Manta Ray Resort was a bit of a disappointment.
First, the good:
The one saving grace of our experience on Manta Ray was the absolutely incredible snorkeling available directly in front of the resort. From the moment you put your mask into the water, another world teeming with life of all kinds greeted you. Thin, zippy, trumpetfish flashed past, curious zebrafish swam up close enough to touch, turning themselves onto their sides so they could eyeball you, and giant, fluorescent parrotfish bobbed toward the bottom, their thick lips gaping at everything in sight. So many varieties of fish I couldn’t name darted amongst an equally staggering variety of coral. Lavender flowers snuggled up to chartreuse bulbs (I had never seen chartreuse in nature before this day, but it’s actually a real color!), bursts of reddish-brown tendrils looked like pom poms waving in the current, and everywhere was azure, turquoise, cerulean. Sea cucumbers and cobalt starfish lazed on the sandy sea bottom between plumes of coral, with a few large and lazy mottled brown bottom feeders, mourning their plain appearance in contrast to the beauties that danced over their heads. The reef was alive with sound – little snaps and pops to accompany the ever-present silvery thrum.
On my last day out, the tide was low. Inexperienced swimmers (read: people who don’t appreciate a reef and would touch, stand, or otherwise kill it if they were allowed too close) were expressly forbidden to snorkel at low tide, but I sweet talked the dive shop guys into letting me go before the ferry arrived. After getting out, I was so lost in the world below me that I hadn’t realized I was nearly at the farthest buoy, the point which I wasn’t to swim past. As I turned to head closer to land, a 2.5 foot reef shark lazily slid from her place 8 feet below me and headed out for some privacy beyond the buoy while I was paralyzed with fear. She was gone within a moment, but it was the first time I’d swam by a shark I could actually see. I considered heading back to shore (sharks can smell fear, right?), and as I kept one eye on the murky place where the shark has disappeared, a 3.5 foot reef shark entered from nearer shore and passed just beneath me, entirely unconcerned by my presence. I was both terrified and awestruck – it was so close, so beautiful, and I was SO unprotected from sharp shark teeth. I headed closer to shore and stayed there for the rest of the morning.
Now, the bad:
On paper, Manta Ray was the least expensive of the three resorts we stayed in, but the lack of quality far outstripped the savings. And when we totaled up the costs, they had managed to charge so much for things that other resorts offered for free (i.e. snorkel gear), that it wasn’t even the cheapest place we stayed.
The fact that there was no real beach, I could deal with. A tradeoff for the incredible marine reserve just offshore. But it was a letdown after the gorgeous sand of Blue Lagoon. The fact that the food wasn’t amazing, I could also deal with – it was edible and didn’t poison me, and that’s all I really ask for in a meal in a foreign country.
What I couldn’t deal with was the sleeping situation.
The dorms were stiflingly hot long after the breeze had cooled down the evening due to poor ventilation and no air conditioning units, and the one paltry wall fan that was meant to service two sets of bunk beds was more torture than relief. The moment you got a tiny bit of a breeze on your sweaty forehead, it was gone into another rotation, leaving you desperate and irate. When you’re marinating in 90 degrees at 10 p.m., all you want is a damn steady stream of air.
Add to this the fact that the sheets smelled like DEET, which immediately brought to mind visions of bedbugs. I have two fears while traveling on the cheap: Dengue Fever and Bedbugs. I sat up late, paranoid that every little tickle on my skin was a bug chomping on me. The mosquito nets that hung over each bed to make up for the lack of window screens kept tangling up into my arms and legs whenever I rolled over, and were hung so close to the beds that if I sat up, I’d be playing an adult version of my brother’s favorite childhood game, Caper. The one where he smothers me.
When I compare what we got for our money from Manta Ray to the other two resorts we stayed in, it just doesn’t measure up.
My recommendation: If you are a diver or very avid snorkeler, stay here for only night and snorkel your little ass off the entire time. Then get out, get far away, and get yourself into a resort where they have screens and an AC unit on the wall. Fortunately, our stay at Octopus Resort more than made up for it.