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We're not in San Miguel de Allende...

...but we are in San Miguel de Cozumel

semi-overcast 27 °C

We've been to San Miguel de Allende three times in the past several years and we have spent countless hours wandering the hilly streets with one stunning sight-line after another unfolding at every turn. We have always thoroughly enjoyed our visits; San Miguel offers up something different every time. What we have enjoyed far less is the dominating gringo presence that has turned this beautiful colonial city into a well-heeled tourist playground - often at the expense of the locals.

San Miguel has earned a reputation as being "Gringolandia" and it is not undeserved. But the pluses of this city have always outweighed the annoyances for us, and so we had slotted a couple of weeks to check out our favourite sites. We would be there right now, but for an incident that soured us on the place once and for all.

We had booked an Airbnb from a Washington State couple who contacted us several weeks ago to find out our anticipated arrival time. Since we would be arriving on a Sunday around 6:00 pm, the owner told us that we would be expected to tip the property manager $30 to let us in. When we inquired about this practice, we were quite curtly told that a) Mexicans don't normally work on Sundays (?) and b) it is customary to tip in Mexico. Since Mexicans most definitely work on Sundays and we are well versed in tipping customs, we were both annoyed by the misinformation and insulted by the insinuation. We were also puzzled - in all the years and dozens of places we've stayed at in Mexico, we've never been charged to have someone hand us a key. We chose not to get into it with the owner, but merely changed our arrival date so as to avoid any "Sunday" issues.

Then we got to thinking... Would this unfortunate intro to this Airbnb be just the beginning of aggravating dealings with this owner? We had met several people like him in San Miguel before and they get in the way of all the reasons we love Mexico. So we turned to Plan B - head to another tourist destination with lots of gringos, also named San Miguel (de Cozumel)!


If you remember our last visit in Cozumel, we were here for just four days with one sick day (Stephen being sunned out) and one rainy day cutting into our adventures. We left wishing we could have stayed longer and now we are back - back in our same cute casita and this time hitting the ground running - knowing where to go and what to see. Also my cousins are here - we've already had one visit and have more planned - more on that in the next blog.

Cozumel is a contradictory place. It is the fourth largest cruise ship destination in the world, and yet the presence of thousands of daily visitors is hardly noticed. I don't know where they all go. There is far more wild, jungly land than there is development, and the whole east coast is usually unswimmable due to winds and currents. Senor Frogs and Hooters have staked their ubiquitous claim on the waterfront, but the dining out scene is well balanced with Mexican-owned establishments, both mom and pop, and fine dining. The malecon is simply beautiful, running for many kilometres along the west coast of the island. If you are needing shade and don't mind being hassled, you walk on the street side where you will be coaxed to "take a look" for everything from made-in-China souvenirs to cigars to tequila. More serious purchases include diamonds, gold and no-prescription-necessary opioids and Viagra. If that proves to be too much, you just flip over to the water side and enjoy the view in peace.

We have found the tourists in Cozumel to be a little different than other beach destinations - quieter, less yahoo behaviour - more family, less party. Many folks live here here for the winter months and they are well integrated into the community. It is a much more relaxing place to be.

Getting around is the one sticking point - most of the tourist sites and beach clubs require either a car rental or a taxi - there is no bus service. Typically a round-trip taxi to most beach clubs will be $20, which adds up but is still way cheaper than a daily car rental. Most beach clubs either rent sun beds and umbrella for a fee that is then put toward the food and drink bill, or they simply ask that you purchase your lunch from them.

We headed out to Sky Reef Beach club a couple of days ago - it was blowing up quite a gale, so unfortunately the snorkelling was not as satisfactory as it could have been.


Neither was the food - I foolishly ordered nachos, which aside from a few crispy tortillas on the edges, was a soggy mess, topped with a scant handful of tomato and onion and held together with a gelatinous mass of congealed cheese. Still, as we always say when the day does not unroll as we had hoped, " Real life happens on the road" - including unmet expectations.

A few real-life scenarios have unfolded for us this time around. The most inconvenient is the loss of our phone, which did not survive a Caribbean swim. Just prior to that, Stephen bought a new cord in Playa del Carmen for his iPad and then left it behind in Merida. We have since bought a second cord but the iPad is still behaving badly, so we may well be on the hunt for a few new devices once we return home.

Our experience at Buccano's Beach Club was incredible - the polar opposite of the Sky Reef. Buccano's is beautifully appointed, immaculately maintained and people actually go there for the food.
This is the entrance:


We arrived early enough to have our pick of sunbeds, and set ourselves up for a completely enjoyable and memorable day. This flotilla arrived, which felt like a worrisome sign of things to come, but not at all. They dropped in their snorkelers for a while, then left and that was that.


The snorkeling was fabulous. It is an incredible and highly addictive pastime to wade into the ocean, drop down and begin exploring. At times we were simply floating with fish swimming all around us; at other times we would be drifting along and just above our heads a barracuda would glide by. Fish of every colour of the rainbow, including huge schools of sargeant major fish ( small, black and yellow striped) that according to one of our nearby beach neighbours, actually bite. "They'll give ya a good nip" which was all the intel I needed to try and stay clear of them. I looked up "Cozumel fish" and according to the images I saw online, we saw angelfish in many different colours, a few harlequin bass, a school of blue tang, some honeycombed cowfish, damselfish and grouper. I also saw a magnificent spotted moray eel - slithering along the ocean floor, with its wavy back and sinister-looking mouth opening and reaching. We're hoping to have at least another few snorkelling experiences over the next week. We've run into a number of divers here and I have to say, their enthusiasm is infectious. If we love snorkeling, can you imagine what it would be like to dive - especially in this warm water with so much marine life. Maybe another trip.

We've been amusing ourselves with the fauna visible from our front deck. We wake up each morning to birdsong and in the early evening the action resumes - they swoop and soar and chirp and twitter, but sadly they are all birds of a feather - black and grey and brown. I have read through our Cozumel Bird Book and there is not a drop of colour to be found in our neighbourhood. I did get a snap of this Yucatan Vireo but that might be it for our tropical sightings.


Most nights we are visited by this froggy fellow - I think this is a common milk frog. He sits on the cement wall and gradually makes his way up to the top, where he eventually climbs over and disappears. I hear myself doing the colour commentary," Oh I think he just moved" and I realize how far away from my youth I have moved.


Although our weather has been a bit unsettled since we arrived, we have had a few nights where we've been able to watch the sunset. We had a multi-media event at Rinaldi's - a pizza place on the waterfront. There were people gathering on shore, a couple of snorkelers in the water and a cruise ship preparing to cast off.


We had a ring-side seat.


The main event.


And finally, because I love them, some murals - all nature and Cozumel related.




We still have lots to do and see here, so we'll catch up again in about a week. Our trip is starting to come to an end. We still have three weeks, which for non-retirees, is a very respectable holiday. For us, we are seeing the end on the horizon, which is always greeted with mixed feelings. We will finish our time in Mexico with 12 days in Mexico City - one of our very favourite cities.

As I write this, Stephen is watching the Superbowl in Spanish! See you all again in a week.

Posted by millerburr 00:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cruise_ships murals island snorkeling malecon cozumel #stephenpaulburr

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Loved this blog and the fact that you didn’t let a little glitch get in the way of spoiling your time there. Love the murals too, keep having fun and I’ll look forward to your next “happy place”.

by Sharon

Seasoned travellers! Great that you could leave the grumbles behind and love it. Jealous of the snorkeling :) Yes, diving, is, I think, the answer. I came to the same point when I was south. Still a must do. Brave enough to dive in a dry suit here ? :)

by Robin Louise Pile

Thank you so much for letting me travel with you on your exploration of Mexico. Your writing makes me feel like I was there with you. As I am unable to travel myself these blogs "Make my day!" and an enjoyable one...

by Roy Phillips

So fun to spend this morning in Mexico as it's minuss 22 here!

by Nicola Ross

As usual, a wonderful read. I’m Green. As the snowblowers start up and the snowplough drives by, that would Be an understatement. Enjoy it all. Can’t wait for the next Chapter.

by Joan Fisher

Our stay was brief in Cozumel, as we were on one of those cruise ships that you mentioned; but, we were there long enough to explore and enjoy some of the sights. I loved reading about your snorkelling adventures; it really is an idyllic experience! Hope you can fit in a few more while you are there.

by Heather Scott

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