Riviera Maya Archives

July 22, 2009

Croco Cun Zoo

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy Croco Cun Zoo, an animal park located on Highway 307, a few miles north of Puerto Morelos, but unless you have kids with you or you are a kid inside, you may not want to spend the US$20 entrance fee (US$12 for kids over 6) to do so. While the zoo it's cool, in my humble opinion, it's not worth such an exorbitant entrance fee. But what do I know? My kids (7 & 4 yo) rated it as their favorite experience of the trip, along with playing with puppies at Ek Balam.

Your visit to the zoo consists of a 1.5 hour guided tour of the facilities. They have tours in English and Spanish, but you may have to wait until there are enough people to start a tour (we did the Spanish one to skip the wait). Our tour guide, at least, was very knowledgeable on the animals at the zoo and able to answer all my questions. Signs at the zoo suggest guests tip tour guides - we gave her MN$20. You will also want to buy a bag of food to feed the animals (or rather, one bag per kid you bring along), they are a couple of dollars each.

The tour starts with a visit to some parrots - the colorful birds come from all over the continent, one is free but the other ones are in cages. The parrots love to be fed peanuts, make sure you give one to each, as they get jealous!.

Next stop are the crocodiles. Here you will find some of the smaller members of the family - babies up to 4-5 years old. It will be just your first opportunity to see them. Croco Cun is very aptly named, they have TONS of crocodiles. If you like to see inert lizards holding still for hours, you will have no better opportunity. And indeed, you will have the opportunity here to walk along a path within the crocodile enclosure, with dozens of seemingly satiated relatively small (as in 1m or so) crocodiles inches away from your ankles. All they'd had to do was to jump and off with your feet, but for some reason they prefer to just stay there completely immobile. Still, it's a cool experience.

You will also get to look at a number of snakes, most of them in cages, and hold one or two around your neck. They have iguanas of different colors (you'll get to pet one) and turtles (no petting these, but you can feed them grapes). There are a couple of very cool tigrillos, which were laying in a worrisome small mesh cage, and a deer enclosure. The native deer are pretty short, and impossibly cute. You can feed them local leaves - they'll come to you when you shake them - and they will go crazy over the carrots, sunflower seeds and peanuts in your food bag. I think feeding them (and petting them) is the part the kids enjoyed the most.

The part that should be the most fun is the feeding of the monkeys. There are a number of wild and "freed" spider monkeys hanging around the zoo, and they will play for food: grapes, when they are really hungry early in the morning, and bananas later on. Alas, by the time we got there, around 12:30 PM or so, they were fully satiated and they couldn't care less about our food offerings. I think the experience would have been much more rewarding if the monkeys had approached us. So if you go, go before other tourists have had the chance to feed the monkeys.

And that's pretty much it. If you go, make SURE you use a lot of mosquito repellent - the mosquitoes are merciless here. You can buy drinks, snacks, ice cream and mosquito repellent at the entrance.

In all, it was a nice experience, just too expensive for my taste.

Croco Cum Zoo

Parrot kissing Mika

Mika holding a crocodile

Mika with snake around her head

Kids feeding deer

Deer eating from Mika's hand


July 23, 2009

Sandos Caracol Beach Resort & Spa - Playa del Carmen - Review

The Sandos Caracol resort is a 3-star all inclusive beach resort,
neither more or less than that. We went there with almost no
expectations, and found it to be a mostly pleasant place to be, with
mostly a very cheerful and dedicated staff. It offered nice, if aging,
accommodations, standard food, and a reasonably nice pool and slice of
beach. Probably its best feature was the kids' club which my kids loved.

How I chose the hotel

The Sandos Caracol resort, along with the Viva Wyndham Maya, had the cheapest rates I could find for the two nights in July I was looking for. I figured that it'd be nice to check
out a different resort, so I went for the Caracol.

Finding the hotel

I made the reservations through the Sandos website, which provided me
with the wrong address and directions for the hotel. That meant that we
spent about an hour driving back and forth around Playa del Carmen,
trying to find it. Finally, we ended up at the Sandos Playacar, where a
helpful guard told us how to get to the Caracol. Once we knew how to
get there, it was relatively easy to do.

To find the hotel from the south, drive past Playa del Carmen until you see a sign for the Grand Coral resort, go into this complex and then follow the signs for the Sandos. There are currently no signs for the Sandos on the road. If coming from the north, look for the Grand Coral signs before Playa del Carmen proper.

Check In / Out

The checking in process was quick and painless. I explained what
happened to the receptionist, who was understanding and called the
manager, who clearly couldn't care less and did not even offer an
apology (much less an upgrade or anything). Ricardo, the receptionist,
did put us in a very nice standard (what we've reserved) room, a stone
throw away from the pool and the beach. He did, however, passed us on
to our “private concierge”, who I expect was meant to try to sell us
into a timeshare. She somehow realized that that was not in the cards,
so gave us some info about the hotel, offered us a free day at the
Sandos Playacar (worth US$90, she said, but the Playacar was only US$20
more a night when I was making reservations), which we declined, and
sent us in our way.

The Caracol is a "bracelet" hotel, which means you have to wear a bracelet throughout your stay.

The check out process was just as painless. I returned my keys and towel cards (make sure to not lose these, there is a US$50 charge for each card that is not returned), got a piece of paper to give to a bell-boy, and that was that.


The kids and I thought that our room was pretty nice. It wasn't
particularly big, but we liked the blue and yellow color combination
(being a Cal graduate, maybe I'm biased towards these colors).
The room had tiled floors, which we appreciated, a small closet, two
queen size beds, a night table, a small dresser with a fridge and a TV,
one of those things to put your luggage, and a very small desk. We
appreciated the fridge and the fact that the room came with a clock ­ so
many rooms in Mexico do not. On the down side, the room had very bad
artificial lightening, it'd be a strain to try to read at night.

The beds were fairly comfortable, hard, but not the hardest we've
encountered in Mexico. The pillows were overstuffed, and not too

The one major problem with the room, however, was the A/C which began
leaking our first morning. The maid noticed it and called maintenance;
the guy who fixed it made a hack job that barely lasted, and soon it
began to leak again. I called again, and within a couple of hours the
problem was fixed.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the hotel has central air, which
means you do not get control of the temperature in your room. The a/c
seems to be fixed at about 24C, which we found pleasant.

Finally, the hotel provides you with soap and lotion (there is a
dispenser in the bathroom), but not with shampoo or other toiletries ­
bring your own. They do give you a bath towel per person, but the
towels are old and rough. The same can be said for the hand-towels and

The rooms were quite clean, and the beds were beautifully set with rose petals and a swan-shaped towel, which the kids loved.


The Caracol has an “eco-hotel” theme, which is mostly manifested by a
series of water canals surrounded by abundant vegetation and inhabited
by various critters. My girls delighted in looking at the fish and
turtles from the bridge near the buffet. They loved the iguanas that sunned throughout the result during the warm afternoons, and once my oldest got to see a friendly coati which showed up after dinner.

The problem with such an "ecological" landscape, is that all the standing water promotes mosquitoes - and the mosquitoes were insatiable at the Caracol. Be prepared for them and bring plenty of strong repellent.

The hotel has a central area with the reception, a bar nearby and areas for tours/time shares. Close to it is the disco, "theater"/sports bar, shopping area, and the restaurant/lounge/central bar area. There are rooms in most directions from this central space - a couple of the other restaurants are at random locations in the property.

The hotel counts with four pools, the main one is closest to the beach. There is a bar/snack bar by the pool, and I think another one in the beach.

The buildings themselves are all meant to look classy, and are decorated with nice furniture as well as design touches. The whole resort has a designed-community look to it. It is, however, quite comfortable (beyond the mosquitoes).

Note that while there are gold carts that can help carry luggage and people around, the hotel can be easily negotiated on foot - it's not that big.


The hotel does not have wireless internet service, as far as we could ascertain, but you can connect to the internet through their computers for US$5 an hour. I don't know if they offer any other business services - if they do, they're probably pricey.

I think there is a gym, and there's definitely a spa (in the central area). We took a look at it and it was quite nice, the large jacuzzi would look inviting were it not for the oppressing heat day and night.


There are activities throughout the day, some in the pool, others in the beach and presumably others elsewhere. These include games and classes.

I didn't find anything that we could do by ourselves, however. The two pool tables at the sports bar did not have all balls (they were lacking the 8-ball, for instance).

Children Activities

My kids loved the kids' club, which included standard activities such as making sand castles, playing in the pool and watching movies. When we were there, the teachers were guys - I mention this as some people are less comfortable with male teachers.

There is also a different kids activity every night around 7:30 PM. One night it was a kids' disco, another night a piñata (this one was particularly popular).

There are a few inflatable swimming toys you can borrow.

Shows and Disco

We didn't experience either.


The Caracol has four pools. The main one is pretty large and it's really two pools connected by a rather wide waterway. There is a shallow kiddie pool at one end and a swim-to-bar on the other end. The bar side was closer to our room and was the least crowded side, so we liked it better. The swimming pool is surrounded by lounge chairs, and there are several palapas with little tables providing shade - still, if you want to make sure you get a chair under one, claim one early. This pool is right near the beach.

One of the other pools is for exclusive use of their club people, another one is for adults only and the third one is open. These were standard pools, not very interesting, but very quiet, even during the hottest part of the day. If you are looking for a quiet swim, either is a good bet.


The beach in front of the Caracol is your standard white sands - turquoise waters Riviera Maya beach. It's very pretty, of course, but not the prettiest in the area. The beach itself is very crowded with lounge chairs - there is barely any free space. However, the northern side of the beach was not very crowded with people while we were there. Most of the activities happen in the much louder southern side.

There are huge sand bags in the ocean, near the beach. I didn't find them unattractive, but they weren't a good source of snorkeling material, unfortunately. They do create a sort of bay in front of the hotel, making the waters quite gentle and ideal for little children. The water in front of the hotel is quite shallow and becomes deeper quite slowly.

All in all, I think it's a pretty beach but not spectacular.


The parking lot is by the reception, it's small but apparently sufficient.


Like other all-inclusives, the Caracol has a buffet and a number of reservation-only, a-la-carte restaurants. We were there for only two nights, so we weren't given access to the latter. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the buffet.

In general we found the food to be fine. There was a great selection of cooked items, as well as a grill-to-order station. The food follows a nightly theme, the "Mexican" night included dishes from throughout Mexico, including the Yucatan. However, we found most of the food to be rather mild, albeit made with good ingredients. I'd describe the food as "banquet quality", rather than "restaurant buffet quality".

The buffet restaurant is large and not air conditioned, it can be a little hot.


We found the drinks to be quite good at the different bars we tried. The banana daiquiris in particular were great. The hotel does use syrups rather than fresh fruits in most instances, however.


The staff was quite friendly, and everyone you saw always greeted you. They seemed quite efficient (except for the A/C guy).


The clientele seems very international, albeit with an emphasis on Europeans and Americans.


We liked the Sandos Caracol (specially in retrospect, after staying at the Wyndham) but found it a little bit boring. Still, we appreciated the feeling of semi-emptiness of the place, which might be a temporary thing, however. I think the hotel is a middle class, family hotel, and was a great deal for the price.

Sandos Caracol Beach Resort & Spa
Playa del Carmen

Bedroom at Sandos Caracol

Towel art at the Sandos Caracol

About Riviera Maya

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Marga & Mike's Yucatan Adventure Blog in the Riviera Maya category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Restaurant Reviews is the previous category.

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