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February 2000 Cozumel Trip Report

Text and images Copyright (C) 2000 David M. Read

My wife and I, along with two friends, went on a weeklong trip to Cancun and Cozumel from February 25 to March 2, 2000.  This is a report of that trip.  All of the images below are hyperlinks.  Click on any image to see a larger version.

Once again, I have more slides than I can use.  If you want to see the best of the bunch from this, trip, check out the photo gallery.

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Annemarie checks out a sea fan at Palancar Horseshoe

It had been over a year since our last trip to Cozumel, and we were itching to return.   This time around there was extra motivation to go, but motivation to stay home as well.  My buddy Scott G and I had been taking a PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC) for months before the trip, and there was an Instructor Examination (IE) in Cancun on Feb 26 and 27.  That was the extra motivation to go.  The extra motivation to stay home was the presence of my infant son Dylan, who was just 11 weeks old at the time of departure.  Taking that young a child to Mexico frightened us somewhat, but after evaluating all of our options, my wife and I decided to give it a go.

When we found airfare to Cancun, a Thursday-to-Thursday deal was all we could muster, but the price was right. So after the exam finished on Sunday, we had 4 days to kill before going home.  Cozumel beckoned.  We answered the call.


Two words are all I have to say about Cancun: "never again."   If you really want to know why, click here.

Transferring to Cozumel

We took a taxi down to Playa Del Carmen, where we boarded the ferry to Cozumel.   The taxi ride cost us $60 for 4 people, 12 bags, and a Suburban.  The 'normal' rate seems to be around $30 for two people.  The taxi ride took about half an hour.   The ferry cost 61 pesos each way per person, and took roughly 30 minutes to make the crossing.

If you've never taken the time to visit Playa del Carmen, I recommend it.  We didn't get enough "walking around" time to see much of the city, but I loved what I saw..


Cozumel was, as usual, wonderful.  The people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the diving excellent. We also enjoy the food there, and we were able to find babysitting for Dylan in the form of the sister-in-law of our dive operator (Martin Aguilar of Dive With Martin).  That 16-year-old girl was better than Dylan than we were, which was quite a shock.  Oh well.  I guess they start caring for babies early in Mexico!

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French Grunts hide from the current at Yucab

One thing that surprised us throughout Mexico was how much attention passersby paid to our baby.  It seemed that everyone had a grin, a coo, or a happy face for Dylan.   We're accustomed to that from women in the USA, but it was the men in Mexico who lavished the most attention on the baby.  There's a huge cultural difference there that I'm not sure I understand, but everyone seemed genuinely happy to see our baby...and most of them had stories to swap about their own children.  I felt like Dylan and we were welcome everywhere we took him, which made the whole trip much easier.


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The grounds of the Villablanca hotel are gorgeous.

We stayed at the Villablanca Hotel in Cozumel.   Don't let their web site put you off; the web site is much glitzier than the hotel.  It's sort of a basic place, but the rates were good, and Villablanca has their own pier right across the street, and Martin's boats gladly picked us up there.  A short schlep of dive gear was all that was needed to get to the dive boats. 

Villablanca itself has great grounds, with a sort of wild feel to the landscaping.  Plants overhang the walkways, and the grass is green.  The rooms were...well... "spartan," but we didn't need much more.  Our particular room, number 5, had some oddities in the form of wooden slats for blinds on the windows, but there were no glass panes in place.  That made me feel very bad about running the air conditioner, so we didn't run it too much.  But the thing worked great; when the room got stuffy or humid, the AC unit took care of business quickly.

Beds in Mexico seem awfully hard, and Villablanca was no exception.  Oh well.   Villablanca's pillows, while tough, were a vast improvement from the blanketed concrete slabs we had the Continental Plaza hotel in Cancun.

The staff at the Villablanca are some of the most friendly and accomodating you'll find anywhere.  When I couldn't find a three-prong outlet for plugging in my strobe charger, they graciously offered to plug it into their computer power strips in the back room.  For three days they put up with my coming & going to keep my strobe topped off.


No dive trip report is complete without a mention of food, so here we go.  The food on Cozumel was fabulous; no surprise there.  We ate at this one tiny little place up about 3 blocks north from the plaza (can't remember the name).  They had traditional mexican fare that was wonderful.  We ate one night at Prima Pasta, a meal of awesome seafood and pasta.  We ate one night at Pancho's Backyard, where the chiles rellenos are not to be missed.  We also at one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner at a new restaurant across the street from Villablanca, the Russian Corner.

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Sergei's restaurant, the Russian Corner

The Russian Corner is owned and operated by Sergei, a visiting diver from Moscow who decided to stay for a while and try to run a business.  Sergei serves all sorts of mexican and american favorites, but if you want the best he has to offer, check in with him the day before you plan to visit, and set up the Russian feast with him.  Our feast included a Russian salad (sort of like potato salad but with onions, beets, cooked peas, and who-knows-what-else in it--truly delicious), a giant bowl of borscht (if you think you don't like borscht, try Sergei's before you throw in the towel), stuffed cabbage rolls,some "Russian Ravioli," and liberal and frequent servings of vodka.   I'm sure I'm forgetting a round of food, but the truth is that the whole night turned into sort of a blur after the fourth round of Stoli.  Anyway, Sergei is a gracious and entertaining host, and the meal has to be experienced to be understood.   Please drop by Sergei's place, and tell him "na zdaroviyeh" for me.

One last comment on food: if you can manage to do your surface intervals at a place called 'La Francesa' (conveniently located in front of La Francesa reef), they make some of the best fries I've ever had.  But watch out for their pico de gallo, as it's delicious but deadly hot.

Dive Operation

We did our diving with Dive With Martin.  Our group was/is relatively advanced, and we wanted to do our dive sites, so we opted for the "photographer's special."  That is, we paid a little more to get our own boat for just the 4 of us.  That let us pick the sites with no objections from anyone else, which was great.  The boat itself was your basic 6-pack boat, with twin 75 HP outboards...plenty fast.

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Fernando hams it up for the camera.

Martin's people are quite friendly and helpful.  Our captain was Eddi, and our DM was Fernando.  I'm pretty sure Fernando and/or Martin will be reading this, because I promised to send along a link to this report and to the picture of Fernando.   Fernando was generally a fine DM, although I have two minor complaints, both things he can fix with a little effort.   You listening, Fernando?  If so, please don't take this personally.  Anyway, item #1: while I appreciated that Fernando gave us plenty of latitude in the water, there were a couple of times that we got separated from him and were unable to get his attention to let him know there was a problem. No biggie, but a look back at the group to count heads once in a while would be a good idea.   The other area where Fernando can improve is in creature-finding; a few lessons from Martin on where the creatures live and how to spot them would probably be very helpful.

Mostly, I want DMs who will generally keep an eye on the group, and then one who finds creatures for my camera!  :)  Other than these two items, I thought Fernando was great.  I don't recall a friendlier DM in my diving career, and that's at least 75% of the game right there.  We loved diving with Fernando, and would definitely dive with him again.

The Diving

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This octopus was hiding another one in a hole behind
him.  Maybe they were mating?

You thought I'd make you wait forever, didn't you?

OK, the diving was fantastic.  Cozumel is rapidly finding its way to the top of my dive destination list.  Right now, I can't think of anyplace I'd rather dive.   We made 8 dives in 3 days, and loved every one of them.  Columbia Deep stands out as the best dive from this trip.

The visibility was excellent (never less than 100 feet), the water temperatures sat at 77 or 78F on ever dive, and mostly the seas were calm.  Only a couple of dives had more than a mild current.

Dive Log Excerpts

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Annemarie cruises through one of the swimthroughs at Palancar Horseshoe.
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Annemarie and a sea fan.
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Can you tell I'm learning how to photograph with a model?

Dive #1: Palancar Horseshoe
The Horseshoe is as cool as it gets.   It's a big swimthrough / sand chute sort of a thing that starts at around 65 feet and rises to roughly 45 feet, where it 'U' turns and goes back down to 65.  At the top of the U there is a really cool little chamber that is home to piles of glassy sweepers.  The tunnel itself is wide and easily passable, and is dotted with small exits and chimneys.  Very cool.  The "Grand Canyon" at the exit from the horseshoe is worth a look.

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One of Yucab's funky sponges.

Dive #2: Yucab Yucab was OK, but not great.  Mostly it's sand flats with a raised shoulder at the edge of the dropoff.  The reef consists of spotty soft coral, an occasional hard coral, and lots of sponges.  We saw some really funky giant brown sponges, and lots of small blobby black ones.  There was much more fish life than at Palancar Horseshoe.


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Punta Sur has lots of huge sea fans.

Dive #3: Punta Sur Devil's Throat is cool, but the real fun is in the all the open and well-lighted swimthroughs.  That's where you find the big sea fans, the long tube sponges, and the great vistas. 

Devil's Throat starts as what looks like a small side passage to a large, short swimthrough.  If no one pointed it out to you, off to the right from the main passage, you'd miss it easily.  Down into the dark hole, down the hill, turn to the left, and there's the exit.  It starts at 85 feet or so and exits at around 120.   Then you make a sharp right turn and ascend into the cathedral, where you look at the huge chamber and the sponges (included the cross-shaped sponge).

The end of the dive, drifting along at about 50 to 60 feet, is cool too.  Lots of sea fans billow in the current.  A giant spotted eagle ray (with remora) swam by towards the end.

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A turtle buzzed us at Las Palmas.

Dive #4: Las Palmas This dive started out great, with a large turtle swimming by during our descent.  Then we drifted over the reef, looking at all manner of sponges and soft coral.  I discovered that Cozumel has strawberry vase sponges, just like the Caymans.  I did not know this.

This dive was all about the little things: a mostly-hidden spotted moray, 3 scrawled filefish in a group, lots of blennies, several colonies of pelagic tunicates floating in the water, lots of juvenile sargassum triggerfish, several lobsters, and lots and lots of arrow crabs.


Dive #5: Las Palmas Night Dive! We returned to Las Palmas for a night dive.  It started off well, with an octopus hiding under a coral head.   Then the fun started.  We saw a juvenile peacock flounder, a decorator crab, a large spider crab, a conch with its eyestalks out,a very small yellow stingray (no more than 10 inches across),a balloonfish, and more arrow crabs than I've ever seen before.

I also saw more pelagic tunicates, including these weird blobby creatures in the water: translucent tubes 3 inches long and one inch in diameter with orange 'seeds' in the middle.  Very strange.


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Sponges abound at Columbia.

Dive #6: Columbia Deep  Columbia Deep may well be my favorite dive on Cozumel.  It starts off around 65 feet and then the sand chutes drop you down to around 80. Then the wall takes over, reaching down into the deeps.  what makes Columbia so special is that you have great coral formations and pinnacles to swim through and around, along with huge sea fans grazing in the current.  When the formations run out, "regular" reef takes over, with fish, sponges, and huge sandy expanses.

This particular dive was even more special. It started off with a turtle, and then a huge spotted eagle ray swam by.  Later we saw another eagle ray(perhaps the same one?).  Finally, at the end of the dive, we found another eagle ray (same one again?), who settled down near the sand.  Possibly this was a cleaning station?   I got within 5 feet or so and took a picture. The strobe startled him, and he took off quickly.

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More of Columbia's breathtaking scenery.

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An eagle ray hovers near the sand at Columbia.

Dive #7: Santa Rosa Shallow
Santa Rosa makes a great second dive--as long as you stay on the shoulder and don't drop too far down the wall!  The top is littered with all sorts of current-fed creatures: sea fans, sea rods, and sea plumes, barrel & tube sponges, etc.  Some of the barrel sponges have outrageously weird shapes.

The current really raged at Santa Rosa today, making for a tough swim from the entry point to the wall's shoulder.  Once we reached our destination, though, the current made for a joyful and easy ride "downhill."

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A schoolmaster at Santa Rosa.

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A free-swimming peacock flounder...

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...and a closeup of the flounder after he settled on a rock.

Dive #8: Paraiso Now I understand the furor over the cruise ship pier.   Paradise Reef is a great shallow dive, with lots of soft coral and sponges, along with some sand flats.  The shallowest areas of the reef are as shallow as 10 or 15 feet, and the deepest parts out beyond the sand flats sit at around 50 feet.

This one is a macro dive for sure.  I mounted the '60 because Martin dove with us and promised toadfish and/or pipefish.  No luck on either, though.  We saw only one leopard toadfish, and he was unphotographable in his hideaway.  Oh well.

But this dive had plenty else to offer: my first peppermint bass, my first secretary blenny, an adult spotted drum, several queen triggerfish, lots of sargassum triggerfish, and a free-swimming peacock flounder Martin scared up.

Dive Log Details

Dive # Site Depth Time Comments
1 Palancar Horseshoe 82 :50 Great tunnel swimthrough
2 Yucab 50 :35  
3 Punta Sur 118 :36 Devil's Throat is cool, but the top of the reef is more fun.
4 Las Palmas 61 :55 Lots and lots of small things to see
5 Las Palmas 51 :55 Great night dive site
6 Columbia Deep 90 :43 Best combination of topography and coral
7 Santa Rosa Shallow 77 :48 Great second dive with lots to see
8 Paraiso 45 1:15 One of the best shallow dives I've ever done

Last modified March 6, 2000

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