playground at our residential complex

Playtime in Cancun

During our family’s one month stay in Cancun we had access to a pool, playground and mini-soccer field in the gated community.

Excavation of burial site

Moxviquil and Na Bolom

This is the story of the two hour mountain climb I dragged Carmelo on, so I could find some old ruins, and act as Indiana Jones in the process.

cancun-hotelzone-feature

Cancun – The Hotel Zone

Cancun is comprised of two parts: Zona Hotelera (The Hotel Zone) and everywhere else. The Hotel Zone continues to receive mixed reviews by those who frequent Mexico and those who only come to Cancun once. Here’s my take on The Hotel Zone for a family.

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Churches of San Cristobal De Las Casas

Churches of San Cristobal De Las Casas

23/12/2018

I haven’t been able to find out why there are so many churches in such a small area but it is one of the features of San Cristobal DLC. We have visited most of the churches in town, often by accident. They are hard to avoid since the seem to be en route to wherever you are planning to go. Unfortunately for us many of them were closed for renovations because of the earthquake last year. But they still had pretty murals on the safety walls surrounding the church.

Typical of the churches that are in use are chandeliers to light the church and fresh bouquets of flowers throughout. In any of the churches are many statues of various saints or versions of Mother Mary or Jesus. Some also have supporting characters.

Iglesia means church and templo means temple

The Cathedral of San Cristobal

This cathedral is in the centre of town and has a large square in front of it which hosts night markets. This one is famous for it’s beautiful colours and intricate designs. 

Templo De Santo Domingo and Ex-Convent

This church with it’s attached ex convent is my favourite. I’m not embarrassed to say that it’s not because of the church but because of the amazing markets right outside. These markets have hand-made authentic indigenous crafts and clothing from the surrounding areas. There was so much selection I wanted to constantly shop. Fortunately or unfortunately, luggage restrictions meant I could only be a few items.

The design on the outside is beautiful and we did have access to the inside through a side entry. Most of the interior was covered with sheets as part of it’s restoration so we only glimpsed some of the ornate designs underneath.

Templo De San Francisco 

This church is one of the few that is actively used. Many of the churches are now museums or closed for restoration due to last years earthquake.

Iglesia De Guadalupe

High on one of the hills in San Cristobal sits the Guadalupe church where pilgrims from all over Chiapas and beyond journey to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th of December. These pics were taken during the festivities. It is not usually this busy or festive looking outside of festival seasons. Along with the decorations were lots of big bangs from, I want to say fireworks, but it was more like dynamite going off. It is said to accentuate their prayers making their prayers louder.

The crucifix with Jesus on it had His loin cloth a bright orange material befitting the festive mood.

Iglesia De San Cristobal

Higher up on another hill sits the Church of San Cristobal. Because we are 2200 metres above sea level the climb up these stairs made me a breathless sooner than I expected. There were murals all along the walls as we walked up the stairs.

It was a cool crisp December air up on top of the hill and a panoramic view of town and inside the church the sacristy is hidden by Christmas decorations. On the left a makeshift waterfall leads to the baptismal font.  

Other churches we came across

On the left is Templo De San Augustin on Calle Insurgentes, close to the artisan markets, out of action due to restoration.  

In the middle is Templo De Santa Lucia, very close to Templo De San Augustin and also on Insurgentes. It was out of action due to a restoration project, as with most of the churches in the city. However, this one had a side room open where parishioners could still celebrate mass as well as other church functions.

On the perimeter of the city, where the historical city ends, is the Iglesia De San Diego. The flags are put up during a festive season such as Christmas.

 

Horse riding

Grutas de Rancho Nuevo

Grutas de Rancho Nuevo

23/12/2018

We did not book enough time at this place. There are caves to explore, horses to ride, different foods to try, a market with indigenous goods for souvenir shopping and best of all a playground with a massive slide designed for adults. Skip to the end for the summary if you don’t have time to read this.

Nuevo Rancho

This ecotourist park is run by a community organisation known as an ejidal. Ejidals are based on the Aztec Calpulli organisation which are small organisational communities that control the land and are collectively responsible for the area. It costs 10 pesos per person over six to enter.

The park itself is a pine forest and is a great place for a picnic and has lots of barbecue sites. We saw many families parked next to a bbq having lunch. Some had even put up a hammock to laze on.

The ranch has quite a few horses so we didn’t have to wait long for two to become available. Ajay and Giselle went for a half hour ride through the pine forest. I don’t remember how much they paid per person but it was not costly at all.

Carmelo and I took Kenzo to the playground to have a play while Lui slept snugly in my arms. 

But the colours of the market place distracted me and we found ourselves browsing local souvenirs. Carmelo picked up obsidian magnets. Obsidian is one of the locally mined stones in Chiapas.

Once Giselle and Ajay and finished we went to the food hall to eat. It had lots of food options to suit American and Mexican tastes.

After we ate, we tried out the concrete slides. There were two sets, one for children and one for adults. In the photo you can see me sliding down the adult set of slides holding Kenzo.  I’m sitting on a flattened coke bottle to make the ride sliperrier. This slide was such a bonus. You can also see the slide behind Kenzo on the green posts.

The Caves

The caves are a 20 peso entry fee for over five year olds. It has a proper pathway to journey deep down into it. There are stunning stalactites and stalagmites to view some of which are still growing as water seeps in from above.

Once you reach the end of the cave there is an option to venture deeper down for 30 pesos per person. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to check this out but apparently you can see crystals in there.

Makeshift Church

What was amazing was the church that was setup for the most celebrated feast day in Mexico, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

This church was decorated as per local indigenous traditions for sacred ceremonies. There were pineneedles on the ground fresh from the pine trees surrounding the area. There were pineapples, banana bunches and other fruits hanging around the edge of the tent. There were Mexican coloured decorations inside. And there were lots and lots of flowers everywhere as well as many images of Mary.

Since it was the 12th of December we had the opportunity of seeing pilgrims arrive here on their journey to San Cristobal, some on foot, many on motorbikes and still more on buses.

Getting There

This place is 12km from the city and is accessible from highway 190 the same highway that leads to Comitan.

There are colectivos that go past Nuevo Rancho but we honestly couldn’t be bothered with them. We would have had to catch a taxi to the main highway and then catch the colectivo. Then once we got out of the colectivo we would have had to walk about twenty minutes to reach the ranch. Instead we took a taxi for 150 pesos which took us all the way to the main attraction.

I didn’t see any taxis waiting there so perhaps you can call for one but we organised the same taxi to pick us up a few hours later. Unfortunately he couldn’t enter the park to pick us up so he waited at the gate which was a ten minute walk for us once we had finished up.

I highly recommend allocating three to four hours here. We booked two and a half hours and found it was not enough. And definitely try the concrete slide!

Summary

-150 pesos by taxi from Centro to get here however there is the option of a colectivo

– 10 pesos to enter the park per person over five years old

– 20 pesos per person to enter the caves and 30 pesos to see the crystals deeper down

– Horse riding for all levels is available taking you through the pine forest

– A playground for little ones and big slides for adults is an added bonus

– A food hall to suit all aged children and the parents

– Markets to browse and find some warm clothing or souvenirs

– Book a taxi to pick you up at the end because there were no taxis waiting around to take you back

Canon Del Sumidero

Canon Del Sumidero

Canon Del Sumidero

23/12/2018

Highlights

At each stop I reached down and put my hand in the cool river, until we reached the crocodile stop. Kenzo said “Mum don’t put your hand in the water.”

It was so hot I took my jacket off and left it on the empty seat at the back of the boat. At one point it blew away and Ajay caught it. Later I used my jacket to keep the sun off Lui, and shield him from the breeze, as he slept. It was about twenty minutes later that Ajay said Oh no, we lost mum’s jacket. I hadn’t heard him because of the noise of the engine. Carmelo smirked because he had passed me the jacket but said nothing to his dad 🙂

Watching eagles soar above, cranes and herons perch on the waterside, ducks floating on the water and other birds flying low beside us as the boat vvvvvd along.

The height of the cliffs were magnificent. 

Getting underneath the waterfall and seeing all the pretty foliage and flowers.

Lowlights

There were bays along the trip where a lot of rubbish had accumulated in the water. It gets quite disturbing. The locals try to clean it up regularly but it washes down from villages further up the long river.

Having to carry your jacket because it’s cold in the mountains and then super hot when you come down to sea level where the canyon is.

The Canyon

The walls of this canyon at it’s highest point is 1000 metres and has the Grijalva River running through it. On a morbid note, in the 1534 when the Spaniards invaded this area many locals preferred suicide from Tepetchia rock rather than be enslaved by the Spanish. 

We took a two hour boat ride through it that began by a bridge and ended by the hydro dam Manuel Moreno Torres. It has been designated an internationally recognised wetland site for the protection of it’s birds and other wildlife.

The Chiapas flag features the canyon at it’s highest point. 

The Birds and Reptiles

We didn’t see the monkeys or jaguars that live in the jungle surrounding this canyon but we did see iguanas and crocodiles. There were plenty of pelicans, herons, ducks and plenty of other birds that made the canyon more enchanting.

The Flora and Fauna

The canyon has a humid climate that supports lots of orchids, bromeliads, ferns, mangroves and more. There’s also a famous Christmas Tree which is a waterfall that has created mossy ledges that extend out like the branches of a Christmas Tree.

Pilgrims making their way to the Church of Guadalupe

San Cristobal DLC Celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe

San Cristobal DLC Celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe

12/12/2018

The Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe December 12th

In Mexico the patron saint is Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her feast day is December 12th and locals say it is the biggest celebration in Mexico, bigger than Christmas. We began seeing this festival in Isla Mujeres. As Catholics do nine day novenas, many of the faithful Guadalupe would have started on the 3rd of December so that it would finish on the 11th in time for the festivals at 11pm mass to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In San Cristobal De Las Casas in Chiapas there is a church in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pilgrims from all over Mexico will travel in organised groups to Mexico City to the official shrine where San Juan saw the apparition of Mother Mary over 500 years ago. For those that are unable to reach Tepeyac will pilgrim to Iglesia de Guadalupe (Church of Guadalupe) instead. This pilgrimage aims to reach the church and return back to their home town parish by 11th December in time for the 11pm mass and festivities.

The Runners

When we arrived in Chiapas on December 9th, we took a taxi from the Tuxtla airport at sea level to San Cristobal DLC which is over 2000 metres above sea level. The temperature changes from warm tropical climates to cooler mountain jungle climates. As we travelled we kept passing a truck or a ute that would carry at least ten people in the back. The front would be decorated with flowers and have a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Behind or in front of that truck would be a runner carrying a burning torch. We asked our driver about this but he spoke no English so we struggled to understand his explanation. Basically we understood it was a pilgrimage.

Procession to Iglesia de Guadalupe 

As we wandered the colonial streets of San Cristobal on December 10th we saw many of the pilgrimage groups arriving and leaving the city. We decided to follow them since they were heading in a particular direction, chanting or singing or praying. As we reached Real de Guadalupe which is the street from the centre of town that leads up to Iglesia de Guadalupe, we saw the groups were all walking, often lead by musicians who played cheerful music while one person would cry out a phrase and the rest would shout a response. Some groups handed out sweets to the children who watched. We kept hearing fireworks day and night as each group reached and then would celebrate with loud explosions that produce no light display but are simply to accentuate the loudness of their prayers/thankgivings.

Many of them looked exhausted and worn but their spirit was so alive. It was a humbling experience to watch these people who had taken on an arduous journey, having travelled day and night, keeping their torch alight, and keeping their faith alive. They came with prayers for the future or for thanksgiving of prayers having been fulfilled. Some mothers carried babies in their slings. Some groups had small children with them. Many of the groups had a team outfit which usually was a white t-shirt with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but some had matching track suits.

At the base of the church entry were rides for a fair including a Ferris wheel and go-karts. As we walked up the 79 stairs to the church, there were food and toy stalls and we could hear all sorts of festive music playing. Outside the church was a live band playing traditional music and some people got the urge to dance along to it. We could see some of the torches of groups outside the church still alight.

Inside, the groups that had finally reached were on their knees walking up to the altar while singing or praying. There was a beautiful shrine to Mother Mary above the sacristy and to the left a beautifully decorated scene of San Juan receiving the roses from Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was lovely to see Jesus in a locally made bright orange cloth as he hung on the cross. 

When each group finished they would then move out the front of the church to the right. I’m not sure how many of them would walk back to their village or home town versus catch a ride but a change washed over their posture and face. Many of them were in celebratory mode after they had finished. You could see the joy on their faces like they were now in party mode. 

Fireworks on the Eve of the Feast Day 

One of the locals tipped us off that on December 11th at 12pm there would be fireworks going all the way up the street to Iglesia de Guadalupe, the part that becomes pedestrians only during this festival. We decided to be in a cafe at that time so we could comfortably wait for it to start but also hide from the noise if needed.

At 11:30am we saw a group including young children, helping to lay a row of gunpowder down and then place small “bombs” about a metre apart. This was exciting because I’d never seen gun powder lit except in movies.

We were enjoying our hot chocolate, brewed with local cocoa from Chiapas when we heard the first BOOM go off at 12pm. We went outside to have a look.

From a block away we could see the fire of the gun powder and hear a “Boom” every few seconds. There was huge puffs of smoke after each bang. “That’s not too loud” I said. A group of people were walking ahead of it to ensure it continued to burn. Another group were walking ahead of it for the excitement of the noise. The little ones wanted to go hide inside and I wanted to be outside watching the little fireworks combust into a ball of fire and then create thick smoke.

By the time the gunpowder was a hundred meters down the road we were all hiding in the cafe with the doors closed because it was so loud. The ground shook and we were covering our ears but still hearing thundering BANGs in our head. 

After I thought it had passed I opened the door and peeked outside. It was about 100 metres up the road. BANG! It made me jump. BANG! The noise was defeating but thrilling. BANG! I had to go back inside. BANG! It was way too loud still. 

Though the experience was exciting and I loved it, it also was scary if I thought about that type of noise in a war zone – after all, they were using gun powder to create each explosion.

Anyway, we all left happier for having made the effort to come back to this side of town for fireworks.

Our Glimpse of Chiapas

canyon-00

Take Your Family To Mexico

Mexico often gets bad media attention and many people are hesitant to visit there, let alone take their kids there. And I’ll be honest, we were scared of those stories about your children being kidnapped. But after spending three months there, if you’re wondering if you should take the family to Mexico, we would say “Take your family to Mexico!”

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Houses and Streets of San Cristobal De Las Casas

Houses and Streets of San Cristobal De Las Casas

08/12/2018

One can’t visit San Cristobal De Las Casas and not be enamoured by the cobblestone streets, the decorated homes and the variety of colour. We were so enchanted we took loads of photos!

The Cobblestone Streets

Lots of uniquely paved streets. There are so many tantalising visuals in San Cristobal that it’s easy to miss but definitely taking the time to notice. These roads were not made for the amount of people using them every day so ninety percent of them are one way streets that allow for parking on one side of the road.

Notice that the pavement is also very narrow which keeps things interesting when you are passing people. Often someone gives way by walking on the street. Or if there is a lot of traffic then we squeeze past each other carefully. 

We did have an incident where Giselle was carrying Lui and slipped off one of the high curbs onto the road. Fortunately the group passing us called out to the police car that was driving past to stop. The police car’s tyre stopped an inch short of running over her foot. The police car waited, holding up traffic behind them (an offence to many drivers in SCDLC), to check if we were all ok. Once I’d picked up Lui and she was on her feet and walking again, after the shock, the police drove on.

The Colourful Homes

We love the variety of colours that are used and we notice many people are regularly up-keeping their place by calling on painters for a spruce up or to re-varnish doors.

The Murals

There are so many beautiful and interesting murals decorating walls in unsuspecting places. Some are down quiet streets, some are in run down areas to keep the place looking well maintained. Many of them are tagged with the artist’s instagram or facebook profile.

The Adornmants on the Buildings

To add to the interesting features of the streets, there are beautiful adornments such as pretty light fixtures or balconies, nicely framed doors or windows, pot plants lined up on walls or designs carved into the wall.

Street we lived on

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

We stayed on Isla Mujeres for a month, mostly during November. While it did rain some nights and there were a couple of storms, the weather was mainly around 30 degrees celsius during the day. Fortunately we had a place that had air-conditioning. My favourite part of living on Isla Mujeres was our neighbourhood and the lovely people in it.

Schooling

After a month of hopping from place to place we decided to settle in one location for a month so that we could catch up on some schooling. Most of our days were spent using the workbooks I’d picked up in Auckland before leaving. For any of the science topics that required practical experiments we made use of equipment at home or used youtube and Khan Academy to support their learning.

It was hard entertaining the two little ones in such a small environment without distracting 14yo who has a heightened sense of responsibility and tends to step in when he sees the need. So some topics could only be covered while the younger two were napping or had gone to bed.

Grocery Shopping

We had many shops conveniently close by. The supermarket was a five minute walk in one direction and the chemist, known as the Farmacia, was five minutes in the other direction. This was great because we had no vehicle and had to carry all our groceries home, including the big 5L bottles of water. It wasn’t much of a problem except if we had to carry a little one in the heat of the day.  We would end up spending on average around 500 pesos per day on all our groceries because we were not buying any junk. That worked out to under NZD35.

We soon found that for only 4 pesos more we could buy a 5L bottle at the dairy next door. That became our go-to for water. There were a few nights early on where we ran out of water so we started buying four bottles at a time to ensure we had plenty of water all through the night and enough for our morning coffee.

There was a local tortillaria where we could buy fresh calientitas for breakfast or lunch. I wold pick up ten for 5 pesos, that’s like 30cents. They are basically flat unleavened bread that is a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The shop was only a block away (four houses down) which meant I would have them super hot. After having these, any calientita that gets served in a restaurant has been disappointing because they are often stored in a fridge and then heated up.

The local supermarket was more like a four square in NZ. It had a lot but not a huge selection. So our fruit and veg purchases were limited. The funniest part was the number of flies and fruit flies that would be hovering around the fruits, which was right next to the butchery department. We very quickly got used to “hygiene” situation.

Staff at most outlets were not friendly but polite. Only once I became a regular did the business owners of the lavanderia and the calientita place greet us with warm smiles and farewell us with Hasta Luego (see you later).

Housekeeping

Cooking

Being home most days we would cook at home, and by we, I mean hubby. He enjoys cooking and I much prefer doing the cleanup. The space in this place was quite cramped but hubby worked his magic as he always does. He often prepared a feast of guacamole, fresh salsa, refried beans, cheese tortillas or calientitas, and some type of habanero which is a spicy sauce. Other times it was toasties or eggs or fruit platters.

Laundry

The place we stayed in didn’t have it’s own washing machine nor did it have a clothes line or any area to dry things outside so we relied on the local laundromat most of the time. In Isla Mujeres, you drop off your clothes to a lavanderia, they weigh it and charge you based on the weight. Unfortunately their minimum weight was 3.5kg which is a lot to try and fill given we only packed three sets of clothes each max. The hardest part was when I had to swap over the little ones clothing. They needed more frequent changing due to their activities, where as we could where clothes for two or three days. But their clothes are so little it definitely didn’t meet the minimum 3.5kg mark. For their clothes I often had to hand wash them and dry them with the help of the air conditioner.

Cleaning

Apart from keeping the kitchen in a functional state, there was not much cleaning to do because cleaners came every week and changed the linen. The floor often got gritty and dusty so we had to sweep the place out each day. The bins were little so we emptied those regularly. Interestingly, the rubbish collectors would empty the bins every day including weekends.

 

Out and About

Eating Out

We tried a few different places to eat out. Some were tourist places that charged about 100 pesos for a dish where others were local eating places that charged about 50 pesos. Common eateries were taquerias where they served tacos, tortillas and drinks. One of our favourite drinks to have was a cold limonada which was simply freshly squeezed lime and water with a bit of sugar. And we often ordered guacamole which would come with tortadas which in NZ we would call corn chips. We quickly found out that nachos is corn chips with melted cheese on top.

There were some great burrito places and burger places too.

The Streets

The streets where we stayed were very clean except for dog poo. Every morning street cleaners would come with their broom and shovel and sweep up all debris including leaves, rubbish and dog poo. Then they would leave bags of rubbish for the rubbish trucks to collect. The rubbish trucks came by every day. It was much like Auckland rubbish picks ups when I was a kid. There would be guys without gloves who would collect all the rubbish and chuck it into the back of the truck.

Playgrounds were also kept very clean as well as the board walks. However, the materials that are used to construct the pavements or bridges or playgrounds are often poor quality and so they don’t last long. There was a boardwalk where the boards had rotted but locals still used it in spite of signage saying not to. The playground was falling apart but had been opened in 2016. And the waterfront walkway had originally had a railway to prevent people from going to far over the cliff but most of it was broken. In spite of that, these were beautiful spaces for locals and tourists to enjoy.

The People

Our neighbourhood was very sweet. As I walked about the neighbourhood people would often greet me with a Buenos Dias or Buenas Tardes (good morning or good afternoon). Sometimes as we sat by the laguna watching birds, locals would converse with me in Spanish. Using hand motions we were able to understand the general gist of the conversation. Being in this neighbourhood was probably my favourite part of experiencing Islau Mujeres.

Conflicts of Interest

After having booked our Airbnb for Isla Mujeres I found out why Airbnb can be detrimental to town or city. The place we were staying in is probably one such example of this. We stayed amongst a local community so our accomodation was relatively cheap compared to the tourist areas. However, this means the landlord would have preferred earning a higher income from tourists staying there rather than having locals paying a much cheaper rate. Our place was far more luxurious than what our neighbours were living in, and in my posts you would’ve seen how much I was complaining about the tight spaces.

Our neighbours did not have air conditioning but some had fans. Many of them did not have furniture but had a hammock in the middle of the lounge. Most had TVs and at least one bedroom but many used a curtain to divide the sleeping area from the lounge. Some of our neighbours lived in structures that looked like they were crumbling. In fact, our neighbour had scraps of wood for one of it’s walls. I’m guessing they were cleaners because they often arrived home with their vacuums and cleaning equipment. I realise now I need to be more diligent when booking our accommodation to ensure we aren’t increasing the price of living for the locals just because of tourist requirements.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Locals carrying statues of Mary of Guadalupe on their back in preparation for the upcoming festival

Religion in Isla Mujeres

Religion in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

The Cemetery

The cemetery was beautiful to visit. Each grave has a special area where families can celebrate their loved ones on the Day of the Dead. They were very colourful

The Patron Saint

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and many houses had a shrine dedicated to her, either outside or inside or both. During the buildup to Her feast day there were often prayer groups held in the evening and many shrines with lights were displayed at night. We saw a pilgrimage of bicycles carry statues. And we saw people praying outside a house if the house was too small to host all the guests. In some of the common areas there were rosters of who would be leading the prayers on what day.

Playa Norte

Things for a Family to Do in Isla Mujeres

Things for a Family to Do in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

There is a lot to do on Isla Mujeres for younger and older children. What I’ve listed here were our kids favourite activities to do during our month on Isla.

Beach time

The beautiful Isla Mujeres is in the Caribbean Sea so you can expect beautiful beaches. With the tropical climate, nothing beats jumping in the water for a refreshing swim to beat the heat. The swimming is all on the north and east side of the island facing Cancun. The west coast is very rocky with no sandy bays that are easy to access.

Play Norte

The most popular beach is definitely Playa Norte, which literally translates to North Beach. You can access this beach by walking from the ferry building. As you head out of the ferry terminal, turn left and head to the end of the street. Walk down the driveway between the hotels and you will reach Playa Norte. Once you hit the stretch of sand, turn right to explore the length of the beach. 

Playa Norte has crystal clear waters and very fine white sand. Mixing this type of sand with water allows you to make sand balls that are great for the kids to throw in the water and make a big splash. 

This area of the island is well known for it’s wildlife. Your kids will love spotting the pelicans perched on the wave breakers or watch them dive into the water. You won’t be able to swim here without encountering all sorts of birds. And the kids won’t need their snorkelling gear to see fish swimming around them in the shallows. 

This is a beach club type beach that is highly commercialised, as is most of Quintana Roo. Expect to have it covered in bars, hotels and massage tables. If you are on this beach from 11am you will find a line of tour boats anchored nearby and the beach itself gets crazy busy. I recommend a swim between 9am and 11am to avoid the crowds. 

There are often lounge chairs with umbrellas that you can use simply by paying the attendant or purchasing drinks from the bar. Otherwise just find yourself a nice coconut tree to lounge under while the kids play in the sand.

It is rated as one of the top ten beaches on TripAdvisor so you can expect a beautiful beach. But a warning for those who have experienced Pacific Ocean beaches, you probably will not rate it as one of the top ten in the world. I have heard that there are far more beautiful Californian beaches. I personally have experienced far more beautiful beaches in NZ, Australia, Tahiti and Cuba. So for you well travelled people, ignore the top ten rating. Focus, rather, on the concept of it being a beautiful Caribbean beach club type beach and by most accounts, the best beach in Quintana Roo.

Playa Lancheros

Playa Lancheros is another beach club beach with lots of restaurants and hotels occupying beachfront property. It has clear waters for snorkelling and golden sands. Many people rate the snorkelling here but most of this coast’s snorkelling has been damaged by hurricane or ignorance. Locals are changing their tours to educate tourists to not touch the reefs so that they do not do further damage.

This beach is a common stop for snorkelling tours especially around lunch time so you’ll find it is quieter in the morning or late afternoon. 

La Casa Del Tikinxik is a great place to eat which has very reasonable prices for a tourist restaurant. If you are trying to access Playa Lancheros front he street, google La Casa Del Tikinxik and cut through here to access the beach. The street is unnamed.

There is a shark that is caged directly opposite. The size of the cage is quite a sad sight but still the kids find it fascinating. Because of the conditions, we didn’t spend the 20 pesos to take a photo with it.

Playa Sol

Playa Sol is the first beach you hit when you walk towards Playa Norte. It is beautiful especially to watch the sunset over Cancun. It is a much wider stretch of sand and the water gets deeper faster here. 

We didn’t swim here because Playa Norte was too tempting with it’s shady options of coconut trees and so many pelicans to watch. However, this beach is still worth the time to stop and visit. 

Souvenir Shopping

There are loads of shops to browse and pick up some souvenirs. If you have a keen eye you can find the souvenirs that are hand made as opposed to factory made. Although these souvenirs may not traditional of the Quintana Roo area they are used in other areas. For example, the clothing with embroidered flowers are from the state of Chiapas.

Snorkelling

There is some lovely snorkelling around the island. You can visit a park like Garafon or take a boat trip to access some underwater wildlife. I recommend taking the tour company that hovers close to the ferry building. They will take you to the two best snorkelling sites close to the island: near the light house and the reef near the underwater art museum. Find out more about our snorkelling trip here.

Bird Watching and Lizard Spotting

This island has hundreds of variations of birds. Some are easily found like the pelicans of Playa Norte, some can only be seen from a distance like the frigates that fly high above water, and some require quiet and patience to see like the small yellow mangrove vireo. 

As for the lizards, the small house geckos and the big seaside iguanas are very easy to spot. There are also lizards that jump around outside near old wood.

Check out some of these birds and lizards in our Isla Mujeres wildlife section.

Early Morning or Early Evening Walks

Because the temperature gets pretty hot from about 9am, being able to get out for a walk was more comfortable near sunrise or sunset. If you are up before sunrise, the west coast’s rugged coastline offers great sunrise views. There is a nice walkway that stretches for most of the west coast. Our little ones loved running along there and looking out for any shell crabs that crossed our path. There is also some places to eat and a small art gallery across the road from this walkway.  

If you are wanting a sunset walk then the Punta Sur Sculpture Trail and Old temple ruins are a great option. You can enjoy the area and then sit and watch the sunset behind Cancun.

If you have more time not on the island then be sure to visit the lake in the middle of the island by La Gloria that has walkway. Google how to get to Calle 22 or Calle 7 and you’ll be able to spot the walkway around the perimeter of the lake. From here the kids can look for fish or tadpoles amongst the mangroves and will be able to spot quite a number of birds in the water, above the water and in the bush. Sadly there is a lot of rubbish amongst the mangroves. Although the street cleaners come every morning to clean the pavements and roads, no-one cleans the lake or mangrove area. 

Another walk which you can do anytime of day because of how well shaded it is, is the Hacienda Mundaca. The place itself is quite run down but it is free entry and worth the walk if you would like to spot a lot of iguanas. Make sure you take bug spray because there are a lot of mosquitos here. 

Other Activities

There are also other activities that you can explore on the island or nearby. Unfortunately we were not visiting during whale season but apparently if you time it right you can swim amongst some whales.

Another tourist attraction is the turtle park. Again we were not there at the right time to watch them hatch and head into the ocean. But I’ve heard they have a great breeding program for them.

There is Dolphin Discovery park where you can swim with dolphins and some people ride them. We prefer to see dolphins in the wild so we didn’t visit this park.

There is also the shark encounter which you can’t miss if you take the snorkelling tour but we questioned how ethical it is to have this shark penned like this.

I personally think these are tourist traps but if you don’t have the opportunity to see dolphins in the wild or to see turtles and sharks in better facilities then it’s a good opportunity to expose your kids to these beautiful creatures.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Hiring Golf Carts are a popular option for day-trippers

Getting Around Isla Mujeres

Getting Around Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

Getting to and from Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a short ferry trip from Cancun. There are a number of companies that will take you there but the quickest is Ultramar. They have three ports in the Hotel Zone and one close to the airport which is Puerto Juarez.

The ports from the Hotel Zone only begin running after 9am and finish by 9pm. However, for Puerto Juarez the ferry starts at 5am and finishes at midnight. Puerto Juarez is the port to use if you are coming directly from the airport or heading directly to the airport.

Check the timetable here https://www.ultramarferry.com/en/routes-and-departures#Cancun-Isla-Mujeres The prices are in USD. For our family of six, we have two under fives which are free and two over eleven’s which are adult prices so it worked out to about USD80 in total for return tickets.

 

Getting around the island

Walking

From the ferry if you are on a day trip then you will be walking distance to Playa Norte and many places to eat and shop.

We stayed on the island for a month and were using it as a base to catch up on some homeschooling so we knew we would not be venturing out too much. We stayed in La Gloria and ventured out only about twice a week. From this point which is the centre of the island where we were based, we could take a fifteen minute walk to a local beach for a swim or to the Caribbean shoreline for a coastal walk. However, the heat might get to you so where a wide brim hat to keep yourself cool.

To get to a mini-supermarket, playground, soccer court, laundry or pharmacy was usually less than a five minute walk. There are so many conveniently located.

Use A Taxi

Taxi rides were only fifty pesos to either end of the island. However, if you are two people you can share a taxi with other people and it would only be fifteen pesos. It’s easy to catch a taxi because they are driving around everywhere. Your best bet is to wait at an intersection of a main road and then wave one down. Even at seven in the morning when we needed to catch a flight to Chiapas there were taxis driving past.

Hiring a Vehicle

Some people like to hire a scooter or golf cart to drive themselves around the island which can cost up to USD140 depending on your negotiation skills.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Ultramar Ferry Dock

One day family itinerary for Isla Mujeres

One day family itinerary for Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

We stayed in Isla Mujeres for a month and explored most of the island but if I only had one day to do Isla, this would be my family itinerary. If you’re in a rush you can jump to the end for the summary itinerary.

Catch the 9am ferry

Yes! I said get the kids up early while you’re on holiday. If you have under 5’s like we do, then you’re already awake anyway. But if you have teens like we do, I apologise. But trust me! It will be well worth getting them out of bed and on that boat. This itinerary is designed for the whole family to have an awesome time on this beautiful island.

The Ultramar leaves from three locations in the Hotel Zone in Cancun as well as Puerto Muarez. These ferries run til late. Check out prices and timetables here. https://www.ultramarferry.com/en/routes-and-departures

Cool off at Playa Norte

Playa Norte is the most beautiful beach on the island. It is short fifteen minute walk from the ferry. Simply turn left when you get out of the ferry building, walk to the end of the road, don’t stop there because this is not the beach. Turn right and then left. That’s Playa Norte.

By this time you would all be hot from walking in the heat so you can cool off in the crystal clear waters or play on the sand under the shade of a coconut tree. At this time of the morning the beach is quieter so your photos won’t have that many tour boats or people in it. And you will want to take photos. Pelicans perch nearby and fly so close to you often landing near where you’re swimming. And if you bring a GoPro you’ll be able to take photos of schools of fish that swim in knee deep water.

Read more about this beach here.

Head to Aroma Isla for brunch

By 11am the family would’ve worked up an appetite. Head to Aroma Isla for a nutritious selection of smoothies and meals, while the kids can have Nutella pancakes.

You’ll find this place on the pedestrian street where all the souvenir shops and restaurants are. It runs parallel to the water front road where the ferry building is. It’s about a ten minute walk from Playa Norte.

Take a Snorkeling trip

From Aroma Isla head back towards the ferry building and you’ll see a bunch of guys in white t-shirts selling snorkeling trips for about USD50 per person. You can haggle that price a bit but this will take you to the best snorkeling on the island. Don’t worry if you can’t swim because it’s compulsory to wear a life jacket and their first stop is only a metre or so deep.

If your kids can swim then make sure you go to the under water art museum. This crew will take you to some greet snorkeling in water that is about 9metres deep that is very close to the under water art.

Afterwards you’ll get to experience a Mexican food hall in true island style. Read more about this snorkeling trip here.

You’ll find this place on the pedestrian street where all the souvenir shops and restaurants are. It runs parallel to the water front road where the ferry building is. It’s about a ten minute walk from Playa Norte.

Watch the Sunset from Punta Sur

After having a meal, don’t get back on the boat. Have your captain arrange a taxi for you all to go to Punta Sur. This will be about 50pesos.
Punta Sur is the southern most point of the Isla and has a beautiful sculpture trail as well as historic ruins. It’s not much to enter and has a walkway down to the base of the cliff. From here you can also watch the sun setting over Cancun.

Read more about this place here.

Dinner in town

By now it will be dusk and there will be no taxis waiting here but walk up the road to the main drag and taxis pass by frequently. Hail one down to head back to town. It should be maximum 100pesos.

Grab a bite to eat before catching your ferry back to the mainland.

Here’s the summary

  • Catch the 9am Ultramar from the Hotel Zone to Isla Mujeres
  • Short walk to Playa Norte for a swim and photos of pelicans
  • Brunch at Aroma Isla
  • Snorkeling trip using the company next to the ferry building
  • Don’t catch the boat back after eating, instead get a taxi to Punta Sur
  • Walk around the sculpture trail and watch the sunset
  • Head back to town for dinner
  • Catch the ferry back to Cancun

Hope you find this useful and let me know if you do use this itinerary

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Snorkelling trip

The Best Way to Snorkel Isla Mujeres

The Best Way to Snorkel Isla Mujeres

01/12/2018

Booking With The Right People

As we travel through countries that have impoverished areas it is important to ensure you are supporting local communities by spending your money with local businesses. Too often we book our accomodation, our tours and our transport online with foreign companies where money is syphoned away from the very culture you might have hoped to support.

Because of this I recommend booking with a company on Isla Mujeres (who’s name I don’t even know) but I can give you a rough location. As you exit the ferry building and turn left towards Playa Norte, you will come across a bunch of guys hovering around trying to sell you snorkelling tours. They will be holding a laminated paper showing different spots they will visit. The cost at the time of writing is USD50 but can be negotiated based on what you want to see and how many in your group. 

Each person there earns money based on being able to fill their boat. This is important to note because they will only leave if their boat is full. Therefore you should aim to book with someone who already has a group of people waiting to go. This technique is common in Mexico. Even in the boat tours of Canon del Sumidera a boat will not leave until it is full. This means if you show up too late in the day you will not be able to go.

If you are travelling with elderly or small children be sure to check which boat they are using. Although all the boats carry a maximum of twelve people the floor is a little different in some of them which could make it awkward to get in and out, or stabilise in the boat. Important to note for those with young babies, we saw a family of twelve take a little pram onto their boat, so this could be an option for you. 

 

What to Expect About How They Operate

Because you are booking with a locally operated group, don’t expect safety waivers or proper procedures. Having said that these are well experienced guys who will look after you very well and ensure your safety. You will have an English and Spanish speaking tour guide who will take you on the snorkelling trips and the captain of the boat will speak enough English for a basic conversation. 

Because most people who book this snorkelling trip do not know how to swim, everyone must wear a life jacket. You will be given one before the boat undocks. A warning, they do not have life jackets for under six year olds. There is usually local marine police that are there to enforce this rule. This includes wearing one while snorkelling. Because it is difficult to wear one while snorkelling, your guide will show you how to tie it around your waist.

The snorkelling equipment is not the best quality but it does the job. When you first hop into the water give it a salt water rinse before putting on the mask and snorkel. They do provide flippers which is great for when you snorkel the underwater art museum area since it’s up to 9m deep. Each snorkelling trip is designed so that you move with the current and the tour guide will ensure you all stay together. The boat drops you at one point then picks you up at the other end.

It is a small boat that takes only twelve people. My concern before booking was that the boat would be too small for my little two and they would be driving me nuts before an hour was up. But actually this boat was perfect for them. The boat itself was small enough to be bumpy on the water when it was in high speed which kept them excited about being on a boat. It was also small enough that it would rock when heavy people got on or off the boat which they loved because they would try to stand and balance without falling to one side or the other. Plus when everyone was snorkelling it was big enough to run up and down the boat.

What Your Trip Will Actually Look Like

When they are selling you the trip they will tell you all sorts of spots they will visit but the “sell in” they give you on the street is not quite accurate. So to prevent any disappointment here’s what your trip will actually look like.

Summary

In summary, here is the whole itinerary. There are three snorkelling spots, the Lighthouse known as El Farita, the Manchones Reef and the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA). On the way to Manchones Reef you will be able to spot the Turtle Farm and they will stop outside the Dolphin Discovery for a minute. Lunch is provided at the end of the snorkelling trip. The cheapest trip is the doing the Lighthouse snorkelling and having lunch. I recommend doing the full package if you know how to swim.

Hubby and I decided we would take turns snorkelling. He snorkelled the Lighthouse and I snorkelled the Manchones Reef. Our older two snorkelled at all three spots and our younger two happily waited and played on the boat.

El Farita 

The first spot you visit is the Lighthouse Reef which is five minutes off shore. All the boats anchor in a sheltered shallow bay that is waist deep. For those who are not comfortable snorkelling they can hang around in this area. There are plenty of fish to see here. You are reminded not to touch the reef. Unlike the reefs of New Zealand’s cooler waters, coral reef is very delicate and takes hundreds of years to recover from someone kicking it with a flipper accidentally. The coral around here is quite damaged from the hurricanes and tourism. 

All those who want to see more will join the tour guide and snorkel from this area to the lighthouse which is a distance of about 100m. The reef itself is very shallow, maximum two metres in depth. You will see a wide variety of fish including young barracuda. As with anyone, as long as you don’t antagonise the barracuda they will not harm you. It’s about a 100m easy swim.

Dolphin Stop

Next we head up the coast and pass the turtle farm, fortunately we didn’t stop here even though we were told we would. It was simply pointed out to us. The boat passes the Dolphin Discovery and stops for a minute here so we could see the dolphins. Our older two were not interested in seeing this and only our 4yo was interested in spotting dolphins. It was pretty heart breaking to see. It looks like a huge enclosure for the dolphins until you realise there are lots and lots of dolphins caged in a very shallow area. The worst part is people are allowed to ride the dolphins and you can pay to ride two dolphins at once. We met an Israeli couple on our boat who also did not want to see this attraction because of how unethical the practice is.

We carried on to Playa Tiburon to drop off anyone who only paid for the Lighthouse snorkelling. We would rejoin them later for lunch.

Manchones Reef

We carried on to Manchones Reef which is between five to nine metres deep. Interestingly a Columbian couple came on this snorkelling part of the trip and they couldn’t swim but knew how to float. They relied on the life jackets to snorkel. In this spot we saw a wide variety of bigger fish and bigger schools of them. Because the life jackets were so restrictive and our guide could see that my kids and I could swim, he let us take our life jackets off so we could free dive down a little. He dove down about nine meters to point out a big puffer fish.

MUSA

The third stop was the underwater museum. These structures hadn’t yet developed much sea life but the statues were still interesting. They saw a car and frogs and people.

Lunch

The tour ended with lunch at Playa Tiburon in a big food hall. Everyone from your boat sits at one table and your tour guide serves you a plate of food that includes salad, rice, plain spaghetti and Tikin Xic style fish plus fresh calientias. This experience alone was worth choosing this company because it allowed me to see the huge variety of different ethnicities within Mexico. Most of the tourists were Mexican and there were so many different faces.

Playa Tiburon

This small beach has some souvenir shops and a penned shark that you can take a photo with. We didn’t go see the shark although the kids would’ve enjoyed it. 

Heading Home

From here if you live on this side of the island you can catch a taxi back to where you are staying or head back on the boat to Playa Sol where you departed from.

 

Summary

Find the snorkelling company that is between the ferry building and Playa Sol, you’ll be supporting a local company.

They will take you to three different snorkelling spots and then for lunch.

The cost is maximum USD50 but can be negotiated depending on how many in your group and what activities you would like to see

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Infinity Pool

Garrafon Reef Park, Isla Mujeres

Garrafon Reef Park, Isla Mujeres

01/12/2018

Garrafon Reef Park is located near Punte Sur the most eastern part of Mexico. It is by a reef which offers some snorkelling and it features an infinity pool, buffet restaurants, kayaking, a zip line, a mayan steam house plus use of a locker and towel. For an all day outing for the family, this is a great way to relax. 

There is not much of a difference between the Royal Garrafon and the Royal Garrafon VIP except for a VIP buffet restaurant and the price difference is minimal so we opted for the VIP version. We did not want to do the Dolphin options because they felt unethical. Our only regret is that we arrived here at 12pm instead of when it opened. It really was a great place for our whole family to relax and have fun.

Infinity Pool

We probably spent way too much time in this pool given all the facilities available to us but we loved hanging out here. There was a great toddler pool that our little two enjoyed and little caves behind a waterfall which were fun to play around.

Mainly we enjoyed cooling off in one of the two pools on either side of the toddler pool and looking out at the endless ocean horizon. 

On a side note, children four years old and under must wear a life jacket in the pool. Make sure you get one that can be tied through their legs otherwise it will be annoying for them to play in the water.

Snorkeling

Don’t expect much in the way of snorkelling, there isn’t much to see if you have snorkelled quite a bit elsewhere. But if you love snorkelling as much as our family does then you will love the feeling of getting in the water and exploring what’s happening under the sea. 

Interestingly, it is compulsory to wear a life jacket here because many of the tourists do not know how to swim. It made the snorkelling a little bit uncomfortable because the jacket kept getting in the way but we were not provided with flippers so it did help to keep us buoyant when we wanted to adjust our mask.

Flying Fox

This is a three tier zip line. The view from each is gorgeous blue ocean against lush green land. Taking the zip line was worth the experience just for the views. And I couldn’t help myself, the photos were so good we purchased them from the photographer.

Other Features

This place had kayaks, a lounge area, a mayan steam house, and two buffet restaurants as well as a burger bar by the pool. We didn’t do any kayaking or spend any time in the steam house. One of the lounge areas down by the snorkelling spot was handy to put our 2yo to sleep while the older two went for a snorkel. We only used one of the buffet restaurants. It had a great selection of fruits and meats. Our older two preferred the burgers from the bar down by the pool. 

As an added bonus there are plenty of iguanas here. Sometimes we only saw them in the last minute. They are harmless but look intimidating when they are munching on leaves. The kids will love the opportunity to get so close to these big lizards.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Caribbean coast of the island

Challenges at Our First Long Term Stay

Challenges at Our First Long Term Stay

16/11/2018

My Space Issues

 It wasn’t about the dog poo you have to watch out for as you walk the streets or the language barrier or the heat of the intense burning sun that made me want to get out of this place as soon as possible. In fact two days in I started planing our exit out -lol! 

Mexico does have beautiful tropical beaches and it has lovely people and Isla Mujeres is a typical island community – sweet people and small town life. But there were some things that tested my tolerance threshold in those first few days 😉

It started when we arrived and found ourselves in a cosy little home on the island. On the map this place seemed to be close to everything. The ocean, a dairy, a pharmacy and most importantly a bakery – which I’m proud to say I still haven’t visited.

For those of you that have heard my moaning you know that one of my biggest accomodation issues in Auckland was having a three bedroom home with four children. Finding quiet while being in earshot of babies that wake up regularly in the night;,or allowing space for toys and mess that’s out of the main living spaces (I could go on) had its moments.

But the place we find ourselves in on Isla Mujeres is a two bedroom with a fold out couch. When booking the pictures looked much more spacious than it actually is.

In this place we have one double bed in each bedroom with very little space to spare around each bed. Plus we have a pull out couch that acts as a double bed at night. When we pull out the double bed it fills up the whole lounge room. We have to climb over the bed to get to the dining table. This bed reaches the kitchen. The mattress on it has springs with very little foam padding. This means that when lying on it I feel the springs on the bony parts.

I know this sounds like I’m whining but the kitchen and bathroom are also tiny. It feels like we’re in a campervan except this time I wasn’t mentally prepared for it.

When I thought about it, this place would work for a weekend or even a week. But we have booked one month here which I thought was a little too long for the type of living space that it is. There is no privacy in the confinement of this Airbnb, except when everyone is sleeping or everyone is noisy – so private calls are out.

Looking at the Bright Side

The older two have not complained once about the confined quarters. The younger two though have needed more stimulation than what the dimensions of this place allows. It doesn’t have an outdoor area that I could let them play in. Thankfully there is a wonderful playground nearby and a covered soccer court (not field). That is definitely helping with my cabin fever.

As I walked around the neighbourhood I began to realise that we were living in a big place. Some of the folk in this area have one room, a kitchen and a bathroom for their family.

I’ve adjusted to its charm now and we have learnt to cook, study, work, play and clean by putting these away immediately and keeping activity indoors to a minimum while getting outside whenever its cool.

It has helped us to appreciate what we had and how spacious that was. It also helped to define our minimum requirements for comfortable living when we plan our one month stays.

This place has also made me grateful that I have the option for bigger and more luxurious. 

We have the ocean in walking distance for some Caribbean Sea breeze. 

We have an estuary across the road for a hit of nature. We have a playground super close by for the young ones. 

We have great wifi. And a few days ago we got hot water showers. Plus there’s still La Pañería (the bakery) to go explore. Life is good:)

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres