Rivieria Maya

Rivieria Maya22 Sep 2008 03:39 pm
Posted By: Libby

Contrary to popular opinion, John and I do not spend our days lazing on the beach with a margarita in hand. We actually work our butts off here, probably harder than we ever have before. But recently we had an opportunity to let loose on an ATV jungle adventure with a group of our friends. It was a blast!

First, we met up with our friends at a local watering hole, the Beer Bucket. What great adventure doesn’t start off with a few brews?!

Next, our designated drivers transported us to the ATV Explorer site just a few miles south of Playa del Carmen. We donned helmets to protect our noggins and goggles and bandanas to keep the dust out of our orifices.

And we were off!

We rode through the jungle for about two hours. For a refreshing break, we stopped at a cenote swimming hole!

And made another stop in a cave where we interrupted these sleeping bats.

With our rowdy group, it was no surprise that we had our share of jungle crashes, scrapes and bruises.

But I assure you that no kitty kats were harmed in this most awesome jungle adventure.

Thanks so much to our friends Tyra and Erik from ATV Explorer for making our tour possible. It was great fun to play like tourists for a day!

Rivieria Maya24 Feb 2008 06:20 pm
Posted By: John

After surviving a recent onslaught of visitors, 4 different sets in a 3 week period, we decided that we needed to make a day trip somewhere for some rest and relaxation. After reading about Cenote Azul in our friend Michele’s blog recently, we thought it would be nice to take a quick Saturday afternoon trip to one of this area’s natural wonders. Unfortunately, it turned out to a be very busy day at the cenote, making relaxation difficult. On the bright side, the cenote is very scenic, and the water is crystal clear. For snorkelers, there are plenty of fish to see, including some foot long catfish. For the adventurous, there is a ledge to jump off, 15 feet above the water.

Cenote Azul (map location) is located 15 miles south of Playa del Carmen. The cost is 50 pesos ($5 USD) per adult, and 30 pesos ($3 USD) per child.

We plan to return to this and some of the other cenotes after the high season traffic calms down over the next two months.

Here are some photos. The rest are in our photo gallery.

Cenote Azul 3

Cenote Azul 2

Cenote Azul 1

Rivieria Maya19 Jul 2007 07:34 pm
Posted By: John

A few weeks ago, we celebrated my 35th birthday. For us adventurers, there is no better way to celebrate such an occasion than to load up our trusty Civic and go out exploring. It was time for a for a quick weekend road trip. We didn’t even let the fact that we hadn’t had an oil change in 7,500 miles get in our way! All this in the spirit of fun and adventure. Oh yeah… we also needed SOMETHING to write about on this “Adventure” blog which has been stagnant for so long.

About 3 hours north of Cancun, there is an island called Isla Holbox (IS-la HOL-bosh). This was to be our destination for the weekend. We headed out a little less prepared than usual for this trip – we’re a wee-bit out of practice! We got off to a late start, ended up taking a wrong turn that forced us to go 20 miles out of our way, and eventually had to drive in reverse on the highway shoulder for at least half a mile to reach a missed turn-off – which is not as unusual or unsafe as you might think, here in Mexico. Ha! What do I know? I’m practically Mexican when I drive these days!

Due to the late start, we had to spend our first night on the mainland in a town called Chiquila. We ate some awesome sopes de puerco (pork sopes – kind of like an open-faced taco) from a woman in little red Coca-Cola stand. 45 pesos ($4.25 US) for 4 sopes and 2 soft drinks. This turned out to be our only good dining experience of the weekend! We were dying for an ice cold cerveza , but finding a beer in this town on a Friday night was not gonna happen. There were no open bars and the only store in town did not sell beer.

Chiquila showerSince we didn’t feel like crashing some sort of religious gathering, the only thing vaguely exciting in the town that Friday night, we headed back to our hotel. 200 pesos ($18) rented us a decent room with a ceiling fan. Unfortunately, even with the fan on high, we still could not get a comfortable night sleep, lying in our sweat-soaked sheets. The next morning, we had invigorating cold-water-only showers… in a shower with a fuse box and light switch! I may be wrong, but I think there was still room in the shower for a small TV, or possibly a toaster… maybe I should have filled out that comment card afterall.

Escaping the shower unscathed, we made our way over to Isla Holbox via the 9 Hermanos (9 brothers) ferry. The island is about 7 miles long and 1 mile wide, and has a population of about 1600. The streets are mostly sandy paths, and the main form of transportation is taxi golf carts. Here are some of the unique houses on island:

Isla Holbox HouseIsla Holbox Blue Flower House

Isla Holbox is a small community, who’s main industry is fishing. During the past 5 years, tourist traffic has started to pick up as more and more people find out about the whale shark tours. The whale shark season typically runs from July-September, but we heard that people had already spotted some sharks. Being low season, we hoped to sneak onto Isla Holbox without reservations and find a decent hotel room for an affordable rate. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side, and we ended up finding that rooms were already running at high season prices around 700 pesos ($66) a night. To make matters worse, these were their mosquito-netting-over-the-beds rooms. Yikes! We eventually found a beautiful room at Casa Iguana overlooking the Gulf of Mexico for 800 pesos ($75) a night. A bit pricey — for us locals, anyway, but it was my birthday, so we splurged. At least we didn’t have to sleep under mosquito nets.

By the way, the mosquitos on Isla Holbox are rumored to be vicious. I was extremely worried because mosquitos appear to love me. It must be my sweet personality. Libby isn’t bothered for some reason. Hmmm…. Oddly enough, the mosquitos annoyed me less than some annoying critters called sand fleas. These little buggers hide in the sand, and attack you without mercy. The sunblock and bug spray combination left a nice sticky residue to collect bug samples all over my body. Yippee! Anyhow, because of those nasty creatures, our weekend beach time was limited to a grand total of 10 minutes. Thank goodness we have a nice beach (without fleas, thank you very much) only a few blocks away from home here in Playa del Carmen. :)

Back to the story… After we dropped off our luggage, we set out to book our tour. Our friend, Jason, from Fantasea Dive, had recommended a tour operator called Willy’s Whale Shark Tours. We heard Willy’s had some fun guides – some with mohawks and some with strange names like Elvis. Our guide, Juan, had neither. Nevertheless, he was a great guide, and he did his best to explain things in English for us gringos who still speak primarily English.

Our tour started bright and early the next morning. We headed Northeast for a little over an hour, to a point where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet. From what we gather, the whale sharks come back each year to feed on the abundant plankton in the area, a phenomenon likely caused by the mixing of the two bodies of water.

Just as I started to doze off, the boat filled with excitment as one of the other tourists located our first whale shark. Everyone became very active. A few people climbed on top of the boat to get a good angle for picture taking, while others started preparing their flippers and snorkeling masks. Game on!

The whale sharks in this area are protected, and only two people and their guide can enter the water at a time. Libby and I anxiously awaited our turn to jump in and snorkel with these big fish. Yet, even then, the concept seemed a bit odd — jumping in the water next to a 45 foot long fish, a fish with the word SHARK in its name, and snorkeling along side of it, but that’s why we were there. Besides, we had heard that whale sharks are docile, and only feed on plankton and small fish since they have no teeth. Wrong! We’ve since learned that they do have teeth… up to 300 rows of them. However, they don’t really use them. Well, at least not on people. We hoped. As far as them being docile, that remains true. The biggest danger is swimming too close and getting hit by their powerful tails.

Whale SharkWe were ready to go. Our first attempt didn’t go very well, as the whale shark quickly swam away from us. The second was a little better for me, as I decided to kick a little harder to keep up with the shark, in an attempt to take a few underwater shots. And, although most people are only guaranteed 2 attempts, we were lucky enough to go a third time. It was amazing. The whale shark slowly and gracefully raised and lowered its body, instead of swimming quickly away. This allowed us to swim along side the whale shark for close to 10 minutes. It was an amazing experience to be so close to such a large animal in it’s natural environment. I wonder if the whale shark even knew we were there, or whether it had just eaten too much to really care.

Back on board, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to Isla Holbox. As an unexpected bonus, halfway back to shore, we found ourselves surrounded by a group of 10-15 playful dolphins. They seemed to be in a hurry… maybe they headed out for their turn to swim with the sharks. :)

John Relaxing at Casa IguanaAs the day winded down, we bought some cold beers and sat on our terrace overlooking the beach and the water. The spectacle that we saw was kind of surreal. People were cruising the beach in their golf carts, ATVs and motorcycles. Upon closer inspection, we realized that many of the motorcycle riders were approximately 7 years old. We even saw a 4 or 5 year old racing around on a gas powered mini ATV. I joked with Libby that Isla Holbox must be the training ground for Mexican drivers. They give their kids some type of unsafe vehicle and unleash them on the beach… if they survive for a year, they get their license. Aha! One mystery solved.

All in all, it was a fun adventure and a great way to spend my birthday.

Hasta luego!

Photos from our trip

Wikipedia Page on Whale Sharks

Book your tours here:
What Shark Adventure VIP
Travel RM

Rivieria Maya31 May 2006 01:42 pm
Posted By: John & Libby

John, Remon, and Andy

Our friends Heather and Andy from Downers Grove were in town this past week. Although the weather was rainy and uncomfortably humid, we hopefully managed to keep them entertained.

Early on in their visit, Andy mentioned a recent fishing trip he had been on. John wanted to try out sport fishing, and Andy was game, so they planned a trip for early the next day. With the help of their guides Remon and Francisco, they managed to bring in 3 Mahi Mahi (dorado) – two weighing about 15 pounds and the other about 25 pounds. John spent an hour and 20 minutes pulling the big guy in — his hands we so tired and shaky that he had to ask Andy to open his celebratory beer for him.

John and Andy gave two of the fish to Remon and Francisco and kept the other for dinner. They took their catch to a restaurant on the beach called La Tarraya and asked them to prepare a nice feast for the 4 of us and our local friends, Heather, Michael, Steve and Sara. The restaurant did an amazing job grilling the fish and serving it in a garlic butter sauce. Everyone ate more than they needed and we still had some leftovers.

Later in the week, the four of us were down in Tulum so Heather and Andy could see the ruins. While we were there, we thought we’d check out the Gran Cenote (Admission was 80 pesos/person). The cenote was smaller than those at Hidden Worlds, but amazing nonetheless. We definitely recommend a visit.

Our latest visitors have now departed, and although we’d like some time to unwind from 3 sets of guests in 2 weeks, we need to start searching for a new apartment. Yes, our plan was only for a 6 month stay here in Mexico, but we like it so much that we’re going to try and stay just a little bit longer. More on that in the coming weeks.

Rivieria Maya29 May 2006 01:13 pm
Posted By: John & Libby

We are playing tourist guide this month. Two days after John’s parents left, our friends Mahesh and Nikki, arrived for their third trip down here. Apparently, we guided these tourists a little too well on their first trip. We can’t keep them away now. It’s an affliction that affects many visitors to Playa del Carmen. Can’t Stay Away from Playaitis.

Before they even saw the beach on their first trip, they were enamored with our neighborhood (which reminded them of Mahesh’s birth country of India), tacos al pastor and our bath towels. Yes, I said bath towels.

“Where did you get these bath towels?”

“Um, Sam’s Club.”

“These are awesome. We can’t find towels like this in Chicago.”


So, on this latest trip, we made a little exchange. Six brand-new super white bath towels from Playa del Carmen’s Sam’s Club for 4 shakers of popcorn salt. Well, there was some cash involved too. Towels aren’t THAT cheap in Mexico!

After we made the exchange, we did some more normal tourist things. Nikki, Mahesh and John went scuba diving in Akumal. Libby went snorkeling. Nikki, Mahesh and John saw about 5 turtles and a lobster along with the usual coral and myriad of fish. Libby saw 5 turtles, 2 stingrays, and 1 spotted eagle ray. Hmmm … considering Libby didn’t pay a cent for snorkeling, she made out.

Dark Beach

The next day was to be a beach day. However, mother nature decided to finally provide us with a much needed downpour. It had been over a month since the last rain. The drought combined with dead vegetation downed by last year’s hurricanes resulted in wildfires all over the Yucatan peninsula. Although we were unaffected in Playa del Carmen, areas of Cancun and Mérida, were polluted with smoke and ashes.

Tourists were understandably dismayed by the cloudy and rainy weather, but locals welcomed it. Our group made the best of it. We parked ourselves on beach loungers under palapas (for a fee) and drank the day away. It would rain off and on. Libby discovered that if you are in the ocean when it starts raining, you don’t get any wetter. Funny how that works.

Libby’s Snorkeling Pictures

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