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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.

Location on our Map

Vacation Rentals in Tulum

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

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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Vacation Home Rentals

Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
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Howler Mokeys Punta Laguna
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February 8, 2014 at 4:10 pm Comments (0)

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
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
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Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
Diving In Puerto Morelos Fish Market
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)

A Rainy Day on Isla Mujeres

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On Monday morning, we awoke with an itinerary full of plans and a sky full of clouds. We looked to the heavens imploringly, begging for no rain, but before we’d even lowered our clasped hands, the storms began. And they didn’t let up the entire day. Undaunted, we stuck to our schedule, and visited Isla Mujeres’ touristy sights. But we’ll be honest: this was a miserable day.

First up was the Tortugranja, or the Turtle Farm. Along with much of the Yucatán coast, the Isla Mujeres has always been an important turtle nesting zone. The Tortugranja helps nature along by snatching up turtles and forcing them to mate at their farm. As a visitor, you can see mostly green and white turtles kept in shallow pools. There was also a pool full of baby turtles when we visited, though I assume this isn’t always the case. There not much to see, but we stayed at the farm for a long time, if only because the storm outside had intensified.

Next up, the Hacienda Mundaca. Despite an interesting history, this was among the most worthless tourist attractions I’ve ever visited. Mundaca was an old Spanish buccaneer who settled down on the island with chestfuls of booty. He fell in love with a beautiful young local girl nicknamed La Trigüena (the Brunette), and built this hacienda for her. But she spurned his advances, uninterested in marrying someone so much older, and the rejection drove the former pirate insane.

In the time it took you to read that short anecdote, you could have seen everything inside the present day hacienda. There’s just nothing there. A building with a couple ratty old pictures, and a couple paths which lead nowhere — I mean literally: you’re walking on the path, and then it ends, and you have to turn around. Maybe on a sunny day, this would be a nice park to have a picnic in, but when there’s hurricane-like rain soaking through your clothes, your skin, your bones and into your very soul, it’s just the worst.

The last stop of the day was Punta Sur which, despite its name, is the easternmost point in Mexico. A path leads through a small sculpture park to the end of the island, around a small set of rocky cliffs and through a hole in the ground called the Ojo de Azul, or Blue Eye. This was pretty, and our favorite part of the day… possibly because we had now completed our list of activities and could return to the hotel for a hot shower and a long nap.

Locations on our Map: Tortugranja | Joyxee Island | Hacienda Mundaca | Punta Sur

More Pics from the Tortugranja
Turtle Farm Isla Mujeres
More Pics from Hacienda Mundaca
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January 13, 2014 at 12:33 am Comment (1)

MUSA – An Underwater Museum Off Isla Mujeres

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We’ve been to plenty of strange museums during our travels around the world. An optical illusion museum in Busan. A bordello museum in Idaho. The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul and a phallological museum in Iceland. But there’s a new contender for the title of most unique: the MUSA, an underwater museum found off the coast of Isla Mujeres.

Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere

The MUSA, or Museo Subacuático de Arte, is the brainchild of Jason DeCaires Taylor, a British artist who was motivated to act after the devastation wreaked by 2008’s Hurricane Wilma. By designing sculptures and placing them on the sandy bottom of the sea, Taylor was fulfilling two purposes. First, he was creating an artificial reef onto which coral would grow and within which sea life might flourish. Second, he was diverting human attention away from the overtaxed natural reef.

Both of these aims have been met. Visiting the museum requires an easy dive of just 8 meters (24 feet), or you can choose to see it from above while snorkeling. The sculptures include a miniature house, a Volkswagen Beetle and a haunting collection of human statues, frozen in time. If you look closely, each person in this group is different, from a pregnant woman to a kneeling priest, and they’re all slowly being claimed by the coral.

Our visit to the MUSA was the first of two dives we made on the same day. The second was to a nearby reef called Manchones. It was another shallow dive, during which we swam along with an incredible array of fish. Our most exciting encounter was with a Stonefish. It was shifting a little as I passed over, otherwise I’d never have spotted it. The fish was so well camouflaged that Jürgen had a hard time seeing it even though I was just a foot away, pointing frantically. I dared not get closer; these are among the most poisonous fish in the world, and a single sting can prove fatal.

Location of the MUSA on our Map
MUSA Museo Subacuático de Arte – Website

My Underwater Camera

More images from the underwater museum:

Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
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Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere

More photos from the Manchones Reef:

Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere
Manchones Reef Diving Isla Mujuere

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January 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm Comments (9)

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)

Isla Mujeres

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After 24 hours, we’d seen enough of Cancún and made our way to Isla Mujeres, just a half-hour by ferry off the coast. This island of around 12,000 people has made a name for itself as a sort of anti-Cancún. A place to relax, escape the crowds and bask in the simple joy of being on a gorgeous Caribbean island.

Isla Mujeres

Named for the numerous Maya goddess statues which the Spanish found here, Isla Mujeres (Island of the Women) isn’t exactly off the beaten path. In fact, we found it to be even more crowded with tourists than Cancún. But the vibe is totally different. People don’t hang out in their hotels, but at beach bars and cozy downtown cafes. There are fewer drunken frat boys and more dreadlocked rasta boys. Isla Mujeres is just a lot cooler, a lot more relaxed.

The island is small enough to comfortably handle in a couple days, but most visitors stay longer. And plenty end up staying forever. Isla Mujeres is popular with wealthy American expats, which comes with both positive and negative aspects. Better restaurants and services, perhaps, but there’s a palpable sense of pretentiousness. This isn’t Cancún, but you’ll still hear more English than Spanish on Isla Mujeres and, for all the hippy vibe, the best locations and properties are in the hands of rich foreigners. The locals have been shunted off farther south, farther inland.

We spent three nights on the island, which gave us plenty of time to see the highlights. Unfortunately the weather didn’t play along; we had torrential rains and a lot of our sightseeing had to be cut short. But overall, we came away with a positive impression of the tiny island.

Location on our Map

Great Hotels On Isla Mujeres

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January 9, 2014 at 6:43 pm Comments (3)

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.

Location on our Map

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

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.

Secret Hotwire Cozumel Hotel Deals

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

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Pictures from Tulum Town 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.
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