With thousands of images of exotic, tropical destinations streaming through our social media everyday, we can’t help but feel inspired to plan our next vacation. I mean who doesn’t imagine in their daydreams sleeping in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives or walking along a picturesque beach on a French Polynesian island?
The problem is that that the flights to these faraway places can cost thousands of dollars! What if I told you there are otherworldly spots just as alluring right here in North America – that wont’ break the bank?
Once place in particular, has water so profoundly striking, it leaves you without words. You’re met with the kind of love that forces you to surrender to its spell at first sight. There is only one word that comes close to describing the beauty of this breathtaking scene, and that is ‘Heaven’.
El Cielo (meaning ‘Heaven’ in Spanish) is one of those surreal destinations deserving of a feature photo spread in such prestigious travel magazines as Condé Nast or Travel and Leisure. But up until a short while ago, the locals of Cozumel have been able to keep this Mexican Caribbean jewel a secret. In fact, I live 45-minutes away and I only recently heard about it through a friend.
The good news is there is no code word needed to gain access to this hidden paradise. It’s no longer classified local information. I believe Cozumel residents realized it would be a grave injustice to the world if they kept this magical destination to themselves.
The great news is you don’t have to spend thousands on a plane ticket to experience this rare natural beauty. So read on to discover how to visit one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most extraordinary sights (and that says a lot because there are literally thousands of them!)
A crew of twenty of us booked a boat tour to visit El Cielo one weekend for my son’s birthday. Three days prior to our Sunday funday, I received a phone call from the original company we had booked with. They regretted to inform me that our reservation had been canceled. We had planned this excursion a while back and we had invited out-of-town guests to celebrate with us. I tried my best not to melt down when I received the disappointing news.
I sent some messages to everyone I thought who might be able to help with a boat rental recommendation. One of my neighbors passed me a contact number for Aquatic Sports Cozumel. To my surprise, a boat was available and he could accommodate our group.
Although I was relieved, I had doubts about the quality of the service and the boat the company would provide, since they had availability at such short notice. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would all work out.
On the day of the trip to El Cielo, the group met at the Playa del Carmen ferry terminal on Benito Juarez and the beach near the south end of 5th Avenue.
The costs are approximately $165 pesos ($9.50USD) each way. Children 12 and under are 50% off the adult ticket price. The ferry to Cozumel takes about 45 minutes.
Once we disembarked, we walked outside to the left to catch a van taxi. With 20 people, we needed two at $200 pesos ($11USD) each. It was a quick 8 minutes ride to Aquatic Sports Cozumel.
I cannot speak highly enough about Sergio and his team. Together, Sergio, his friendly Capitan and assistant met us on the dock to greet us. While the tour operators prepped the boat with food, ice for the coolers, and beverages, I did a quick survey.
After taking note of the ample space and excellent condition, my worries were put to rest. The lower level was open and had plenty of shaded seating. The bow offered more seating and the perfect spot to stretch out and bask in the sun. A spiraling staircase led to the upper level where the Capitan sat. A flat deck behind him presented a prime vantage point from which to appreciate the turquoise seascape.
Coolers filled with ice, water and pop were provided. We asked ahead of time and Sergio allowed us to bring our own beer.
The 5-hour tour begins with a stop at a reef about half an hour away. Since one of our group members had to get back to Playa del Carmen early, we opted to bypass this snorkel portion of the trip and head straight to El Cielo.
There was no need for the Captain to announce our arrival. As we sailed along Cozumel’s coast, the waters turned from a beautiful turquoise to a crystal clear powder blue. We had arrived at The Promised Land, (or promised bay rather!)
From the top platform of the boat, we were able to see stingrays gliding along the sea floor from a hundred yards away. The water was as translucent as a swimming pool and we had it almost all to ourselves, with the exception of a catamaran and two other boats in the distance.
It was a hot and sunny day, which made us eager to cool ourselves in the inviting water. Although there was an area of sea grass, we did not see any turtles. However, we did encounter speedy, little groupers camouflaged by the soft, white sand. Angelfish swam by in pairs and the kids were thrilled to see starfish. Several inquisitive stingrays also came over to investigate, which was both frightening and spectacular at the same time.
Snorkel gear and life jackets are included in the cost of the tour.
As we swam, the Captain and his assistant prepared a light lunch for us. On other boat tours, we’ve received a typical sandwich accompanied by a handful of potato chips. But I have to say this company once again, impressed us with their service. With a tuna salad, guacamole and tortilla chips, a mixed fruit platter and traditional Mexican tortas, we could eat only half and were more than satisfied.
We spent over two hours exploring the area and swimming alongside a variety of fascinating marine life. While the adults waded in the glistening waters with their ice-cold beverages, the daring kiddos spent the afternoon jumping from the upper level and climbing back up to do it all over again.
It was hard to leave this magical spot, but our time was up. The children still had energy to spare so we asked the Captain to drop us off at Paradise Beach at the south end of the hotel zone in Cozumel. There are several beach clubs along this shoreline that offer access to inflatables on the water. After inquiring at a couple of the beach clubs, we found one with free access to the inflatables as long as we consumed something from the menu.
Half the group elected to sit in chairs beneath some towering palms. The rest of us chose to lounge near the water to keep an eye on the kids as they bounced around on the inflatable structures. They came ashore to grab a nibble of ceviche and then went right back out. There was just enough time before the sunset, to sip on one last mojito. It was a perfect end to an unforgettable day.
What to know when booking a boat tour at El Cielo
- If you choose Aquatic Sports Cozumel, the tour lasts 5-6 hours. Don’t pass up the snorkel portion as we did. The reef system off the coast of Cozumel is healthy and vibrant, offering some of the best snorkeling on the planet!
- We cannot stress this enough – please wear biodegradable sunblock so that the marine life will survive for many years to come.
- Bring towels and waterproof cameras to capture some amazing photos.
- The cost is $40USD per person. There are two options available regarding capacity. The first one is a maximum of 20 passengers, the second can accommodate up to 30 people. In order for the tour to be offered, there must be a minimum of 10 bookings.
- As stated above, the tour lasts from 5-6 hours, this does not include the ferry, so you can expect to be gone from Playa del Carmen for approximately 8-9 hours with the travel time.
- Cozumel is a fantastic day trip or overnight getaway from Playa. There are quality tequila tasting tours, Mayan ruins, a Cacao museum, water parks and much more to explore. If you’re planning to spend a day in Cozumel, speak to our knowledgeable BRIC ambassador team about details for fun and adventure!
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About the Author
Juanita grew up in a small town in the middle of Canada. Having experienced twenty years of ruggedly cold climate, she had seen enough snow to last her a lifetime. After moving to and working in Vancouver for thirteen years (where she was ecstatic to see the odd palm tree) she jumped at the opportunity to move with her husband and three children to Playa del Carmen. She calls it a ‘dreamy existence’ and cherishes year-round, backyard barbecues with friends, road trips and watching the sunrise over the Caribbean. She writes for Bric Vacation Rentals.