What to do in Isla Mujeres

Playa lancheros, Isla Mujeres

The name means “The island of women” that alone should be a reason to go, but “Isla” as locals call it, is much more than the promise of an island inhabited only by women, once a small fishermen island, now days Isla is a small piece of heaven on earth with little colorful houses, coffee shops, bars and restaurants by the beach and on its narrow streets downtown.

People in the island lives a simple life and enjoy of those little pleasures we, the people from the city, have forgotten.

Isla Mujeres is only 4 miles long and less than 1 mile across, and in it, a mixed population of native islanders with Mayan roots and people from all Isla streetsover the world share this paradise. Americans, Canadians and Italians amongst other nationalities now call Isla Mujeres their home, bringing a new style to local traditions and making Isla a must visit destination while visiting the Mayan World.

Isla Mujeres is located only 15 minutes away from Cancun; to get there you need to take a boat ride from Cancun’s hotel zone or from Puerto Juarez in the downtown area, being Puerto Juarez a cheaper option.

You can also take your car if you want to; the Ferry is located in Punta Sam, a few kilometers north Puerto Juarez.

Reasons to go:

Swim with the whale shark!

swim with whalesharks

When in season you can swim with the whale sharks, this gentle giants visit the nearby waters every year during the summer, a 45 minute ride on a boat is all you need to swim with these amazing sharks.

Mexico Divers offers these services amongst other water sports like scuba diving and deep sea fishing; their staff is amazing and their world class service unforgettable, find rates and options here.

Scuba Diving, Scuba Diving

Isla Mujeres is located right where the second largest coral reef in the world and the biggest in the western hemisphere begins its path through the Caribbean sea and all the way down to Honduras. Home to more than 500 different species of fish and 65 different corals, this reef homes also five different kinds of turtles, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, sharks and many other species, making it a fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving option for both, experienced and beginner divers.

MUSA:MUSA

This underwater museum is an innovative project aimed to protect and increase the natural biomass of the reef without having to close it to visitors. The museum’s final goal is to have over 1364 artificial inhabitants for the marine life in the area. Many life-size sculptures from the British artist Jason deCaires Taylor can be appreciated on site while helping to protect marine life.

MUSA is located just offshore Isla Mujeres at Manchones reef.

Goddess Ixchel Temple:isla-mujeres-ixchel

This temple was dedicated to one of the most important goddess of the Mayan pantheon. Ixchel was the goddess of fertility, childbirth and tides and related to the moon, she was portrayed as a dual goddess, benign and destructive, while giving the most essential element of life to men; water, she would also send floods to cleanse the earth from men who have stopped thanking the gods. She was portrayed both as a young kind girl and as an angry old lady. It was believed that she would give protection to those who make the pilgrimage to her temples in Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

 

Isla Contoy:Isla-Contoy-Mexico

This even smaller island is home of more than 100 species of birds as well of marine life making it a fantastic trip for birdwatchers and snorkeling adventurers, its position between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean sea make it a sanctuary of life. The island is 30 km (18 miles) north Isla Mujeres and only a few visitors are allowed to the island every day so make your reservations some time in advance.

Playa Norte:Playa Norte

The northern side of the island is where the nicest beaches are, calm gentle surf in turquoise crystal clear water make it a treat for every visitor. Playa Norte is also where most of the beach clubs are so you can find all you need while you lay under the sun. The majority of people come here to enjoy the beach so even when it’s a beautiful area it’s also a little crowded sometimes, especially on Sundays

Have frozen drink or a grilled fresh fish, maybe some ceviche from any of the restaurants here, some offer live music or DJ music for the visitor. Don’t forget to watch the sunset here!!

A night in town.Isla Mujeres Downtown

Isla has many options to enjoy a night in town, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Mediterranean; style restaurants are open every night. World class cuisine mixes with local style and the fresh ingredients fishermen bring every day. After dark the island becomes alive with music and dance for everyone, romantic little restaurants and parties on the beach are easy to find here where locals and tourist meet and enjoy.

Important spots and things to do in Isla

 

Playa Norte – beautiful beach

Zama Beach Club in Sac Bajo – beach, pool and restaurant

Turtle farm in Sac Bajo

Swim with the dolphins  in Sac Bajo

Snorkelling  at Garrafon Park

Snorkeling at Hotel Garrafon de Castilla beach club

Sunbathe at playa sol

Go for a sunset swim on Playa Norte

Stroll the ocean walkway at Punta Sur below the Mayan ruin – the most beautiful spot on the island

Rent a golf cart and see the entire island up close

Drive by the shell house on the Caribbean side

Visit the colorful “Crayola House” in the Colonia on Ave. Josefa Ortiz Domingo.

Visit the famous Spiral Island on Sac Bajo, built by Rishi entirely of plastic bottles

Check out the cemetery in centro, where the grave of Pirate Mundaca is.

Shop the stores in Centro

Rent a bike early in the morning and ride around the entire island (you’ll likely have to walk part way!) its breathtaking.

Visit the old market and the stalls behind it where older ladies sell their wares a much lower prices than the other stores.

 

Tulum



Cenotes

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The Cenotes are natural water sinkholes scattered all over the Yucatan peninsula, their natural and historic influence is huge, this is due to the fact that the peninsula has no superficial rivers because of its soil characteristics, all the rain water falls down through the limestone and into the underground rivers connecting the more than 10,000 cenotes in the peninsula.

For the wildlife of the region is the only source of fresh water and life revolves and thrives around and within them.

For the ancient Mayas just as for every other species in the area, Cenotes were vital, not only as a source of fresh water but also as a very important aspect of their religious, cultural, political and cosmological life

The Word “cenote” comes from the yucatecan Mayan Word “Dzonot” which is also coming from two words, “Dzotz” which means “Bat” and “Nah” which means “House” so the word actually means “House of bats” this makes a lot of sense as every afternoon after sunset, hundreds of thousands of bats roam out of these caves out in to the open to feed, coming back to the caves every morning before sunrise.

The Mayans settled around these natural water sinkholes and saw them along with caves as the doors to  “Xibalba” the Mayan underworld where the spirits of the valiant dead tangle with super natural beings, and the roots of the tree of life are found.

Cenotes where seen as ceremonial places and doorways to the divine. From here, these roots extend through the earthly realms of the forests and to the cosmos.

Human sacrifices where held here by the end of the post-classic period and marked the beginning of the Great  Mayan collapse

After all these historical facts here comes the fun. There are over 10,000 Cenotes in the peninsula and you can access to nearly 5,000 of them, yet, there are only a few really accessible from the main roads and near the main towns in Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We are going to focus on those ones to make a simple task easier.

In Quintana Roo

Descending from Cancun on Highway 307 , which runs all the way down to Chetumal, just 30 km from  Cancun there’s a little fishermen town called Puerto Morelos , either shortly before reaching Puerto Morelos , located on the right side , we will place an entry with a yellow  Arch and with a sign that says Nuevo Vallarta, RUTA  DE LOS CENOTES  , remember, this is coming from north to south ; Likewise there is advertising a ” Ecological ” Park called Selvatica ,  move on, and once this indication is located , must delve 17 km, until you reach the community of Nuevo Vallarta, there find at least 5 different Cenotes, and  a Temazcal, this is an Indigenous traditional sauna , attended by locals , is a unique experience, should relax first heat of steam into this bath Sauna Maya , and after the Sauna session, a swim , the water is cool to … 24 ° c , is incredible sensation, tempered metabolism , relaxes the nervous system , and cardiovascular system is vitalized , is a rewarding experience . This is also a paradise for Birdwatchers .

Cenote_Taj_Mahal

Tajmahal this Cenote is only 5 km from Puerto Aventuras. A highly recommended cenote for those who love cave scuba diving and very well known by locals. Its amazing rock formations and its proximity to the ocean give this beautiful place the name of one of the 7 wonders of the world. Incredible vaults that interact with the sunlight creating a magnificent spectacle

 

Ponderosa;  this is one of the most visited cenotes by underwater photographers  scuba divers and snorkelers due to its beautiful rock formations and the wildlife that inhabit at it. Turtles, fish and amazing light and shadows make of this cenote one of the best.

Cenote Azul;  this cenote is located only 4 km south of Puerto Aventuras and it’s a great option for those who love open snorkeling, it thrives with wildlife.

Aktun Chi;  this cenote is located in the middle of the jungle and has 5 different vaults, in its entrance some Mayan temples can be seen  guarding the entrance to the underworld as timeless witness  of an era.

Sac Actun  Considered one of the world’s longest underground rivers , has an entry on the Cancun- Tulum highway; has 153.6 km in length and maximum depth of 72 meters . There are over 111 cenotes in its path, in some of which the archeologists have located the remains of early man, besides historical Pleistocene animal skeletons .  Near Tulum,  recorded human remains with more than 10,000 years , groups that are even older than the Maya, Olmec or any other recorded groups in the area. Probably the oldest inhabitants of Mesoamerica

Journey to the center of the earth

Ox Bel Ha; its name means “three paths of water” in ancient Maya, and it’s the longest explored underwater cave in the world, ranking 4th including dry caves. As of January 2014 the surveyed length is 256.9 kilometers (159.6 mi) of underwater passages. It’s located near Tulum and diving centers in town are specialist in these excursions, you can swim in its waters but a certification is required to scuba dive in it.

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Cenote Dos ojos, this cenote is one of the top 5 cenotes in the area, the name of this cenote is in Spanish and means “two eyes”  due to the connection between two cenotes in an underwater cave, kind of “two eyes in to the underworld. This cenote is perfect for all ages as its facilities are very well conditioned,

Dos ojos is located a few kilometers north Tulum

El Gran Cenote; This cenote is located 3.5 km from Tulum down the road to Coba, this is one of the locals favorites , you can snorkel or Scuba dive its waters with no special certification but a Padi open water certificate. The technical level on this one is very low, yet some previous directions needed.

Cenote Angelita; cave divers love to call it “a saltwater river flowing in a fresh water sinkhole”It is probably the most unusual formation of its kind . The saltwater has a high amount of hydrogen sulfide and a more obvious opacity , highlighting fresh water above this , allowing divers to swim along the underwater building , which has the same appearance as a river . There are even trees and fallen leaves on both sides of its “margins ” , which makes this landscape something even more surreal.

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Cenote Calavera; the name means “Skull” and this is due to the shape formed by the 3 holes on the roof of this cenote, the name is also related to the human skull present in it, it is also known as The temple of Doom. This cenote is also just a few minutes drive west from Tulum going to Coba. It is not unusual to find human remains laying in cenotes as they were used for human sacrifice by the ancient Mayans. This cenote is also one of local’s favorites.

aktun_ha_big

Cenote Carwash; this cenote is located just steps from Tulum downtown, its name comes from the use local taxi drivers use to give to this cenote, yes, they used to wash their cabs here. Now this practice is no longer in use and this cenote is one beautiful spot to visit while in Tulum. Its shallow waters are full of life, fish and planta adorn this open cenote making it perfect for  snorkeling. Scuba diving is also possible as it is connected to some underwater caves. It’s a great option to spend the day due to its proximity to town and facilities.

 

Cenote Zazil Ha; the name means “clear water” and it’s also just minutes away from  Tulum. The color of its water is jade green and it’s perfect for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s connected to other cenotes like carwash and calavera and has an underground chamber called “Las lagrimas” which in Spanish means “Tears” this is due to the shape of the stalagmites inside. Has a restaurant, bar, cabanas, restrooms and parking lot. Perfect for a refreshing day.

Zazil ha

 

Stay tunned for more cenotes in future posts!!

let us know what you think!

What to do in Cancun

Cancun is a very young city, being developed in the mid 70’s with only tourism in mind, Cancun has been the number one growing city in Mexico for the past 30 years.

The name Cancun, “Kaan kun”  means in Mayan language “nest of snakes” or “pot of snakes”

White sandy beaches, sunny weather, turquoise waters, the history behind the Mayans, and the kindess of its people, all of this makes of Cancun a constant FIESTA for all senses. Scuba diving, snorkeling, kite surfing, Eco-parks, Mayan ruins, nightlife, shopping, Kayaking, or just lay on you back and enjoy a frozen Margarita hanging in your hammock by the sea. Cancun has it all.

It all started around 1970-71 when the government of Mexico turned a small fisherman village in to a monumental touristic project that now offers more than 140 super resorts including all of the big names in the business. It was after 1974 that the developing of this city escalated exponentially to become what it is today, more than 700,000 people lives in Cancun and the city receives another 10 million visitors each year. Cancun is now one of the most important vacation destinations in the world.

Cancun is divided in three major areas, The hotel zone, this is where the beaches, and most of the big hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and tourist attractions are.

In the other hand is Cancun “Centro” which means downtown, this is where most locals live their lives, houses, grocery stores, hospitals, schools and practically the whole city “the real Cancun” is here.

And in the end is Puerto Juarez, formally known as Tamtamchen, this side of Cancun is the old route to Isla Mujeres just 7 Km into the sea and it is mostly dedicated to fishing.

Getting to Cancun from the airport is really easy, if you have a hotel reservation in the hotel zone, the best way to get there is arranging your transfer service through the hotel reservation or trough the airline, many travel agencies include this in your reservation, if you need to set a pick up service, you can find some good options here.

You can also get a ride to the Hotel zone on a private taxi or a shared van, a taxi will take only you and your family to your destination, while the shared van will stop on each of the other passenger´s hotels and eventually in yours. Fare varies depending on the location of your hotel.

If you are going downtown, you will find taxis, buses and vans that will take you. If you don´t mind paying around $40 US, a taxi can take you to the exact hotel or address that you need to go.

You will also find the A D O (Autobuses de Oriente)   this is a bus departing from the parking lot on the domestic flights arrivals area every 20 to 30 minutes, the first bus leaves at 6:00 am and last bus at 9:00 pm. just ask for the A D O bus going downtown Cancun. The ride is about 25 minutes long and it costs about $45 pesos (about 3 to 4 USD) This bus will take you to the downtown bus station which is located on the main street (Tulum Avenue).

Renting a car is the best way to explore the surroundings and visit some Mayan ruins, remember, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chichen Itza, Merida and much more are near Cancun, why not checking them out?

The best car rental deals can be found (believe it or not) at the airport, rates are some times 20% lower and you can return the car right at the airport on your way back home. A very convenient option.

If by the time you read this you are already in your hotel, don´t worry, there are good options both in the Hotel Zone and down town, I will post some here.

Driving the hotel zone is easy, the strip is 23 Kilometers long (14,29 miles) and its only two lanes, back and forth, so you can´t get lost.

Along the Kukulkan Boulevard (which is the name of the strip) you will find Hotels, shopping malls, plazas, nightclubs, restaurants and marinas. Speed limit is 60 Km/ph (37 miles) and some areas 30 Km/ph (18 miles)

Gas prices vary (always rising) from month to month, but you can expect to pay some where around $10 pesos for one liter of gas (about $.90 cents of a dollar) All gas stations are managed by PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos) all these stations will provide free service, (oil check, air pressure on the tires, etc) this workers will appreciate a small tip when possible.

More about Driving in Mexico

Moving in Cancun
To move around Cancun should be very easy if you know a thing or two, in the hotel zone the city bus runs the 24 hours, this bus will ride most of the touristic strip and it cost $8.50 pesos (less than $1.00USD, prices change now and then)

To move downtown is a little different, city buses are $6.00 pesos only and stop running at 10 pm, after that only taxis are available, the taxi fare can also change as often as the gas price changes. (in Mexico that happens every month) but the average rate is $25 pesos with in the “centro” area and up to 40 pesos to the surroundings. From downtown to the H.Z. fares can get up to $100 pesos or more depending on how far up the strip you go.

Walking downtown can be a very nice experience, you can visit Market 28 or Market 23 for handicrafts and typical food, clothes and paraphernalia. There is a  square in Cancun called “parque de las palapas” which literally means park of the palapas, this is not a park and has no palapas, but if you´d like to taste some of the Cancun´s real flavour take a walk to this square in the afternoon, you will find food, folklore and fiesta. On weekends there’s always something going on here; concerts, shows, festivals, street shows, etc.. normally starting at 6 or 7:00 pm.

Across the street you will find a catholic church and another park called parque del artesano, “the craftsman park” this little park shows a variety of crafts and things like books, frankincense, T-shirts, smoking pipes, and some street art.

All around the square you can find restaurants of all kinds, Mexican, Sea food, Yucatan handicrafts,  hotels, hostels for all budgets, coffee shops, jazz, reggae and rock bars, taco stands, c-stores, and marquesita stands (these are some sort of waffle with Philadelphia cheese or butterscotch or strawberry jam or all together)

Shopping in Cancun

If you want to go shopping, there are several options where to find what you want, you can find at least 10 shopping malls in Cancun, 6 in the hotel zone and the rest downtown, there are open-doors shopping malls, like La Isla in the hotel zone or Cancun Outlet, downtown. there are high profile shopping malls like Luxury Ave. in the hotel zone or low profile like Cancun mall in the downtown area. All these shopping malls accept US dollars and major credit cards.

If you are of the adventurous type. try to go to “El tianguis” this is a bazaar type of street market that is set every Sunday on the streets of Cancun, this bazaar displays a vast amount of used things, from clothing to books, from tools to life animals, this market has an extension of more than 10 blocks in the city and it can house up to 500 stands crazy things happen on that market, make sure you bring confy shoes and cash, no credit card works here. The tianguis, pronounced (tee an gees) is located by Lopez Portillo ave. on super manzana 100, a taxi driver can take you there for around $30 pesos or you can get a $6.00 pesos van going to “tres reyes” You can take this van on Tulum ave. right in front of the City hall.

Paying with Credit Card.
Pay with your credit card when ever is possible to take advantage of the best exchange rate, you can get cash advance on some ATM´s many places accept credit card but not all places and not all of the cards. Visa, Master card and American Express are ok, any other kind of card is generally rejected.

There are ATM´s all over the city but there are fewer in the hotel zone, main shopping malls and plazas have a couple at least.

Where to eat.
Cancun´s cuisine is a collage of the rest of Mexico´s recipes, being such a young city means that most of the people living in it is from somewhere else, they brought the costumes and traditions with them when they came. In general Mexican cuisine is based on corn, so you will find it all over, normally in the shape of tortillas or tamales along with beef, pork, chicken and fish and all kinds of veggies and fruit.

Yucatan style food is very present in Cancun, salbutes, panuchos, cochinita pibil, sopa de lima, and many more typical dishes of Yucatan food are here, but also, food from Veracruz, Puebla, DF, Monterrey, Jalisco, and practically every state of Mexico in Cancun, you can also enjoy of a variety of international style food like Japanese, Italian, Indian, Arabic, Greek, French, Tahi and more.

Be aware! Mexican food can be very spicy some times, if you have a sensitive stomach, the mix of hot food and frozen margaritas can be a bomb.

Eating in Cancun can be fantastic, you can enjoy of a beautiful sunset as you have dinner and wine in any of the fine lagoon view restaurants in the hotel zone, I´ll post a list here soon.

These restaurants are the top of the line on food experience, international chefs cook exotic dishes on delicate atmospheres, life music and excellent service is a characteristic of these restaurants where making a moment to remember is an easy thing to do.

Cancun offers food for all tastes and budgets from romantic fancy dinners to cheese burgers and fries, or organic vegetarian cuisine.

If you are looking for some low budget but still tasty food, you can eat on any of the “comida corrida” restaurants  downtown, (comida corrida) means “food on a row” and this is a 3 curse meal, normally including some kind of chicken noodle soup or pasta as an appetiser, a main curse, normally Mexican style beef, chicken, pork or fish and something to drink, fruit of the season blended or mixed with other fruits. These type of places are the Mexican style fast food restaurants of all cities in Mexico, they serve a simple menu with 2 to 5 options where to choose from and it´s normally precooked so the service is fast and informal. You can get a full meal for somewhere between $45 to $60 pesos ( $3.00 to $4.00 US) per person.

Tacos
Tacos are a very Mexican tradition but not exclusively Mexican, you can find tacos all across Central America, each country changing it a little and maybe calling it different, but all sharing the goods of corn.

While most Mexicans can survive almost any kind of food on the streets, international visitors may want to go slow on street tacos, don´t get me wrong! they are fantastic, but some of the ingredients and procedures may be to much for inexperienced taster.

Salsas (hot dressing) are made out of many ingredients, the most common ones are tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado and of course hot peppers of many kinds.

Nightclubbing
Cancun’s nightlife is very exciting, there are amazing nightclubs to choose from, one every night. Most of Cancun nightlife is aimed to a young crowd and is loud and booze oriented.

CocoBongo, Daddy’O, The City, Congo and more
Life music, shows and open bar, cover charge can vary from season to season and from place to place.
These  nightclubs are a must visit place in town, loud, extreme but definitely fun, located in what is known as “The Party Center” in the heart of the Hotel Zone.
To get there is really easy, any bus in the Hotel Zone can take you and remember, they run 24 hours a day.
You will also find other places like Señor Frog’s walking distance from the Party Center area.
Look for detailed information on each one of them here soon.

Does and don’ts
Cancun is a very safe city but just like any other city in the world common sense is the key to stay out of trouble, the drinking age in Mexico is 18 and bars and night clubs encourage people, specially young, to loose them selves to party, nothing wrong with this if you can handle alcohol,  but many accidents and arrests happen in Cancun during party time.

Another thing to remember is to keep you belongings in sight, on the swimming pool, on the beach and any other place you visit, although Cancun is not a dangerous city, you need to keep in mind that.

Drugs are illegal in Mexico, possession trade and consumption of controlled substances can get you in jail, there is a minimum amount you are allowed to carry in what is normally considered personal consumption. these amounts vary depending on the substance.

Replete with resorts, Cancun is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Drug cartel violence generally takes place 1,300 miles from Cancun on the northern border of Mexico (the same distance from New York to Texas). In fact, Cancun’s crime rate is much lower than that of most U.S. cities. Mexico is a very large country and the resort city of Cancun continues to be a safe destination for visitors.

Mayan ruins in Cancun
You can find to sets of Mayan ruins with in Cancun’s hotel zone, El Rey (the king) and Yamil Lu’um, at this point none of them is open to the public due to maintenance, but you can visit the “El Meco” ruins, they are located in the continental side of Isla Mujeres, 7 Km from Cancun on Puerto Juarez-Punta Sam road. this site is pretty small but very relevant in the Mayan history of the region.

To get to El Meco, you can take a van for $6.00 pesos (less than $.50 cents US) these vans run all day long from 7:00 am to about 9 or 10:00pm, if you are in the Hotel Zone just take the city bus downtown R1, once you get down town get off right at the city hall and then wait for the van, you will see many different ones, hop on the one that goes to Punta Sam and off you go.

To get back just do the inverse and once on Tulum ave. you can take the R1 bus back to your hotel. If you are staying downtown just skip the city bus part and get the van.
Another option is taking a taxi for about $50.00 pesos ($4 to $5.00 US) from downtown area, from the hotel zone can be up to $100 pesos or more.

Water Sports
Cancun has a vast variety of water activities to offer, from easy snorkelling for the un experienced, to first class cave scuba diving for experts, most of the hotels have an activity desk where you can find these activities but normally on a higher price, you can also contact the marinas directly for a better deal. I will post some options here soon.

Beach safety
Every experienced swimmer knows that you need to talk to locals who know the surf before you get in the water, Cancun has a gentle surf but undertow is present in most of Cancun’s eastern beaches, lifeguards are often on duty but not always. The city of Cancun has developed a safety system based on colored flags.
Green for good swimming conditions.
Yellow for mild surf where non-experienced swimmers may find hard to swim in.
Red for dangerous surf, no swimmers are allowed in the water.

All beaches in Cancun are federal property so they are public, you are free to set your self in any beach of your preference, but consider that access to the beach is not always easy, big hotels normally are in the way and the access to these is controlled. Only guests are allowed.

You will find several public entrances to the beach along the strip. See a map here.

Immigration
For Visa and tourist-card extension visit the (Instituto Nacional de Migracion) located in Nader Ave. #1 on the corner of Uxmal Ave. right downtown, the office is open from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday to Friday. Ph number (998)884 1404

Medical care
There are many Hospitals in Cancun that can handle most of emergencies, how ever not all of them can handle American insurance situations, The American Medical Care Center located in Kukulkan Blvd. Kilometre 8 provides good medical care and accepts insurance plans from all over the world. See more here soon

What to do in Punta Allen-Tulum

Finding things to do in the Mayan Riviera is not a hard thing to do, and no matter what your budget is, there are many different ways to enjoy it at its fullest.

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I will try to show all options.

I definitely prefer the long way to it; hitchhiking the road and meeting both locals and tourist, sharing opinions, road tips, and learning about new spots to visit. Camping on the beach and meeting new friends over a cold beer and fresh fish caught just hours before; but this is not the easiest way to do it, I must admit. If you are not traveling on a budget and prefer something specially designed for the traveler, try any of the many tours available to visit the Sian Ka’an natural reserve and Punta Allen. These tours vary in price and activities, from off road driving on 4×4 jeeps, to fly fishing, sport fishing or bird watching, you can enjoy of an archeological and ecological hike into the jungle, or just enjoy of a boat ride around the Bay and its hundreds of channels through the mangrove. You can sail your way there from Cancun, Akumal, Puerto Aventuras and Cozumel, and tour operators in every major city in the peninsula will offer an option for you.

Jeep punta allen.png

If you are in Tulum, getting to Punta Allen shouldn’t represent a problem, you can get a ride on a collective van departing at 2:00pm every day from the “sindicato de taxistas” which is the local taxi drivers union building, and which I only recommend if you want to pay around $20USD on transportation for a 60 kilometers ride, and this is only one way; the average rate anywhere else goes from $3 USD to $10 USD for the same distance. The road is pretty bad and unpaved, and in rainy season this road may be impossible for a non 4×4 vehicle.

Another issue is that these vans get really packed and the ride is 3 hours long, so it’s not comfortable, in many cases you get over charged as a tourist, locals pay a different fare.

So my recommendation is either hitchhike your way there, there are many cars coming in and out at all times and most of them are willing to take you with them, or you can rent a car or a scooter in Tulum, Scooters run for somewhere around $25 to $35 USD per day, one scooter is enough for two people and they are very good regarding fuel consumption.  You can stay in Tulum and spend the day in Punta Allen, having wheels adds kilometers and saves time.

We decided to stay in Punta Allen instead; this charming fisherman village has much more to offer than what you may first think. With a little more than 500 people living in it, life in town flows slowly, relaxed and easy; people know each other and they love to share fishing stories and local folk over a beer at night before the lights go out.

We settled our tent down by the beach right after sunset. We found this beautiful spot between two of the hotels. It was excellent for camping, near everything and away from everyone.

A sky full of stars and the sound of the turf made the night delicious, a light rain around midnight got us back in to the tent. We slept over the sweet sounds of the waves braking on the beach and the rain falling on the palm trees.

Even when fishermen wake up at the crack of dawn, in the island the rest of the activities start way later, most of them are linked to the tours arriving to Punta Allen around 11:00am and electricity runs after this time too so many of the business there won´t start before this time.

You can find a few restaurants and bars in town where you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner but don’t expect a big nightlife scene here.

We met our new friend Armando Lopez, owner of Cuzan, restaurant and cabañas, while we were walking down the beach, he was getting ready to go out fishing and we asked to go along. He said yes.

On the boat, Armando told us about Punta Allen and how he got to settle there more than 20 years ago, they were the first fly fishing business in town and they saw the island grow to be what it is now.

Armando and his life partner Sonja are well known in the island and surroundings and show a great deal of knowledge about the local costumes and food. Sonja has written a beautiful book called “Painted Fish” that portrait the life style of the Mayan Riviera.

After a few hours out at sea, we returned to shore with a cargo of fresh fish that Armando´s crew would later cook for dinner. Cold beer and fresh fish with friends made an excellent way to wrap up the day.

In the next morning Armando and his crew offer us a ride back to Tulum as our trip would take us to Bacalar, over 200 Km south.

Visiting the Island of Punta Allen is something you can do on your own or with any of the tour operators all over the Peninsula. Any way you do it, make sure you make some time visit this little piece of heaven on earth.

What to do in Tulum

 

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In ancient times, Tulum was a place to visit as trading and ceremonies were held here to honor the gods and to keep commerce with cities from the entire Mesoamerican world.

Today Tulum is still one important stop for the modern explorer, not only because of its majestic buildings by the sea, but also because of its great location in the Peninsula, not too far from all important Maya sites and cities and in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Staying in Tulum

No matter if you are a conservative traveler or an adventurous one, Tulum can offer many different options for you to stay and to do, whether you need a top of the list accommodation or just a cozy hut next to the beach, Hotels in Tulum vary in price and style, you can find air conditioned and TV, or candles and sandy floor, the choice is yours. Hammocks will be hanging from the walls in all of them.

There are also a few hostels in town with private or shared rooms but these are located in the downtown area a few kilometers from the beach, prices here can vary a lot but normally in the range of the $12 to $30 USD per night.

Transportation

Staying downtown or by the beach means that you will need to get transportation to move around, you can find taxis all over and they work 24/7 but this can get expensive at the end as each ride is at least $40 pesos. There are options, a little van going every day to Punta Allen, a beautiful fisherman village at the other end of Sian Ka’an natural reserve, this van runs all the way down the beach area and it’s a cheap way to get to the beach from downtown, but it only does the trip once a day so you need to be on time and ready to get it back on its way to Tulum on the afternoon.

Renting a bicycle may be a good idea too, they are around $10USD a day and the town is bike friendly, flat roads all over and places to luck up your bike everywhere.

If you feel like renting a car or a scooter, take advantage of the freedom it provides and explore the attractions nearby like Coba’ or the many Cenotes (from the Mayan word “Dznot” meaning abyss and the entrance to the underworld) these are natural sinkholes connected by underground rivers, some of them can be explored.

Explore

The Biosphere of Sian Kaán, is a natural reserve, the name means “Born from the Sky” In Mayan language.  The Sian Kaan reserve is a magical place, characterized by its bio-diversity: jungle, marsh, mangrove lagoons, shallow bays and an extraordinary coral reef. This natural reserve is famous for its numerous cenotes, its hidden Mayan ruins and its only inhabited place, Punta Allen, a small village of lobster fishermen. This coastal zone was declared a national park in 1986 and since 1987; it has been part of the U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Program.

There are high quality tour companies that can offer these and other activities like the Whale shark adventure, swim with them as they pass by in their annual migration trough the oceans, snorkeling and much more.

Camping

If you like the adventure of camping and finding your own path, you will find some options to camp near the ocean, even if you don’t have a tent or camping equipment, some of these lodges will offer tents to use as well, some of them around the $10USD per night. You can also do the activities without booking a tour but you will have to find your way there. From renting a bike to renting a van or a boat ride is possible in Tulum and nearby.

Getting there

Getting to Tulum is fairly simple. From Cancun´s international airport, a shuttle to Playa del Carmen is available almost every half an hour, once in Playa you will find the vans to Tulum on 2nd street and 20th they also run very often from Playa to Tulum and back till midnight. The first ride starts very early in the morning.

If you rent a car at the airport you will have to take road 307 south and that’s it, keep driving for 163Km and you there. You will find clear signals and roads are ok to drive day or night.

You can catch a bus to go to the nearby sites of Chichen Itza and Cobá as well to the town of Bacalar, Playa del Carmen, Mahaual, Cancun, etc. the bus station is located on the main avenue and runs 24/7.

Food and Drinks

Eating, drinking and dancing are easy to find in Tulum, whether on the beach or in a restaurant downtown, Italian, Mexican, Mayan, French, Japanese, Arab, Indian and many other cuisine styles are available in town, some of the places on the beach will have live or dance music and party can go on for hours.

To find these spots all you need to do is take a night walk on the beach and where you see the lights, the fire, and hear the music, that’s where the party is. Don´t forget, always ask the locals for the tonight’s party or event in town.

Groceries

There are two grocery stores in town, this are always needful if you are camping or if you just like to cook a meal or two,these are located in the downtown area and their inventory is fairly good, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, pharmacy, hardware and more is available.

Other services such as Doctor, Bank, Real State and more are available in town.

Tulum is a vibrant town with a whole lot of history and things to do and see, the hospitality of its people and the beauty of its natural heritage will fulfill everyone’s expectations, whether you spend a day or a month in Tulum.

 

Looking for a place to eat drink or stay?

Visiting Chichen Itza

 

Kukulkan castle, Chichen Itza

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The Mayan city of Chichen Itza is located in the exuberant jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is surrounded by beautiful natural richness like its “cenotes” word that comes from the Mayan word “Dzonot” which means abyss, and is related to the entrance to the underworld. Some of this cenotes can be explored.

There are hundreds of kilometers of underground rivers that connect one “cenote” to the other.

On the outside of the ruins you will find several options to eat, shop or have a drink. If you are looking to stay in the area a night or two, you can find a couple of options for you to do so. Different styles of accommodations including old haciendas turned in to boutique hotels and in which you can also enjoy of traditional Mayan cuisine, or a typical “Temazcal” (this is a pre-Hispanic steam bath)  you can learn a little more about the costumes of the local people, direct descendents of the original dwellers of Chichen Itza.

Going to Chichen Itza from near cities like; Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Merida or Valladolid, is very easy and you will find many ways to do it, taking a tour is probably the easiest for the conservative traveler, you will find excellent tour providers in all of the nearby cities, luxury air conditioned buses food and drinks and optional stops to visit places of interest, but you are on a schedule and a group of people. If you are more of the adventurous traveler and you like to go on your clock, taking a bus is also very easy, there are buses going every day departing from the main bus station in town (in any of these cities) and if you want to really explore the site you’ll probably need two days. Staying near the ruins is possible as well as staying in Valladolid a small typical town just 40 km from Chichen Itza. Camping in the area is available as well as in some of the cities around the site.

Horseback riding, snorkeling, Scuba diving and other activities are available with several different tour companies, but these can be also booked directly with the service provider and it’s easy to get your own transportation, from a scooter for one, to a car rental or a van with a driver for groups of more than 4 people.

Hitchhiking is legal and safe in the Yucatan Peninsula, most of the roads are paved and have traffic, a good part of this are tourists and people who works directly or indirectly with tourists, so they are friendly and in many cases willing to pick you up.

As in any other place in the world, common sense and intelligence is necessary to hitchhike the roads, do it only during the day and always make sure everything looks alright.

The Mayan city of Chichen Itza offers to the traveler a wonderful landscape to explore its magnificent ruins and fantastic history, this city opens the door to a magical ancient empire that was able to construct massive temples and pyramids without the use of tools like the wheel or the help of animals like horses or oxen. The Mayan civilization was an empire that lasted for thousands of years.

The achievements of the Mayan civilization in the realm of mathematics, astronomy and architecture are simply amazing, and yet, their collapse still is a mystery. Maybe they got lost in the mist of their glory. Some of which we should learn.

To explore the city of Chichen Itza, is to be taken back in time, a time when gods came from the stars and shared their knowledge with the Maya, to then go back to the stars, this according to a legend written in the Popol Vu, a group of sacred books that tell us the history of the Mayan creation of the world, men, and everything that we can see.

Myths and legends coincide in the astronomical and mathematical world, the precision of their calendar is unbelievably accurate, and the mathematical proportion used to build their temples was in harmony with what they believed, and in synchrony with the cosmos.

To witness the magical descent of the “plumed serpent”  Kukulkan, god of the winds who came from the east, represented by a snake-shaped shaded body sliding down the castle during the equinox, invites you to join the ritual frenzy and maybe, be part of the thousands of years of tradition and heritage.

Driving Mexico

Driving in Mexico is not as hard as they told you, mexicans drive, in general, the same way people drive in the rest of the world, but just as in the rest of the world, mexicans add some of the culture and tradition to it. So, to enjoy of the experience of driving through a vast variety of landscapes and visit magical little towns and places other way unreachable for the regular tourist, you may want to know a thing or two.

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If you are driving your own vehicle, you need to have the following documents ready before you cross the border: title or registration of your vehicle, a certified true copy of your birth certificate or passport, a major credit card and a valid driver’s license. All these must have the same name of the bearer of the documents. Yes, that means the driver. If the car belongs to your spouse or family member, you still can’t bring it with you to Mexico. Otherwise, get a notarized letter of permission from the bank, lien holder, rental agency or company that gave you the car. Expect to pay a $22 charge on your credit card after submitting your paperwork. When the immigration official hands you a car permit and a sticker, that means you can use your car to go around Mexico. But mind you, the permit is only valid for six months. When you return to the States, you will turn in the permit and sticker before the permit expires. Remember the car permit is different from your tourist visa in Mexico.

Mexconnect.com has put together a very practical and complete guide to drive around Mexico, this guide includes rules and regulations. Here the basic rules.

  1. Buy Mexican Auto Insurance. Mexican auto insurance is a must if you plan to do anything more than a quick hop across the border since, in the case of an accident Mexican authorities will not accept foreign auto insurance policies. Any Mexican auto insurance coverage you purchase should include claims adjusters that will come to the scene of an accident and an attorney. This becomes very important since, in the event of an accident, you are not allowed to move your vehicle and you may be detained by the police in the event that anyone is hurt until fault can be established
  2. Be aware that not all roads are in the best of conditions. Although over the last 6 to 8 years there has been an increase in the number of four-lane toll roads throughout the country, some of the minor roads, for instance those between small towns, are more likely to be paved with cobblestone instead of asphalt and, either way, they all have their share of pot holes and ruts to be careful about.
  3. Although there are reports of people being stopped and their property being stolen while on an isolated road, there are few reports of people actually being injured. The best way to avoid this is to drive during the day and not to stop for hitchhikers. Also beware of any foreign objects in the road, these are normally placed there so that an unsuspecting driver will be forced to stop.
  4. Try to restrict driving to daylight hours. This is common sense wherever you drive since road signs are easier to read, road hazards are easier to see and avoid and there are normally more cars traveling the same road you are so there is less chance of anything bad happening.Always be aware of livestock. On most U.S. roads, livestock is unheard of except in rural areas. In Mexico, however, livestock creates a large problem because of a lack of fencing around the highways. Livestock are normally left to roam wherever they can find food and this is sometimes near a well traveled road. In the area where I live, Lake Chapala, 40% of the traffic accidents that occur involve livestock in some way. These statistics are not official so the number could be 35% or 45%, but from what I have seen I would say the 40% is fairly accurate.
  5. Remember that most people do not use their turn signals and not all cars you see on the road have functioning brake lights. Avoid accidents by keeping your distance, using your turn signals and being aware of those who don’t.
  6. Always know who has the right of way. This is sometimes difficult because, even though you may be in the right, if the “the other guy” is bigger, he won’t care. This means you will want to slow down at all intersections and look both ways whether you are required to or not; it also means you will want to yield to larger vehicles that want to occupy your same lane space.
  7. Always plan your trip ahead of time. Take a good road map along with you and know where your stops are going to be. This came in handy once when we had engine trouble. Fortunately we were only a few miles away from a small town where, although accommodations were not luxurious, they did have cold beverages and a mechanic that could repair the car within a day or two.
  8. Remember that here, just as anywhere else, all those things you learned in driving school apply. Keep free space in front, behind and beside you when driving; obey the speed limits; use your turn signals; and always make sure your vehicle is in good condition and that you have plenty of spare parts (i.e. tire, water for the radiator, transmission fluid and oil) before beginning your journey.
  9. Buy a basic Spanish phrase book before your trip. Learning how to tell someone you need a mechanic (necesito un mecánico), help changing a tire (necesito ayuda para cambiar la llanta) or directions (dónde está or cómo llego a) can be very useful. Even if you can’t pronounce it quite right, people will usually get the message and be able to effectively communicate to you what you need to know.
  10. There are probably 10 more tips I’ve left out but this should get you started. Check back from time to time to see what else we’ve added or e-mail us with comments or your own driving experiences in Mexico. In the meantime, have a happy and safe journey.

Author’s Note:Just in case your considering risking the trip without Mexican auto insurance, consider the following:

Mexican law is napoleonic — this means that you are guilty until proven innocent. The person deciding this will most likely be the policeman who arrives at the scene of the accident, especialy if you cannot provide proof of Mexican auto insurance and/or produce an insurance adjuster appears.
When a traffic accident does occur, the police may impound your vehicle, especially if there is no one there to help you defend your rights such as an insurance adjuster and/or an attorney. Also know that in the event that someone is injured and you are found responsible, you might not only be held liable for that persons medical expenses but also for financially supporting them and their dependents until they recover. If you have an attorney he will probably be able to help you negotiate a more reasonable settlement than that which you could negotiate on your own.

Now, when you’re in Mexico, try not to do anything stupid. In transit, you must always be in your car at all times when it is driven. No other person can borrow it from you without you as a passenger. Make sure your driver’s license is valid. You can also use an international driver’s license. The paperwork can be a hassle, but it saves you from any unnecessary trouble with the local authorities.

For Further information on Driving in Mexico click here.