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Mexico - The Mother of All Akumal Trip Reports, Part I

Author: Entilzha (More Trip Reviews by Entilzha)
Date of Trip: March 2005

We are a family of four from Sherbrooke, Quebec, on our first trip to Mexico. Our two children are Louis and Claudia, aged 8 and 5, respectively. We have traveled to the Caribbean as a family twice before, in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Both trips were to all-inclusives (AIs) and in early July.

We wanted to get out of the AI mode, as we found out that the excursion always turned out to be the highlight of those two previous trips. We wanted to have more liberties to explore. I fell in love with the tropical sealife ... even in the desolate wasteland that Punta Cana turned out to be, and I wanted a place with great snorkeling. I had a fair amount of Aeroplan air miles, so we had to chose a destination Air Canada serviced. An experienced traveler myself, I did not want to put my kids through the hassles of an airport transfer ... especially if that transfer was through Toronto's Pearson airport.

We got a great deal for a condo in Half Moon Bay, next to Akumal, for about the same price as a small beachfront house in New Brunswick. For $10/day, they offered an upgrade to a third-floor penthouse--I took it just for kicks. Since three of the four tickets were already paid, this two weeks fell within our budget.

Day One
Flight from Air Canada (Montreal-Cancun) was on time and uneventful. Upon landing, we sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes, letting three jets dock in before us. Needless to say, customs was packed (what else is new on a Saturday?). Anyway, the place had proper A/C, and the line was moving briskly. Then we got the fabled RED LIGHT. One of my bags was packed so tightly that I was afraid I would never get it closed again. Anyway, all went fine, and we were out through a sea infested with timeshare sharks (all ignored) to the Hertz center. A funny thing happened to us and the two families before. Once the car got in the front, this little guy immediately started packing the trunk with the luggage. In any case, there was way too much luggage for the trunk, so every time the manager whacked him behind the head, calling him estupido, and told him to get a bigger car. It would have been funnier if it had not been for the 1 hour wait. We ended up with an old, battered Nissan with kinks all over, but the trunk was big enough, and the A/C was good. The left rear door would not open from the inside, and there was a definite rightward lean, but at least it certainly did not look like a rented car.

On the way to Akumal, we stopped at Puerto Morelos and had a late lunch at El Viejo Pescador. The food was okay (we had the seafood salad), but the beer was good and cold (Dos Equis, which would end up becoming our favorite) and the view at the ocean really put us in the mood. We then made haste to Akumal to the Lol Ka'naab condos, where we had rented a penthouse by the sea. I'll say that this place was fabulous, with a stunning view of Half Moon Bay. Plus, there was a pool just by the sea. This was a definite plus, since the sand stops at the water's edge, and it gets very rocky. Beach shoes were a necessity (we did bring them), but if we wanted sandy beaches and water, we had to go to Akumal Bay.

It was turtle-breeding season, and we could spot turtle nests here and there.

All is not well in Half Moon Bay, I'm afraid, as some locals have gone into bitter conflict with the owner of La Buena Vida. Turns out they have opened up a dive shop with two motorboats on the up-to-now motorless bay. The locals were extremely concerned that this would damage the coral and deleteriously affect the turtles that lay their eggs in the bay. Indeed, two of those splendid animals had already been trapped in the boats lines and drowned. So they have responded with a boycott and we were advised not to patronize this place. We did have dinner there that night. It's the only place next door to us, and we were so exhausted that we did not want to go any further. All I'll say was that the food was way overpriced for its quality, so I will have one more reason not to go there anymore.

Day Two
Well, what a great start this is. Two days gone, 12 to go. The fact that time has accelerated to an unbearable speed is indicative of how much fun I've already had. I'm sitting on the veranda on the third floor, with the sea directly in front of me, lightning in the far distance, incredible stars in the sky, a cervesa on my right, and my Mac G4 on my lap for your reading pleasure. It began with breakfast at the Turtle Bay Cafe. Mium Mium. My only problem was that if we continue on that trend, we will end up with our pockets empty and our bellies distended. We found out Akumal is quite pricey restaurant-wise, and we decided that we will be eating out only one meal a day to salvage our budget. So that meant groceries at the Super Chomak, still scandalously expensive, but cheaper than the restaurant.

Then, finally, came the moment where I could snorkel Half Moon Bay. The best of that trip were two turtles, with a HUGE one (4.5 ft) that endured me (nah ... I was good) for over ten minutes. I did three more dives that day: one with my camera; of course, there were no turtles except for a small one swimming fast at the edge of my view. The other dives were with my two kids, aged 5 and 8, who were snorkeling for the first time. I think my kids were fish in a previous life... or it's their dad's genes. Anyway, I saw two other turtles with my 8-year-old boy. One of them got so close that he could almost touch it. Now his 5-year-old sister was really pouting, because she really wanted to see a turtle too. I think I'll have to spend an extra long expedition with her the next time.

The rest of the time was farniente at the pool -- one of my best choices, since I know from previous trips that children do get tired of the ocean after a while if there are no waves to kick them around. At 8:30 pm, they were all sound asleep, and here I was, sitting on the veranda, writing this to you... but this day was not over. You see, God got into a pissing contest with the 4th of July. Lightning was blazing every 5 seconds over the sea, and suddenly, La Buena Vida started their fireworks. I ran off to get my digital camera and was able to get three shots of simultaneous lightning and fireworks. What God lacked in color, he more than made up in firepower. A great way to end the day.

Tomorrow, Tulum and the hope we find a working ATM before manana.

Day Three
Up at the crack of dawn and breakfast in the condo. Got to make it snappy, before the crowds take our spot.

We got to Tulum at 9am, and small buses were just beginning to arrive. We parked in the back lot (20 pesos instead of 35), and by getting in early, we got a spot in the shade, which would make a big difference later. Tulum was interesting... or what we saw of it was, at least. We began with the northern section. Interesting formations, considering that it was almost a thousand years old. With this said, the architecture is pretty basic: square blocks lined up and piled together.

It is clear that those buildings only have a ceremonial role, as nobody in their right mind would live in there with this kind of weather. There was a cave at the northern corner that my kid found very cool. The view from the cliff is just magnificent, and lots of beautiful pictures were snapped. It was actually beginning to get pretty warm as we made our way to the beach. We did have our swimsuits and a towel, so we jumped in. An hour and a half later, we were still enjoying those waves. There were pretty intense that day, and it was a huge amount of fun. There is a section of sand that probably has a perfect molding of my face after a big one slammed it in there. I also lost my Survivor bandana. It was my wife's favorite, but it never popped out at the surface.

We crossed over to the hidden cove and started hunting iguanas. No photo of those big babies, since I did not want to risk bringing my camera through this surf. One tremendously cute Italian girl tried it, and you guessed it, one big wave, and splash goes the expensive digital camera. Her boyfriend was not amused. However, as fun as it was, we had badly miscalculated. By the time we finally got out, the place was packed ... I just can't imagine what it must be like in high season. Also, the sun and heat were killing us, and the mood of the children was going downhill fast. We decided to cut short and head out. We ran out of water just as we got out of the gate (I had a 3L Camelpack), and we all felt dehydrated and gritty from the sand. While waiting for the little train, I noticed that the line at the ticket booth was maddening. I just can't imagine why anyone would pay to stand under this heat in this crowd. Vacations are supposed to be fun and enjoyable.

With no time to see the show or the shops, we just went to the ATM (YES! It was working--we only had 500 pesos left) and off to Tulum for lunch and mucho agua. El Basilico was closed for renovations, so we ended up at Quiero Mas for pizza. By the time we had gotten through the bread basket, spirits were back to high noon. The pizza was surprisingly good, with a very thin crust a la European--just like I love it. Next time, we'll complete the visit of Tulum before hitting the beach. We also decided to scratch Coba for this trip. It's just too warm for our kids, and it would be worse in the jungle, with no cooling breeze. We'll just have to plan another trip in the future.

Groceries were much cheaper at San Francisco, so we stocked up for a few days and headed home. The rest of the afternoon was spent snorkeling in Half Moon Bay (one turtle, one stingray, and one torpedo ray were the highlights). Actually, I never would have found that torpedo had it not been disturbed by the stingray trying to get away from my mere presence. It was completely buried under the sand. The waves were high, so it was rough going--too rough for the little ones, who were just as happy frolicking in the pool. Day Four After the Tulum expedition, we decided that this would be a very kid-friendly day, so we headed off to the public beach at Akumal Bay. We dropped our stuff in front of Lol Ha, the kids sampled the water, and I took my snorkeling gear and dove in. Akumal Bay is quite different from Half Moon Bay. The coral is not in good shape (lots of boats), but there is still a lot to see. There was a nice green moray eel under the concrete blocks that serves as moorings for one of the catamarans. I also saw a barracuda, a goldspotted eel (actually, my boy spotted that one), and a turtle. That turtle sight was with my little daughter, so she was thrilled of finally seeing her first turtle. On the northern side of the bay, there is a large white floating ball which marks the site of an old shipwreck. The cannons are still perfectly visible. The morning went way too fast, and I'll have to go back and do a thorough exploring of that bay. Lunch was at the condo, and while the wife and kids had their siesta, I yet again snorkeled Half Moon Bay. In the evening, I found out to my chagrin that a T-shirt is insufficient protection when snorkeling (helloooo sunburn). When my wife's turn came, she went to a spot in the bay I now call Turtle City and saw a total of four turtles. Her face when she got out told me I had just made a new convert to the church of snorkeling. I grabbed my camera and dove back in. After a while, I was able to get my first underwater shots of two of them.

Dinner was at Oscar Y Lalo, where we both had the whole fried fish (to die for). Margaritas were quite good but pretty strong. I really enjoyed the beachside setting and the hammocks to lounge in while you wait for your order.

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