Cozumel and the Blue Angel Resort-February 11-19, 2017
CIDA Cozumel trip-February 11-19, 2017
By Ken Kollwitz
The last time we had a Cozumel trip was September 2012 so we were quite a bit overdue for another trip back. I really loved where we stayed in 2012, the Aldora Villa and the service we had with Aldora Divers which both are still my favorite but with all the different types of rooms the Villa has it can be logistically hard to use for a larger group trip. Because of that and after some research I decided on using the Blue Angel Resort for our trip in 2017. Turns out I know quite a few people who have stayed and gone back to the Blue Angel and I think we might be some of those returning in the future.
With so many places to stay in Cozumel, why did I pick the Blue Angel Resort? Some of the reasons were its size. It is small and quaint and with only 22 rooms and has a nice rustic feel to it. The grounds are nicely landscaped with plenty of views of the ocean not to mention every view from the resort is of the ocean. Its location to town is ideal, you can walk about 20-30 minutes or it is a short cab ride to most everything. Not all inclusive but you do get an excellent full breakfast every morning and the Blue Angel restaurant is very good with excellent nightly entertainment. The dive shop is good and with a large group you get your own boat. I was also told the shore dive for the resort was good because next door is the manta ray park. The Blue Angel was a good pick and it seems most everyone would like to go back which is always a good thing.
For our trip we had 18 people consisting of 15 divers and 3 non-divers and most were from the Southern California area with one person joining us from Montreal. We stayed over the Valentines week of February 11-19, 2017 and had perfect weather while back home in California they were getting the most rain at one time in a LONG time.
Once checked in everyone found their way to their rooms and shortly after up to the restaurant for our welcome drink. I have to say they put everyone to shame with the welcome drink we got. You could order any drink off the menu and the first one was free and what a view it was from the restaurant. The restaurant was like a thatched hut on stilts all open with views that you could never get tired of. In fact the restaurant was excellent with good food & drinks, plenty of choices, great service and EXCELLENT nightly music. We did go into town a few times to eat and some of the laces we visited where the El Morro, La Perlita, Casa Denis and Casa Cuzamil and to me the best was El Morro. They all were good especially the chips, HOT habanero salsa and guacamole but food, service and value were the best at El Morro.
Town was fun and of course some of us had to do some shopping. My wife and I spent the later part of Valentine’s Day wandering about, shopping, eating and drinking and having a good day out. Later is better because with each new day there are usually 4-7 cruise ships in town and of course that is when everyplace is hoping. Evenings at the town square are also fun because there is a large fountain that has a show set to music like you would see in Vegas.
Our schedule was very busy with LOTS of diving but then that is what this was-a dive trip! We arrived on Saturday and for Sunday and Monday we had 2 dives scheduled in the morning and 2 dives in the afternoon. On Tuesday we had 2 in the morning and a night dive scheduled. On Wednesday we had another 2 dives in the morning with afternoon free and Thursday we had 2 dives in the morning and another 2 in the afternoon.
The diving was fun especially when you feel like you are traveling at warp speed and you could be your own super hero flying over the reef. It seemed about every other dive had a strong current running about 2-3 knots and the other was much milder. Drift diving is SO much FUN! As a photographer you really have to scan ahead of you to plan how you will get that picture or video when you saw something cool because if you didn’t it was too late.
One thing for sure Cozumel has plenty to see underwater and the reefs are looking quite good and some had so many colors they looked like a kaleidoscope. We saw lots of fish and almost no lionfish which is really good. In fact I seen only 2 large ones and 3 small ones the entire time so whatever they are doing it is working and we were told by our DM that they are now below 150’. We saw more rays then I can remember and had some incredible interactions with large spotted eagle rays feeding on conch. It was something I have never seen and was impressive to watch. We also saw a few nurse sharks and that was about it for big stuff. Seen lots of splendid toad fish but none out. One of the guys in our group brought a couple lures to help entice a toad fish to come out but all one did was grab the lure and break the line. I guess they were happy in their home and didn’t feel the need to leave.
Because we had a group we got our own boat, the No Problem which I was told was fast but found out soon enough it wasn’t but at least we still got to some of the good sites to the south. Our DM’s were Andreas and Jose which were both good but they could do better on explain some things especially to the hired help. We had a guy named Rudy as the deckhand and maybe he knew about boats but he needed some lessons about divers and I think he learned quickly. It is also surprising that with so many people with larger camera rigs they don’t plan very good for them. All they provided were 5 gallon buckets and there aren’t many cameras that fit into those plus the mask rinse was another that was the same color so it didn’t take long before we had to move one away from the other so they didn’t get mixed up. They did have a head on board so I guess that was the tradeoff.
The Blue Angel dive shop was just below the restaurant and had drying racks and cubby holes to store gear if you wanted. Some people kept it at their rooms, hanging the gear out on the balconies. The gear room was closed at 5:00 pm -7:00 am so if you planned to do a night dive you just needed to make sure you didn’t have anything locked up and tanks were always available. One thing I learned is that very few shops if any have compressors so they rent their tanks from a central filling shop which was probably in the jungle like the main one for Playa Del Carmen was. This wasn’t really a problem except the boat crew never checked the tanks before loading them and there were always a few that had only 2500 psi which was not good.
There just was not much organization to anything with the shop and boat and as a group leader these things are what makes the trip go smoothly. One briefing with the group when we arrived would have answered many questions and if I do a group trip back that is exactly what my plans are. Nitrox was another issue and for now on I will ALWAYS travel with my own analyzer. The boat had one but they always said the tanks were 32% except they did not fill them and nothing was marked. One day the battery died on their analyzer and they said you didn’t need to worry about it because you were not going deep. That would be OK if they explained to people to change their computer to 21% but that didn’t happen-I was not on the boat that trip so there was not much I could do. Luckily one person in the group had her own analyzer which got plenty of use on the trip.
The dive briefings were good and there isn’t really all that much to say. Follow the dive master, don’t get too far past or too far behind them, don’t go to deep and have fun. If you go up to the surface without the DM use the surface marker buoy you should have or get with someone who has one and so on. Easy peasy or at least should be!
For added dive opportunities 2 of us took part in a coral restoration class on Tuesday afternoon run by German Mendez of the Cozumel Coral Reef Restoration Program. We learned about the problems they are having with all the development in Cozumel along with the cruise ships that continually show up day after day. Of course the coral is not seen by many so most have the out of sight/out of mind attitude plus the money all the tourist bring in make it hard for change. The problem people don’t usually think of is the after effect. What happens when the coral is destroyed and the diving tourism starts to go away? By then it will be too late so I give German and his helpers a huge round of applause. We did 1 dive out to the coral farm cleaning the sand and algae off the coral and then another out to the restoration area to do the same and see how their work can help improve the destroyed reefs of Cozumel.
Right after we both got back to the Blue Angel we then did an awesome night dive. Like most shore dives in front of the resorts there has been lots of rubble added making homes for all types of animals. The shore dive at the Blue Angel was one of the best because there is also a fence along the Manta Park and along that fence there were rays, fish and sponges growing. The rays were on the outside of the fence looking like they missed their friend’s trapped inside. One thing we all noticed was the almost there are just about no lion fish any longer and it is even hard now to get in the restaurants.
On Friday a group of 10 of us went over on the ferry to Playa Del Carmen to go cenote diving. Because on past trips we have done a number of the easier ones for this trip we did Tajma Ha which is a little more difficult and therefore VERY impressive. In my opinion no trip to Cozumel is complete without a trip to the cenotes. Just imagine floating in air in a place like Carlsbad Caverns and because of the super clear water in the cenotes this is exactly what it looked like. For this trip we used Playa Scuba which is the same shop I used in Sept. 2012 and this time they picked us up in their cars and brought us to the shop. Within 30 minutes after the paperwork was done we were on our way.
Tajma Ha was about a 45 minute drive and it was empty when we arrived which is the nice thing about going early and during the week. Even by time we left there were only about 6 vehicles there. Our group was split into 3 smaller groups as the guides (Marco, Alex and Andreas) aren’t allowed to have more than 4 divers per group. Each group had an onsite briefing and then it was time to experience Tajma Ha first hand. The first dive was more the checkout dive and the second was the “dive”.
The first dive was very cool and seeing the way the sunshine shined through the trees and water at a couple openings was breathtaking. It is one of those things that you just have to be there in person. Our second dive was the exploratory dive and the skill level of each group determined what you seen and where you went within the cenote and I believe our group seen the best stuff. After our super cool cenote experience it was back to Playa Del Carmen and time to eat some lunch. After having some food and drinks at El Oasis it was time to get our butts in gear if we wanted to make the 5:00 pm ferry back which we did with no time to spare and on our ride back to Cozumel on the ferry we even had a 5 piece band to entertain us.
On our last full day, Saturday I basically rented a 14 passenger van from someone who works with the resort for a drive around the island to sightsee. Of course, I don’t think it turned out like I had thought but then I guess you can’t expect much for $20.00 per person. We did get our ride and some cold drinks and had FUN together which was really what it was all about. The person I rented it from came along as our guide but turns out even though he has been in Cozumel for a long time he didn’t know much about it except the places where his friends were selling things-so typical. He did supply cold drinks for free which was great for the beer drinkers because there was an overabundance of that and I had to drive while in town because he wasn’t licensed as a taxi driver but either way it was still FUN. We did stop for lunch and went to a cool little chocolate shop and everyone had a good time.
After we got back to the resort it was time to get packed and hang out enjoying the views for the last time before leaving on Sunday.
The big question I always ask after a trip is-Would I go back? Yes, I would because the Blue Angel in and restaurant worked out great. The rooms aren’t five star and probably closer to 2.5 stars but the location, the views, the staff and the grounds made up for anything not in the rooms. The rooms were simple but had comfy beds, good WiFi and good water pressure along with a working AC unit.
The problems with the dive shop would be easily fixed with one group briefings now that I know what to expect and making sure they check the pressure on the tanks beforehand along with bringing my own simple to use analyzer would solve many of the issues we had.
So when is the next trip back to Cozumel? That could be another 3-4 years because there are just too many other places I would like to visit.