Puerto Morales is a small seaside fishing village about halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It was not built for tourist and commercial development has been kept to a minimum, so it is still more like a residential community where prices for most everything are lower and the pace much slower than the typical “touristy” resorts. The Great Meso American reef lies just 500 meters off the shores of Puerto Morales and offers a variety of marine life as well as one of the most beautiful reefs in the world. So it should not come as a surprise to say that the main attractions here are fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. The largest annual fishing tournament is held in May and offers $80,000 pesos to the winner while scuba diving features coral reef formations, wrecks and schools of colorful fish. Other nearby attractions include the Dr. Alfredo Barrera botanical garden and Crococun Zoo, in addition, the photo gallery below provides a look at some of the sites around the center of town.
Xcaret Park was created to promote nature and mexican cultural heritage. To that end, part of the admission price is donated to developing programs for the preservation of wild flora and fauna. There are quite a variety of leisure and recreational activities in the park but all are related to this objective. In general, the main attractions include underground rivers, natural pools and inlets for snorkeling, exhibitions which include archeological zones, re-creations of ancient mayan cities along with mayan ceremonies, flora and fauna found on interpretative jungle trails, orchid and bromelaid museums, a butterfly pavilion, natural habitats for jaguars, puma’s and monkeys, aquariums, bee farms and deer shelters. The latest in their long list of natural attractions is the Sea Trek underwater adventure that offers a new technology for diving underwater without extensive training and cumbersome gear. All you need is their new hi-tech diving helmet that keeps water out while air is pumped in from a boat that hovers above the dive site. So, it is now possible for almost everyone to experience the coral reefs and tropical fish for which the Carribean is famous. Ladies will find this new helmet especially appealing because the helmet keeps hair dry and prevents make-up from washing off.
For years the sleepy resort town of Tulum existed in a time warp with unspoiled natural beauty to complement its famous archaeological sites. However, many people fear that new development projects involving condos, hotels, shopping centers and airports are the beginning of the end for Tulum as we know it today. So, in a sense, the maya predictions may be accurate in that the old way of life in Tulum is rapidly coming to an end as a result of urban sprawl. Of course, there are ongoing efforts to preserve the small town appeal and eco-friendly environment but as of now the old Tulum is gradually fading away but not in the way some expected.
Getting back to the archaeological site, the ruins of Tulum are situated on a 12 meter high cliff overlooking the Carribbean sea and some of the worlds best beaches. In it’s heyday, from the 12th century to the 15th, the city was an important seaport and home to many of the Mayan elite including both kings and clergy. Consequently, it was surrounded by a large wall which served to protect the city from invaders and separate the elite rulers who lived here from the commoners. All together the site consists of about 60 well preserved structures dating as far back as the year 250 A.D. The most imposing and likely most important of these is the El Castillo where religious ceremones were performed in the upper temple.
In the midst of a chic residential community within the maya riveria known as Playacar, lies both Maya ruins and the Xaman-Ha Sanctuary. Playacar was once known as Xaman-Ha by the Mayan people and today the sanctuary is a reminder of what it must have been like years ago when numerous species of tropical birds populated the jungles of the yucatan peninsula. One of those species, the scarlet macaw, is now on the endangered list because their eco-system is gradually being decimated by urban sprawl. In addition, a black market parrot trade has also contributed to the dwindling population of these macaws.
This sanctuary is a natural habitat for over 60 species of tropical birds which are indigenous to the yucatan peninsula with paths and trails leading to the birds preferred nesting areas.There are aquatic birds, coastal fowl, macaws, parrots and linseed birds. Included in these groups are flamingo’s, toucans, scarlet macaws, egrets, pelicans and a variety of parrots. Although, Xaman-Ha is primarily a bird sanctuary; you will definitely cross paths with a few Iguana’s while walking around this nature park.
Playa del Carmen is located on the Maya Riviera and has the ambiance of a small beach resort but at the same time it is sophisticated in many ways. Here you will find vistors and shop owners from all over the world, special events such as the Maya Jazz Festival that features music from a variety of cultures, restaurants that serve many different kinds of cuisine
from different countries around the world, specialty retail shops with merchandise from all over mexico and small boutique lodging’s with distinct European styles. Most of the restaurants, cafes, shops, nightlife and other tourist activity are located on a 15 block section of fifth avenue which is limited to pedestrian foot traffic.
There are many other attractions in and around Playa del Carmen. Some of the best beaches in the world can be found in this area along with miles of offshore coral reefs that offer what are just about the most spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving sites anywhere in the world. If the beach or scuba diving are not your cup of tea, than there are several major theme parks near by such as Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor and Xaman-Ha Avairy. Each offers its own unique blend of outdoor recreational activities. These are just a few of the reasons why Playa del Carmen was selected as the second best destination resort in Mexico for 2012 by travelers choice.
Looking for a laid back tropical island paradise with a variety of diversions to enjoy, than look no farther than Isla Mujeres. This island is found in the Caribbean Sea only a few miles away from Cancun, one of the top destination resorts in the world. It can be reached by plane, ferry or private boat. Most visitors arrive by ferry which leaves Puerto Juarez or Cancun several times a day and takes anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes to complete the trip. The cost of the ferry is only about $3.00 per person from Puerto Juarez and cars or motorcycles can be brought along for a few dollars more. Didn’t bring a car or motorcycle with you, no sweat; there are plenty of taxis, motor scooters, and golf carts for rent at reasonable prices. Since the island is only 7 km long and 650 meters wide, a scooter or golf cart is the most popular mode of transportation.
There are a variety of hotel accommodations from budget to very expensive around the island and many restaurants. As you might expect, seafood restaurants are the most common but international cuisine featuring Italian, French, Mediterranean, Mexican and Thai cooking are also available in other restaurants. Most retail shops are found in the downtown area along Avenue Hildago. These stores sell just about everything that is needed for a short stay from suntan lotions to equipment for snorkeling or scuba diving,
In addition to the islands welcoming ambiance, most people come to isla mujeres to enjoy swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling around the coral reefs to experience the vibrant colors of both the reefs and the tropical fish that live in these waters which are very clear and average 78 to 82 degrees on a year round basis. One of the most popular coral reefs here is the Manchones Reef because it can be enjoyed by all levels of divers and has an extraordinary variety of terrain, plant life and sea life.
Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters in the United States or Canada, so like most birds they fly south for the winter. The migration usually begins sometime in October or as soon as the weather starts turning cold in North America. Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains fly to Mexico and monarch’s living west of the Rockies fly to Southern California. Experts have not yet discovered how the monarchs can navigate to the same spots every year when no single butterfly can survive the roundtrip but most believe that flight patterns are inherited or they are capable of using the earth’s magnetic fields for orientation.
While in Mexico, the butterflies winter haven is found at the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in the state of Michoacan. Here, the butterflies have an ideal combination of trees and plant food needed to survive until spring. It is estimated that 20 million monarchs stay in this place every year which is open to visitors interested in observing this natural event from November until late march when the northward migration from Mexico begins. As previously indicated, the length of these journeys exceeds the life span of a monarch, so the first generation will only make it as far as Texas or Oklahoma before the females need to deposit eggs for the next generation if the species is to survive. All together it requires 4 generations of monarchs to complete this annual migration pattern .
The Surrealistic Architectural Gardens created by Sir Edward James are also known as Los Pozas ( the pools). It is located in the village of Xilitla, Mexico, a pueblo magico since December of 2011. The gardens consist of 80 acres with natural waterfalls and cascading pools of water, as well as thirty six surreal sculptures in what is a sub-tropical rainforest environment about 2,000 feet above sea level. Its origins date back to 1947 when James bought the land which was then used as a coffee plantation. A few years later, however, most of the plants James had started cultivating were destroyed by an unprecedented frost and as a patron of the surrealistic art movement he decided to convert the coffee plantation into gardens with surreal architectural sculptures that are completely integrated into the surrounding natural environment.
Born to immense wealth and privilege, James was raised in England where his family owned a 300 room mansion on a 6,000 acre estate. Needless to say, he attended some of the most élite schools in the country and became a poet/artist who passionately supported the surrealists art movement before it became fashionable. In addition, he sponsored the work of several budding surreal artist such as Salvador Dali as well as the Montaure, a lavish surrealistic magazine published in Paris. Eventually, he abandoned the intellectual, social and artistic circles of London for the jungles of Xilitla, Mexico where he died in 1984. Sometime before his death, however, he had donated the family estate in England to a charitable trust and set up the West Dean college for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts.
The botanical garden of San Miguel de Allende is a 250 acre ecological reserve just minutes away from the cities central historic district. It is also know as El Charco del Ingenio, the name comes from a large spring fed pool within the reserve’s canyon which has great bio-diversity. The park’s other highlights include a snack bar, conservatory of plants, auditorium, pavillion. retail store and variety of special events that take place on a year around basis.
From the entrance at the vistor’s center, there are a series of inter-connected trails that lead to a dry chaparral zone, a canyon zone and a wetlands zone. These paths are great for both hiking and viewing a variety of plants and wildlife native to their respective ecological zones ranging from cacti to aquatic plants as well as migratory birds. In addition there are plant displays including an agave garden, nopal garden and an endangered species garden.
The Mexican International Volleyball Tournament, formerly known as the Estero Beach Volleyball tournament, started in 1974 and is held annually in Baja California during the last week of June. It is considered the largest beach volleyball tournament in the world and often host to several thousand amateur and professional players from a variety of countries worldwide. The tournament is a two day , weighted blind draw, beach doubles competition with both men and women’s divisions. In addition, all tournament profits go to charitable causes.
Once again, this years tournament is held in Estero Beach which is the spanish word for estuary. As the name implies, estero beach fronts an estuary just a few miles south of Ensenada. It consist of a luxury hotel, spa, large pool, a couple of restaurants, an RV park, and a broadwalk. The beach itself is a great place for watersports, jet skis, and kayaks since it is in a sheltered bay.
As indicated in the previous article about the transpeninsular highway of Baja California, ninety percent of route#1 is desert land which consist of little more than mountains, dormant volcanos, towering cacti, and sand dunes. The only exceptions are a few old mission towns such as El Rosario, Guerro Negro, Santa Rosalia, Mulege and Loreto. With the exception of Loreto, most of these old villages do not offer many tourist attractions. Loreto, however, does have a few luxury hotels, a world class tennis center, an 18 hole golf course and an international airport with non stop flights to and from LAX. In addition, there is a deep water marina nearby in Puerto Escondido for cruisers and sailors. Eventhough, the rest of the transpeninsular highway is still surrounded with undeveloped land, there are many campgrounds, surfing, fishing and sailing opportunities along the way for those who enjoy outdoor adventures.
The Baja Peninsular of Mexico is one of the longest in the world and extends from the U.S. Border with Tijuana to the Los Cabos area where land ends and meets the pacific ocean. In 1973 Route #1 , an 806 mile stretch of road otherwise known as the transpeninsular highway was finally completed, making it possible for tourist with the average passenger car to drive from Ensenada to Los Cabos. Although, it is a narrow and winding road in many places, it is generally well maintained. That said, it is still necessary to exercise more caution than usual when driving this highway for a variety of reasons. First, there are quite a few blind curves and blind hilltops where livestock or other obstacles may be in the middle of the road. Secondly, the road for the most part does not have any shoulder you can rely on for a safe margin in an emergency situation. Finally, driving at night is not recommended because there are very few street lights, reflectors, or painted lines to assist driver navigation.
Driving down the transpeninsular highway along the Pacific Ocean, tourist will pass through a series of small villages after leaving the Ensenada area. Once the road turns inland at El Rosario, however, most of the highway passes through undeveloped and sparsely populated land including vast deserts, mountains, dormant volcanos, sand dunes and towering cacti. . In addition, tourist will see a few old mission towns with an interesting mix of cultures including Latino, Hispanic and Anglo before finally arriving in La Paz which is the modern capital of Baja California Sur.
Once the capital of Baja California Sur, Loreto was also the first European settlement in the Californias over 300 years ago. After serving as the capital for 132 years, La Paz superseded Loreto as the capital of Baja Sur and for all practical purposes Loreto faded into oblivion until 1973 when the completion of the transpeninsular highway finally brought the city within reach of the average tourist.
Today, The Villages of Loreto Bay is one of the largest resort communities in North America committed to sustainable development. It is being developed by the Scottsdale, AZ based Loreto Bay Company and Citigroup Property Investors. The master plan involves a series of romantic, walkable seaside villages each of which will be pedestrian friendly, including retail, entertainment and recreational facilities. Eventually all electricity in this community will be generated by wind turbines while bicycles and electric cars will be the primary means of transportation around the villages.
Offshore fishing remains a principal tourist attraction, as well as, an international airport, world class tennis center, an 18 hole golf course and the Loreto Bay National Marine Park.
Los Cabos is located at the southern most tip of Baja California Sur where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. The Cabos area is anchored by San Jose Del Cabo to the east and Cabo San Lucas to the west with about 30 miles of beach, golf courses, hotels and condominiums in between. There are recreational opportunities here to plealse just about everyone including golf, big game fishing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, atv adventure tours, and kayaking, As well as, luxury spas and upscale nightclubs that stay open to dawn.
Cabo San Lucas is known to be a contemporary high end resort with a lot of vitality and a world class marina that features over 380 slips which can accommodate vessels up to 200 feet, along with high quality services and amenities only found at luxury yachting marina´s. San Jose Del Cabo, on the other hand, is more of a traditional mexican village that consist of historical sites such as the renovated Jesuit mission named Iglesia San Jose, an estuary with a variety of colorful birds and wildlife, in addition to, a botanical garden featuring desert flora called Cacti-Mundo.
Along the shores of Banderas Bay, there are numerous beaches that are divided into three zones; north of town, in town, and south of town. Four of the most popular beaches south of Puerto Vallarta Central include Mismaloya Beach, Boca Tomatlan, Las Animas and Quimixto. Mismaloya and Boca Tomatlan can be reached by car, bus, or taxi but Las Animas and Quimixto can only be reached by boat or by hiking thru long jungle trails from Boca Tomatlan.
Mismaloya Beach is about 6 miles from the center of town and happens to be where ¨Night of the Iguana¨ starring Richard Burton was filmed in 1963 before the condo´s and hotel´s were constructed. More recently, much of the ¨The Predator¨starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was filmed in the jungle behind Mismaloya. Boca Tomatlan beach is about 10 miles from the center of town and is the last of the south shore beaches which can be reached by car. This beach lies at the the mouth of the Rio Horcones, so besides salt water there are fresh water pools for swimming, restaurants for other kinds of refreshment and water taxi´s for trips to the other beaches not accessible by car. The boat ride from here to Las Animas or Quimixto is only a short distance and relatively inexpensive. At Las Animas, there is an adventure park with zip lines, rope bridges and climbing activities. The main attraction at Quimixto is a 30 meter high waterfall which feeds into a natural pool of pristine mountain water about 15 meters deep and can be reached by horseback or by hiking across several hills and 2 rivers. Both of these beaches offer a variety of restaurants and shops that sell locally made merchandise.
The Vallarta Botanical Gardens were created in 2004, on 20 acres of what was previously half overgrazed cattle pasture and half deciduous forest. The ongoing mission of this non-profit organization is to create Mexico´s foremost Botanical Gardens for the propagation, study, discovery, conservation, and display of native mexican plants that both local residents and visitors will be able to enjoy.
As of now, the Vallarta Gardens main attractions are the orchid conservatory, mexican plant collections, butterfly gardens, tree fern grotto, jungle trails, mountain river swimming, tropical fruit trees and atv tours. In addition,the Hacienda de Oro inside the Visitors Center is one of Vallarta´s most famous destination restaurants famous for brick-oven pizza and fine mexican cuisine.
Vallarta is located on the pacific coast of Mexico at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains. It is an alluring blend of modern sophistication and old world character with many luxury resorts fronted by beaches and the warm waters of Bandaras Bay. Despite the presence of luxury hotels and condominiums, Puerto Vallarta remains a very casual resort where shorts and t-shirts are standard attire.
Although Vallarta started attracting tourist in the 1940´s, it was the filming of ¨The Night of the Iguana¨, starring Richard Burton in 1963 that eventually put Puerto Vallarta on the international tourist map to stay. With the development of the Marina Vallarta Complex in the mid 90´s, the city has also become a major port of call for cruise lines. As a result, American discount chains such as Walmart and Costco have set up shop to accommodate the growing population of ex-pats and tourist that come by land or sea.
Since Banderas Bay is protected by its shape and surrounding geography, the water remains calm and clear most of the time. So, conditions are ideal for many water sports such as boating, deep sea fishing, snorkeling and parasailing. Other popular recreational opportunities in the area include golf, tennis and a variety of eco-tours into the Sierra Madre mountains for the more adventurous.
Featured in the John Steinbeck novel ¨La Pearl¨, La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur and has a population of around 250,000 people. It also has one of the highest standards of living and quality of life in Mexico. As a result, La Paz has become a popular destination for many Canadians and Americans seeking alternative retirement havens. It is also favored by water enthusiasts for its marina´s, boatyards, marine supply stores and cruiser clubs.
La Paz is also Baja´s Eco-tourism center offering a variety of tours guided by professionals dedicated to preserving the environment. Thus, eco-tourism is by far the leading source of tourist income in this area; as most people come to enjoy snorkeling, diving or kayaking in the pristine waters or to explore the 244 islands in the sea of cortez which are under UNESCO protection as bio-reserves such as the Espiritu Santo group of islands only a few miles off the shores of La Paz.
The Balandra Bioshpere is a complex of beaches, hills, dunes, and mangroves on the sea of cortez. It is one of many protected environments in Baja California Sur about 20 kilometers from La Paz, Mexico. The bay of balandra is very shallow with clear, warm water ideal for snorkeling and kayaking. It also forms several beaches but the main beach offers palapa´s and barbeque pits, in addition to, campsites.
The Sierra Laguna mountain range is located in the cape region of Baja California Sur and as a bioshpere reserve this area is a protected environment which prohibits development. At higher elevations, the sierra laguna´s also qualify as a cloud forest during the summer months when the peaks are consistently shrouded in mist or rain. This type of climate supports a mix of desert, tropical and sub-alpine flora which are unique in North America. Likewise, a variety of fauna such as deer, coyote, tree frogs and mountain lions can also be found in this area. As a result, the Sierra Laguna´s are a popular destination for hikers and backpackers who come to enjoy the impressive scenery which surrounds the numerous mountain trails of this reserve.
Todos Santos is a lushly vegetated village on the pacific coast of California Baja Sur about half way between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. It is one of Mexico´s pueblo magico´s and is just a few miles west of the Sierra Laguna Mountains which provides an underground stream of water that local farmers use to grow mangoes, avocados, guavas, papayas, citrus, coconuts and other organic produce. The population of Todos Santos is under 10,000 people which includes a small colony of artist, writers, entertainers and surfers who live there on a year around basis. The main attractions for most are the beaches, restaurants, cafes, art fairs, hotel california and climate.
Located in Baja California about 3 hrs drive southeast of Ensenada is the Parque National Sierra San Pedro Martir which was founded in 1947. It is about 170,000 acres and has a variety of flora and fauna similar to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the USA. As visitors start the ascent to this national park off the main highway from Ensenada the terrain changes rapidly from arid coastal plains, to high chaparral and once above 1500 meters it becomes thickly forested glens with many trails and campsites for hikers and backpackers. In addition to a recreational area, the Mexican government selected this site for its national observatory and largest telescope because of its exceptionally clean air.
Bahia Pulmo is both a national marine preserve and UNESCO world heritage site found on the East Cape of Baja California Sur about 60 miles from the Los Cabos resort area of Mexico. Bahia Pulmo is unique in that it has the only hard coral reef in the sea of cortez and is one of only 3 living reefs in North America. The abundant coral growth on the rocky reefs provides plenty of shelter for a variety of colorful reef fishes, many of which are not found anywhere else. This in turn is what attracts many scuba divers and snorkelers from all over the world to the Cabo Pulmo area.
If you are traveling in Baja California Sur in the vicinity of La Paz, Mexico, don´t pass up the chance to see the islands of Espiritu Santo and Partida. Both of these islands are connected by a narrow isthmus and can be reached by arranging a powerboat tour or by a kayak trip which is about 4 miles away from the La Paz area. These islands are protected by UNESCO as bioshperes and are popular eco-tourism destinations.
While there are a variety of recreational opportunities both in and out of the water; the highlights include diving, snorkeling, kayaking, sea lion colonies and hot springs. In addition, Isla Partida has one of the world´s top 12 beaches called Ensenada Grande which has spectacular red rock formations, white sands and clear water.
Bahia Concepcion is located on the East Coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. The entire bay is a national marine preserve that is reportedly one of the cleanest bay systems in the world and commercial fishing is prohibited. However, it is ideal for anglers, small boats, windsurfers, divers and kayakers. The bay area attracts many visitors from the USA, Canada, and Europe who usually stay in tents, palapa huts or motor homes since motels are few and far between. These photos show just a few of the many beaches in the bay area including Playa El Requeson, Playa El Coyote and Playa Los Cocos.