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The Azulik Hotel in Tulum

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Located in the Tulum National Park, the Azulik Hotel hosted us for our five day trip to the region. Built atop a natural hill, each cabaña boasts a vista over the shimmering azure waters of the Caribbean, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better home away from home.

Azulik Eco Lodge

Because of its location within the borders of a national park which is frequented by sea turtles, there is no electricity in any of Azulik’s cabañas. Candlelight all the way. Though it’s tempting to see this as an annoyance, it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s actually among Azulik’s chief benefits. No electricity means no TVs. No radios blasting from the neighboring hut. No opportunity to flip open the laptop and work. No entertainment other than sitting on the patio with a bottle of wine and the starry night sky.

An adults-only establishment, Azulik sells itself as a romantic getaway for couples, so there won’t be any screaming kids terrorizing your vacation. The hotel offers yoga and reiki sessions, massages and temazcal, and you can even hold your wedding here.

We stuck to the same schedule for every night of our stay in Azulik. Dinner, followed by a long bath in the wooden tub. Then sitting together on the terrace, chatting about the day or star-gazing in silence. And finally stretching out on the bed, and allowing the sound of the waves to carry us off into sleep. It’s relaxing just to remember it. The Azulik is a perfectly romantic place to escape from the stress of your regular life.

Location on our Map

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February 11, 2014 at 6:07 pm Comments (2)

Pictures from Tulum Town

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The beaches are unforgettable, but there’s a side to Tulum which has nothing to do with sand or turquoise blue waters. And that would be the actual town, where most of the locals live and work. It’s not quite as picturesque, but don’t let that keep you away… we enjoyed the pueblo almost as much as the coast.

Tulum Blog

Tulum Town provides a nice dose of “normal life” after the paradise-overload of the beach. The bars and restaurants are good, and a lot cheaper. And though you’ll see a lot of tourists wandering the streets, and a few chintzy souvenir shops, the pueblo has managed to retain its Mexican identity.

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Vacation Rentals in Tulum

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February 11, 2014 at 3:21 pm Comment (1)

Snorkelling at the Yal-Ku Lagoon

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After completing our Open Water scuba certifications, we expected the idea of snorkeling to lose its appeal. Why float on top of the water when you can dive right down into it? But at shallow sites like the Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal, snorkeling is just as good as scuba. Perhaps even better.

Yal-Ku Lagoon

Yal-Ku is a natural lagoon near the sea, not as large or expensive as the much more famous Xel-Ha, but big enough to comfortably occupy half a day. We visited in the afternoon, following an unforgettable experience swimming with Akumal’s sea turtles.

The big advantage snorkeling has over scuba is that you can spend as long as you want in the water. We swam around Yal-Ku for at least 90 minutes, which was easier than it sounds even without a life jacket. The visibility was a little blurry, especially where the fresh water mixed with the salty ocean water, but we saw a ton of fish, including barracudas, trumpet fish and a couple gigantic rainbow parrot fish, who led us on a chase around the lagoon.

Toward the end of our swim, we went through a tunnel in the limestone rock, and ended up in front of a school of thousands of silver fish, moving in perfect unison. Doing my best whale impression, I dove into the center of the school, making them dart away from me with such precisely synchronized movements, it seemed impossible that they weren’t sharing a collective consciousness.

You could spend an entire day at Yal-Ku, even booking a palapa. A stand at the entrance will rent whatever snorkel gear you need, at a reasonable price, so all you have to bring is your swimsuit and towel.

Location on our Map

I used this underwater camera!!!!

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February 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm Comments (0)

The Howler Monkeys of Punta Laguna

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Found twenty minutes from Cobá, down a horrific road pockmarked with crater-sized pot holes, we found the natural reserve of Punta Laguna. This protected national park receives few visitors, despite its beauty and the irresistible lure of howler and spider monkeys.

Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna

After pulling into the park entrance, we agreed to a reasonably-priced tour of Punta Laguna. The primary focus of our two-hour walk through the woods would be tracking and finding monkeys. We followed our guide, Julio, into the jungle, tracing his steps through a bewildering network of paths that almost seemed designed to confuse. You can visit Punta Laguna without a guide, but I would caution against this — the jungle quickly becomes disorienting, and it’s unlikely we could have made it back to the starting point on our own.

Before long, we heard a rustling high in the trees overhead. A monkey-like rustling. “There,” whispered Julio. “Howlers.” A big group had appeared directly above us, eating fruits and leaping from one tree to another. Julio recognized the pack; it was a family who had recently welcomed a new addition. We spotted the mother as she was moving down to a lower branch, with her baby, just a week old, clutching on for dear life. She stayed on the lower branch for awhile, giving us a great look at the infant, who had crawled up and around onto her head.

We hiked to the lake which gives Punta Laguna its name, where you can camp and rent canoe boats. Humans rarely reach the jungle on the far side, so this is where the jaguars tend to stay. We visited a cave where a pack of spider monkeys congregates every evening, but it was too early and nobody was home.

So, we didn’t see any spider monkeys, but couldn’t complain much. With the sighting of the baby howler, the excursion had already been an unqualified success. Although it was fun to have the whole place to ourselves, we hope that word about Punta Laguna spreads. The more people who visit this amazing reserve in the middle of the jungle, the better.

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February 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm Comments (0)

A Trip to Tulum

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We saved Tulum for the final road trip of our stay on the Yucatán Peninsula. Everything we’d heard had suggested that this city perched on the edge of the Caribbean would blow our minds. And everything we’d heard was exactly right. Tulum is paradise.

Tulum Beaches

You know who Tulum will appeal to? Rich, retired hippies. Paradise doesn’t come cheap, and to get the most out of it, you’re going to need both time and money. And you’re going to need the right mindset. Tulum isn’t for golf-playing former executives and their mascara-laden wives. It’s for your kooky Aunt Janice, who discovered yoga in her sixties and believes in the healing power of the moon. Seriously, Aunt Janice is going to love Tulum. She’s going to swim with turtles and meditate on the beach. She’ll take a young lover and later torture you with the details of their passionate exploits. Aunt Janice shares too much, and you cringe every time she uses the word “lover”, but look at her. She’s glowing. Good for her.

You know who else Tulum will appeal to? Poor, young hippies. If you don’t need comfortable lodging and beach-side massages, you can enjoy Tulum on any budget. There are cheap accommodation options in town, and good, inexpensive restaurants. The sun, the ocean, the party atmosphere, they don’t cost anything, and you’ve got your dreadlocks and your guitar. I’m sorry: your ukulele. You’re going to find tons of people to jam with on the beach. Keep your hands off Aunt Janice, please, but otherwise have fun, young hippie. You’ve found your place.

Tulum Beaches

I’m being too snarky, but there are a lot of hippies in Tulum, and hippies get my snark juices flowing. Tulum is the kind of place where you’re more likely to see someone dressed as a harlequin than in a suit and tie. I mean that literally. We literally saw more harlequins than businessmen in Tulum. And I don’t mean, they were going to be performing on stage or something. I mean, they were dressed as harlequins because this is how they choose to live. Clown-trannies. Hey, I respect it.

So yes, it’s hippie paradise, but you know who else Tulum is going to appeal to? Everyone. I seriously can’t imagine anyone disliking this place. It’s absolutely magical. The amazing beaches, the restaurants and the hotels. The beach clubs. The town itself, the ruins up on the bluff. The crystal clear water and, yes, even the hippy-vibe. By the end of our five days in Tulum, I was more in touch with my spiritual side than I’ve ever been. I felt closer to nature. I had experiences in Tulum that made me reflect on what was really important in my life. And I’m being completely serious.

Tulum inspires a kind of relaxed state of inactivity, but we resisted the urge to spend all day on our balcony at the incredible Azulik Hotel, and kept our schedule pretty full. Apart from the beach, there’s so much to do in and around the city that we didn’t have a moment to spare.

Location of Tulum on our Map

Cheap Flights To Mexico

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February 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm Comments (2)

More Diving in Puerto Morelos

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We’d had such a great time learning how to dive in Puerto Morelos, that we couldn’t resist making a return trip to see our friends at WetSet and to get back into the water.

Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market

It’s hard to imagine a better spot for a novice diver than Puerto Morelos. The reefs are a perfect depth, at around fifteen meters. Not too shallow, not too deep. The water is generally calm, with good visibility. The amount of underwater life is stunning, and you don’t have to venture all that far off-shore. My only worry is that by learning how to dive here, we’ve spoiled ourselves. Future dives at other locations are almost guaranteed to be more difficult and less amazing.

We showed up early, happy to see the team at WetSet, whom we got to know fairly well during the certification process. Today, though, there would be no books nor studying involved; we would just be diving for fun. After picking out a couple routes with promising names, Aquarium and Fish Market, we donned our gear and set off in the boat.

Aquarium and Fish Market. You might assume that with names like these, we’d be seeing a lot of fish. And you would be correct. On our first descent, I almost came down right on top of a stingray and just a few meters away, a giant puffer fish was nervously monitoring our incursion into his underwater home. The most exhilarating sighting of the day was a massive moray eel… without exaggeration, it had to be three meters long. (The great thing about diving? When terrified, you can go right ahead and pee yourself).

We can’t recommend WetSet enough. Such cool, relaxed and fun people. If you want for an excellent shop with whom to do some easy and affordable diving in the Caribbean, head to Puerto Morelos and look them up.

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Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
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February 4, 2014 at 10:06 pm Comment (1)

The Cenote Siete Bocas

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Underwater Pictures Were Taking With This Camera

The road leading inland from Puerto Morelos has just one thing on its mind: cenotes. Sign after hand-painted sign exhorts you to visit Cenote Las Mojarras! Cenote Boca del Puma! Cenote Verde Lucero! Without prior information, it’d be impossible to know which to choose, so we made sure to get a recommendation. And those we talked to were in agreement that Cenote Siete Bocas, or the Seven-Mouth Cenote, would be unforgettable.

Cenote Siete Bocas

Siete Bocas is found at the end of a long and poorly-marked dirt path leading off the main road. We were overjoyed to see that ours was the only car in the parking lot, and a woman immediately came out to greet us. She told us a bit about the cenote, and then asked for 250 pesos (about $19) apiece. For a cenote, that’s quite steep. I looked around but couldn’t find the normal price listed anywhere, so we had more than a sneaking suspicion that she had sized us up before inventing the figure, but whatever. We weren’t in the mood to haggle, and handed over the cash.

Luckily, the cenote was amazing; easily worth the price, however inflated. As its name implies, this is one large cenote with seven small entrances that have opened in the earth. Because of high water levels following a long period of rain, two of the bocas were closed during our visit, but it hardly mattered.

We started at the first hole, and jumped off the subterranean platform into the cave. With light pouring in from above, the water was a deep, beautiful blue, and the cave itself was both scary and exciting. We swam slowly around, discovering a passage which led to Boca #5. I swam around the back of a huge stalactite and into a section of the cave that received very little light. Just as I was about to turn around, a bat flew out of darkness and past my head.

Bocas #3 and #4 were connected by a small passageway. You could climb down a ladder into #3, but #4 required a leap of faith. This was a huge, perfectly circular hole where the water was extremely deep. I gathered my courage and made the jump, holding it together until the very end, when I couldn’t resist letting out a shriek of terror (or a bellow of virility, however you want to interpret it).

Siete Bocas is especially popular with cave divers, and it’s not hard to see why. With scuba equipment, you can explore the entire underground lake and with seven sources of light pouring in, the view from the deep must be unreal.

Location on our Map

We Stayed In A Great Affordable Place In Puerto Morelos

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February 4, 2014 at 2:06 pm Comments (0)

It’s Friday Night and You’re in Cancún

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It might be the most popular vacation destination on the Yucatán Peninsula, but Cancún was not a place that Jürgen and I were slobbering all over ourselves to visit. It’s Cancún. We already knew exactly what awaited us there… massive hotels lining the beach, drunken college students, trashy theme bars and American-style restaurants. We decided to stay for a single day, just to be fair to Cancún. To give it a shot. Maybe, just maybe, the city’s reputation was overblown.

Cancun

Nope. Cancún’s reputation is spot-on. Spread out for 22 kilometers along a narrow spit of land between a lagoon and the Caribbean, the city’s Zona Hotelera is just one American-oriented establishment after the other. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Coco Bongo’s. The Playboy Casino. Hooter’s. And we got to see all of it, since our hotel (the Westin Resort and Spa) was on the far southern end of the strip. The taxi ride from the bus station took ages, and by the time we had checked into our room, we were already disillusioned with Cancún.

We went down to the hotel pool, ordered some lunch, pulled out our guidebook, and began to make plans for the day. But there was a drunken redneck at the bar loudly bragging about his gun collection, and it was hard to concentrate. He ordered a shot of tequila, and then continued into a rant about how he wouldn’t want to be in San Francisco during Armageddon because, you know. I grumbled and returned to my book.

But what was this stress? Why was I leafing through a guidebook? It was Friday afternoon and we were in Cancún! The yahoo at the bar was obnoxious, yes, but he was laughing and enjoying himself… experiencing Cancún the way one is meant to. I looked over at him again, this time with something bordering on admiration. “You, my sloshy friend, are wiser than you know”.

Fifteen minutes later, Jürgen and I were on stools in Margaritaville. An hour after that, Señor Frog’s.

Our day in Cancún turned into one of those long, hazy affairs which you wake up from the next morning feeling something between disgust and satisfaction. At one point during the never-ending night, we had fallen into a deep discussion, bordering on an argument, about why Jimmy Buffet is completely unknown in Germany… our voices raising until we started getting weird looks from other people at the bar. Now we were the drunken idiots! High-five!

Cancún is a strange beast. I don’t think we’ll be booking a return trip, but I can’t say we hated it. It is what it is, absolutely unashamed of itself, and I can appreciate that. The beaches are lovely, and the hotels aren’t as expensive as I’d feared (tip: Hotwire’s Hot Rates seem to work well for Cancún). Yes, it’s cheesy and inauthentic, but you knew that already. So stop worrying, order a shot, and enjoy yourself. That’s all Cancún asks.

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January 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm Comments (4)

Three Great Cozumel Hotels

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As guests of Cozumel’s tourism board, we weren’t just exposed to a wide variety of sights and restaurants, but were also introduced to a few wonderful places to stay. Whether your budget is small, medium or large, one of these options should fit the bill.

Hostelito

Hostelito, or Little Hostel, welcomed us for three nights at the beginning of our stay. For budget travelers, this is a perfect option. Clean, affordable, and with a perfect location right in the middle of the city, Hostelito offers both dorm-style accommodation and private suites with bathrooms. There’s a community kitchen, where you will likely meet other travelers, and fast internet throughout the premises.

Hostelito Cozumel – Website
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Villas El Encanto

Farther away from downtown, Villas El Encanto is exactly as enchanting as its name suggests. When we came through the gate, the scene was like something out of a fairy tale. Hammocks, a pool, flowers and trees, and even a pair of peacocks strutting about. The hotel’s eight rooms are lovely, with wifi and access to a kitchen. I almost think it would be a bad idea to stay here… the garden is so pleasant that you might end up lounging around all day, and miss out on everything Cozumel has to offer!

Villas El Encanto – Website
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Hotel B

B stands for boutique, blue, beautiful, bewitching and breathtaking. And while the “B” in Hotel B could stand for any of these, it’s probably an abbreviation for Beatrice, the hotel’s young owner and operator. This recently renovated hotel has an incredible position right atop the Caribbean Sea, with an infinity pool, hammocks and a great beach bar. Hoping to capture a different, more involved kind of tourist, they offer workshops in areas like yoga or cooking, and diving excursions.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hotel B, though, is the fact that every room is individually designed with decorative elements from around Mexico. And every piece inside each room, from the rugs to the paintings to the soap dishes, is available for purchase.

Location on our Map
Hotel B – Website

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December 18, 2013 at 1:00 am Comments (0)

The Volkswagen Beetles Of Cozumel

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The Volkswagen Beetle was discontinued in its native Germany in 1978, but production continued in Mexico for an additional 25 years. And so one of Germany’s most famous automotive designs has become a Mexican icon. The low-cost Beetles were a smash hit here for decades, and you still see a fair share puttering down the roads. Especially, it seems, in Cozumel.

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December 17, 2013 at 12:59 am Comments (3)

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The Azulik Hotel in Tulum Located in the Tulum National Park, the Azulik Hotel hosted us for our five day trip to the region. Built atop a natural hill, each cabaña boasts a vista over the shimmering azure waters of the Caribbean, and we couldn't have hoped for a better home away from home.
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