Scuba diving in the Yucatan is always a thrill, even in fresh water!
Our intention had been to dive a couple of days last week, in the azure sea, on the colorful reefs off the ivory-hued sandy shores of the still beautiful although ever-increasingly over-developed beaches of an oft-chaotic Cancun, but a sudden cold front swooped in … accompanied by huge waves and swells for the entire length of our brief stay, putting an end to that goal.
Yet, all was not lost. Fortunately for us, a little bit of Internet research had brought us to the excellent Cancun Scuba Center for our dive reservations. Patricia warned us in advance of the disappointingly harsh forecast and subsequent cancellation of all maritime sports during our dates. Lucky for us, she also suggested the perfect alternative- diving in the Dos Ojos Cenote, an hour or so drive south of Cancun.
In the past we had gone snorkeling in a small but pretty cenote (underground cavernous sinkhole freshwater system) near Tulum, but didn’t know that it was possible to dive in some of the bigger ones. We loved the idea.
After confirming by email our sizes for equipment rental, including two wetsuits each because the water would only be about 70 degrees, arrangements were made for us to be picked up at our hotel by the expert divemaster/underwater guide/shop owner, Juan Carlos, at 700am. We shared the ride and the day with two other divers only (regulations for diving in the cenotes include a maximum of a modest four divers per divemaster).
The dives were absolutely beautiful, ethereal and very unique. The visibility was so impressively crystal clear that it seemed like we were flying around the caves, admiring the stalagmites and stalactites in air, not water, truly a once in a lifetime experience. Wow!
The cost, including pickup from and drop off to our hotel, two tank dives, all fees and equipment rental, plus a good lunch, was $160 US.
Our Cancun hotel this time was the handsomely elegant Intercontinental El Presidente. We chose it because we each had enough points in our IHG accounts (thanks to the credit card signup bonuses that we got with Chase) for two nights, so we were able to get four nights free of charge, saving us over $1,000 during early January travel.
The hotel is excellent and we highly recommend it. Located at KM. 8 on the beachside boulevard Kukulcan, their superb, warm and welcoming staff takes good, professional care of your every vacation need, an enormous multilevel lobby of attractively designed floors of exotic wood interwoven with gleaming marble invites your entrance, and the contemporary lobby and happening bar with views, are beckoning, too.
Our large and well-appointed room on the fourth floor provided an expansive vista of the ocean even from laying down in the dreamily comfortable bed, and we could also open a small portion of the huge windows, letting fresh air in. Nice. The large marble bathroom is equipped with a rainforest shower, that was good, but a bit small.
Two huge pools provide sun and shade and the opportunity for a real swim. We didn’t get to enjoy the lovely beach area alas, because of the rough seas, but we did have a couple of wonderful meals in their El Caribe restaurant, under its intricately woven straw palapa, just a few feet away from the soft sands and pounding waves, the perfect ambiance. The fare served there is very good, and the service and prices are excellent, too.
We also ventured out for a meal once or twice, and enjoyed the fish at Tacún very much, and it was just a few minutes drive away.
We learned that although close enough to be accessible for a daytrip, the island of Cozumel was not suffering the same crazy waves as Cancun, so the next day we drove our (Budget booked through Expedia.com) rental car to Playa del Carmen, parked it on a small street there without a problem, took the 700am way too bumpy ferry ride to Cozumel (can you imagine how happy I was to find that in my ancient first aid kit, there were two motion sickness tablets left waiting to save the day?), and then did some gorgeous dives at the Columbia reef site in the Chankanaab Underwater National Park, with the Dive Paradise club ($102 each, including equipment rental). Gracias, Mario!
Before returning to the mainland, we had the best fish of the trip and some yummy guacamole and chips at the Costa Brava restaurant, a minute or two walk down a side street not far from the main street and pier there on the island.
The following day we drove three hours each way on the toll road (22 USD each way) to visit quaint and colorful Merida, with its charming leafy plazas, pretty colonial architecture, helpful, friendly people, and exotically flavored ice cream at heladerias all around the main square. We appreciate the beautiful murals depicting the tragic history of the Mayans in colonial times of Mexico, and consider it a must-see.
We flew into Cancun, which we only use as a practical base to visit other places in the Yucatan peninsula, on American Airlines. The fare was so low, $272 round-trip including all taxes and fees, that we didn’t even bother using miles, and saved them instead for use towards a more expensive ticket (of course getting those dollars spent on the flight reimbursed by a preferred travel reimbursement card, like the ones offered by Bank of America, Barclay, Capital One, or Chase sweetened the deal.)
Where will our saved AA miles take us on our next free trip…? Argentina, ¡probablemente!
La Travel Cutie, a su servicio