We were a bit nervous going to the "El Con" as we've never stayed at such a large resort. The place is massive. 20 something restaurants, chain stores, Starbucks, casino, multiple pools, golf course, etc. But all of that said, our experience was lovely. We had a nice, but really small, room with a fabulous ocean view. From our window we could see the hotel's private island, Palomino, where we ended up spending the bulk of our time (more on Palomino in a moment). The rest of the room was not all that exciting. Tile floor, wicker and white furniture, and older amenities - sort of has the feel of a Florida beach house that hasn't been updated in 20 years. Clean, but nothing to fuss over.
The main resort area is also nice, but not spectacular. The pools are great, the common areas are ok, and the food is less impressive than you would hope for. But we were not there for the food or the casinos and shopping - we wanted beach time.
That brings us to Palomino Island. The hotel owns the island, which is about 20 minutes from the resort by ferry boat (they tell you it's less than 10 minutes, but that's a gross underestimation). The journey to the island begins with a walk to a glass elevator, which takes you down to a Disney-style line to get on a funicular. The funicular is a fun experience, but one of two was broken while we were there and that made the lines to get into the things pretty frustrating. Each car accommodates about 30 people, but the hotel often uses the cars for hauling trash and luggage carts, so in reality far fewer squeeze in. At the bottom of the funicular is the hotel marina and ferry. The ferries leave every 45 minutes or so (though they tell you it's much more frequent) and never had a hard time accommodating everyone. It's a lovely ride to the island, which is then a perfect beach-front experience. Soft white sand beaches, ocean kayaking, sailing, and jetskis are on the menu. We enjoyed some really good snorkeling as well (see below). The beach itself was really wonderful - calm waves, warm (80 deg.) water, and brilliant sunshine. Palomino was by far the best part of the El Con and makes it a great place to go back to.
Snorkeling. We are amateurs at this, so take it all with a grain of salt, but the snorkeling was great. It's not worth it to pay for the hotel's snorkeling tour, since you can do it all by yourself from shore. Head to the corner of the island facing the smaller island of Palominitos. From there, swim straight out towards a white buoy and you'll hit an impenetrable deep reef about 25 yards off the shore. Follow along the reef 5-10 yards and you should reach a boat channel that guides you straight out into deeper water. Swim about 50 yards offer grassy bottom and you'll get deeper - maybe 15 feet - and you'll come across a beautiful live reef that plays host to lots of colorful fish life. Our highlight was probably seeing an 8-foot wide ray, but there was lots to marvel at. It's not a "National Geographic" dive spot, but it's definitely worth a bit of your afternoon. Enjoy!
The rooms are small - cruise ship small - so it's nice having the view of an oceanfront to make...
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