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Vacation Journal
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OUR FIRST VISIT TO ISLA 5/3 to 5/7

By: Monmouth_Surf (View Profile)
Date: 5/20/2006

My wife and I left our children with their grandparents and headed to Isla for her 40th birthday celebration.

I had not registered but have been an avid voyeur of this site since we booked the trip a number of months ago.

I was thus armed with the necessary ammunition: The wonderful MC Map (SO GREAT) and the Robert/Atlanta "manual" (also INVALUABLE). I will say that I was on "information overload". . .head swimming with restaurants/information/reviews/trivia. I almost was paralyzed by so much data. When my wife asked me where we were eating the first night, I just shook my head and mumbled. I felt like the traveler referenced at the outset of Robert's Isla tome -- she was a jumble of thoughts too if you recall -- and she (and I) just decided to let the "relax and just enjoy the trip". Good move.

DAY ONE

We arrived early in the day via Continental airlines from the Northeast. I had used "mileage" for the flights and surprised her with first class seats -- major brownie points for me. By 11 AM we were on the ground.

Thanks to so many of you, I had booked Best Day (round trip) ahead of time. Major kudos (to you and to them). They were waiting for us -- he pointed me to the cerveza vendor -- two for the road (it was likely Noon somewhere --back in the Eastern time zone for sure) -- and we were off. We were lucky to have the van to ourselves (that was an unexpected and unpaid for bonus) and we thus were headed straight to the ferry.

Took the fast "Ultramar" ferry. Great new boat.

First thing that hits you -- the WATER.

It is NOT a color that I have ever seen. We have been to many islands, cruises, other locales in Mexico. This water is a color that is so "teal" as to defy belief.

The ride over is quick and fun and the excitement is evident to all on the boat. At first sight, Isla is the small, beautiful fishing village that you hope and expect. Friendly people all around -- we taxied across the island to our hotel.

We stayed at Hotel Secreto. NOTHING NOTHING bad can be said about it. It is stunning inside and out. Quiet, classy and beautiful. The staff is understated but helpful and attentive. The pool area private with an infinity pool and a small bar with poolside service; wonderful cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas. There is an unswimable but beautiful private beach that also has chairs for hotel guests. The rooms featured whitewashed walls and stylish décor. It is an easy walk to the center of town as well as the “main” beaches. It was all that we expected and more.

Our “new” friends that we met throughout the week were quick to remind us that staying at Secreto is not the “true” Isla experience. Many of them have their favorites that they stay at time and time again (some for as long as 15 years). They love the Roca Mar and the Francis Arlene. There is likely truth to that position but for a “special” birthday, wedding or anniversary (or with money as no object), Secreto is a great treat.

We settled in and camped out at the pool. Slept, relaxed, read – and had the first of many margaritas and cerveza’s (the hotel pool served Bohemia – and on Robert’s recommendation I decided that would be my beer of choice on the island – awesome).

As the afternoon got later, we headed (staggered?) along to Playa Norte and found Sergios. Chips, Salsa, Guacamole (the first of about 100 orders around the island for my wife). There was a table of people that all seemingly “knew each other but didn’t”. We had the sense that they knew each other from the board. We were more than content to sit on the bar “swings” and drink a few more beers (had to settle for Superior – no Bohemia here – thanks Robert again) – watching the amazing sunset. Truly a great way to spend an afternoon.

We walked back to our hotel, showered and got dressed.

I figured I would hit the restaurants first for which there was almost unanimous (favorable) agreement. Pickus Cocktaileria. It is literally a “tent” on the sand near the ferry terminal. The seafood. . .amazing. We got their too late in that the “mixed” cerviche was sold out – only shrimp and conch left. We thus “settled” for the garlic shrimp and garlic lobster (after the requisite quac and chips). The garlic “sauce” was amazing. Absolutely delicious. . .and ½ the price of back home.

We walked back through Hildago. Truly an amazing place at night – alive with people, restaurants and vendors. A wonderful site. For those hesitating about Isla – DO NOT. It is truly a wonderful thing. We were exhausted (and maybe a little hung over by 9:30 at night) so we headed in early.

DAY TWO

We never made it out to breakfast. Secreto had a nice “continental” breakfast. We enjoyed it every day. We hit the pool and decided to head into town early to buy some staples and grab lunch.

The supermarket in the center of town has everything. We bought water, diet soda and snacks. I also stopped and bought some tequila and mix for “happy hour”. However, the drinks in the various bars (at happy hour that seemingly never ends) were so inexpensive that I really didn’t need to bother. We had taken the kids to Aruba last fall and 2 drinks poolside at the Hyatt were $22 (!!!) – we obviously needed the “in room” provisions to avoid financial ruin there. The in room tequila was much less necessary in Isla -- plenty for a reasonable cost out in the various wonderful bars and restaurants.

We stopped for lunch at Freddys. It was fine but not memorable. Grouper for me and Enchiladas for my wife.

Headed back and got ready for the beach. Got there about 4 and enjoyed the water. We were in front of the Sunset Grill. We heard a band playing and decided it was the place to watch the sunset tonight. Many drinks later (and after spending an enjoyable afternoon with new friends from Atlanta), we watched the sun fall below the horizon and headed home to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was at La Malquerida. It was wonderful. The house special appetizer (served in a hot “rock” and with a delicious sauce apparently flavored by “blossoms” of some sort). It was wonderful. Many margaritas and enchiladas for both of us. Following advice from the board, I actually caught a mistake in the bill – it was 2 for 1’s and we had 6 drinks and not 8 – but rather than complain I just had them bring the extra drinks. Our waiter apologized and brought us shots of tequila for both of us and himself.

Needless to say, we staggered to Faynes and I never checked a bill again the rest of the week. Didn’t last long at Faynes and Kokonuts had “reggae” night, which was not going to cure my wife’s dancing Jones.

DAY 3

I left out from day 2 that during our afternoon walk we had passed by Captain Tony’s and introduced ourselves. He, as advertised, was pleasant and friendly. He had told us to come back the following morning about 9 AM to see if there were enough interested people to head out to Contoy Island. We woke up late – with me feeling the effects of too much tequila – and scrambled to head to Captain Tony. I sort of assumed there would not be enough people – and that we would be looking at a “short” ½ day snorkeling trip. However, when we arrived, there were 6 others waiting. We made 8 – enough for the trip out to the island.

Our fellow travelers were wonderful. We made fast friends with all of them and headed down the to waterfront with the Captain, his 15 year old daughter and his older brother.

The day was absolutely perfect. Calm wind and water. We got comfortable on the boat and enjoyed looking at the beautiful water. After about a forty minutes, were over the snorkeling spot selected by Captain Tony, anchored and got ready to snorkel. The reef that we snorkeled over was amazing. The fish and coral were stunning. We enjoyed every minute of it – seeing some large fish, including barricuda. At the first sign of a 3 foot barricuda, I “backpedaled” and left my wife behind. Chivalry, while not dead, might be in intensive care.

After snorkeling for a good while, we headed back to the boat where fresh watermelon, bananas and bottled water awaited us. The boat took off heading for Contoy Island. Along the way, Captain Tony stopped the boat momentarily, disappeared overboard and brought back three large, beautiful conch.

As we approached the island (and really all during the trip) Captain Tony gave us great information about the area, the water and the history of what we were seeing. Neither of us are “bird” people, and as the island is a bird sanctuary, we were not certain it would have appeal for us.

We could not have been more wrong. The island was amazing. We stumbled upon a guided tour of the island – given by a federal official stationed on the island – and it was wonderful. Our guide was funny and charming – our idea of the perfect college professor that we might never have had. We enjoyed the stunning sights – and even learned a bit on the 45 minute tour. Seeing the nesting area of hundreds of frigates – and their babies was very memorable.

Now famished, we returned to the beach for THE BEST MEAL THAT WE HAD ON THE TRIP. The BEST. Captain Tony had picked up fresh fish that morning – coated it with a red spice mixture that my (nonexistent) Spanish could not translate back into English. Regardless of the contents, it was amazing. With wonderful guacamole, tomato and onion salad and chips. Simply wonderful. Under a palaypa, overlooking amazing blue water, we ate seconds (and third even for me).

A nap under the small palaypas on the beach followed for us, followed by more snorkeling. Our tripmates befriended a ray that was swimming on the beach – about 2 feet wide – and feed it chicken. An amazing sight for certain.

We took the one hour boat ride back in choppier water and silently enjoyed the trip back.

Exhausted, we hit the pool and read and relaxed.

Dinner that night was at Manolo’s. It is right next door to Captain Tony’s home. We were lucky to be seated in the back “patio” area, under the flowers and the stars. We had a very nice meal – the owner/waiter showed us fresh shrimp (gigantic) and fresh conch “fresh from the water today”. We both smiled, pretty sure that they were caught through the diving efforts of the good Captain. I enjoyed my shrimp very much, and fish for my wife. A few margaritas, a stroll on Hildago, and exhausted sleep for both of us.

DAY 4

Our last full day. UGH.

We planned nothing. Reading and the amazing Secreto beach and pool. We literally didn’t want to leave the grounds. Also, after being “careful” for 3 days, it was out with the “30” spf and in with the “8”. Up until this point, we didn’t even look like we had been at the beach.

We roasted until about 12:30 when we decided to grab lunch. I wanted to hit Pickus Cocktaileria again to make sure that I got cerviche. We got there and got a great seat overlooking the water, there was music playing, our feet were in the sand. AWESOME.

I got my cerviche (AMAZING) and fish tacos (DOUBLE AMAZING) and fish and the requisite quac for my wife. She even gave a Sol a whirl (Bohemia for me of course). A delicious meal at our FAVORITE place.

Shopping awaited and we needed to pull the trigger on some purchases. We got back for a little more sun and after leaving the beach for the final time, we headed to Jax to watch the Kentucky Derby. Had great seats at the bar and beers and well made fruity margaritas for her. It was a nice atmosphere with nice people and good servers and staff.

After the race, we had a cab driver take us to the far end of the island and back to Secreto. We really didn’t explore the island enough (NEXT TIME) but enjoyed our cab ride tour.

Dinner on our patio (take out from Chilis Locos – fajitas and ka-bobs – yummy) because I was exhausted and (admittedly) a party-pooper.

We woke up and headed home – already planning and awaiting our return to paradise.


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