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Holbox Dream Hotel

We recently spent a few nights at one of the newest hotels on the sleepy island of Holbox, off the north coast of the Yucatan More »

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Why We Love Cozumel

After four years of living on the island of Cozumel, and working in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico, we’ve finally made a firm decision: More »

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Best Places to Eat & Sleep on the Riviera Maya

It’s time for an update on new finds and old favorites for the best places to eat and sleep on the Riviera Maya. Don’t miss More »

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Al Cielo Boutique Hotel | Playa del Carmen

One of our favorite beach hotels is a small, intimate place called Al Cielo, south of Playa del Carmen along a beautiful bay called, Xpu-ha More »

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Hartwood in Tulum

On a recent trip to Tulum we celebrated Jennifer’s birthday at one of the most popular restaurants in the area, Hartwood. Traveling for M&J Photography, More »

The Three Most Charming Caribbean Casinos | These casinos more than just hold a candle to Las Vegas

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It’s true that many places become known for one key feature over another, and for the Caribbean and Latin America, this is often the beautiful beaches and equally beautiful people that can be found in the region. It’s scarcely known as a place to gamble, as this title has been held by Las Vegas – none other than Sin City itself – since time immemorial. This is, however, set to change, as casinos open in the region that rival even those found in Las Vegas or Macau.

Although admittedly much of the gambling market had been centered in the US and Europe, market changes have prompted casino developers to begin expanding into new regions. Beginning with the launch of Intercasino in 1996, online gaming has been creeping into the territory of land-based casinos, with much success. Because of this, casino operators have begun launching sites in the Asia-Pacific, as well as the Caribbean. While Asia has Macau, the gambling capital of the Caribbean is undoubtedly Puerto Rico, which houses some of the region’s best casinos.

If you’d like to explore the casinos that the Caribbean has to offer, you could choose to start with…

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1. Atlantis Casino in the Bahamas
It’s widely regarded as having set the standard for casinos in the region, but the Atlantis Casino is also the largest in the Caribbean. Brilliant glass sculptures make this casino a wonderful sight, but those who wish to play will also not be disappointed by the state-of-the-art technology being used within the casino. The casino also offers daily gaming lessons for those who want to get better at gambling.

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2. Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, appearing in several countries and becoming synonymous with a good time. Hard Rock Punta Cana prides itself in being “an all-inclusive experience”, bringing luxury to the table with beautiful amenities and nightly cash poker games.

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3. El San Juan Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, all the casinos are integrated into hotels, but the El San Juan Hotel & Casino is a cut above the rest. Managed by the Hilton hotel group, you can bet that the El San Juan knows what luxury is, and guests of the hotel are often A-listers coming to have a good time. It has 13,000 feet of gaming space with over 300 slot machines too.

Holbox Dream Hotel

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We recently spent a few nights at one of the newest hotels on the sleepy island of Holbox, off the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Holbox Dream is a project by successful Playa del Carmen-based hotel group, Xperience Hotels. Their comfortable properties in Playa include Hacienda Paradise, Aqua Luna and Illusions Boutique Hotel.

The Holbox property involved a complete remodel of existing rooms, and the addition of a restaurant, pool and new rooms. The two-story units are on the beach and feature a great Italian restaurant, two pools, hammocks or chairs on each balcony, bicycles to rent and a friendly, accommodating staff. Another big plus is that it’s pet friendly.

Rather than carry on about it, check out the photos and see for yourself.

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Shells used for faucets and natural soaps and shampoos in all of the bathrooms.

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The rooms are stylish and comfortable.

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Mumbai, India

Jennifer and I are working on a project in India for a couple of weeks. While we are not able to share the details of that project due to contractual restraints, we can share some of our photos with you that are not related to the project.

It has been 26 years since my first visit to India, when I traveled through the north and visited Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Ranthambhor National Park (tigers) and Varanasi. Jennifer visited for the first time in 2008 working on a book project with Brooks Institute.

Mumbai is a large city (16 million or more), that sprawls from the shores of the Arabian Sea inland to the Ghat Mountains. It has everything that you would expect of a mega-city in a country that is experiencing upward mobility. Rather than blather on with facts and figures, we’ll share some images from our first week here in the downtown area of Colaba and Fort.

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Area where the city’s hotels and hospitals send their sheets for washing.

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Chicken berry pulao at the Iranian restaurant Britannia & Co. Founded in 1923

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Son of the Britannia & Co’s founder, still working the floor at 92.

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Boss of Britannia & Co likes to nap near the cashier.

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Chhatrapati Shivaji Station is the main RR station built by the British in the 1880s.

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Breakfast along the street outside the train station.

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Normal morning street scene near the train station.

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Gateway of India was built along the harbor and was the embarkation point for transatlantic ships. Now it’s a local spot.

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Locals and tourists gather in the area all day, but especially at sunset.

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Inside the Taj Mahal Palace, one of the most exclusive hotels in Mumbai.

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Carriage rides near the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace.

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Roasting corn on the street.

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Jennifer loves the mehndi and the Indian salwar kameez.

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The Gateway of India with the evening lights playing off of the facade.

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View of the Worli neighborhood from the 38th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel.

Why We Love Cozumel

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After four years of living on the island of Cozumel, and working in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico, we’ve finally made a firm decision: We love Cozumel and we don’t intend to move!

Sure, Playa del Carmen entices us with great restaurants, and Tulum intrigues us with it’s hip vibe and more great restaurants, and Isla Mujeres tempts us with small town charm. But, we have decided to put away those temptations. Here is why.

Everyone has their own reasons about why they choose to live where they do. We live here because of the water: the access to it, the quality of it and the variety of it. While those other towns are on the water, or are surrounded by it, none of them can offer the experience of Cozumel.

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Nobody has the quality of snorkeling and diving on reefs that we have here. The visibility and health of the mainland reef system simply does not compare to our reefs on the west side of the island (and many Playa del Carmen dive masters will privately agree). Reefs on the mainland that are close to shore such as Xpu-ha and Akumal are murky with little to see. They may have been good before Wilma and other hurricanes, but no longer.

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On Cozumel, there are several spots on the west and south side of the island for good snorkeling, boat dives, shore dives and just plain swimming. Check out this video recently shot during a shore dive from one of the best dive resorts on the island, Blue Angel. We didn’t travel much more than 100 yards from the resort, we were diving in less than 30 feet of water and saw spotted eagle rays, tons of lobster, eels, and more.

 

Secondly, the incredible east side of the island, virtually undeveloped, has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in Mexico. With no large resorts to block access, the rugged coastline is dotted with stretches of sand, perfect for a relaxing afternoon, swimming in the surf, or kite boarding. Even on a busy Sunday, there is usually only one spot in the entire 12 mile stretch of beach (accessible by paved road) that is crowded. Try to find that on the mainland. Another 12-15 miles of the coastline is only accessible by 4-wheel drive for those who really want to get away.

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I’m not sure when you last went to the beach along the Riviera Maya, or in the U.S., for that matter, but unspoiled, public accessible, white sand beaches with warm Caribbean water are in short supply.

The best part of living on an island is designing your day on the water based on your activity for the day. Is the wind blowing hard from the east? No problem, the ocean on the west side will be nice and calm. Got a norte blowing and the west side is choppy? We go to Punta Sur and enjoy a nice long white sandy beach and a terrific snorkeling reef. Sitting on the mainland with a strong wind blowing from the east or north? Sorry, you’ve got nowhere to hide.

Sure, we have good restaurants, especially those with sunset views, something you won’t get on the mainland.

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We have one of the oldest and most popular Carneval parades in Mexico. In the days before Lent, the island reaches a fever pitch with days of parades with creative floats, dance competitions, performances by Mexico’s top entertainers – and it’s a local celebration. Visitors are welcome to join in and have fun, but it’s definitely not put on for tourists.

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I could go on with other small things that make living here comfortable and interesting, but, for us, it’s the water, the Caribbean and the beaches. If those things matter to you, I can’t imagine why anyone would vacation, get married, or even live on the mainland.

We won’t!

Best Places to Eat & Sleep on the Riviera Maya

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It’s time for an update on new finds and old favorites for the best places to eat and sleep on the Riviera Maya. Don’t miss the earlier report on Al Cielo, this place is a hidden gem.

Some of our recent favorites in Playa del Carmen include:

We discovered Cafe-Antoinette which has great baguettes, croissants and pain du chocolate. They are located on the pedestrian street that leads to the passenger ferry to Cozumel. Walking toward the ferry, they are on the left, just before the ferry ticket booths.

El Muelle is a fantastic seafood place on Quinta (5th Avenue) and Calle 32. We loved the red tuna carpaccio with arugula, the ceviche and the free white bean appetizer brought to the table. This is our “must visit” spot when we are in Playa del Carmen. Thanks to Giuseppe, the general manager at Xperience Hotels who told us about this spot. We usually stay at their very comfortable hotel, Hacienda Paradise, when we work in the Playa del Carmen area.

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A block south on Quinta the restaurant opened by the celebrated Mexico City chef, Enrique Olvera, Maíz de Mar. We thought it was good, but not as good as we expected, especially considering the chef’s reputation. The prices at Maíz de Mar are a little more than El Muelle, but the grouper appetizer (shown below) was amazing and all of the corn based products (chips, tostadas, etc.) were the best we have ever eaten. This places takes great pride in their masa and what it produces. We liked the chiles en nogada with seafood.

Tiritas de pescado con naranja y sal de gusano.  [ Sliced fish, orange and worm salt ]

Tiritas de pescado con naranja y sal de gusano.
[ Sliced fish, orange and worm salt ]

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Another discovery, Oh Lala, is a little harder to find, but worth the hunt. On Calle 14 bis between 10th Av and 15th Av is a bright room with cool artwork, great food and service. We were in a meat and red wine mood and the hard-to-find lamb chops were outstanding, as was the filet mignon. We enjoyed the mussels and the caprese salad, too. Reservations are recommended.

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Further south in Akumal, we returned to Vista del Mar on Half Moon Bay. Reasonable prices (which change by the season), for an ocean-front room with balcony and refrigerator. Turtle Bay Cafe is good for breakfast, especially if you arrive when the baked goods are fresh out of the oven. Killer mango coffee cake and sticky buns. Good coffee and eggs benedict, too.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

North to Puerto Morelos and our favorite breakfast spot is El Nicho, right on the town plaza. Terrific coffee (very important), a variety of good egg dishes (including four styles of eggs benedict) and house-made granola.

Thanks for stopping by and reading about some of our favorite spots. The next post is our love letter to Cozumel, or why you should visit here instead of Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

Al Cielo Boutique Hotel | Playa del Carmen

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One of our favorite beach hotels is a small, intimate place called Al Cielo, south of Playa del Carmen along a beautiful bay called, Xpu-ha (a Mayan word pronounced ish – poo ha).

They have wonderful rooms, a great restaurant and one of the finest beaches along the Riviera Maya. Style, service and quality are the main themes at Al Cielo. The restaurant specializes in seafood with great takes on tuna ceviche, shrimp and local fish.

It’s a smaller resort, so no pool, no water aerobics, or disco nights. In other words, it’s the perfect place to relax, read, eat well, walk on the beach and swim in the ocean.

What more could you want? Enjoy the photos.

 

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