Summertime travel is in full swing and there's nothing like a vacation to a tropical island. Cozumel fits the bill and is close enough to the states that you can be there in time for happy hour. You convince yourself that this is a great idea and start looking into booking your stay. This time is going to be different. The all-inclusive resorts have become somewhat passe. After awhile the food becomes unexciting, the weak drinks get old and you get bored being in the same place every day. You are ready to go out and explore and really see what the island is all about. You want to stay someplace local, relatively nice but you don't want to break the bank.
Here is a list of 5 budget hotels in Cozumel. The prices typically range between $45 to $65 per night for 2 people. Lisa and I have stayed at all 5 and come with our recommendations.
Villablanca Garden Beach Hotel
The Villablanca is located 3 kilometers outside of town. It is basically a divers hotel because of its proximity to the reefs on the south side of the island. It is located right across the street from the water. Beach access is somewhat limited but you can find some places to get in and swim and snorkel. The grounds themselves are very nice. There is a nice pool next to a small bar and restaurant run by Arturo. Arturo, a really pleasant fellow, can answer any questions you may have about the island. There is an ambient temperature hot tub and even a tennis court. The property has 50 rooms with a/c, fans and refrigerators. There is wifi but depending and where you are it can be sketchy, usually decent signal by the pool and bar. There are plenty of dive operators right there. Recently opened, That's Amore an Italian restaurant is right across the street. Just south of there is Turquiose Beach Club, a trendy mixology bar with great sunsets. You also have Papa Hogs and Blu Bistro right around the corner.
The Barracuda is on the water just as you are going south out of town. This property is also a divers hotel with an onsite dive shop. This hotel has a restaurant and a pool with a swim up bar. The Barracuda also has a sports bar. It's easy to get into the water to swim and snorkel. The rooms themselves are pretty basic but almost all of them face the ocean. While we weren't that impressed with the restaurant you are right next to Jeannie's Restaurant which has very good food and specializes in breakfast. You are also very close to the Rock 'n Java Caribbean Bar and Grill. Right across the street there is Mega, the newest and largest Grocery on the island. Think Super Target.
Hotel Vista del Mar
The Vista del Mar bills itself as a Boutique Hotel. It was a basic budget hotel that now has all of its 20 rooms updated. The accommodations are very nice with half of the rooms facing the water. All rooms come with wifi and have a/c and a mini fridge. There is a pool and a continental breakfast in the morning. The hotel is in town right on the Malecon close to one of the cruise ship piers. You are in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Cozumel. There will be cruisers constantly going by. Senor Frogs is just to the south of the hotel so it can get a little crazy. You are, however close to everything. Keep this in mind if you decide to book this hotel.
Plaza Cozumel is on 2 norte 1/2 block from the Malecon and around the corner from the town square. The location can't be beat and the price is right. The rooms are basic but very clean. There is wifi and a/c in the rooms and the hotel even has an elevator. There is a rooftop pool with exceptional views. The Plaza has a complementary breakfast that is downstairs in the lobby which is really pretty good (very tasty coffee). Depending on the room, you may get the smell of fresh baked bread from the panaderia right next door. The Green House Cigar Bar is across the street and carries authentic Cubans.
The Flamingo Hotel
The Flamingo is on 6 norte 1/2 block from the Malecon. The rooms are simple but elegant. It is nice and quiet here, yet you are only 2 1/2 blocks from the square. There is wifi and a complementary breakfast. The Maple Bakehouse is next door for fresh pastries and an Argentinian steakhouse is on the corner for your grilled meat fix. Although you are in close proximity to many really nice bars the bar in the hotel is actually our favorite on the island (we are there most nights that we are in town). Ivan, the bartender, is one of the coolest people you will ever meet. He has a laid back style and a genuinely friendly manner about him. He speaks 3 languages and is knowledgeable about all things Cozumel. That, and the fact that he makes the best Margarita on Cozumel makes this our go to bar.
This is our list. As always, when booking, check several different booking sites and compare prices. Prices are subject to seasonal demands but will always be competitive with higher end hotels.
So, on our first day back on the island, Lisa and I noticed that wisps of cotton were blowing around everywhere. It reminded us of the blowing seeds of Texas cottonwood trees, though we had never seen a cottonwood tree on Cozumel. After talking to some locals we were told that this stuff was from the Ceiba (pronounced SAYba) tree (also known as the Kapok tree). These white stringy fibers were flying everywhere and were quite annoying. They were sticking to your clothes, adhering to your window screens and falling into your food and drinks. Ugh, the Ceiba breeding season was definitely happening. We made some comments to each other and headed to the beach. We didn’t really think about the tree itself or what it looked like. We ventured over to Playa Azul and when we pulled in, right there in the middle of the circular driveway was “obviously” a huge Ceiba tree. Hanging from the long gangly limbs were these pods of white filament and it was flying in all directions. This was in contrast to three weeks prior when we were at Playa Azul. At that time the Ceiba tree (which we did not know the name) had large green dangling fruit drooping from its limbs. I thought they looked like elongated avocados, Lisa made a joke that they looked like pelotas (balls) because they seemed to be in pairs and just hanging there. The funny thing is that avocado comes from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl” which means testicle, so I guess our observations were both right. We wowed at the difference that had occurred in the tree since we had left and then headed to the playa. Later that night while having a couple of margaritas we mentioned the Ceiba tree to our bartender. Ivan said “oh yeah those trees are sacred to the Maya people”. “It is basically illegal to cut one down and it would bring very bad luck.” Our curiosity got the best of us, we had to find out more.
After some research we found that the Maya claim that the Ceiba tree connects the Underworld (Xibalba) to the terrestrial world. Ceiba trees are a common site at many cemeteries. It is believed that when the fruit opens up and the wind carries its white threads, that the souls of the dead are able to leave the ground and touch the sky. Maya gods also live in the Ceiba trees as well as supernatural creatures such as the Alux. It is for these reasons that they are exalted.
The Ceiba tree has been given the moniker the Tree of Life. In addition to assisting in raising the souls of the dead, it is a tree that provides so much ecologically. The bark of the tree has been used by Maya shaman as medicine for headaches, diuretics and as an aphrodisiac. The seed can be pressed to make a vegetable oil. The cottony fibers were highly prized in Mayan times and used in the making of clothing. The fibers are also very buoyant and water resistant. Up until the advent of synthetic foam, almost all life preservers were filled with the kapok of the Ceiba tree. This filling is used as an eco friendly replacement for down in pillows, mattresses, blankets and furniture. Ceiba trees can grow up to 250 feet tall and have a huge canopy. This canopy provides protection for tree dwellers such as monkeys, iguanas, tree frogs, coati, tlacuaches (possums) mapache (raccoons) and a vast variety of birds (some of which make nests in the seed pods). The flowers of the Ceiba provide pollen for bees but the Ceiba trees themselves are pollinated by bats.
So, there you have it. The next time you see all of that cotton blowing around you will have a little “food for thought” from the Tree of Life.
Well, we made it back to Cozumel in time to catch the last night of Carnival (Fat Tuesday). Cozumel celebrates Mardi Gras with the rest of the world, with one exception. If there are elections at the same time as Carnival, they will move it 1 week. The reason? There is no alcohol sold during elections, and since you can't have a proper Carnival without partying like a rock star they elect to change the date.
For such a small island, the locals really go all out. There are parades on Saturday, Sunday and of course Tuesday. The procession goes down the Malecon (the main esplanade along the seawall) for over a mile and then circles back around on the other side. Carnival in Cozumel is more of a family affair. It is the children that are out trying to get beads from the floats and the gringos on the hotel balconies. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of scantily clad women, outrageous costumes, crazy floats, dancing, music and flamboyance but nothing on the scale of New Orleans or Rio.
The sidewalks and the median are jammed packed as well as all of the restaurants along the route. We were fortunate to be invited to a second floor hotel room with two balconies by a local expat (thank you Jon Cole). Everybody brought drinks and there was plenty of food. It was also nice to have a/c and a bathroom. We also got to meet a lot of new friends. The parade itself actually took about 2 hours to finish going up towards the north end of town. When we left they were just coming back on the other side.
There are drink stands and food carts all up and down the parade route. There are food and drink vendors in the main square as well as the park area around city hall. In the park there are also rides for the kids. It is truly a festive event. The Tuesday night party continues well into the night in the bars and cantinas and trust me the locals can party.
We of course should be back next year. If it's cold up where you are at that time, grab some beads and candy for the kids, and head on down to some fun and sun.