I have to begin by thanking all the people whose posts and trip reports made this the smoothest vacation I have ever had. After the tenth time that someone asked me "how did you ever find out about this?" or "how did you know we should go there?" I finally broke down and confessed all. I owe it all to the message boards.
After a wonderful but exhausting week's trip with the Maya Exploration Center exploring ruins in Chiapas, my friend and I flew to Cancun, met my parents and the Best Day rep and (once he stopped trying to convince me that I was really going to Playa del Carmen?!?) were whisked away to the ferry. Two hours after the flight touched down, we were on Isla and headed down the street to the Posada del Mar.
Although I enjoyed reading all the reports that went day by day, I'm just going to hit the highlights here.
We stayed two nights at the Posada del Mar. My mother loved it. She said it reminded her of the old seaside motels in Florida that they stayed in back in the 50's and 60's. The wrinklies had a room on the first floor of the main building. My friend and I had a room on the third floor. My biggest concern was that there was a big step up into the bathroom in our room. At night, stumbling around in the dark, this could have become a very dangerous step down out of the bathroom if a person was not very careful.
Then we left the Posada and moved to Casa Punta Piedra where we had a week's rental. This was absolutely perfect. The price was great and the house had everything we hoped for (and more). It's on the Caribbean just south of the airport. The house has two bedrooms upstairs, each with AC, a full bath and a door out onto the upstairs porch overlooking the ocean. Downstairs is a living area, dining area, kitchen, and half bath. The living area opens out onto a porch with steps down to a little beach and the rocky shore. Between the house and Punta Piedra II next door is a small freshwater pool that we loved. We'd come home in the afternoon after a day's snorkling or wandering around town and have our Happy Hour in the pool.
Our first night at Casa PP, we spotted two huge sea turtles mating just offshore. The coast is fairly rugged along that stretch but we loved the sound of the waves and the great breeze off the ocean. There was a hammock on the upstairs porch that was always in use.
We loved Amigos, Picus, Poc Chuc, and Playa Lancheros. Those were the places we had to go back to at least once. Our most disappointing meal was at Chili Locos where the strong flavor of the cheese in the signature dish overpowered the taste of the chile (I think it would have been better with a milder cheese) and the coconut breading on the coconut shrimp overpowered the taste of the shrimp. At Amigos we particularly liked the fish filet with chaya, the lime soup and the garlic shrimp. At Picus we loved the fish "on the planch" (grilled fish) and the ceviche. And, of course, we loved sitting right out on the sand close to the water's edge watching the fishing boats. And at Poc Chuc, the fish adoba and the fish in butter were wonderful.
The highlight of the trip was the day we went to Contoy. We went with Contoy Express because the boat was larger and easier for my parents to get on and off of. I could have gone back and spent the whole day snorkling in the protected bay there. It was just wonderful. The beach there was lovely--there was hardly anyone else there that day. And the lunch on the beach under the palapa was divine.
We also went snorkling with Captain Tony one day to the lighthouse and Sac Bejo. We enjoyed the lighthouse a lot but when we got to Sac Bejo there was a horde of small boats jostling for position--one actually hit another. And there was a crowd of snorklers let out too close to the rocks where they panicked because they couldn't all swim. It was just too many boats and too many people in too small a space. On our last day we hired a boat to take us out to the lighthouse again and then to Manchones. We saw a lot of great stuff--it was absolutely worth it--but I was dismayed at how damaged the reefs are. It was a bit depressing. There's very little regulation and too many boats--at Manchones they were circling around right over the coral and stirring up the sand. I was a bit nervous snorkling surrounded by boats going every which way.
This was great fun. We had several things made by Hortensia and spent a lot of time just poking into shops. There are several very nice shops with goods that are a definite cut above the usual tourist fare. You have to seek some of them out but you can really find some nice art to take home along with your T-shirts and mermaid (shell-covered) Barbie dolls.
Best Day was great. On the island, we rented a golf cart from Ciro's, 500p for 24 hours, for the day we moved, and had a lovely trip around the island. It was a lot of fun. We stopped at the South end and spent a few hours at Garrafon del Castillo (the small Garrafon). The snorkling wasn't much but it was just right for my parents (in their late 70's). We watched load after load of Cancuners dropped off at El Garrafon and swore that we would never go there.
Mostly we just took taxis and the bus to get around the island. Taxis were plentiful and cheap and the bus was great fun. We never had any trouble getting a taxi to or from town and only twice did they try to ask for more money than the published fare. The busses were hit or miss but when we saw one we took a ride on it. It's a nice way to see the island (if it's not too crowded).
Overall I'd have to say that Isla was a great place to relax. The pace was just right after my exhausting week at the ruins and everyone was so friendly and helpful (even though our collective knowledge of the language could fit in beer bottle with plenty of room left over for the beer). I felt that after the first couple of days, I really knew my way around. The waiters and shop keepers get to recognize you, and you may even run into the same taxi or bus driver and they greet you like an old friend. Isla is a wonderfully friendly place. We never encountered a single mean or rude person. I'm already trying to get together a group for "girl's week out" next year.