Cozumel via Carnival Cruise Ship Fantasy
Trip Start Apr 24, 2010
4Trip End Apr 29, 2010
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After getting our cultural fix at our first stop on the cruise of the Gulf, it was finally time for the obligatory swim-in-the-ocean-and-lay-in-the-sun-sipping-drinks stop on the grand tour. Yes, we had arrived in Cozumel! Since neither of us were very interested in shopping or bargaining, we immediately bypassed the beachside stores and ended up at Alamo Rent-A-Car at the entrance of Puerta Maya Pier. After renting a compact car (a Chevrolet, $55.50 after tax and liability insurance (available at $11), w/ functioning AC, standard transmission and guess what? it was RED as well), we then drove to Palancar Beach Club in the southwest of the island via the 'beachfront' road, which runs adjacent to the main highway and separates from the highway shortly after exiting the pier parking lot southbound only to magically reappear parallel to the highway about 3 beaches before Palancar.
Note: You should hop back on the highway when you see it because the beachfront road gets crazy bumpy and the main highway is literally only 10 meters to the left and smooth as butter. Oh yeah, and it's got the same exit ramps to each beach that you would take when driving on the bumpy beach road. So save your shocks the brutal banging and your teeth from needless rattling and USE THE HIGHWAY.
Most beaches were small and parking was on both sides of the beachfront road. There are plenty of beaches to choose from so don't worry if you've already passed several -- there is always another one right down the road. To get around the island, you can choose to take a taxi cab, but beware that if your beach destination is fairly far away from the pier, you may not be able to find a cab to take you back to the city. That's why we opted for a rental car so we could navigate to the remote side of the island without much worry. One of the beaches that I had read about in my research of Cozumel beaches was Chankanaab. It supposedly has very beautiful waters that are great for offshore snorkeling, which we were interested in doing while in Cozumel. However, we learned from the local tour guide booth back at the pier that Chankanaab park charges $19 per person for entrance. Needless to say, we decided to skip it. And instead, we chose to stop at Playa Palancar where I'd heard was also a nice area to do some snorkeling.
It took us about half an hour on the winding beach road to arrive at the entrace to Palancar. Turning off the main road, we encountered a long, very bumpy dirt road leading to the beach. Drive slowly and beware of hidden potholes as they may cause damage to your tires if you're moving too fast. Passing the last of the potholes, a few peacocks welcomed us to the parking area while an older man came to open Waritta's door for her. We walked the boardwalk under shady palm trees into the club area where only workers were in sight. Palancar is a free beach club, though purchasing a drink, food or snorkeling/scuba gear during your visit is encouraged. Getting to the beach, we only found a few locals and a Canadian couple hanging around, which was a very nice surprise since we don't liked places that are too crowded. We got a great spot with beach chairs all to ourselves under some palms, perfect for a great beach panorama and for avoiding heavy doses of direct sunlight (important for us as Waritta tans very easily and I burn very easily). The water was crystal clear, the sand was comfortable, and seashells were everywhere along the shoreline.
Before getting in the water, we realized we had forgotten our water shoes on the ship. Waritta preferred wearing shoes since the possibility of stepping on sharp rocks, shells and even sea urchins is very high, especially in seawater. Luckily, the snorkel/scuba rental hut offered scuba shoes in our sizes and we didn't even have to pay to use them! In the water, snorkeling was easy and enjoyable as there are many rocks with small fish and anemones to observe even in shallow water. After about three hours at Palancar (~2 p.m.), we decided to get going. By this time, there were around 30 people at the beach, but it never felt even close to being crowded during our time there. Indeed, on our side of the beach were only us and the Canadian couple.
As we were preparing to leave, we saw an animal resembling an anteater but...cuter. It was walking around the beach area and came up to Waritta, perhaps looking for a treat, and she got to touch it a few times before one of the workers came over to explain to us that the animal was called a Mexican Raccoon. After meeting the Mexican Raccoon, we headed back to the car where I learned something interesting about cars in Mexico.
What we didn't know:
1) To put a standard (stick) vehicle in reverse, you may need to pull up on the sheath directly under the shifter bulb before moving the stick to the proper "reverse" position. Simply place your palm on top of the bulb of the shifter, lay your fingers below the bulb and locate the piece that encircles the stick below the bulb. Use your fingers to pull this piece up (toward the bulb), then move the stick to its proper position to find reverse. Please refer to the figure below.
Hopefully, this info will help prevent sudden, embarrassing jolts of the car forward as you make multiple futile attempts to reverse your car. Your glaring ineptness in front of girlfriend and locals, only to require the assistance of a more-than-capable local who now has the very real potential to drive away with your girlfriend, can now be avoided. You're welcome!
After that minor bump, we hightailed it from Playa Palancar to the east side of Cozumel, where we passed some of the most natural and pristine beaches ever on our way to the famous Mezcalito's restaurant for some late lunch beachside.
We viewed in the distance what appeared to be a forced 90 degree turn left. Upon approach, we realized Mescalito's was right there at the turn. On the right is another restaurant called Senor Iguana's (I think; seem to remember it this way because of its obvious similarity to Senor Frog's). Parking was right out front (drive straight off the northbound road into a parking spot) in front of a souvenir shop with an excited skeleton there to greet you. Mescalito's was the perfect secluded beach bar with excellent food. The bar had a few friendly patrons of a variety of national origins, and the tables sat next to some hammocks on a sand floor overlooking the beach. With a warm breeze moving under the 'awning', comfort was 100%! We ordered the Nemo's platter ($14; fish, shrimp, french fries, salad, rice; order two if you're sharing as it's not a larger platter) and a couple of drinks ($2; Sprite and Fanta in glass bottles tasting noticeably unique from those U.S.-bottled) ($16 total). The fish and shrimp were particularly tasty and seasoned well. Don't forget to treat your snaggletoothed host, the siamese cat. After eating, we walked down to the water and visited a pool where the water was washing over some rocks onto the shore. All in all, a very relaxing end to a nice beach day! We got back on the road headed west toward downtown San Miguel.
To reach the beach road again in making our way back to the ship, we navigated through the downtown street grid system. Be careful to not venture down a one way street as the streets do not alternate directions one after the other. Directions are denoted by small signs with arrows at street corners, but, again, some of these are missing so be careful. Downtown is somewhat busy with local people and vehicles moving seamlessly in a controlled chaos that we had to blend into. Actually, it's not that bad, just be a defensive, keen driver and keep moving west. Eventually, we hit the beach road, turned south, and booked it to the ship. It took a good 10 minutes to get down the road to the port entrance. After dropping the car off and paying, we walked to the ship. On approach (15 min after the requested time for everyone to be on board), we heard our names called along with a few others over the intercom on the pier. We ran to the gangplank, got some disapproving looks from the crew, and made our way back to the room. Made the most! Right?