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Much of the fun of traveling is getting there.  A greater challenge can be getting around once you do.

Get Your Beach Gear HereThe first time I went to Cozumel we didn't give a thought to transportation. The hotel shuttle picked us up from the airport and delivered us to our hotel.  After settling in we called a taxi for an unexpectedly expensive ride into town.  After several such rides we got smart—or so we thought and rented a car from a kid off the street.  As Forest Gump says, “stupid is as stupid does,” and our experiences with that car left us feeling profoundly stupid, although it also left us with many amusing memories.

It started when we chose the car from a list of pictures shown us.  A beautiful convertible for a reasonable price; what could be cooler?  We were going to be the babe magnets of the islands.  Reality check.  The car was a '60s era Volkswagen bug with the top chopped off.  Some convertible.  It was definitely NOT the hot rod we were shown.  It was also the only wheels left. So, reluctantly, we took the car.  The driver’s seat was all the way back and my legs couldn’t reach the pedals.  No problemo, just move it forward, right.  Nope, the lever was rusted through.  Necessity being the mother of invention I crammed backpacks and other stuff behind my back allowing my feet to just barely touch the pedals but not enough to shift smoothly. As we lurched off into the sunset we started laughing hysterically.  We had been royally shafted. 

This time around, we raised our intelligence quotient and obtained references. As in many places, in Cozumel it's all about who you know.  The level of service or care is directly proportional to the quality person of referring you.  This is because on the island there isn't a lot of money to advertise, so many services use a referral system with a gratuity.  So the good guys who expect to be around a while hook up with great services. We got really lucky this time.

Several friends directed us to an agency called SMART rent-a-car.  SMART rent-a-car has an office located conveniently across from the airport. You can phone from the airport for a pickup, take a taxi, or save money and walk over.  It's just a small walk; the building is visible from the airport parking lot. William Pat Tamayo is the owner, an affable gentleman who is attentive to detail and very service oriented.  The car he provided us was bright red and spotlessly clean, (something we soon changed as we explored the back roads of Cozumel ).  It was also a Volkswagen bug convertible but the name was the only thing in common with our last vehicle.  This car was well cared for and it was fun to drive.  After quickly filling out the necessary paperwork we picked up the kids and sped off, wind blowing our hair, singing, "I wish I were a Mexican Ferrari. That is what I really want to be.  Cause if I were a Mexican Ferrari, all the men would be in love with me!"  Oh, yeah, we were babe magnets! 

We made many memories in our little red bug.  At first we were timid with our travels.  We found the traffic terrifying.  One friend, who referred us to SMART rent-a-car, told us to be extra careful.  He reminded us that we were used to traffic rules in the states and "in Cozumel there are no rules."  An exaggeration perhaps, but not by much!  Taxis especially played chicken with us.  They would fly up beside us and begin to pass despite there being only one lane.  And invariably I would slam on the brakes and allow them to go by.  I began to wonder if all the taxi drivers knew of these fearful gringas and were just playing games with us. After a couple days I got really mad. I started glaring at the taxi drivers to let them know that I most certainly would not pull over and we began to enjoy our rides.

At times motor scooters would roar past with only inches to spare between us and a parked car and I lived in fear that I would squash a motorist; or a whole family of motorists since many scooters and bikes have quite a crowd piled on.  No one seemed to worry as they swerved past us and I rethought the meaning of blind faith.  Several times I waited at a red light, only to be honked at by the car behind or waved on by a policeman. I never quite figured out if a red light meant stop or if it is equivalent to our yellow caution lights back home. Or if it perhaps varies by odd days of the week or hours of the day.  I fully intend to solve the mystery on my next trip.  I also discovered many speed bumps on the main road South out of San Miguel and since I iusually forgot about them the children quickly learned to holler "speed bump" if they didn't want to get their teeth jarred.

Rent a Car WorldwideIn Cozumel a car is an absolute necessity if you want to really get to know the island.  There are many lovely places to go and wonderful people to meet.  Sadly, many tourists are told not to explore because of safety issues. My best friend has been to the island over 20 times in the past ten years and has never encountered a dangerous situation.  She and I have been there twice together and we have thoroughly explored the island and been treated with nothing but respect.  One night as we were wandering along the oceanfront at two a.m. we remarked that this is not something either of us would do in our own hometowns.  But San Miguel was peaceful and quiet and the waves lapping at the seawall were about the only sounds we heard except for the distant sound of Señor Frogs and an occasional scooter taking a pair of lovers home.

Since we had a car we often packed a hotel lunch and headed to distant Paradise Beach Club where the white sand beach is open to everyone and many of the amenities are free.  There is a big climbing "iceberg" for the adventurous and plenty of lounge chairs for the lazy or the sun worshippers. Shoppers find many bargains while braids or massages are available on the beach as are many various boating options.  The food there is good and reasonable priced and the drinks are plentiful.  Because of the well-planned club and good advertising many cruise ship folks spend their days there, but it isn't usually too crowded.  When we had enough of the tourists (surely WE don’t fit that category!) we headed on out to the other side of the island to catch some wave action.

One day we were stashing our stuff in the trunk of the bug.  As I leaned over to lock up the trunk I didn’t notice a line of taxi’s waiting for their rides.  As our group started laughing loudly I looked up and realized I was giving the folks quite an interesting view of my backside clad only in a skimpy bikini. Deciding to laugh instead of cry in embarrassment, I sucked in my gut, straightened my back and told the grinning drivers that I charged for the show.  After all, in Cozumel, everyone finds a unique way to make a few dollars! 

Surf's Up on the Wild Side!

The “wild” side of Cozumel was quite a distance from our hotel and we were glad we didn’t pay a taxi for the trip. We were also grateful that we didn't have to march to another drumbeat but could pull over at each little beach that caught our eye.  As my friend and I left our upscale hotel, loaded with boogie boards, water bottles, beach bags, and five kids, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies coming to town. Our poor little red bug groaned, but like the little engine that could, kept chugging along saying: "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."  And she did.  She took us to Punta Sur where we had our first view of the wild side of the island.

We all piled out in excitement. Our lone boy hit the waves, the teenage girls tried to get up their courage to jump in and the two little girls made sand castles.  We moms just sat and stared at the waves as they crashed in endlessly.  Nearby some rock outcroppings rose out of the ocean and we enjoyed tasting the sea as it sprayed into the air with each new wave. Our imaginations stirred with the ocean as we admired the gorgeous greens and blues that stretched to infinity.  We wondered where the waves had been and who had last tasted each briny one.  What lovers played in her shallows and what secrets lurked in her depths?  My friend and I felt a hushed reverence when we pondered the majesty before us.  But soon the kids intruded and the little red car carried us to the next beach. 

Punta Morena Beach.

We found one with great waves.  Big enough to excite the big kids; gentle enough not to frighten the little ones. Which lasted until we peered at the scratchy stuff in our swimsuits and found a scary mess of seaweed.  The little ones and I quickly decided to become castle builders and beachcombers for a while.  Shells and driftwood found their way into the little red car as we continued on around the island and found still another hideout.  This one was more to my liking. The beach was called Punta Morena and had no seaweed.  It also had great waves and we found out later this was a real surf site, although the days we were here we shared it with only a few others.  There is a neat little restaurant staffed with friendly people and several tiny cabins for those who wish to sleep over.  We spent several days in this idyllic place since there was something for each of us.   

On The

An interesting thing about travel is that inevitably, there will come a time that you will have transportation problems.  If you ride a donkey he will balk.  A camel will lie down.  A horse will throw you and return to the stable without you.  A scooter will run out of gas.  An airplane will be grounded.  And a car will have a flat tire.

Now, I am a country girl and my daddy taught me how to change a tire more years ago than I care to admit.  I can jump-start a car and conduct various other emergency repairs with nothing more than a screwdriver, wrench, or pair of pantyhose.  Except in Mexico.  The day my tire went flat was very nearly a disaster.  I had arranged to meet my friend to take her to an interview while I had coffee with another friend.

I left my hotel with a few minutes to spare and jumped in the car.  The bump, bump, bump told me the tire was flat. “No problem,” I reasoned.  As long as there is a spare I'll be on time. The spare was there and I lifted it out and reached for the jack. There wasn't one. Hmm . . . I though.  Surely a Volkswagen bug isn't too heavy, we can figure something out.  I'll just get the tire iron and a couple guys and we'll get on with it.  No tire iron either. I was beginning to panic.  I asked the hotel manager for help.  He had no tools either.  I began frantically asking other guests to check their trunks. Not one single car had anything. (The word bloody appears in my vocabulary when I get stressed and it was much in evidence that day.) I decided to call my friend and have her take a taxi to her meeting and cancel mine.  Of course, she had already left her room and was standing in front of the hotel waiting for me.  So the phone just rang and rang. At this point I was feeling hot, angry, and seriously demented.  All of a sudden I noticed activity around my car.  I rushed over, thinking someone had found the appropriate tools, and there was my darling bellboy and subsequent hero, Willy, pumping up my tire with a bicycle pump! I could have kissed that man.  Instead I gave him a big tip that he tried to refuse, but there was no way I wasn't going to tip him; he'd saved my neck. I rushed off frantically to meet my friend and arrived only slightly late for both of our appointments. The friend, who lived in Cozumel, asked me if I had called SMART rent-a-car.  I replied that it never occurred to me.

William's Smart Rent A Car
has great customer service.

I called them then to have the tire repaired and as we waited for them to arrive I realized the reason my tools were not in the car is that I wasn't expected to fix the thing myself.  A novel concept for a country girl.  Two gentleman from SMART rent-a-car brought me a new tire, changed it on the spot, and off I went, much happier and much wiser. So when I had a problem with what I assumed to be a dead battery I was quick to call the shop instead of playing girl mechanic. (Of course, this was after I found that cars in Cozumel don't carry jumper cables either!)  This time my rescuers brought me a new car until they were able to check out and fix the problem.  I finally realized that I didn't have to be "Miss Fixit" — SMART rent-a-car had me covered.  Fortunately, I never had to put my newfound knowledge to the test, as that was the last of my troubles.

We extended our rental a couple of times since we found we just couldn't be without a car and both times a simple phone call to William took care of things.  We had planned to return the car to the rental car location just off the square and take a taxi to the airport.  But in the end the little car served us valiantly one last time as I ferried all of us with our accumulated flotsam to the airport for the sad trip home. Then I drove over to the airport location to check out — then one of the SMART guys brought me back to catch my flight.

William, you and the SMART crew and cars helped the seven of us have a wonderful stay and you can be sure we will be back to find another little friend for our next adventure.

SMART-rent-cars can be reached several ways.  E-mail or When you arrive in Cozumel you may call them at 872-5651 or 872-0024.

Their downtown office is located at Ave. 10 North and Calle 1 South and as mentioned the airport office is just outside the airport.

There is a range of prices for vehicles from SMART rent-a-cars depending on season and pocket book. Currently there is a half price special going on if you visit the web site and print the page.

Requirements for renting are: Valid drivers license, major credit card, and be at least 21.  Don’t forget that in Mexico your car insurance from back home almost certainly DOES NOT cover you here.  So please, please, please, take the offered car insurance when you rent a car. Trust me when I say your vacation will be ruined by an accident if you don’t have the coverage.

By Bobbie Buchanan, Arkansas Correspondent.
Frommer's® Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan 2005

Frommer's® Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan 2005

Completely updated every year (unlike most of the competition), Frommer's Canczn, Cozumel & the Yucatan features gorgeous color photos of the stunning beaches, the colorful underwater world, and the mysterious Maya ruins that await you. This authoritative guide captures all the glitter of Canczn, as well as the more rustic and authentic charms of Cozumel, which boasts world-class diving and snorkeling in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The authors have lived in and written about Mexico for years, so they're able to provide candid reviews of all the beach resorts, the best local dining, and the latest, hottest nightlife.

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