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We just got back from a spur of the moment weekend getaway at Hotel Akumal Caribe Villas Flamingo. It was the ideal place to go away with our two best friends and their 4 year old for fun, sun and relaxation. Akumal which means “place of the turtle” in Maya is about a 30 minute drive from Playa del Carmen and about 1.5 hours from Cancun. It is a quiet little town engulfed by two bays: Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay. It is a diving and snorkeling mecca as it is teaming with sea life…especially turtles. Last week I found a great deal on a site for Cancunenses (locals) that I just couldn’t resist and in a flash we had booked a two night/3 day mini-vacay in a 2 bedroom villa right on the beach all for just $220.00

View from the bedrooms

Our Villa (number 3) was one of 4 villas that share a pool and overlook the white sandy beach of Half Moon Bay. We were pleasantly surprised by the layout and by how well equipped the villa was it was almost as if the owner had stayed there himself and thought about what people could possibly want or need while on vacation. The two bedrooms both overlook the pool and the ocean and have a large balcony with a table and chairs to enjoy the afternoon sun. And the casually strung up hammock is perfect for catching up on your reading or for nodding off to the sounds of the rolling Caribbean waves.

Trolling the beaches for crabs

We spent our time swimming in the pool, playing games and enjoying nightly BBQ’s on our patio. At night, we looked for crabs (not to eat more for the amusement of our friend’s curious daughter), drank wine and stretched out on the Bali beds on the beach admiring the endless starry sky. Unfortunately, Half Moon Bay, though a great spot for snorkeling has a lot of rocks in the water so waterproof, thick-soled shoes are a must if you want to swim in the ocean.

Bali beds on the beach

On our last day, after checking out, we headed over to Yal-ku Lagoon—a favourite spot of mine. There is great snorkeling and it is a huge, beautiful blue lagoon with simple but elegant sculptures scattered throughout the carved out paths in the jungle that lead to the water’s edge. We got there early before the crowds arrived and left just as it started to get overrun by people. Then like all good things our quick getaway had come to an end and it was time to go home. It had been a great weekend made even better by our friends being able to join us. Work schedules in Cancun are often such that it can be difficult to organize quality time with those that are special in your lives. Moments like these that we shared are truly the “stuff” of memories. We will definitely be going back there again soon as Hotel Akumal Caribe Villas Flamingo is the ideal place to kick-back, relax and remember why we chose to live in Cancun in the first place.

Yal-ku Lagoon

Where do you go for your weekend getaways?

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On October 8th 2005 I got married in Cancun surrounded by friends and family in the Westin Regina Hotel. It was just 12 days before hurricane Wilma (category 5) made landfall in Cancun and wreaked havoc on my beloved city. Luckily, for hubby and me, we were long gone by then and enjoying our honeymoon in Thailand but for many of our loved ones they had to ride out the storm. That was 6 years ago but still my wedding day is fresh in my mind. I remember people telling me that the first year of marriage is like being on a constant honeymoon but that was not the case for my husband and me. For us it was more like growing pains until we finally settled into a comfortable groove and it was only then that I realized that I was very lucky as I had married my best friend. The following years have just gotten better and better as we make our way through this life together. He makes me laugh (which is so very important), he has my back, and he is a kind gentle, intelligent, patient soul. We are actually quite different from each other in many ways but I think that is what in the end makes us work so well together.

So, on our 6th wedding anniversary we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend away at El Marina El Cid Hotel in the Riviera Maya just 20 minutes away from home.  We came across a great deal on Clickonero for two nights with an ocean view suite and VIP Premium Club status that we just couldn’t refuse. With packed bags we set off Saturday to celebrate our anniversary. I had already done my due diligence beforehand by checking out the hotel on Trip Advisor and as always there were incredibly positive reviews mixed in with some terrible reviews. The most common bad review was about the food but since hubby and I often visit all inclusive hotels in the Riviera Maya we knew what to expect in general.

When we arrived we checked in at the Premium Lounge, which is usually used for time share owners, and also to try and book people into doing a time share presentation. I used to sell Time Share….please don’t hold that against me J so I promptly let them know that a) I was an ex-time share saleswoman and b) I had no interest in being tortured—ooops I mean toured. We were taken to a suite that was more than what we needed for 2 nights but greatly appreciated. We had a living room, small kitchenette, 2 bathrooms, and a large bedroom with two balconies overlooking the ocean. There was even a bottle of red wine and a colourful fruit basket on the dining room table.

We quickly stripped off our clothes and hit the pool. WOW! What a pool! It was huge AND practically empty as we are in low season right now, which suited us just fine as shockingly there aren’t any sun umbrellas at all around the pool just on the beach L We found a few chairs that were in the shade as the sun had begun its slow descent behind the tall buildings of the hotel and we dropped our stuff and dove into the refreshing water. Let me tell you it is a great pool….large, with tepid water, a huge play area for kids and children alike with water slides and a fake cliff that you can dive off into the deep man-made abyss below. I, of course, immediately wanted to try the slide out and dive off the “cliff”. As I whipped down the surprisingly fast slide that at one point I believed I was going to fly over the side, I let out a loud laugh as I hit the water. Next up the “cliff” I dove off and plunged into the separate pool below. After, my adrenalin rush had subsided we ordered a few frozen tropical drinks and settled into our chairs.

El Marina El Cid

Our first night we went for dinner at one of the a la carte restaurants and had a decent meal. Unfortunately the food at El Cid is not that great (just like the reviews stated) neither the a la carte restaurants nor the buffets were much to our liking but since we were only there for two days it didn’t bother us too much. If I were staying for a week I would never survive and would have to leave the premises in search of better meals. The staff on the other hand we found to be very friendly and eager to make our stay a pleasant one. At the end of our weekend we felt rested and content and ready for the work week ahead.

How do you spend your wedding anniversay?

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When you hear people discussing their vacations in Mexico you will often hear them describe how beautiful the beaches are, the turquoise water and white, soft sand but what you may not hear them talk about as much are the thousands of cenotes that can be explored either on your own or by joining a tour group. A cenote is simply asinkhole that is most often surrounded by rocky edges. There are above ground sinkholes as well as subterranean cenotes and the water is usually very clear. Many Mayan settlements were based around cenotes as they provided an essential water source for the people. Chichen Itza is one of the more well-known cities that settled near these natural wells. Mayans also believed that these sinkholes were gateways to the afterlife and so they played important roles in theirMayan rites.

Cenote Yokdzonot

In my 16 years in Cancun I have visited many cenotes and I continue to explore new ones whenever I get the chance to do so. I have always loved the ocean but I am particularly fond of these magical, fresh water oasesperhaps because they bring back such fond memories of time spent at the numerous lakes, found in B.C., whilst growing up in Vancouver, Canada. Some of my favourite cenotes are located close to home in Quintana Roo and some others are several hours away in the Yucatan state. Cenote Cristalino, which is about 15 minutes south of Puerto Aventuras, is probably the first cenote that I ever visited over 14 years ago. When I first started going very few people knew of its existence. In fact, on most occasions when I went there with friends we would be the only people there .It was our very own private oasis. Through the years that has changed with the advent of major development in the Riviera Maya and “cenote tours”. “Cristalino” is no longer just “mine”; however, it still remains a beautiful spot which I visit often especially when friends are in town.

In the Yucatan you can explore such amazing watering holes like the open air Cenote Il Kil and Cenote Yokdzonot as well as Cenote Dzitnup and Cenote Samula which are both subterranean cenotes. On my first trip to Il Kil we left our SUV in the parking lot just as two very large tour buses pulled in and a huge group of tourists descended from the buses, cameras in hand,rushing towards the very same entrance that we were heading to. We all handed in our tickets and were guided through the souvenir store en route to the cenote where luckily we lost about half of the people from the buses as they were waylaid by sales people trying to peddle ornaments, blankets and otherkeepsakes. We hurried along trying to lose the herd but quickly realized that the cenote was already full of people who had arrived on earlier buses.

Cenote Manati

As we approached the steps leading down to Il Kil we stopped to admire the view from above and I was left speechless, which for anyone whoknows me is quite something. I had seen You Tube videos and photos of Il Kil before but they couldn’t even begin to compare to the sight before us. The crystal blue water, surrounded by rocky edges and vegetation was truly magnificent. We made our way down the steps until we arrived at the cenote’s edge where we joined a crowd of people. We stowed our belongings and dove into the cool water. As I floated on my back I suddenly became aware of a silence that enveloped the submerged cavern. I looked around and to my delight realized that the majority of people had left to continue on their tour. I basked in the silence and swam under the small waterfalls letting the water crash down over my face. As I surveyed the area around me I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place, so serene and lush with vegetation and natural beauty-a true Garden of Eden if there ever was one.

Cenote Il Kil

Yokdzonot is very similar to Il Kil but without the crowds as it is relatively new to the tourist scene. It is run by a small group of Mayan women to help support their community of 850 people. It boasts an estimated depth of 45 meters and is 40 meters across and about 22 meters from the rim to the water. On our last visit there we were the only people in the water. Need I say more? Finally, the cenotes Dzitnup and Samula, which are by no means less breathtaking, are located in Valladolid, a quaint colonial town about 1.5 hours from Cancun. Both of them are below ground and offer a different experience than the aforementioned cenotes. LED lights enable you to navigate the stairs down to the subtlety lit caverns where you are greeted by an eerie silence with cave walls that echo your every word. Samula, though smaller, is less crowded (for now), and there is an opening above that lets in rays of light that shine down on massive tree roots, which in search of water have taken root in the small island in the center of the cenote. As you swim through the mineral infused water you cannot help but feel blessed to be a part of such relatively untouched natural beauty. I often experience a great sense of peace and feel connected to “something bigger” when I visit these places.

Cenote Samula

There are so many cenotes that one can visit while exploring southern Mexico. I have but only scratched the surface with this article. Below is a small list of some of the cenotes that I have been to over the years and which I recommend that you consider exploring on your next visit to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan.

•             Cenote Cristalino-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, Q.Roo

•             Cenote Eden-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Cenote Azul-15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Cenote Manati-40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen,Q.Roo

•             Grand Cenote-90 minutes south of Playa del Carmen

•             Cenote Il Kil- 2 hours west of Cancun (next to Chichen Itza,Yucatan)

•             Cenote Yokdzonot-30 minutes from Chichen Itza,Yucatan

•             Cenote Samula and Cenote Dzitnup- 90 minutes west of Cancun (Vallalodid,Yucatan)

•             Cenote Cuzama (3 cenotes) 4 hours west of Cancun (Yucatan)

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It’s been a busy 2 weeks since my last post but I  have suddenly found myself with a lot of free time coming my way for the next 3-4 weeks. Hubby and I have been very active lately, running in the mornings and afternoons and I have been going to Pilates classes with a couple of my girlfriends a couple of times a week, with the goal of losing some extra weight that I have dragged around for the last couple of years. Well, not anymore. This morning I fractured my toe (how stupid of me) and according to my doctor I will have to be off my feet as much as possible for 3-4 weeks-OH JOY!! So it looks like I will have loads of time to catch up with my blogging.

What a view!

At the end of April we set off to explore a new cenote for us and an old familiar one in the Riviera Maya. Since it was my Mom’s last weekend in Cancun we wanted to take her on an adventure before she returned to Vancouver. We hit the road early and made Cenote Manati our first stop of the day. When we arrived a tour bus had already beat us there but undeterred we parked and unloaded our snorkeling gear. My Mom decided to forgo the first cenote and instead she installed herself in a nice little restaurant on the beach and ordered a tall cool one. We were anxious to explore the cenote and we saw that they rented kayaks so my excitement grew as I thought that we were in for a great experience kayaking through the mangroves and waterways. We paid 50 pesos for each kayak and paddled off. Cenote Manati is located on the largest cave system of the world and is very picturesque to say the least; the crystal clear water  gives off the illusion of various shades of green and is surrounded by lush vegetation.Cenote Manati received its name because in the past you may have come across a Manati but with increased tourism to the area it is now very unlikely that you will encounter one of these very shy creatures.

Cenote Manati

As we were paddling through the waterways and manoeuvering through the mangroves I felt very peaceful and I was enjoying the physical exercise  accompanied by the beautiful scenery. After about 10 minutes we hit a dead-end and try as we might we just couldn’t seem to find a way to keep going so we paddled back to ask the guide for directions. Much to our disappointment we were informed that you couldn’t go any further so we decided to kayak the same short route again. At 50 pesos a pop per kayak we felt somewhat mislead and we were determined to get some more use out of our kayaks. After we had paddled around some more we ditched the kayaks and armed with snorkel gear we delved into the depths of the cenote in search of underwater life. Once we felt that we had enough we joined my Mom for a drink and a snack and then we set off for Cenote Azul.

Mom chillin' at Cenote Azul

After exiting the highway we found a nice shady spot under a tree and left our truck to make our way down to the cenote. It was a Saturday so understandably there were a lot of people cooling themselves off in the cool refreshing water and working on their tans. My Mom and I didn’t waste any time as we jumped into the water and swam around until we found a rock conveniently in the shade under a large overhanging tree. There we stayed until Cesar joined us and then I set off with hubby and snorkel gear to explore the cenote some more. As we swam around admiring the different species of fishes and underwater nooks and crannies I thought to myself what an amazing world exists below the surface.

Heavenly

As the sun rose high in the sky we began to feel a rumble in our tummies so we packed up our stuff and bid adieu to Cenote Azul and headed to Playa for a well deserved lunch on the beach. It had been another great day in paradise and a wonderful way to spend my Mom’s last weekend in Cancun.

Another view of Cenote Azul

Have you been to a cenote before? Which ones are your favourites?

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The last stop on our amazing Easter Yucatan Adventure took us to the cenote Il Kil. After checking out of our hotel we crossed the street and parked in the cenote’s lot just as two very large tour buses pulled in and a huge group of tourists descended from the buses, cameras in hand, rushing towards the very same entrance gate that we were heading to. We all handed our tickets in and were guided through the souvenir store en route to the cenote where luckily we lost about half of the people from the buses as they were waylaid by sales people trying to peddle ornaments, blankets and other keepsakes.We hurried along trying to lose the herd but quickly realized that the cenote was already full of people who had arrived on earlier buses.

Cenote Il Kil from above

As we approached the steps leading down to Il Kil we stopped and first admired the view from above speechless. I had looked at videos on You Tube of Il Kil before we had decided to go but they couldn’t even begin to compare to the sight before us. The crystal blue water, surrounded by vegetation was truly beautiful. We made our way down the steps until we arrived at the cenote’s edge where we joined a crowd of shouting, pushy people. We stowed our belongings and dove into the cool water. Hubby felt cold after a while and wanted to dry off  but I wasn’t ready to leave yet.

Me, floating after everyone had left

As I floated on my back I suddenly became aware of a silence that enveloped the underground cavern. I looked around and to my delight realized that the majority of people had left. I imagine that they were called away to continue on their tour. I relished the silence and swam under the small water falls letting the water crash down over my face. As I surveyed the area around me I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place, so serene and lush with vegetation and natural beauty.

Loganiza appetizer

Finally, I made my way to the steps to get out leaving behind me a profound sense of peace that I had experienced while swimming in the deep clear water of Il Kil. We made our way to the parking lot and decided to stop for something to eat before heading back to Cancun. We came across a great little restaurant and ordered some local favourites. We started off with Loganiza ( seasoned pork meat sausage) with pickled red onion and then I had salpicon, (shredded deer meat with radishes, cucumber and seasonings) and Cesar had pork leg seasoned with achiote paste (annatto) and sour orange. The food was amazing!!! I only wish I could remember the name in order to recommend them. The restaurant was clean and the waiter was very friendly.It was the best meal of our trip.

Salpicon de venado

We headed for home feeling refreshed and relaxed and the topic of conversation on our drive back? Where should we go next?

Pork leg Yucatan-style

Here is a link to a short video that we took while we were away http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pokOWLwbFp4

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 Continuing on describing our Easter Yucatan Adventure I will pick up where I left off which was when we discovered Hacienda Tepich after visiting the cenotes at Cuzama. Thirsty and hungry we were thrilled to find this beautiful old hacienda off the beaten track. We climbed the steps and marvelled at the beautiful stone-work and orange and yellow painted  walls as we entered a small room set aside for a restaurant. We ordered some cold beers and tried to make a decision about what to eat. Their speciality was rabbit and there was rabbit pate, rabbit stew in pipian sauce and many other variations of Thumper but I decided to order pavo en escabeche which loosely translates to turkey in a pickled sauce…it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Cesar chose the pork in pipian sauce which is made from pumpkin or squash seeds that have been roasted and ground up and combined with several spices. It has a fiery, nutty taste.

 

Hacienda Tepich

After we had finished our meal we stepped outside to admire the view and we were fortunate to run into the hacienda’s current owner, Sr. Vargas Mendez ,who proudly explained to us that Hacienda Tepich was originally built in1749 and that he had owned it for the last 20 years. He pointed out the gardens that had bitter lemon, lemon trees, and bitter orange trees along with many other plants, bushes and flowers. It was all very beautiful and I felt transported back in time as I imagined how the hacienda had been in its heyday. As Sr. Vargas  pointed out the wooden beams and other areas he explained to us that most of the hacienda’s current structure is as it was since 1749. For years he has worked to try to keep up Hacienda Tepich as it once was many years ago.We took a several pictures and thanked our host and set off towards Chichen.

Lemon tree

We had a booked a night inthe Hotel Dolores de Alba in Chichen Itza http://www.doloresalba.com/indexmain.htm#chtza for about $60 CDN and when we arrived at Chichen I was surprised at how much the town had grown since I had last visited ,which was many years ago, when I took my Dad to see the ruins. We checked in to our clean, simple rooms and had dinner…nothing special and very over priced. After dinner we sat by one of the two swimming pools that they have to relax after a long day. Now, I must mention their pools. One of them is your basic everyday pool but the other is really quite amazing.It is an ecological pool that has been made utilizing  a natural reef from millions of years ago. There are holes and tunnels and it is filled with natural water. At night the lights give off the illusion that you are staring at the moon’s surface. I just had to get in! I swamaround passing my hands over the reef’s surface and marvelling at nature’s wonders.

Entrance at Hacienda Tepich

After drying off it was time for bed and we drifted off into a deep sleep the kind that you experience after being outside all day. In the morning we had another unforgettable meal at the hotel and after checking out we headed to Cenote Il Kil, our last stop on our cenote tour.I will stop here and finish our Yucatan Easter Adventure in my next blog. I would like to say thank you to all of you have been reading along and commenting and sharing this great experience with me.

Ecological Pool

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Continuing on from my last blog entry chronicling our trip to visit several cenotes in the Yucatan over Easter break  I will pick up where I left off. We made our way along the path to a wooden staircase leading down to the first cenote, Chelentun,where we were greeted by a huge group of people all toting their cameras and swim gear. Once down the stairs I peeled off my clothing and amidst flashing cameras I dove into the cool crystal blue water.There was a beam of sunlight shining down from an opening above which lit the cavern up and enabled you to see the bottom though the cenote was quite deep. There were stalactites hanging down from above which added to the beauty of this natural wonder.

Bolonchojool

After swimming for our alloted 30 minutes we took a few pictures and returned to our cart.On our way to our next destination we had a bit of excitement as our cart derailed and Luis and Jose quickly mounted the cart once again onto the tracks and we were off again!. We arrived at Bolonchojool unscathed and Luis told us that this particular cenote was a favourite among visitors to Cuzama. We walked to the cenote’s entrance which consisted of a small hole reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland’s rabbit hole. It had a makeshift wooden ladder burrowing deep into the earth. There were people trying to go up and down it at the same time even though there was room for only one person at a time…you gotta love Mexico! I gingerly made my way down encountering steps that creaked and buckled under my weight—eeek!Once I arrived ,again there was a large group of people but I easily ignored them as I was captivated by Bolochojool’s incredible beauty. Amidst stalactites and beams of natural light I again stripped down and swam lost in the purity of this underground world.

Going down the ladder at Bolonchojool

Our last stop on this incredible tour was centote Chak-Zinik-Che. Another beautiful spot where once again we swam and snapped a few photos. Then it was time to board our cart for the trip back which involved stopping the cart and taking it off the tracks when 2 or more other carts came our way as there were only one set of tracks going to each cenote. I was amazed at how efficient our guides were and we were quite amused by the whole experience. As the other carts sped past the Pony Express came to mind. Once we arrived at the entrance I took an apple out of my bag and offered it to Pirata who sniffed it and turned his nose up at it!! My family has a guest ranch and I have never seen a horse who didn’t love a fresh green apple. I tried giving it to one of the other horses and they too declined.Jose told me that they didn’t like apples…I imagine that they have never been offered one before that day.

Chak-Zinik-Che cenote

We thanked our guides and made our way to our truck it had been a truly amazing experience.We were hungry and thirsty so decided to look for a place to stop before driving on to Chichen. We came across a sign for a place called Hacienda Tepich. We followed the signs and were quite surprised when we arrived at an actual Hacienda. I will leave that for another day and another blog.I hope that you have enyoyed reading about our Easter Yucatan Adventure so far.I would love to hear your thoughts.

Pony Express

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