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For 91 Days in the Yucatán – The E-Book

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We spent three months in the Yucatán peninsula, visiting ancient Maya ruins, taking trips to the beach, learning the art of scuba, swimming in cenotes, eating incredible cuisine, and meeting some of the friendliest people we’ve ever encountered. Let’s just say, it wasn’t among our “most challenging” 91-day excursions. But it was definitely among our favorite.

We’ve now collected our blog into an e-book for your Kindle, Nook or other e-reader. With over 100 articles and 200 full-color photos, indexed alphabetically and by category, this portable edition is perfect for when you’re out and about in the Yucatán. Whether you plan on sticking to the beaches, exploring ruins like Chichén Itzá or Uxmal, visiting out-of-the-way villages, or just getting to know a different part of the world, we hope that our experiences can help enrich your own.

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For just a few bucks, you can download your own copy of the book for use on your e-reader or computer, giving you access to our articles wherever you are, without having to connect to the internet. And, buying the e-book is a great way to support our project… take a look at some sample pages from the PDF.

August 3, 2014 at 8:53 am Comments (10)

Our Favorite Yucatecan Food

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Featuring a lot of Maya-influenced dishes that aren’t found across the rest of Mexico, Yucatecan cooking was nothing like we had been expecting. From street markets to sit-down restaurants, from snacks to desserts, from breakfast to dinner, we never tired of eating, and these were some of our favorite plates:

Panuchos
Panuchos and Salbutes

Panuchos and salbutes were by far our favorite Yucatecan antojitos (appetizers or “little cravings”). Salbutes are deep-fried tortillas topped with tomato, pickled onion, avocado and jalapeño, and pulled chicken marinated in annatto. Seriously, read that description again: how can that not be amazing? Perhaps a better question is, how could it be made even better? Try cutting open the tortilla prior to frying, and filling it with refried beans. Say hello to the panucho. And now say goodbye, because it’s already halfway down my gullet.

Poc Chuc
Poc-Chuc

One of the best-known Yucatecan dishes is poc-chuc, a simple but wonderful plate of marinated pork slices. After soaking for a couple hours in a mixture of sour orange and annatto paste, the meat lands on the grill and is then served with tortillas, rice and vegetables. Done right, the pork is juicy and tangy, and when you wrap it up in a tortilla with a bit of spicy habanero sauce and a few drops of fresh lime juice, absolutely delicious.

Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil

When we asked locals about their favorite food, the most commonly-given answer was Cochinita Pibil. This slow-roasted pork dish is a weekend favorite in households throughout the peninsula. The name is a marriage of Spanish and Mayan words, meaning literally “buried piglet”. Traditionally, a suckling pig is marinated in bitter orange, wrapped in banana leaves and buried in a fire pit for a couple hours. I loved this dish, and would order this almost every time I saw it on the menu.

Chaya
Chaya

Before moving to the Yucatán, I’d never come across or even heard of the plant called Chaya. A cousin of spinach, chaya is a staple of the Yucatecan diet, forming the base for some of the peninsula’s favorite drinks, soups and meals. Packed with proteins, vitamins and antioxidants, chaya is a wonder-food, and we frequently ordered glasses of Chaya-Pineapple or Chaya-Lemon drinks. Also delicious is the rich crema de chaya soup found on the menu of most Yucatecan restaurants. If you want to eat chaya at home, though, just make sure to cook it well. When consumed raw, it can be poisonous.

Huevos Motuleños
Huevos Motuleños

Jürgen and I aren’t normally big breakfast eaters, but we made a few exceptions while in the Yucatán. Apart from a couple delicious affairs with chilaquiles, we stayed faithful to Huevos Motuleños. Allow your imagination to picture this dish being prepared: refried beans spread across the plate, then topped with a fried tortilla. Then two eggs cooked over easy are laid on top. And then another fried tortilla, over which tomato sauce is poured, and then the whole mountain is topped with cheese, ham and peas. Is your stomach growling? Is your ticket to the Yucatán booked?! Huevos Motuleños are reason enough to visit.

Sopa De Lima
Sopa de Lima

Sometimes, just the name of a meal is enough to get me salivating. Filet mingon… baby-back ribs… coconut shrimp… mmmmm. And then there’s Lime Soup. But although it sounds more like a punishment than a meal, sopa de lima was the dish we most often ordered, because Jürgen was an addict. Every time we ate out, there’d be a steaming bowl of sopa de lima on our table. A blend of chicken broth, lime juice, veggies and chicken, it’s amazing when done right, but quality varies wildly… for a consistently good bowl try La Vida Catrina or Chaya Maya.

Yucatan Recipes

February 16, 2014 at 3:41 pm Comments (0)

The Pink Water and White Salt of Las Coloradas

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The tiny community of Las Coloradas certainly picked an appropriate name for itself. Found at the end of a bumpy road about 30 kilometers east of Río Lagartos, it is a town defined by its colors.

Las Coloradas Salt Flat

Piles of white salt greet visitors on their way into Las Coloradas. They look just like mighty snowbanks, and it takes awhile to remember that you’re in Southern Mexico, and not Iceland. Since the days of the Maya, this area of the Gulf Coast has been known for its salt production, which remains by far the biggest industry in town.

These hills of salt looked so inviting and soft, we were sorely tempted to climb and perhaps lick them a little, but they were fenced off. Instead, we journeyed farther into town, drawn by the strange pinkish glow emanating from it. The estuary that surrounds Las Coloradas is rich in red plankton, and the water has a deep pink tint.

We didn’t stay long in Las Coloradas. This isn’t a touristy type of town, and besides admiring the strange nature from your car window, there isn’t much to do. But if you’ve got some time to kill, it’s worth the short detour from Río Lagartos.

Location on our Map

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Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
Las Coloradas Salt Flat
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February 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm Comments (2)

Isla Mujeres’ Garrafón Castilla

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When you’re on Isla Mujeres, there’s really only one decision with which you’ll need to trouble yourself: of all the tantalizing options, where should you plop down your butt for the entire day? We chose Garrafón de Castilla, a small beach club on the southern end of the island.

Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling

Garrafón de Castilla is named for the reef just offshore, and is not to be confused with nearby Parque Garrafón. The latter is an expensive theme-park type experience, featuring attractions like zip lines and swimming with dolphins. Garrafón de Castilla, on the other hand, is a small beach with snorkeling and a 50 peso ($4 USD) cover charge. Sand, water and sun is all we wanted.

Our day at the beach went like this: lay on a chair, snorkel a bit, lay on the chair some more, eat, snorkel, and chair (this time falling asleep). Perfect. The snorkeling was a lot of fun; despite its proximity to shore, the reef is in decent condition. We saw lobsters, a manta ray and too many colorful fish.

No really, there were way too many colorful fish. The club sells fish food along with its snorkel gear and so, even though we weren’t feeding the fish, they’ve come to recognize snorkeling humans as floating feed machines. It was initially cute, but quickly got weird, and then kind of scary. I could not escape this swarm of little yellow fish, and they were starting to look impatient.

Still, too many fish is hardly a real complaint, and overall Garrafón de Castilla offers a wonderful day out, especially considering the price. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot to chill out in the sun, you can’t do better than this.

Location on our Map

I took the underwater video with this camera!

Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
Garrafón Castilla Snorkeling
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January 9, 2014 at 7:19 pm Comments (0)

Playa del Carmen

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It’s always had stunning beaches, but Playa del Carmen had to wait until the 1990s before it was discovered by tourists and developers. The once sleepy fishing village is today a bustling city catering to club-hopping party people and sun-hungry Europeans. We spent two days here and really enjoyed ourselves.

Playa (as it’s usually referred to) is a strange city, defined by a few distinct zones strung out along the coast. We were staying in Playacar, on the southern end of town. This is an enormous gated community, with security guards on every corner and frequent checkpoints to keep out “undesirables”. Even taxi drivers have to register at the checkpoints. There are fancy hotels, golf courses, and a lot of deferential “Yes sir, right away sir.” This will appeal to some, but we hated it. You could spend a week in Playacar, and never have anything to do with the real Mexico.

North of Playacar, the tourism zone of Playa del Carmen begins. Especially along 5th Avenue, just off the beach, tourists are harangued ceaselessly by shops touting Cuban cigars, sunglasses, t-shirts, very nice t-shirts, very cheap for you mi amigo, what you don’t like t-shirts, come take a look, maybe you like something else amigo? But you can simply escape it by walking along the beach, which is fabulous. Beautiful blue water and soft sand. During our visit in mid-November, high season was just kicking into gear, and we found the beach perfectly crowded. Not too many people and not too few.

The atmosphere only improves as you continue north. Soon, you’ll reach Playa Norte, where the touts dare not venture. Here, Playa suddenly becomes much more chill, much more pleasant, with great garden cafes and restaurants, as well as popular beach clubs. We grabbed a spot on the beach, played in the water for a bit, and relished in the gorgeous coastal views.

We didn’t have a long time in Playa, but we did discover a couple great restaurants. A friend who lives here brought us to her favorite restaurant: El Fogón. If you like perfectly prepared, no-nonsense Mexican food like tacos and fajitas, don’t miss it. Just the thought of their quesadillas arracheras still makes me drool. Another fun spot was La Cueva del Chongo, near the beach at Playa Norte. Its nicely-shaded garden interior is perfect for escaping the sun. The food is excellent and its not all that expensive, considering the location, ambiance and quality.

Playa del Carmen could make for a wonderful vacation, if you know where to stay and which places to avoid. Try and find a hotel as far north as possible, ideally situated near Mamita’s Beach Club, which seems to be Playa’s nexus of cool. Only go down 5th Avenue if you’re prepared to be haggled, and make sure to spend some time walking around the blocks farther inland, where you can find cheap meals and an appealing local atmosphere.

Location on our Map

Great Hotels In Playa Del Carmen

December 8, 2013 at 12:50 am Comments (4)

Where to Eat in Puerto Morelos

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For such a small town, Puerto Morelos has a number of great places to grab a bite. There were a few we loved so much, we returned to them over and over again. Here are our favorites, and one that we would urge you to stay away from.

Our unofficial office for the week was at Restaurante La Pirata. When we’re traveling, it’s always difficult to find a comfortable place in which to work, so we were thrilled to discover La Pirata. Speedy internet, friendly service, and a pleasant and relatively quiet atmosphere. Great food, as well. Apart from our hotel and Wet Set, this is where we spent most of our time during the week. [Location]

To eat like a local, head to Mimi’s, where the tables are packed, decor is kept to a bare minimum, and the tostadas are delicious. Outrageously so. Seriously, outrageous. After biting into one of Mimi’s tostadas (which cost next to nothing, by the way), I was outraged. How dare they make something so good?! I was furious. Those incredible tostadas covered with insanely delicious beans and perfectly seasoned meat… damn you Mimi, where do you get off?! I’ll have three more. [Location]

For great value set lunches on weekdays, our favorite was Al Chile. For about $5 USD, you get an appetizer, main dish and drink. The place is cute and the food is great. And if you get sleepy after such a big lunch, grab a cup of the best coffee in town at nearby Cafe de Amancia, on the corner of the main plaza. [Location]

If you’re in the mood for amazing fish tacos, search out Caribe’s, a small and speedy cafe near the water. When we ate there, a group of kids was playing around our table and teasing us, but the fish tacos I was scarfing down were so good, I likely wouldn’t have noticed if they’d been smacking my head with baseball bats. [Location]

With so many good restaurants to choose from, you have no excuse to waste your time at Olé, on the “other side” of town away from the beach. Our hotel warned us that they have a reputation for ripping off foreigners, but we went anyway. It looked like such a cool little place! The food was alright, but unspectacular and, as warned, our bill was more than double what it should have been.

Great Place To Stay In Puerto Morelos

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December 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm Comment (1)

El Catedral de Yucatán

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Completed in 1599, the Cathedral of the Yucatán in central Mérida is the second-oldest cathedral in the New World, beaten out only by the Dominican Republic’s Santa María la Menor. Four hundred years after its founding, this incredible church is still the focal point of the city.

Cathedral Merida

Apart from its tremendous size, the cathedral’s most striking aspect is its sobriety. The facade is almost completely free of adornment or ornamental flourishes. Maybe the Spaniards didn’t want to overwhelm the local Maya. To these people who still lived in thatch-roofed houses, the church’s size and architectural sophistication must have been impressive enough.

Once through the doors, the somber tone established by the stone facade continues. No paintings line these walls, nor is there a glorious fresco looming overhead. There’s no gilded altarpiece, no baroque choir of terracotta angels, no baptismal font of purest silver. Even the giant Jesus crucified above the altar is made of plain wood. At seven meters (23 feet) in height, this is said to be the largest wooden crucifixion inside any church in the world.

The cathedral is always busy with worshipers and fills up completely during mass. If attendance is anything to go by, Meridians are the most pious Catholics we’ve ever encountered; similarly-sized churches in Spain or Italy are usually empty. During our visit, most of the faithful were congregated in a small chapel to the left of the altar, where hangs the charred-black Cristo de las Ampollas (Christ of the Blisters). This haunting sculpture is the most venerated object in Mérida, carved from a tree which, after being struck by lightning, burnt miraculously for 24 hours without being consumed.

The cathedral, consecrated to Saint Ildefonsus, is found on the eastern side of Mérida’s Plaza Grande, and makes a great place to start an exploration of the city. The best time to visit is between eight and ten on a weekday morning. There will still be worshipers, but in these hours before mass, wandering around and snapping photos is less conspicuous.

Location on our Yucatán Map

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Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
Cathedral Merida
November 14, 2013 at 2:10 am Comments (4)
For 91 Days in the Yucatn - The E-Book We spent three months in the Yucatn peninsula, visiting ancient Maya ruins, taking trips to the beach, learning the art of scuba, swimming in cenotes, eating incredible cuisine, and meeting some of the friendliest people we've ever encountered. Let's just say, it wasn't among our "most challenging" 91-day excursions. But it was definitely among our favorite.
For 91 Days