Sunday, June 26, 2016

1MB Travels: Cancun, Mexico: Day 2: Scuba Adventures: Underwater Sculpture Gardens and My First Night Dive!

Our second day in Cancun fell on July 4th!  We celebrated freedom and independence remotely, by spending most of the day (and night) immersed in underwater adventure.

Though I am not a morning person at all, waking up to this gorgeous white sand and clear blue ocean at The Westin could easily make me a convert.
And the service was also fantastic - even though we were there on a 'rewards' stay using Starwood points, the hotel still gave us complimentary breakfast buffet for two in their lovely sunlit beachfront restaurant.

With a planned morning dive, we couldn't completely indulge in the AYCE breakfast, but I loved the fresh fruit offerings including whole granadilla (first time I've seen / tried this fruit), guava, mango, as well as the made to order omelettes.

Our first dive of the day would be at the Museo Subacuatico de Arte ( MUSA), an underwater museum with over 1300 artificial habitats, an innovative project designed to counteract effects of climate change on oceans and reef systems by diverting tourism away from the national marine park, and creating new places for reef and marine life to colonize and thrive. 

It was a choppy 40 mins-long boat ride from Cancun to reach MUSA, just off the coast of Isla Mujeres (don't forget the dramamine, people!) - but once we were underwater, it was utter calm.

There were several galleries in the MUSA collection, at varying depths to allow those who are more into snorkeling or free diving to enjoy viewings as well.

Our tour brought us first to a reef teeming with smaller fish.  These locals were super friendly and curious, and one little guy even seemed to follow me around through several clusters of coral.

Then it was on to an actual MUSA site, Salon Manchones, about 8 feet deep and recommended more to scuba divers.

The installations consisted of various objects sunk to create habitats for marine life, from a Volkswagen beetle with a statue in fetal position on its windshield, to groups of statues like 'The Bankers', bodies only in prone position next to briefcases.
But the most haunting installation for me was a group of 400+ life-size standing figures in The Silent Evolution galleries, by renowned British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor: some faces uplifted with pleading expressions - as if souls abandoned to the sea, looking for salvation that never comes.

As we are relatively new to scuba diving and sought diversity of experiences to add to our PADI log book, this was an interesting one - but personally I find that I prefer dives designed around larger marine life (or cenotes, which was scheduled for Day 3 of this trip!).

In any case, apparently diving is a good form of exercise - we emerged from the sea starving, so very uncharacteristically opted for the closest seafood shack to the dive shop. This happened to be on the lively Disco Beach.  First things first at Paradise Restaurante, a tamarindo margarita with chips and salsa. 
Of course, what beach vacation would be complete without a pina colada or three?  And when served in a pineapple?  All the better.  Though, I wasn't into the crazy Gremlin inspired face they made with fruit.  But the cocktail was refreshing on a scorching day at the beach.
When seaside, we try to of course dine accordingly - focusing on seafood.  Even though Paradise Restaurante was chosen based on expedience, and clearly catered to tourist tastes, we tried to go with the fresher sounding seafood items on the menu.  And, we were amused by the banner over the kitchen's pass - I'd love to be on a #seafooddiet for sure.
I ended up with fried whole fish, while others at the table ordered seafood tacos.

We also shared a plate of crabs, which were tasty but on the smaller side, with not that much meat for the price.

We had such fun with Cancun Scuba Center during the day that we decided to return that evening for our first night dive.  This departs from a different dock, next to the Holiday Inn in hotel zone.  It's easy enough to get around in the hotel zone using public transportation - the buses that go up and down the strip are only $1 per trip!  But since we had Tulum on the itinerary for the next day, our travel planner / agent extraordinaire @jennybawel had planned ahead and secured a rental car - so while we did our night dive Jenny took care of the car rental.

To be perfectly honest, the night dive was nerve-wracking for me, especially as a newish diver and not a very strong swimmer - the first few minutes were every bit as disorienting as I thought it would be.  We were supplied with flashlights, and outside of the immediate foot or so that the light is able to reach, it was pitch black underwater.  I was glad for the light, but it was one more thing to need to worry about among the many necessary steps you had to take to descend underwater safely - I heard myself breathing faster and deeper breaths in my nervousness.

Only two things helped me not drain all the air out of my tank before I even reach sea bed - our guide, who reassuringly let me hang onto his arm the whole time, and a giant sea turtle, who showed up a few minutes into our dive, curious to see what these bubble-making monsters were that was invading  his territory.  He swam right up to us and alongside us for what seemed like 5 minutes, and was joined by another turtle friend for a bit.  It was thoroughly magical.  I was too nervous to bring my GoPro down for the night dive, so no videos unfortunately - but it was kind of refreshing too, to just be in the moment, or as yoga teachers like to say, to be "present" - instead of engaging from behind a lens.  And it was a beautiful one, that I will never forget.

After the dive, Jenny picked us up and we grabbed quick food - restaurant selection again based on convenience post dive - at Mextreme, where tourist-friendly chefs prepared guacamole for us tableside.  Thus wrapped a fun Day 2 in Cancun.

Looking for more activity ideas for Cancun / Tulum / the Yucatan? Check out how we maximized our trip in my recaps of Day 1, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5. Look out for recaps of Days 4 and 5 coming soon. For more photos from this trip, check out my Instagram @onemorebiteblog


Cancun, Mexico
Westin Cancun
Boulevard Kukulcan KM 20, Cancun, Quintana Roo 77500, Mexico 
Ph: +52 (998) 848-7400

Salon Manchones

Cancun Scuba Center


Paradise Restaurante at Disco Beach
Blvd. Kukulcan Km. 6.5 Local 8, Playa Tortugas, Zona Hotelera, 77500 CancĂșn

Night Dive
Cancun Scuba Center

Mextreme Cancun
Zona Hotelera Km 9 | (Frente Al Centro de Convenciones), Cancun 77500

Day 2 costs breakdown:
  • Breakfast buffet: $0 cost, complimentary with hotel stay; $10 USD tip
  • MUSA + Reef dive $83pp + $20 tip 
  • Lunch: $30
  • Rental car: $120 for 3 days = $40 per day split 4 ways = $10 per person per day
  • Gas for rental car: 600 pesos for 3 days = 200 pesos per day split 4 ways = 50 pesos per person per day (~$2.64 USD pp / day)
  • Bus to night dive: $1pp
  • Night dive: + $20 tip
  • Dinner: $45
  • Westin Resort & Spa Cancun: 8,500 Starwood points
  •  Total: ~$221.64 USD per person 

(Check out how we maximized our trip in my other recaps for Day 1, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5.  Check out more photos from this trip on my Instagram @onemorebiteblog)

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