Cozumel and The Taxi Mafia

When we woke up this morning to beautiful sunny skies and no wind, we knew we needed to make the most of it. We’ve been thinking about a day trip to the nearby island of Cozumel since we got here but then our lazy streak started and well, we really didn’t feel the need to go that far to have an enjoyable day.

Barefoot Nomads on the Beach in Cozumel, Mexico  Barefoot Nomads on the Beach in Cozumel
Barefoot Nomads on the beach in Cozumel

After a quieter time than normal yesterday we were all itching to get out and see the world this morning. We had scoped out the ferry terminal last week while we were in that area and had a pretty good idea what to expect for the first leg of our journey.

We managed to get the kids ready and were out of the house around 10. Both ferry lines (UltraMar and Mexico Waterjets) run pretty much each hour during the day and we were gunning for the 11 one. After a quick $2 cab ride to the bus terminal (it’s the closest drop off point to the ferry terminal) we walked the other few blocks to the ferry.

It seemed every person we passed (and there are lots in that small distance) was asking us if we were going to Cozumel. Being the nice, friendly people we are we always replied yes. To that, they always replied that taxis are expensive on the island and that we needed to rent a car to get around. According to them it was lucky that we found them in time. Even more lucky was that every single one of them had a car to rent us. It’s strange how many coincidences one can have in a single block.

In truth, it was about the 3rd or 4th time we walked that strip (there’s a nice playground right there for the kids) and it always amazes me how they all change their tactics depending on the crowd. The last time we were there they were all touting Xcaret and the local activities.

See the Xcaret website and ticket prices here.

The time before that they were all pushing the big trips like Chichen Itza and Cancun daytrips. To be honest, those few blocks around the bus station are the worst in Playa for people trying to sell you things. It gets annoying after a while and you quickly learn ways to evade their constant “buy my crap because it’s better than the other 50 stores that sell the exact same thing” spiel.

Some of my favorite ways to deal with the constant selling include: pretending not to understand them, running towards their booth and then at the last second going to the next one, smiling and nodding my head so much they think I’m an imbecile, laughing like what they just said was the funniest thing I ever heard and pretending that the kids won’t let me look at their store and then pushing them forward a little faster. I always tend to do it nicely and will chat with the person if they’re genuinely friendly or helpful.

Anyways, to get back on topic, we decided to skip renting a car for this trip. All we really wanted was to see a bit of the place and spend the afternoon at one of the beaches. After enjoying the nice air conditioned 1 hour ride on the ferry we finally arrived on the beautiful island of Cozumel. Once we got past the usual touts and scammers that prey on the bewildered traveller we walked into the main square. Everybody was a little peckish but none of the restaurants were that appealing so we stopped by a 7-11 (the first one we’ve seen out here) and grabbed an iced tea and some snacks.

It was only as we sat there in the little park in the center of town enjoying watching the people and the colorful shopfronts that Micki and I realized we really didn’t know anything about Cozumel. We both knew that it was the biggest island in Mexico and that the nicest beaches were down to the south. We also knew there was a nice lighthouse in the far North and some small ruins close to it that weren’t worth checking out if we were planning to see the ones in Tulum. We also knew that there were a few small fishing villages on the opposite side that supposedly served awesomely cheap and fresh seafood. Of course, neither of us like seafood so that was out of the question. Beyond that we had no idea which beach to go to or even how to get there.

I had a rudimentary map from one of the touts in my pocket but it wasn’t to scale so we weren’t sure exactly how far the good beaches were. We had no idea if there were buses or even collectivos (small bus like vans that run only when they’re full) that circled the island. Once our snack was done we decided to walk along the boulevard that ran the length of the beach. We quickly counted 4 large cruise ships in port and the boulevard was full of day trippers. All the shops were crazy overpriced (even compared to Playa) and the lines of taxis was phenomenal for a 45 square mile island. After walking a dozen blocks we saw a McDonalds with free WiFi. We were a little overheated so we decided to sneak in and let the kids enjoy running around the playpark while we enjoyed the AC.

While the kids played I quickly surfed the net and did a little research on how to get around the place. Turns out I should have rented a car. I guess when life gives you 25 coincidences a block you should probably pay attention. The taxis on the island are known for their absurd prices (they have a very strong union and are known throughout the region as the Taxi Mafia) and up until a few years ago had even managed to thwart any organized bus routes on the island. Seems a little crazy and even I didn’t believe it until I walked up to one and asked how much to San Francisco Beach (reportedly the nicest stretch of beach on the island). When he said $14 US I laughed and kept walking. It wasn’t until the 3rd time I asked and got the same response that I realized they were serious.

$14 might not seem that much in Canada or the US but out here that could get me a bus ticket to Belize. It seemed a little high for a one way ride to one the nearest beaches but the day was quickly passing us by and we had already decided on not getting a rental car. So after sucking it up we jumped in the taxi and headed out. It turns out San Francisco beach is actually 14 kilometers outside of the town proper and definitely not walkable with a 2 and 5 year old.

When we got out of the taxi we were in high hopes and good spirits. The weather was still gorgeous and we were at the nicest beach on the island. That feeling lasted until we saw the actual beach. Turns out a few years ago a huge hurricane destroyed the majority of the beaches here and to keep the island a profitable tourist destination they rebuilt almost all of them. To put it in perspective, the beach was very small and the quality of sand was way inferior to anything we’ve seen in Playa. The island supposedly has tons of seagrass along it’s beaches and it was evident if you walked any distance in either direction.

To end this piece on a positive note, we actually had a great day. We got a beach spot at Carlos ‘n Charlies (a very popular bar/restaurant chain that’s everywhere out here) with a few lounge chairs by the water, an umbrella to minimize our sun exposure and a few cervezas to keep our hydration up. The kids had a huge lemonade in a 2 foot tall plastic palm tree container that Jordan refused to ever put down. We swam in the calm ocean and enjoyed trying to jump on the oversized trampoline they had buoyed out in the water. We didn’t leave the place until after 5.

Carlos 'n Charlies, Cozumel
Carlos ‘n Charlies, Cozumel

Besides for our ferry not being able to start (we had to get out and jump in a different one), we made it back to Playa in one piece. Both kids fell asleep in the taxi on the way to the ferry and Jordan slept until we got off the boat. We then stopped at a little Mexican restaurant next to Coco Bongo (Patrona De Playa or something similar) that serves great food at a great price. After a $2 taxi ride back home we were happy to be in our place again. Cozumel was fun (and I hear it’s great for snorkelling) but I think the next time we want to hang out at the beach we’ll just walk the few blocks to this one. I hear the cervezas are just as cold, the taxi rides a wee bit cheaper and the beach that much nicer.

Safe travels everyone!