If you are looking for a dive location that has walls that drop straight away into the deep. A location that has impressive tunnels, great swim throughs, huge over hangs, gigantic coral pinnacles, impressive coral caverns and caves. A place that also offers a plethora of colorful fish life and interesting critters. Than you may not need to look any farther than Cozumel.
We arrived in Cozumel the evening of February 26th for an 11 day stay. The hotel we chose was the Fiesta Inn. Partially because of its proximity to the town of San Miguel (a short walk of 15 to 20 minutes) and the special pricing we found. When we received our tickets for the flight from American Airlines there was a discount coupon for one free night for each paid night and we couldn't pass that up. The hotel cost us $636.00 for the 11 nights.
Our room at the Fiesta Inn was on the first floor. It was average to a little above average in size. We had a king size bed, small table, two chairs, color TV with HBO, Cinemax, Disney and CNN. There were additional channels, but they didn't do us much good as they were in Spanish. The room also had a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony which over looked the pool. It was nice and we were satisfied with the accommodations.
Food costs in Cozumel surprised me some. They were higher than I expected for Mexico. The prices are about two to three times higher than the last time we were in Cozumel. Now, all of you that have been there before and don't agree with me hold on for a second and I'll explain. I realize that food costs where you live may be different than where I live. Here my wife and I can go out and have dinner at an average priced restaurant for about $20.00 for the both of us. This includes soup or salad, beverage, chicken, fish or meat with potatoes, vegetables and dessert. The above would cost about $15 to $17 in our lesser expensive restaurants and around $30.00 - $40.00 in our most expensive ones. So that's the basis I use to determine if a restaurant is expensive or not, however I will include what we paid for a meal so you can decide for yourself.
The first place we ate was La Choza. We wanted to eat there because when we were there five years ago and three of us had a great meal for about $10.00. But times have changed and although the food is still good it has increased in price. I had the shrimp fajita and a bowl of soup for $12.00 and my wife had the grilled chicken for $6.00 portion size good. We also ate at the Prima restaurant I had Manicotti for $9.00 and my wife had pasta Primavera for $8.75. House Salad was an additional $2.00. La Mission was also good, they had large portions. Grilled Chicken was $6.00 and a chicken fajita was $8.00. The restaurant we liked best, we ate there three times, was Acuario restaurant located next to the Barracuda Hotel a short walk south of town along the water front. We had the Mexican Plate that was excellent and it included a full salad bar for $7.50 each. This was our hands down favorite but there are a lot of good restaurants in Cozumel.
Diving in Cozumel is spectacular. The reefs are typical deep water reefs with swim throughs, coral pinnacles, caverns and more. Most of the sea life is in the shallower areas, above 70 feet.
Because there is almost always a current, boat diving is preferred. You are dropped off at the dive site and the boat follows your bubbles as you drift and swim along the reef. In some cases it's like flying gently over the reef. When you come up the boat is there waiting for you.
Because of this type of diving, I would highly recommend choosing a dive operation that have the smaller "Fast Boats". They usually dive with maximum of 6 divers and a smaller group makes the dives much more enjoyable. Another reason to choose the fast boats is that the best dive sites are located on the southern tip of the island and it takes the larger boats 45 min. to 1.5 hours depending on the destination. The smaller fast boats cut this time to less than half.
Choosing a dive operator should not be a problem as there are over 110 of them on the island. We prefer not prepaying for dive packages. We have found by booking for hotels and diving separately the price usually works out better and you have the opportunity to look over different dive operations first hand before you book.
We had a list of recommended dive operations we wanted to check out. Aldora, Dive Paradise, Scuba Du, Blue Bubble, Dive Memo and a few others. Dive Memo was ruled out first because we sent him 4 different e-mails before we left and didn't get any response. When we asked about him when we were there we were told he was now working in conjunction with Dive Paradise in some form or another. ( On March 15, 1998, four days after we got back, I did get a response from Memo, he explained his PC was down so he didn't get all his e-mail.)
On our first day we decided to walk to town and check out the dive shops. We were interested in the extended bottom time offered by Aldora with their steel 120's and computers, but their costs were higher. We were trying to decide if we wanted to do fewer longer dives or more but shorter dives for the same cost.
The first shop we came to that we wanted to check out was Dive Paradise. We found out they had fast boats and the price was $54.00 for a morning two tank dive. If we booked two dives or more we could get a 10% discount. So we booked a morning dive for the next day and a night dive ($30) to take advantage of the 10% discount. Then we continued into town and got information on Aldora and a few others.
The next morning we were picked up at the Fiesta Inn pier by one of Dive Paradise's Fast Boats. We handed down our BC's and equipment and we were off for our first dive. The crew was great. They set up our BC's and Reg's and had them ready to go by the time we got to our first dive site. There were 6 Divers and 2 crew on this trip. The site was diver selected. As this was our first dive we didn't care what location was picked. The other divers chose Palancar Caves.
Palancar Caves had deep buttresses that you would swim between, some tunnel swim throughs and large caverns. A good dive but not many fish. 85' for 40 minutes.
Our second dive was at Yucab Reef.Yucab Reef has a low dense profile and is full of fish life and color. We saw big Angel Fish, Spotted Morays, Juvenile Drums, Big Lobsters. I got some good underwater video here. Current was moderate, 55' 46 Minutes.
We were back to the Fiesta Inn by noon and spent the afternoon talking to other divers by the pool. We talked to some that had been diving with Aldora. They seemed happy with Aldora's service, but said on most dives they were returning with over 1000 lbs still in their tanks. We also found out they weren't seeing anything more at 100 ft. than we were seeing at 85. So we opted to stay with Dive Paradise and do more dives for the same dollars. To dive deep just for the sake of diving deep didn't interest us much. Been there, done that. Most of what we wanted to see, fish and sea life, seemed to be in the shallower areas.
The next morning our first dive was to Palancar Bricks. 4 divers. Here there are impressive big blocks of coral and swim throughs. We saw a few of the normal reef fish, a turtle, small ray and grouper. 95' 37 min. The second dive was at Tormentos Reef. Large sponges, very picturesque. Got good video of large lobster and a big crab. 70' 42 Min. light current.
That night we did our night dive. 4 Divers. This dive was at Paradise Reef. The dive was spectacular, we saw octopus (3 different ones), lots of eels, a nurse shark, many fish. Every place you looked there was something to see. The next time you do a night dive feed the coral. Hold your light near a Brain coral and watch it's polyps grap the little worms that gather in your light beam.
The next day we rented a car and toured the island. On the day after we did a tour of Tulum and Xel-ha. Tulum was interesting but Xel-ha was forgettable. If you tour Tulum or the Mayan ruins on Cozumel and want to take your video camera in, there is about a $4.00 charge to do so. No charge for any other type camera. This is a federal tax.
On Thursday we were back to diving. We did Santa Rosa Wall. 3 divers 81' 35 min. A great dive with nice swim throughs. Fun as the dive master led us through the reef. The second dive was at Paradise Reef lots of Queen Angelfish. 40' 44 min.
Friday our first dive was to Palancar Gardens. If we had to choose one deep dive we liked the best from a group of great deep dives, this would be it. It is just beautiful with overhangs covered with sponges and plant life. Large caverns and swim throughs. 85' 35 min. 3 divers. The second dive was at Paso El Cedral or Oak Pass. Another spectacular dive site with lots of large Grouper, a Green Moray, Spotted Morays, big Lobster and plenty of fish. 57' 41 min.
Paso El Cedral was so good for video and sea life we started there again the next day. we weren't disappointed. 55' 41 min. 4 divers. The second dive covered parts of Yucab & Tormentos we used the swift current and went "flying" over the reef. 58' 53 min.
On our final day of diving we started with Cedral Wall. We saw a Nurse Shark, Shrimp, Toad Fish, Big Crabs, many Queen, Gray and French Angelfish. 81' 41 min. 4 divers. A great dive! (bet you're tired of hearing me say that by now). Our last dive was at Punta Tunich A big green Moray came out of its hole to say hello. It put its nose right up to my video housing, turned around and went back. Great shot. We also saw Queen Trigger fish, a Ray on the bottom and many Groupers 67' 46 min.
Other than the night dive, we did all two-tank dives. During the surface intervals, you have your choice of soda or water on the boat (included in price of trip)
Here is a cost break down of what we paid. As mentioned before we did the "Custom morning 2 tank fast trips" I chose this option because we left at 8:15 and returned at 12:30. We would get up, my wife would have coffee (which she HAS to have or watch out) and I would have a light breakfast. When we got back we would have a leisurely lunch with the rest of the day free for relaxing or sight seeing. On the beaches we stopped at, between dives, food was not available, but the boat supplied soda. As we were back by 12:30 this wasn't a problem.
We didn't feel a great need to do afternoon trips as well as morning dives and it gave us time to rest up for a night dive if we felt like doing one. We try to go for a little longer stays and fewer dives per day so by the end of the trip we don't feel the amount diving we're doing is getting to be like work.
We did a total of 13 dives while we were there. Our total cost (room 11 nights & diving) was $633.49 each. If we break the room cost down to a 7 night stay with the same amount of diving our cost would have been about $520.00 each + room tax.
Over all Cozumel diving impressed us a lot and it's a location we will definitely return to and would recommend to anyone. But, if it wasn't for the diving I wouldn't have any great need to return. There are some things I didn't like about Cozumel and if you are still reading this and aren't bored to tears yet I will list them below.
Cozumel is very crowded downtown when the cruise ships are in and outside of most stores and restaurants there are people trying to get you to come into their places. This gets old real fast. The cruise ships are in almost every day (Wednesday is the busiest) and since they are building a new pier for them, we imagine there will probably be even more as time goes on. The cruise ships are providing so much retail business downtown that the people working in the stores tended to have a rather bored, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. If you are there for any length of time and want to do any souvenir shopping, we suggest you get off the main street and go back a few blocks to the less busy stores where they don't get the volume of cruise people shopping. Their prices (for identical merchandise) are more reasonable. Hint:don't pay the asking price anywhere.We bought a poncho that they were asking $37.00 for and I said too much and started to walk out he asked how much I would pay I told him $10.00 he came down to $22 I said $10 this went on for awhile an we settled on $11.00. In a silver shop we bought a money clip that was marked at $32.00 we got it for $16.00 it was inlayed with black coral and mother of pearl.
There are also a lot of booths set up for "time share" sales. We managed to avoid them but it's hard to get away without being rude.
Most businesses use pesos and give a U.S. dollar equivalent. But the exchange rate varies widely throughout Cozumel. We encountered a range of 8 pesos to the dollar to 8.5 pesos to the dollar. Usually, if a store gives you a price in U.S. they will convert to pesos at the lower rate to their advantage so be aware of this. If we go again, we'll exchange before we depart the States and we recommend you do the same. It's also not the easiest to cash traveler's checks. The lines are pretty long at the banks (when they are open) and the hotel was cashing them in pesos only (at a rate of 8.25). We also noticed that the majority of the places didn't take credit cards.
There's supposed to be a Mexican festival on Sunday night in the town square from 7 to 10 pm. We went down but only stayed a little while because the band was playing some kind of rock music that we didn't particularly like. We only stayed about an hour so maybe it got more traditional later.