Monday, July 26, 2010

The magic of Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos is a friendly, laid-back fishing village located only 35km from Cancun. The bohemian, tranquil atmosphere attracts people from all over the world, many of whom have chosen to make it their home. You will be seduced but its natural beauty and charm which transport you a million miles away from the glitz and glamour of Cancun.

The restaurants in Puerto Morelos are a real delight. During the day you can savour freshly caught fish and seafood at one of the many beachfront restaurants – a treat not to be missed.

In the evening you have a choice of many restaurants, cafes and diners dotted around the town square or within a short walk from there. Take your pick – Thai, Italian, Mexican – just take a seat and soak up the friendly laid back atmosphere

There is no shortage of things to do in Puerto Morelos. The coast is part of the National Marine Park making it ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling. If fishing is your passion then this is the place for you – you will be sure of a prize catch!

Adventure lovers need look no further with an abundance of ecotourism excursions where you can book tours to go on quadbikes or mountain bikes and zipline through the jungle, explore the cenotes and get to know the local wildlife. You will be guaranteed an action packed day!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The soccer super star Lionel Messi chooses the Riviera Maya to rest for a few days.

Next week he comes back to Barcelona for the next Spain Championship.

The Argentine celebrity and his girlfriend Antonella Rocuzzo arrived last Monday to this paradaise destination.

Messi did not talked much about his staying in Mexico. “I just want to enjoy my vacation, the World Cup is past. I’m focused now in some personal projects and the next Championship in Spain”.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Just Back: Riviera Maya / New York Post


July, 2010 Laurie Heifetz / New York Post

Stunning flora. Sanctuaries of pink flamingos and crocodiles strolling about in their natural setting. There's nothing quite like the Mayan jungles of Mexico. Sitting right in the middle of it is the Grand Mayan, a deluxe hotel on the Yucatan peninsula along the country's east coast.

You're probably more familiar with Cancun, just to the north, but traveling 20 minutes down the coast from its busy airport is worth the car rental. At the Grand Mayan resort, vacationers enjoy high-end dining such as Gong restaurant, which serves up langostino tail cooked over volcanic stone at your table. Sushi, too. Or the Tramonto, a combination Italian restaurant and American steakhouse, where diners can enjoy Chateaubriand and pasta specialties. Service was impeccable, even more so than the usual friendliness for which Mexicans are famous.

The Ocean Breeze Hotel, just a short, shuttle-bus ride away, is also one of the properties owned and operated by Grupo Vidanta. Chef Alejandro prepared delicious chicken fajitas for us poolside at the cafe, La Terraza. The pretty, 98-room boutique hotel, popular with honeymooners and others seeking quiet, opened in March.

Pink flamingos peered closely at tourists visiting Xcaret (pronounced "Eeshcaret") park, with colorful birds calling and spider monkeys moving about nearby. The animals were not in the wild, but in natural habitats without cages called sanctuarios. Some people posed for photos with red or green macaws.

The best part of going to Aktun Chen natural park was a cave, where we walked around columns and saw stalactites, stalagmites and fossilized coral and shells. And then, all of a sudden, we came upon a giant sinkhole, called a cenote, with green subterranean water.

The highlight of Alltournative's Maya Encounter was meeting with a shaman (shown above) whose role is to connect humans with divine forces. Although we didn't end up rappelling into a cenote afterwards, the Mayans believe that, because it is a sacred place, people must first ask permission of their gods in order to enter. The personable shaman performed a ceremony getting us in touch with the four elements (or gods) in the Mayan religion: earth, water, air and fire. He told us that his religion is Mother Nature.

Earlier in the day at Coba, an archaeological site, we climbed some of the 120 steps of the Nohoch Muul temple, the tallest pyramid in the state.

On another day, we swam with the dolphins and played with the manatees at Dolphin Discovery, a place of aquatic adventure. The highlights were the "dorsal tow," holding onto the fins of two dolphins while swimming. Then there was the "foot-push" -- when I held my arms up high in the air, the dolphins conveyed me across the water as they applied pressure to the bottom of my feet.

We later traveled to the breathtaking Xpu-Ha Beach (pronounced "Sh-pu-hah"). Located on a bay, its clear, turquoise water made it seem as if you were in a tranquil pool, with sparkling, white sand under your feet. I swam laps until the blue sky became gray, threatening rain. My companion and I ducked into the Al Cielo beach restaurant, which translates as "to the sky," where we witnessed a small twister on the horizon for a few minutes. That didn’t scare us away from the mouth-watering New Zealand lamb chops and a beautifully-presented salad.

This setting, the site of the famous Corona beer commercials, was just about as opposite from crowded Manhattan as a place can be.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

For the kids

When it comes to entertaining your child, sometimes simplicity is what works best.

Whether you've brought your little one with you or he or she is waiting for you back home, why not get him a souvenir? But make it a souvenir he can enjoy, a toy. Often, the most classical and simplest are the favorites and most enjoyable and that certainly holds true in the case of the colorful Mexican toys.

The most famous are, perhaps, the maracas. Maracas are a musical instrument made of wood, but toy maracas are often made from "jicara," an empty plant shell, filled with pumpkin seeds.

Also widely available and just as cheap are toy drums. By alternately spinning it by the handle, the tied pieces of wood will beat the drum, which thankfully is not too loud.

With a higher degree of difficulty are the "balero," where the object is to fit the heavy wooden head on a small handle by tossing it in the are, a feat that takes long practice, and the pirinola, a wooden spinning top that comes with its own launching handle.

Beyond these options, you can also get them a non-traditional, but still unmistakably Mexican toy offered by many stores. One interesting example are especially made puzzles with tropical motifs and colorful animals. There are many innovative companies offering varied products.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Educational options for foreign children in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.

By Sara Moen / Playa Maya News


One of the most frequent e-mails we receive are from families from all parts of the globe who are looking to relocate to Playa del Carmen, or other parts of the Riviera Maya, with their children. Of course prior to making the move they want to research educational options in our area. As a former teacher who has taught both in the United States, as well as here in Playa del Carmen, I thought I would give you all an updated list of options and local area schools.

First and foremost the majority of schools in Mexico are private with a handful of public schools that are also available. From my experience, the public schools tend to be over crowded, and in general do not have a true bi-lingual program so I have only included private schools in this directory. All schools, both public and private, require uniforms, registration (inscription) and book fees, and the parents and families of the student are required to supply all school materials i.e. glue, pencils, paper etc. The average monthly tuition usually runs about $310.00 USD for smaller children, but increases as the child goes into higher grades.

An inscription, or registration fee, is a non-refundable annual fee that is more or less equivalent to a month’s tuition. This fee is collected at the time of registration to ensure your child will have a reserved spot in a classroom. Registration can start as early as March for the following school year, and it is best to register as early as possible to guarantee space, and classroom placement.

In order for a school to be accredited they must be licensed through SEP, Secretaria Educacion Publica, and follow their curriculum. Almost all of the schools follow the holiday and school year calendar of SEP as well so click here for the school calendar. If you are going to come to the area for either one full school year, or less, make sure you bring your child to a SEP certified program so they will be able to receive proper accreditation at your school of origin. In addition there is the Secretaria de Educacion y Cultura which is the Secretary of Education and Culture of the State of Quintana Roo which has further information on our state's educational system.

Schools in Mexico are very different from what I was used to in the United States. They tend to be more strict then US based programs, and often give very heavy workloads to children from kindergarten on up through high school. Due to the fact that Playa del Carmen is an international destination, and has a varied community there are new programs coming into our community that are a bit less traditional then the “old school” style of teaching. When I was a child I would have thrived in any school atmosphere, public, private, old school, or not, but my sister was the exact opposite, she was not a “traditional” student and did better in art based programs. Either way you are the parent and know what is best for your individual child. So all this in mind I have compiled a list of schools in the area with a bit of information on each one. When available I have included web addresses, and phone numbers.

Ak Lu’um International School Community

Waldorf based education and SEP certified. Currently only up to Grade 2, and is the only non-profit school in the area. Student body is made up of both a foreign and national population. Opened in fall of 2006 in a private residence located in the Campestre just south of Playa del Carmen. With a recent land purchase a new facility is in the works for since 2007 school year. Co-founder/teacher Siobhan Bowers is a former teacher from Papalote. Look for this program to develop into something amazing.

Colegio Ingles

SEP certified preschool through high school. Has large foreign student population, fairly traditional curriculum, and it has a very impressive campus and grounds boasting a large pool, soccer field, and large outdoor auditorium.

Colegio Mayaland

SEP certified daycare, preschool through junior high/middle school. The campus looks impressive with soccer fields, a swimming pool, baseball diamond, library, and cafeteria. With such an impressive campus it will be interesting to see what type of curriculum they develop.

Colegio Puerto Aventuras

SEP certified preschool through high school. Large foreign population, perfect for Puerto Aventuras residence, but a bit of a commute for Playa del Carmen families.

Manuel Acosta

SEP certified preschool through junior high/middle school. Largely a Mexican student body. I have heard mixed reviews from parents in regards to teaching style. It is a very traditional private Mexican school. Facilities include large pool, and extensive after school activities such as: dance, karate, theater, and soccer. Conveniently located in Playacar.

Yits’Atil

SEP certified preschool through high school. Traditional private Mexican school with a mixed student body of foreign and national students. Daycare also available for young children 1 to 2 years old.

* Please note that all of the above schools located in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya are advertised as being bi-lingual. Keep in mind that some have stronger English programs then others so it is up to individual families to determine which fit is best for their child.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How Safe is Mexico?


By Ann Johnson  / Aoltravel.com

Drug-related violence in cities south of the United States-Mexico border has caused the U.S. State Department to issue a travel warning for Mexico -- but did you know most of Mexico is as safe as ever? Our government is actually advising against visiting very specific places where drug cartels are warring over the billions of dollars made yearly trading illegal substances into the United States, and the efforts by the Mexican government to put an end to the drug traffic. Unfortunately, after hearing "warning" and "Mexico," many Americans perceive the advisory for the country as a whole, which it definitely is not.

There are, of course, caveats about travel in Mexico, just as there are for visits to any foreign city or resort area, but many of these fall under the realm of common sense: Don't stray from the well-known tourist areas, stay alert and don't drink too much, avoid walking alone at night, only take public transportation or drive on the highways during daylight, don't deck yourself out in expensive jewelry and avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Before traveling to Mexico, make sure your cell phone works on GSM or 3G international networks, and memorize the Mexican version of our 911, which is 066.

"The news media prefer to report horrible events rather than address the reality; Mexico is, in general, a very safe country -- with the notable and news-making exception of Juarez and other border towns -- and has far less violent crime than any large U.S. city," says Barbara Erickson, one of more than a million Americans who lives safely in Mexico.

According to Erickson, a San Miguel de Allende resident, "one would have a greater chance of being hit by lightning than being shot or kidnapped by a drug load's gang."

Another plus to our relations with those living south of the border is American companies successfully conduct business in Mexico. "I have clients traveling to Mexico regularly to film and to do photo productions and we have never had any problems," says Clare Beresford of World Locations in Hollywood, a company that scouts locations for movies, commercials and photo shoots." World Locations has sent people to Mexico City, Merida, Zihuatenejo, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta and Careyes, among many destinations.

Tourism from North America is a significant part of Mexico's economy. In 2008, foreign visitors (22.6 million of them, 80 percent of whom were from the U.S.) spent $13.3 billion in Mexico, making up 13.8 percent of the country's GDP.

But in 2009, Mexican tourism was hammered by the U.S. recession and the swine flu epidemic. Cruise ships briefly canceled trips to the country, and many restaurants and archaeological sites were briefly closed. The revenue from foreign tourism dropped 15 percent to 11.3 billion. This year, tourism is expected to rebound. But 2010 could be another bad year if fear keeps U.S. citizens away.

We've drawn up a list of Mexico's most popular tourist destinations and rated them one to five, one being the highest cause for concern, and five being the safest.

THE RIVIERA MAYA, COZUMEL AND CANCUN

Cancun is one of Mexico's most popular beach resorts, which average around four million American visitors per year. Last year a retired Mexican general investigating corruption was assassinated by drug traffickers, but that's been an isolated event. Over-consumption of alcohol by younger tourists is a problem, and there have been rapes. But on the whole, Cancun is extremely safe. "The leading cause of foreign tourist deaths in Cancun is heart attacks, car accidents and accidental drowning," says Canadian writer Marlo-Renay Heresco, a Cancun resident who blogs about her life in Mexico on her website, atravelartist.com. "The key to success when traveling or living abroad is exercising common sense." The Riviera Maya (the Yucatan coast stretching south from Cancun) has little to fear beyond sunburn. The island of Cozumel off the Riviera Maya is a popular, very safe destination for cruise ships, where problems are the occasional purse-snatching or picked pocket.

Although many people visit Chichen Itza on day-trips from Cancun, Merida is the gateway to comprehensive exploration of Uxmal and other significant Mayan ruins scattered across the state of Yucatan. Merida is a quiet, charming city, and the main ruins have well-organized tours and visitor's centers, as well as guards. In addition to hotels in Merida, the Yucatan has a number of colonial-era haciendas that have been converted into small resorts. Mayan villagers are welcoming. Here again, it's not a good idea to drive on unlighted roads at night, but central Merida's busy colonial-era streets are safe to stroll at night. "Mexico is a large country... deciding not to travel "to Mexico" because of violence is like saying you won't go to New York because of a murder in Denver," says Merida resident Ellen Fields. "Yes, there are places in Mexico where violence is on the rise. Where I live, Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula, and the nearby Mayan Riviera, has not seen this violence and is a very safe place to visit or to live."

Place Fear Factor

Riviera Maya, Cancun and Cozumel 5
Merida and Mayan Ruins in Yucat√°n 5
Los Cabos 5
Puerto Vallarta 5
Ixtapa – Zihuatanejo 5
Oaxaca 5
San Miguel de Allende 5
Mexico City 4.7
Guadalajara 4.7
Acapulco 4.5
Border Cities 1

The Most Dangerous Places In Mexico

Despite the increase in drug-related violence, a closer look at Mexico shows that the country is actually safer than what headlines suggest. As a whole, Mexico's murder rate is surprisingly low: 12 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. When compared to Washington, D.C.'s 31 people per 100,000 inhabitants and New Orleans 64, the numbers aren't cause for concern if you know where to avoid.

According to the State Department's warning, these are the places you should take extra caution: Ciudad Juarez, Gomez Palacio, Durango, Torreon, Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Northern Baja California, Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Monterrey.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Playa Clubbing


If you are looking to party, Playa del Carmen is a great place to go. The 5th avenue "strip" is alive at night and clubs and bars are dotted all along this strip. There is a bar that caters to every taste here so we don't particularly recommend any single club cafe or bar. It does not take long to walk up and down fifth and the many side streets so you can cover a lot of distance in an afternoon doing recognizance, picking the place you would like to visit at night.

You can also easily walk from club to club in the course of a night starting at one end of 5th avenue and ending up at the other end. If you are staying a week that is more than ample time to check out every bar in Playa if you so desire.

Drinking on the street is prohibited, however the police will not harass you if you are under control. You can sit on the curb and drink a beer, casually walk around and most convenient stores sell beer.

Dress for clubs is anything from casual to full-tilt.

Coco Bongo
The main headquarters for entertainment. This large high-level club is the place to go for big shows, non stop drinks and of course, a good dose of fun. Just like Cancun's Coco Bongo, it features a variety of acrobatic and entertainment shows that will amaze clubgoers.

La Santanera
Catch a slice of modern Mexican urban scene. Themed around wrestling and subculture, this club has some of the hottest dj's and a great terrace environment. Enjoy the low fi ambience and laid back atmosphere.

Dubai
Recently renovated and rebranded, the Dubai Club (formerly Bali) has one of the best sound and lighting system, as well as a bunch of crazy effects and a wild atmosphere.

Blue Parrot
This longtime favorite is still one of the most fun spots in the Playa scene. Located right on the beach, the place is sure to provide one of the most unforgettable experiences during your stay.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ancient traditions come alive at Xcaret

One of Xcaret's objectives is to disseminate the culture heritage of the Mexican people and the Mayan culture. At sunset, the Park is transformed with wonderful shows, including the pre-Hispanic ball game announced by the tankules (wooden drums) that resound through the afternoon silence.

Originating more than 3,500 years ago, the ball game was a political/religious activity widely played throughout Mesoamerica facing captured nobles against their conquerors. In this ritual game, considered a cosmic metaphor, the ball simulated the trajectory of the stars, and the players determined their path through the firmament. During the conquest, the Spanish forbade the game and nearly succeeded in eradicating it. However, it survived in some regions of Mexico under the name of Ulama.

Today, Xcaret presents a demonstration of this ancient game. The ball court new recreates the architectural style of Copan (in Honduras). The heavy rubber ball (weighing some 8.5 pounds) rolls and bounces against the sloped side walls. The objective is to pass the ball through the stone rings embedded high up on these walls, using only the hips.

Through this presentation, Xcaret has rescued and disseminated a millenary tradition. What was once only imagined from the archaeological remains of ball courts throughout Mesoamerica has come spectacularly to life at Xcaret.