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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 »

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Great Stops near Mexico City

Driving through Mexico this summer took us to an old favorite in the state of Veracruz, Fortin de las Flores and the wonderful Hotel Posada More »

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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Hartwood in Tulum

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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, means we get to take advantage of local restaurants. Usually, we try something we can’t get at home. Hartwood is no exception. Pretty safe to say there is no place like it on Cozumel.mandjfoto.02

We had tried to visit a year earlier with our friends, Pawel and Emily, but we were there on a night when they were closed. We also had heard about how popular the restaurant had become and followed the advice of getting there before opening at 6:00 to snag a table. At 5:50 there was a line of about 14 people for the 20 – 30 seat restaurant.

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Chef Eric Werner and his wife opened this very cool space a couple of years ago after paying dues in NYC restaurants. Like many hotels and restaurants along this stretch of Tulum’s beach road, the only source of electricity is solar, all of the cooking is done over a wood-fired grill or in a wood-burning oven. The seafood, meat and produce are all sourced locally. Consequently, the menu changes daily.

The food was terrific. We had a whole roasted hogfish (boquinete) stuffed with spinach and roasted radishes, a grouper filet with jalapeños, lime and white beans and a side dish of roasted beets with an avocado sauce. If there had been a chocolate item for dessert, Jennifer would have ordered it, but we passed on the different flavored ice creams.

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The young couple from Mexico City at the table next to us ordered the ribs which they raved about. The grilled meats looked pretty darn good, too. The low lighting and the open air dining contributed to a friendly, backyard atmosphere, the service was attentive and the wine by the glass reasonable. Since it was early November and we were on the jungle side of the road, employees came by a couple of times swinginging a smoking pot on a chain (think Greek Orthodox Church) to chase off the mosquitos. An extra measure of caution, which we didn’t need (we sprayed ourselves before arriving).

It’s a bit of a splurge ($80 usd for two), but it was one of the best meals we have had in Mexico.

Returning to our room that night on the outskirts of Tulum was the beginning of a peaceful two-night stay. Posada Yum Kin is one of those places that has been added onto for the last ten years, each addition adding a little more style and class. This ten-room inn is built around trees, and features wonderful gardens, comfortable rooms, a nice pool and great breakfast.

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New Mexico & Colorado

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Both Colorado and New Mexico were once part of Mexico. The latin culture is still particularly strong in New Mexico, Southern Colorado and Denver. From the festivals, to the cuisine, to the towns with names like Salida, Buena Vista and San Luis, Colorado (spanish for red) still can feel very latino.

Jennifer and I met in the small, former silver mining town of Creede near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. We were there during the Labor Day balloon festival.

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Driving upriver, we saw where some of last summer’s wildfires scorched beetle-killed pines below the Rio Grande Reservoir. The vegetation was already starting to come back from the fire. The area above the reservoir was not touched by the fires and remains as beautiful as ever.

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In the small town of Corrales, NM we stayed in one of the original adobe homes, built near the historic Church of San Ysidro, less than a mile from the river. Both the church and the house were built around 1868, but destroyed in a massive flood of the Rio Grande that same year. The house and church were rebuilt after the flood with adobe bricks made of clay, straw and sand. The walls are three feet thick, providing stability and insulation against the elements.

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While we love our home in Mexico, we love returning to our US base in August and the fall months. To us, it’s one of the finest places in the US.

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Great Stops near Mexico City

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Driving through Mexico this summer took us to an old favorite in the state of Veracruz, Fortin de las Flores and the wonderful Hotel Posada Loma. (see October 2010 blog post). The hotel has been in the same family for more than 50 years, features incredible gardens loaded with orchids and one of the best breakfasts in the area.

We were headed back to the US to do some M & J Photo shoots and to sell our car. But, that’s another blog post.

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The short drive (about 2.5 hours) over the mountains to Puebla took us past amazingly clear views of Mexico’s tallest peak, snow-capped Pico de Orizaba (5,611m).

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Pulling into Puebla, we were treated to views of volcano Popocatépetl spewing a huge plum of ash. Neither one of us had seen a volcanic eruption like that and we were mesmerized. Even though we were 43 kilometers (28 miles) away, it looked very close and threatening.

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Walking around Puebla on a pleasant Saturday afternoon was relaxing, and we stopped for lunch at the well-known Mesón Sacristia de la Compañía. Even though it was chiles en nogada season in Mexico, I passed on that dish. Though it is the “national dish” of Mexico, I think it is over-priced ($240 pesos in a nice place) and it is definitely too rich for my taste.

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The restaurant, like the city, is known for mole. I went for the plate with four different types of mole over chicken. I loved them all: mole poblano, red and green pipian, and one made from chipotle. The eclectic hotel and courtyard is loaded with what some people call antiques and art and with what some people call “stuff”. As they say, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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The centro historico is dominated by the cathedral, just south of the zócalo. Begun in 1550, it was completed in the 1640s and features the tallest cathedral towers in Mexico (69m). The  around surrounding centro is lined with antique shops, cafes, small taverns, markets and shops selling talavera (the real stuff). Many of the buildings use the tiles as exterior accents and the effect is wonderful.

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The NH Hotel was really comfortable, with warm service and free parking. The constant car alarms in a nearby parking garage certainly wasn’t fault of the hotel, but it kept the stay from being perfect. $77 a night for a city hotel with parking is not bad.

We both look forward to our next visit to Puebla and Fortin de las Flores.