When winter gives us the chills, we start plotting our next escape. Since Mike tends to take his vacation time in winter, he gets to choose what we’re going to do. His requirements for a winter vacation are few: island, sun, beach chair and no taxing activities -as uncomplicated and stress-free as possible. In other words the opposite of my usual choices -but I’m not going to complain about hanging out on an island doing nothing for a week – I think of it as a vacation from my vacations! 🙂 With that in mind, we decided to return to the Iberostar, an all-inclusive resort on the island of Cozumel, in Mexico. We’ve been to Cozumel many times over the years (either by air or sea). We were last at the Iberostar about 5 or 6 years ago. It is not super luxurious or fancy -but we found it charming on our previous trip and decided it would be nice to return. We tell people that when we vacation at a resort like the Iberostar we are so consistently lazy all day on our beach chairs that the staff comes around every so often simply to check our pulses! This trip was no different – we logged a lot of hours in our beach chairs, reading, eating and drinking.
10 Ways to Chill in Cozumel:
1. Enjoy the setting. When you arrive at the Iberostar there is a large circular drive that deposits guests at the reception area. For visitors like us with no plans to do anything except enjoy the resort, the arrival and departure days might be the only time we see this area. As we arrived there was a sign board just inside the lobby welcoming back all repeat visitors, including us. This was the first time we’ve returned to a resort we’ve already experienced and so we are a bit surprised, but appreciative, to see that they did notice we’d been there before.
Spaced evenly around the outside of the entry circle are statues of six Gods of the Mayans:
The reception area is a really large round “hut” type setting that is all open air. There is the registration desk, a lobby bar, a gift shop, the entrance to the main dining area around the edges and in the center there is a big area of couches and chairs for people to gather in. It is too big and shadowy to get a good picture of it.
The accomodations are “bungalos”, but I call it the “Ewok Village” (even though the bungalos are more or less on ground level). The bungalos are sprinkled throughout a large area that is naturally landscaped with an almost bewildering network of walkways connecting them to the beach, pool, reception area, restaurants and theater. Because they are situated all over the place, each room comes with an umbrella in case of rain.
After checking in, the bellman brought us and our luggage to our room on a golf cart. After that you’re on your own!
Each bungalo has a little porch with a chair, a table and a hammock. The rooms are pretty basic in style. At first glance you might be a bit underwhelmed by them, as I was, but eventually they grow on you and end up seeming just right. We thought it was cute that the resort recognized that we were repeat visitors by leaving us each a t-shirt that says “I’m back!” in the room.
2. Check out the fauna. There is quite a variety of animals on the property. As you exit the reception area on foot, you cross a wooden bridge that elevates the guests slightly above an area where they have a flock of flamingos. I took a million pictures of them because we passed by them so often. The main buffet area overlooks the flamingo enclosure and one morning as we were eating breakfast I heard them squabbling (as they were often doing when we saw them) and laughed because I realized they remind me of me and my sisters. We’re always in a flock, but we definitely have our boundaries and don’t hesitate to squawk at each other when the line is crossed!
Also roaming the grounds was a flock of peacocks. We were surprised they were loose because on our previous visit they’d been confined to a specific area of the grounds. They pretty much went where ever they wanted to. One thing that surprised me -because I guess I’d never thought about it- is that they can fly. There were two males and many females. I said to Mike, “How amazing is nature to place those gorgeous colors on a bird?” My camera didn’t do them justice.
We would see them all over the complex, but they seemed to enjoy hanging out in a landscaped area next to the pool restaurant during the day.
One evening I was sitting in the hammock on the porch and looked at the bungalo across the way and saw one of the males perched on the peak of the roof. I jumped up and grabbed my camera and got some of the best shots ever – I mean National Geographic worthy!- before I realized that my SD card was still in my computer because I’d been downloading pictures. Typical me! So I ran back to get it and started over.
This is Pepe the parrot. He had free run of the reception area. Sometimes he sat on the edges of the couches with people…sometimes he was on his perch. I watched him use his beak and claws to climb down the back side of one couch (woven wicker) and waddle a few feet to the back of a different couch and climb up to see what was going on.
One day at the beach we saw this little bird walking around some landscaping between the beach and pool area – he caught his breakfast!
There were also quite a few cats roaming around. They liked to hang out in the main dining area- it was mostly open air except they’d screened it in.
At night the complex was dimly lit. There was just enough low light to make sure you could see the sidewalks and each bungalo had an outside light -but it was very shadowy and quiet as you strolled after dark. One night as we were returning from dinner, something ran across the sidewalk in front of us and Mike said, “Was that a pig?” I had had only a glimpse of a something there -and then gone- and I knew it was bigger than a cat…but we were not sure what it was. A couple of days later someone said that there was a mom pig and two babies that were coming onto the property from the undeveloped neighboring property. It wasn’t until the last day that we were able to see them in daylight. Mike got a quick shot with his cell phone.
3. Appreciate the flora. The grounds were not elaborately landscaped; it was more like an organized jungle of sorts, which was quite nice. Not a lot of the plants were in bloom -but there were some flowers to see. They had a few art type pieces in various spots like this:
4. Make a splash at the pool. The pool was located just steps from the beach/ocean. Next to it was the beach restaurant where we ate lunch every day. There were two areas of the pool, divided in the middle by a swim-up bar. We usually don’t spend our days pool side.
Most all-inclusives have an energetic group of employees who’s job it is to promote their fun activities. They round people up for beach or pool volleyball, dance classes, darts, bingo – a variety of things. Just before noon every day they would play the song Hey Baby accompanied by a little dance routine and sing along before starting a game of sorts -usually involving the pool. When the song would start up, I’d say… “There’s the noon whistle. Time for lunch!” I was surprised at how many people were willing to participate in the games -not just the kids!
All of the palapas on the beach and next to the pool had a sign on them:
This is just a small example of how well that sign was obeyed. Not that we cared, but if you didn’t have a chair picked out by the pool by about 8:00AM -you’d be scrambling to find a place to spend the day. The beach was a bit better, but we still got up early most days. The difference with us was once we picked out our spot on the beach, we didn’t wander off and come back 3 or 4 hours later. We were pretty much there for the day, except when we’d wander off to eat.
5. Eat, drink and mingle. While some fussy people (who me?) might not like all the food options at an all-inclusive, you won’t go hungry. Breakfast and dinner were mostly served in the lobby area restaurant. Lunch was poolside. The food served in these areas was buffet style, with a variety of selections. There were three “specialty” restaurants that you could get reservations for as part of your stay, but it was limited. For example, based on the number of nights we were staying, we were allowed 3 reservations and decided to try each of the restaurants. One was typical Mexican fare, one was a steak house and the third was sort of a mix of things. At those you would order off a menu but the food isn’t all that much different really. It is a break from the buffet thing though. I didn’t take pictures in the lobby restaurant or specialty restaurants, but I did take a couple of the one by the pool:
For a few days during the week, they also did a separate cookout in an area that was strategically located between the lunch building, the pool and beach. They made different types of gumbos or paellas.
In the evening we’d go find some dinner and then make a stop at the lobby bar on our way by. It was the only bar on the whole resort that was open all day and into the evening (the beach bar and lunch buffet bar had limited hours). At first I thought there should be more options, but I came to realize that with the big lobby area and all the seating that having the bar there created a very energetic social scene as people came and went for dinner and drinks.
When the drinks are included on your vacation package -they flow! The bartenders were kept extremely busy in the evenings. It was interesting to watch them do their thing. They sure work fast.
On some evenings, there would be a bit of musical entertainment in the lobby during dining hours. My favorite, of course, was the mariachi band.
At about 9:30 or so (we were usually back in our room by then) the Star Friends would round up the guests for a show in the theater. I can’t comment on the shows because we really didn’t go to see them (although we got a glimpse of a couple of them as we passed by), but they were not Broadway ready presentations or anything. Even though they were relatively basic “shows” the performers were energetic and upbeat and the guests were willing to just have fun with it. One night was karaoke and another night was a sort of Newlywed Game show. There was also a night where they went down to the beach and set a bunch of batons and other devices on fire and did a “fire show”, which we did venture down to see because we thought it was being presented by a visiting group.
As far as mingling, we found that people were generally very friendly and chatty around the lobby -or the pool. There are defintiely all types that enjoy a resort vacation like the Iberostar. We especially enjoyed meeting and getting to know two couples from Wisconsin. The men were twin brothers and they, along with their wives, made a really fun group to sit down with and have a drink (or 2…or…) in the evenings. Like us, they were early to bed, early to rise. Unlike us, it was because they were there for the diving and the boat left early in the morning each day. We only got up early so we could grab our beach chairs, lay on them and go back to sleep! Cozumel is known as a diving destination, but we’d decided that we didn’t want to drag our gear down there. Hearing the daily dive recaps and seeing a bit of video made us vow to bring our gear next time -whenever that is.
6. Get horizontal on the beach. We liked to sit beneath the beach palapas just off the side of the pool, about halfway to the water and close to the beach bar/facilities.
7. Start a trend. An example of a good one: Last summer we bought some terry-cloth towel chaise chair covers for our backyard. Mike suggested we bring them along with us for our beach chairs. I almost said no, because they’re a bit bulky and I didn’t know if I’d have room in my suitcase for one, but I’m so glad we did. Not to do a commercial, but they have various pockets to hold small items and a part that slides over the top of the chair -so the towel doesn’t slide down or fly off. It added a level of convenience to the chairs. Several people stopped to ask us about them and were happily surprised to find out that we bought them from someplace they’d actually heard of.
I joked with Mike that we inadvertantly made the palapa in the above picture trendy. #palapa envy! We grabbed it one morning only because we’d been beaten to the punch at our preferred palapa nearby. It was on the edge of the beach area and was actually a bit decrepid; missing some thatch and it seemed to have extra ants – but it did the job for the most part (except when I wanted to be out of the sun and it was shining through one of the holes in the thatch!) Mike decided that he wanted to keep using it (even if my favorite one was available) because it was a bit chilly there all week and we didn’t want too much shade. You can see all the palms in the background -it was very shady in the middle of the beach. After a few days of using it, we came out one morning and someone had “saved” it already -yet not one of the nearby palapas were saved. I told Mike that with our striped towels it was noticeable that we’d been there for several days in a row and someone must have decided that it must be an awesome place to camp for the day and grabbed it before we could. We just returned to my favorite palapa that day. An example of a bad trend…or “What Not To Wear”… We saw a man who had to be in his 70’s walking around the pool in a speedo style thong/loincloth bathing suit in a leopard print… YIKES! We thought maybe he was from Europe, but someone said he was carrying a dive bag the next day with a logo from a town in Wisconsin. Of course, I told Mike that if my brother Robert hadn’t recently passed away and I knew where to buy something like that I would have so bought one for him. 🙂
8. Paint the town red. After a full week of anti-activity we decided that we’d better at least make an effort to go to town for a look around. The first time we went to San Miguel in 1991, it was more of a sleepy little Mexican town and I remember how charming I found it. Since then the cruise ships have taken over and it has grown and gotten a lot more congested and busy. A LOT of cruise ships were in town, but we didn’t really know that when we set off because the resort was quite far outside of the built-up areas. I had my eye out for a couple of things -one being a new beach wrap to add to my collection, so we just decided to walk along the Malecon (waterfront). We wandered into and out of a variety of stores -just looking. We started at the South end of things and walked to the point at the North end where the business district was petering out. That’s where I finally found my new wrap. I mainly took pictures of things that caught my eye along the way.
We crossed the street and walked back the way we’d come. All along the waterfront railing there were statues of birds on every railing post. Some were bluebirds, some were pelicans, some were flamingos:
This statue was in front of the ferry terminal. You can take a ferry from Cozumel to Playa Del Carmen on the mainland. Playa is between Cancun and the Riviera Maya area. At that point we decided we’d had enough of town life and hopped into a cab to go back to the Iberostar.
9. Dawdle until the sun sets.
10. Appreciate the sunny weather every day -don’t forget what’s waiting at home! I think a cold front went through in time for our arrival in Cozumel. It was quite breezy and on the “chilly” side all week. Chilly being relative. of course. I confess to being a bit whiny about how cold it was.
I say appreciate the weather because we certainly got our nose rubbed in it as we arrived back in Michigan. A snotty little snowstorm hit over the weekend, dropping close to 12″ of snow. We landed at our little airport on Sunday night at 10:30 along with two other planes. First, we had to wait for a gate because they weren’t fully staffed due to the storm. Then we got to the luggage area, they were only using one carousel and ours was the third flight. I grabbed a chair nearby to wait for our luggage to showup and overheard a girl on the phone calling someone for a ride because “there were no taxis running”. Turns out, we usually park at the airport when we’re gone for a week, but this time we’d arranged to get a ride, planning to take a taxi home when we returned. We were starting to wonder if we’d actually have to sleep overnight in the airport, less than 6 miles from home!! I asked at the information desk and it turned out there were taxis, but there was a dispatcher keeping a waiting list and I needed to get on it. By then it was at least 11:00 PM. People were buddying up for rides if they were going anywhere near the same direction and so when our turn finally came, there was a woman trying to get to a nearby hotel, which was not on our normal route home, but not out of our way either, so she went with us. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been in a vehicle in conditions like we saw on Sunday. The roads had not been plowed. The taxi we had was rear-wheel drive and he had zero traction. The rear end had more action going than a manic twerker. After we dropped off the woman at the hotel, Mike had to get out and push (twice!) so we could get out of the parking lot. As we neared our home (on a normally very busy 4-lane highway) we suggested that the driver not attempt our driveway, but pull over at the top of it (plenty wide to get him off the main road, yet keep him out of trouble) to let us out. He simply stopped in the road! You never saw me move so fast getting out of that car (checking for oncoming headlights!) grabbing my bag out of the trunk and getting myself out of the road. Fortunately it was so late and so bad out that we’d seen only a few cars during our Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Mike and I probably looked like sherpas from Everest as we carried our heavy bags as high as we could to keep them from dragging in the snow and waded down our driveway to finally be able to say. “We’re home!” It was 12:45 AM…
Categories: Cozumel 2015