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 🙂

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.

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.

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’s 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.

Tell Us Why Mexico Is Awesome

As most of you know, I’ve been working as a Community Manager with the Mexico Today iniciative for several months now, sharing my articles right here on my blog.

Today I’m excited to announce that Mexico Today has launched their Social Magazine on their Facebook site, which now has over 15,000 followers!! Seriously, how cool is it that there are so many people out their who share my passion for Mexico?

From here on out I’ll be posting my Mexico Today articles directly on to the Mexico Today Social Magazine. (But don’t worry! You’ll still be able to catch my usual blogging stories on weekend trips, funny quotes from Jorge and cat feces right here, as always! We like to keep it classy.)

The best news is that now even YOU can post your Mexico stories! Just “like” the Mexico Today Facebook page if you haven’t already, and it’s super easy to share your articles and links.

On top of that, by contributing you’re eligible to win a $500 gift card… and let’s be real, I suspect we could all use $500!

The newly launched Mexico Today Social Magazine on Facebook profiles stories and submissions from leading Mexico bloggers and influencers, including the 24 Mexico Today Ambassadors.

This innovative tactic pushes the envelope of what is possible on Facebook, leveraging community participation from fans to produce a dynamic and evolving, socially-curated online publication. The intent is to create a grassroots movement by allowing submissions from those who are interested in Mexico’s culture, the Mexican economy, Mexico’s environment and more.

Help shape the conversation about today’s Mexico. The Magazine accepts not only short links, but also longer blog posts. Submit your content today to enter a chance to win a $500 gift card.

Check it out here to read Mexico stories from other travelers and expats, or to post your own. Either way, it’s the perfect place for daydreaming about your next vacation!

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 Mexico Video (aka "my first and last ever bikini shoot")

While I was in Oaxaca on the Mexico Today kick-off event last June, I was asked to do an interview talking about Mexico and my city: Cancun. I was a bit nervous as I sat down in front of the camera, but I found that the words came easily to me. Talking about places I love so much was a breeze! The minutes flew by, and before I knew it, the video crew was telling me “Thanks! I think we got it.”

A few weeks later, I got an e-mail saying that Eye Candy would like to do some shots with me here in Cancun. (They call this extra footage “B Roll”… I feel very professional when I say that.) So in August, I spent a weekend hanging out with them in Party Center and on Isla Mujeres. It was a very difficult day swimming in the Caribbean Sea, eating burgers, riding in golf carts and drinking cocktails from coconuts, but somehow I got through it. 😉

This weekend I finally got to see the end result of my “My Mexico” story on Youtube. *drumroll* TA-DA!!!

**Please forgive the horrible face I’m making on the default image… very unfortunate.**

[youtube=http://youtu.be/7TLWZjuKAyk]

You can also see me and some of my Mexico Today partners in crime in other My Mexico videos on the “MexicoToday” Youtube page. We talk about Mexican beaches, Mexican markets, ecotourism, ancient ruins, and more.

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.

New Virtual Tour of Puerto Morelos

Yesterday I came across one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time, thanks to a Google+ post by blogging friend Kelly.

Cancun’s OVC (Office of Visitors and Conventions) has recently launched an amazing virtual tour of Puerto Morelos, one of my favorite spots. On the virtual tour, you can see aerial views of the town of Puerto Morelos and its amazing Caribbean waters, as well as some of the town’s most luxurious resorts and tours of several of the area’s famous cenotes along the Ruta de los Cenotes.

Cenote Kin Ha

Designed by Cameleon360, the tour includes aerial views, ground views and of course 360 views. In other words, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play around with. You can even see my new favorite spot Cenote Verde Lucero from a crazy cool “Little Planet View”:

The tour covers about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles for my American readers), and each 360 shot requires 70-80 different images to create. I don’t know how they find the patience, but I’m glad they did!

Hotel Azul Beach

Rumor has it that soon Cancun will be undergoing the same project, showing the city’s shopping, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, etc. From there, they hope to move on to Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy and Holbox, and possibly even Chichen Itza. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to spend a morning of daydreaming at the office with virtual tours of the entire region!

At the moment, you can see this incredible Puerto Morelos virtual tour on cancun.travel or puertomorelos.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.


Cenote Verde Lucero

This past weekend, my in-laws, Jorge and I decided to travel in search of adventure in La Ruta de Los Cenotes (The Cenote Route), located just south of the town of Puerto Morelos about half an hour from Cancun.

La Ruta de los Cenotes is a small highway that heads further and further inland from the coast, bordered on either side by dense jungle. Along the way, you’ll see rustic signs pointing toward dirt roads leading off the highway to take you out to adventure parks, eco hotels and beautiful cenotes. (If you’re lucky, you might see some unique Yucatan wildlife crossing the road! We saw a pisot and a tarantula.)

After checking out some eco cabins, artisan shops, local farms and winding dirt roads through the jungles of the Yucatan, we finally came across the stunning Cenote Verde Lucero (Green Star Cenote). We got there late, but decided to go in and explore anyway. The cenote had a zipline, a small cliff, bright green waters, several small caves and a beautiful canopy of trees. There were a few groups there already, and they were having so much fun I knew I had to come back soon and spend an entire day here… maybe bring some sandwiches and sodas and 20 of my closest friends.

An entire day at this cenote is only $80 pesos per person (about $7 US dollars). We will definitely be back here with friends and family, although I can’t promise I’ll be doing any cliff jumping!

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.

Monte Alban Ruins in Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve seen several ancient ruins during my years living in Mexico: Chichen Itza, Tulum, Yobain, Ek Balam, Palenque and Lamanai (ok, that last one is in Belize). When people ask me which one was my favorite, I always think hard about it and come up with the same answer: “They’re all so beautiful in their own way!”

Chichen Itza is amazing in its importance and scientific details. Tulum has the best location on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. Yobain is so tiny and unknown that it feels as if it belongs to a select few of us. Ek Balam is secluded and has the best buildings to climb. Palenque has a striking contrast of dark gray stone and lush green, and you can explore inside the temples. Lamanai has incredible views and is fun to get to.

During my recent trip to Oaxaca with Mexico Today, I jumped at the chance to see the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. I’d heard of it before and seen a few pictures, but nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful it really was. Set atop a carved-out mountain, the site stunned me with its… immenseness. I’m not sure if it’s bigger than Chichen Itza or Palenque, but it sure LOOKS bigger. From several vantage points you can see the entire site, with towering mountains in the background. Definitely one of the most surreal and awe-inspiring things I’ve seen.

Our guides throughout the trip were from El Convento Tours. I highly recommend them if you’re ever in Oaxaca! The company belongs to the Martinez family… who will forever live on in my heart as some of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. (If you get the chance to meet them, ask to hear about the “rebozo”. Trust me.)

We took a van up into the mountains, less than half an hour from our hotel. Once there, it was a steep but surprisingly easy walk up to the museum, where our guide Ulises gave us a fascinating tour, talking about Zapotec customs (sacrifices, pottery, writing and friezes) and beauty secrets (flat foreheads, crossed eyes and pointy teeth embedded with jewels, sexy!).

Then we made our way up to the ruins. Filled with temples, stairs, plazas, a ball court, an area for human sacrifice and breathaking views, Monte Alban is truly an unforgettable site.

[slideshow]

So where does Monte Alban stand on my list of favorite ruins? I’d say it’s tied for first with all the rest.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  I was also invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Mexico Today Kick-Off Event in Oaxaca

Just when I start to think Quintana Roo is the most beautiful state in Mexico, I visit another area that gives the Riviera Maya a run for its money.

Last Thursday, I flew down to the state of Oaxaca to participate in the kick-off event for the incredible Marca Pais Mexico Today program. There, I met up with 23 other bloggers along with the incredible team of organizers to find out what the program was all about, all while surrounded by some of the most stunning mountain landscapes I’ve ever seen.

The city of Oaxaca as seen from the plane

The entire group stayed at the Camino Real Oaxaca hotel, set in the heart of the historic downtown area. As a hotel management major, you can imagine how giddy I was to stay in such a unique and luxurious hotel! It was built in the 16th century as a convent, and it’s filled with courtyards, columns, stone archways and lush gardens.

My room, with beautiful tall ceilings

Not gonna lie, this was my favorite part of the room! Love the sink

Mexican hospitality at its best

On our first night, several reputable local artisans showed up during our cocktail hour in the hotel’s Lavadero garden to show us how they make their craft.

Making pottery of “barro negro” (black clay) on a traditional wheel

Susie from The Mexico Report even got a weaving lesson from one of the local artisans:

El Lavadero garden was a gorgeous setting for the cocktail party!

The following day, several of us went to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban, just half an hour outside Oaxaca City. This visit merits a more detailed future post, so for the moment I’ll just leave you with this teaser:

We flew right by Monte Alban on my flight into the city. What a surprise!

Friday night, we had a mezcal tasting, followed by dinner and a traditional Guelaguetza show in the hotel’s impressive chapel.

Saturday, the whole team went to the town of San Martin Tilcajete, famous for producing detailed alebrijes. We explored the home and workshop of Jacobo Angeles, an internationally-renowned alebrije master, where we were also greeted with traditional dances, music and a delicious lunch.


A wall full of vibrant alebrije lizards

The entire four-day trip was packed with activities, and I returned to Cancun with a better sense of the fascinating state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I’ll finish this post up with some of my favorite photos of the Camino Real Oaxaca hotel and the amazing colonial city of Oaxaca:

Marca Pais – Imagen de Mexico, is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination. This program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  I was also invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Mexico Today

Anyone who reads my blog knows just how much I love Mexico. It’s a beautiful country filled with incredible people and amazing natural resources. Regular readers have seen me get very frustrated whenever Mexico or Cancun come under attack from the media. For the last week or so, my Mexican and foreign friends here in Cancun have been talking a lot about a recent article by MSNBC Travel called “Time to Say Adios to Mexico Travel?” The article refers to Cancun as an “increasingly violent hotspot” (ha!) and even includes a poll asking readers if they’d travel to Mexico. 72% said no. That makes me so incredibly sad.

How on earth are we going to convince 72% of the population that Mexico is, in fact, a safe country? How can I get them to see what I see when CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, etc, are out on a smear campaign to post sensationalist stories to draw in readers? Over the past few years, Mexican and expat bloggers alike have been fighting back by commenting on articles and voicing thoughts on their own blogs, but our voice has been relatively small compared to the powerful media we’re up against. The frustration of defending something you love so much only to have few people believe you is very disheartening.

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide stating the folling:

“I’m writing today on behalf of the Mexico Tourism Board’s Marca Pais – Imagen de Mexico initiative, to invite you to join the Mexico Today program.  The program will empower writers like you to share Mexico’s true stories with the people who need to hear them the most … Marca Pais – Imagen de Mexico, is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination. This program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day.”

How could I say no?

I’m proud to annouce that I will be working with Ogilvy and the Mexico Tourism Board in their Mexico Today program, along with many other Mexico bloggers! I’m so excited that we finally have the voice and the resources we need to accomplish what we’ve been trying to do for a long time now.

While this is a paid position, everything that I write will be my own opinion. I’ll be meeting up with most of the people involved in the Mexico Today project this weekend on al all-expenses-paid trip to Oaxaca, and I can’t wait to get started! I’ll give you all the details on my trip as soon as I get back next week. Click here (or on the badge on my right sidebar) to visit Mexico Today’s Facebook page.

If you love Mexico as much as I do, I hope you follow along with the Mexico Today team as we try to reclaim Mexico’s reputation for what this country truly is: a fascinating place with incredible beauty and a warm, unique culture.

Once the dust of Mexico has settled on your heart, you have no rest in any other land.” -Anita Brenner, Mexican author