Document Your Life #85 – Paradise Beach in Cozumel, Mexico

This is our 2nd visit to Cozumel on a cruise. We were here a few years ago with Anders’ mom and sister…and now we’re back again. Just the 2 of us, though. Last time, we walked around the little town that’s only a short taxi ride from the cruise ship harbor. This time, we decided to just go to the beach.

Last night I’d found a beach club online called Paradise Beach. It looked pretty good and had the largest (heated) swimming pool in Cozumel, restaurant, bar, bathroom, shops…and obviously the beach. So, we decided to give it a try.

As soon as we came through (escaped was probably more like it) the maze of shops at the cruise ship harbor, we stood in line for a taxi. The taxis were incredibly organized and it only took a few minutes before we were hopping into one and headed to Paradise…

I think the drive was about 10 minutes…maybe a little more.

We passed by a few other beach clubs just before arriving to Paradise Beach where we were immediately greeted by a hostess. She welcomed us and explained how everything worked with the entrance, etc. We paid a US$ 3 entrance fee per person, which gave us access to the beach club. Food and drinks were, of course, extra. For another US$ 18 per person we could also buy a “fun pass” to use all of the floating devices in the ocean that were lined up like a Ninja Warrior obstacle course. We decided not to.

Fortunately, we arrived “early” so we were among the first people at the beach club. We got one of their VIP cabanas for free (they said there’s usually a fee) and had the perfect spot by the pool to enjoy the day.

The beach club was incredible! The pool was so big and had a really nice and “fresh” temperature. We got our own waiter for the day and as the beach club filled up, the waiters were constantly running around serving food and drinks. One waiter went around the whole time with a mobile Margarita & Mojito cart and made fresh drinks for people.

On the beach, there was a taco truck and of course we had to try the tacos…! Anders was a bit skeptical because they didn’t really have any SPICY salsas, but he did discover one that gave a little kick in the end. My favorite were for sure the shrimp tacos, which the guy promised we’d love. We did. We had about 6 or 7 tacos and 2 bottles of water and got a bill for around US$ 35! It was definitely not cheap, but I guess you also pay for the location (we were sitting in the sand with an ocean view) and they do have to make their money somehow.

The beach was really nice too, and I loved how the palm trees were so close that the leaves made a natural “roof” and created a lot of shade. There were tons of sunbeds on the beach – both in the shade and in the sun. They had a lot of water activities (kayaks, snorkeling, jet ski, etc.) and also offered massages on the beach. They was about US$ 50 for 20 minutes, depending on the type of massage.

What I perhaps liked the most was that there were no souvenir vendors hassling you all the time (they have a souvenir shop on the beach!)… so we could just relax, swim, eat, drink and nap. After about 5 hours, we were ready to head back to the ship.

We left with a bill of around US$ 100 for the food and drinks we’d consumed all day, which wasn’t too bad.

Would I come back? Yep.

Document Your Life #82 – Cartagena, Columbia Part 2

Our cruise ship (Celebrity Reflection) overnighted in Cartagena, so we had another opportunity to enjoy this city.

Today was actually Anders’ birthday, so we started with breakfast room service and headed out around 11 am.

Yesterday, we were approached by a lady from a spa who offered us an hour massage for just US$ 30 each. So today, we went looking for her. It took a while, but eventually we found her and the spa (Plentitud Spa). After an hour and a fantastic massage, we emerged feeling slippery (from all the massage oil) and soft like butter.

The streets in the Old City were less crowded and busy today, but there were still some vendors around and some tourists.

We had lunch at another restaurant called San Pedro Cafe, which was right in front of the cathedral. The place was great, but the menu was so strange. It was a mix of seafood, Italian, Thai and Japanese…I was afraid that the food wouldn’t be good, but we both ordered Thai dishes and they were excellent.

In the evening, we continued Anders’ birthday celebration back onboard the cruise ship with a dinner at Murano, the French restaurant.

A great day.

Document Your Life #81 – Cartagena, Columbia

Cartagena was a treat. We got to spend 2 days in this port of call, where they were celebrating their Independence Day. The Old City was upside-down with lots of people on the streets, celebrating and having a good time.

The taxi drivers were an experience. We got off the cruise ship and arrived at the parking lot where all the taxi drivers were parked. They were practically going berserk at the sight of tourists. A couple of taxi drivers started arguing over who would take us, and at what price. One of them wanted us to get out of the first car to go over to another car. We speak Spanish, so we could understand everything they were saying and it wasn’t a very nice first impression.

The taxi drivers are scammers! They’ll overcharge you if they can get away with it. The first taxi driver we asked, told us that it would cost US$ 80 for him to take us from the harbor to the Old City – a 10-minute drive!

We knew the price wasn’t correct and they quickly went down to US$ 40, then US$ 20 and finally ending on the price of US$ 10 (US$ 5 per person). That was pretty much what we paid for our next taxi rides between the harbor and the old town.

During the short ride, the taxi driver tried so hard to sell us a sightseeing tour. He must have asked us 10 times if we wanted to go on a city tour or any other kind of tour…we kept saying no, gracias and eventually he got the point.

Most of the taxi drivers that we drove with, drove like maniacs. So buckle up!

In the city, we stayed away from the center of the festivities – too many people in one place isn’t our idea of a good time.

Instead, we wanted to explore the old part of the city. So, we walked around the narrow and quaint streets that made up the city center. In a way, it reminded me a little bit of the Colonial City in Santo Domingo – but this place was just much better. The buildings were so colorful and with amazing doors. Most buildings had balconies with lots of flowers and vibrant colors.

The city had a very festive and busy vibe and we saw lots of young “backpackers” staying at hostels. I don’t know if it was because of the Independence Day events, but the streets were filled with vendors and women in colorful costumes offering to pose for photos. The street vendors were very aggressive and pushy and we could hardly walk 2 steps without being approached by a vendor, wanting to sell us hats, selfie-sticks, jewelry, fans, etc., etc. They didn’t take no for an answer right away (not like in Costa Maya, Mexico), so after a few hours it got really annoying and tiring walking around…plus, it was extremely hot & sunny.

Of course, we had to try a local restaurant and ended up  having lunch at one called Zaitún, which was excellent. In the evening, we had dinner at another restaurant called Vera and it was apparently a place for the well-to-do, so when it filled up with people around 10-10:30 pm, we knew we were under dressed. But at that time it didn’t matter because we were leaving anyway and heading back to the cruise ship.

Document Your Life #80 – Colón, Panama

Colon, Panama | To Live and Travel Blog

The first thing I read about Colón, Panama when I Googled it was:

Colón is a city in Central Panama. The town is in poor condition and notorious for its high crime rate…

Great!

Our cruise ship offered a lot of different shore excursions in Panama, but the only thing I wanted to do was go see the Panama Canal. It was also the one thing that the captain of the ship recommended.

So, I tried to research it online to see if I could find the best deal. Let me tell you – the information online is kind of confusing and apparently a lot is out of date or just incorrect.

I did find out that there were 3 places you could go see the Panama Canal – Gatún Locks, Miraflores Locks or the brand new part of the canal. Since Gatún Locks were nearby Colón where we docked on the Celebrity Refelction, we decided to go there…just walk off the ship and get a taxi.

Colon Panama | To Live and Travel Blog

I’d read on one website that a taxi would be US$ 5-7 one way, so when the taxi drivers told us that it would cost US$ 80 round trip …well, that was just not going to happen. Luckily, another guy persistently told us that the absolute bare minimum he could offer would be US$ 60. At the very same time, another guy told me (he kind of whispered to me) that he’d take us for US$ 40…so, we went with him.

He was driving in one of the yellow cabs that most of them (if not all) seemed to drive. He was a really nice and chatty guy, and we felt comfortable driving with him and could easily talk to him in Spanish.

We told him that we wanted to go to Gatún, but he actually took us to the new Agua Clara Visitor’s Center, which is located at the new (expanded) part of the Panama Canal, which just opened in 2016. This place is really nice and I thought it was worth the visit. Apparently, it’s not worth going to Gatún which is the old part of the Panama Canal and located just on the other side from the new part. From where we were, we could still see ships passing the Gatún Locks.

The Panama Canal | To Live and Travel Blog

We were so lucky to arrive just as a huge Maersk container ship (Maersk Seville) was getting ready to enter the locks and go through the canal. Being from Denmark and seeing that Maersk is a Danish shipping company, it was just a really great visit for us. But regardless of the ship, it was really interesting to see how the lock system works. And we had a great, panoramic view of the first of three chambers that the Maersk Seville ship had to pass in order to get from the Pacific Ocean into the Caribbean Sea.

The Panama Canal | To Live and Travel Blog

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The entrance to the Visitor’s Center was US$ 15 for adults. We spent about 1 hour and 30 minutes just seeing the ship enter and pass from the first lock to the second. After that, we visited the gift shop really quickly and left again, making the entire tour about 2 hours and 30 minutes. The drive from our cruise ship port to Agua Clara Visitor’s Center was about 25-30 minutes each way.

This was clearly the right way to spend the day, unless you do another tour. The little town right by the cruise port is NOT a great place to walk. It’s probably not safe either. We were advised not to go walking, not to wear jewelry and not to carry too much cash as Colón is a dangerous place and people can get mugged even during the day.

On the way back to the ship, we really paid attention to the streets just outside the port. There’s nothing to see, but dirty and run down streets & buildings. There is a large Free Zone area just outside the port, but it was closed as today was a holiday.

All in all, I really enjoyed today. The Panama Canal is certainly an interesting visit – even on a rainy day like today was.

Document Your Life #79 – Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

Street market in Puerto Limon, Costa RicaToday, our cruise ship (Celebrity Reflection) docked in Costa Rica. This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in the world when it comes to nature and wildlife.

Well, we didn’t see it. The only thing we saw was concrete and a dirty, little town. Of course, we chose not to go for an hour-long drive to get to the beautiful nature and wildlife. So, in a sense it was our own damn fault.

Instead, we chose to just walk off the ship and walk around the little town that was right there – Puerto Limón. The funny thing about a lot of places in the Caribbean & Latin America is that they all somehow look alike.

Of course, there are some variations, but a lot of the towns look the same. The houses and buildings look the same. The streets look the same. The typical food they eat is all the same, the clothes they sell is the same, etc., etc.

We walked around Puerto Limón and it felt like we were right back in the Dominican Republic. There wasn’t much to see or do. We went to a local supermarket and all the groceries were the same as the groceries we get in the supermarkets in Punta Cana. The brands were all the same.

We found a street market and walked through it, which was quite interesting…but not interesting enough to buy anything.

After about an hour, we walked back to the ship and practically got swarmed by people who wanted to sell us tours. I think they all over charged. We talked for a while to one guy who kept trying and trying to sell us several tours. His friend got mad at us, because we didn’t want to buy any tours…and we left.

It’s the wrong attitude, really. To get mad at a tourist for not wanting to buy anything. I understand that this is how they make their money and I completely understand how it feels when you have tourists that don’t want to buy anything.

It sucks.

I’ve experienced this many times in my own business and work. It sucks when tourists would rather stay at their hotel and not buy any tours or spend their money to help the locals.

But it’s their right. It was our right too to say “no, thank you” and the sellers should recognize and accept that instead of getting upset and putting that in your face. No matter how much it actually sucks.

Document Your Life #77 – Costa Maya, Mexico

Tropicante Beach Club in Costa Maya

We had no idea what to do today in Costa Maya, so we decided to go to the beach. We’re not really beach people. Anders doesn’t like to just hang out at the beach (he can’t really sit still), but I found this place online that was like a beach club and offered 1-hour massages for $30! So, that was enough to convince him that it might be worth it. Besides, there was also a malecon (boardwalk) with shops that we could check out if all other things would fail.

We got off the ship and walked along the super long pier until we got to the harbor. It was immediately like entering a theme park with lots of entertainment, shops, people dressed as pirates, etc. There was a swimming pool and man-made beach area and bars, and I’m guessing some people (especially families) just hung out there because it was easy and convenient.

There was also a water park where you could swim with dolphins – a really “nice” dolphin prison, if you ask me. Of course, I wanted none of that but I know a lot of people tried it. Urgh! Poor, poor dolphins.

On the website I’d found, they carefully explained that if you asked for a taxi to go to the beach club, they’d immediately ask if you had a reservation and act like you wouldn’t be able to go without one. And that’s exactly what happened! We just told them that we had a reservation.

Well, we walked outside the harbor area where all the taxis were. Apparently, taxis aren’t allowed to pick up people inside the harbor area. For $2 per person, we drove for about 5 minutes and arrived to the beach at Mahahual where a guy escorted us to the beach club.

The beach club was called Tropicante and was owned by an American. It reminded me a lot of Sosua in the Dominican Republic and it was nice. They had beach chairs and tables right in front of the ocean. There were lots of palm trees so the whole area was very well shaded – perfect.

Tropicante Beach Bar in Costa Maya

The servers were all Mexican and really friendly people. We ordered some food, which was okay/good. Anders ordered tacos, but said they didn’t have any real taste. The guacamole was a little bland too. I ordered the Molcajete Jalisco, which was the most expensive on the menu ($15) and it was excellent!

Fortunately, the weather held off even though we got a little rain. I went for a swim and the ocean was super shallow and temperature was fresh! Not warm, not too cold. I’d forgotten my towel, but they actually rented towels at $5 for the day. Not bad.

About 1 pm, we’d digested our food well enough to get a massage. They had the massage tables right on the beach and it was amazing. At $30 for an hour, you can’t beat that…especially not when you compare with the prices they’re charging on the cruise ship.

We paid our bill (after having corrected a few mistakes on the bill) and went for a walk along the boardwalk and picked out a few souvenirs. The area felt really nice and safe to walk around it. There were lots of vendors everywhere and also on the beach, but they’re not pushy at all. If we didn’t want anything, we just told them “no, gracias” with a smile and they walked away without giving us any hassle.

All in all, we had a wonderful day and I’d definitely recommend a trip to the beach. There are lots of beach clubs along the beach, so you can pick the one you like the best…they all seemed pretty much the same to me.

Check out Tropicante here.