My wife and I are Isla Mujeres regulars who like to occasionally change it up and visit other destinations in the region. This trip, we started with two nights in Valladolid before heading to Puerto Morelos for a four-night stay prior to our usual visit to Isla Mujeres. While we had passed through “PoMo” before, this would be our first stay.
We took the ADO from Valladolid, transferring in Cancun. We were dropped at the gas station with our luggage in tow in a light rain. I figured we might have better luck finding a cab on the other side of the highway, but as we made our way to the corner to cross a taxi driver saw us, jumped out of his cab and opened his trunk, oblivious to the traffic he was holding up behind him as we loaded our luggage.
We had selected Hacienda Morelos because we wanted to be near both town and the beach, so its location was perfect. We were also diving with Aquanauts, whose shop is located on the ground floor. We had been told prior to our trip that the hotel had at one time fallen into disrepair but that new management was working on revitalizing the property, so we weren’t expecting much other than location. Our assessment is that the bones of a great hotel are there but a few relatively minor issues remain. For example, we quickly learned to turn on the shower and then go watch TV for a few minutes while waiting for the hot water to make its way to the third floor, although it would eventually arrive. Our toilet felt like it wasn’t anchored to the floor and would rock slightly, while the toilet seat was flimsy and of often felt like it would collapse. Some of the wood trim in the room was either missing or in need of paint. Our spacious third-floor room seemed under furnished, with just a comfortable bed and two nightstands, a couple of hassocks and one table. The table was under the AC unit, and we took the liberty of moving it when we discovered condensation from the AC would drip onto the items we had on the table. We had plenty of hanging space but a dresser of some sort would be nice. We could also have used a few hooks someplace to hang wet items—their absence was a bit surprising in a hotel with an onsite dive shop. A mini-fridge would be ideal. There was no trash can in our room other than the one beside the toilet, and we all know that one remains in place. The bar and restaurant area looks and feels like they are still trying to figure out what to do with it, but a creative restaurant GM could make it into a winner in no time.
Don’t let these issues put you off—they are all relatively minor and do nothing to diminish the hotel’s excellent location, friendly staff and incredible value—we were staying on the beach for $90 US per night, taxes included. The location puts you on the beach but is south of the pier, where the beach is much less crowded. The view from our third-floor balcony was incredible, and we would often sit there and gaze out over the Caribbean, completely at peace. We could open our window slightly at night and fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach, which was heaven to us. Most of the restaurants we intended to try were within a two- or three-block walk. It was convenient to simply walk downstairs to get to our dive shop. While the pool is a bit small we did enjoy sitting around the pool area after a dive. We feel that Hacienda Morelos is already a great value and is well on its way to being one of the best places (for our tastes) to stay in Puerto Morelos. There is every likelihood we will stay at Hacienda Morelos again the next time we visit Puerto Morelos (and yes, there will be a next time).
We arrived about 5 PM and the girl at the front desk who checked us in was incredibly friendly, making a good first impression. She had some difficulty running our credit card until I received a text from our cc company asking if we were authorizing this purchase, and then it went through with no problems. Our room (301) turned out to be the farthest from the lobby, and by the time we made it there we were hot and tired, having spent the afternoon schlepping our luggage from Valladolid. We hadn’t been able to shower at our last hotel because we awoke to find we had no power or water due to a mishap with local road construction, so after check-in we simply showered, unpacked and relaxed, enjoying that view.
By nearly 7 PM we were hungry, and my wife had already selected Al Chimichurri for our first meal. We set out on foot and were soon accompanied the rest of the way by a neighborhood dog, whom somebody along the way identified to us as a friendly dog known by all in town. Despite it being only one block west of our hotel, we had a bit of trouble identifying Al Chimichurri because their sign is small and located where it can’t really be seen except from the other side of the street. Al Chimichurri is a Uruguayan steakhouse that also offers empanadas, pizza, pasta and salads. Several tables are set out in the street but because the skies were still dark and threatening we opted for one of the first tables inside as a compromise. My wife started with a Mojito (80 pesos) and I ordered my new favorite beer, Bohemia Obscura (35 pesos). We were very pleased to find our favorite steaks on the menu—a sirloin for my wife (220 pesos) and a ribeye for me (330 pesos). Each of these were in the smaller 250-gram size, although they are also offered in a 400-gram cut. The steaks were delicious but my wife’s was a bit fatty and mine contained a large line of gristle that was very hard. Each steak was served with a side salad. After enjoying a second beer our bill totaled 700 pesos ($42 US). We were hard pressed to think of a place at home where we could order two steaks and some cocktails for $42. Maybe $42 each, but certainly not total, so all in all we were pleased with Al Chimichurri.
After dinner we stopped at Oxxo for some room beverages, some ice and the like. Coming out of the store the skies suddenly opened up and we made a mad dash for the safety of our hotel. After a long day that started in Valladolid and concluded with a satisfying dinner we were content to loll about the hotel room until falling into a deep slumber.
We awoke to sunny skies over PoMo but there were dark clouds out over the Caribbean. We tried to gauge their direction and were hopeful they would pass to the north, since we were scheduled to snorkel at noon with Aquanauts. We headed out for breakfast at 8 AM.
For our first breakfast in Puerto Morelos, we headed to El Nicho on the square, having heard so many good things about it. It did not disappoint. My wife ordered a tea while I enjoyed a delicious latte. She opted for a basic egg and bacon breakfast, which was served with potatoes, roasted tomato, beans and toast and was very satisfying. I decided to try one of their many takes on eggs Benedict, the “Benny Palta” including tomato, avocado and bacon, topped with a pesto-like cilantro mojo. It was delicious. With a couple of fresh-squeezed orange juices, our bill came to 333 pesos ($19.50 US) plus tip. It was a bit more than we are used to paying for breakfast on Isla Mujeres but was a far better breakfast than two people could have at home for that price.
After breakfast we strolled over to investigate the church across the street. It was very pretty and seemed like they intended to copy “La Capilla de Guadalupe” on Isla Mujeres, with an oceanscape painted on the windows behind the altar, although the version on Isla has an actual view of the ocean. We wandered about a bit (we spend a lot of our vacation meandering around) and ended up back at our hotel by about 10:30. The clouds out over the ocean were looking even more threatening, and we could see that it was pouring rain just offshore. We posted photos of this offshore storm on social media and received immediate responses suggesting we batten down the hatches. We were still hopeful the storm would merely sideswipe us, but within minutes it was pouring buckets. We went downstairs to check in with our dive shop, who confirmed that snorkeling was doubtful for the day but who kindly offered to reschedule for the morning of our departure for Isla Mujeres, since they were closed the next day on Sunday. The owner, Crescent, was very apologetic about being closed on Sundays but we assured her that we consider family time to be more important than work. We’d be flexible.
So what dos one do in a beach town when it’s storming? At about 11:30 we decided to investigate the bar at Hacienda Morelos. We sat near the windows that would normally offer a fabulous view of the ocean but today were showcasing the deluge. I saw a blackboard promoting their Mango Daiquiri, which sounded delicious, but when we ordered two of them the waitress acted like she had never heard of it. The bartender seemed equally confused, and eventually a staff meeting was held amongst several employees to get to the bottom of this mysterious drink. What they eventually brought me was not a frozen drink, but a Champagne saucer of mango puree with rum floated on top, more like a mango Bellini with rum instead of Prosecco.
By 12:30 we were getting anxious to explore town, rain or shine. We simply donned our disposable plastic ponchos and went for a walk, ending up at T@cos.com. Sitting outside in the rain wasn’t an option, so we nestled into their tiny, palapa-covered dining area. Note that they have two adjoining places—we were in the one closer to the square. We LOVED everything about T@cos.com. The staff was wonderful—especially Alfredo (Freddy) and our waiter, who introduced himself as “George of the Jungle.” After only a few minutes we felt as if we were visiting with old friends. For the rest of our stay in Puerto Morelos, any venture out inevitably included a stop by T@cos.com just to say Hola.
While we enjoyed a genuine mango daiquiri and a large Margarita (or two) the menu concept was explained. Tacos are served family-style, with enough fillings for two people to make tacos. We decided to start with a ceviche mixto and were advised we would have to wait 15 minutes or so while it marinated—a good sign to us. We were left to contemplate the menu and thought we would also order some guacamole and one of the taco selections, but when the ceviche was delivered we realized that not only were the other dishes unnecessary, finishing this ceviche might also eliminate the need for dinner that night. And the ceviche was not only huge, it was one of the freshest, most delicious ceviches we have had anywhere, with large pieces of octopus, shrimp and fish. My wife watched it being prepared over my shoulder and noticed the secret ingredient was a splash of clamato juice. We couldn’t have been happier and gladly spent a couple of hours in our new home away from home. Since we didn’t end up ordering tacos after all our bill was only 365 pesos ($21 US) for one of the most pleasant afternoons of our trip. In the midst of our impending Chicago winter, when we think of Puerto Morelos T@cos.com will be one of the first things we think about.
But man does not live on ceviche and Margaritas alone (although I would be willing to give it a try) so by 2:30 we decided the time had come to move on. We wandered over by the pier and ran into the famous Charlie Brown, who implored us to go snorkeling with him the next morning, when he thought the weather would be nicer. We love Charlie Brown. We would like to adopt him or have him adopt us. He posed with my wife for a picture and I noticed he assumed what seemed like a well-practiced pose. It wasn’t until later that night, while reviewing my photos and getting a better look at his t-shirt, that I realized he was re-creating his pose from MUSA—the underwater art exhibit off Isla Mujeres—where he is one of the featured subjects in the largest of the exhibits there, “Silent Evolution.” His t-shirt features a photo of his statue, which we have seen many times while diving. Since our snorkeling trip that afternoon had been canceled and our dive shop was closed on Sunday, we decided to double down on our snorkeling plans and agreed to go out with Charlie the next morning at 7:30. We told him where we were staying and even the room number, but promised we’d be back to the pier at 7:30.
So, as it turns out, rather than spend a very rainy afternoon lying about watching TV and bemoaning our fate, we had one of the best days of our entire 10-day trip and met some new friends that we are already missing. We have to return to Puerto Morelos if for no other reason than to catch up with Freddy, “George of the Jungle” and Charlie Brown.
By about 5:30 PM we were getting antsy and decided to go on a longer walk—this time heading up the beach, which was nearly deserted due to the weather. We walked up as far as Ojo de Agua and back down Rojo Gomez, once again with nothing particular in mind. On the return we went south of the square and our hotel, cut over to Melgar via Isla Mujeres and back to our hotel. This was mere reconnaissance, just to get a better feel for the town’s layout.
Despite our earlier ceviche feast, by about 7:30 we were ready for dinner and decided to give La Sirena a try. It proved to be a fitting end to a glorious day. As we were being shown to our table on the beautiful terrace overlooking the street, my wife turned to me and whispered, “Oh, a professional restaurant.” I knew exactly what she meant. Accustomed to dining in (and enjoying) many places that feel like somebody’s back yard, La Sirena is elegant and sophisticated. She decided to continue her mango daiquiri theme while I opted for Bohemia Obscura. We ordered the Dip Sampler (180 pesos) of hummus, tzatziki and a third, equally delicious dip served with olives and tomatoes as an appetizer. My wife’s Roasted Lemon Chicken (240 pesos) was rubbed with Mediterranean herbs and accompanied by roasted lemon potatoes and sautéed spinach. It was moist, tender and superb. But even my wife had to admit I ordered well—I had the Braised Lamb Shank (270 pesos) with pearl onions and root vegetables. It was so tender that a mere glance would cause it to fall off the bone, and the root vegetables complimented the lamb into earthy, satisfying comfort food. This was an excellent dinner and I highly recommend La Sirena. For my Isla Mujeres friends, La Sirena compares very favorably with Olivia. Our bill was 865 pesos ($51) for one of the best dinners of our trip. And they take credit cards, should you wish to save pesos for other purposes.
Sunday morning we awoke to a fierce thunderstorm. Just as we were concluding that once again there would be no snorkeling today, there was a knock on our door. I opened it to find Charlie Brown, who glanced about our room and concluded, “Hey—nice room. Are you ready to go?”
“But Charlie, it’s storming out!” I countered.
“Ah, but the sea—she is flat!” argued Charlie.
“But Charlie, the lightning—she will make us flat!” I concluded. After a few minutes of attempted persuasion, Charlie agreed that we would reassess the situation later in the day and if it cleared up we would attempt to snorkel. We waited for the rain to die down to mere monsoon levels before venturing out to breakfast, this time at Dona Triny’s, next door to El Nicho where we had eaten the morning before.
Dona Triny’s is one of those neighborhood cafés that we have come to love in Mexico, where you feel like you are sitting in your abuela’s kitchen. We were the only customers who had ventured out in the downpour that morning, and Dona Triny waited on us attentively. We knew it was Dona Triny because we were sitting immediately below a wooden relief of her likeness on the wall.
My wife decided to try the molletes (140 pesos with bacon), a sort of open-faced sandwich on bolillo rolls, smeared with beans and cheese and then topped with fried eggs. She pronounced it one of her best breakfasts of the trip and it was very filling. I had the chilaquiles verdes with eggs (120 pesos) and a side of bacon. My salsa verde was perfectly tart without being overpowering. To our pleasant surprise, our eggs were not overcooked as is often the case in Mexico—we don’t often get runny yolks and consider it a minor victory when we do. Everything about our breakfasts tasted home made with love and we thoroughly enjoyed them. With a couple of cups of coffee and tea, our bill came to 340 pesos ($20 US) for two plus tip.
After breakfast we climbed back into our now well-worn ponchos and made our way through the rain back to our hotel. After a big breakfast we were feeling lazy and I worked on editing some photos for a while. The rain started to let up by 1 PM and once again we ventured out, running into Charlie Brown, who insisted our window for snorkeling was now. We ran back to the hotel, gathered our snorkeling equipment and returned to the pier. Despite dark skies, a little after 1:30 we pulled away from the pier and headed out to the reef.
Every minute we spent with Charlie was a joy. It was just the three of us on his boat, and he let my wife steer for a bit on the way out. All three of us posed for some goofy pictures, laughing and joking all the way. We tied to a mooring out by the reef at about 2 PM and slipped into the water. We were anxious to revisit this section of reef, which we hadn’t seen since diving just south of Puerto Morelos several years ago. When we go to Isla Mujeres, we are at the very northern end of the reef and there isn’t much of a developed, continuous reef, but here it runs all along the shoreline, about 150 yards from the beach.
I was trying a brand new underwater camera (with mixed results) as we swam along the reef. We were pleased to see an abundance of fish, a burgeoning lobster population, a good-sized turtle and some healthy coral. We snorkeled for about an hour and hard a hard time keeping up with Charlie, who we later learned is 81. I don’t honestly remember what he charged us, but whatever it was it probably wasn’t enough for the enjoyment we experienced. When I posted about our day with Charlie on social media, one friend who is planning a Puerto Morelos trip asked how to find him. “Just go down to the pier,” I suggested. “Charlie will find you.”
Back at the hotel we decided to chill out around the pool for a bit. We are decidedly ocean people but do like to rinse off with a dip after being in the ocean for a while. After relaxing for a bit we headed up to the room to shower and change.
When dinner time rolled around, we decided we were having some success just allowing our meandering to take us wherever it would, and this time ended up at Los Gauchos, just west of the square. There was a large party seated outside and another couple inside, where we selected a table. Los Gauchos is an Argentinian steakhouse that, like Al Chimichurri, also offers empanadas, pasta and pizza. We decided to start with an appetizer, La Picadita (170 pesos), a platter of prosciutto, olives, Manchego cheese, ham, pepperoni, Argentine sausage and homemade bread that would serve a large family or a small village. There was nothing “ita” about it. Nevertheless, we made a good dent in it. The sausage was very good—it had been sliced and then fried so that it was crispy, and even my wife, who normally does not like sausage, thought it was very good. The ham was the only sour note on the plate—it came across like ordinary lunch meat rolled up and sliced. I went with the Arrachera (205 pesos), a 14-oz skirt steak served with fries. My wife had a NY Strip (240 pesos), also a 14-oz cut served with a salad. She also ordered an iced tea and it was one of the strangest beverages we have ever seen. We think they used instant tea, then ran it through a blender with ice because it was foamy—or would have been if the foam hadn’t frozen. Still, I noticed it didn’t prevent her from ordering a second. I had a couple of Negra Modelos and our bill came to 760 pesos ($45).
On the way back to our hotel we stopped at Oxxo. My wife wanted to restock on Advil, but the woman behind the counter didn’t understand what she was asking for until a fellow employee came over and conferred with her in hushed tones. The cashier turned to her and said, “Oh, Ad-VEEL!” Personally, we didn’t think “Advil” and “Adveel” are so different. But in the future, when anyone mentions Advil we are sure to say, “No—Ad-VEEL!”
We awoke early on Monday morning because it was time to dive! Like kids on Christmas morning, we were up by 6 AM but puzzled by the giant glowing object illuminating the sky. OMG, it was the sun! I guess I should admit that the day before my wife noticed that I appeared to have two black eyes and asked who I had been fighting. I couldn’t explain it until we looked it up online. A few days earlier in Valladolid, I had run into a bamboo rafter and taken a jolt to my head that left a dent. Apparently, black, puffy eyelids can result from a head trauma or concussion, which means that I probably shouldn’t be diving, but I had missed out on diving last year due to chest congestion and we didn’t come to Mexico in 2015, so it had been three years and I was itching to go. I probably would have shown up on the dive boat in a wheelchair if need be.
We reported to Aquanauts just before 8 AM and got our gear lined up. We would be diving with Divemaster Felicity and visited two sites—Puente (“Bridge”) and Horseshoe. Both offer some interesting coral formations and loads of fish. We were in the water just before 9 AM. After three years out of the water I was a bit anxious on my first descent, but once at depth it all came back to me, like riding a very wet bicycle. At Puente, we saw several spotted drumfish, a stonefish and a number of lobsters. There were a few fun swim-throughs. At Horseshoe, here were lobsters everywhere and I saw three of the biggest pufferfish I have ever seen—I didn’t even know they got that big. I found a pair of very photogenic trunkfish and a few large French Angels. This was our “back on the horse again” day of diving and it was quite satisfying. We were back at our hotel by noon and once again rinsed off by the pool, just steps from the dive shop.
By 12:45 or so we were back in our third floor hotel room and for the first time since we arrived in town, we could see the Caribbean in full sunlight, bringing out all of its glorious colors. After more than 48 hours of gray skies we finally felt like we were at a Caribbean destination. We showered and decided we were a bit peckish, so on the advice of our dive shop’s owner we headed up the street to Caribelos for some tacos.
We perused the menu and decided we would start with some guacamole. Apparently, this request was unusual, and the waiter talked it over with a table of locals sitting next to us. One of the locals leaned over and explained in so many words that ordering guacamole was “like ordering just mashed potatoes.” The idea of guacamole as an appetizer struck them as funny, somehow. My wife had a shrimp quesadilla (90 pesos) and I had three fish tacos (75 pesos each). We had a few soft drinks and we were never really presented with a bill so I didn’t keep a running tab on the expense of the various things we ordered. This is a place where the locals go and we enjoyed it.
While sitting at Caribelos, who should walk up and sit with us but Charlie Brown. He sat down, smiled, held out both hands and asked us to choose one. Of course, he had gum in each hand as a gift for us, like a kindly grandfather. Did I mention we love Charlie?
That evening we decided that we had to get some fresh fish somewhere and decided that place would be La Petita en La Playita up the beach. As we walked the beach we realized this was not a fair weekend to judge the quality of the Puerto Morelos beach—it had been raining all weekend and the beach was strewn with seagrass. No place along the beach had the opportunity to clean up their beach or rake the sand. Just the same, it was nice to walk along the beach.
The skies were threatening again was we arrived at La Petita en La Playita, so much so that the live band finished their song and immediately began to pack up as the winds increased. Looking around, it didn’t seem at first like this was a place one came for the food—it looked more like a typical beach club where one goes for drinks and bar food. We selected a table well in from the potential storm and started with some guacamole (and didn’t get laughed at for it) and some absolutely delicious and complimentary pipian dip. We didn’t know what it was at first but one taste confirmed that it was pumpkinseed. We knew what we came for and asked for a whole fried fish with garlic. We asked our waitress how large they were and explained that we were thinking of sharing a big one. She said the grouper were larger than the hogfish so she’d bring us a grouper, but later when I showed the picture to a friend who owns a restaurant on Isla Mujeres, he said, “Oh—nice hogfish!” Whatever it was, this was beyond a doubt one of the best fish either of us had ever tasted. It was beautiful, fresh, delicious and covered in garlic. In my entire life I can think of two other fish that even approached this one for flavor and freshness. This little, unassuming place had just delivered one of the best meals of our trip. Our bill was 625 pesos ($37 US) plus tip with a couple of drinks. Unbelievable. And while we were eating a band began playing for a nearby table—two guitars and a harp. Yes, a harp. I bet that’s fun to haul around on the beach.
We couldn’t believe our good fortune and decided to stop to see our buddies at T@cos.com again. Freddy’s wife and child were visiting so we sat with him and chatted. He’s such a nice guy and it was nice to meet his family.
Since our Saturday snorkel trip with Aquanauts had been postponed, they rescheduled it for Tuesday morning and promised to have us back as soon as possible because we had a shuttle coming to take us to Isla Mujeres. The shuttle was originally scheduled for 11 AM but due to the rescheduling I pushed it back until noon. I was quite pleased with Aquanauts for their flexibility while allowing us to basically retain our schedule. We saw some lionfish, a nurse shark, a BIG barracuda, a ton of lobsters, a turtle and some huge brain coral. This is a thriving reef system. We were back at the hotel by 10, plenty of time to finish packing up and check out of the hotel. We were in the lobby by 11:30 and just minutes later our van showed up. It was time to move on.
We came to Puerto Morelos hoping and expecting to find a place with a similar laid-back, casual beach vibe like our beloved Isla Mujeres, and that’s exactly what we found. At one point my wife observed that PoMo is “like an old pair of jeans,” not fancy but comfortable. We had some fabulous food, got to experience the local reef and got a basic feel for the town, or at least as much of a feel as one get during a four-night stay. But like Isla, what impressed us the most were the people. From Charlie Brown to the guys at T@cos.com to all the people we dealt with, this is a friendly place with wonderful people. We felt instantly at home. When it rains at least half the time you are visiting a beach destination but you still fall in love with the place, that says a lot about the town. Now, when people ask on the Isla Mujeres Forum where they can go for a similar feel, I will recommend Puerto Morelos. That is, unless I decide to keep it a secret.