Off season in Cozumel.

September is off-season in Cozumel. One reason is the heat.  But with the ocean only a few yards away, and shops and hotels well air-conditioned, heat is not a reason to stay away.

I chose to visit in September to enjoy the National Celebration of Independence. I had stumbled on to the celebration a few years earlier and was charmed by the way the whole island turned out for the events.  This is an opportunity to mingle with the locals and meet folks you might not otherwise encounter.  There are parades, carnival rides, and foods of all flavors, plus costumes, fireworks, and smiles all around.  This is the Cozumel I came seeking.

Arrive by ship, boat, or plane.

Cozumel is a major cruise ship stop.

I flew in early one morning with no place to stay.  Accommodations had fallen through at the last minute.  But I did not want to miss the celebration.  I sent a quick e-mail to a friend, asking him to see if the Flamingo could put me up and boarded the plane.  I landed in Cozumel and, as always, felt my stress melt away in the salty scent of the island and the feel of the breeze on my face.

Transportation at the airport is a little odd.  In an arrangement that I have yet to understand, taxis are not allowed to pickup at the airport.  If you are staying at a hotel there are shuttles, but if you are staying in a private home, friends pick you up.  Or not. Thus many times, my friends and I have schlepped our stuff out of the airport until we can find a taxi off premise.  This is not a recommended option due to sudden downpours, especially if you are carrying a lot of high tech equipment.  On this trip, I hopped a shuttle to the Flamingo and asked them to wait a moment to see if a room was available.  There was, so I decamped.  Walking into the foyer, a stranger at the bar knew my name.  My friend had come through for me and the welcome mat was out.

Hotel Flamingo is in the heart of San Miguel.

Tom Fryer has owned Hotel Flamingo for about 11 years.  He stayed here while diving, got to know the owner and decided to buy.  He bought the hotel with plans to stay stateside and run it long distance.  Plans changed and Tom became a resident.  Having the owner onsite makes life easier for the guests.  Stop by and meet Tom.  He is a wealth of information about the island and works hard to make your stay enjoyable. 

The bed swan awaits your arrival.

Double the fun with family.

Hotel Flamingo has 22 rooms and suites.

The Flamingo Hotel is a Mexican Colonial Style Hotel in downtown Cozumel, on Calle 6 Norte, half a block off Melgar, (the main oceanfront drive), just North of the Museum.  Contact Hotel Flamingo at You can also phone 1-(800) 806-1601.Another way is to just show up.

Most of the time they will find you a room, although during high season this could be risky. This is not a fancy, all-inclusive type place.  This is a home away from home for those who want to sleep and eat well in a safe and comfortable place and spend most of their dollars on doing rather than staying. If getting to know the island and her people and experiencing Cozumel like a local is your vacation idea, this is a good place to stay.

There are twenty rooms plus the Penthouse Villa at the Flamingo. Most of the rooms open onto the balcony, which overlooks the central fountain courtyard in the center of the hotel.  The feeling is light and airy.  Rooms are spotless and simply appointed.  Two double beds in each courtyard room are comfortable, and the individual air conditioners keep the rooms cold.

The Penthouse Villa is located on the rooftop sundeck of the Flamingo.  If watching the sunset is on your agenda, as it should be, this is your place.  From here you can see the party boats going on sunset cruises and have a quiet moment to review the day.  On one memorable occasion I worshipped at the shrine of the Great Pumpkin until it finally dissolved into the sea.  If island solitude is your wish, then both the Penthouse and this balcony are recommended. The Penthouse has two bedrooms and a fully stocked kitchen.

It faces the sunset and the sea and is quiet and comfortable.

Dine on the Hotel Flamingo patio.

Some rooms have mini-bars and mosquito nettings although in my experience mosquitoes are only a problem after hurricane force rains.  A pool table is located on the second floor balcony. This was kept busy during my stay by a couple of teenage pool sharks. 

Service at the Flamingo is always good.  The hotel is small enough that the staff knows everyone’s face and name.  Laundry service is available and fast as is room service.  The Concierge service will help you plan excursions and make sure your visit is all you could hope for. Diving, golf, horseback riding, cross-island excursions, beach hopping; you can make arrangements for as much or as little as you like.

In-room safes keep valuables locked up and direct-dial phones are a nice touch.  Superior rooms have extra space and have balconies or sitting areas. Wireless Internet is available. The shower had ample hot water but it took a while to warm up.  This fit in nicely with my routine.  I would jump up and turn on the water, then watch a few minutes of news to wake up. Unlike several other places I stayed on the island, the TV has several English channels, including ESPN and CNN – the British version.

Other onsite fun is a Saturday band. I missed this as I was out on the town enjoying the festivities there; another reason to come back.  Television is always on in the bar.  Join new friends there to watch news, movies, or just talk.  Also in the bar is a house computer, which you can use for e-mail or Internet.  You may also bring your own laptop and connect over the house wireless service. (If you are out and about, Cozumel has many Internet cafes where you can connect for just a few pennies.  Make sure, however, that if you do this, you delete all traces of your visit.  Once I failed to do this and my Instant messaging account was highjacked.)

Dine in at Hotel Flamingo, or . . .
discover Fiesta goodies in town.

Dining out can be expensive in Cozumel unless you learn to eat where the locals do.  A kitchen is a nice touch and the grocery stores, Chedraui’s and San Francisco, have everything you could need to cook with at reasonable prices.  Individual bottles of water island-wide are expensive, but you can by it by the gallon or five gallon and keep in your room.  If water is your beverage of choice, this is a must.

Close to everything important, but off the beaten path, Hotel Flamingo is simple and unpretentious with plenty of booze and life’s other necessities. The Aqua bar in Hotel Flamingo, is an easy place to make conversation and friends if you are gregarious, or hibernate if you are not.  

Hemingway sat at the bar.  Only in my dreams perhaps but, were he a contemporary, this would be his hangout.
Ivan and Julian man things competently and unobtrusively.  If it is drink you need it is served up quickly and cold; conversation or information are dispensed with equal civility.

One makes friends easily here.  Hotel regulars often meet for breakfast to exchange ideas for the day’s events, and shut the night down with a drink.  Conversation is often desultory, but recently a group of us solved the world’s political problems then later saved the environment! Many Expats stop in here to check their e-mail, (free internet use with a food or drink purchase) watch satellite TV or just spend a few minutes chatting up their friends.

Hotel Flamingo is known for its seafood . . .

. . . and Fiesta fare!

Meals are served at the bar or on several tables scattered in the bar area from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  An open-air courtyard with a small fountain is a quiet spot to share a meal or a drink and there is a larger dining area under roof in case of the occasional bad weather.

The food is well presented and tasty and the chef and staff try hard to please. Complimentary room service is available when the restaurant and bar are open. American or Mexican breakfasts are served along with plenty of hot coffee for the bleary eyed trying to fit too much fun into too little time! The Flamingo is close to downtown and within easy walking distance of several eateries if the onsite restaurant doesn’t suit.

Freshness is just around the
corner at vendor stalls.

Directly across the street from the Flamingo is a tiny Mom and Pop called IL Morrito III.  I recommend them for inexpensive, authentic Mexican food.  Tell them the gringa that eats Enchiladas with Mole sauce sent you. (Note: I have no idea what mole sauce is-no matter, it is heavenly.)  I routinely grabbed a bite there before hitting the shopping district or had them pack a lunch for my trips around the island.  It is inexpensive and delicious.  They will quickly come to know your face and I received a warm hug despite a long absence.

Uphill from Il Morrito III on the corner is another restaurant, called El Candela. It has good food for around $5-$7.  It is only open for lunch. Turn right at the corner and walk a block south to Zermatt, a little pastry shop, for breakfast.  They have a bakery on-site with fresh goodies made all day long.  This is a personal favorite.  I like to sit at one of the tables on the tiny porch with an early morning coffee and watch passersbys.

Cozumel discounts.

Another place close by, La Veranda, a Restaurant Bar and Garden came highly recommended by some Flamingo Guests.  It is located on Calle 4 between Avenida 5 and Avenida 10; click for website. The price is moderately expensive, $25 and up per person. Check out their website for specials before you go.  It is a lovely place with veranda dining overlooking a backyard garden and gazebo, or you can eat inside.

The following website is a good one if you wish to plan ahead for your dining choices. The reviewer lives on island and this is a great way to find some food you otherwise might miss.  Don’t be afraid to venture away from the main parts of town and try something different.  You won’t be sorry.

Continuing south from Zermatt is the Town Square where shopping, music, and people watching are the main sports.  If you exit the Flamingo and turn right, toward the water, you will pass some smaller stores on your way to the waterfront where the tourist row of upscale, expensive shops is located.  These small stores are locally run and directly support the local economy.  Emilio specializes in hand-made jewelry and others have handmade Mexican offerings. The day before I left, an iguana had visited one of the shopkeepers.  The lizard lay passively in his hands and I asked if it was dead.  He smiled and put it down, upon which the creature attempted a get-a-way, hissing loudly when he recaptured it.

History on parade
during Cozumel's fiesta.

Anytime you go, Cozumeleños give good service and plentiful smiles.  This is an island of friendly people who have learned how to spoil their tourists. The island has plenty to offer any time of the year.  High season is fun if you like the energy of the crowds and the perfect weather.  Any other time is still mighty fine.  Service in September is good all around the island.  The Flamingo staff has plenty of time to pamper their visitors.  They are bored and eager for the opportunity to practice their skills.

September is known as hungry-time for islanders.  It is too late to benefit from last years season and too soon for the holidays. It is a great time to go if you don’t mind a little daytime heat and you score extra points for helping the local economy.  Discounts are available on nearly everything, so strapped for cash penny pinchers will benefit.

The sea is perfect, nights are fairly cool, lots of local activities are going on, and it isn’t too crowded to do what you want when you want.   The Cozumeleños put on a smile and make the best of it. They know that sooner or later, everyone returns to paradise.  I know I will.

Feature by Bobbi Buchanan, Jetsetters Magazine Arkansas Correspondent. Photos by Bobbi and courtesy of the Hotel Flamingo.