We were in Isla last September and it was sweltering hot. I was worried that Karen would not like Isla because of the heat but she loved Isla and we had made plans to return before our vacation was over.
We purchased tickets this time rather than trying to use frequent flier miles, if you look at the post from our last trip to Isla, we had problems getting here because we were using frequent flier miles. We stayed at Ixchel condos last time and liked them but we had rented a single room and that turned out to be a little small for our needs. We had eaten at The Sunset Grill which is at Nautibeach resort and thought the resort look nice so we decided to stay there this time.
The last time we were he we noticed there was a disproportionated amount of old men with young good looking women staying at the resort. I don't know how many times I did a double take and thought, she's with that old fart??? I eventually did start calling the resort Naughty-beach, which I thought was hilarious, but Karen wasn't that amused with my nickname for the resort.
The reason that we opted for Nautibeach this time is because it is slightly cheaper, and at Nautibeach you get a full two bedroom condo with a full kitchen. They have a weird pricing scheme, all of their condos are two bedroom units but they charge by the number of people that are staying in the condo. This is a great deal for two people, we got a two bedroom condo with a full kitchen (stove top range, oven, microwave, refrigerator, and granite counter tops), a dining area (with a table and four chairs), a living room (couch, love seat, end table, two lamps, and small TV), two bedrooms with king size beds, a patio with a table and four chairs, and of course, a bathroom. Nautibeach is definitely older than Ixchel, so I was a little worried about it being run down. I checked Trip Advisor (as I do whenever I travel) and nearly all of the reviews were positive.
When using Trip Advisor I have learned to ignore negative reviews if there are only several of them. We went to the Turks and Caicos three years ago and we stayed at the Sibonne hotel because The Sands had several negative reviews and the Sibonne had none. The Sibonne was terrible- worn sheets, ripped towels, noisy air conditioner, rude staff and they had accidentally canceled our reservation. We moved to The Sands midweek and loved it.
The flight down was delayed for an hour and a half because of mechanical problems, but once we took off it was about three hours and forty five minutes to Cancun. Nautibeach had recommended Luxury Van Transportation for the shuttle service that would pick us up at the airport and drop us at Puerto Jaurez, but I dragged my feet getting something booked with them so we ended up taking the first shuttle that we found at the sirport. The options to get from the airport to Puerto Jaurez are a cab at $56, Luxury Transport for $40 or one of the many shuttle service for about $36(all prices are for two people).
Once at Puerto Jaurez it is a twenty minute ferry ride to Isla (I am always amazed that the ferry never feels like it is going fast when you riding it) and a three minute taxi ride to the hotel. During the taxi ride to the hotel we discovered the one downside to Nautibeach, the street to the complex is bordered on one side by North Beach and there is construction on the other side of the road so it feels very deserted at night. It is a little spooky walking down the road to the resort in the dark but I would not expect any trouble on the island and the guard shack for the resort is a short holler away.
The taxi dropped us at the guard shack and we hauled our luggage to the office and checked in. Check in was painless and the desk staff is helpful and friendly. We were in number 17 and as I stated it is a nice condo, not fancy, but is has a lot of room and everything in the condo works.
The grounds are well maintained, the lawn and bushes are well cared for. The pool is nice, there are lounge chairs around three sides of the pool and the corner of the pool has a swim up bar that did not get much use that I saw, I kind of like that, I have been resorts where I see the same people at the swim up bar every day. It scares me to think they don't have to leave their spot at the bar to go to the bathroom, if you know what I mean.
The Sunset Grill is physically attached to Nautibeach but it is not owned by Nautibeach, which is kind of weird. You can setup a tab at the restaurant, which we did, and it was nice not have have to carry cash or a credit card at the beach. If you eat at The Sunset Grill you can use their beach chairs and umbrellas. This is important because beach chairs can cost 150 pesos ($15) for two hours.
We ate at the usual places, pizza at Rolandi's (twice). Karen had excellent tempura grouper, and I had mediocre grilled grouper at Bamboo's. Our favorite restaurant on Isla is Casa O's (pictured above), you can see the Cancun strip across the channel. Make sure that you arrive before sundown, you can watch the sunset from your table. If you arrive after sunset you will have to use the provided flashlight to read the menu.
Olivia is new since we were here last and it is very good. They have some inside tables but everyone was waiting for a table in their open air courtyard.
As I stated above,we vacationed in Turks and Caicos several years ago and we stayed on Grace Bay Beach. It is seven miles of beautiful white sand beach. I jogged barefoot on the beach (I wouldn't recommend it) and we could hike to Coral Gardens to go snorkeling (many turtles and fish just a short swim from shore). As beautiful as Grace Bay Beach is we like North Beach more. You can run on North Beach but you would have to do a couple of laps to get a good workout. I snorkeled North Beach, the water is crystal clear, but there is not much to see (I did find a watch). The best thing about North Beach is the water, it is bathwater warm and during low tide you can wade out about 100 yards and the water is only chest deep. People play, wade, and float in the water all day long.
This is a professional whale shark video
This is our whale shark experience
We were in Isla Mujeres last September, one of the reasons that we went was to snorkel with the whale sharks. Unfortunately it was the end of the season and there was no guarantee that we would see a whale shark. After freezing our butts off in Kona and not seeing one manta we opted to come back in July which is peak whale shark season.
We arranged the whale shark trip with our dive shop (Coral Divers). There were four customers in our boat, us and a very nice British couple that we had dove with all week. Most other boats had from six to sixteen people in them, of course, the more people in your boat the less chances you get to swim with the whale sharks.
It is about an hour boat ride to the whale sharks. On the way out we saw a baby manta splashing on the surface and a pod of dolphins. Once we arrived at the location it only took about fifteen minutes to find the sharks. We were told that it generally takes longer.
None of us had done this before so we were not sure what we were looking for, but as you can see from the above video you see the top of the shale sharks mouth, dorsal fin and tail and it is amazing when you see your first one, they are huge.
There are rules to swimming with the whale sharks, there can only be three boats per whale shark, you have to wear a life jacket or a wet suit. You can only have three people from your boat in the water at a time, the guide and two customers. It is a little freaky to jump in the ocean so far away from shore. The water is anything but clear, visibility is terrible because of the plankton, but that is why the sharks are there. You can actually see the ocean change colors as you swim through the plankton blooms.
The boat pulls in front of the whale shark as you, your wife and the guide perch on the side of the boat holding you fins out of the water. The captain tells you when to jump. The whale shark looks like he is barely moving through the water, but as you try to keep pace with them you realize you have to swim at full speed and the sharks is still leaving you in his wake. As you can see from my video the shark was seining plankton and his mouth was open, I was able to pace the shark for a while but I accidentally got in front of the shark and he closed his mouth, I am too large for him to swallow. As the shark pulled away from me he bumped me with his tail, it was an incredibly gentle bump for such a big animal. I cannot put into words what an unbelievable experience it is to be that close to a 15 yard long whale shark in the wild. If you are in Isla Mujeres in the summer you have to swim with the whale sharks.
We also came to Isla to scuba dive. Last year the diving was comparatively mediocre because a hurricane had gone just to the south of Isla, it missed Isla but it stirred everything up, the water had just started clearing but the fish were still hiding in the reefs when we dove.
We didn't have luck with dive shops last September either, we initially dove with Aqua but their equipment was not great and we did not click with the dive masters. We tried the dive shop on the beach by Ixchel for our last dive, it was a mistake, the dive master seem pissed that he had to do an afternoon drive. He swam very fast for both of out dives, something a dive master just does not do. I was an obvious ploy to get us to use all of our air quickly.
Two years ago I dove with Coral Divers, their equipment was good and I liked the dive masters, they were a lot of fun to dive with. After last years problems we decided to go back to Corel Divers. We dove with them three days this year and it was some of the best diving that we ever experienced.
The thing I really like about Coral Divers is they are so easy going, we walked into the dive shop on Matamoros avenue (the have two locations) Saturday afternoon and said that we wanted to dive the next morning, they told us to be at the shop by 8:30 am, they did have us fill out paperwork and put down a 50% down payment like most dive shops would. We had no preconceived notions bout how much diving we were going to do, but we ended up diving three days. Every day after diving we just told the dive master we want to dive tomorrow, again they did not ask for a down payment they just told us to be at the shop in the morning. We did three dives, one whale shark trip and we snorkeled one day, again, it was probably the best diving that we have ever experienced and the whale shark trip is an experience of a lifetime.
During our dives we saw large eels, nurse sharks and large schools of fish. It was mating season for turtles so we saw many large turtles in the act. You literally could not go anywhere without seeing turtles mating. My favorite dive was South Point, we dove it twice, the surge and current were very strong, As you can see from the above video, we were being swept along without kicking at all. At the exact south tip of the island where the water from the east side and the west side of the island collide the surface water looks like a washing machine.
The dive masters for Coral Divers are great, we dove with Enrique, he has a great sense of humor. We also dove with David, he is quick to point out that just because he has a French accent does not mean he is French, he is from Belgium. We immediately had something in common, Stella Artois is mine and Karen's favorite beer. You cannot get Stella on the island so David points out that he misses Stella Artois and his family, in that order. If you are going to dive with Coral Divers make sure you bring some Stella for David.
We had the good luck to dive all three days and go on the whale shark trip with Sara and Andres. They are from London and they were just finishing their honeymoon. It is always nice to share a cervesa with nice people after a dive.
On our final day of vacation we had breakfast at The Sunset Grill and closed out our tab. We were able to enjoy North Beach for several hours before we had to shower and take the ferry to Cancun. We had Fidel shuttle our luggage from the hotel to the ferry terminal, he came to the room to get the luggage. I felt a little guilty because he was older than I am and he was hauling our suitcases down two flights of stairs. Obviously, even though he does not look like it, he is in shape and can handle the work. Since he brought our luggage to the ferry terminal we were able to take one last leisurely walk through town. Fidel works for tips only, we gave him sixty pesos and he seemed very happy with that amount.
We did book through Luxury Van Transportation for the return and when the ferry landed at the dock there was a well dressed young man holding a sign with my name, he brought us and our luggage to an air conditioned conversion van with leather captain's seats, and we were at the airport within twenty minutes, he was also an extremely careful driver, which was appreciated (I must be getting old). We will probably never use the airport shuttles again.
On the flight home Karen and I actually had an entire row to our selves so we could relax and not feel like a sardine in a flying can.
Check out the Isla Mujeres and Cancun travel guides below