What am I still doing in Cancun?

The adventures of an American single mommy working and playing in paradise.

xcaret-day-of-the-dead-festival-2016-9

November 8, 2016
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Celebrating Day of the Dead in Cancun: Xcaret, Market 23, Halloween and More

Dia de Muertos and Halloween are all over now *sigh* but we celebrated bigger than ever this year!

We began our celebrations by visiting Mercado 23 (Market 23) in downtown Cancun on Saturday the 29th to pick up a calavera de azucar (sugar skull) for the altar at Bebé’s school, some traditional Dia de Muertos candy, and well, to take pictures!

Day of the Dead flowers

Day of the Dead supplies Cancun

Day of the Dead candy

flowers Cancun

Day of the Dead altar

Unfortunately the market is now way to small for the big city of Cancun, and was surrounded by cars at a complete standstill. Never have I been so happy to see people with whistles and rags directing traffic.

This year I carefully planned our annual visit to Xcaret Park’s Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerte aka their Day of the Dead festival, which is held each year Oct. 30-Nov.2. Due to my previous face painting fails, I decided to hire a neighbor to do our make-up.

Totally. Worth. It.

Catrina makeup Cancun

Bebé wanted something simpler.

Day of the Dead makeup Cancun

We headed to Xcaret on the first day, Oct. 30th, since it was a Sunday. It was a bright, sunny day in Cancun, but alas, as we got closer and closer to Playa del Carmen, it rained harder and harder. We were so upset!

I’ll spare you the gory details, but we had to park really far away and take a bus to the entrance of Xcaret, but we eventually made it. First order of business was to buy Bebé a poncho. Luckily I happened to have one in my size in the trunk.

xcaret-day-of-the-dead-festival-2016-13

Finally we began our stroll through the park, stopping to view exhibitions and performances, or “shows” as Bebé calls them, along the way.

Xcaret festival vida y muerte

festival vida y muerte

festival tradiciones de vida y muerte

altares Xcaret

Xcaret festival

Luckily it stopped raining soon after we got there.

It was muddy as hell, and the shows were all off schedule because of the rain but we made the best of it and had a good time. The torta de cochinita (slow-roasted pork dish sandwich from the state of Yucatan) helped a lot. Anyway, I had to make the most of my makeup, right? A lot of people smiled, waved and asked me who had done it.

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The next day was Halloween and Bebé’s school threw a party for the kids. The black eye makeup that we couldn’t get off the night before turned out to be very convenient the next morning.

Halloween costumes Cancun

That evening we went trick or treating in our neighborhood with some friends.

So at this point we were basically exhausted, but the party wasn’t over, at least for me. On November 1, my boss treated us to pan de muerto (sweet bread topped with sugar) aka dead bread. It was scrumptious!

pan de muertos Cancun

Then on November 2, we had mucbipollo aka pib in the office. Guess who found a provider, ordered, and even picked up this traditional Yucatecan Hanal Pixan (Mayan Dia de Muertos) dish? That’s right, the gringa, yours truly.

Mucbipollo is made from corn dough and chicken wrapped in banana leaves. Traditionally it’s cooked in an underground pit called a pib. Some of the ingredients include tomato, onion, achiote, xpelon and epazote.

Absolutely. Delicious.

mucbipollo pib Cancun

I’m a little sad it’s all over, but we made the most of Dia de Muertos and Halloween in Cancun, and it is the beginning of the holiday season! Bring on Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Chiles en Nogada in Cancun

October 31, 2016
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Chiles en Nogada at La Habichuela in Cancun

Chiles en Nogada is a traditional Mexican dish with a rich history. I have lived in Cancun for over 15 years, and I had never tried it, until last Friday.

Since this was an important, well, event really, I decided to leave it to the experts at La Habichuela, one of Cancun’s oldest and most beloved restaurants.

good restaurants in downtown Cancun

First I had a cocktail called Konhunlich (named for a Mayan archaeological site), or as the waiter called it, a Mayan Martini.

best restaurants in Cancun

Then I asked to be moved to the dreamy garden, because well, I don’t know why anyone would want to sit indoors La Habichuela, unless it was raining or something.

garden La Habichuela Cancun

Chiles en Nogada is generally only served in September and October, when pomegranates are in season, so I made it just in time. It is most commonly enjoyed in September for Mexican Independence Day, as it is a very patriotic dish that includes all the colors of the Mexican flag.

Chiles en Nogada in Cancun

It is generally accepted that Chiles en Nogada originated in Puebla, but there are two versions of who exactly came up with the recipe.

The most popular version claims the dish was first prepared for Mexican emperor Agustín de Iturbide by nuns in a convent (historians can’t agree on which convent) in the 1800’s.

The other version claims the Traslosheros family created the dish from recipes that were handed down to them.

The fact that Chiles en Nogada is served at room temperature really surprised me. The dish consists of poblano chiles filled with picadillo (ground meat, fruit and spices) and topped with a walnut-based cream sauce (nogada), pomegranate seeds and parsley. Another thing that surprised me, it was quite sweet.

But I really liked it and ate every bite. Yum. ¡Viva Mexico! (Just what I needed, something else I like to eat.)

Do you like Chiles en Nogada?

cheap good restaurants Cancun

October 17, 2016
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The Alley aka El Callejon: A funky, fun bar/restaurant in downtown Cancun

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of eating and drinking at The Alley, aka El Callejon, in downtown Cancun. The Alley is literally, well, in an alley in Plaza Bonita, a small shopping center right next to Mercado 28 (Market 28).

cheap good restaurants Cancun

Cancun bars

casual restaurants downtown Cancun

The Alley is owned by a Canadian couple, Will and Jennifer. They fell in love with the bar during a vacation in Cancun and decided to move down and make a go of it. Their relaxed, friendly attitude makes both tourists and locals feel right at home. Sports are always showing on both TVs and an eclectic mix of music plays in the background. I was excited to hear a few songs by DeBarge, a group from my hometown, Grand Rapids, MI.

bars downtown Cancun

The Alley claims to serve “the best margaritas” in Cancun. I must say, I can’t really argue with them. They are huge, made with only fresh juices, and contain a whopping six shots of liquor.

best margaritas Cancun

They also serve various Mexican beers and stock a full bar of high-end liquor. After you have a margarita, order a michelada or Jennifer’s “no name drink”.

And then there are the hamburgers, which really shouldn’t be called hamburgers, because they are made from 6 ounces of 100% Alberta ground skirt steak. YUM! It really was one of the best burgers I have ever had. Everything at The Alley, except for the fries, is made from scratch. I got the burger with everything but they also offer Mexican and Caesar versions and a chickenburger as well.

hamburgers Cancun

They also serve a delicious fish-n-chips plate and poutine, a Canadian fast food dish.

fish-n-chips Cancun

poutine Cancun

Jenn got tired of having the menu reprinted every time they changed it so she took matters into her own hands. 😀

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There’s a high level of quality control here because Will and Jenn do almost all of the work themselves.

If you spend an afternoon or evening, or an afternoon AND evening at The Alley, you may get to meet the neighborhood alley cats (Get it?) that they feed.

The Alley is open 7 days a week, it’s right on the R6 bus route (or the R2 bus route if you don’t mind walking through the market) and there is free parking. They accept cash only.

We may run into each other there one Friday afternoon!

Note: Jenn also run a catering company called Catering Cancun, which offers nutritionally balanced gourmet meals to those who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time to plan meals.

cenotes near Cancun

October 3, 2016
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The Best Things to Do in Cancun (according to a local)

I’ve been posting about hotel stays a lot lately, and though I do love staying in resorts and posting our experiences, this time I want share my opinion of the best things to do and see in Cancun. These are the things I take my visiting friends and family to see. These are the places I feel passionate about.

There are literally thousands of articles on the internet listing the best things to do in Cancun. A lot of them are written by people who have been to the area once, or maybe never! Don’t get me wrong, I still haven’t experienced everything Cancun and the surrounding area have to offer, and there is a lot more to see than what is listed here, but these are my favorites so far. I have lived in Cancun for 15 years and I feel like being a local gives me a unique perspective.

So here they are, kind of in order, although depending on who I am with or what I am in the mood for, the order can change.

Depending on where you are staying and how long you will be in the area, you can easily do many of these things during a 7-night vacation in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya.

Xcaret

 

Xcaret is a magical place, and the easiest place to celebrate and enjoy Mexican and Mayan tradition, color, culture, music and food. This sprawling park in the jungle has all the modern conveniences yet has somehow maintained a natural feeling. The park is home to a breathtaking underground river, a butterfly pavilion, an aquarium, the replica of a Mayan village, a Mexican wine cellar and so much more. There are performances throughout the day but the night show must not be missed.

My favorite Cancun event is held at Xcaret each Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, the Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerte, aka Day of the Dead festival. What once seemed like a creepy holiday to me has become my favorite Mexican holiday. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of loved ones who have passed, of life, and the after world. Each year the festival features a different Mexican state and its music and traditions. This year that state is Puebla.

2016 Xcaret Festival of Life and Death Traditions

All of Xcaret’s parks are supurb, so depending on what interests you, there’s also Xplor, Xel Ha, Xoximilco, Xenotes and Xenses.

Xcaret Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerte

Isla Mujeres

Island of Women Cancun

visitroo.com

Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun. Unfortunately in recent years it has become busier and more populated, but it’s so charming that it’s still worth a visit. This is literally your tropical island paradise dream come true. The best way to experience the island is to rent a golf cart, circle the entire island, stopping along the way to sight see (and for beer). Don’t forget to explore the colorful downtown area, then finish with lunch, swimming and cocktails on Playa Norte (North Beach).

To really appreciate the island, stay there! There are hotels available at all prices and tons of really good restaurants.

Downtown Cancun

downtown Cancun

Travel Weekly

Parque las Palapas, the central park in downtown Cancun is where you can get a taste of local life and delicious authentic Mexican food. On Friday evenings, local families gather in the park and their children participate in the various activities offered. Sometimes there is a show or public event. There are also cute vendor carts that sell unique crafts. Grab a bite from the food stalls (the places with the longest lines are the best) or dine at one of Cancun’s oldest and best restaurants, La Habichuela. Eat in the garden which feels like something out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. La Habichuela’s menu integrates traditional Mexican and Mayan ingredients and has been open for almost 40 years and is one of Cancun’s best restaurants.

best restaurants in Cancun

La Habichuela

Cenotes

cenotes near Cancun

tulumblog.com.mx

The Yucatan Peninsula, the region of Mexico where Cancun is located, is home to thousands of cenotes. The peninsula is made of porous limestone, and over thousands of years water seeped down below the surface, creating stalactites, stalagmites and openings to underground rivers. The openings, or cenotes, can be anywhere from completely open, like a lake, to almost completely closed, like a cave. Cenotes hold cool, fresh water, so they are a perfect place to swim on sweltering tropical days. They are also a great place to snorkel since they often have fish and beautiful rock formations. The Mayan considered cenotes to be sacred portals to the underworld, and sometimes used them to perform human and other sacrifices, as is the case with the main cenote at Chichen Itza.

Many tours include a visit to a cenote and there are many cenotes along La Ruta de Cenotes (Cenotes Route) in Puerto Morelos and along the highway driving south from Playa del Carmen.

Mayan Ruins

Mayan ruins near Cancun

expertvagabond

The longer I live here the more I appreciate Mayan culture, tradition and history. Visiting a ruins site with a competent guide is a way to get closer to this fascinating ancient culture. Coba is an excellent choice, as it is much less crowded than very popular sites Chichen Itza and Tulum, and you can still climb the huge pyramid.

There are tours available that will also take you to a Mayan village… something worth seeing!

Yucatan

Yucatan-state-Mexico

I haven’t had many opportunities to explore the neighboring state of Yucatan, but I recently visited Rio Lagartos and Valladolid, and I’ve caught the bug!

Valladolid is a bustling colonial city complete with a charming town square and Rio Lagartos is a lazy fishing village that sits on the edge of a natural reserve that is home to thousands of flamingos, other birds and wildlife. If you don’t feel the Cancun area represents the “real” Mexico, Yucatan might be for you!

Traveling through the Yucatan is relatively inexpensive and safe.

I especially enjoyed driving through the countless “pueblos” where Mayan culture is still alive and well.

As I said earlier, I haven’t been everywhere, so here is my short bucket list. I have no problem saying that these places are fantastic, even though I haven’t been able to visit them yet.

Holbox

tropical islands in Mexico

Holboxisland.com

Holbox is an island located off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is not nearly as developed at Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Like Isla Mujeres, this is your tropical island paradise dream come true, but with fewer people and hotels. And there are no cars! Holbox Yum Balam ecological reserve is home to sea turtles, crocodiles, flamingos and other wildlife. The waters off Holbox are one of the few places on earth where Whale Sharks can be found from May through September.

Sian Kaan

nature tours near Cancun

villapalmarcancun.com

Sian Kaan, which means, “origin of the sky”, is a biosphere reserve that begins just south of Tulum, runs along 120 kilometers of coastline, and covers 5,280 square kilometers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’re taking Caribbean Sea, virgin beaches, tropical jungle, mangroves, coral reefs, Mayan ruins and wildlife, including monkeys, crocodiles, manatees, jaguars, birds, and much more! I am dying to explore this unspoiled natural paradise.

Have you visited any of these places? Did I miss any? What are your favorites?

You can see all of my Cancun recommendations on the 10Best Cancun Travel Guide.

Cancun beach

September 12, 2016
by admin
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Return to Catalonia Playa Maroma

A couple of weeks ago Bebé and I returned to Catalonia Playa Maroma, this time with Big Sister in tow, who was visiting from Cuba. We stayed at Catalonia Playa Maroma once before in 2013.

Catalonia Hotels is a Spanish hotel chain. There are two other Catalonia resorts in the area, Catalonia Riviera Maya and Catalonia Royal Tulum (adults only).

We arrived on Thursday evening and got settled in. Our room looked like this (but with no canopy, two beds, and a special little bed for Bebé).

all inclusive hotels Cancun

Photo: Catalonia Hotels

I loved our colorful building.

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We headed to the Mexican restaurant, Tio Pedro, for dinner. They have a kids menu that is available in all of the restaurants which is wonderful because Big Sister is just as picky as Bebé is. They both ate the same thing every single night. hahaha

After dinner we went to Karaoke in the lobby and I sang two songs, one in English and one in Spanish. 😀

The next morning after breakfast in the main buffet restaurant Pajarito, we headed to the pool/beach. I had forgotten just how spectacular their beach is!

Riviera Maya beach

Cancun beach

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I would go as far as saying this might be the best beach in the Cancun area. It absolutely takes your breath away. Corona commercial all the way… paradise found!

The pool area is not too shabby either. I like how they have many different pools of different depths.

Cancun hotels

Riviera Maya hotels

Bebé gave the pool two thumbs up!

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There is also a nice area between the pool and the beach where there is a juice/smoothie bar.

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Smile!

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Bebé didn’t want to go kayaking with me that day, but no big deal, because I had a free babysitter with me, Big Sister! So I took a kayak out by myself and for the very first time I took my phone with me (if you look closely you can see the Ziplock bag in the photo). It was terrifying. I need a GoPro!

kayaking Cancun

We decided to have lunch in the room that day. (Room service is the best!!) It was fast, they brought us exactly what we asked for, and we got a big kick out of the huge pile of chicken nuggets they brought us.

all inclusive resorts Riviera Maya

After our (necessary and required) afternoon nap we got all gussied up for dinner. This was the best picture I could get in the mirror. Bebé has been having a hard time with his smiling. :/

Catalonia-Playa-Maroma-4

We had dinner at the Italian restaurant Toscana. I had a delicious risotto and white wine. Their house Sauvignon Blac was great.

After dinner it was showtime! The shows were very entertaining. We saw The Castle of Terror the second night (poor Bebé hid his face much of the time) and Madonna in Concert the third night.

all inclusive resorts Cancun

The next morning we made our way to Pajarito for breakfast. The kids thought the walk was long but I love the path that connects all of the buildings in the resort.

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And bonus! Dozens of these creatures (Coatis) are hanging around each morning.

Coatis Cancun

Then it was time for my massage! Yippee! I sent the kids to the room after I took this picture (I just love it)…

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…and headed to the spa, which offers a full menu of treatments including salon and kids services. I had reserved an Aromatherapy massage but after explaining what I wanted in more detail to the therapist, she recommended the Theraputic Massage. She did a wonderful job.

Note: The spa does not have separate areas for men and women so plan on wearing a swimsuit in the shower, hot tub, etc.

spas Riviera Maya

After my massage Bebé decided that he wanted to go on the kayak. So Big sister hung out here…

Catalonia-Playa-Maroma-1

Catalonia-Playa-Maroma-beach

…and we took what turned out to be a very short trip on the kayak, because Bebé was worried about sharks.

Catalonia-Playa-Maroma-kayaks

Then it was time for lunch at Tortuga Snack Bar, which offered the expected hamburgers, salads, nachos, sandwiches, etc. It really hit the spot.

I still hadn’t visited my very restaurant at Catalonia Playa Maroma, La Creperie, which serves coffee drinks, sweet and savory crepes, sundaes and milkshakes, so we had dessert there. Behold…

Catalonia-Playa-Maroma-crepes

Yum, yum, yum, yum. The kids had ice cream, and Bebé had two servings!

That night we had dinner at Terrace Tapas, which overlooks the beach. It was peaceful and relaxing.

My only complaints… 1) It was literally hotter than hell. Of course the hotel can’t do anything about this, hahaha, I just need to express just how hot it was. Luckily the air-conditioning in the room worked very well.

And 2) One word… mosquitos. To be fair, this resort is in the jungle, so again, not sure they can do much about this, but they may be able to fumigate. It’s probably not as bad other times of the year, but bring repellent just in case.

Overall we had a super weekend and would be happy to return to Catalonia Playa Maroma for a third visit someday. You can find out more about Catalonia Playa Maroma here.

 

Note: If you’re a newbie to the blog, Big Sister is my ex’s daughter, Bebé’s (technically half) sister.

waterfront Rio Lagartos

July 5, 2016
by admin
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A Weekend in Rio Lagartos at Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel

I have lived in Cancun for 15 years, but I haven’t explored the Yucatan Peninsula very much. I’ve been to Tulum, and to all of the towns on the way down, but besides two hurried trips to Merida and one day trip to Valladolid, I hadn’t traveled to the west or the north.

Recently that all changed. I couple of weeks ago Bebé, some friends and I spent a weekend in Rio Lagartos, a small town that is home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which is located on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Yucatan (Cancun is in the state of Quintana Roo). Now we all know I love my all-inclusives, but this was a delightful, unforgettable adventure.

We started the weekend by taking the scenic route to Rio Lagartos. You can see where it is relative to Cancun on the map below. Most people take the pay highway to Valladolid, and then the “highway” (so very narrow, no shoulder) north to Rio Lagartos.

Now imagine a twisty, turny route running northwest from Cancun to Tizimin through Mayan villages. That was our route.

Yucatan Peninsula map

Map: Mexconnect

It took forever, but I loved it! We passed through countless little villages of varying sizes, where many people still have pole and thatch houses (basically sticks with a palapa on top). Every single town had a government-constructed basketball court (Who knows?). We saw cows and horses tied up in front of houses, and stray dogs lying in the street completely unworried about traffic. And we crossed over “topes” (speed bumps), lots and lots of topes.

The kids asked if we were almost there some 100 times.

When we arrived in Rio Lagartos we hurried to dinner, as they were keeping the restaurant, La Torreja, open for us. We were a little perplexed since it was only about 8pm, but we quickly learned that things open late, close early and move slowly in this small fishing town. The menu was representative of most waterfront restaurants in Mexican costal towns, shrimp, fish, octopus, chicken and beef prepared in various delicious ways.

Finally it was time to check out our hotel, Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel. Yuum Ha is a comfortable, modern oasis in a town full of hotels and inns that can only be described as rustic. Yuum Ha offers free WiFi, comfortable beds, air-conditioning, lovely showers with rain shower heads and bathtubs, closets with lots of space and smart TVs with cable.

hotels Rio Lagartos

where to say Rio Lagartos

Photo courtesy of Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel

This was the view from our room…

hotel Rio Lagartos

This is the view from their patio…

waterfront Rio Lagartos

bed and breakfast Rio Lagartos

The next morning we were up bright and early for our Flamingo Tour. Diego Nuñuz, owner of Rio Lagartos Adventures (and various other things around town) was under the weather, but he left us in good hands with Francisco aka Paco. We boarded the small boat and he whisked us off to a group of flamingos that were very close.

Paco offered lots of info about the flamingos and after oohing and ahhing about the sounds they made and how beautiful they are, we headed deep into the “ria” (estuary). Occasionally a flock of flamingos would fly by, and they were much faster than the boat was at full speed.

Rio Lagartos flamingo tours

We go to the beach quite often, but we don’t spend much time in really natural places. The ria is absolutely breathtaking. No buildings, no docks, no airplanes, no people, just glorious nature, and a few other small boats. Every once in awhile Paco would quickly turn to the right or left to show us a black eagle, or a herron, or a crocodile.

Rio Lagartos nature tours

Yes, a crocodile. Paco called it as if it was his dog, by gently slapping his “chancla” or flip flop on the water’s surface. Then he pet it on the head. At times it was only about a foot or so away from us. The kids were thrilled. It was truly an unforgettable moment.

Rio Lagartos boat tours

Next stop was “Las Coloradas” aka the pink lakes. The reason the lakes are pink is because of the high content of salt and minerals. In fact, there is a huge salt factory next to Las Coloradas. Kelly aka Cancun Canuck and I went swimming in the pink lakes and found we were extra “floaty” in the salty water.

Las Coloradas Rio Lagartos

After “rinsing off” in the only slightly less salty ria, we make our way to the “Baño Maya” for a Mayan mud bath. Paco dug deep and scooped out some mud, which was odorless and felt very similar to an expensive mask you would buy in the cosmetics department. Felt good to get dirty from head to toe!

Mayan Mud Bath Rio Lagartos

Photo courtesy of Cancun Canuck

Now it was time for a swim at a completely natural, sublime beach. We kind of wanted to stay there all day, but alas we had no water and we were starving and you had to stay in the water the whole time because the “tábanos” (which loosely translates to “stupid horseflies that I am extremely allergic to”) were on a rampage.

Ria Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos tours

beach Rio Lagartos

beaches Rio Lagartos

Photo Courtesy of Cancun Canuck

After a quick shower to rinse off all of “the nature”, we had breakfast at La Torreja and I quite literally scarfed down these yummy “huevos divorciados”.

restaurants Rio Lagartos

We agreed that after a short rest we would explore the town on the golf cart. Dinner was at 6pm, so we headed out at 3pm.

We drove along the “malecon” (boardwalk) to Chiquila lagoon where locals go to cool off. Max wanted a “chicharron” (with everything por favor).

Chiquila Rio Lagartos

Then we drove into town, and well, drove around in circles (it’s not very big) while the few locals that were outside during “siesta” time stared at us. Bebé, who didn’t rest during rest time, fell asleep on the golf cart. (It is getting a lot more difficult to carry him up stairs when he falls asleep in random places.) We giggled about how our big exploration of the town lasted exactly one hour.

boardwalk Rio Lagartos

visit Rio Lagartos

Rio-Lagartos-Yucatan-2

downtown Rio Lagartos

town Rio Lagartos

That night we headed to Restaurante Ria Maya for dinner. This cozy restaurant with a huge palapa roof is on the second floor and has a spectacular view of the sparkling ria and its sunsets. I had the “Camarones a la Diabla” (shrimp in a spicy red sauce). One word: Goooood. Wish I had some more of it right now.

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seafood Rio Lagartos

waterfront restaurants Rio Lagartos

After dinner we had beers on the dock across from Yuum Ha and watched the sunset.

sunset Rio Lagartos

And the kids found what is quite possibly the best swing in the world.

In the morning we were on the road right after breakfast. We had decided to take the faster way home and make a stop in “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town) Valladolid. I was a little worried that the drive home would be boring without all the pueblos but we did go through a couple and Tizimin was an interesting little city to drive through.

I hadn’t been to Valladolid in 15 years. It is now much larger and busier, but the downtown area and “zocalo” (town square) haven’t lost their charm. It was Sunday so there were vendors set up right in the zocalo. The kids were happy to be out of the car for a while.

kissing chairs Valladolid Mexico

fountain Valladolid

We bought a few things and had some delicious ice cream. I had “Queso de Bola” (Edam “ball” cheese) flavor. They had other unique flavors like “Elote” (corn).

ice cream Valladolid

I have been looking for the perfect turquoise necklace and I found it! (I love hearts.)

jewelry Valladolid

town square zocalo Valladolid

It was time to get back to Cancun to do the grocery shopping and laundry, so we hopped on the (boring but fast) toll road and sped back to the big city. However, I think I’ve got the bug now, and you may see posts of more road trips to Rio Lagartos or other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Playacar Palace view

June 13, 2016
by admin
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Playacar Palace: You won’t be sorry!

Last week was a cloudy, rainy week in Cancun, but a couple of weeks ago Bebé and I spent a sunny weekend in Playa de Carmen at Playacar Palace. Here’s the lowdown…

The resort is small compared to many all-inclusives, with just 201 rooms, but this gives it an intimate feel. No golf cart or bus rides to dinner here, everything is just a few steps away.

Playacar is a quiet, private neighborhood in Playa de Carmen, and Playacar Palace is located right next to the entrance, making it easy to walk to 5th Avenue and all of its shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs, but we never left the property, because it provided everything we could possible want or need.

The Room

Playacar Palace oceanview room

Photo: Palace Resorts

Palace Resorts don’t fool around. The rooms are fully stocked and include free WiFi (in fact it’s throughout the resort and it’s good too), in-room hot tub, a liquor dispenser, mini bar with soda, bottled water, juice and beer, a bottle of red wine (one upon arrival), toiletries, hair dryer and flat iron, iron and ironing board, robes and slippers, safe, coffee maker, phone, alarm clock and smart TV with satellite programming.

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Why take a shower when you can take a bath in a hot tub?

The room also includes turn down service and unlimited long distance calls to the U.S. and Canada.

We had a balcony with a spectacular view.

Playacar Palace view

Plus, it was just so… comfortable!

The Pool and Beach

Playacar Palace’s pool isn’t huge, but there is a busy, active end with a swim-up pool bar, and a quieter, laid-back end, which includes a shallow area for children. There are plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas.

Unfortunately, as in all resorts, people play “the towel game” here, but the resort doesn’t use those annoying towel cards, which is great.

Playacar Palace pool

The beach is breathtaking, wide and not crowded. There are tons of lounge chairs and umbrellas, a volleyball court and an area to play beach soccer.

Playacar Palace Playa del Carmen

Playacar Palace beach

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The Food

Yum!

Resort food can be inconsistent, but I never had a bad meal at Playacar Palace. Even the dinner buffet, which I always try to avoid, was good. The resort has three restaurants; the main buffet and two a la carte restaurants (Asian and Italian). All three are very close together and right in the center of the property. Reservations were not required for the a la cartes, but I have a feeling they may be during high season.

Room service was very good. One day we ordered lunch and I had this absolutely scrumptious torta de cochinita. (Cochinita is is a traditional Mexican/Mayan slow-roasted pork dish. Pork is marinated in strongly acidic citrus juice and seasoned with annatto seed and then wrapped in banana leaf and roasted.)

Playacar Palace lunch

Bebé suggested we eat on the balcony which was lovely!

Another day we ordered room service for breakfast through one of my favorite Palace programs; in the rooms there are doorknob tags that you can fill out with your breakfast order the evening before. They offer a huge selection and you can choose what time you want it delivered as well.

Playacar Palace room service breakfast

The service and food in the Asian and Italian a la carte restaurants were excellent.

Playacar Palace Asian restaurant

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The snacks by the pool are made to order and they offer more than just the usual hamburgers, hot dogs and nachos.

I love it when resorts have a kids’ menu that is available in ALL of their restaurants, as Palace Resorts do. It really takes the worrying out of what your picky kid is going to eat during your stay.

The Activities and Kids Club

Bebé and I took full advantage of the daily and nightly activities at Playacar Palace. He played beach volleyball a couple of times and tried the stand-up paddleboard. He also did a lot of good old goofing around.

Playacar Palace activities

Playacar Palace paddle board

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I did the water aerobics class twice, tried the stand-up paddleboard and participated in the paddle board yoga class. Don’t expect to see pictures of this. 😀

The activities staff was fun, friendly and attentive. You can tell they really care about making sure the guests enjoy themselves.

Bebé generally does not want to stay in kids clubs by himself, but he asked to a couple of times during this stay for one reason, the staff made him feel comfortable. The kids club is open from 10am to 10pm.

Playacar Palace features nightly shows. We saw the Mayan show and the Breakdance (Dance Evolution) show and they were both very entertaining. We have seen the breakdance show before and it is really something to see, especially the jump rope portion. Bebé was in awe of these guys.

Dance Evolution Cancun Playa del Carmen

One of my favorite activities was having cocktails in the lobby bar.

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Playacar Palace also offers a gym, a spa and a tennis court. Free transportation to and from Moon Palace is available daily with a reservation.

Without hesitation I would highly recommend Playacar Palace or any of the Palace Resorts to anyone planning a vacation in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Now if I could just figure out how to get to the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande…

pool Westin Cancun

May 10, 2016
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A Visit to Westin Resort & Spa Cancun

Bebé and I recently spent the weekend at Westin Resort & Spa Cancun. We love our weekend getaways, but I was extra excited this time because I had just gotten a new phone with a better camera.

Westin Resort & Spa Cancun is located at the very end of the Hotel Zone, close to the airport. It sits on a spectacular beach, the perfect, white sand, aqua blue Caribbean, Cancun beach.

beach Westin Cancun

Towel looks like a cape… Super Beach Bebé!

What makes the Westin Cancun different than many resorts we visit is that it is not exclusively all-inclusive, so it’s a good option for those who prefer a breakfast-only or European plan. This is an older resort, but it’s very clean and well-maintained.

After we checked-in we headed to our room, which was a Master Suite. I think it was larger than my condo! It had a huge living room and dining room, a half bath, a large bedroom with a hot tub in the bathroom, and a balcony that ran the length of the suite. #sweetdigs

Master Suite Westin Cancun

Our room had a coffee maker, a hair dryer, bath amenities, robes and slippers, a telephone, two TVs with satellite programming, an iron and ironing board, a clock radio with an iPod docking station and a safe.

We received a warm welcome, and it was obvious they had done their research. #wine #soccer

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The view from the room was spectacular, day and night.

Cancun skyline

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We had access to the Royal Beach Club, which has a restaurant/bar and a pool. We were there every evening from 5 – 7 pm for Happy Hour (Free cocktails and snacks!)

Royal Beach Club Westin Cancun

The second evening we were there, we met a family from New Jersey. Bebé had fun playing with the twins and it was so nice for me to have some fun adults to chat with.

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We also had breakfast in the Royal Beach Club each morning. It isn’t a huge buffet, but they had all our favorites, including mimosas and Bebé’s favorite vacation treat, Fruit Loops.

Speaking of food, I was very impressed with the restaurants at the Westin Cancun Resort & Spa.

The second night we dined at Arrecifes, which serves Mexican gourmet cuisine. I had a creative appetizer of “tacos” (jicama, a white tuber, was used in place of tortillas) and a delicious risotto with huitlacoche (corn smut, yes I know it sounds gross, but it’s delicious).

Arrecifes Westin Cancun

The third night we ate at Sea & Stones, which is right on the beach. They serve steaks and pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven. I ordered the chorizo pizza and it was absolutely scrumptious. Bebé asked me if I was going to eat it all and I told him that I would like to, but I didn’t think I could.

Sea & Stones Westin Cancun

There are a few other restaurants including El Palmar (buffet breakfast, a la carte dinner), Sunset Bar (lunch and snacks) and The Place (gourmet appetizers).

It is important to note that the restaurants in the Westin Cancun will cater to any special food needs, like vegetarian, gluten-free or vegan.

The resort has a lot of pools including two large pools in the center of the property (one overlooks the lagoon and the other overlooks the ocean and has a swim-up pool bar), three small pools and the pool at the Royal Beach club. The depths vary so there’s something for everyone.

pool Westin Cancun

The highlight of our visit (at least for me) was my visit to the Heavenly Spa. Heavenly indeed!! I had the Heavenly Massage (of course) which involved heated compresses and essential oil blends. I left the Heavenly Spa feeling more relaxed than I have probably ever felt, no exaggeration.

While I was at the spa, Bebé hung at the kids club. He made a tie-dye t-shirt which he loved and insisted on wearing to dinner the following two evenings under his dress shirts. The kids club is simple, but it has a full schedule of daily activities from 9am to 5pm. We went back to the kids club on Saturday with the family we had met and the kids got to demolish a piñata since it was Día de Niños (Children’s Day) and feed the wild iguanas that live on the property.

Westin Cancun kids club

There were two programs at the resort that I thought were really great… for 5 bucks, the resort will lend you New Balance workout gear, shoes and all, and you get to keep the socks. Love this. A great idea!!

The other… the resort is pet-friendly! They welcome pets weighing 40 pounds or less, and they even get their own special bed and dish. (Note: Pet owners must sign a liability waiver at check-in which covers cleaning fees, noise disturbance and other matters. Dogs must be leashed at all times, and are not permitted in the resort restaurants, bars, swimming pool and beach areas, spa, gym and tennis courts.)

They also offers outdoor tennis courts, a gym, a business center and free WiFi with an option to pay to upgrade to high-speed internet. The staff is warm and accommodating.

Westin Resort & Spa Cancun is a good option for those who are not into the activities and shows that all-inclusive resorts provide. We had a wonderful weekend!

fashionable woven beach bag

March 28, 2016
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Boutique Mexico: Modern Fashion with Traditional Roots

For those who love Mexico and fashion, it can be difficult to find clothing and bags that are created using traditional methods, yet look modern. It’s possible to find some items in markets, but many seem a bit doudy or outdated, and believe it or not, some may not actually be made in Mexico!

That’s where Boutique Mexico comes in.

Boutique Mexico is an online boutique that offers clothes, bags, accessories and gifts. What makes these items special is that they are colorful, fashionable, modern versions of traditional Mexican pieces.

Mexican dresses

otomi purse

Mexican jewelry

Boutique Mexico’s founder Jenn Olson has visited many Mayan communities, which are quite literally located in the jungle, far from large cities like Cancun and Playa del Carmen that are filled with tourists.  During these visits she would speak with artisans and see the beautiful things they create. She realized they had no way of selling them to tourists, so she started to work with them.  She gives them a design and they bring it to life using their tradition weaving and embroidery skills.  This results in modernized styles created using ancient traditions.

By working directly with artists, Boutique Mexico ensures they are being paid a fair wage and don’t have to leave their homes or their families to earn a living. In addition, the materials used to create the items are sourced in Mexico. This type of arrangement is known as “slow fashion”,  which “encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment”. (Source: notjustalabel.com)

In other words, this is fashion you can feel good about.

fashionable plastic woven beach bag

fashionable woven beach bag

Recently I went on a search for a new beach bag. I went to Market 28, Market 23, Plaza Outlet and La Gran Plaza (all located in Cancun) and I could not find the kind of bag I was looking for. The only place that had exactly what I wanted was Boutique Mexico.

I used my gorgeous new bag for the first time a couple of weekends ago.

What makes this bag so awesome is the fact that it’s made of durable woven plastic yet still looks well-made and stylish. Plus no big deal if gets wet!!

fashionable beach bags

You don’t have to live in Cancun or even Mexico to shop at Boutique Mexico. If you are staying at a Cancun or Riviera Maya resort Boutique Mexico will deliver your order to your hotel or resort within 24 hours.

If you are not in Cancun or Rivera Maya they will ship your product anywhere in the world using FedEx.

Update: Mami got another Boutique Mexico bag! Behold my custom black Mini Stella… perfect for a casual night out on the town!

Mexican woven bags

Cancun vacation

March 14, 2016
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Cancun’s La Habichuela Downtown, Revisited

I lived here for 14 years without visiting La Habichuela, one of Cancun’s best restaurants. Now I’ve been there twice in one year, and frankly, if I were invited again next week I’d be cool with that.

La Habichuela is a Cancun classic. This restaurant is almost old as Cancun is, but that isn’t why you should dine there. You should dine there because the cuisine, service and ambiance are stellar.

My date for the most recent visit (and actually for the first visit as well) was famous Cancun blogger/friend Kelly McLaughlin of cancuncanuck.com. Our kids were not invited, which was perfectly fine with us. (We love our kids but c’mon everyone deserves a mommies’ night out once in awhile.)

We began with mojitos. ¡Salud!

fine dining Cancun

The interior of La Habichuela is warm and inviting, but the garden is the place to be. It feels a bit like dining in an ancient Mayan ruin in the jungle, and at dusk, the twinkling lights come on. (Unfortunately they look really blurry when you try to photograph them.)

Cancun dining

Cancun restaurants

I started out with ceviche, because well, I love ceviche. It was awesome, especially after I added a little salsa de habanero.

ceviche Cancun

I’ve had La Habichuela’s classic dishes before, like the Amaranth Fish Fillet and the Cocobichuela, so this time I wanted to try something new. I went for the Giant Shrimp in Tamarind Sweet & Sour Sauce, and it was absolutely scrumptious.

seafood Cancun

There were little surprises throughout, like a sorbet palate cleanser and a Mayan digestif.

downtown Cancun restaurants

There was really no question about what we were going to order for dessert. We both ordered our favorite dessert of all time, the Kukulkan Pyramid. See the pyramid, the cenote and the serpents? #YUM

best restaurants Cancun

I have also dined at La Habichuela Sunset in the Hotel Zone, and although it was excellent, La Habichuela Downtown has my heart.

Cancun vacation

La Habichuela Downtown is located at #25 Calle Margaritas next to Parque de las Palapas.