This small, beachfront Cozumel resort delivers a winning combination of service and activities that keeps guests coming back — plus, it's a great value.
Our recent family beach vacation to the Island of Cozumel was one of discoveries. The island, long known as a top cruise ship destination, possesses a natural beauty that took hold of our senses. Visually, it is stunning in its diversity. The leeward or westward-facing side of the island features calm, blue waters, and a reef which makes snorkeling a technicolor adventure that is easy enough for even novice swimmers to enjoy. The windward or eastern-facing side has many nearly deserted windswept beaches, with surf so strong that tourists are warned to keep out of the water and locals know better. The scent of freshly bloomed flowers perfumed the air, and their fallen petals covered the streets and roads of the island in what seemed like an orange carpet.
Warm Welcome at Playa Azul Hotel
We stayed at a wonderful hotel, the 50-room Playa Azul. The location, a few minutes and an inexpensive taxi ride from town, was on a glorious sandy beach. Its proximity to town gave us easy access to San Miguel’s inexpensive, family-friendly restaurants. But Playa Azul feels a world away from it all. It has all the comforts that my family and I want from a hotel, with a level of personal service that made us feel warm, welcomed, and glad to be guests.
Its owners, Martha and Fernando, live on site, and the hands-on approach that they take to managing Playa Azul is seen in every detail. Charismatic and handsome, they look as if they were both former movie stars. Actually university professors from Mexico City, they fell in love with Cozumel and changed careers when they purchased the hotel. The night that we arrived, they were hosting an annual party for the community at the beach club that they own next door to Playa Azul. Upon check-in, we were invited to join the festivities. It was a mix of locals and other hotel guests, with a live jazz band playing. Fernando introduced himself to us, offered us drinks, and made us feel instantly at home.
The hotel’s spacious lobby was a great place to spend a bit of time. A fountain dominates, so the soothing sounds of water were all around. In the evening, groupings of candles placed throughout bathe the space in a warm glow. There were comfortable sitting arrangements, and a nice collection of books and magazines in several languages. This type of public space is important when my family travels, for as nice as togetherness is, one of us sometimes feels the need to get away from the group, without straying too far.
We had booked a 2nd floor Junior suite for our family of four, which included myself, my husband, Alec, aged 16, and Maddy, 14. This proved to be a great choice for our family. It was actually two separate rooms, a living room with two twin beds for the kids, and down a short hallway, a large master bedroom for the grown-ups. The two rooms shared a spacious bathroom, with an excellent shower. The kid’s room faced the hotel’s small pool. My room had a stunning ocean view from its giant terrace, where I could see cruise ships floating, wonderful sunsets, and clear blue water all the way to Playa del Carmen.
Becoming One With The Fishies
Once we hit the beach, you had to practically drag my family and I out of the water. We just couldn’t get enough of snorkeling. The hotel offers complimentary snorkel equipment included in the room rates.
The hotel staff helped us find flippers that fit, and we were each given a mask and shown how to breathe into the attached tube. We made our way into the shallow water, taking five or six steps in, before we started swimming. In the still shallow water, we dived down into the magical world of the coral reef.
We were in a rainbow colored world, where we swam with schools of bright yellow, purple, and striped fish. There were so many fish and they seemed to encircle us. As we got more comfortable breathing with our masks, we gained confidence and took longer swims, discovering other parts of the reef. But in truth, the most amazing sea life that we saw was only a few steps from shore.
This helped to explain why so many young families stay at Playa Azul. Even beginning swimmers can safely enjoy snorkeling only steps from its sandy beach. We met kids as young as 5 who were thrilled to swim with the tropical fish. It was great for our family to discover an adventure that we all enjoyed participating in.
Repeat Family Visitors Are Still Happy
At Playa Azul, I met many families who were regulars, returning each year. They had many reasons for coming back to Playa Azul. The property has a wide variety of room sizes. There is free wifi throughout. The on-site dive shop offers a wide selection of diving options for every age and level of diver. There is a lovely, small spa on the property and a complimentary salsa dancing class each Sunday afternoon.
The restaurant is good and serves well-prepared Mexican dishes, but the cooks are very accommodating to young, unadventurous taste buds. A full breakfast buffet, included in the room rate, is served each morning at the hotel’s Palma Azul restaurant. It was a delicious blend of Mexican and standard American fare, and the chef was happy to make my son omelets, and my daughter hotcakes. Our waiter had some good advice for Maddy, when he suggested that she take an extra large serving of tropical fruit, so that she purposely have some leftover to feed the 2 dozen turtles that live on the property.
The turtles did indeed love melon, and this became a daily after-breakfast ritual. My favorite morning ritual was enjoying multiple cups of memorable coffee. The hotel’s coffee blend is so popular that it is sold at the gift shop for those who want to take it home.
Many guests cite golf as a reason for returning. Playa Azul has a deal where hotel guests have unlimited access and pay no green fees at the nearby Cozumel Country Club, where the Nicklaus Group-designed 18-hole golf course is rated one of the top golf courses in the Caribbean. A golf cart rental is required, but the savings on green fees is substantial. We are not golfers, but I met several guests who golfed each day of their stay and sang the praises of the course. Martha, the hotel’s owner, is a champion golfer herself, and told me that several Playa Azul guests discovered golf while staying at the hotel, as the country club also offers golf lessons and clinics.
Exploring San Miguel, Cozumel
Though difficult for us to leave Playa Azul’s beach during the day and give up precious time that could be spent in the water, we were glad that we rented a car for the afternoon to drive around the island’s perimeter. We explored its lush diversity and the serenity that the little developed windward side beaches provided. Cozumel beaches have an isolated feel, with soft, white sand and rugged rocks that are pummeled by the powerful crashing waves.
One of the things that we liked best about Playa Azul is the fact that it is not an all-inclusive property. This encouraged us to explore the island and get a taste of its bountiful, largely seafood based, local cuisine. Our taste buds were tantalized by a variety of well-seasoned food. The island’s main town, San Miguel, was the perfect place for dinner and a lively stroll around its Plaza Principal, where locals gather to chat. This is where tourists shop and the locals say that as soon as the large cruise ships pull out of town, prices drop, and merchants are ready to bargain.
Our family’s favorite dining spot was the crowded Casa Denis, centrally located in San Miguel, a few steps from the main square. The seafood was really fresh, and the prices were low. We liked it so much that we returned for a second dinner, and were stunned that our waiter, Leonardo, remembered each of our drink orders from the previous night.
After dinner, we strolled around the square and joined locals on the queue for Raspados Tropicales, shaved ice with fresh fruit concentrate poured over it. We were full from dinner and dessert, but we saw a huge line of locals next to a giant steaming kettle, and wanted to check it out. They were all purchasing a fresh corn soup, with a variety of toppings, served in a paper cup by a father/son team. It was delicious, fresh, and cheap.
Playa Azul is located only minutes away from Cozumel’s airport, and there are flights, some non-stop, from many major U.S. cities.
We didn’t utilize the Cozumel airport. Instead, we flew into the Cancun airport, took a taxi to Playa del Carmen, and boarded the ferry that departs every other hour for Cozumel. This was a good choice for us, as we had no time constraints, and our brief stop in Playa del Carmen gave us the opportunity to have a peak at this fast-growing resort town.
I met several hotel guests who praised the convenience of Cozumel airport, including a couple of new parents with a 5-month-old infant, who were taking their first vacation as a threesome and looked forward to returning as their family grows.
My family and I are already dreaming of spending a long winter weekend at the Playa Azul, utilizing the nearby airport, thus maximizing our time at the hotel and, more to the point, in the water. Whether we return in the near or distant future, we have joined the roster of those making regular pilgrimages back to Cozumel. Our memorable family holiday in Cozumel will hopefully be the first of many.
Resort Report Card
|Address:||Carr. a San Juan Km. 4
Zona Hotelera Norte
Cozumel, Quintana Roo
|Seasonal Rates:||$ – $$|
|Choice of Activities:||A|
|Quality of Amenities:||A-|
|Bonus:||Play Azul is located on a perfect beach for snorkeling. Only a few feet from shore, even novice swimmers will be surrounded by a rainbow array of tropical fish.|
|Note:||The phenomenal staff and on-site owners provide a wonderful, genuine welcome, that makes you feel instantly at home in this tropical paradise.|
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