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Vacation Journal
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Trip Report January 17-23, 2010

By: KarenMD (View Profile)
Date: 1/30/2010

Beware- this is a long one, but I tried to give a lot of detail. I know how much I use this board when planning trips. Feel free to ask questions! This is also posted on Trip Advisor.

This was a very highly anticipated trip for my husband, Travis and I. We were originally scheduled for a trip to Isla in May that was cancelled so we were thrilled to finally be going.
We left on Sunday- flight was uneventful, arrived in Cancun and went through immigration and customs fairly quickly. Ignore all of the hawkers on your way out of the airport, especially if you have transportation already arranged! Went outside and easily found our guy from USA transfers who took us to our private car. It was about a 30 minute drive to the ferry and our driver was very pleasant. Purchased tickets, got pesos from the ATM and got a Sol from the Oxxo store and hopped on the next ferry to Isla. It was chilly and cloudy the day we arrived, but we were thrilled anyway to finally be on Isla. Took a quick taxi to the Hotel Na Balam and checked in. Use caution when staying at this hotel. Despite numerous emails with them confirming our reservation, they made a mistake and had us reserved for the same week in February. But there was only a brief moment of panic when they told us they didn・t have any suites available, because they gave us their :house; for the same price as we would have paid for a suite. It was so cute, not on the beach, but was a little 2 bedroom, 2 story house with kitchen and 2 bathrooms. I was told it was where the manager of the hotel used to live, was adorable! The only down side was that it didn・t have a view of the ocean and you could hear some street noise first thing in the morning. But we quickly learned that the beach was just steps away and got over it. Overall the hotel was nice- the beds comfortable and was very relaxing to sleep with the windows open and a nice breeze coming in every night. The service was just okay- fine enough, but not overly friendly- maybe this was because of the reservation snafu. The hotel restaurant was not that great, though the beach was amazing! So after we got settled, we checked out the beach front area- it was just sunset. And then headed down the beach to find some food. We were starving after all day on the plane. We decided on Sunset Grill for dinner- great choice! The place was nearly empty, great waiters, yummy tic-chic grilled fish and margaritas. We then headed into town and had drinks at the Argentinian place with the tree stumps for bar stools. Ended up then at Jax for a nightcap before bed. Ran into Julian, a long time American local, who gave us some great tips on exploring the island. The people on Isla, Mexican and otherwise, were super nice and this was only the beginning of our meeting some great people.
Woke up on Monday morning, refreshed and ready for a great week. Had breakfast at Bucaneros on Hidalgo. Good food, Mexican style eggs, service was not the fastest but the food made up for it. Went to the grocery store to stock up on water, beer and snacks and headed back to the hotel- Travis went to the beach and I had an incredible massage with Mary Ann Burns- she came to my hotel and set up right in our living room. Was the perfect way to start the week. I then joined my husband for the rest of the day lounging on the beach in front of Na Balam. Beautiful! The water was warm and very shallow, you could walk out for 500 yards at least, and it was still only up to your waist. Also cool sandbars out in the middle that you could sit on and chill. We had lunch at the Zazil-Ha restaurant at the hotel- nothing special, and weak drinks. We quickly learned to bring our own beer and to head into town for lunch. Watched the sunset and then got cleaned up for dinner. Stopped for a drink at a place on Hildalgo that I can・t remember the name of- was a Cowboy・s place, met another nice local, chatted about football and life on Isla, and then went to Minnino・s for dinner. Classic :toes in the sand;, overlooking the water where the boats that caught the fish you are eating are docked. I had grilled lobster, Travis had conch- both delicious, and margies as big as your face. We crashed early knowing we had a full day coming up.
Tues: Snorkeling trip to Isla Contoy with Captain Tony. His nephew, Noe, and uncle, Alberto, ended up being the ones to take us out, which was fine, but I got the sense that they weren・t as chatty as Captain Tony might have been. The boat ride out was an adventure! If you get seasick, do not take this tour. It was about an hour of very choppy, ocean spray in your face, white knuckling to hang on, in a tiny boat with about 6 other people. Good thing Contoy was so beautiful- it was worth it, but the boat ride was a bit more than we were anticipating. Great snorkeling once we arrived, had about 4 hours total to spend there. Amazing grilled fish and chicken for lunch, with rice and beans, fresh guac and salsa. A bit stingy on the beer and other cold drinks, so take water with you, but overall a great day. There is also a bird sanctuary on Contoy and you can walk out to a small lagoon and see them up close. Also a small museum with restrooms and a lookout tower with great views. On this trip, we met some wonderful people, a family from California, and a couple, Deanna and Barry, from Atlanta. Little did we know that they would turn out to be great friends! After coming home and napping, getting cleaned up, we went to Miguel・s for 2 for 1 happy hour- great Margie・s and snacks, and to Brisa Mexicana for dinner V had great steak fajitas while sitting outside on Hildalgo. Went across the street for drinks at the swing bar. Travis and I were people watching (My favorite thing to do on Isla) and talking to the bartender, when guess who shows up- Deanna and Barry! We proceeded to drink our faces off and have a great time, listening to live music from Fayne・s and making plans to meet up the next day to rent golf carts.
Wed: Met Deanna and Barry on Hidalgo, went to the Mercado for breakfast. Great, cheap breakfast. Searched for the tangerine juice we had heard about inside the market, but they didn・t have any yet. I was a little appalled at the fresh sides of beef hanging out in the open in the 80 degree heat, but it was a neat experience anyway. We rented a golf cart at Pepe・s and then headed out to explore. We stopped at the Turtle Sanctuary and then spent most of the day at Zama・s Beach club. Gorgeous pool, beach area and facilities- a little Zen in the middle of Mexico with chill music, great food and drinks. They don・t charge you any fee as long as you spend some money on food or drinks. They rent towels by the day and it made for a really relaxing and fun place to spend the afternoon. On the way back, we hit the drive thru Modelo store (seems like it was just made for golf carts) and tried to check out the Floating Plastic Bottle Island- this is a cool, little house down the road from Zama・s that is built on top on plastic bottles so it floats. It was neat though the owner wasn・t there to give us a tour. Hit the Soggy Peso, where it was wing night. This is a very cool place, owned by Americans and they pretty much have one food item every day, so that day, it was wings, served to us by a terrific Mexican guy named Cash, who remembered all of our names, sadly except Deanna・s. I think he just couldn・t spell it We headed back to town and returned the cart and decided to keep the party going. We went to the bar at the Posada del Mar and hung out there for a bit- where Romy (the bartender) tried to get me to drink many exotic concoctions of things. When he got past 5-6 ingredients when I asked what was in things, I declined. Deanna and I did do a Mayan Sacrifice- a shot that was on fire! Ended our long day at Jax to watch the North Carolina basketball game and eat some snacks. Great sports bar with traditional American pub fare along with Mexican specialties.
Thurs: One of the great things about the Na Balam is the free yoga class on the beach offered every morning so I was determined to make it at least one morning and Thursday was it. I left Travis sleeping and was glad I went. It was a very energizing way to start the day. We headed to Cazeula・s for breakfast, really good coffee and the food was delicious. A cazuela is a cross between a quiche and omelette- all eggy and cheesy goodness baked with veggies and herbs. We spent the rest of the morning chilling and reading on our beach. Decided to head into town in the afternoon to find Bimbo hot dogs, but weren・t able to locate them. Ate at Brisas Grill near the ferry- not a great meal. I had a wonderful nap in our room while Travis hung out at the pool. The pool area at Na Balam was very nice- comfy chairs and nice trees for shade. Not on the beach but relaxing nonetheless. We then had our sunset ritual of Sol・s on the beach before heading into town for dinner at Asia Caribe. I loved this restaurant. I had been enjoying all of the fresh fish and Mexican deliciousness all week, but it was nice to have some different flavors. The spicy pork ribs and noodle dishes were really tasty! Also had a great mango Mai Tai. Visited Cool for yummy gelato on the way home and hit the hay early. I think we were tired out from our day of sun, water and many cocktails the day before.
Friday: We had breakfast at Manana・s- great smoothies and French inspired breakfasts with homemade bread. We rented another golf cart from Pepe・s and decided to head out to the South end to see the parts of Isla we hadn・t yet. It was a pretty windy day but sunny and beautiful. We drove all the way to Punta Sur and saw the Temple ruins- I loved the fertility goddess statues! Also drove around some of the streets in the middle of the island where most of the locals live. Some areas were nice, but it was sad to see some of the poorer sections on the South end, just next to huge, nice vacation homes. We ended up back at Zama・s beach club for another perfect afternoon. Also drove all the way down into Sac Bajo- great houses and past Villa Rolandi. I loved all of the bright colors of the tile and paint- would love to paint our house like that, but somehow it doesn・t fit in Baltimore. Had lunch at Zama・s this time, good fish tacos and salads, great pina coladas and we tried Tequila Sunrise・s here too- also very good. We came back and retuned the golf cart. Then walked through town a bit and picked up some souveniers for friends back home. Also bought a beautiful pottery tray at one of the shops. Shop around and negotiate for the best prices. I felt good to give something back to all of the people who had been hawking me all week only to get my :no gracias; response. Had our last sunset on the Na Balam beach and then went to Bally Hoo・s for one of our best dinners. Great little place on the ferry side, right on the water. Incredible seviche and fresh fish. A great way to end our week.
We left early Saturday morning and got through the airport in Cancun in record time. We used USA transfers on the way home as well and our driver was waiting for us when we got off of the ferry. They were very reliable. We were home by 4pm and sad, but with great memories of a beautiful people and a beautiful Isla!

A few other random thoughts:
-Money was super easy- we got pesos from the ATM the whole week with no trouble.
-There are a lot of tradespeople and other locals trying to sell you things, on the beach, on the street, pretty much everywhere. I found that a simple :no gracias; worked and they left us alone. Just remember that they are just trying to make a living.
-If you are considering staying in Playa Norte, don・t be concerned about staying right on the beach if you are concerned about the cost. It was very nice to be steps from the sand, but it is literally a 5 minute walk from :town; to the beach. I will consider staying in town next time because it・s so much cheaper.
-Best things I brought with us- a insulated, collapsible cooler- was great for keeping beers and water cold. Also I brought a refillable water bottle and bought a huge thing of bottled water at the grocery store and used that to fill up every day. Tons of sunscreen- was expensive down there and the sun is really strong so I went through a lot of it. Our own scuba gear- this was worth it to have with us and it fit much better than what we could have rented.
-Also, girls, don・t bother with trying to look cute. This place is so casual and beachy, that I never wore anything other than capris and flip flops. Also didn・t dry my hair once so could have left the hairdryer at home. Bringing some layers was helpful though because I found it got chilly at night but never needed more than a long sleeve t-shirt or jean jacket.
-Lastly, if you can・t find something or need anything, just ask. I found the people on Isla super friendly and helpful, some of the nicest people I・ve met while traveling. And trying to speak a little Spanish goes a long way. Even if you butcher it, I think the locals appreciate the effort.
We will definitely be back! Muchos gracias to all of you on this board who gave me tips and advice on how to make the most of this quirky, delightful island. It what just what Travis and I needed for our vacation and it was much appreciated!



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