Posts tagged mexico travel
how to do the mayan riviera - tulum
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Tulum

About 15 minutes west of Coba, is Tulum. Tulum has a casual, beach-bum sort of vibe, and is home to a large number of small, independently-owned 'eco hotels' situated closely together along a stretch of Tulum's white sand beach. By eco hotel, they mean: no AC, solar- or wind-generated electricity from dusk to dawn only, and simple but comfortable accommodations. Almost all of the hotels along the strip offer some type of massage service, yoga classes, Mexican astrology reading, or energy work. There was even a sexual liberation conference going on at one of the hotels close to ours. When we entered the hotel zone, one of the first things we saw were two girls (obviously not Mexican), hitchhiking for a ride down the road. "Nice," I thought. "I have arrived in Mexican Hippieland".

We had chosen to stay at Sueños Tulum, a 12-room hotel near the south end of the hotel zone in Tulum. Each villa at Sueños is themed after an element of nature: Sol (Sun), Tierra (Earth), Lluvia (Rain), Selva (Jungle), or Luna (Moon). We were in the Selva building, which was a nice treat since the room was decorated with my two favorite colors - yellow and green.

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They really took the décor to the next level here. Though I felt sorry for those poor villagers at the bottom of the bowl and all the uh...stuff they have to put up with.

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  You could literally throw a rock and hit the ocean from the deck outside our room.

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When we arrived, we were greeted with our complimentary welcome drink... best margarita I've ever had. 

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The beach in Playa del Carmen was great, but Tulum was even better. The sand was softer, and the beach itself was wider, and certainly more picturesque. Plus the lounging beds for Sueños guests were so relaxing.

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While Sueños has an on-site restaurant, we found their menu to be a bit pricey, so we headed to downtown Tulum for souvenir shopping and dinner. Most of the shops are feeling the pinch of the slim tourist crowds, so even though a lot of the shops offered the same wares, we tried to spread the love around a bit. My favorite store was a little arts boutique called La Joyas de Adelita. Vicente, the owner, sells a variety of high-quality handmade jewelry made of natural stones, and there's a good variety of original artwork - paintings, photography, etc. - from other local artists for sale as well. I got a really nice necklace for my Mom and a small print of a painting by Alejandra Mendoza for myself. The caption translates as, "For the trips you haven't  made (yet)".

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On our second day in Tulum (and the day before we were to return home) we resolved to pull ourselves out of bump-on-a-log mode and at least make a trip to the Tulum ruins. While there was no swinging from vines, The Mayan ruins of Tulum definitely looked like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, with its ancient, crumbling stone structures set on a cliff overlooking the electric blue waters of the Caribbean. A beautiful sight, and since it was so hot that even the iguanas were scrambling for shade, we joined the rest of the small crowd frolicking in the waves after we finished our tour. I suppose I could have rappelled my way down to the beach, but I didn't wanna show off, so I just took the stairs.

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After the ruins, we spent a couple of margaritas worth of time back at Sueños, before heading off for our sunset massages at the nearby Maya Tulum hotel. They have about 10 masseuses on staff, each of whom has a different set of ninja-massage techniques they specialize in like Reiki, Yoga Thai, and Mayan Sobada or Yoot Keene - a kneading, abdominal massage. It was a perfect wind-down for the day.

The night before, we realized that the lack of AC in our room required us to sleep with the sliding door open to let some air in. On our final night, I decided to kick the au natural sleeping up a notch and took to the hammock outside for the night. With hardly any surrounding ambient light, the stars seemed close enough to touch, and I drifted off to sleep with the strong ocean breeze rocking me like a baby in a swing.

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I think either my mother or grandmother or both used to say that if you leave something behind somewhere, it means you really wanted to stay there. While packing for our departure, I discovered that I'd left a pair of flip-flops at La Selva Mariposa. Before we pulled out of Sueños, I had to send the beau dashing back in to retrieve my cell phone that I'd left charging in the reception office. About halfway to Playa del Carmen, I realized that I still had our Sueños room key hanging around my neck, and in the airport duty-free shop, I almost lost my passport when I set it down for a moment while browsing the aisles. It seemed like the schizophrenia had reared its ugly head again. Part of me was all set to return home, while part of me obviously wished I never had to leave.

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cheers,

k

how to do the mayan riviera - coba
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Coba

Coba is about 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen - a straight shot down the 4-lane Highway 307 that runs along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, much like I-95 runs along the coast of Florida. It was an easy drive on well-paved, uncrowded roads, but the speed limit signs were a bit of an oddity, going from 100 km/hr to 40 and back to 100 within the span of a ½ mile. Plus, there were several 'topes' or speed-bumps in what seemed to be totally random spots in the road, but other than that, the drive was non-eventful.

Coba is to the east of Tulum, so it's set in more of a 'jungle' setting. I put quotes around the word jungle because when I think jungle, I think lush, dense tropical foliage and a variety of flora and fauna. The jungle setting of Coba is drier, and more hardscrabble, but considering the rainy season is just about to start, I suppose that should be expected. We'd originally planned to only stay in 2 places, but when I saw the pictures and reviews for La Selva Mariposa during my pre-trip research, I did not want to pass up the opportunity for a visit.

La Selva Mariposa (The Jungle Butterfly) is a bed and breakfast owned by Moe and Lou Pintkowski, an expat American couple from Colorado. To say that the place is beautiful sounds almost trite. La Selva Mariposa is, quite literally, an oasis in the desert. There are only 4 guest rooms on the 2.5 acre property, and each room has been crafted to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding natural environment. The walls are made of local stone and plaster, the roof is in the traditional thatched-palm palapa style, there's a Mayan temazcal or steam bath onsite, and just off to the side of each room is a small cenote-inspired pool with cool, clear water cascading over rugged stones. Natural and opulent have never blended so perfectly together. Our room even had an open-air shower...bliss!

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In desperate need of rejuvenation, we spent the entire time at La Selva right at our room, lounging on the hammock on the porch, taking a quick dip in the pool, and eventually falling asleep to the sound of falling water and mating frogs on the other side of the screened door.

The next morning, Moe made us a delicious breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit and scrambled egg tostadas with cotija cheese and a slew of toppings. I don't even like scrambled eggs, but I ate it all. Ok, I ate it... most. After breakfast, there was more heavy lounging and a half-hearted discussion on which adventurous excursion we might try to make before leaving Coba, but in the end we concluded that making our way to the beach in Tulum would be adventure enough.

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We set out early in the afternoon for our third destination. With all that talk of adventure, we had worked up an appetite, so when we spied the neighborhood 'grilled chicken guy' out on the road with his grill at full blaze, we decided to stop for lunch.

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Don't know if you can tell from this picture, but Gaspar the Gallo Griller also has a full grill in his mouth. The chicken business is obviously doing well.

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to be continued...

how to do the mayan riviera - playa del carmen

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When it comes to defining the perfect vacation, I admit I'm a bit schizophrenic on the issue.

Part of me wants to flex my Indiana Jones muscles and swing from jungle vines, jump off cliffs and trek through virgin forests. Part of me wants to submerge myself in all the indulgences that I usually only dip my toe in, and still another part wants to make like a bump on a log and do nothing more than watch the world go by before my half-lidded eyes.

Strangely enough, none of me has ever expressed the desire to head for a place that's been designated ground zero for a possible pandemic, but that didn't stop me or the beau from boarding our flight to Mexico for my birthday trip. You see, we well-raised Southerners don't just abandon our neighbors when they're sick. No siree. What we do is pack up a bowl of homemade chicken soup and bring it right to them. So we boarded our flight with a heaping serving of optimism tucked into our carry-ons to share with our neighbor to the South.

Playa del Carmen

Our first stop on the 6-day trip was Playa del Carmen. About 40 minutes south of the airport in Cancun, Playa is sort of like the Virginia Highlands to Cancun's Buckhead. Where Cancun is known for its non-stop frat-boy party atmosphere, Playa del Carmen attracts a more laid-back, bohemian crowd. At the south end of Playa del Carmen is a gated beachfront community known as Playacar, which includes several vacation rentals and all-inclusive resort properties. We were booked to stay 2 nights at the all-inclusive Riu Tequila in Playacar, but after pulling up to the first Riu property - Riu Yucatan - and asking the security guard, "Donde esta Riu Tequila?" I got, "Esta cerrado". Er? Cerrado? I gave the guard my 'whatchu  talkin' 'bout Luis?' look, and he directed me to the front desk for a full explanation in English.

As it turned out, of the 5 Riu properties located in Playacar, only the Riu Yucatan was not 'cerrado' and everyone who had reservations at the other resorts had been consolidated into one. Even then, the property was probably only at about 60% capacity. Apparently, not everyone shared our optimism about the flu scare. Fortunately though, the change was a bit of an upgrade, since the Riu Yucatan was located directly on the beach.

After settling into our room, indulgent me began to get restless at the thought that an endless supply of free liquor was only steps away, so we made a beeline to the poolside bar. Before the end of our second drinks (note: at an all-inclusive, time is measured in number of drinks consumed), we met and made fast friends with Jen and Rico, a couple visiting from Dallas. Jen and I hit it off when we quickly learned that we were both Geminis, and shared similar tastes in music.

The next day and a half at the Riu was a pleasantly muddled blur of dips in the ocean, visiting the bar, sunning on the beach, visiting the bar, eating, visiting the bar, napping, and visiting the bar. For some reason, I even forgot my camera in the room a couple of times. Must have been the sun. I was still able to get in a few shots around the resort though...

 

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an elusive agouti

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it's rum thirty!

yellow + sun = red

... I also learned that the proper way to kill 'la cucaracha' is to light it on fire and slurp it down with a straw.

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But most importantly, I learned that sometimes you just gotta know when to say 'when'.

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The guy in the photos above is actually a trained professional. He's from Belgium. I hear they start drinking in kindergarten there.

On our last day in Playa, we decided to give the Riu's so-so buffet a break. We headed out with Jen and Rico to La Floresta, a restaurant recommended by one of the Riu resort staff who lived in Playa. La la-florestaFloresta is well-known in the area for its seafood tacos. In fact, there's not much more on the menu. There's a choice of crab, shrimp, fish, or marlin taco, plus ceviche and 'cocteles' and beer. Rico is Mexican-American, and speaks fluent Spanish, so he quickly informed our waiter that we would be having one of everything. In less than 5 minutes, a slew of the tastiest, freshest seafood tacos began arriving at our table, followed by unbelievably large servings of mixed seafood ceviche and a large mixed seafood coctel - which included shrimp, octopus, scallops, and oysters in a sweet-tangy tomato based sauce. I'm actually getting kind of sad writing this, as it seems so very, very unfair that I have never experienced anything quite like that meal before, and will probably have to go back to Mexico to experience it again. Everything was very simply prepared so the freshness of every ingredient from the soft corn tortilla to the seafood that tasted like it had just swum onto the plate, was highlighted. I added nothing to the tacos other than a few drops of the 'sweet-jesus-that's-hot' green habanero sauce on the table. When la cuenta arrived, I was surprised to see that our whole meal came to $50 USD. Yep - 2 orders of ceviche, 1 large coctel, 8 tacos, chips and salsa, and beer... for about $12 per person. Sigh.

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After lunch, we did a little shopping in the pedestrian-only area of Playa del Carmen, before bidding Jen and Rico goodbye and heading south to our second destination, Coba.

 

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After the all-inclusive bingefest, I was glad to be heading for a more rural setting.

to be continued...