In 2004 we decided to treat ourselves with a wintertime trip to warmer temperatures and nicer weather. Through a series of unlikely queries and choices we found ourselves booked at the Bahia Principé Akumal for March break.
We were hooked!
We have returned there each year since as well as broadening our destinations and the duration of our stay. With Donna's retirement, we were no longer tied to the public school calendar.
When we decided we would go to the Caribbean, I was determined to get my Open Water scuba diving certification. I wasn't, however, quite as quick of the mark as I might have been and started my course in late November or early December of 2003. After the studying and the pool work, the critical component of scuba certification is, rather naturally, diving in open water, e.g. the ocean. By this time it was February and the water temperature of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia was -2o C! My excellent instructor, Mike Huntley of Sand & Sea Dive Shop in Kentville wore a dry suit. I wore a 7 mm wet suit. I'm afraid I could go on at some length about this adventure. It's enough to say that diving in warm water is wonderfully different and has become a passion.
We returned to the Iberostar Resort on Cozumel on February 10th for two weeks.
View Larger Map We were able to coordinate our vacation with Lori and Scott for a bit more than a week and made many trips to The Money Bar where Scott and I helped deplete the island of its beer supply and Donna and Lori went snorkelling and explored the reef.
We met some new diving friends and were able to reunite with folks we'd met last year. We're already starting to think about coming back here next February.
A selection of my underwater pictures from the dives on the reefs and walls along the southwest coast of the island can be seen here.
We were able to return to Mexico on March 10th. This time rather than staying at a resort we decided to stay at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, right on Akumal bay.
Our room is on the second floor, second from the left end. The view from our window:
Breakfast was included, and we were enjoyed seeing this each morning:
We had all of our meals at local restaurants. Of note, we had wonderful meals at:
Although costs were comparable, not staying at an AI was a very successful experiment. We particularly enjoyed the proximity to both the beach and the dive shop (Akumal Dive Center). I did all of my diving in Akumal with Ivan and Natalie http://www.divewithnatalieandivan.com/index.html. They work with the Akumal Dive Center, sharing boats, storage space, the rinse tank, compressor, etc.
Xcalak is the southern most place along the Caribbean coast in Mexico before reaching Belize. It is approximately a five hour journey from Cancun and 3 1/2 Xcalak is the southern most place along the Caribbean coast in Mexico before reaching Belize. It is approximately a five hour journey from Cancun and 3 1/2 to 4 hours from Akumal. We rented a car and made the trip on Thursday March 17th.
View Larger Map
We stayed at Costa de Cocos, a truly delightful place. Each room is a little circular cottage with windows on all sides so the breeze easily keeps the room comfortable. This is particularly important because the rooms do not have air conditioning.
The main lodge
Unfortunately, the breeze that made sleeping so pleasant was also the reason that Donna was unable to snorkel while at Xcalak.
The food was excellent at Costa de Cocos. We also have to mention a really spectacular restaurant in Xcalak called The Leaky Palapa. It is owned and run by two women who clearly understand great food, how to prepare it and its presentation. The Leaky Palapa is sufficient reason alone to make the journey to Xcalak.
My diving was conducted by a superb dive master and photographer, Steve Dramstad. He has two books of underwater pictures available, Underseascapes Caribbean and The Art of the Reef. Both are simply beautiful.
With Steve I was able to dive on seven reefs. Time and wind limited further underwater exploration.
The underwater pictures from both places are available at https://picasaweb.google.com/rbrunton/MayanRivieraUnderwaterMarch2011#.
We selected the Anse Chastanet Resort for two reasons: the best diving in St. Lucia and the best snorkelling (we're not complicated). Both lived up to expectations. The dive shop, Scuba St. Lucia, is staffed with knowledgeable, helpful and friendly people. Although all the dive masters were very, very good, I got to know Victor (who is actually my age!) and Errol particularly well. I'd dive with them anytime.
There are twelve dive sites available. I was able to do ten of them. I was not able to dive the wreck of the Lesleen M. That dive is on Friday - the day we arrived and left. The Piton Wall also fell outside time constraints. I have put the dive sites, coast and the resort on a Google map for those interested.
View St. Lucia Dive Sites in a larger map
The underwater pictures are here and the pictures I took of the resort and the area immediately around the resort can be seen here (as soon as I can get them edited, sorted and uploaded).
We had a wonderful two weeks at the Iberostar resort on Cozumel. It was very relaxing, comfortable, good food, friendly service. We would, and likely will, go back.
I did my diving through the resort dive shop, Dressel Divers, and was very pleased. They were knowledgeable, helpful, attentive to the divers and knew how to direct us to the many fascinating things in the reefs and walls. Here is a link to my pictures, primarily underwater, but a few of the east coast of the island (no diving there). Cozumel is very flat!
We arrived at the Akumal Beach Resort, or ABR to its friends, shortly after noon on Saturday, April 18. Following recommendations from participants on the bulletin board Locogringo (http://www.locogringo.com) I had been in email contact with dive masters Ivan & Natalie (http://www.divewithnatalieandivan.com/) and arranged to do my diving with them.
That was a great decision!
We had agreed not to plan anything for the afternoon of the 18th, but if I was at the dive shop (Akumal Dive Center) by 2:30 we'd do the afternoon dive. Fortune was with me. I arrived around 2:00 PM, met Natalie and we went out for the 3:00 PM afternoon dive. Wet again! I met Ivan the next morning and we did the two morning dives.
That was the pattern over the next two weeks and I managed to do 17 dives. It's difficult to imagine a better dive setup. Their website accurately describes the personal attention I received with the focus on making my diving as interesting and enjoyable as possible. Many of our dives were hour-long adventures. Both Ivan and Natalie are knowledgeable, experienced, dedicated and extremely well qualified dive masters and dive instructors. I'm not thinking that I should pursue the PADI Master Scuba Diver certification just so I could do a course with them. If you're looking for someone to dive with while in or around Akumal you won't go wrong with Ivan and Natalie and I can't recommend them highly enough!
My underwater pictures can be found here. I have been having some significant challenges with my strobe flash. The problems almost entirely speak to my general incompetence, but I do have to think that there's something not quite right with the design. The problem is that I've managed to flood two external flashes. In both cases I thought I had closed the case properly, but obviously did not. Salt water and electronics do not play nicely with each other and I now have two very nice, completely dysfunctional, SeaLife strobe flash units.
The trip also involved a lot of time with our extended family, the Callahan-Cross family, who joined us for the two weeks. We had an excellent excursion to the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam. This was organized for us by Alma and Marco who head up iTour Mexico. They both used to work at ABR before they set out on their own enterprise. If you're interested in seeing sights in a way that you won't achieve through the resort package tours (that we've also done and enjoyed), this is an excellent way to go.
We stayed at Cobalt Coast resort
Copyright Ron Brunton 2010
(Last Edited: August 14, 2010)