Puerto Morelos, Mexico to Caye Caulker, Belize

  • Frigate birds

May 12, 2015; Caye Caulker, Belize; Kenny

On Monday, April 20, we squeezed into one of the local van/buses known as collectivos, and headed down the coast on a road trip to the town of Tulum. Tulum, well-known for the Mayan ruins that overlook the Caribbean from a high cliff, is about 90 miles from Puerto Morelos.

We had reserved a room at La Luna Gitana–an inexpensive hotel near downtown.  The weather was hotter than we were used to at the El Cid marina since downtown Tulum is a few miles inland. It was hotter still in our hotel room. Air conditioning is a major luxury south of the US but along the coast, the consistent 15+ knots breeze keeps things reasonable. Although there was a ceiling fan in the room, it did little to cool things off.

The affable owners were very hospitable but we had wished they were more concerned about amenities and maintenance. None of the doors fit right; no towel racks; the fitted sheets came off when you rolled over and, the windows fell off the wall if you tried to open them. Who needs to go see Mayan ruins when you’ve booked a hotel room in one!

Thank God they had a toilet seat. I was sick with a stomach bug for one full day in Tulum. For some reason, many baños (bathrooms) in Mexico do not have toilet seats. Not just in dive bars but in nice restaurants as well. What’s up with that? Are patrons expected to bring their own?

While I was getting over my illness, Amy went on a snorkel trip to Cenote Dos Ojas. A cenote is an underground pool caused by collapsed limestone bedrock. She was the only customer and thus, had a personal guide. I recovered the next day so, it was off to the ruins. Neither of us are big on ruins and didn’t want to get into a guided tour that might make the visit extra lengthy in the scorching sun. We figured we would read the information plaques and get the basic idea. Little did we know that although the plaques were in both Spanish and English, the English side was often too faded or defaced in some way so as to be unreadable. I guess we missed out on some of the more interesting facts but it was just too hot to linger there.

A short distance away from the ruins was a path to a palm treed, sandy beach that had some excellent shaded, open air dining establishments. We strolled, and sat and strolled and sat our way down several miles of beach until it was sufficiently late enough to go back to town.

Tulum the town, has attracted many long-term visitors–ex-pats if you will. There’s a lively nightlife and street vendors selling food and other goods, late into the night. The locals all seemed very friendly and chatty. The town park was bustling with basketball, soccer and jazzercise activities. We could see why people, mostly young, would gravitate to this festive atmosphere.

In deference to my fragile stomach and bad knee, we found a regular sized inter-city bus to take us back to Puerto Morelos and El Cid. We spent a few more days at the marina before departing for points south on May 2. The original plan was to go to Cozumel and do the clearing out paperwork there, but after further contemplation on the ins and outs of finding all the right officials, the rough anchorage, limited dinghy access, and beating into headwinds while crossing the strong current flowing northward, we opted to pay the local agent at El Cid and do our clearing out there. The fees seemed outrageous but, like walking to the 7-11 on the corner for a quart of milk vs driving five miles to the supermarket in order to pay less, sometimes convenience is well worth the cost.

The sail down the coast was lively but slow. The trick along the Yucatan is to hug the shoreline to avoid the worst of the northward current but watch out for the reefs. Hug–as in stay in the 50-75 foot depth zone. We had some success at finding the groove, but during the night, we tended to stay further off shore and go slower. The charts for this area are not very detailed, so we chose to err on the side of caution.

Our intended destination was Bahia de la Ascension but we arrived too early in the morning and so, went in to Bahia Del Espiritu Santo a little further south. It was such a peaceful anchorage we decided to spend a few nights there. We’d had enough of the rolly beam seas and this stopover helped Amy to recover from her mysterious lethargy-inducing ailment along with her scalded leg–the result of boiling hot tea spilling on her during the rough passage.

From Espiritu Santo, it was another overnight passage to Ambergris Caye in Belize (Cay, Caye and Key all mean the same thing–a small, low elevation sandy island formed upon a coral reef.) We arrived mid morning, pumped up and launched our inflatable, then cleaned ourselves up to go ashore and deal with Belizean customs and immigration. No agents here–it’s all do-it-yourself.

The process turned out to be fairly easy, just expensive in a mysterious way. $100 to immigration, $50 to customs, $80 to Agriculture/Health and $240 to the Port Authority. (All fees are in Belizean dollars–two to one US) The Port Authority guy was the only one who had a written schedule of fees and who gave us a receipt.

The good part though, was that no official asked to come aboard our boat. Having read some blog postings about the negative aspects of inspections by Belizean officials, we considered ourselves lucky. Not that we have anything to hide, of course, it’s just a huge, time-consuming hassle.

We spent the next morning checking out the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We met some fine young snorkel tour operators who generously allowed us to tie up our dinghy to their dock.

Later that day (Friday, May 8) we headed the short distance to Caye Caulker where the anchorage is on the west side away from the strong winds and choppy seas. Our anchor had trouble digging in back at Ambergris so we switched to a different style to see if it would do better at Caulker. It worked to a point but then pulled out bringing a huge clump of sand and grass. After a few tries all with the same results, we went back to our standard, everyday anchor and got the hold we were hoping for. A good thing as the winds have been 20+knots ever since.

Saturday, we ventured into town. Amy had been here by land several years back so, she was somewhat familiar with the lay of the land. Like San Pedro, Caye Caulker is a tourist town with many restaurants, bars and vendors only more laid back. Not that San Pedro is like New York City or anything.

We’ll hang out here a while and then try our luck going through Porto Stuck–the infamous shallow passage that is the only inside route to the southern cayes.

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