high. It incorporates an interior walkway, from which spears and rocks might be thrown. With the ocean on the forth side, Tulum could easily defend itself. This fortress has evoked theories that the inhabitants of Tulum were threatened by other people, for there is much evidence that this was a turbulent time in Mayan history. Power shifted between city-states and it is logical to assume that there was a certain amount of warfare. The architecture of Tulum has a significant Toltec influence, but whether this came about through invasion or friendly interchange is impossible to determine. One theory is that the wall was put up by the ruling class to further distance or maybe even protect themselves from the common people. This theory supports the idea that the Mayan civilization was brought down by peasant revolution.
There are about 60 well preserved buildings on the site of Tulum. The most significant of these have plaques with information in English, Spanish and Mayan, so you don’t really need a guide book.
One of our favorite buildings in Tulum is the Temple of the Frescoes. As the name implies, there are frescoes with typical Mayan motifs in the interior. Some of the original colors are relatively well preserved. Outside this building there are some statues, also with traces of paint. Carvings cover this interesting little temple. One image you’ll see on this building, and throughout Tulum, is the diving god. With his wings and his bird’s tail, he’s thought to be a symbol of Kukulkan, the feathered serpent god that played a big importance to many Mesoamerican cultures. He is also believed to be the symbol of the Venus morning star, which played an important role here at Tulum. Being the first city of the Mayan World to see the rising sun every day, Tulum is considered the Mayan ‘City of the Dawn.’ The Temple of the Frescoes is built in three levels, symbolizing the three realms of the Mayan universe – the dark underworld of the dead, the middle level of the living and finally heaven, where the gods lived.
The most outstanding building of Tulum is the Castle, El Castillo, perched on Tulum’s highest cliff. This temple-topped pyramid also served as a watchtower and a lighthouse. Like many important structures in the Mayan world, the current building is the result of different stages of additional construction. It began as a palace-like base, the staircase added at a later date and eventually it was crowned by the temple on top. The doorway to the temple has columns in the shape of rattlesnakes, with the tails supporting the roof and their heads adjoining the floor. Due to the rapidly increasing number of tourists to Tulum, El Castillo is now roped-off, and not possible to climb. However, on the other side of the little beach, there’s another building on a smaller cliff, which you are allowed to climb. From there you will have a fantastic view over El Castillo and the site in general.
Tulum is located about 50 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. The ruins are north of the town. The highway bends away from the coast here, so the town is actually a few minutes drive from the sea. Tulum’s Zona Hotelera, or hotel zone, is reached by turning left at the traffic light before town. Heading to the right are many cenotes, and eventually the ruins of Cobá. The hotel zone leans towards the beach cabaña style, offering everything from simple accommodation options to newer, more costly ‘designer’ style palapas. The town of Tulum has several restaurants and convenience stores for supplies.
You’ll come across the Zona Arqueologica before actually arriving in the town of Tulum. It’s well marked and easy to find. There’s a gas station at the turn, and a few hotels. Parking, which is cheap, is located immediately inside the main entrance. You’ll first come across a tourist complex, where you can still find some authentic pre-columbian artifacts for sale (just kidding) and more-of-the-same style typical souvenirs. There are restrooms here. The actual ruins are about 800 meters from this area, so it’s not a long walk. If you’d rather conserve your strength for the ruins, there’s a tram that leaves every five minutes. Tickets, about two bucks, are sold at the little stall right where the trams turn around. This is also the place to watch the voladores. It’s well worth seeing. Five costumed men recreate a ceremonial ritual first started by the Totonac indians from Veracruz. The flyers begin by climbing the tall pole, then each of four of the men slip a foot into a loop at the end of a rope that is wound around the top of the pole. The fifth team member performs a special dance to each of the four cardinal directions, dancing upon the top of the pole while playing a flute! At the right moment, the four flyers release themselves from the small cap on the pole and fall to earth, circling around the pole in expanding circles as the rope unwinds, eventually touching ground. Don’t try this at home. Most people feel impressed enough to provide a donation afterwards. We think this is a good idea.
The entrance to the ruin complex is through a built-up perforation in the wall. Entrance fee is 38 pesos. Kids under 13 get in for free. There’s an additional charge of 30 pesos if you want to use a video camera. The ruins are open 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. every day. There are plenty of guides offering their services for a fee.
TULUM: Getting There. It’s dead easy to get to Tulum. It’s right down the highway, about 60 kilometers or 50 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. Take the ferry from Cozumel and then choose one of the following options:
Local Bus – leaving from the bus terminal on 5th Avenue and Juarez all the time. It’s a 3 US dollar trip, one way, to Tulum. Bus packages, including entrance fee, are around 14 dollars per person.
Tour bus package prices vary widely, depending upon what is included. It seems anyone with 2 or more wheels is willing to show you Tulum, so make sure your expectations line up with the tour offerings. Playa.Info offers a very popular tour to Tulum that includes stops at two cenotes, a great lunch on an exclusive Tulum beach, drinks, beer, snacks and plenty of laughs. They start early to avoid the mid-day Tulum crowds and get you home around 5 p.m.