chiapas photo tour

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Category Archives: Mexico

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 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

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

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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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 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.

Diving Cozumel in the Summer

While summer on the island of Cozumel has it’s challenges (heat, rain, mosquitos, humidity), it also has several good points. Diving during the summer on Cozumel’s reefs is certainly one of the good points.

The wind tends to die down, which helps the visibility. Winter water temperatures are usually a pleasant 79 – 80 degrees F, but summer temperatures start hovering around 85, which means I’m not as likely to get as cold on the second dive and I’m not wearing two wetsuits.

Coral blooms, little fish hatch and the ocean seems to become a little more active during the summer. If you can catch a stretch of time without rain, then you’ve found the cosmic convergence of good diving conditions on Cozumel.

Here are a few photos from recent dives from the Swordfish with Aquatic Sports and from shore dives and snorkels from the Blue Angel Resort, two of our favorite Cozumel dive operations.

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Turtles seem to be solitary by nature. I have rarely seen them swimming or feeding together.

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A poaching victim?

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Shallow shore dives give you the opportunity to slow down and look for the little things. There probably isn’t anything harder to find than a seahorse, except maybe a frog fish. However, one of our dive master friends told us about a spot where she has seen one repeatedly. It took about 25 minutes of slow swimming with our noses about 12″ above the ocean floor, but we did find one that was about four inches long.

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The fish life around the sting ray enclosure next door to Blue Angel is alway active and varied. Pelicans hang around to feed regularly. One of these days I am going to hang out and try to catch them hitting the water while I am underwater. That should make a great photo.

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Summertime on Isla Mujeres

We always enjoy visiting Isla Mujeres. It is so different from Cozumel. It is small and cozy, and just seems more tranquil. There are lots of great places to eat and sleep, and several interesting beach clubs along the west side. We were there to shoot an engagement session for a lovely couple from the San Francisco area. That meant it was more work than play, but, oh what a place to work!

First, we would like to acknowledge the warm welcome we received from the owner and concierge at the very cool and stylish Casa de los Sueños, where we shot many of the photos. We are looking forward to going back and checking out the rooms, hanging in the infinity pool and laying around the wooden dock.

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We ended up staying in town at Casa el Pio, which was a stone’s throw from the small plaza and the eastern shore. Open the windows and listen to the surf break! The manager, Jill, took great care of us, and even opened up a room for our photo subjects when they arrived with a couple of changes of clothes. Unfortunately for Casa el Pio, Jill is headed to Tulum to manage Posada Yum Kin, which means we now know where we will stay in Tulum.

The shoot was made easier by Maru from Isla Mujeres Trips, who had a golf cart lined up for us outside of the normal 9 – 5 hours.

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We had decent pizza and pasta at Armandos on Hidalgo, the island’s wonderful pedestrian street, and great coffee and tasty fruit crepes at Cafe Hidalgo the next morning.

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It was hard to sit at dinner and listen to Jorge talk about the amazing whale shark trips he has been leading all summer. Lots of manta rays this year. We hope to fit in another trip before they are gone. We felt a little better about not bringing snorkeling and UW photo gear when the skies opened up and dumped a couple of inches of rain after sunset. That tends to keep the whale sharks in deep water for a day or so.

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What’s your favorite Isla spot?