Valladolid, A Mexican Magic Town

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The Cathedral of San Servacio

In August of 2012, Valladolid became part of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magico” program which recognizes traditional villages that meet their specific requirements of natural beauty, cultural riches, or historic relevance to the country. It is a well preserved colonial city of Spanish arcades and 16th century spires located between  the beaches of Tulum and  the archeological site of Chichen Itza. A few of the main attractions include the cathedral of San Servacio, Rosado Park, Cenote Zaci, the colonial homes with great architecture on Calzdada de Los Frailes and the Siskal neighborhood temple and ex-convent of San Bernadino de Siena. Additional activities include a variety of tours such as the chocolate factory tour, the mexican folk art tour of Casa de Venado and the Tequila tours of local agave plantations and distilleries. Photos and additional information is included in the photo gallery.

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.

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.

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.

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, 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. 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.

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