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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Annemarie cruises through one of the swimthroughs at Palancar Horseshoe.
Annemarie and a sea fan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
More of Columbia's breathtaking scenery.
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.
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."
A schoolmaster at Santa Rosa.
A free-swimming peacock flounder...
...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
||Great tunnel swimthrough
||Devil's Throat is cool, but the top of the reef is more fun.
||Lots and lots of small things to see
||Great night dive site
||Best combination of topography and coral
||Santa Rosa Shallow
||Great second dive with lots to see
||One of the best shallow dives I've ever done
Last modified March 6, 2000
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