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.

Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death

While all my American friends were celebrating Halloween last week, here in Cancun we were enjoying some Day of the Dead festivities. I’ve blogged in the past about Day of the Dead in Cancun, like events at Parque Las Palapas and altar items sold at Market 23, but this year was quite different. Jorge and I went to Xcaret park in the Riviera Maya for their Festival of Life and Death. I’ve been dying to go for a few years, and this time we finally made it.

The night we went (Friday, November 2) was ridiculously busy. I was told they had nearly 15,000 people at the park that night for the Festival of Life and Death, probably because it was the final day, a Friday, and the day that most locals had off of work. It was an amazing event, but we made a mental note never to come back on the last day of the festival again. Parking was… interesting.

Part of the crowd gathered for a show

Crazy crowds and parking on the highway aside, we had a great time and the festival was STUNNING. We saw catrina face painting, tons of shows, a beautiful cemetery and incredible scenery.

Festival Decor

Anyone who has been to Xcaret knows that it’s a feast for the eyes, with lush jungle, great beaches and amazing animals. The Festival of Life and Death was no exception. The park was adorned with torches, candles, costumes and marigolds (“flor de muerto”, a Day of the Dead tradition) and it was beautiful to see.

Altars
During Day of the Dead, many Mexicans set up an altar in their home to honor deceased loved ones. These altars are adorned with marigolds, crosses, candles and the food and drinks the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime. Xcaret had a large area dedicated to altars made by local communities from across the Yucatan Peninsula. It was fun to see how different each altar was while still incorporating many of the traditional elements.

The Mayan Ball Game Show

After touring the park, we managed to see one of the many shows for the Festival of Life and Death. Held at the park’s Mayan ball game court, it was about the ancient Mayans fighting the people of the underworld in the famous game.ย  It was CROWDED (we almost saw a fist fight between two ladies over not being able to see), but I still managed to get a few pictures from far away.

The people of the underworld had the best skeleton costumes. This is the best picture I got!

Playing the Mayan ball game

My favorite part ๐Ÿ™‚

ย The Cemetery

Xcaret has a reenacted Mayan village as well as a colorful cemetary set in levels all around a hill. It’s cool to look at during the day, but even better at night! The lower levels of the cemetery have smaller gravestones, and they get more elaborate the further you go up. Most have some kind of small room or ornate miniature house. Each was adorned with candles and marigolds in celebration of Day of the Dead. Really interesting to see…

Underneath the cemetery

If you’re ever in Cancun or the Riviera Maya for Day of the Dead, I highly recommend Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death. Magical ๐Ÿ™‚

Have you ever been in Mexico for Day of the Dead?

 

Girls’ Weekend at Now Sapphire Resort

The food, the drinks and the gossip were flowing freely this weekend!

My Brazilian amiga Nadia suggested we do a girls’ weekend at an All Inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya. Saturday afternoon, we drove down toward Puerto Morelos to the beautiful Now Sapphire resort. I actually used to intern at this hotel in the reception area 3 years ago, back when it belonged to another resort chain. (Yes, I interned at many, many resorts during my university days.) Visually, it has always been my favorite resort in the area, with an immense pool and wood walkways winding through soothing ponds. All this is combined with breezy palapa roofs and a combination of Mexican and Asian-inspired style. Gorgeous.

After a quick check-in, we were taken to our room via golf cart. The resort is divided into small, 3-story villas named after Mayan ruins. Our building was set right by the beach, with a jungle view room set on the 2nd floor. I was very impressed with the guestrooms! Each has a small sitting area and a large balcony, not to mention a great bathroom.

Nadia and I spent our evening bouncing from one restaurant to another, taking full advantage of the resort’s All Inclusive plan. We sampled sushi, caipirinhas, martinis, baba ganoush, spinach ravioli and I can’t even remember what else!

The Mediterranean restaurant

The oceanfront restaurant, my fave!

Memories Lobby Bar, with tons of dancing and socializing after dinner

Nadia admiring the bathroom artwork

We turned in at midnight and woke up early the next morning with the breakfast we had pre-ordered the night before. After a quick workout, we put on our swimsuits and headed out to do some damage at the breakfast buffet.

Nadia then went to check out the spa specials while I decided to hang out at the pool. There were no loungers available (experienced resort-goers will be familiar with the infamous Towel Game), but I saw a beautiful bali bed right next to the pool with nobody on it. “This is too good to be true,” I thought to myself. So I waited a few minutes, and nobody showed up. I slowly and cautiously arranged my things on the bali bed, looking around in case anyone came up to tell me it wasn’t allowed. Thrilled with my success, I made myself comfortable and snapped a few photos.

Living the life

After the most glamorous 15 minutes of my life, a young uniformed gentleman approached me with a clipboard.

“Excuse me, miss. What is your room number?”

“307.”

(long pause while he flips through a few pages)

“Is your last name Palmer?”

“No…” (Stay cool, Laura, stay cool!)

“I’m sorry, miss, but these bali beds are reserved for our Preferred Club guests. There’s actually quite a long waiting list to use them.”

“Well I’ve already made myself comfortable! You should really put up a sign or something,” I exclaimed in righteous indignation as I got my things together.

“The sign is right here on the post, miss.”

“Oh. Ummm… sorry then. Thanks.”

Fabulousness transformed into humilliation within 30 seconds. Could only happen to me.

Feeling unimportant and defeated at the prospect of finding a chair, I made my way to the beach and settled in under a palapa while I waited for Nadia.

That's better.

We ordered some bottled waters from the beach waiter, spent an hour or so talking about life, took some pictures and watched the boats go by. Now this is a vacation!

Nadia suggested we try our luck back at the pool. There were still no loungers available, as expected, but we set our stuffย  by the pool’s jet tub and hopped right in. I loved the pool. Lots of activities were going on by the swim-up bar, but the pool was big enough that it was easy to find quiet areas for relaxation. Submerged loungers, one of my favorite things, were also in abundance.

We had programmed a late check-out for 1:30, so we eventually headed back to the room, packed up and changed into some dry clothes. Check-out was quick and easy, and we made our way to the Bluewater Grill for some more All Inclusive action in the form of ceviches and burgers.

The Now Sapphire was a great experience. I dare to say it was even better than most All Inclusives! Here’s why:

  • No bracelets
  • No waiting in line to make dinner reservations every morning (first come, first served)
  • 24-hour room service included
  • No worrying about towel cards… just walk up, get your beach towel, then bring it back when you’re done. Easy.

Gringation’s Tips:

  • Bring bugspray! Mosquitos weren’t a problem during daylight hours, but let’s just say that we weren’t the only ones feasting during our outdoor dinner at the beachfront grill.
  • Upgrade to the Preferred Club. Preferred guests have a private lounge, a beautiful separate pool, access to spa facilities and reservations for the poolside bali beds. (I only spent 15 minutes on the bali bed, but it was amazing!) This is one instance where I’d say the extra amenities are worth the higher pricetag.
  • Sit at the teppanyaki tables at Lemongrass restaurant. What a show!
  • Get to the pool early if you want to grab a lounger. Just don’t leave your stuff there for 4 hours without using it. Be cool, people. (Waking up at 5 am, putting your flip flops on a lounger, then going back to sleep until noon is not acceptable resort behavior.)

 

Father’s Day in Puerto Morelos

Jorge and I spent all day yesterday with my suegros for Father’s Day. After a call to my own dad (miss you!), we had tacos de lechon for what can only be described as pre-lunch.

After a quick siesta, my suegro wanted to go to Puerto Morelos for lunch. (Mexican lunch is around 3 or 4 pm.) We drove half an hour down the highway and looked around for a beachfront restaurant.

We tried a fun place called La Panza Es Primero (The Tummy Comes First), but decided to only get appetizers because the service was snail-pace slow. The food was delicious! Jorge and I shared a spicy seafood soup that was amazing, but the poor service was too much to handle.

La Panza Es Primero

La Panza Es Primero menu

For our real lunch, we went to the popular Pelicanos restaurant, right by the main plaza of Puerto Morelos. I had a Cuban sandwich that was to die for!

Pelicanos

Sorry I didn’t get any food pictures, but here are some shots from our day in Puerto Morelos, Mexico:

What did you do for Father’s Day this year?

Barcelo Maya Resort: The Pool

Today I’ve got more photos of the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe resort in the Riviera Maya, where we went for my cousin’s wedding.

Not much to say here, just daydreaming about one of the biggest pools I’ve ever seen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Where would you most like to be today?

If you haven’t seen the resort’s beach pictures yet, click here. You’ll be glad you did!

Barcelo Maya Resort: The Beach

I have a confession to make… Playa Norte (North Beach) on Isla Mujeres is no longer my favorite beach.

The beach I went to last Wednesday “blew it out of the water” (pun intended).

When we went to the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe resort for my cousin’s wedding (more on that later), I wasn’t expecting to find such an incredible beach. So, so many palm trees. Pool-like water. No seaweed. Breathtaking.

Even though there were so many of us in the water, several schools of large silver fish had no qualms about swimming around us, between my knees, and along my feet. I was actually screaming, smiling and jumping up and down out of sheer joy. Why can’t every day be like this?

Somebody please slap me if I ever decide to move away from the Caribbean.

What’s your favorite beach in the world?

Family Vacation Photos!

As I’ve mentioned, my cousin got married last week in the Riviera Maya, so Jorge and I have spent our evenings and weekends traveling down to Playa del Carmen to hang out with my family. My parents, oldest sister, brother-in-law, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents were here, and it was a BLAST.

We had countless dinners on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, and we spent all day Wednesday at a stunning All Inclusive resort. I’m really sad it’s all over!

To be honest I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked, mainly because I forget about the camera when I’m having a good time. Still, I did manage to get a few in there.

I’ll share the wedding pictures later in the week, but for now here are a few of the family!

Jorge, my cousin Shayne, and my brother-in-law Michael at Tequila Barrel, PDC

My sister Noelle, my cousin's (new!) wife Joelle, her best friend Jillian, and me at Tequila Barrel

Jorge and I with the newlyweds and their friends at Blue Parrot nightclub

Jillian, Joelle and me after a few tequilas

Jorge the beach bum

Me and my sister Noelle

Me and my mom

Brother-in-law Michael, sister Noelle, parents, Jorge and me

Grandpa and Grandma dancing up a storm

We danced, we dined, we partied, we relaxed, we talked… and I miss them all so much right now. But oh man, what a week!

 

The Downside to Expat Life

My family came to visit this week.

My cousin got married yesterday in the Riviera Maya, so my parents and oldest sister have been staying in Playa del Carmen. We spent the whole weekend together, and I’ve been making the 1-hour bus ride from Cancun to Playa every night to have dinner with them. Yesterday at my cousin’s wedding, we got to spend the whole day at a luxury resort with many of my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. It has been a tiring but amazing week! (Yes, I will have lots of pictures and stories for you over the next few days!)

An unbelievably good-looking family! (minus the red-eye)

But yesterday I had to say goodbye. My parents return home today, and yesterday was the last chance I’d get to see the rest of the family before they head home later in the week. (I will still get to see my sister and a few cousins over the next week, though.)

Expat life is thrilling in so many ways… the cultural exchange, overcoming personal challenges, exploring a new country, transforming into a stronger person than you ever knew you could be.

But I miss my family.

Since I began working almost 3 years ago, I only get to see my family once or twice a year. I call my parents regularly and text a lot with my sisters, but it’s never quite the same as in person.

When I’m in Mexico, I miss my family. When I’m in the US, I miss my husband and my friends.

No matter where I am, I’m always missing somebody.

And that is the biggest downside to expat life.

 

Akumal Weekend: Half Moon Bay

Read about the first part of my Akumal trip here!

My suegro had gotten a great deal at La Iguana Condos on Half Moon Bay, just north of Akumal Bay. Half Moon Bay was beautiful to look at, but with all the rocks and waves we were too chicken to go in. On Sunday morning, I did see one brave, lonely soul snorkeling in the middle of the bay, but I think that’s only a good idea for excellent swimmers.

The condos were nice, clean and spacious with lovely gardens and pools. We were right by a very rocky area filled with old coral, which was so much fun to explore!

Overall it was a quiet and relaxing place to stay, even with a group of 18 people!

 

 

Akumal Weekend: Akumal Bay

**First off, this week I wrote a guest post at Cancun Is Safe talking about how I feel living in Cancun. Read it here!**

Last weekend I got to see a beach I’ve been dying to visit since I moved to Cancun… Akumal!

Akumal is an easy 90-minute drive south of Cancun, and it’s known for great snorkeling and sea turtles. The Akumal area has 2 bays: Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay.

I stayed in some condos on Half Moon Bay, which I’ll talk about later this week, but today’s post is about our afternoon at Akumal Bay. We started with lunch at Lol-Ha restaurant, and I snorkeled around the bay a bit. Some mild underwater claustrophobia kept me from snorkeling out far enough to see any sea turtles (I’m such a wimp!), but it was still a blast. The water was shallow and clear with almost no waves, and I spent a few hours in the ocean with friends chatting and doing some water acrobatics.

Needless to say, we’ll definitely go back to Akumal someday.

Check out the slideshow for some beautiful pics (seriously, you can’t take a bad photo at this place!):