Well, we had a fabulous time in Cozumel while staying at Villas Diamond K. I can't believe our two weeks there are already gone.
Doug and Terri (the owners) are great. I don't think you could find anyone else on the island more willing to help you and show you a good time than Doug and Terri. They will even help you get married if you are crazy enough to want to do that...and we were.
Anyway, we stayed in room #114. The high-season rates put it at about $65 a night, I think. This room is about 2 flights up above the garage, which was good because we needed the exercise. The bedroom window looks down onto the pool. It's a good location. We had easy access to the pool, which we used nearly every day. (Doug does not over-clorinate, so it was almost like swimming in fresh water. Very nice.) We could also access the street easily. And, from this spot it was easy to harass Doug in his office on a regular basis, haha.
When we couldn't decide where to get married, we finally asked Doug if we could get married poolside. It worked out really well. While we wouldn't really advise anyone to jump through all the hoops of getting married in Mexico, now that we've experienced it first-hand, we can say that if you are so inclined, Doug and Terri are the perfect people to help you accomplish such a goal. (Plus, the judge's office is less than two blocks away on the corner of Ave. 11 and 65 Bis. which helped because we had to make several trips there!) They are truly generous people who want to see you have a good time and who want to create a fun and welcoming atmosphere for their guests.
Villas Diamond K was the perfect place for us to stay while in Cozumel. It was our first time in Cozumel and Doug and Terri's knowledge of the island was invaluable. Doug is willing to escort you wherever you need to go or lend advice for anything you might be thinking of doing. (We brought snorkels and masks and he let us borrow flippers, which was great. Snorkel gear is VERY expensive on the island.) They have created a very safe-feeling environment (The compound has gates that are locked at night, which I liked). We really appreciated all the tips they gave us including where to snorkel, where to shop, where to eat, etc...
They also have a housekeeper who comes in 3 times a week and a gardener, Eli, who is very helpful. Eli did some extra painting while we were there and his efforts were noted. He also served as one of our witnesses at the wedding. Thanks, Eli!
I think Villas Diamond K is probably best for a long-term stay. Most of the people we met there were staying two weeks or more. It's far enough away from the shore that you can get away from all the hucksters and tourist traps and get a feel for a real part of Mexico.
As far as what I didn't like, well those things were minor. There are sticky doors (humidity-issues, but hey, it's an island), the street is a little noisy and you do have to drive 10 minutes or walk 20 minutes to get to the shore and nearby snorkeling spots, but that's not really a big deal. It can be a little tough catching a cab from VDK, but they are around if you are patient.
The apartment we stayed in could use a little fine-tuning. There are some leaky faucet issues that trigger the water pump a little more than it should. I couldn't use the dehumidifier because it was too noisy and I'm a light sleeper. The stairs could use some non-skid strips. But to be honest the apartment is really cute, very comfortable and we liked it a lot. Oh, if the weather is bad like it was for 1/2 our trip (thanks Tropical Storm Alex) don't count on watching t.v. or using the phone or internet. But otherwise, being able to call home for free was great.
As far as what to wear...I had some trouble with this. It is so freakin hot and humid you will want to live in shorts and a summery shirt, or your bathing suit. Water shoes are great, too.
For snorkeling, Mexico beaches are free so you can walk right though a hotel or restaurant/bar and put in at their beach. This works really well because you can put your things at a table or in a lounge chair and not have to worry about them walking off. I wouldn't leave anything really valuable, but I left my backpack, towel, shoes, etc... and it was just fine. We looked at putting in at a couple of the more open, public beach areas but I never felt good about them because there was a lot of broken glass all over the beach and no one to watch your things for you. Don't be surprised if you've worked up an appetite while snorkeling. And it's funny how nothing quite quenches your thirst down there as well as a cold beer! We felt it was only fair to buy a couple beers if we used a hotel or restaurant's beach.
We snorkeled at the Money Bar twice and Hotel Barracuda three times. At Barracuda we actually SAW a barracuda, which was cool. Also there we saw an octopus, a sting ray, a tiny squid and....I saw a shark. No kidding. Really did, but it didn't stick around long. But everyone there will tell you they don't have sharks in Cozumel. Ok, whatever.
A staff member at the Barracuda told me lockers were $25 for two hours so I told him never mind. Our things were fine just sitting out, anyway. The food there is expensive, too, and not very good. I had a frozen margarita that sucked. So save your pesos for the restaurants I will mention below.
Saw (and felt) lots of jelly fish at Money Bar one day. ouch. But this is a real easy beach, not too deep and access is pretty easy. We liked it.
Snorkeling at Chaukanaub, the ecological park, was my favorite. The fish are huge, the biggest we'd seen. We also saw eel here. However, the park closes at 5 p.m. When they started whistling for us to get out of the water we figured it was close to 5 p.m. Nope, they were having people get out of there around 3:30 or 4. So, after spending $20 a person to go snorkeling for a couple hours I was pissed they ejected us so quickly. If I'd known it was so early I would have stayed in longer.
Stick around at the dolphin area and you will get to see them feed the dolphins. It was great because they charge out the nose to go swim with the dolphins, but you can watch them do flips and other tricks for free.
Buy your snorkel gear at home. The $10 snorkel masks we bought at Walmart would have cost us $25-30 each at the store in Cozumel. We left our masks so other VDK guests could use them and Doug has 2 or 3 sets of flippers. Be sure to wear socks with your flippers and check that there is no sand in the heel. The sand chewed holes in my heels that hurt the entire time I was there.
Where to eat: El Torito and Esmeralda. These two places are both within walking distance of VDK. El Torito, located on 65 Bis, just 3 blocks south of Ave. 11 on your left - look for the peach-colored awning with a bull's head - doesn't look like much, a little hole in the wall, but the food is excellent. I don't know if I'd call it gourmet, but pretty darn close. Certainly exquisite. I had the best enchiladas verde of my life here and the best seasoned, fresh grouper. They also serve really nice mole enchiladas, for those who like mole. The chef also works at a hotel on the shore. He certainly knows what he's doing. Soup comes as an appetizer. We ate there 3 times and had black bean soup, a chicken tortilla soup and a creamy corn soup. All were fantastic.
Esmeralda Restaurant/Bar: Walk four blocks towards the shore from VDK past the orthodontal office. It's located on Av. Felipe Angeles, I believe. Orange building. Doug can point it out to you. He should remember it well since he ran out of gas taking us there on a rainy day - haha. Start ordering beers (About $1.50 each. Sol is really good and fresh.) and they will keep the food coming: black bean dip and chips, fresh fruit, empanadas, little tostadas made with a type of puffy fried batter topped with veg and chicken or pork (delicious), etc... Such a great venue of local fair. It all comes free and you get more the more beer you order. You won't go hungry so be sure and tip well. If you order a meal, and you should, be sure to get the seviche. It is OMG good. One of the best meals I have ever eaten! We had it several times. They make it with both fresh fish or conch. Both are excellent.
The manager, Joel, who is also the chef, is super nice. And his staff members, Gabby (who is also a GREAT dance teacher at Tiki Tok close to the Hardrock Cafe), Dulce and Norma are the best. They speak a little English, so if you speak a little Spanish you will do just fine.
FYI, this place is a definite must on your trip to Cozumel, but the atmosphere is a little more flavorful than you might expect. I'll just say on the weekends they have a drag show. We missed it, but I know it would have been fun. Definitely go for lunch. They are open from noon to midnight every day.
Please tip well at both places if you go. These people became our friends while we were there and you can tell they work hard for their money.
We went to Los Garanones (I think that's the name). It's just a few blocks from VDK on Ave. 11. It is an open air restaurant. I had chicken fajitas which I did not care for. The chicken was chopped up small, but was rubbery and tasted like beer, so I'm sure they cook with it. My meal was supposed to come with guacamole that never showed up.
We stopped at Hardrock Cafe to use the bathroom. ONE beer cost $4.50. Can't believe how over-rated that place is, but probably not more over-rated than Carlos Charlies on the shore. Can't believe how so many people (tourists) flock to that dive.
About the grocery stores: The two big ones are Mega and Chedraui. We preferred Chedraui because they have a huge produce section and an enormous bakery. Mega has good choice, too. We bought some excellent rib-eye there. But be warned. Count your change at Mega!!! A clerk tried to charge me $10 for a 60 cent ginger ale. In my experience there, the 20 and 30-somethings are real jerks. When you go to the check-out counter try to get a 40 or 50-something mom type. They are much nicer. Mega also advertises that you will get a good exchange rate in change, but that is only if you spend at least $40 and pay with a $100 bill. Otherwise, they won't give you pesos as change and they are really nasty about it. Just pay with your debit or credit card. It is easier and you get an accurate exchange rate, not questionable numbers from some rude boob punching on an old calculator.
Oh, and if you need a taxi but don't want to spend a fortune on it, pick one up at Mega. It only costs $3 to go from Mega to VDK, so we would walk a little farther sometimes if we were elsewhere.
I didn't expect to see so much beautiful jewelry there at places in the plaza and bought several pieces. The silver jewelry is made in Tasko, Mexico. We were told the cruise ships buy the stock to put in the stores. It's definitely a barter system, so feel free to negotiate a price that suits you. I got a silver bracelet I was first told was $155 for $39. I am sure there are some people who walk in there and give them whatever they ask, but I like to barter and they know how to do it. If you pay in pesos watch the exchange rate they try to give you. It should be the American dollar amount times 12 or 13. Not times 14 or 15.
Everybody there probably speaks way more English than you speak Spanish, so don't let them get away with any lost in translation bs. All the vendors also have U.S. money, so you can pay with U.S. cash if you want.
Driving is not for the feint of heart and Doug will advise you against it. However, I actually had fun driving around. I am good at paying attention to things, so that won me the driver's seat. Just get the hang of it first by observing how things work, realize that scooters, cars and bikes will all jut out into the street trying to get where they need to go, but will stop and wait for traffic to break and don't be afraid to be a little aggressive yourself. If you drive like a pansy they will run all over you.
Well, that's all I can think of. It's probably too much info, but these were some of the things that stuck out in my mind. I wish you better weather than we had, but even more fun.