Punta Venado Caribbean EcoPark

Bike Trail out of the jungle to the beach

Bike Trail out of the jungle to the beach

The Punta Venado EcoPark is about a 10 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. Its a little over 2000 acres with 2.5 miles of beach on the Caribbean coastline. The outdoor adventure activities in this park include horseback riding,  atv trails,  mountain biking and water sports such as kiteboarding and snorkeling.  Mountain bike trails are rated according to difficulty and cut through dense jungle where there’s a good chance of  wildlife encounters with spider monkeys, deer or a variety of other small mammals as you ride. Whenever you get hot or tired and need a break from biking,  you can always stop at one of the cenotes found near several of the trails and take a refreshing dip in these natural pools of underground water. Another way to relax and cool off at the end of the day is to take the trail towards the park’s  beach club where you’ll find a restaurant, bar,  and the caribbean ocean.

Riviera Maya Jazz Festival

Earth, Wind and Fire

Earth, Wind and Fire

The annual jazz festival in Playa del Carmen would have ended Saturday night with one of their greatest hit songs called “September” but the crowd kept chanting for an encore. This event takes place in the last week of November at Mamita’s Beach and this years concert dates were scheduled on the 28th, 29th, and 30th. All three days of music are free of charge and music fans can bring their own refreshments or buy them from vendor stands on site. Each night features 3 different musical groups that play from 7pm to 11pm depending on how many encores the fans request. The photo gallery below shows each of the different groups performing on stage along with a sample of the light shows that are also part of the entertainment.

A Taste of Playa

Baked Bread samples

Playa del Carmen just finished celebrating an annual event known as a “Taste of Playa” on Sunday the 24th of November. It is a culinary event that highlights the best and most creative restaurants as well as retail food outlets that define the culture of this area.which is renowned for its diversity, international influences and culinary expertise. At the event which is open to the general public from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.  guest have a chance to sample a variety of food and beverages served at the many restaurants around town  for a few pesos. This is a very convenient way to discover who’s serving your favorite foods at the right price without the hassle of shopping around town for days on end.

Day of the Dead, Xcaret Park

a headstone made of seashells

a headstone made of seashells

In 2003 the Day of the Dead was declared a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage by U.N.E.S.C.O. and every year the Xcaret Park near Cancun, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead with a 5 day event known as the ” Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerta”. During this celebration visitors can enjoy traditional cuisine of the region, workshops, handcrafts, visual art exhibtions, music, dances,  rituals, altars, and offerings. One of the highlights of this event is the tour of their cemetery which is both a tribute to the deeply rooted attitudes of mexicans towards death and a replica of cemeteries found throughout Mexico. This cemetery is located inside the maya village on a hill with winding spiral paths that lead to the top.The path is lined with unique and imaginative headstones, plaques and ornamental structures that display  a variety of spiritually oriented designs and attitudes about the dead.The photo gallery below is a sample of what to expect in the cemetery and in other locations around the park during this event.

Mexico and Monuments

a tribute to the maya people and civilization

a tribute to the maya people and culture

Mexico loves it monuments and that’s why one of its most important  cities, Oueretaro, was inscribed as a historic monument  U.N.E.S.C.O. world heritage zone in 1996. A  tourist in Mexico can learn much about the history of this country  by simply visiting these monuments which can be found in most every large city and resort area. There are several kinds of monuments such as statutes  built as a lasting tribute to a person, a group of people or an event. Other kinds of monuments that are most common can be either a place, building site or structure that is preserved because of its historic culture and/or aesthetic importance. In addition to Queretaro;  most of the national monuments are found in Mexico city, Gaunajuato, and Guadalajara but there are many other significant monuments to be found in a variety of locations nationwide.The photo essay below shows a variety of these monuments including some of the most important and popular in Mexico.

Beaches in Mexico

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, a top ten travelers choice beach in the Caribbean

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, a top ten travelers choice beach in the Caribbean

Mexico has about 6,000 miles of coastline and over 450 beaches with a variety of physical characteristics. These range from desert to tropical environments but while it may be  easy to classify beaches according to these objective characteristics, the choice of which beach resort  is best for a vacation  is much more subjective. A quick internet search will  turn up several sites that rate beaches in Mexico by  a variety of different criteria but there is only one objective system that rates beaches by strict criteria applied the world over and that site can be found at http://www.blueflag.org. Their system for evaluating beaches started in France around 1985 and is now run by the European Foundation for Environmental Education. In general, the Blue Flag criteria used to determine which beaches deserve to be awarded are water quality, safety, services, environmental management and information. As of now, there are 5 beaches that have earned the blue flag award in Mexico. Coincidently, all five of these beaches are also on the list of the best beaches in Mexico as published by websites such as Travelers Choice and magazines such as U.S News and Travel that use tourist opinions or travel writers opinions to rate beaches. So, if finding the best beach is a top priority on your next vacation, it comes down to a decision about the intangibles such as idyllic versus the tangibles such as environmental information signs. In the photo essay below there is a photo of Playa Delfines, a blue flag awarded beach, as well as several photos of beaches in Tulum which Travelers Choice rates as the best in Mexico. All other beach photos below are highly rated by one or more survey about best beaches in Mexico.

Architecture of Mexico

Office  building in  Cancun, Mx

Modern  Office building in Cancun, Mexico 

The architecture of Mexico is known for its variety that developed in several phases from different cultures. During the pre-hispanic period from  300 A.D. through the year 1581 A.D. most architecture was the product of Maya and Aztec civilizations which can be seen today at such archeological sites as Palanque, Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza.  After Cortez and the Spanish armies conquered mexico in the year 1581, European architecture  replaced Maya and Aztec building techniques with  baroque, renaissance, gothic,  and neoclassical architectural styles during what is known as the colonial period of Mexican history.  Existing examples of this transition can be seen in several Mexican  cities like  Guanajuato, Morelia and San Miguel de Allende that have all been declared UNESCO  world heritage sites due  to the well-preserved colonial buildings in these area’s.   In the year  1821, Mexico  finally gained it’s independence but there where very few new developments in the field of architecture for several decades until the emperor Maximilian and the dictator Porfirio Diaz started to import French architectural designs around 1860.  Perhaps, the most famous example of French influenced architecture of the day is the Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City commissioned by Diaz.. The next and most recent evolution in Mexican architecture came along just after  the Mexican  civil war  ended in 1910 when modern and contemporary architecture started to replace obsolete  building techniques. During this time frame  architects started  blending Mexican stylistic  elements with expressionist and functionalist design concepts  to create innovative works of modern architecture that continues to this day. A few representative examples of Mexican architecture from past to present are included in  the photo essay below.

Mexican Ecosystems

the balandra biosphere

The Balandra Biosphere consist of mangrove, beach and dune ecosystems

A biome is a group of ecosystems that shares similar flora, fauna, microorganisms and climate. While an ecosystem is defined as the dynamic interactions between  flora, fauna, microorganisms and their  environment working together as a functional unit.The main difference between the two is that a biome consist of many similar ecosystems throughout the world grouped together. One of the problems  encountered in the classification system of biomes and ecosystems is the transition zones  that can make it difficult to determine  exactly where one system begins and another ends. In any case,, roughly 29 percent of the land in Mexico is considered to be in desert or shrubland biomes while another 30 percent of the land consist of several different forest biomes.  Additionally, Mexico is said to have 51 distinct ecosystems which makes it the most biologically diverse country in Latin American. For example, some of the ecosystems in the forest biomes of this country alone include coniferous forest, oak forest, tropical semi deciduous forest, mixed forest, cloud forest, deciduous forest and evergreen forest just to mention a few of the 51 possibilities. The photo essay below depicts a few of these ecosystems and includes additional information.

Akumal, Maya Riviera

Akumal BayAkumal, or place of the turtle in Mayan, is a small americanized beach community located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is not only a nesting ground for sea turtles but home to Centro Ecological de Akumal which is dedicated to sea turtle protection, environmental marine research, education and sustainable tourism development. The bay of Akumal is sheltered from waves so conditions for turtles and snorkelers alike are arguably the best that can be found within the Maya riviera. ln addition to the loggerhead, green and  hawksbill turtles that call Akumal home; snorkelers can expect to see a variety of colorful tropical fish and coral thanks to the clear and calm waters of this bay. The  Yalku lagoon, found at the north end of the Akumal, is another ideal location for snorkeling. This happens to be  a unique environment where  fresh waters from the yucatan’s underground system merges  with the caribbean sea  to form a lagoon  sheltered from waves. For additional details and images, please go to the photo essay below.

Eco-Sur Botanical Garden, Puerto Morales, MX

Eco-Sur, Tropical Forest

This 150 acre botanical garden also know as Ya’ax Che is the last patch of conserved forest between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Established in 1982, the main objectives of the park are to preserve and propagate endangered plant species as well as inform and educate visitors about how the mayans used the natural resources of this area. To this end, there is an interpretive trail of about 4 km with a variety of exhibits set in a natural forest environment representative of the complete eco-system existing in the Yucatan Peninsula. The distinct exhibits consist of cactus, orchids, ferns, ornamentals, palms and medicinal plants, Additionally, there are maya ruins, a recreated traditional mayan home and “chicle camp” where sap from chicle trees was used to make the chewing gum which bears its name. Wild fauna such as spider monkeys, lizards and a variety of birds can also be seen along the trails. For more information and images about this park, see the photo essay below.

Coba, Maya Riviera

The Great Pyramid

The archaeological site of Coba  exists in a world that has changed very little in the past 1000 years or more. So, it is still surrounded by a natural environment  of jungle vegetation,  tropical hardwoods, lagoons, vines, and  wildlife as far as the eye can see. Although the cities origins date back to the year 600 A.D. it was abandoned after the Spanish conquered the Yucatan Peninsula around 1550. Evidently, Coba was located in such a remote area in those days that the Spanish never found the city which remained hidden in the jungle until 1842 when it was rediscovered by explorers.

Coba is an expansive site which is believed  to contain apporximately 6500 structures  that once supported an estimated 45,000 people. At this time, however,  only a small portion of Coba has been cleared from the jungle and restored by  archaeologists. This part consist of 6 separate areas called the Coba Group, the Nohoch Mul Group, the Pinturas Group, the Chumuc Group, the Macanxoc Group and the Uitzil Mul Group which are all connected by a system of dirt roads built over a 1000 years ago. To see the ruins in these different areas you can either walk, rent a bike or a chofer driven tricycle. If your visiting Coba in the  summer months it would be best to rent a bike or chofer driven tricycle and save your energy for climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid, tallest in the Yucatan peninsula at 138 feet. Images of  this pyramid and some of Coba’s other attractions along with additional information can be found in the  photo gallery below.

Isla Cozumel, Mexico

Tiki Bar

Cozumel is the largest of Mexico’s islands measuring 53 km by 14km and is found in the Caribbean Sea about 1 hour away from  Playa del Carmen on the passenger ferries which make frequent trips on a daily basis.  Although, there are a variety of things to do once you get to Cozumel the main attraction has always been snorkeling and scuba diving to experience the great meso american reef system. One travel guide book has a list of 86 attractions around Cozumel but 43 of them involve different scuba diving or snorkeling locations. Other things to do while on the island  are  related to either cultural activities,  parks or  beach clubs.

Three types of beaches can be found around this island and they will be either rocky,  smooth white sand or  hybrids. According to people in the know, rocky beaches are a indication of good snorkeling opportunities off shore and they are plentiful. The smooth white sand beaches are not as common as the rocky type but they can be found at the northern or  southern tips of the island’s  western shores such as Playa San Francisco near Punta Sur. Finally, there is the hybrid variety where sand has been brought in to build a beach on top of the limestone croppings that are the norm around Cozumel.. One such man made beach is found at the Chankannab National Park to the south of town.

At the end of the day, most people head for  San Miguel to enjoy happy hour, dinner or other cultural activites. This is the only city on the island and it has a population of over 75,000 people according to the last count. One of the main attractions here is the pedestrian only Plaza Centro where you can find restaurants, shops, street artist, cafe’s and nightlife. In the photo gallery below you will find images and more information about Plaza Centro, a few of the beaches  as well as some other highlights.

Tulum, Maya Riviera

a roadside stand on the jungle side of Tulum beach road

a roadside stand on the jungle side of Tulum beach road, would you rather be here or starbucks?

Tulum is  a  mixture of 3 separate and distinct areas which consist of  the archeological zone, Tulum Playa and Tulum Pueblo. In the past, the main reason to visit Tulum was to see the archeological site but many new additions  to both the beach zone and central zone are now attracting tourist  for a variety of others reasons.  The focus of new developments in the Tulum Playa area is overwhelmingly  on  eco-tourism and preservation of the natural environment. So, new construction projects are kept to a minimum and must also meet strict standards for sustainable development.

Tulum pueblo is  primairily a business and residential area for the locals  but it also has some restaurants and nightlife that appeals to both tourist and residents alike.  The beach area, however, is the  main attraction for most people and Tulum beach road is where it’s all happening. This is where you  find all the new ecologically designed boutique and spa hotels along with beach clubs, beach parties, stores and a decent selection of  restaurants   and nightlife. This is the only way into and out of Tulum Playa and it is surrounded by jungle on one side and the caribbean on the other. This is the same road that leads to the Sian Ka’an Reserve  and Punta Allen which is a fishing resort at the tip of the peninsula. In any case, someone once said “a picture is worth a thousand words” so, to learn more about Tulum Playa, see the photo gallery below.

Puerto Morales, Maya Riviera

Main Beach, Puerto Morales

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.

Playa del Carmen, La Quinta Street Highlights #2

Mexican Cuisine, no doors, no walls and no windows. The traditional style of building on La Quinta.

Restaurant/Bar with Mexican Cuisine, notice the absence of doors, walls and windows. This traditional style of building is the norm
on La Quinta Ave.,

The pedestrian promenade of La Qunita or Fifth Avenue attracts an international mix of travelers and is the place to see and be seen while in Playa. A party  atmosphere,  created by the nightclubs, bars and restaurants on La Qunita;  keeps  the grown up good time crowd around until the wee hours of the morning. On another level, La Qunita attracts people for it’s down to earth lifestyles and egalitarian spirit characterized  by the very casual style of dress seen everywhere, the variety of businesses that offer both low end and high end merchandise or services and the friendly attitudes of most people around town. The photo gallery of this edition and the prior edition illustrates what has made La Qunita Ave one of Playa’s main attractions.

Playa del Carmen Highlights, La Qunita Street

a bar and grill with sports betting decorated for saint patrick's day

A bar and grill with sports betting on La Quinta as well as St. Patricks Day decorations.

La Qunita or Fifth Avenue is the entertainment and shopping center of Playa del Carmen. It   is a pedestrian only street parallel to the beach and is somewhat like a boardwalk except that the beach is a block away. What is unique about this street is that the majority of restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and even retailers feature an open air or sidewalk atmosphere. At this time, La Quinta is over 30 blocks in length and still expanding, so you need good walking shoes if you plan to see it all in one night. Here you  will find a huge variety of restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, local bars, specialty retailers, services, hotels, hostels, kiosk’s and art galleries to visit on this strip. While some of the vendors on this street have a reputation for being very aggressive, keep in mind that these are mostly small business owned shops not corporations with advertising dollars to spend. That said, the photo gallery below is just a small sample of what you can expect to find on La Quinta Avenue.

Playa Del Carmen Highlights, Xcaret Park

This inlet leads to the carribean or the restaurant in the background

This inlet leads snorkelers and swimmers to the carribean or the restaurant in the background

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.

Playa del Carmen Highlights, Mamita’s Beach

lots of people like to walk along the shores  of the carribean sea The most popular beach in this authentic mexican resort is Mamita’s at the north end of Playa and a block from La Quinta Avenue, the pedestrian only entertainment center of town. Thanks to the amenities offered by Mamita’s s Beach Club and Kool’s adult beach club next door, you don’t need to bring anything with you other than a swim suit to enjoy a day at the beach as illustrated by the following series of images.

Playa del Carmen Highlights, Pt. 1

In Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera, life is a beach and so it is called Playa by most everyone familiar with this area. Up until a few years ago, the main attraction to Playa  was  the ferry to Isla Cozumelisla cozumel ferry but there has been a dramatic transformation in the past 10 years from portal to what is now one of  Mexico’s most popular resorts. Some of this  success can be attributed to nearby attractions such as Cancun or Ecaret theme park but Playa’s newly developed amenities and attractions  make this resort an appealing  destination on its own..playa caribe

As far as attractions and activities are concerned, the sun, sea  and beaches are the most important to consider.  There’s plenty of sunshine to go around, the ocean temps are comfortable all year long, and the beaches stretch from one end of town to another. Playa Caribe is one of  the main public beaches at the south end of town next to the maritime terminal where ferries to and from Isla Cozumel are located. Amenities at this beach include volleyball nets, several tiki bars, showers and massage tables. senor frogs beachOn the other side of this terminal you will find Senor Frogs beach which offers similar amenities as detailed by  photo on the left, as well as there restaurant and bar.

Other conveniently located attractions include a variety of retail stores, restaurants and bars. The retailer’s directly behind Playa Caribe are for the most part independently owned and operated. Wheras, the retailers directly behind Senor Frog’s  are corporate owned traditional retail vendorspeciality stores that are part of the upscale La Fiesta Plaza. As you might expect, there is a considerable difference in the merchandise available at these shops and in the way they operate their business. Suffice to say, that if you are looking for a bargain on products made in Mexico,  shop at the independently owned stores as seen in the photo to the right.  If you want  expensive name brand imports, shop at the Plaza La Fiesta. In addition to the different types of merchandise for sale, it is also interesting to compare the old world approach to retailing  practiced by the independent shops versus the contemporaryLa Fiesta contemporary retail mall style of retailing at the Plaza La Fiesta.

Likewise, the choice of where to eat includes traditional mexican food served at stands or restaurants just behind Playa Caribe or  restaurants like Subway, Haagen Das and Starbucks in the food court at the La Fiesta Plaza. When it’s time for happy hour, however, the choices are easy because all the bars seem to serve the same brands of mexican beer and after a few hours in the sun, they all taste good. Cheers!

shoreline view from Playa Caribe

Cancun Highlights Part #4

Biking/Hiking Path

One of Cancun’s most overlooked amenities is the cyclopista or bike path that spans about 18 kilometers from one end of the hotel zone to the other. It’s a great way to see all the attractions within the zone and get some exercise at the same time. Some hotels even offer there guest the use of bicycles without charge. As seen above,  the bike path is safe, well groomed and level most of the way, so it’s  not too strenuous for the average person to ride while sightseeing. This may be the road less traveled but it has some advantages over the alternatives. If it’s a sunny day, you may even get a sun tan while your burning up calories from all the margarita’s you had the night before.

One of the attractions you might check out while cruising around on a bicycle is  the Playboy Casino. Playboy CasinoAlthough there are several other’s in the Cancun area, the Playboy Club is the only one within this zone. It features electronic gaming machines but also has a few table games, poker room and sports betting. A small membership fee of about $20 dollars is required for admission. One of the other  attractions worth considering for a bike ride is the Wet and Wild theme park and the public beach right next door which is considered to be the best location in Cancun for kiteboarding. Here, the water is warm year around and the bay offers smooth riding conditions. Best time of the year for kiteboarding is said to be November to May.

Wet and Wild Public Beach. While the Plaza del Toros is not found along the bike path, it is still on the perimeter of the hotel zone. Every Wednesday night they host a Mexican folkloric show and bullfight. At other times they host both musical and sporting events. Other attractions nearby are the Cancun malecon on the Nichupte Lagoon and Plaza Las Americas which is the largest shopping mall in town.Plaza del Toros

Cancun Highlights, Pt 3

Cancun Golf Courses

This edition of Cancun Highlights features golf courses, restaurants, beaches and marina’s. It’s hard to say which is the best or most popular golf course because opinions usually vary according to individual preferences and skill levels.  In any case, there are several top notch 18 hole, par 72 courses within the hotel zone. The longest, at 6,800 yards, is the  Iberostar Golf Club, followed by the Cancun Country Club at 6,750 yards.. However, all golfers know that yardage changes from time to time with tee placement, so anyone of the above courses could be longer than the other on a given day. For what it’s worth to all the duffers out there, the Cancun Country Club, designed by Nick Price, is recognized as the only Tournament Players course outside of the United States at this time.

Another popular public beach located in the heart of the Cancun hotel zone is Playa Tortuga. It is not an expansive stretch of beach like Playa Del Fines mentioned in a Playa Tortugaprevious post because it is filled with Tiki bars, open air restaurants, beach oriented retail shops and cafes. The pier in the background of this photo has a bungee jumping tower and is also a launching point for ferries to Isla Mujeres.

Aqua World is also one of Cancun’s top attractions. It is both a marina and business with a fleet of 17 boats offering both tourist  and nautical services. For example, there is a jungle tour that takes you through the Nichupte Lagoon mangroves to a secluded snorkeling paradise while another tour offers a lobster dinner cruise on the lagoon at sunset.

Last but not least is the La Habichuela Sunset restaurant. With a reputation for delicious meals, a unique sculpture garden of native flora and mayan theme shows;  it has  earned it’s rank as one of Cancun’s best restaurants. As the name implies, it is also one of the best places  within the hotel zone to watch the sunset over the Nichupte Lagoon.

La Habichuela Sunset Restaurant

Cancun Highlights, Pt 2

                                                                                     
El ReyIn this second post with more Cancun highlights, there are photos of the El Rey archeological site, the new Maya museum, the Forum Mall, and the Fiesta Americana Luxury Hotel which are all located within the hotel zone.  The above photo shows the remains of an ancient observatory at the El Rey site which dates back to 1200 a.d. The architectural style found here is similar to that of other structures built in the southeastern region of mexico during the time period from 1200 a.d. to 1500 a.d. San Miguelito, another archeological site in the Cancun Hotel Zone, can be found within the grounds of the newmuseo maya Maya museum which opened last December. Inside the museum there is a lot of  information about Mayan history along with exhibits and artifacts. The archeological site at this location features an interpretative trial through Maya ruins that are surrounded by a jungle ecosystem much like the one that existed when these structures were built.

Other photos featured in this post include the Fiesta Americana Resort and the Forum Mall both found in the heart of the hotel zone. The Fiesta is a family resort that has won the Fiesta Americanapresitigous 5 diamond award numerous times and is considered to be located on the finest stretch of private beach in Cancun, It also features a 40,000 square foot spa and an awesome swimming pool that spans the length of the 602 room hotel. Only a short walk from here  brings us to the Forum Mall which offers a unique blend of retail shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. The anchor tenants here are not walmart or costco, however, but super clubs such as the Hard Rock Cafe and Coco Bongo which ranks as one of trip advisor’s top attractions in Cancun.Hard Rock Cafe

Cancun Highlights, Pt. 1


Playa Del Fines

For those that are not familiar with the history of Cancun, it was just a deserted island 40 years ago that was separated from the mainland by a system of canals and consisted  of nothing more than marshes, mangroves, jungles and beaches. In 1969, however, the Le Blanc Spa ResortCancun development was officially approved and construction began sometime in 1970. The master plan originally called for a hotel zone without permanent residential areas, a residential zone for permanent residents and an international airport. Needless to say,  this plan required  some very complicated engineering  but in the end; the development project was successful. Live Agua

There are now 72 hotels located in a 17 mile stretch of beach inside the hotel zone with the Caribbean sea on one side and the Nichupte lagoon on the other. Most of these are La Isla Mall Canalrated 5 stars, the best rating achievable in Latin America. The first hotel to be built was the Playa Blanca which is now an exclusive adult only  hotel now known as the Temptation Spa Resort. Another adult only hotel, Le Blanc Spa Resort , is now the most popular according to Trip Advisor, with Live Agua ranking second in this cateqory.  Just across the street is trip advisor’s  highest rated  shopping mall in Cancun called La Isla.  It is unique in that it features a marina at the rear of the complex where boats can be rented, as well as, a canal running through the shopping center that gives it the look and feel of Venice. Also featured in this post is a photo of Playa Del Fines which is the largest and best maintained of the public beaches on this 17 mile stretch of road which is dominated by hotels that limit public access to their beach area as much as possible.

Tulum, Maya Riviera, MX


Beach, Caribbean Sea and CastilloFor 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.

Palace ruins

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.Palace RuinsIMG_2188

Xaman Ha, Bird Sanctuary, Mexico


Scarlet Macaws

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.

Toucan

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.

Flamingo's

The Embarcadero, Cancun, MX.

IMG_2111 observation tower and helicoter pirate ships ultra marThe dictionary defines an  embarcadero as a landing place on a waterway. In Cancun, the embarcadero is more than just a landing place. Here the meaning includes authentic pirate ship cruises, helicopter tours, the cancun theater, retail shops, restaurants,  catamaran party boats, and a 293 foot observation tower with the best view in town.

One of the photos in this post shows the Captain Hook Pirate ships that are 93 foot replicas of 18th century spanish galleons. Despite their authenticity, these ships are equipped with all the necessary modern facilities to augment  the on board entertainment. The 3 hour cruise event offers entertaining pirate shows with sword fights, music, open bar, and buffet.

Other photos show the observation tower, helicopter, ultra mar ferry and the Dancer Catamaran. The ferry is inexpensive and makes frequent trips to  Isla Mujeres during the day. It takes less than 1 hour to reach the island from the embarcadero. In addition, the Dancer Catamaran is known as the best daytime party boat in Cancun. It features guided tours of Cancun’s maya ruins, special events such as the upcoming New Year’s Celebration Cruise and great snorkeling opportunities. A continential breakfeast is also included with the cruises, as well as an open bar.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Mamita’s Beach

Playa del Carmen is located on the Maya Riviera and has the ambiance of a small beach playaresort  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

Argentina Restaurant, 5th avenuefrom  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.

5th avenue retail shopThere 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.IMG_1722

Sculpture Park, Isla Mujeres, MX

Image

The Sculpture Park opened in 2001 on the same grounds where remnants of the Chac-MoolTemplo Maya Diosa Ixchel can also be seen by interested visitors. It is an open air musuem with a mayan related  theme. All together, there are 23 original pieces which were donated by local and foreign artists. The most well known of this group are Jose Luis Cuevas and Sebastian.The Timber Man

One of the sculpture’s, created by Sebastian, is called Chac-Mool; a name given to a type of pre-columbian, meso- american stone statute which depicts a human figure in a reclining position with the head up and turned to one side as seen in this abstract rendering. The original meaning of Chac-Mool, however, is unknown. The other piece featured in this post is the work of Jose Luis Cuevas and is named “El Tamborilero” which is almost like saying  Mr. Tambourine Man. If the tambourine man could sing a song today, it  would be about the rust and corrosion that will eventually destroy these sculptures if repairs are not made in the near future..Temple of Ixchel

The Maya Jazz Festival, 2012

The 10th annual Maya Jazz Festival is a 3 day event that starts in the last week of November. It is considered to be one of the top 10 Jazz music festivals where many  jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock, Sergio Mendes, Yellowjackets and Fourplay have performed over the years. As  there are no admission charges it is probably  the best bargain in the world of live entertainment as well. The photo above shows the stage on Mamita Beach which is located in Playa del Carmen.  All shows start around 7 pm and continue until at least  11 pm each day.

This years festival featured several jazz all stars including Wayne Shorter, Pancho Sanchez, John Scofield and Level 42. Considering the whole line-up of musicians appearing this year, Wayne Shorter is arguably the most accomplished. He is a 6 time grammy award winner, saxophonist and composer. His professional career started with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers around 1957, followed by a stint with the Miles Davis Jazz Qunintet beginning in 1964.  About 5 years later Wayne co-founded the Jazz Fusion group, Weather Report, which produced many high quality albums in diverse styles. This band finally broke-up in 1985 but Wayne has continued to record and lead groups in the jazz fusion style, winning his last grammy in 2004 for the album titled “Alegria”.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

The main beach and lighthouse

The main beach and lighthouse

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. IMG_1697

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,

an afternoon siesta in a hammock under palm trees

an afternoon siesta in a hammock under palm trees

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.

A bar in isla mujeres business district

A bar in isla mujeres business district

The 2012 Pan Am Road Race

The Pan American Road Race was initiated  in 1950 by the Mexican government to promote  a new system of highways that had been built across the country to improve commerce and tourism. After accomplishing their goals over a five year period, the government decided to drop the Pan Am Road Race.  Some years later,  the road race was revived by interested private parties in 1988 and is now in its 22nd consecutive year of open road racing from southern to northern mexico.  Almost anyone can take part in this event in one of three separate categories. The first, is the tourist level which requires only a 1965 or older vintage car with the necessary safety features. The second way  to participate  is at the competitive level which requires a better vehicle and greater driving skill. While the 3rd and highest level of participation is classified as full competition. Needless to say,  competing at this level requires a thoroughly prepared vintage hot rod which can cost a small fortune.

This year the Pan AM started on October 19th in Veracruz and continues in stages over a 7 day period, eventually finishing in Zacatecas.  The length of each day’s speed stage  can vary from 3 to 16 miles through what are mostly winding mountain roads. The  cars are started in 30 second intervals with the  fastest cars scheduled to run first.  At the end of the week the cars with the lowest elapsed time are declared winners overall and by class.

Racing on winding mountain roads  can be hazardous and this year has been no exception.  There was a fatality on the very first day of this event when a driver lost control of his Studebaker and rolled the vehicle at high speeds.  Also, a few days later while racing in the Queretaro area an unusual accident occurred when 5 cars ran into each other around a dangerous curve in the road sending all of them to the bottom of a cliff. Fortunately, the injuries where no more serious than a few broken bones but all  the cars had to withdraw from the race  due to major damages.

Club Hipico, Equestrian Center

Grand opening of Show Jumping

September 20th to the 23rd was the inauguration of Club Hipico and Grand Prix Equestrian Show Jumping in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It is located in the exclusive gated community of  Otomi Lake and Villas close to the historic center of this world heritage site. The club features a restaurant, galleries, 3 paddocks and 3 separate courses for various levels of competition. In the future they will be hosting both national and international equestrian events.Equestrian show jumping

The outcome of  a Grand Prix show jumping contest  is based on numerical scores determined only by whether a horse attempts an obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in an allotted time. Obstacles include verticals. spreads, double and triple combinations of each, along with many turns and changes of direction. The object is to jump cleanly over all obstacles on a set course in the time allowed. Faults are assessed IMG_1349for exceeding the time allowed, knockdowns and refusals to jump the obstacles. In higher levels of competition, such as Grand Prix events, the courses present more technical and complex challenges for the horse and rider. Not only does the height and width of obstacles increase but the turns become tighter and distances between obstacles shorter making the course more  difficult to complete without faults.

Bull Fighting in Mexico

IMG_3540_DxO IMG_3546_DxO Portuguese style of bullfighting Matador on Horseback

Due to  the long-standing  Spanish occupation of Mexico,  the culture of this country was heavily influenced by their traditions such as bull fighting which has been a popular pastime for over 400 years. The Spanish style of bullfighting starts with Picadores circling the bull on horseback while jabbing it with lances, followed by  Banderilleros who enter the ring on foot and attack the bull with barbed darts. Finally,  the Matador takes control  performing precise moves to  please the crowd and attract the bull eventually using his  sword to slay the animal.

Another style of bullfighting that is also practiced in Mexico originated in Portugal and differs from the Spanish style in several ways. The Portuguese style involves 2 stages beginning with the Cavaleiros who fights the bull on horseback and stabs the bull 3 or 4 times with a javelin to weaken the animal.  The next stage of the fight involves a suicide squad of 8 men known as Forcadors who challenge the bull without any protection or weapons. This begins with a front man who provokes the bull into a charge. If all goes well the front man performs what’s known as a face catch to secure the animal’s head while the other Forcadors rush in to secure the bull until he is subdued.  Herein lies another difference between the 2 styles of bullfighting, the bull is not slain by the Forcadors but released. The matador’s  purpose, however,  is to slay the bull in the ring.

Guadalajara, Mexico

 

The main attraction to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is the well preserved central historic district. The centerpiece of this downtown area is the landmark Main Catedral MetropolitanaCathedral with its twin 200 foot towers erected in 1848. It is surrounded by 4 distinct plaza’s named Plaza de Armas, Plaza  Tapatia, Plaza de Liberacion and Plaza Guadalajara. All together they offer visitors  a variety of shops, restaurants,  cultural activities and  events hard to find elsewhere in the country with the exception of Mexico city.  One of the highlights  located in the Plaza Tapatia is the Cabanas Cultural Institute Instituto Cultural Cabanaswhich houses art exhibitions,  a movie theater,  a performing arts theater and an  outdoor patio where  ballet and musical events take place.

The Central Historic area of Gaudalajara is also a convenient base for exploring other surrounding attractions such as the suburb of Tlaquepaque and  Tequila, a Unesco World Heritage sight where much of the countries national drink is produced. tlaquapaqueOnly a few minutes away from Gaudalajara’s downtown  visitors can also experience  the  artisan community of Tlaquepaque, that produces the greatest variety of handicrafts in Mexico. Here, in a large pedestrian tourist area there are over 200 stores, restaurants, galleries and other attractions. Another unique experience not to be missed while in Guadalajara, is the tequila express, a 90 minute train ride from  the station in  Central Guadalajara that passes through vast fields of blue agave,  the village of Tequila and finally arrives at the Casa Herradura Distillery. This train ride features plush coaches, live Mariachi music on board, tequila tastings and dinner at the Casa Herradura, one of the oldest tequila making facilities in the country which is still 100% Hacienda made.

Butterfly Migration to Mexico

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 Edward James Surreal Garden

fluer de lys, Edward James Garden

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.the gates to St. Peter and St. Paul

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.

Canada de la Virgin, Archaeological Site

Located about 18 miles from San Miguel de Allende is the archaeological site of Canada de la Virgin. It represents an important part of pre-hispanic mexican culture where many historical relics have been found.  There are 7 pyramid structures of different sizes and styles that were built around 540 A.D.  by Toltec and Chichimeca architects.  According to experts,  the site was designed and configured in such a way  that all structures would  be symmetrically aligned with cosmic cycles. Hence, this pattern of construction allowed the pyramids to serve as sky observatories among other things. In addition,  Canada de la Vrigin is also part of a nature preserve offering a variety of recreational activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding and astronomy tours,  as well as  a venue for special events.pyramid 2

San Miguel, A Unesco World Heritage Site

la parroquia sma

A 500 year old cosmopolitan city, San Miguel de Allende became a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.  In summary, Unesco is an agency of the United Nations and its purpose is to promote world peace and international cooperation through education, science and cultural exchanges. To be included in the world heritage list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten cultural or natural criteria.

In addition to having outstanding universal value, San Miguel de Allende qualified for San Miguel Historic Siteacceptance on 2 of the other criteria. According to Unesco, “San Miguel is an exceptional example of the integration of different architectural trends and styles on the basis of  16th century urban layout.  Both religious and civil architecture  exhibit the evolution of different styles well integrated into a homogenous urban landscape”.

Unesco also considered San Miguel to be  qualified as an exceptional example of the interchange of human values.  “Due  to its location and function, the town acted as melting pot where Spaniards, Creoles, and Amerindians exchanged cultural influences; something reflected  in its tangible and intangible cobblestone streets of smaheritage”.  Additionally,  the town exhibits an acceptable state of  conservation while the legal system in place ensures protection of property and continuity.

Thanks to this heritage and a thriving community of  international artist, San Miguel has  become  one of the worlds most popular tourist destinations.  Visitor’s  will find  that cultural center cafe, San Miguel de Allende, MXstudios, galleries and craft shops are ubiquitous in the central historical area.  In addition, the art institute of San Miguel attracts many students with a variety of  degree programs  and workshops in the fine arts.  However, San Miguel is not just for art lovers, there are many other diversions here as well; such as  music festivals, concerts, plays, film festivals, and other special events throughout the year that  appeal to a wide variety of interest.

The Botanical Garden of San Miguel

A Garden Paradise

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.

El Corumel Park Sunset, La Paz, Mexico

parque corumel

Here’s  a sunset on the Sea of Cortez and a new water park development called El Corumel  named after the strong onshore winds that help keep the coastal area cool during the hot summers of La Paz.  In addition to the spectacular sunsets  the park features palapa’s, water slides, snack bars, a band  shell for special events and is only a 20 minute walk from the center of town.