Why I Love Cancun’s Plaza La Isla

Sometimes when you live in a beautiful tourist destination like Cancun, it’s easy to get sucked into everyday life. Even though I’m just minutes away from some of the world’s best beaches and most incredible All Inclusive resorts, I often forget there’s more to life than wake up, go to work, go to the gym, watch TV, sleep, repeat.

So when I really want to feel like a tourist in Cancun, there’s one perfect place that’s just a cheap bus ride away: Plaza La Isla.

Plaza La Isla is a beautiful outdoor mall set in the middle of the Hotel Zone, complete with charming canals, luxury boutiques, inexpensive brands, high-end department stores, fast food, fun restaurant and upscale dining. It’s unbeatable location right on the lagoon makes it the perfect spot for a romantic evening.

One thing I love about Plaza La Isla is the fountains, which always manage to draw in a crowd! Everyone oohs and aahs over the jumping water fountain, while kids can be seen running through the ground fountain by the lagoon.

See? Kids can't help themselves ūüôā

So many of my best Cancun memories have been in Plaza La Isla: margaritas with my sister, dinners at Thai Lounge, a quincenera party at Planet Hollywood, tons of photo ops by the fountain, shopping at Guess (my favorite), root beers at Johnny Rockett’s, petting a shark, panoramic views of the Hotel Zone from the top of the parking deck, and of course… Jorge proposing to me by the lagoon.

Next time you’re in Cancun, make sure to visit this beautiful outdoor mall. I recomend arriving around 4 pm so you can see it in the daylight, at sunset and in the evening.

View of the Hotel Zone across the lagoon

What’s your favorite place to shop in your city?

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

The Fairmont Mayakoba Resort Goes Green

Set in the Riviera Maya just north of Playa del Carmen, the beautiful Fairmont Mayakoba forms part of the Mayakoba Resort, which just won the prestigious Ulysses Award from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, one of the world’s top recognitions for ecotourism development.

The Fairmont Mayakoba’s green iniciatives are seemingly endless, focusing not only on preserving their natural environment, but going several steps further to actually help it grow and form new, biodiverse ecosystems.

The winding canals found throughout the resort were formed utilizing the underground rivers and cenotes already existing on the property, creating several miles of soft current where guests can enjoy boat tours in lanchas to see the local birds, fish and ecosystems. By forming these canals, the resort has managed to maintain much of the pre-existing wildlife while also providing a beautiful home for hundreds of new species.

The Fairmont Mayakoba’s Green Partnership Program incorporates sustainable ecotravel concepts into all areas of the hotel:

  • Eco-Meet program, minimizing the ecological footprint for groups and conventions
  • Nature tours and adventure tourism at the nearby Sian Ka’anBiosphere Reserve
  • Greening Our Greens program for wildlife conservation on El Cameleon Golf Course
  • Green Cuisine, using fair-trade, sustainable, local and organic food products whenever possible (specializing in local Mayan communities and on-site gardens)
  • Alliance with the Climate Savers Program from World Wildlife Fund to cut down on CO2 emissions
  • Energy and Water Conservation projects in staff areas, public areas and guestrooms
  • Flora and Fauna Conservation with plant relocation, a turtle aquarium, and more
  • Waste Management projects with recycling, biodegradable products and composting of organic materials

Rose Spoonbill (apologies for the blurriness, he was too quick to catch on camera!)

In addition to their green iniciatives, the Fairmont Mayakoba also works closely with the community, aligning themselves with local universities, Mayan communities and programs for children.

This year, the resort is working hand-in-hand with the U’yo’olche non-profit organization with Pack For A Purpose. During the month of December, guests at the resort can participate in this iniciative by packing toys and gifts for Three Kings Day, a Latin American children’s holiday celebrated on January 6th. Gifts will be given out to local Mayan communities so children can wake up on January 6th to much-loved presents. For more information on how you can help, follow through here:

Pack For A Purpose

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

My Christmas Posada Parties in Cancun

I’ll be straight with you… I’ve lived in Mexico for 6 years and I still don’t know much about what a traditional Mexican posada entails. I know they’re parties held in December, kind of like our Christmas parties in the US, but with more traditional elements like star-shaped pi√Īatas and bowls of ponche to drink. People also go from house-to-house singing a traditional song to pedir posada (or “lodging”, a la Mary and Joseph looking for an inn) until they reach the home of their party host, who lets them in.

And yet, I have seen none of this in Cancun. No ponche, no donkeys, no songs and no star-shaped pi√Īatas for this gringa.

I have, however been to several Cancun posadas in my time. Young people in Cancun just do things a bit differently than the rest of Mexico. Why? Because who needs tradition? Bring on the dancing and the crazy house parties!

Here are some pictures from my first ever Cancun posada at a house party with my univeristy friends, circa December 2008… whoa.

That's my logistics professor in the background!!

Gotta love living in a city where you can wear spaghetti straps outdoors in December.

In 2010, I was a bit more tame and I only went to my office’s posada. It’s nice to see everyone dressed up and out of uniform.

2011 promises to be the best year yet for posadas and me! I’ve been to two already, including yet another work posada. For our first posada of 2011, Jorge and I went to Muellecito bar with a group of his friends from elementary school, then the group headed out to Alebrije nightclub, which I hadn’t been to yet.

Jorge with his friends from elementary school

Screen in back translates "Welcome to Mexico Jesus!!" I like to think they're referring to Jesus Christ and the posadas tradition, but since we're in Mexico it's probably just some guy named Jesus.

Tomorrow night we’re hosting a posada party at our house. Just as with all my other Cancun posadas, it’s looking to be very untraditional with no singing, no donkeys, no pi√Īatas… because apparently our friends want to grill burgers.

BURGERS.

Whatever, that’s how we roll in Cancun.

 

This post is part of a Blog Hop on posadas! Want to read more about Mexican posadas from some of my friends, or add your own posada post to our Blog Hop? Check it out below…

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Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

A Walk Along Fifth Avenue in Playa del Carmen

The past month has been one of my favorites since I moved to Mexico over 6 years ago. For three weekends in a row, we found great excuses to make the 1-hour drive from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. First we went to the Taste of Playa Food Festival, then the next weekend to the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival, then last weekend just to hang out! Because who doesn’t want to wake up to this…

The most famous area of Playa del Carmen is Fifth Avenue (or “La Quinta”, as the locals call it), a pedestrian street that runs parallel to the beach. All along this avenue, you’ll find charming hotels, tons of restaurants, boutique shops, local artisanry, beautiful cafes and chic nightclubs right on the beach.

Coco Maya Beach and Night Club

A predominantly European destination, Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue is ideal for people-watching. You’ll see everything from luxury travelers to backpackers all on one unique street.

My personal favorite part of Fifth Avenue is a small off-street called “Calle Corazon” (Heart Street). Calle Corazon is filled with twinkle lights, cafes and art galleries, and I lose myself in its magical atmosphere every time I walk by.

Calle Corazon

 

From Fifth Avenue, it’s just a one-block stroll down to the stunning Caribbean beach, where travelers can indulge in enticing meals right on the sand at oceanfront palapa restaurants. But to be honest, sometimes we don’t even make it to the beach! Our favorite thing to do is to simply walk up and down Fifth Avenue and talk about how much we want to move to Playa del Carmen.

"Jellyfish Lanterns"

What’s your favorite travel destination?

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Sand and Sound at the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival 2011

This past weekend was the annual Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in one of my favorite places: Playa del Carmen. Held Thursday November 24 through Saturday November 26 at the chic Mamita’s Beach Club, the festival hosted some of the top current jazz artists in Latin America and beyond.

Saturday’s concert began at 7 pm , but Jorge and I didn’t arrive at Mamita’s Beach until around 8 pm. The beach was immense and PACKED. We estimated there were at least 2,000 spectators that night, but probably more. Many had brought their beach chairs, others were standing, and even more were hanging out on the sand talking to groups of friends. It was a very relaxed vibe despite the large crowd.

Throughout the evening, we got to hear music by Richard Bona, Alex Otaola and the Yellowjackets. I’m not a huge jazz fan, but even I was really getting into it! Some of the music was a bit bland for me, but the upbeat numbers were a lot of fun.

Juan and Viri joined up with us later on, and we got a new spot near the very back of the crowd. It was less crowded, and everyone in that area was just sitting on the sand talking to friends with a pretty clear (if distant) view of the stage. Juan had brought a 10-pack, so he and Jorge joked over their beers while Viri and I spent the evening talking and taking pictures. We’ll definitely be back to the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in 2012! It was a fun, relaxed evening of beach, friends and music.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Taste of Playa 2011

I’d been looking forward to this past Sunday for a year now, and I was not disappointed!

Jorge, Viri, Juan and I all made our way south to Playa del Carmen for the annual Taste of Playa culinary event, sponsored by Diamonds International. For those who haven’t had the chance to explore the Riviera Maya, the city of Playa del Carmen is well-known for its charming bars and restaurants. The entire Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is filled with all kinds of dining venues, ranging from casual sandwich shops to chic upscale restaurants. Local bars are open-air, ideal for people watching while indulging in a margarita or artisan beer.

At Taste of Playa,¬† the best of all these unique options come together at Parque Fundadores, set on the Quinta Avenida right by the Caribbean Sea. Guests lined up to purchase “Playa Pesos”, each costing $10 pesos (roughly $1 USD) each. With just 1 Playa Peso, you can purchase some mouthwatering tacos, a cold cocktail, a spicy ceviche or even sushi!

We each wandered around on our own, sampling from almost every vendor we saw. The favorites among our small group were the crunchy tacos and some chocolate-covered cream puffs. I’m always surprised how the simplest dishes often turn out to be the best.

After an hour or two of culinary inspiration at Taste of Playa, our small group walked up and down Quinta Avenida to enjoy the laid-back vibe of Playa del Carmen before heading back to Cancun (where we immediately went to a taco joint, surprise surprise).

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ll let the slideshow do most of the talking. Try not to drool onto your keyboard:

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Mexico Today and Vital Voices Twitter Party

The Mexico Today initiative has joined forces with the Vital Voices Global Partnership organization to host a Twitter Party focusing on women’s entrepreneurship in Mexico and Latin America as a whole. The Twitter Party will be held this Monday, November 21 at 1 pm EST. (That’s 12 pm for all you cancunenses!)

We’re really excited to be working with Vital Voices, who has helped women all over the world to become strong leaders.

“Vital Voices is an international non-profit, non-partisan organization, that provides leadership training and suppport for emerging women leaders in business, government, and civil society.”

“Our mission is to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.”

Anyone who has lived in Latin America can’t help but notice how strong the female role is in this society, and this year Vital Voices launched its LACBWN (Latin America and Caribbean Businesswomen’s Network), based in Mexico City.

“The network will mobilize and connect women professionals and entrepreneurs to promote economic growth and strengthen the business environment for women‚Äôs economic engagement through training, mentorship and capacity building programs.”

I’m so excited to be cohosting this important Twitter Party, where we’ll have the chance to discuss important issues on women’s entrepreneurship in Mexico, like marketing, networking, strengths and barriers.

If you’d like to join in this 1-hour Tweetchat, you can follow the #MexicoToday hashtag and use the #MexicoToday Tweetchat Page. Your hosts for this event are:

Suzanne Barbezat @mexicoguide

Silvia Martinez @mamalatinatips

Craig Zabransky @stayadventurous

Laura Nazimiec @gomexicoguide

Laura Winfree @cancungringa (That’s me!)

You can find more information and see some of our participants on our Facebook event page:

Mexico Today and Vital Voices Facebook Event

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

I Got "Steeped" at the Fairmont Mayakoba

Saturday evening, Jorge and I were invited by PR Director Paulina Feltrin to visit the incredible Fairmont Mayakoba resort in the Riviera Maya for something I have never done before… a tea tasting! On November 12, the Fairmont chain hosted different “Get Steeped” events throughout all their international hotels and resorts, offering everything from cultural events to “tea-quila” drinks.

At the Fairmont Mayakoba, we got to enjoy some unique yet delicious Berry Berry Tea Martinis.

The resort’s resident tea and tequila expert, Jesus, explained to us about the Fairmont’s popular line of teas, offering a variety of delicious infusions ranging from traditional Earl Greys to modern fruit flavors.

Jesus mixed each drink with the following recipe:

  • Fairmont’s Berry Berry infusion tea, with dried hibiscus flower (popular in Mexico), raisins, berries and herbs
  • A generous portion of vodka
  • A dash of Xtabentun liqueur, a traditional anise from the Yucatan

All these ingredients combined to create a strong, flavorful and very Mexican tea martini!

I even got the chance to mix my own, which Jesus said was even better than his (Maybe he was just trying to butter me up, but it worked). I learned that the best way to steep tea is by scooping the mixture directly into the water, NOT with a tea bag! Also, you need 20 – 30 shakes to mix a martini. Considering I’ve never mixed a drink in my life, I was pretty pleased with myself.

The final product was quite beautiful, with the alcoholic Berry Berry Tea Martini sporting a lovely pink color and the non-alcoholic martini with a deep purple tone.

I’ve never been much of a tea drinker, but after the tea tasting at the Fairmont Mayakoba resort I just might have to turn these tea martinis into a bad habit!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Catrinas and Calaveras in Cancun

Mexico is known across the globe for its vibrant and colorful holidays. Here, even death itself takes on a joyful vibe every year on El Dia de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”). Held on November¬†1 and 2, this holiday celebrates loved ones who have passed on with altars to the deceased called ofrendas and an annual visit to grave sites.

Since Day of the Dead falls so close to Halloween, the two holidays are often combined here in Cancun. Children roam neighborhoods trick-or-treating with parents and friends, while the streets fill up with images of La Catrina, an elegant lady skeleton symbolizing Day of the Dead.

One of the many Catrinas I found in Cancun’s Parque Las Palapas tonight

¬†Tonight was an interesting one for Jorge and me. We had several groups of trick-or-treaters stop by, and we gave them some classic Mexican candies. (Jorge’s enjoying the leftovers as I write this.) Then we took a stroll around Parque Las Palapas, which had lots of family activities, people in costume, and a show with colorful Mexican dances.

My best friend Viri had an ofrenda for her brother and grandfather set up at her home, and her parents were kind enough to let me take some pictures. It has many of the classic ofrenda elements, with incense, marigolds (Flor de Muerto), pan de muerto, candles to guide the way of the deceased, sugar skulls (calaveras) and some of their favorite food and drinks from when they were living.

I always feel like Day of the Dead is a fascinating mix of intimate family memories and vivid social traditions, bringing together families and communities alike. This year in Cancun was no different.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Taste of Playa Returns to the Riviera Maya!

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve already got my calendar marked for November 20. The city of Playa del Carmen will once again be hosting its annual “Taste of Playa” event, where guests can sample the favorite dishes and drinks from the city’s most popular bars and restaurants all in one stunning beachfront location.

My long-time readers may remember that Jorge and I got to go last year, and it was an amazing day filled with beer, cupcakes, shrimp and Caribbean views. (They obviously know exactly how to win over this couple!)

In my excitement to go back, I scored an interview with friend, Playa del Carmen resident and fellow blogger Michele Kinnon from Life’s a Beach, who has helped organize the event ever since its beginnings. I love her insights on PDC cuisine!

Michele, how are you involved in Taste of Playa?

My husband Rob and I are proud to be corporate sponsors for Taste of Playa. This is our third year supporting this community event. As expats and business owners in Playa del Carmen, we are always looking for ways to give back to the community that has given us so much. Taste of Playa is exactly the kind of event we try to ally ourselves with as it truly celebrates the diversity of the region. For the first two incarnations of Taste of Playa I had the role of Marketing Chairperson for the event, a job that I found challenging but rewarding in many ways. I got to work with an amazing group of women, all business owners in Playa del Carmen and all committed to promoting the Riviera Maya as a tourism destination.

How did Taste of Playa begin?

The idea for Taste of Playa was conceived in 2009 by a group of Playa del Carmen businesswomen. We were looking for a way to draw positive attention to all the wonderful things the Riviera Maya had to offer, ultimately increasing tourism to the area. This new culinary event was the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning and preparation volunteered by the Executive Committee and dozens of committed and passionate sub-committee members.

Why do you think this event has become so popular so quickly?

I think the event has been so successful because it appeals to many different people for many different reasons. For locals, it is a fun, affordable festival to enjoy with family and friends. For foodies it is a chance to scope out new restaurants and get some face-time with favorite chefs and restaurant owners. For tourists it is a destination event, one which many people now plan their travel around, that offers the opportunity to try the signature dishes of 40 plus local eateries all in one place, something they would likely not be able to do within the span of the average vacation week. For everyone, the event is a way to try great cuisine at a very accessible price whether you go for the VIP pass or buy individual tasting tickets.

What makes Taste of Playa different from other culinary events throughout the world?

What distinguishes Taste of Playa from many other food festivals and culinary events is its diversity. There is no one cuisine that represents The Riviera Maya. Certainly, we are in Mexico and Mexican and Maya cuisines are well represented here in hundreds of restaurants and eateries. What is different here is that unlike in most cities, which are divided up into neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy, all of the chefs and restauranteurs who have brought their unique cultures and cuisines to the Riviera Maya are working and living side by side with chefs from the local Mexican community. Walk down La Quinta in Playa del Carmen and you will find an Indian restaurant next door to a sushi joint, next to a taqueria, an Italian pizza place, an Argentinean steak house and so on. It’s like a great big culinary melting pot and Taste of Playa was designed to reflect just that!




What kind of cuisine can we expect to see at Taste of Playa this year?

As the Riviera Maya has a culturally diverse population made up of people from all over the world, we can expect that the cuisines represented at Taste of Playa 2011 will be equally diverse! Expect to see influences from France, Italy, Thailand and Spain mixing it up with traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine! Many of the participants from years past will be returning but we also have quite a few new restaurants coming on board. I’m excited to see what they will bring to the table!


Thanks, Michele!

All photos courtesy of tasteofplaya.com

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.