Mahahual: City of Signs

Sometimes a big personality can add great flavor to even the smallest travel destinations.

On my road trip to Mahahual this year (see all the beach pics here!), I fell in love with all the colorful signs I found while walking along the Malecon. Some of them were cute, some informative, and some hilarious. Clearly, this is a beach town that knows how to have some fun. Enjoy!

 

And of course… the one sign that every travel blogger wants to see… truly this must be paradise.

 

Mahahual Road Trip!

Over my 9 years in Cancun, I’ve made an effort to explore all the main travel destinations in the state of Quintana Roo. I’ve made it to Holbox, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos and Akumal. All the big ones. All that was left was Mahahual, Bacalar, and Sian Ka’an. A few months ago, I got to cross two of those off my list!

My friend Julie (another gringa) and I planned a little weekend road trip to Mahahual and Bacalar… not an easy thing to because they’re 4 – 5 hours south of Cancun. We took her car down the main highway, and we gossiped and reminisced about 90s music along the way. There was an overnight stay in Tulum before we made it to the little beach town of Mahahual for the afternoon.

The original plan was to stay a night in Mahahual, but since it was Semana Santa (“Holy Week”, kind of like Mexico’s Spring Break when they all go on vacation), all of the hotels in Mahahual were booked solid. So a few hours would have to be enough!

When we arrived in Mahahual, I wasn’t too excited. All the action is set along the Malecon, a beachfront pedestrian street, and it was packed. I don’t mind a busy beach, but this was ridiculous. And Mexicans don’t do beach days quite like Americans do. Americans will spread out a towel, tan, order a few drinks and play in the water. On the other hand, when Mexicans travel with the family, they will usually grab a table on the sand so they can eat and drink all day. (Let’s be honest, the Mexican way is so much better.) Unfortunately, this meant that the beach I’d dreamed of visiting for years was filled with plastic tables and chairs.

Luckily as Julie and I walked further down the Malecon, the crowds thinned out a little and we were able to find a beach club with some space. We ordered some drinks and a light lunch, and spent all afternoon hanging out in the water!

Just off the beach, there’s a reef where the waves break, so the water right by the beach is shallow and still, like a pool. It was HEAVENLY.

Our stretch of beach was pretty quiet, but I could see the Semana Santa crowds further down. My next Mahahual trip will be during low season!

For now I’ll leave you all with pictures of the beach and the Malecon, which was pretty cool! I’ll definitely be back to Mahahual.

Yucatan Weekend! Mayan Architecture and Magic Towns

As all my Facebook and Instagram followers know, Jorge and I were in Yucatan recently! We toured Chichen Itza and the town of Valladolid. (Valladolid is about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Cancun, and Chichen Itza is about 2 hours and 30 minutes.)

It was Jorge’s very first time at Chichen Itza and my third. Sometimes I feel that even though I’m the gringa and he’s the Mayan, I know a lot more ancient Mayan culture than he does haha I guess that’s what happens when you become a travel writer. As soon as we got there, Jorge was blown away. I rarely see him get this excited about anything that’s not a video game.

Our first stop was El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza’s most famous structure. This is also the one that has the descending shadow snake on the spring equinox! There were people behind us the whole time clapping because if you clap from certain points, it echoes back from the top of the pyramid and sounds like an eagle.

Also, like so many women do, I have married a man who is very much like my father. We always joke that my dad can’t go anywhere without seeing somebody he knows, and Jorge is no different. At Chichen Itza, we ran into his cousins!

We stayed at Chichen Itza for about 4 hours total, and I have one recommendation: less souvenir stands, more water stands! The amount of salesmen blowing their “jaguar call” whistles was ok for about 2 minutes, but the rest of the day I felt like I wanted to punch them. If you ever visit Chichen Itza, I hope you enjoy several hours of fake jaguar calls in your ear. And I only found 2 water stands the entire day, which is pretty difficult when you’re exploring an entire city with little shade. Travel tip: Bring your own water to Chichen Itza. Lots of water. Other than that, we loved it! Most people only know El Castillo and maybe the Observatory, but Chichen Itza has so many other structures! A large structure surrounded by thousands of pillars, beautiful artwork, small platforms, even more large pyramids you’ve never heard of, and a huge Mayan ball game court.

If you look closely at these pillars, you can see the engravings of Mayan warriors. Jorge loved these!

So… do you think you can get a ball through this hoop using only your hips to touch the ball? It’s probably for the best that you can’t, because the winning team of the Mayan ball game was sacrificed to the gods as an honor.

After Chichen Itza, we spent a night in Valladolid. Mexico has a “Magic Town” campaign where towns across the country are recognized for their culture, history and attractions. Valladolid is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns”. I didn’t take many pictures because I was  tired of playing photographer after the day at Chichen Itza.

The evening was spent watching cultural dancing by a park, hanging out in the main plaza, eating dinner by the main plaza and taking pictures of the cathedral.

We stayed at Hotel San Clemente, which I HIGHLY recommend! A few Facebook acquaintances highly recommended Meson del Marques hotel which is right on the square, but sadly it was out of our budget. However, Hotel San Clemente did not disappoint… right next door to the cathedral, pool, pretty courtyard, lots of hot water and a spacious room, all for $450 pesos a night (less than $40 USD). Next time I might spend the extra money just to stay in a hotel or B&B with more charm and style, but Hotel San Clemente was an amazing deal. Here’s the view from our room’s door:

In the morning, we crossed the main square to enjoy breakfast at the Valladolid market because you can’t spend a morning in Valladolid without breakfast at the market. I got a huge plate of fruit and Jorge got all kinds of tacos. Next we stopped by Casa de los Venados, which is a colonial home that was once abandoned and now has been renovated by an American couple as their house and a museum. You can go on a guided tour for about 1 hour, and all the bedrooms, courtyard, kitchen, living room, etc are filled with Mexican folk art. I’ve never seen anything like it! I wanted to focus on the experience instead of the pictures so I have nothing to show from my visit, but you can check out the Casa de los Venados website here.

Well that’s all I’ve got from our Yucatan trip! Jorge and I hope to go to Izamal in the future, and return to Valladolid with more time and more money.

I’ll Never Be Happy With Normal Food Again

It’s good to have a press pass.

Today I got to go with a bunch of friends to the Gourmet Tasting Village at the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival! And Oh. My. Goodness. We had the best time!

We spent two hours devouring sample sizes of gourmet food created by restaurants, caterers and resorts in the Cancun and Riviera Maya region! Some of it was just “meh”, but most of it was unbelievable. The event also had lots and lots of wine to sample, but our little group was so intently focused on the food that we kinda forgot about the wine. Whoops!

Here are some of my favorite pics… I won’t share all of them because I don’t want to ruin the surprises for anyone who is going to the Gourmet Tasting Village on Sunday.

The Gourmet Tasting Village is still going on Sunday afternoon, March 16 from 2 – 5 pm. (You’ll want to get there at 2 because trust me, you need the full 3 hours.) If you like the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival on Facebook, you can even get passes at 2 for the price of 1!

Buy your tickets here.

 

The Press Conference that Turned Me Into a Foodie

Amazing things don’t usually happen on Wednesdays… but last Wednesday, something pretty amazing happened to me.

A media friend of mine invited me to a press conference for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. Most press conferences are just the event organizers sitting at a table answering press questions and having their picture taken, but this was something else! I showed up to the beautiful Casa Rolandi and was taken to a large table with this view:

And the view from the deck! These are all pictures of the Nichupte Lagoon.

I was soon joined by my friend Kelly (aka Cancun Canuck). Figures the American and the Canadian would be the first to show up. As the rest of the group trickled in, it became clear that this was no ordinary press conference… we had just sat down to a multi-course tasting lunch with the founder and marketing team of the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival!

Along with some other bloggers and “tweeters”, I feasted on course after course while the festival organizers told us all about the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival for 2014. This is the region’s biggest food event, and it’s known for its luxury events, celebrity chefs, wine tastings, and upscale dinners hosted at some of the area’s best hotels and venues. Founder David Amar said, “We strive to showcase the world’s food and wine projects and the stories behind it… Even more than the names, it’s the story behind WHY.”

But back to my lunch! Had I known what I had gotten myself into, I would have brought my trusty Nikon camera. But alas, I’ll have to make due with my cell phone pictures. Here are just a few of the courses we had at Casa Rolandi:

My favorite, the white fish sashimi

Everything you need to make tiny pork tacos

My pork taco creation

Would you believe I have never gotten one of these fancy platters before?

Lamb and sweet potato. Wow.

 

Just when I thought nothing could beat the sashimi, Casa Rolandi proved me wrong. They brought out the dessert.

I usually go by the rule, “If it’s not chocolate, it’s not worth my time” when it comes to dessert. I was wrong. So wrong. I’m not 100% sure what this is. I believe it’s some kind of large macaroon with a passion fruit or mango ice cream. Either way, it blew my taste buds away.

 

After that lunch, I felt like a true cuisine connoisseur! It really got me revved up for the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival. The festival’s events will mostly take place in the Cancun area this year (last year they were in the Riviera Maya). It will run March 13 – 16, 2014 with events like celebrity chef cook-offs, wine tastings (as well as mezcal, champagne and whiskey!) with top sommeliers, the Gourmet Tasting Village and a yacht cruise to Isla Mujeres. Their goal is to increase the luxury tourism market in the Cancun – Riviera Maya area with several days of upscale culinary events.

For all the information on the events and guest chefs, stop by the Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival website. See you there!

 

Release the Turtles!

I have to admit that my life is pretty cool. I got to spend my Monday morning on a Caribbean beach watching young sea turtles swim in the ocean for the first time.

This photo was taken by my friend Pamela Acosta on Monday morning. God bless GoPro cameras.

Xcaret park in the Riviera Maya invited a bunch of us over for the day to see the first sea turtle release of their 2014 season. Here in the Cancun / Riviera Maya area, mother sea turtles come to our beaches to nest and lay their eggs. Many local volunteers, companies and resorts have baby sea turtle programs where they rope off turtle nests to keep them from harm, then releases the newborns into the sea to make sure they get there safely. (The path from the nest to the ocean can be perilous for them!) Only 1 out of 1,000 of these newborns will reach adulthood.

However, Xcaret goes a step further to increase their odds of survival in the wild by caring for the turtles until they reach 15 months. So, throughout February and March 2014, Xcaret will be releasing a few of their 15-month old sea turtles every day at noon on their amazing beach!

The water was STUNNING. Oh my gosh. The water. Wow.

And the turtles had a paparazzi-like crowd to make them feel like celebrities.

They let the kids form a group for each turtle, then release them one at a time. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!

What a great way to start the week. Thanks Xcaret!

Weekend in Akumal

After months of rain, rain, rain, my tan is finally starting to make a comeback!

Last week was my best friend Viri’s birthday, and a bunch of us headed down to Akumal for the weekend to celebrate. (With stops in Playa del Carmen for food on the way there and back, of course.) We booked the 3-bedroom condo at Vista del Mar on Half Moon Bay for a night, and it was huge! I didn’t take pictures of the condo, but you can see pictures of their condos here.

HALF MOON BAY PICTURES

Most of the weekend was spent relaxing on the hotel’s beach. Half Moon Bay is much different from Akumal Bay. It is filled with rocks and fossilized coral, which is perfect for taking beautiful pictures, but difficult to walk on. If you’re ever on Half Moon Bay for the week, I’d recommend a camera and water shoes.

CONDO PICTURES

The only part of our condo that I did manage to snap some pictures of was the balcony. It was big and facing the beach! We spent a lot of time on the balcony eating and hanging out.

AKUMAL BAY PICTURES

While the guys had ceviche at Lol-Ha restaurant, us girls went to hang out on the beach and play in the water of Akumal Bay. This beach has zero rocks and zero waves! This time, there were even schools of fish nibbling on my legs. It was cute 95% of the time, but there were a few fish that liked to bite my knees pretty hard.

Akumal is located in the Riviera Maya, about an hour and a half south of Cancun. (Halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum) We loved Vista del Mar hotel because of the spacious condos, amazing views and great location just a quick walk from La Buena Vida bar.

No Better Place for a Day Off!

We just had a 3-day weekend here in Mexico! Many people in Cancun who work at hotels had to work on Monday, but Jorge and I are blessed with jobs that gave us the day off on Monday. It was also our 7-year anniversary of becoming a couple and the weather was PERFECT, so we knew we had to go to the beach. But which one? We woke up Monday morning and I asked Jorge where he wanted to go, and he said Isla Mujeres. (He almost always chooses Isla Mujeres), an island located just off the coast of Cancun.

Around noon, we headed to Puerto Juarez to catch the ferry. We had lunch, walked around town, bought some ice cream, then headed over to Playa Norte / North Beach. I’d mentioned to Jorge that the part of North Beach where we usually go had been crowded the past few times, so we decided to go to the northern end of North Beach for the first time. It was just as crowded, but we still liked it better! This end didn’t have the big black sand bags that the other part of North Beach has, plus it has no hotels, which means less loungers and umbrellas for rent. We felt like we fit in better at this part of North Beach because it was overall a younger crowd (20s and 30s mostly) and everyone just spread their blankets on the sand like we did, instead of having the view blocked by hotel loungers like usual. Some people were even smart enough to bring their hammocks. It felt like a beach camp!

 

The water was calm and peaceful, just like the rest of North Beach, but it was even shallower! Instead of being waist-deep, it was only knee-deep  or calf-deep.

 

The knee-deep water meant that Jorge and I spent most of the afternoon doing this:

 

There was a little silver fish that decided we were tasty and spent quite awhile exfoliating / nibbling at our feet, just like at the fancy spas! But for free 🙂

When I took my camera into the ocean, Jorge kept telling me not to get it so close to the water. But I couldn’t resist! And the pictures were worth it.

After awhile in the water, we went back to our shady spot under a palm tree and napped for an hour. When we woke up, the view looked like this:

After the beach, we had a pretty amazing dinner and saw a side of Isla Mujeres we’d never seen before… but that’s a story for another blog post.

 

 

 

One Sunny Day in Chabihau

Our New Years 2014 trip to the fishing village of Chabihau was downright depressing.

I talk about our trips to Chabihau a lot. We have land there now and it’s just the perfect little place to relax and leave everything behind. However, those of you who follow the Gringation Facebook page and all my amigos here in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula know that the past 7 months or so have been filled with mind-blowing amounts of rain, flooding, discomfort and general dreariness. As bad luck would have it, the rain followed us to Chabihau a few weeks ago. We spent 5 days there, most of which I spent stuck inside Jorge’s parents’ Chabihau house (which right now is just a concrete cube with a few walls, a bed and a bathroom) working at least 8 hours a day and trying to get out of bed as little as possible because our room was partially flooded. It was the first time in 7 years that I even realized there’s no TV there. I really could have used some TV that week.

Sunday was the only nice day we had during that trip, and it was just so lovely. The sun came out a little, so I made Jorge go on an afternoon walk with me around Chabihau. Not much to say here, so here come the pictures I took:

 

At the end of the walk, we stopped by the beach. Sadly, the beach has been largely swept away by hurricanes. I am told it used to be amazing and the water was crystal clear a number of years ago. The first row of homes was even taken out by a hurricane, so the homes you see on the beach now used to be almost a block from the ocean! Mother Nature isn’t always kind, I guess.

 

And last but not least, my favorite picture of the day! I dunno why… I think it’s the combination of the path, the scenery and the sheep.

December Beach Day in Cancun

The past few months, Cancun has been beaten up by ridiculous amounts of rain. We managed to escape a hurricane yet again in 2013, but we had to deal with several weeks worth of significant street flooding. Now that I’m working from home, I don’t get out nearly as much as I’d like to because it’s just not worth it to leave the house most days. Today, however, was different.

After being stuck indoors Sunday through Tuesday, I smiled when I woke up to a bright blue sky this morning. Jorge and I decided it would be the perfect chance to go out and explore the Hotel Zone on my lunch break. And it was.

We went to Chili’s at Plaza Forum… not the most creative choice, but Surfin’ Burrito was closed for the day and Chili’s is one of the only Cancun restaurants with an ocean view. This was the view from my seat:

After lunch, we couldn’t resist stepping onto the sand to sit down, relax and take a few pictures! These are all from between Forum Beach and Chac Mool Beach in the Cancun Hotel Zone (just outside Plaza Forum and Salvia condos).

Sometimes during a particularly bad rainy season, it’s hard to remember that I live in a really cool city. It’s impossible to make weekend plans because most of the time they will be cancelled. Even if it’s sunny when you step out to go to lunch, the streets might be too flooded to make it back home by the time you’re done eating.

Today was perfect, though.