Tag Archives | #Mexico

Boats and a man on the beach in Playa del Carmen

A Week in Playa del Carmen: Part II

If you think spending a week in Playa del Carmen is too long, I think you’re wrong. We’ve written all about the Riviera Maya town before, and I’m sure we’ll write about it again. Because there is so much to see and do near this attractive beach town, just one hour south of Cancun.

Woman on the beach of Isla Contoy near Cancun, Mexico

I recently spent a week in Playa del Carmen for my friend’s birthday, and I could have easily stayed another week just to do all the activities we came across. And while I don’t want to bore you with the details, I do want to share some of the highlights that will hopefully prove helpful!

(Note: There had been a lot of violence reported in Cancun just before our trip to Playa del Carmen; however, I never felt unsafe walking through the town or on any of our tours. There was a relatively noticeable police presence, but it wasn’t overwhelming. And while I’d encourage you to take the sensationalized reporting with a grain of salt, always put your safety first.)

Annelise standing in front of the butterfly sculpture in Play del Carmen

Here is how I spent a week in Playa del Carmen:

DAY ONE: Get Settled In
Our group of seven all arrived in Cancun around 8AM. Since there were so many of us, we decided to hire a Super Shuttle for a round-trip fare of $120. Plus it was nice not to worry about arranging our ride back.

After about an hour, the driver let us out at the four-bedroom AirBnB we’d rented in Playacar. This is a nice gated community interwoven with the Hard Rock Hotel’s golf course. While it was a little ways from the bustling main strip, it was also a welcome reprieve. We had our own pool to lounge in privately and it was quiet at night. Of course there are a lot of options for accommodations in the area. We went with an AirBnB so we could have some privacy and still be all together. In this case the property manager was very accommodating, and provided drinking water as well as the number of a reliable, private taxi service. (Of course there are other ways to get around.)

After getting settled into our rooms, having a snack and getting groceries, we finally made our way out to dinner. We’d heard the restaurant at the Frida Kahlo Museum, but it was unfortunately closed for renovations. So we ate just across the street at Mi Pueblo. This is where my tour of shrimp tacos began. The food was good and the open air made for fun and easy people-watching.

Group of people in front of the Frida Kahlo mural in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

DAY TWO: Explore Your Surroundings
With everyone a little jet-lagged (except for me; I still woke up at 7:30), it was lunch time before we were all ready to go explore. So we walked into town and North of the pier to find a nice spot on the beach. And, although there was A LOT of seaweed on the shore this time of year, the beach was still beautiful and the water incredibly warm.

Ceviche at Patio 8 in Playa del Carmen

After a few hours, we walked a few blocks back toward Calle Quinta Avenida (5th street, a pedestrian path lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants), and went to Patio 8 for food and drinks. This place has great food and drink specials. Like most of the places we ate, its prices were comparable to American restaurants. But that didn’t keep us from sticking around for a couple of hours just eating and drinking and talking.

Marissa getting a birthday dessert at Patio 8 in Playa del Carmen

On our way home, we stopped to chat with the folks at Del Mundo Tours about snorkeling. They talked us into a multilingual excursion – our boat had French, English and Spanish-speaking groups – to Isla Contoy for about $120 USD per person. But we had to be up early, so it was straight to bed after that.

The port in Cancun where the boats leave for Isla Contoy

DAY THREE: Visit Isla Contoy & Isla Mujeres
We showed up in front of Del Mundo for pickup at 7AM (I told you it was early). They drove us to a port in Cancun, where they served breakfast and put us on a boat with about 30 other people.

Our guides, Lou Lou and Clal (who were seriously awesome), took those who wanted to go snorkeling just past the Mesoamerican Reef (the second-largest barrier reef in the world). In the span of about 45 minutes, we saw brain and fan coral, beautiful fish, and a nurse shark!

A boat on the water during a snorkeling trip near Isla Contoy

From there we stopped on the protected Island of Contoy for three hours. Here you can do more snorkeling or just float in the crystal waters until they serve a surprisingly delicious lunch. The only catch is that you’re only allowed to wear biodegradable sunscreen in order to protect the reef. And if you’re not a fan of mosquitoes, I’d suggest you skip the Island tour. The trip finished with quick, hour-long stop at Isla Mujeres before returning to Cancun and eventually Playa del Carmen.

A dock in the crystal waters off Isla Contoy, Mexico

For dinner, we had a reservation at Alux. This restaurant is a little away from town, but it’s so worth it. It’s set up in a cave that used to be part of the region’s underground river system (more on this later). They gave us a private room, let us choose our bottles of wine straight from the cellar, and even brought out a custom-made a birthday cake for us to share. As if the setting wasn’t reason enough to enjoy it!

A group in a private room at Alux restaurant in Playa del Carmen

DAY FOUR: Check Out a Beach Club
The best way to chase a birthday dinner? Birthday brunch.

We landed at Indigo Beach Club because they have a brunch buffet every day of the week from 7AM to 12PM for about $13 USD (not including drinks). Buuuuuut getting seven people to move is a bit like herding cats. So we got there for lunch instead. After food and drinks, we moved one-by-one from our table on the sand to their lounge chairs, where we continued to eat, drink, and enjoy the beach.

Group having drinks at Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

And this is where I sheepishly admit we spent ALL DAMN DAY at Indigo. There are two dangerous things right next to Indigo: a beach-front spa and a tourism kiosk. And we couldn’t resist either. The ladies in our group all got hour-long massages for about $30 USD (plus tip) at Spa Turquesa. And we went back and forth with the kiosk manager for a while before booking our adventure for the next day (ruins and more snorkeling!).

Man and woman in the pool at Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

By the late afternoon we had migrated to their pool area (for a fee). Hear me when I say their pool is AMAZING. It’s two stories and the upper level is a hot tub with an underwater glass wall that overlooks the pool AND THE OCEAN. It’s no wonder we couldn’t leave. We ordered another bucket of beers and they brought us towels and cups and we stayed long enough to have dinner, too. (Get the chicken fajitas.)

Despite spending literally eight hours there, we only spent around $100 per person on food, drinks, and pool access. Well worth it, IMHO.

Hammocks in front of Indigo Beach Club in Playa del Carmen

DAY FIVE: See the Ruins & the Turtles
Once again we woke early for an 8AM pickup. A private bus picked us up and whisked us away to the Mayan ruins in Tulum.

Mayan Ruins overlooking the ocean in Tulum, Mexico

The tour we paid for included transport, admission, and a guide. Though frankly I’m not sure it was necessary; there is signage along that way that could be equally informative. After the tour, you can relax on the beach, do some shopping, or grab a bite to eat. We ate Don Cafeto Tulum Ruinas and I had the best chilaquiles of my life for $125 pesos.

Having lunch at the Don Cafeto restaurant at the ruins in Tulum, Mexico

From there, our bus took us to the Bay of Akumal to snorkel. Akumal is so special because the sea water merges with the freshwater from the underground river, causing different varieties of sea grass to grow. If you’re thinking, “Who cares about sea grass?” I hear you. But sea turtles come in droves to eat the grasses unique to the region.

At Akumal, our snorkel guide, Alejandro, gave us gear and took us around a roped area for about an hour. In that time we saw stingray, squid, and a handful of sea turtles—some even had suckerfish clinging to their shells! And unlike our open water snorkel, the water here was calm. It was easy to float and follow the guide while still being able to see everything going on below the surface. It was relaxing and enjoyable and highly recommended.

By the time we got home, we were so tired we ordered Dominoes for dinner, watched the rain storm, and went to bed early.

A rain storm in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

DAY SIX: Take a Dip in a Cenote 
Whatever you do, do not skip the cenotes! I repeat: do not skip the cenotes!

If you don’t know what a cenote is, you’re in for a treat. Mexico’s Riviera Maya is littered with them—more than 6,000 in total—and they’re easily one of the things that make this region so special.

Jardin del Eden cenote peeking through the trees near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Basically, there is an underground river with fresh water that flows throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. As it moves, it erodes the landscape beneath the ground and creates caves filled with freshwater. When the ceilings of these caves collapse, you’re left with beautiful open-air pools surrounded by jungle. Or ocean or ruins or what have you. Most have some kind of life, like varieties of fish, and are so worth the trip.

A view of the bathing deck from one side of Jardin del Eden cenote near Playa del Carmen

There are so many cenotes near Playa del Carmen it can be hard to choose which one is right for you, and we tossed around the idea of going to one of the more developed parks like Rio Secreto. Ultimately, we decided to hire a car to take us to Jardin del Eden. Mostly because it was close and full of the same fish that eat your skin in fancy spas. Plus, there are two other cenotes close by (Azul and Cristalino), so we could keep exploring if we wanted to.

The entrance to Jardin is $100 pesos per person, and the snorkel rental is about $25 pesos plus a deposit you get back. Although we initially weren’t going to snorkel, I’m so glad we did. It’s really amazing to see how deep the pools are from below the surface. Jardin is also nice because they have sunbathing decks, plenty of shade, and a small cafe for when hunger strikes. We only spent a couple hours swimming around before returning to meet up with the rest of the gang.

A man slacklines at Jardin del Eden cenote near Playa del Carmen, Mexico

On our way through town we passed a restaurant called Fah and eventually returned for dinner. The atmosphere was great, complete with an incredibly talented live band and a guest performer who beat-boxed like you wouldn’t believe. If you go, order the tuna tartare because it’s to-die-for. Easily my favorite meal of the trip.

A bench in the jungle overlooking the ocean near Playa del Carmen

DAY SEVEN: Kiss Paradise Goodbye 
Okay, so maybe it’s a little less than a week in Playa del Carmen. Day seven was our last day, so we didn’t have much time.

We got up early to pack and clean house before doing some last-minute souvenir shopping at the edge of town. Our shuttle came for us at noon and we went our separate ways once we got to the airport.

And just like that, my week in Playa del Carmen came to an abrupt end. If I’d had more time, I would have definitely explored more cenotes.

Need more convincing? Check out the Planet Earth coverage on the Riviera Maya’s cenotes. And tell us how you’d spend a week in Playa del Carmen!

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Timeshare in Cancun

A Guide to Timeshares in Cancun

If you want to go all out on your next trip to Cancun, but want to avoid going into serious debt, timeshares in Cancun make for a fantastic, high-end vacation experience. With a Cancun timeshare, you’ll discover luxurious amenities and accommodations that can’t be beat. Rather than paying to stay in a cramped hotel room, timeshare suites will give you all of the comforts of home like multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, living rooms, dining tables, and spacious bathrooms. You’ll also find many units offer additional luxury features such as whirlpool tubs and private balconies with ocean views.

Timeshare in Cancun-Aqua

Not only do timeshare resorts provide top-notch accommodations, but you also get to indulge in all the resort amenities offered right on-site. Palace Resorts at Moon Palace, for instance, offers an impressive lineup of activities and services for all ages and interests. This includes nine outdoor pools, a full-service spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, and nightly entertainment. All-inclusive packages make it easy to enjoy the wealth of restaurants and bars without stressing over the tab. Nearby, you’ll find an array of exciting attractions from Xoxomilco the unique floating fiesta to the Croco Cun Zoo, there’s sure to be something for everyone in your party to enjoy just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Another top Cancun timeshare resort is Sunset Royal, offering its own slew of great features. The property has a packed activity schedule with things like beach volleyball, dance, cooking, scuba diving lessons, and happy hours. You can also indulge in high-end spa treatments, dine on the beach, work out in the fitness center, or relax by the pools. If you decide to venture off resort grounds, you’ll find that the Sunset Royal is situated in a prime location. Enjoy dancing the night away at the world-famous Coco Bongo located only a few steps down the road. If culinary adventures are more your style, the delectable seafood restaurant Lorenzillo’s is also located nearby, and offers some of the freshest seafood in Mexico.

Timeshares in Cancun room with view

For years the only way to stay in a timeshare was to either buy one, or be forced to sit through a 2- 3 hour timeshare presentation. Nowadays there are online timeshare marketplaces which offer timeshares for sale and rent by private owners. This gives you the chance to get a Cancun timeshare at a fraction of the retail cost. If you’ve never stayed in a timeshare, we recommend you book a Cancun timeshare rental so you’re able to try it out and save hundreds off resort pricing.

Cancun offers miles of beautiful, white sand beaches and warm ocean water. Families can plan a perfect beach getaway that meets their unique needs while staying on budget by booking timeshares in Cancun.

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Cancun Mexico

A Week at the Beach in Cancun Mexico

We’ve talked extensively in past posts about Cancun Mexico being a haven for all-inclusive resorts and perfect white-sand beaches. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love putting their feet up on postcard-worthy stretches of sand? In this post, we’d like to take some time to examine a few different options for getting the most out of your time in this exotic locale. Here are some insider tips on how to enjoy a week at the beach in Cancun, Mexico.

Where to Stay in Cancun Mexico

Resting in the northeast corner of the Mexican Caribbean, there are many all-inclusive resorts in Cancun. Several of these resorts are actually located on The Island of Cancun, which is connected to the mainland by two bridges, with one each in the North and South. Though it’s worth noting that many of these 3 to 5-star all-inclusive resorts can be quite pricey. As an alternative, there are more affordable hotels in the city center, surrounded by shops and restaurants.

While there is accommodation available for all tastes, for us nothing matches the convenience of a Cancun timeshare. Not only can one save a significant amount of money, but these luxurious properties have more space, full bathrooms, and private kitchens, which allow you to eat in–undoubtedly a welcome break from the bustle of the restaurants in town. This is the best way to avoid worrying about booking reservations at pricey, cramped hotels and overcrowding during peak seasons. Timeshares offer the best of both worlds with affordability and plenty of space.

What to Do in Cancun Mexico

Let’s not beat around the bush: Most people desire time away in Cancun because of its reputation as paradise. We’ve said before that the immaculate beaches of Cancun and the white carpets of Caribbean bliss were the original draw for tourism to be developed in this beautiful land. And it’s still true. If you’re ready to make all your friends green with envy, post a few shots to your Instagram of your time on the sand here, and watch the likes roll in like the tide. Some of our favorite (and most picturesque) Cancun beaches include Playa Nizuc and Playa Caracol.

Hawksbill Turtle near Cancun Mexico

An even more exotic alternative to the white beaches is to visit the Isla Contoy, which is only about 25 miles off the coast of Cancun. But know that, following progressive conservation efforts, the Mexican government has required visitors to work with locally-supervised ecotourism companies to visit this wildlife haven. Still, it’s sure to be worth it. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by four species of turtle that find a safe haven for nesting on the beaches of the island, and the reserve is also a sanctuary to approximately 152 tropical marine birds. The Isla Contoy is considered the most crucial nesting place for birds in the Mexican Caribbean.

If world-class archaeological sites are on your radar, you won’t want to miss the short day trip from Cancun to the stunning Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. The crown jewel of this pre-Columbian city is the Kukulkan pyramid. Officially Designated by UNESCO as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” Chichen Itza is one of those special places that doesn’t disappoint even those with the highest of expectations.

From the sands of pristine beaches to the ruins of Chichen Itza, where you’ll get in touch with your inner Indiana Jones, Cancun Mexico offers an adventurous and luxurious place to spend a week at the beach.

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Baja Camping at Playa Saldamando

Baja Camping on the Coast: Playa Saldamando

It’s not often that we write posts about the places we call home. As travel bloggers, we’re always writing instead about the faraway places that stole our hearts or are sure to steal yours. It’s easy to forget that travel, exploration, and adventure are not limited to international flights or cross-country road trips, or that adventure doesn’t need to be extravagant to change your perspective. In fact, and especially as California residents, we’re as inclined to explore as much nearby – like Baja camping – as we are anywhere else simply because there’s so much to see.

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I’m going to anyway: One of the best things about living in California, and San Diego in particular, is the access to all kinds of nature. Not just any nature. Like, ALL nature. This great state is widely known for its giant sequoia forests, its massive snow-capped mountains, its pristine beaches, and, yes, even its sprawling, dry desert. When nature junkies want it all within reach, California answers the call.

Blue at Playa Saldamando

While the climate is usually quite moderate, the temperature rises slightly in the summer months and the streets overflow with visiting tourists. We head fast for the van, but during these months, the nearby desert camping can be less appealing. It’s just too hot for anyone’s general enjoyment during the day. Instead, we recently planned a three-day trip down California for a little Baja camping, where the conditions are blissful and the Mexican food is even better (and cheaper).

Baja Camping

After a bit of quick research on Baja camping, we landed on Playa Saldamando, a privately owned campground just 10 minutes north of Ensenada that proved to be the perfect choice. We were able to make a reservation with the owner, George, in advance over the phone. When we arrived, despite unusual traffic into Mexico (side note: If you drive, make sure to get Mexican car insurance), we found our site roped off and awaiting our arrival.

The Hammock at the Playa

We wound up right on the bluffs overlooking the water, with enough space to accommodate our group of six, and plenty of distance from the neighboring sites to maintain privacy. In addition, each site came with a shade, a garbage can, fire pit, and a small table. Yet we had room enough to park the van, hang our hammock, set up a tent, two tables, four chairs, and play Kubb. It was pure perfection.

Bathrooms at the Playa

Though the grounds had a handful single-stall toilets only a short walk from each site, there weren’t any showers. Luckily we were wise enough to bring our Epic Wipes, which are basically full-sized, personal wet wipes, to wash with. We don’t often miss showering for a few days, but the Mexican sun and the sand require exception, and the Epic Wipes handled the job with grace. By day two, we were refreshed enough to head into Ensenada for more ice (and more beer).

Futball at Playa Saldamando

We spent the day watching other campers play on the soccer pitch, laying on the beach, and watching dolphins frolic in large pods just offshore. Mind you, I’m not kidding when I say the sun is stronger in Mexico, and protective eyewear is essential. Justin and I each have a polarized pair from Vision Direct, and they come in especially handy for trips like this because they’re sturdy and they provide just enough share to see the beautiful views more clearly.

Dolphins During Baja Camping

All in all we got good (and safe!) sun, played in the sand, and still managed to keep clean. Though maybe the best part was on the way home, when we stopped in Puerto Nuevo for fresh-caught rock lobster and one last Mexican coke. It was almost enough to make the hours-long wait at the border worthwhile. Though I’ve no doubt that we’ll return to Playa Saldamando, sunnies in hand, as soon as we can anyway.

Walking to the Playa

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yoga in costa rica

Vacations with Kids: The Five Best Destinations from the U.S.

It’s no secret that I think travel should be a pillar of every child’s education. Taking vacations with kids exposes them to the world’s classroom. By traveling, children learn everything from history and geology to modesty and gratitude.

But it doesn’t have to be expensive or long-term. You can start piquing curiosity with a Lonely Planet Kids book. And there’s plenty to see and do in the United States and nearby countries. For many of us, adventure and education through travel can be found very close to home.

If you’re raising kids in America, here are our picks for five of the best vacations with kids under 10. They include a range of travel experiences from relaxation and education to building savvy travelers and street smarts. These five trips will go a long way towards creating enthusiastic travelers and world citizens for life.

The five best vacations with kids:

Experience Native America Culture at Mesa Verde Colorado

Mesa Verde Colorado is perhaps the most inspiring and educational of all the Native American ancient dwellings. In fact, located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, this archaeological area is one of the best-preserved in the world.

mesa verde with kids

Today, Mesa Verde National Park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including a staggering 600 cliff dwellings, and most these are open for viewing and exploring by the public. Kids love Mesa Verde because they can wander through the dwellings, climb down wooden ladders for further exploration and generally have a very hands-on experience.

This fun, outdoor experience is a perfect way to educate kids about our ancient history and is very easily accessible. Plus, they make great climbing shoes for kids who are enthusiastic about the sport.

Spend a Week at the Beach Together in Mexico

This concept behind this travel blog was formed after a magical week at the beach with my family.

Like many families across the United States, my family is extremely busy. My husband and I both have careers we love and our kids stay busy with hectic social and extracurricular schedules. Life is fun, but extremely busy.

Family Beach Travel

Taking vacations with kids to the beach, where you can do nothing but relax, is important not just for the health benefits of relaxing, but for your kids to SEE you in that state. Better yet, get them a durable camera to capture those special moments.

It’s important for kids to realize life isn’t only about making it to soccer practice on time. By enjoying time together in a relaxed state, you will model for them a healthy life balance that can be difficult to attain at home.

As regular readers of this blog know, we love Mexico’s Riviera Maya. It’s easily accessible via quick flights from most U.S. destinations, affordable, has amazing beaches and offers so much for families to do. Plus, heading south of the border provides a great opportunity for kids to practice their Spanish and experience a new culture.

Combine U.S. History with a Great American Road Trip

Small towns, wide-open roads and stunning landscapes make up a large portion of the United States. Packing up the car and driving across the country should be a right of passage for every American child.

As I’ve explored quintessential American communities with my kids over the years, these small towns have started to intrigue me as if I was a foreigner. Or a child.

Destinations like Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Yosemite National Park in California offer fun, age-appropriate education for kids under the age of 10. These sites are intriguing and also an opportunity for kids to understand how forward-thinking our past political leaders were in protecting and preserving significant places.

presidents-on-my-rushmore

Other history-packed destinations like Washington DC, Boston and New York City can be experienced when kids are a bit older, but national parks and other outdoor monuments are a great option for vacations with kids because they can learn about our nation’s history while seeing magnificent regions of the United States. And these fun, scratch-off maps will help your kids track their journeys.

Take your kids to Disney World (Sigh) 

For years, I fought this trip kicking and screaming. With so much to see and do in the world, why would we want to “waste” time at a theme park in Florida?

Well, we went to Disney World and of course the kids had an absolute blast. We spent time together as a family and experienced something new together. Particularly with young children, this emotional connection and experience is as important as the destination itself.

disney travel tips

Kids are kids and should be allowed to have fun. So yes, take your kids to Disney World before they turn 10.

Besides, as children mature and reflect on their travels they will come to understand the poignant differences between a manufactured Disney trip and an authentic travel experience.

Introduce Children to Developing Countries in Central America

Flights to destinations across Central America are only a few hours from most cities across the southern United States. This ease of access makes Central America an excellent, easy opportunity to introduce your children to developing countries and Latin culture.

things to do in granada nicaragua

While countries like Costa Rica have a very well developed tourism infrastructure, other Central American destinations like Nicaragua remain relatively undeveloped and have retained authentic culture and charm.

In Central America you can explore everything from colonial history to jungle ecology together with your kids. Just make sure you pack sunscreen and bug spray!

What other destinations would you add to this list of destinations Americans must visit with kids under 10?

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