A Cancun-Style Fairytale

In summer 2005, I left my family and friends behind. At age 19 I had moved to Cancun, a place where I didn’t know anybody. My first memory of the city is riding in a van from the airport to the downtown bus station. The van passed through the entire length of the Cancun Hotel Zone, stopping to let off other passengers along the way. The city had me hooked immediately. From that first van ride from the airport, I was mesmerized by the glittering lights of the huge beach hotels. This was where I belonged.

This week, 9 years of exploring, writing and learning have culminated in something pretty cool: one of the biggest travel publications in the world has named me a Cancun expert.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m the Travel + Leisure Cancun Local Expert!

It’s every travel writer’s dream to write for a huge publication like Travel + Leisure, and I’m beyond happy to be working with them. I’ll be sharing my Travel + Leisure articles periodically on the Gringation Blog Facebook page so you can see even more of this city that I love so much.

They also have an extensive list of other great travel experts in different cities across the globe, which you can see here. I’m in good company.

From confused teenage American in 2005… to top Cancun travel expert in 2014!

Thanks to my parents for going along with my crazy move to Mexico, to Jorge for always being there to convince me I’m superwoman, to my boss Michele Kinnon at BuyPlaya Real Estate for recommending me to Travel + Leisure, and to all of my Mexican friends who have showed me what this culture is all about over the past decade.

Snorkeling Adventure in Tankah Cenote

Snorkeling used to terrify me. I would put my face under the water and instantly feel like I was being suffocated. Maybe that’s what claustrophobia feels like?

But living in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area, you have to get over your fear of snorkeling if you want to have any fun!

After 9 year living here, I’m finally comfortable snorkeling. The thought of barracudas still freaks me out more than I like to admit, but I’m trying to move past it. A few weekends ago, I went with a few of my coworkers from BuyPlaya Real Estate on a girls’ day in Tankah Bay! First we snorkeled in the ocean (no pictures, sorry), where we saw lots of huge colorful fish and the entrance to an underwater cave. No barracudas in sight, thank you God.

Next, we walked across the street to the main cenote in Tankah. I’m unsure of the name, but from quick internet searching it seems to be called simply “Tankah Cenote” or “Casa Cenote” (after the nearby restaurant). This cenote is interesting because it connects to the ocean through a large tunnel… the same one we saw when snorkeling in the ocean! It’s a completely open cenote, unlike many of the cave cenotes you’ll find throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.

Our group of four girls spent an hour or two exploring Tankah Cenote, which begins as an open pond-type area then becomes a long river through the mangrove.

The water was simply unbelievable. It reached 4 to 5 meters deep in most areas, but everything was crystal clear. Like swimming in a pool!

What I loved about Tankah Cenote was the mangrove on either side. As you’re swimming along, you see underwater forests of the long, thin roots on either side of you. The entire coast of the Riviera Maya is filled with mangrove, and it’s a huge part of the local eco system. At this cenote, you can see why! Mangrove roots thrive when growing in mud and water, so they serve as the perfect filter to keep the water clean and free of debris. In fact, the mangrove tree system is one of the main reasons that the ocean and cenotes in this area are so clear!

The mangrove is also home to lots of baby wildlife, as well. It must be fish hatching season, because we spotted thousands and thousands of baby fish living in the underwater mangrove roots. Just gorgeous.

During my snorkeling adventure in Tankah Cenote, I saw lots and lots and lots of baby fish, plus some bigger and more colorful fish near the floor. I even spotted a blue crab! (That little guy was hard to see because he was 5 meters below me and blended with the blue water. I had to dive down a few times to get better look.)

Tankah Cenote was also a fun place for me to get more comfortable with my snorkeling skills. Being in such clear, pool-like water made me feel safer than snorkeling in the waves of the ocean… with all the barracudas… ugh. And of course, my friends and I seized the opportunity to take some fun underwater pictures.

We also saw lots of divers. Apparently Tankah Cenote is also a popular spot for beginner divers, and there were several people there getting scuba diving lessons. I’ll stick to snorkeling for now, thanks.

Tankah Bay is located in the Riviera Maya, just north of Tulum. It has plenty of beautiful beach homes to look at, and of course great snorkeling locations. To get to Tankah Cenote, we drove down the main highway and turned left at a sign with a large peacock on it about 10 minutes after Akumal. Sorry I can’t be more specific!

All of these photos were taken by my friend Lisa Love Juliot, who works with me at BuyPlaya Real Estate.

Fenix Beach Club on North Beach Isla Mujeres

On the same day that we did the Seawalls mural tour of downtown Isla Mujeres, we also spent the afternoon at Fenix Beach Club! It was my first time there, and I was absolutely in love.

Fenix is located on the northern end of North Beach (by the bridge to the Mia hotel), and it has the same crystal clear, shallow waters that the rest of North Beach is known for… but with even less waves! Even though the water in this part was just as clear and beautiful as my previous North Beach pictures, for some reason it didn’t photograph quite as well. Very strange.

Jorge, my friends Tori and Laura and I had an awesome day with limonadas, ceviche and lots of time in the water. To use one of the beds and umbrellas at Fenix, we just had to consume $300 pesos in food and drinks. Not a problem.

Here are some of my favorite pictures! Since it was right in the middle of whale shark season, there were lots of tour boats just offshore enjoying their post-tour lunches. What a beautiful (and ridiculously hot) day.

Color and Culture on Isla Mujeres

It’s no secret to my friends that I love bright colors. My wardrobe is mostly teals, greens, oranges and hot pinks. So when we saw pictures from the Sea Walls project on Isla Mujeres, my friends and I just had to go!

Sunday morning, I went with Jorge and my fellow gringa  friends Tori and Laura N. to the nearby island of Isla Mujeres to view the Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans event going on in town. Throughout the downtown area, artists had spent the week painting large and colorful murals inspired by local sea life, and we got there just in time to see them put the finishing touches on their works of art.

Small crowds were gathered near each piece with people snapping cell phone pics of these bright and beautiful murals. And of course I was there with my trusty camera.

This was my personal favorite!

I loved this, too. The orange clouds spoke to me.

 

And for some reason I was obsessed with this jade mask. Quite the fashion statement.

 

RAWR!!!!

 

And here are some of my favorite shots from our little downtown Isla Mujeres mural tour:

If you want to see the murals in person, here’s a handy map of the different locations. They’re very easy to find!

And to view the completed murals, check out the Sea Walls Facebook page!

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.

In Case I Ever Complain About Anything…

…just remind me of this post.

Last night was the whole “blood moon” thing, which I was too tired to see. However, lots of Cancun locals headed to the beach to see it. I just happened to be in the Hotel Zone with Joge’s family last night, and around 11pm we decided to buy some pizza and head to Playa Delfines, otherwise known as “El Mirador”. (Just picture this beach, but at night.)

We ate pizza and drank Coca Cola using one of those little palapa-table things, while everyone else around us set up their telescopes in preparation for the blood moon. We didn’t stick around nearly long enough to see it, but it was an amazing hour of family, ocean breezes, a full moon and lots of other Cancun locals enjoying it just like we were.

I have to remind myself that those are the moments I’ll always remember. Beach nights, full moons, pizza parties… not sitting around staring at my cell phone.

How to Talk to God

Jorge and I went to his cousin’s first communion at a small, open-air Catholic church close to our house over the weekend.

While we were there, I picked up this piece of wisdom:

 

“God is speaking to you today, but not on your cell phone.”

 

Before and After: Garden Gone Wild

So about 2 years ago we decided to spruce up the little backyard of our rental house, putting in a patio of sorts, planting palm trees and getting rid of a large tree that we just HATED. Here’s how it all began:

After some back-breaking work (not for me, but for Jorge haha), we had this:

It turns out the palm trees LOVE their home, because they have been growing like crazy… especially the California palm in the corner. Here’s what the yard looked like today:

At one point we even moved my orchid tree from the front to the backyard. For awhile there things weren’t looking so hot…

But now the orchid tree is growing strong!

When we put the palm trees and patio in, we were hoping to be able to use the backyard more for lunch, coffee, etc. Sadly, that hasn’t happened at all! As of right now, there is just way too much sun and way too little shade to be able to really enjoy the space. I’m hoping that as the palm trees start to give more shade, it will be a better spot. For now, it’s a nice place for the dogs to hang out, plus I have a view from my office.

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.