I do not recommend this trip for cruise ship passengers visiting Cozumel for the day or anyone with major health issues or injuries. Read on for the why…
Our trip started the night before. We put 6 liters of bottled water in the freezer and 3 additional liters in the refrigerator. This will keep the water cold all day and also serve as your refrigeration for lunch. We bought empanadas from a local taco shop, they are easy to eat and stay fresher than a pre-made sandwich. I also brought a Tupperware container of blueberries and nuts and dried fruit for snacks. We were out the door at 5:45 am and there are very few places open to pick up lunch or eat breakfast. If you’re staying at an all-inclusive, ask them to prepare your meals in advance. A good protein breakfast and a bottle of electrolytes is the best way to start. The trip is long and the sun is hot!
Drive east on Benito Juarez, also known as the Transversal road, until you get to the end. The off-road trail head is just before Mezcalitos on the left. Take a picture of the sign to the right of the trail head so you know the names of the ruins you can see. There are no facilities and there are no restaurants, this is truly off the beaten path. You are unlikely to meet up with other human beings with the exception of the military, more on that to come. Ladies, you will need to be comfortable going primitive when it’s time to pee!
We completely forgot to check the kilometers on the ATV before we started out, I’ll update this the next time we go and if there are any changes in trail conditions.
You won’t be on the trail very long when you get to a very large puddle. There is a go around to the right, use it. It is not super deep but alligators (or crocodiles, I don’t pretend to know the difference!) are known to hide here.
It took about 45 minutes to reach our first stop at the Hanan II ruins. The ride was pretty easy and enjoyable. We stopped for a break and to take pictures. We brought our drone but decided not to take it up unless we had battery power left on the return. Hanan II is small, it appears excavated but not maintained. There isn’t a lot of brush around it so you can climb in to it. It has a lovely view of the ocean!
The trail turns very rocky past Hanan II until you arrive at the military post. Soldiers are stationed here for weeks at a time and they patrol the empty beaches in this area for drugs that wash up on shore. If you plan to go further, stop at the post and let them know where you are going and how long you expect to be in the area. It is a courtesy as well as a safety precaution in case you run out of gas, get lost, injured, etc. If you do not speak Spanish, use Google translate before you go for the phrases you will need in Spanish. Write them down or use the Notes function of your iPhone (there is no cell service or wifi on the trail). The soldiers we met are very friendly and helpful. They let us know that there were other soldiers at and on their way to our destination, Punta Molas.
Once we passed the post we made our next stop at Playa Bonita. It is beautiful and very secluded but the surf dumps an incredible amount of trash onto the beach. Remember that 70's anti-pollution commercial with the crying Indian? That was how I felt seeing this.
Our next stop, about 2 hours into the trip is another ruin, Castillo Real. Like Hanan II, it appears excavated but not maintained. Be careful if you plan to climb it. It is not as tall as other “castle” ruins but the stairs have crumbled and the rocks can be slippery and loose. The view is stunning.
The park sign at the site states, “In ancient times, the Mayan knew and respected the sea and the coral reefs. This structure was built around the year 900 a.d. it is believed that this temple functioned as a lighthouse, marker for navigating and a ceremonial site. Enjoy and conserve the cultural heritage of Cozumel”.
The ride past Castillo Real is beautiful jungle with a lot of palm trees, native birds and butterflies, and yay, hummingbirds! The trail is a mixture of deep sand and loose rocky terrain. Parts of the ride are very Jurassic Park like – as you drive through the jungle, tons of geckos will run across your path. It was kinda amusing only because we didn’t run any over! Parts of the jungle greenery was so thick it blocked the sun.
Our next stop was the Hanan I ruin. I am not finding any information on these ruins so I will be doing more research and will update as I get more information. We almost missed this ruin as it is surrounded by greenery and flower bushes. It is not easily accessible on 3 sides and about 5 feet high so I held my camera over the top and snapped a few shots.
Our next stop was Punta Molas. We arrived around 9:30 am so it took us about 3 hours. There were two soldiers in a Humvee there to pick up two additional soldiers that had walked along the beach from their post. The sun was hot and they walked that distance in full gear. Huge respect! I don’t know if we needed it but we asked anyway for permission to climb the lighthouse.
But first we rested, hydrated, and had a snack. Although we are mostly aerial photographers, sometimes one must lie on the ground and take a shot of real goodness! We spent an hour capturing drone footage of the lighthouse and surrounding areas and taking photographs and then climbed to the top of the lighthouse. Do not do this if you are not physically fit. The lighthouse is surrounded by a concrete wall that is over 6 feet high. The ladder is two pieces of wood with rungs attached by rope. We ended up pulling that awesome ladder over to the other side of the wall to get down since the ladder on the interior side was not secure. The stairs inside the lighthouse are sturdy cement and it is an easy climb until you near the top. The rest of the stairs are wood, narrow, and a little loose with a hanging rope as a banister. There are 2 very good head bumping spots as you climb the narrow, wooden, loose stairs and at the door to get out onto the lighthouse deck. And it’s not so much a door as it is a very small window. It could be a tight squeeze for the very tall! The view is worth climb though! And guess what? There is cell service here so we were able to check in and post a selfie on Facebook! We knew this because one of the soldiers told us.
After the climb we ate lunch, hydrated again, and drank a bottle of electrolytes. We then decided to continue exploring and took the ATV around the northern point heading southwest. There had been several days of rain prior to our trip so we did not end up going very far. I would imagine one could go further but the trail was covered with murky and probably biting bug infested waters so we chose to skip it. It was worth the ride to that point to see pelicans, grey heron, and pink spoonbills. (images 269, 283, 294)
We headed back past Punta Molas and then to Castillo Real to use up the last drone battery. We made our last stop at the military post to rest, chat, and let them know we were leaving.
All in all, the trip was adventurous and fun, off the beaten track, and away from the tourism. If you are going to go, you will need to rent an ATV. The 4WD is disabled in all rental Jeeps in Cozumel so do not attempt it. There is no method of rescue in this area of the island and any car rental insurance you purchase will not cover this activity. Drivers should have experience with off-roading or find a guide. The sand is deep in some areas and the rocks can be loose. If you go after heavy rains as we did, there is a lot of erosion and flooded areas of the trail. Stay hydrated and bring enough electrolytes to replenish the spent ones. The ride is rough and the sun is hot, the electrolytes will help. There is safety in numbers so go with at least 3 ATV's if possible. At minimum, pack a cooler with cold water, electrolytes, lunch, and snacks and bring sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, and toilet paper. A camera or your Go Pro and you’re all set! I put a pillow on the back of the ATV seat for extra comfort and brought some towels. And of course, the drone! A good rule to remember is to take out what you bring in. Most importantly, have fun!
Necessities to bring:
- A minimum of one gallon of water per person
- Bug spray
- Lunch and snacks
- Electrolytes – 625 ml bottles are sold at all grocery and OXXO stores (2 bottles per person)
- Roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag for the waste
- Optional for comfort – pillow and extra towels
If you don’t feel this trip is right for you but you still want to see this part of the island you can find Adrian Cozumel on Facebook. He will bring you to Punta Molas by boat. His tour is still off the beaten track, you will learn a lot, it’s not quite as physical, and he provides the food and beer! Win win!