First time caller, long time listener......
Thought I would take some time to put some Isla thoughts down on the monitor while they're still fresh in my mind. This was our 1st trip to the island, and being newlyweds, it was an extra-special occasion. Instantly......as my sandled feet hit the aging wooden dock, every worry, care, concern and recently-aquired wrinkle faded away with each passing breeze.
Stimulation overload as you step off the dock. I'm overwhelmed at the scooters, people, golf carts and crazy taxi drivers all doing their chaotic dance down the narrow streets. We hand the few small bags we brought with us to one of the baggage porter-dudes on the three-wheeled bikes and we're off to the Posada Del Mar---following bike-man down the bustling street like two lost puppies.
First off......big ups to the MapChick map and this website. Without this duo of valuable 411, we would have fallen prey to lots of "free information" the sharks were offering willingly. We took the advice of the map a lot and it really paid off tenfold towards making our trip completely perfect.
Check-in at the Posada was easy, and the guys there were really helpful. We had a room in the old building---which where we were located(2nd floor, far left side) offered you a view of the ocean, but also view of the tops of several aging buildings as well. Not so much a problem for us as we're just happy to be where we are, but I could see others with more refined tastes not digging it so much. I hear the beds in the newer building are much softer...ours was seriously floor-hard, but many mango margaritias helped smooth that out at night. Word of mention: Loud birds on that side who wake up early---really early and really loud.
This is really where I wanted to ramble. I recommend going to Picus for your first meal. Sit at one of the tables by the water, under the umbrella and watch everything go by. Get the nachos--they're great. Drink several cold Sol's while waiting for your grilled lobster and shrimp in garlic. Get up from your chair and get your toes in the water. Marvel at how great their food is.....be impressed by how far "Gracias" and "Por Favor" will get you, and then laugh absurdly at how cheap lobster, shrimp, nachos and many cold beers are on this island.
We found the breakfast at Pinguino's(the Posada resturant overlooking the sidewalk) to be fabulous! I had the Tostadas, while my wife had the Hueveos Divorciados--my favorite. One with the red hanenero sauce, the other with the green---I liked the green the best. As you're walking along the street, see if you can't locate the fresh-squeezed Orange Juice guy. Only twenty pesos for two big cups and it's the best I've ever had. He's usually near Sammy's lanchero in the morning.
**Other places worth a note: Had lunch one day at Brisas Mexicana. Another bullseye here. Fabulous---and the staff really work hard to hook you up if you're chatty with them. Camarones a la Diablo were incredibly good. Habenero peppers not quite as blazing hot as the variety we grow back home in North Carolina. A welcome change.
**Late lunch one day at Gomar resturant. Staff was a little stand-offish, but my Forrest Gump persona quickly won them over. Wife had the Fish tacos which were very good, and I had the garlic shrimp(I was personally making it a mission to compare as many different garlic and hot shrimp dishes as I could on the island). The environment at Gomar is really cool--with the hanging and potted plants all over the place keeping the place cool and tropical-feeling.
**Playa Lancheros---this was my all-time favorite place to eat in all of the world that I've ever experienced. We got there after snorkeling all day at the Garrafon Hotel(score another one for the MapChick cheap hookup)and were really hungry. We pulled the scooter down the dirt road and were immediately hit with the delicious smell of all that food cooked over the wood grill. There was a large family that had come to PLaya Lancheros by boat--at least 40 people. We were seated right in the middle of all of them and it felt like we were guests at their family reunion. It was fabulous. The breeze was just right, the atmosphere was so festive, and the food......good gosh, the food, was incredible. A super-human sized slab of King Mackerel arrived at our table after we had cruised through a few of the large Montejo 32oz.'ers. The habenero puree was so good---as I said, not quite as searing-your-lips-hot like what we grow back home. After awhile, I just bypassed the hand-sized tortillas and just went for hunks of mackerel with habenero puree and lime juice as the tortillas were just taking up too much room. Amazing. Simply amazing.
Since I mentioned the scooters, let me just say I think they're the best way to see the island the way you want to see it, when you want to see it. If it's just two of you, then double up. Traffic is tough enough to negotiate with one scooter, much less having to worry about getting two or more to one destination without losing someone along the way. Either that, or rent a golf cart---boring in my eyes. Scooters are more exciting and you can park them anywhere. We didn't find the speed bumps to be that big of a problem. Most of them are well marked and aren't too big to cause problems, but I can see where they can be. We found Ciro's scooter rental to be a pleasant experience on both of the days we rented. Get a little chatty with the rental guys and they'll come down a bit on the price. Hook him with a good tip if you plan on renting again, and your next rental will really be hooked. We rented the second time for 24hrs for like, next to nothing......
We had breakfast at two frou-frou French joints(wife's idea)Lobster shack and the one right next door to the now defunct Jax bar. Both were fine places to eat with Lobster shack having a better atmosphere than the other place which was just a bit on the stale side of personality. I'll avoid any haughty-taughty Frenchie references here so as not to step on any toes.
It didn't take long at all for us to settle into a quaint little routine of a big Breakfast/short walk/nap/beach for a few hours/nap/sunset at Sergio's/Dinner/lots of drinks/pass out. Not a bad gig if you can get it, huh?
The beach at Playa Norte is just the best place in the world, don't ya think? Hang out at Buho's, have 2x1 beers all day, swim in the gin-clear water, giggle at the topless bathers, watch the fishermen and snorkel boat guys navigate through the groups of swimmers and anchor on the beach, watch all the bad-ass boats go by, and soak up all that hot sun. I love the sand here.....it doesn't retain the heat like the sand on the beaches back home. You can actually walk across it barefoot without 3rd degree burns. Lovely. I could get used to this.
Snorkeling at Garrafon Hotel(as opposed to the outrageously expensive Garrafon Park next door) was really cool. $30 peso entry a piece, $12 pesos for snorkel rental for the both of us and we were set for hours of entertainment. I didn't feel like I was missing anything the people were getting next door, and was completely content with the abundance of sealife that presented itself on our side. I followed a squid for nearly a half hour and watched him turn ten different shades of bottom color. Very cool. We also went up to the lighthouse at Punta Sur while we were there for a killer view of the bluest water you'll ever see.
Some observations: Don't stop anywhere to just stand and look around. You'll be immediately targeted by anyone selling anything. If you want to soak anything in for any length of time, just have a sit down on the curb and chill. Once seated, it's like you're now underneath the radar and nobody can see you.
**The bank at the ferry ports is a good place for ATM transactions. Ususally several policia stationed there, and two terminals keep things sped along just fine. Usually 1500 pesos was enough to get through the day with plenty left over--and that's with many many drinks and food like royalty.
**Everyone says it, but go do it. Sunset at Playa Norte. Especially the corner at Sergio's. Breathtaking. Swings at bars rule until you drink too much. Then they become a study in human physical limitations. We watched the sunset the first night from the water during a sunset swim and swear I got misty-eyed. Serious.
**When shopping for gifts and stuff, take your time and go around to as many places as you can before buying anything. There's nothing more frustrating than buying what you think is the perfect gift for the perfect price only to see it bigger and cheaper several stores down. Price it out during the week and buy on the last day so you know where the best deals are.
**OM bar is undergoing rennovations and is closed. Adding a thatch roof on the second floor and updating the interior on the lower floor. According to the map, I was looking forward to pouring my own beer at the table taps they had, but alas they were not operational at the time. Bummer.
**Don Chepos rocks!! Holy moley......one can get really plastered in a place like this as they don't give you the 1st of your 2x1 drink then the second after you're finished---they present you with both at the same time. So you end up drinking the 1st one fast before it gets hot, just to get to the 2nd one. Lather, rinse, repeat. Wobbly legs and no scooter rides for me after this place!!
** Bamboo bar is home to the best mango margarita on the planet. Ron and Juan--the owners are great guys and they run a fine resturant. Had the Thai style sea bass while the wife had the Salmon and Penne pasta. Delicious!! Drinks cost hardly a thing and the house band is fantastic. Get up and dance....you're on vacation!!!
**Fayne's is a fun place. We found ourselves at one point dancing to a Latino version of Billy Joel's "Still Rock and Roll to me". Classic, folks. Classic. What's the tequila bar right next to it? Adalaide? Something like that....either way, watch out for the tippy tables that they put out into the street for patrons at night. We saw at least 6 glasses get tipped off these skinny-legged tables during a few hours there. ......Course it could also be the tequilla.
**Spend some time taking photos in the cemetery. The colors of the memorials, and the architectural elements of their construction is a beautiful testament to the lives they are reflective of and something you shouldn't miss.
Take a night time scooter ride to Punta Sur. You'll see houses that light up at night that you missed during the day. They're beautiful, and the night air is very refreshing. You'll feel younger, I promise.
Well....that's about all I have right now. Maybe I'll think of some stuff later and add it in. Thanks for reading!!!