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

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.

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

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.

Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico

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.

Tropical Beaches of Puerto Vallarta

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.

Vallarata Botanical Gardens

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.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

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.

La Paz, Eco-Tourist Center of Baja Sur, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sierra Laguna Bioshpere Reserve in Mexico

 

 

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.

San Pedro Martir National Park, Mexico

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 Concepcion, Baja California Sur, MX

 

 

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.

Mexico hosts LatAms largest balloon festival

a floating house balloon

Mexico hosts Latin Americans largest balloon festival and  it is located in the city of Leon where the skies are filled with several hundred balloons over a three day period. This is an annual event which is held around the 3rd week of November. In addition to the colorful balloons; the event is packed with exhibitions, presentations, and live music concerts.

La Pena de Bernal, Mexico

worlds 2nd tallest monolith in the shrubland   environment of Queretaro

worlds 2nd tallest monolith in the shrubland environment of Queretaro

 

At 350 meters, Pena de Bernal is the third tallest monolith in the world. It is located near Queretaro, Mexico in the small village of Bernal. Also known as one of Mexico’s “Pueblo Magico’s” or magic towns because of its historic charms, closeness to a major city and peaceful atmosphere.

Hill of Bells, Queretaro, Mexico

A chapel monument located on the hill in Queretaro where the Mexican army defeated Maximillian to win freedom from Austria.

A chapel monument located on the hill in Queretaro where the Mexican army defeated Maximillian to win freedom from Austria.

This chapel sits on a hill which was the scene of a defining moment for the republic of Mexico. Here, on June 19, 1867; the verdict of the war tribunal was carried out when Maximillan of Hapsburg together with his generals Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia  were executed by a firing squad. This act sealed the triumph of the Republic and returned sovereignty to Mexico. In 1900 the government of Austria asked permission to build a chapel on the spot. Today this hill is a national park called Cerro de las Campanas and is located in the city of Queretaro. It also includes a large statute of former President Benito Juarez, a museum, the University of Queretaro, and a recreation area.