I had it in my head that we would take the ferry to La Isla Mujeres, rent bicycles, ride around the scenic island to a park, rent snorkel gear, and then snorkel along a reef.
Where I got this idyllic illusion I do not know. My wife would like to know. As far as I can tell you can’t just go and snorkel, unless you have your own boat.
My wife Stephanie and I took the public bus (8.5 pesos/per person or 1$ per person) from our hotel to Playa Tortugas and caught a ferry (17$/person roundtrip) to La Isla Mujeres.
This man stood on the top of the ferry, played guitar, and sang. He set out a cup for tips. We figured anyone who could play guitar and sing without losing their footing on the rocking, bumpy ferry ride deserved a few bucks.
The ride gave us an opportunity to look over the waters with their many shades of blue.
You could easily wile away an afternoon attempting to count and name each of the many shades of blue that the waters near Cancun display depending on the time of day and the cloud cover. There’s navy, powder blue, opal, azure, turquoise, cobalt….
At the ferry terminal on La Isla Mujeres, we waved off the tour hawkers and walked across the street to a bike rental shop. Told of our plan, the proprietor of the shop said we would need to hire a tour boat to snorkel, that we couldn’t ride our bikes somewhere on the island, rent snorkel gear, and go snorkeling.
So we returned to the ferry terminal where there were still plenty of tour operators offering snorkeling tours. We booked what we thought was a short excursion of two hours, with no lunch. We wanted to make it back to our resort in time to eat a late lunch or early dinner snack at the ceviche bar.
We were told to wait there at the terminal, that the boat was leaving at 11 o’clock. My wife looked for a place to change into her swimsuit. I had worn a white polo with my long red swim trunks. Many people on the ferry to the island were wearing their swimsuits.
I bought a few granola bars at a small snack shop in the terminal, just in case I needed them, and waited for my wife. Stephanie returned saying she couldn’t find a bathroom in which to change.
We saw a group of people get up and leave toward one of the piers. We waited. We looked at the time. It was 11 o’clock. We were wondering why no one had come to get us. So we asked at the desk where we had booked the tour. They said our boat was pulling away from the dock. We should be on it.
The tour people waved down the boat and the boat returned to the dock. We were able to get on the boat.
There were four American tourists, a pair of women who were friends and a young hetero couple, all from Connecticut. The crew consisted of Diego, the Pilot, and the Assistant. We introduced ourselves to the other tourists. The boat left the dock.
Diego spoke English and explained everything about the tour. The trip was going to last four hours and there was lunch. My wife and I were like, well, we’re already on the boat….
Stephanie went into the storage compartment and changed into her suit. Diego told us we could not put on sunscreen unless it was biodegradable because we were going to be swimming in protected areas. No sunscreen under the Cancun sun would eventually have the expected result.
One woman, was what you might call “water resistant.” The Water Resister had never been snorkeling before and wasn’t much into swimming. She had agreed to try snorkeling the night before with her friend, after having drunk several tequilas. Diego pulled her along while she held onto a life preserver. Diego would shout to us and point at something, and the Water Resister would dip her head into the water to see what the rest of us were seeing.
We snorkeled near some small reefs, seeing many different kinds of colorful fish, including Angelfish, barracudas (not the dangerous kind), and even a small squid. The current was strong and pushed us along. Swimming against it even with fins was hard.
We all climbed back into the boat and took off our snorkeling gear. The water Resister wanted to be let off the boat. Diego said he could drop her off at the restaurant where we would meet later for lunch. It was located on the beach between our first snorkeling stop and our second one. The boat crew were kind enough to stop at the long wooden pier and drop her off.
My wife Stephanie gets motion-sick very easily. We were on a boat. The waters were a bit choppy. Diego warned everyone that at the second stop the waters would be even more choppy. Stephanie asked to be let off so she wouldn’t thrown up. So she joined the Water Resister on the dock.
They were followed by the wife of the young couple who found that she, too, was getting motion-sick.
The three of them walked toward the restaurant where they sat and ordered drinks. This left me, the young husband, and the other woman. We sat on the prow of the boat. As the boat headed to the Underwater Art Museum and the waters became very choppy, I remarked to them that it was a good thing my wife got off the boat because I was sure she would have ended up puking. The woman was laying on her back, getting some sun. After a few hard bumps, she made me and the young man promise to dive in to get her if she was bounced from the boat.
The Underwater Art Museum near Manchones Reef was located in much choppier waters. We didn’t see the whole museum. We only saw the installation “Silent Evolution.” I wanted to get a closer view of the sculptures but the life jacket around my waist didn’t allow me to swim down.
I’m still not sure why we didn’t see the other sculptures. (Choppy water?) I’m still not sure why our tour was longer than two hours and included lunch, either. If we had to do it over again, we would have just taken a taxi from the Ferry terminal and gone to Garrafon Reef. I’m pretty sure this is where I got my idyllic vision of bike riding and snorkeling. Maybe next time.
We rode back to the dock where the women had been dropped off. We ordered drinks at the restaurant where my wife and the other two women were all sitting comfortably in the shade. Diego and the other two crew members went off to get lunch prepared. At this point my wife and I were concerned we would miss the 3:30 ferry back to Cancun. We said goodbye to the others, thanked Diego, explained we needed to get back to the ferry terminal, and went out front of the restaurant to catch a taxi.
On the narrow two-lane street there was no traffic. Stephanie and I weren’t sure we were going to be able to hail a taxi because there was so little traffic. Yet, within five minutes an empty taxi pulled up. We told the driver we wanted to return to downtown. He drove us right to the entrance to the ferry terminal; a dramaless taxi ride.
We caught the ferry back to the mainland, took the bus back to the hotel and headed straight to the Sea Corner restaurant at the resort where they served seafood tacos and ceviche. An iguana joined us.
We did not share our ceviche with him or her.