Thorpe, my husband, and I sip coffee on an open-air deck of the Norwegian Dream, admiring the glorious, clouded sunrise. The ship anchors outside of the port of Cancun, where an enormous Mexican flag waves over the skyline of resorts, casinos, and shops. In the last 20 years, what once was a small fishing village has become a favorite destination for tourists on the Yucatan Peninsula.
After a quick, tender ride to the pier, we catch a taxi to Marina Blue Ray, where we have reservations for the speedboat and snorkeling jungle tour. Each boat holds two passengers. There are 10 boats in a group. We follow Marco, our guide, across the Nichupte Lagoon, along the shoreline of the Moon Palace Resort, then through mangroves in El Garrafon National Park in Isla Mujeres. Stopping in this ocean-reef park, Marco ties our group of boats together in a semicircle. We put on our fins, life jackets, and snorkel masks, then plunge into the cool water to explore a living reef with 15 kinds of coral and 100 species of fish. I take Marco’s hint and keep my arms wrapped around my waist for warmth as I swim behind him along the 1,050-foot reef.
Marco sprinkles bread crumbs on the ocean floor to tease the exotic fish. Some fish camouflage well with the green and brown aquatic plants; white sand; and tall, spindly coral, while others, like the angelfish, stand out with bold colors of purple, dark yellow, and orange. Clam and conch shells lie among the plants, and on the seabed 10 feet below, a stingray glides in front of me, but just my luck, I already had used the last picture in my underwater camera. After snorkeling for 45 minutes, we climb back into our boats and chug some fresh water before playing follow-the-leader as we weave our way back to the marina in our speedboats.
I arranged our reservations for the 2.5-hour tour though Viator Vacations (below) for $55 per person. The taxi ride from the cruise to Marina Blue Ray costs $14 one-way for two people. To get a little cheaper taxi rate, take the complimentary bus from the cruise pier to Flamingo Plaza, about halfway to the marina, and then catch a taxi from there.
Admission to El Garrafon National Park for the entire day is a bargain. The rates range from $13.64 to $53.64, depending upon which package you choose. Internet bookings are cheaper. The $53.64 package includes transportation to the park from your hotel, transportation to the reef, snorkeling equipment, a guided cruise-boat tour, swimming pool use, towels, inner tubes, kayaks, hammocks, a buffet at Tamarindo Restaurant, a snack bar, and more. You must use biodegradable sunscreen at the reef, available for purchase at the marina or park for about $5.
If you are on a cruise ship, keep in mind that the last tender back to your ship usually leaves 1 hour before the actual stated departure time. It takes approximately 8 to 10 minutes from the marina to the pier.
Speedboat and Snorkeling Jungle Tour
El Garrafon National Park, Isla Mujeres