Cozumel. A little island just off the east coast of Mexico near Cancun – known for some of the best diving spots in the world.
Secrets. An adults only, all-inclusive resort.
If you’ve been following along with our previous adventures, you’ll know we usually plan our trips around unique little places off the beaten path. Not so for this trip. We decided to not only try an all-inclusive resort for the first time, but also a family trip for the first time. The family part was great. The resort part, not so great.
We’re spoiled with diverse, high quality food in San Francisco. We’re also used to spending a lot of time planning trips to find the most unique and interesting places. We love experiencing the local culture and cuisine. You don’t find that in resorts.
The TL;DR – the resort and the food/drinks at the resort were bad, but the experiences we had and the food that we ate outside of the resort were amazing!
Playa del Carmen
After a night of flying, we arrived Tuesday morning in Cancun, exhausted. Definitely didn’t sleep. We took a bus from the airport to Playa del Carmen to meet up with the rest of our group. There were six of us total – ourselves, my parents and another couple who are good family friends and my parent’s constant travel buddies.
Before taking the ferry to Cozumel, we stopped for lunch at Kaxapa Factory. This place caught our eye because they serve patacones. Last year we discovered this specialty in a NYC restaurant and fell in love. It’s basically a sandwich made with crispy fried plantains instead of bread. They’re amazing. It didn’t disappoint.
I spent the first full day at the resort trying to relax. I like to relax. Almost every day I come home from work and say “I just want to relax”, which means I want to sit on the couch with my computer watching a sci-fi show that I’ve likely seen 10 times already. Resort relaxing is different – no computer, no tv, just my Kindle. Don’t get me wrong, I adore reading, but I kept feeling like I was wasting time.
I ended up reading for most of the day, took some walks on the beach and obsessed over all the giant lizards that were laying around. William kindly keeps reminding me they’re called iguanas. But they’re basically just giant lizards that I find incredibly entertaining to watch – especially when they’re doing their hilarious waddle/run. You know what I’m talking about.
Our first activity was snorkeling. I’ve been once before in Belize, which was awesome, but the gear they provided didn’t work well. This time my dad got us our own mask and snorkel and it made the experience so much better (thanks Dad!). I could actually enjoy what I was looking at rather than fighting with the gear.
The water was warm and oh so clear. After growing up in San Diego with cold, murky, gross water, I’m not sure I’ll never get over the amazement of warm, clear water. We started off in shallow water to see starfish. We were then taken to a reef where we saw all sorts of coral, fish, and even a turtle! Our guide led us along the reef until we finally hit the drop-off point for the island. It was crazy to see the depth change from around 50 feet to thousands of feet deep. He jokingly said it just kept going until you could see the little China men.
That evening was margarita night. We love margaritas! It’s like a family tradition to sit around drinking margaritas. And perfect weather + beach + margaritas, sounds great right? Um, well, not exactly. To be clear, after we taught the bartender how to make a proper margarita, it was great.
William and I keep learning more about each other, which can be challenging, but also wonderful and adventurous. Especially when I learn that he’s always wanted to go parasailing and that we’re in the most perfect place for it. I’ll be honest, it took some convincing to get me to do it – it’s expensive, I hadn’t thought about doing it before, it’s high up in the air, did I mention the heights? Ok I admit, I was kinda scared. But I rarely see William get excited about something unless he’s really into it, so I couldn’t say no.
Our crash course in parasailing was quick, silent pointing to get our harness on followed by a life jacket. They then motioned us to the back of the boat and clipped us onto the sail. As the wind was catching, William yelled “where do we hang on?” The guy pointed to some straps and we were whisked away. These guys were efficient, I’ll give them that. And I didn’t have any time to get nervous.
It had been windy on the beach that morning so I was concerned it would be extra windy and miserable when we were high up. Not so. We barely felt the wind. Seeing the island and the water from above was amazing. The previous day we saw the edge of the island while we were snorkeling, and now we saw it from high in the air. The colors change from a vibrant cyan blue to a rich, deep cobalt as the land drops off.
Before our trip, I kept telling myself that I was going to get so many fresh coconuts and that it was going to be amazing. And then I found out they didn’t have any at the resort, even though the trees were laden with them. But, when we arrived back after parasailing, they had them! (They made me run around on the beach and dance and make a fool of myself to get one, but I got a coconut.)
Saturday was our day outside the resort. We decided to give the rest of our group a little taste for how we usually do our vacations. William and I scheduled a class for our group… can you guess? Yep, a chocolate making class. We found a wonderful factory in Cozumel called, KaoKao Chocolates.
Our guide, Stephanie, was so much fun. We learned all about the chocolate making process and got to taste the different types of chocolate they make at the factory. Afterwards we ground our own beans and each made a bar to use for drinking chocolate. At the end, Stephanie also made us a traditional and unique mayan hot chocolate drink.
We stayed in town to get lunch at a restaurant called Sal de Mar. Best decision ever. This place is amazing – hands down one of my favorite restaurants I’ve been to. The decor, the food, the drinks, the service – all incredible. Go here. The moment you walk in, it’s like a breath of fresh air. The style is incredible – everything is simple, following the original architecture, but then there are gorgeous pops of vibrant turquoise throughout the space.
And the food, oh the food. So good. Grilled octopus, tuna tartare, Lion fish, duck tacos. Everything was just perfect. And don’t forget the mezcal mojitos. Definitely going to try to make some of those.
We walked around town for a bit afterwards before heading back to the resort. It’s mostly touristy shops, but there was one shop called I love Mexico that had lovely handmade jewelry. Both high end and really fun pieces made from vibrant threads. I got a few earrings – one yellow, one magenta – I adore them.
I’d been wanting to trying paddle boarding for a while and was excited to learn that the resort had paddle boards available to use. Score one for the resort! The previous morning, we watched my mom and her friend try them out while we were eating breakfast. It pretty much consisted of one of them falling off, then the other laughing so hard watching her trying to get back on that she falls off too, and then the other finally getting back on, but then laughing so hard watching the other that she falls off again. That went on for a while. We successfully did it without falling off! Although my mom informed us that we were very boring to watch because of that. The water was so clear that we could see the fish swimming underneath us. It’s weird and hard to find your balance, but it’s fun. I’d totally do it again.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing. Me, reading. William, napping. We also tried out the adorable hammocks that were set up in the water – it was quite an adventure to get in them.
We even had a fairly decent lunch on our last day. Ceviche, chips and guac, grilled fish tacos and halfway decent mojitos. That was probably the best meal we had at the resort all week. I won’t terrorize you with the photos of the other ones.
On the way back to the Cancun airport, we stopped in Playa del Carmen to visit another chocolate store, Ah Cacao. We had amazing chocolate frio. Everyone always thinks of chocolate as being rich and comforting for cold weather (which it totally is), but iced chocolate – so good and so refreshing. They even had a gluten free brownie. Not quite as refreshing, but I really can’t pass up a brownie.
Monday was long, really long. We had a 16 hour travel day, but we were happy to be heading home. We had a wonderful time with family and loved all the experiences we had. I doubt we’ll ever go to a resort again after the lack of quality and service we experienced, but it gave me a new appreciation for all the work we put into planning our other vacations.