Trip Report: Cozumel, Mexico
February 17 – 22, 2003 

This was my first trip out of the country with the Abyssmal Diver’s group, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had been to Cozumel back in 1997 on a family trip through the Yucatan. Things had changed quite a bit since my first trip.

Getting There:
We elected to fly Mexicana Airlines into Cancun, and take a shuttle to Playa Del Carmen to catch the ferry across to Cozumel. This approach had two distinct advantages; (1) it was a direct flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Cancun (CUN) and even with the shuttle and the ferry ride, the total time was less than doing the connection through Houston, and, (2) it was cheaper than the “2 stop and land in Cozumel (CZM)” airfare, with the shuttle and ferry costs added in.

We chose “Las Brisas” formerly known as “Costa Club” and “Fiesta Inn” for our trip this year. It seems that this resort changes names the way most folks change their underwear. The resort itself is well maintained, clean, and comfortable. There is a restaurant on the premises, however it is not the cheapest meal in town. Breakfast ran an average $13.00 (US), a fruit plate and coffee was $6.00 (US). 

Las Brisas also has its own pier, as do most of the larger resorts, and Dive Paradise operates out of the hotel grounds. An added convenience, which proved a bonus on the first day of diving when our dive operator couldn’t get his smaller “fast” boats out of the harbor due to conditions ( a strong wind created rough sea’s closing the port to smaller craft). But Dive Paradise’s 44’ slow boat was able to get out, giving us 2 dives for our first day instead of none.

Update: Las Brisas has again changed its name; it is now called “Hotel Cozumel

As mentioned above the restaurant on the hotel premises is a bit expensive, however a short taxi ride into San Miguel, and you have a wide variety of eating options available to you and in every price range. From just a couple of bucks for huaraches at Cholongo’s to $18 for veal parmigiane at the Prima’s. If you do go to Cholongo’s bring your own cerveza’s, he doesn’t serve them, but doesn’t mind if you bring your own.

Entertainment and other Interests:
There was quite a bit to do in town near the plaza, but quite honestly, by the time we got back from our night dive, all we were ready to do was take a shower and call it a night. Most of our sight seeing was done in the afternoon, between the mid-day dive and the night dive. And dinner was sandwiched in this time slot too.

Dive Operator:
The dive operator we used was Living Underwater. Living Underwater’s claim to fame is the longest bottom times, and the fastest boats. They get the long bottom times by providing LP steel 120’s. Their boats are small, but accommodated all 7 of us plus the crew comfortably, and they were fast. We would typically leave after most other boats and yet would consistently arrive at the dive spots before the other boats.

Jeremy Anschel, an expatriated kid from Minnesota (at least that’s the story we got), who has made his home in Cozumel, was our divemaster for the week. He was knowledgeable of the reefs and their inhabitants, and once he got to know us (and our abilities) was not over-bearing or restrictive of our diving. Probably the only draw back was, because Living Underwater uses the long bottom times as a selling point, we would often run out of reef before we ran out of air, but we would stay down anyway. Now don’t get me wrong, this did payoff big time on one occasion in particular. Well after the main reef had ended, and we were just preparing to ascend for our safety stop when we spotted a 6-7’ nurse shark going after something in a small outcropping. Having the big tanks allowed us the luxury of spending some time watching this spectacle. Check out Craig’s video here.

The Diving:
The reefs of Cozumel are world renowned for their immensity, diversity, and beauty. They are spectacular!  The diving is easy, every dive is a drift dive, although Jeremy tried to ensure the night dives were either non-drift or a very slow drift dive.

A typical day was 8:00 am on the pier for pickup, in the water around 8:45, back on the boat at around 10 to 10:15 (remember these a 120’s and 80-90 min’s of bottom time was not uncommon). Off to a local a resort near the southern end of the island for lunch from about 10:30 – 12:00 lunch and refill the tanks, then head back out for the mid-day dive, and back on the Las Brisas pier by 3:00. Now was time for dinner, rest, internet café, film development, whatever. Then back out to the pier by 6:00 for the night dives. You were typically back by around 8:30 – 9:00. A very full day.

Playa Del Carmen
In Playa we stayed in a small hotel “Hotel Colibri” right on the beach north of the main plaza. The staff was friendly and very helpful, at one point when were trying to arrange the van back to Cancun for the flight home, Simone, our concierge paid for it out of her own pocket to reserve it as we were out diving at the time, talk about going the extra mile for your guests. All rooms were comfortable and clean. The hotel has 28 rooms and 5 cabanas.  There is also a small dive shop on premises.

Hotel Colibri has a small bar/restaurant on the beach but I must admit, we never partook of it. We did venture up one block to Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), which has been blocked off to all vehicular traffic and tried several fine eateries there. One of our favorites was Hemmingway’s which made killer Jamaican Margarita’s, oh, and the food wasn’t bad either. Another was the 100% Natural, natural food restaurant. We had breakfast there everyday. Their fresh squeezed orange juice was outstanding, and they had great omelets. Their only shortcoming was the coffee, very weak, however, this was easily solved by a short stroll to Java Joe’s just across the street, for a good strong brew, and they had no problem with you bringing it back to the restaurant. They must’ve known their coffee was bad.

Entertainment and other Interests:
There is a pretty active nightlife in Playa del Carmen for those interested in such activities. Being a group of middle-aged men, our nightlife consisted of maybe a drink or two with dinner and back to the hotel by 9:00 pm.

There are a lot of sights to see around the area, Mayan ruins are located all along the coastline, Telum not being too far away, 65km south of Playa, Xel-Ha is even closer, and Xcaret is literally just down the road. Cancun is 65km to the north.

There are plenty of places to buy souveniers, and artwork by local artisans. All along Quinta Avenida you’ll hear the vendors calling, “the best silver in all of the Yucatan, no junk.” And there are some beautiful pieces to be had at very reasonable prices.

Dive Operator:
Dive Adventuras in Puerto Adventuras handled all our Cenote diving needs. They were professional, and went out of their way to accommodate us. They picked us up at our hotel (for a small additional fee), brought us to their shop, where we completed any necessary paperwork, and picked up necessary gear. The dive briefings were complete, Oscar our dive master went over the safety factors associated with cavern diving, what to expect, the layout of the each cenote and how we would navigate them. A sack lunch was provided, and at the end of the day, they drove us back to our hotel.

The Diving:
Cenotes diving was in a word, intense! They are magical, other worldly, unreal, mysterious, the descriptors are endless. Unless someone kicks up the silt, the water is ultra clear, in fact at points you really don’t feel like your in water, except when you exhale, there are the bubbles. Chac-Mool does have salt-water infiltration so there are haloclines, a shimmering similar to a thermocline where the two waters meet, that tend to hinder visibility.

One note of caution: In spite of what might be presented in various forums, cenote diving is intense. You are in an over-head environment for most of the dive. Chac-Mool did have several openings to the surface, but they were spaced out. You will be out of sight of an opening to the surface for extended periods of time. Dos Ojos (two eyes) is even worse, with only the eyes open to the surface, and the bat cave has a ladder to an opening cut in the roof, the rest of the time you will be in an over-head environment. If you are not comfortable in the conditions, give it some thought before committing to it. Also, lights are required. It gets dark in there, very, very dark.

That said, the diving there is nothing short of spectacular. The rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites, the sensation of flying through a cave, the clarity of the water, all combine to make this a truly awesome experience. Oscar our dive master was excellent. He kept a watchful eye to make sure everyone was doing ok, no panic, and no one got lost. All routes are well marked with a guideline and direction markers. Did I mention the diving was spectacular?

If you want excellent diving, outstanding food, and a warm inviting people for a reasonable price Cozumel can’t be beat. The variety of diving and the sheer number of locations guarantees you won’t be bored, and the likelihood of overcrowded reefs is almost nil. The only place we ran into another group was Devil’s Throat, and even then there were just a few other divers.

Playa del Carmen has a charm all its own. The people are warm and friendly, the beaches were awesome, the food outstanding, the margarita’s strong, and the diving…intense!

Would I go back? Absolutely.
Rating: 10.