Trip Report 2/21/05 – 3/1/05
Some rambling observations, opinions and suggestions from my week on Isla…
1. There are a lot more people on the island in February than it was in July. Though it is very hot in July, things seem to move more slowly, less people.
2. When sending lengthy e-mails from Internet shops, it might be a good idea to write them in WORD first, then cut and paste them in to your e-mail. Because the DSL lines seem to be at the mercy of the forces of nature, sometimes when you hit send, it never goes where it is supposed to go!
3. If you are planning to use Digame, remember this too is at the mercy of the forces of nature. This service sends phone signals over the Internet, so if the computers are working slowly, these phone signals will not be working, either. When it does work it is great and cheap.
4. Water is rough in the winter! Be careful…I was surprised at the rough surf down at Garrafon de Castilla- wear vests if you snorkel there in the wintertime. Even Playa Norte had some strong rollers coming in some days. I’m not saying it was surfing surf – but they were stronger than normal.
5. The weather in February is wonderful. Not too hot, always a trade wind blowing. Evenings are just right, low 70’s…sometimes one could use long sleeves of some sort – certainly not a coat, but something over the shoulders.
6. Be nice to the time share guys – they are just trying to make a living! I walked up and down Hildalgo many times a day and passed a lot of them. I let them know right up front that I didn’t want a golf cart, free brunch or free snorkeling – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But I wished them good luck selling to the Cancunistas, and I hoped they made a lot of money doing it! They laughed at my jokes, and after that they never asked me again, but always greeted me with a hearty hello, wave and laugh! Just make it clear you don’t want it – tell them you already did it last trip, even if it is not true, but wish them well. Don’t treat them like scum unless they hound you. My experience is they are pretty tame on Isla compared to other places I have seen!
7. Get Laura’s Map – get Laura’s map – get Laura’s map! What can I tell you, if you are a newbie or a sort-a newbie, you need it. www.cancunmap.com Best $8 you will ever spend. Cheaper than a guide book, of which there are really non for Isla anyway, and easier to carry. Don’t try to read it in a moving golf cart or else it will be in pieces just as mine is!
8. Shopping – Didn’t do much this trip, but I have some favorite places – and places that are not so favored. As far as bargaining goes, I’m not too good at it, I am kind of reluctant to do it unless I think the price they are asking is really unreasonable. I have found, however, you get a better deal if you by multiples of things…like two hats instead of one….they give you a price, then you ask what it would be if you bought two…I can do that. Sometimes you can bargain, sometimes the people are just working in the store and don’t have the power to lower prices. I don’t know how to tell the difference. So this I leave to you. But buying multiples definitely reduces prices.
Silver Shop -(name unknown) – Corner of Morelos and Guerrero on the Zocalo – this is my favorite place to buy silver so far. He has some beautiful pieces as well as tableware, talavera, etc. Some of the stuff is made by his family, who are silversmiths. He weights the pieces and charges that way. I really like this shop and the man who owns it. He is a real gentleman and I think the prices are very fair for the quality he has. Many pieces that are very different from what you see in most places.
Opalo Del Fuego (I think this is on Juarez near Nicholas Bravo St., not sure). If you want something different in jewelry, this store specializes in Mexican Opals. They come from the volcanoes near Mexico city, I am told. He has a lot of loose stones, many different kinds – I brought a setting down that I had lost the stone from, he put a Mexican Opal in it instead. He also has some beautiful jewelry, very unique stuff, including some glass pieces made from beach sand. I was there last summer, I found him to be very honest to deal with and he had beautiful things.
Artisans’ Market – corner of Carlos Lazo and Matamoros – This has many small shops inside it. Three I have purchased items from are the man who makes the hammocks, Hortensia the dressmaker and Carlos (Charlie – he can also be found on the beach in the mornings), and also the shop fronting Matamoros that has a variety of items. This is a good place to buy your souveniers. Because they are off the beaten track their prices tend to be cheaper, and they bargain. The highest prices are on Hildalgo and at the stores near the ferry dock. This is far from there, most day trippers won’t get this far. They have most of what the other stores have, just less of it.
Hortensia is my favorite. Her shop in on the outside, along Carlos Lazo. Planter has her name painted on it. She had clothes – pareos, short wraps, blouses, men’s shirts, anything you can make from pareo fabric, she has it. If you see something you like, don’t like the color – she’ll make it for you, you choose you color from hundreds and hundreds of pareos she has. See a beach top, not your size – she’ll make that, too. If you want custom made, allow a day to have it made. If it is simple and she is not too busy, she will have it ready same day if you go in morning. She closes at 5 PM. This is the ONLY place I go to buy beach tops, sun dresses, etc. I love her! She also has little gift items, bracelets, etc. Prices are very, VERY reasonable – of course, the more you buy, the better the price!
The Hammock Man – His workshop faces Matamoros street. You can see him making the hammocks in front of you. He had both nylon and cotton. I go traditional, I like the cotton. Pick your colors, or he will make it for you, Takes a day or two for custom made, but he also had ready-made. Best prices and sure to be AUTHENTIC – hammocks “on the hoof”, so to speak!!!
Carlo’s AKA Charlie – Actually didn’t buy from him in his shop, but on the beach. He had these beautiful pareos/beachwraps of a silky fabric – that had shells and beads hand sewn along the edges. I saw Arlene buy one from him on the beach, I loved it. I told him the colors I wanted, and he delivered it to me on the beach the next day…$15, I thought it was a deal and a half. Every bead and shell hand-stitched. When I went to the artisan’s market, I saw his sign, though he wasn’t there. I showed the girl there the wrap I had purchased from him, a big smile broke out on her face – it was his daughter and she had stitched on the shells! I told her how much I loved it and she was very pleased. I haven’t seen this kind of thing before, it was different and beautiful… he sells other things but I loved these pareos.
Shop in Front, borders Matamoros – I bought some cute things from them last summer. I remember the shop being run by a mother and daughter, at least that’s what I thought the relationship was. They had nice little giftwares – and cheaper than on Hildalgo.
There are lots of other little booths/shops in here. Please take a look!
9. Restaurants I visited and my humble opinion on each:
French Bistro –(Matamoros nr. Hildalgo) LOVED having breakfast there – nice variety of choices, good coffee, fresh orange juice. Good omelets, French toast, crepes, etc. Everything I had I enjoyed. Did not have lunch or dinner there, so I cannot comment on that. They are closed Saturday mornings.
Amigo’s – (Hildalgo) I really like this place. Ate there last summer and twice this time. Best sopa de lima I have had on Isla so far, a really hearty bowl of soup. Love their puffy bread drizzled with oil and garlic. Pizza – mozzarella – gorgonzola – tomato sauce – to die for, what a combo!!! Chicken tacos, nice slice of avocado on each….great drinks and reasonable prices. Nice waiters , I really like this place.
Bucanero’s – (Hildalgo) nice place, food is okay – nothing great, but not bad. Portions are not very big. I really liked the Queso Fundido I had there, but I love cheese. Burritos okay. French toast in AM took forever to get, and it came with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top, too sweet for me. Good coffee. I like the place, nice atmosphere, but food is just okay.
Taquiera Medina – (Hildalgo) – I would say these were the best tacos I had all week, and I sure love my tacos! Had Tacos Al Pastor, really excellent. They bring a nice condiment tray for you to add to you tacos, prices are very inexpensive. Very plain place, you can eat at tables outside. It was very busy, obviously of favorite of visitors and locals.
Sergio’s Playa Sol – Spent several days at Sergio’s, relaxing, drinking and eating lunch. Tacos, guacamole, nachos – all fine lunch choices for beach food. Sergio’s is the only place that gives free chairs and umbrellas to their patrons…so if you are going to avail yourself of these, please buy food and drinks from them, don’t plop yourself down there with a cooler from 7-11, Very uncool!! Rogelio was my waiter most of the time and he was great (wears a different cowboy hat every day.) Didn’t get the name of the other guys, but the are all good and run the beach back and forth. Hard work, it’s hot, but what a great way to spend the day on the beach! Cocktails are very reasonably priced compared to NYC – and happy hour around sunset. Some days we ordered a few things and shared. Works out well. I just love the whole package at this place. I am not saying the food is off the charts, but it is certainly satisfying with a margarita, pina colada or cerveza – and all that beautiful sun, sand and sea!
Poc Chuc – (Abasolo btwn. Juarez and Medina) Small, I think it must be family-run. An amazingly extensive menu for such a small kitchen! 7 of us ate there one night, and we ate very well. I had Beef Tampiqueno, very good, served with a quesilldilla, taco, beans, rice…very substantial dinner and excellent! I believe the entire bill, with tip was in neighborhood of $60…amazing. Highly recommended.
Fayne’s – (Hildalgo) – A bit more expensive than any of the others mentioned, but I thought it was well worth it. Can’t remember what my dish was called, but it was 2 seasoned pork cutlets, 2 seasoned beef cutlets, with a sauce that had tequila in it – I think it is called “Borracho Sauce” or something like that. It was really fabulous. I think this was my best meal all week. It was a bit pricer than other places (I think entrée was $13 – 14 range), but well worth it. Others had shish – kebobs with shrimp – some with chicken. They said it was excellent. Paula had the filet mignon and that was good, too. I recommend this place, but know it is a little higher priced than the others I have mentioned.
Playa Lanchero’s – (Road to Punta Sur) – Home of the famous tix –n- chix. Second visit for me. Wasn’t impressed in July, and still was not impressed. Now, I don’t eat fish, so my info on the tix – n- chix is second hand – but there were 12 of us eating together that day, and I heard no rave reviews from anyone about any dish they had. The tix-n-chix was barracuda, head, teeth and eyeballs included. Grossed me out. I had the chicken tix – n chix, which they called Yucatanean chicken – It was okay, but I don’t like dark meat or the leg – that is what I got. The seasoning is very good, though. Fish was pretty dry I was told. No one raved about any of the food. Service was so slow it was unbelievable. It took forever and ever to get our lunch – over 1 hour – and, even for Mexico that was too, too long. The crowning touch was the lady SELLING toilet paper at the ladies room! They had emptied every paper dispenser in the ladies room – so if you needed it you dripped dry, brought your own, or bought 6 sheets from the lady – don’t know how much, I had Kleenex. Once word got out, everyone took the napkins off the table for the ladies room! Are they NUTS??? This place is busy, busy, they are making money. Even in the most humble places we went to, they all had toilet paper (FREE). This place just turns me off, I will never go back. I know many, many love this place, but I think it is grungeville. The water is full of sea grass, prices on the gifts; jewelry they sell is nothing special. There are better places to eat and much nicer beaches.
La Gloria – Restaurant of Marco’s – Don’t know the name and the Streets have no names, either. This place is directly across the street from a private school – it is a Jean Piaget School. I think the school is pink. I don’t know if you could ever find it without a guide who lives in the area (Our guide was Zina). Excellent, authentic Mexican fare – lunch is comida corrida – whatever the house is making that day. It was wonderful soup with pasta and Rez (beef) Adobo – with potatoes, plantains, rice. Outstanding, just like eating in someone’s home. Love it! Karyn reported in her report she was there the next day for the chili rellanos and she loved them! If you want to know how to get to this place you will have to e-mail Zina! At night they have pizzas, tacos, etc., but the main meal is at lunch time. (Which is traditionally Mexican).
San Francisco Market (Supermarket on the Zocalo) – This is the biggest supermarket on the island. It is not unlike our markets at home, smaller perhaps, but they do have the makings of some excellent meals, depending on the day and time you arrive. In the back they have lovely baked goods – sometimes these include little sandwiches on rolls. I love the things that look like apple turnovers but are ham and cheese inside. Yummy! Sometimes they have cooked food, it depends when you go. They have a deli with cheeses and cold cuts in the back. I enjoy wandering through the market and picking up snacks. You can easily supply yourself with a nice meal from this market.
SO MANY PLACES TO EAT, SO LITTLE TIME!! There were so many places mentioned on the message boards, and in the information sheets, I still have not visited, and places we went to in July we really enjoyed, but I didn’t have a chance to return to. We will be going back this coming July for three weeks, so I will be trying new ones and old favorites! For a small island there are an amazing amount of places to eat and the food is wonderful!
10. MHO on Places to Stay I Saw on this Trip –
Bucanero’s – this is where I stayed. Because I reserved very, very late and in high, high season, I had to change rooms twice while I was there. This was a good thing because I got to see three different rooms! (And got off the 4th floor!) This is a small (16 rooms) hotel on Hildalgo St,, above their restaurant. The rooms are spotlessly clean, fresh paint and fresh, new tile. A/C, cable TV, safes in all rooms, refrigerators only in some. The prices ($40 - $75 high season) are excellent for what you get, in my opinion. Every single room is different – size, shape, etc. Big, big beach towels provided at the desk for guests. Hotel manager, Eyder, could not be nicer or more helpful. He is an Isla native. You cannot hear any noise from downstairs at all, even if you are in rooms the face Hildalgo Street. Two of the rooms I was in are furnished for light cooking – toasters, electric skillet, refrigerator, table and chairs, etc. One of those rooms had a loft with another double bed, great for family with children! Some rooms do not have exterior windows, some have balconies overlooking the street. There is one very tiny room , but it is only $40. One drawback for some – they call these rooms 1st – 2nd – 3rd floors – but they are really 2nd – 3rd – 4th. Climbing to the 4th (their 3rd) floor is a challenge if you are not physically fit. These are double sets of stairs – you go up a flight, it turns for another flight to get from one floor to the other. Please know that. I recommend they put a defibrillator at the top of the stairs – someone is surely going to had a heart attack climbing them one day! That being said – this is a great place, great location. Highly recommended (except for the 3rd (4th) floor!)
El Caracol – (downtown) – My friend was staying here, so I got to see room. Her room was $55, same as I was paying at Bucanero’s, but room was not nearly as nice. The bathroom needed painting, mold on walls. I thought the place looked tired. I am not saying it wasn’t clean, it was – but it needs some sprucing up. I’d stay there if I had to, but I hope I won’t ever have to.
Vistalmar – Medina, across from Beach) – We visited this place as Paula and John needed someplace to stay for their last three days on Isla. Prices range from $25 – 40 year round. Price depends on whether you want A/C, a refrigerator, and location of rooms. We only saw one room, but it was very nice for the price. CLEAN! Not fancy, but very nice, had A/C and cable TV. I think it was $30 as it was an interior room (window opening to breezeway). I can see why this is a favorite of long-time visitors. Great location and great price. People who stay there tell me the balconies upstairs open on to each other, and it is a great place to socialize with other guests in the evening. I would definitely consider staying here in the future if I were on a budget. Paula reserved a room and we patted ourselves on the back for stopping in and checking the place out.
Posada Del Mar – (Medina – across street from beach) – I was anxious to see a room in Posada as we are staying there for two weeks this summer. Paula and John were staying there so I got to see their room. It was really very, very nice, nice colors, little balcony, very clean, nice bathrooms. A/C and TV. Nicer that Vistalmar, but double the price. (About $80 high season) I really like this place – they have a pool, nice palapa bar next to pool, restaurant (Penguino’s) on the premises, nice ground with loungers, hammocks- and right across the street from the beach). Summer prices are cheaper, around $50 per night. They have cabanas/bungalows as well as regular rooms. I saw one of those last summer – I thought they looked a bit worn, but Paula and John had stayed in them last year and just loved them. This is a three-story hotel, so if you don’t like climbing stairs, ask for a lower floor. This place is a great favorite of Isla-holics and I know we will be very happy staying there this summer.
Villa Rolandi – (Sac Bajo) – Didn’t visit this trip but stayed there for two weeks last summer – and will be back for one week this August. I can’t talk about hotels without mentioning this wonderful, wonderful place! Yes, it is expensive – but compared to Na Balam and Secreto it is by far a better value and far more beautiful. NaBalam had a great location, on Playa Norte and near town. Secreto is also close to town, but the beach is unswimmable. Villa Rolandi is not near town, you need to take a cab or golf-cart to town….but that is its’ only drawback – if you consider it a drawback. The place is just exquisite! Only 20 rooms, each with private balcony overlooking the bay, twinkling lights of Cancun in the distance at night. Double Jacuzzi on the balcony – large shower with 6 shower heads – big enough to fit 4 people or more in the shower! Cathedral ceilings, sitting area with couches, separate dressing area. Prices range from $280 - $350 day per couple, depending on season BUT it includes continental breakfast, delivered to you room daily through a little door (so you don’t have to get dressed when they deliver it!) and a full dinner each night. Cuisine is northern Italian – Swiss – food is the best on the island. Restaurant overlooks the bay, open air; patio juts out over the water. Couldn’t be more romantic. Wait staff, servers, everyone is so pleasant, accommodating. It is like staying at the home of a very wealthy friend. Beautiful little beach, gorgeous infinity – edged pool that spills over into a waterfall that lands in a little wading pool on the beach. Pablo and Ariel tend to your every need, will serve drinks and lunch on the beach, pool area, or even in the pool! If you want to spoil yourself rotten, have a special occasion or just feel you deserve it, Villa Rolandi is just fantastic (Another caution – 3 floors – I like the second floor the best, but views are best from the 3rd!) This is my favorite hotel of all I have ever stayed in anywhere. Adults only, but children are allowed in the restaurant. If you go for lunch or dinner, patrons may use the facilities, but children are only allowed on the beach, not in the pool area.
Casa de Morgan – (Caribe side, Across from the Seashell House). Big Jim Morgan, who opens his home every Sunday for message boarders, also had three or four rooms available. I am not sure of the price, but I think they are in the $100 range. The Massachusetts gang – Paula, John Marc, Laura and Page – stayed here for a week and they loved it. I visited the Morgan home twice and saw the rooms, They are beautiful! Each is off the pool, and pool is very, very nice. I think each room is a different size and sleeps a different number. I am not sure on those details, but the place is just beautiful. I understand guests have use of the kitchen and living room, which is very lovely. The place has a very serene and tranquil feel, beautifully decorated. Two cautions – though it overlooks the sea, you cannot swim there, it is too rough most of the time I am told. (But there is the pool) Also, you would have to walk a few blocks to the bus route( I think), rent a golf cart or take a cab ($5.50) in to town. Jim is very helpful and can help you with transportation issues. His wife Carmita is a doll.