Tag Archive | "Mexico"

Esperanza: Definitive Luxury in Mexico

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Esperanza Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Esperanza Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

By Amiee White Beazley

The definition of luxury travel is changing. From the days of pure and unadulterated excess, for sake of excess, today’s luxury travel means travel without having to think. It means allowing the resort to think for you and know exactly what you need before you do. Luxury travel today means providing services one didn’t know he or she needed, like shoulder and foot massages by the pool and fresh coconut milk popsicles. It means a culinary team that creates food focused on flavor, health and quality paired with cutting edge preparations. It means a tranquil but effective spa that offers truly beneficial treatments. In total, luxury travel today should leave its guests feeling better upon departure, than when they arrived. It should be a break from reality that leaves guests physically refreshed, spiritually nourished, and mindfully renewed.

The new concept of luxury travel is defined at Esperanza Resort, in Cabo San Lucas. The irony is, Esperanza, a member of Auberge Resorts, is not new, at all. In fact, it was one of the first resorts to bring Cabo San Lucas, Mexico onto the map for discerning travelers 12 years ago. But while competitors have sprung up nearby, Esperanza continues to lead, not only due to its cliffside accommodations overlooking the Sea of Cortez, but its constant laser refocusing on just what their guests may desire in a resort, such as guided tastings with a master tequilero or unlimited yoga and fitness classes.

Esperanza Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Esperanza Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

With a naturally protected and private beach, and only one access point to the resort, Esperanza attracts both celebrity and society jetsetters alike.  Esperanza has hosted the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Fergie and Josh Duhamel among many others. It took only moments to realize the sustained hype built up around Esperanza was more than warranted. Freshly pressed juices on every menu, chlorophyll water to increase red blood cell counts, and vegetarian and vegan menu options that are approached as a serious undertaking for the Argentinian-born Chef Cerdo Gonzales (gluten-free, vegan lasagna to die for). Every restaurant overlooks the ocean, where in winter, the chances of sighting a breaching whale on its migratory route are ample.

 

 

The resort is divided in two halves – the hotel, comprised of 50 individual casitas and seven spectacular suites is for adults only, whereas the fractional ownership side welcomes children and families of all ages. This allows for the peace and quiet sought by child-free travelers, while families and children can enjoy the kid-friendly pools and restaurants without fear of disturbing other guests.

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The two sides merge on Mexicanismo fiesta nights. Every Thursday evening the culinary team crafts and over-the top buffet of Mexican food, while a Mariachi band strolls the venue, followed by fireworks over the sea. Selected local artisans bring their goods to a market, where guests can purchase hand-crafted items and a resident cigar roller crafts exquisite cigars from whole leaf tobacco.

Details: Esperanza Resort

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

 

Amiee-150x150 Amiee White Beazley is the editor of edibleASPEN, founding contributor of Aspen Peak magazine and food columnist for the Aspen Daily News. Her food and travel writing has been featured in Yankee Magazine, Coastal Living, 5280, Aspen Magazine and The Providence Journal among others. A mother of two, her first children’s book,Snowmastodon! Snow Day Adventure was published by People’s Press in 2011. www.awbeazley.com

Steve Jermanok’s Active Travels: Cancun

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Cancun

Cancun

In 1974, a team of Mexican government computer analysts picked a long sliver of land on the Atlantic shoreline as the country’s next Acapulco. The powdery white sands and turquoise waters, separated from the mainland by a lagoon were ripe for development.  Sheraton, Hilton, and Marriott swiftly built their hotels, soon joined by upscale Ritz-Carlton and the flashy Le Meridien, and Americans took the bait wholeheartedly. Today, Cancun is the number one tourist destination in Mexico. Sadly, however, the Mexicans catered far too much to their northern neighbors. With a Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Café, Outback Steak House, and a McDonald’s or shopping mall on every other block, the 14-mile-long Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) looks much more like Miami Beach than any Mexican village. In fact, the Cancun version of the Miami Herald arrives at your hotel doorstep each morning. Roads are often flooded and prices for dinner are exorbitant in a country known for its affordability.

But what really upsets me about Cancun is that a mere hour’s drive is the authentic Yucatan. The mega-resort sprawl on the coast leads to Playa del Carmen, once a sleepy outpost favored by European backpackers and scuba divers. You’ll have to hit the ruins and village of Akumal before you can snag a bungalow on the beach that feels genuine. If you really want to savor a slice of the Yucatan rich with history and culture, head inland to Merida. Here, you’ll find the oldest cathedrals on the North American continent, even a mangrove swamp that is home to a colony of pink flamingoes. South of Merida is some of Mexico’s finest Mayan ruins on the Puuc Route. The rounded pyramid at your first stop, Uxmal, stands majestically on high ground. Kabah is known for its almost maniacal façade of 250 Chaac sculptures that line one wall. Walk past the wild turkeys and brilliant red birds in the forest of Sayil to reach its grand palace. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time in that Disneyesque version of Mexico, Cancun.
steve  Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for OutsideMen’s JournalHealth, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at  Active Travels.

Gentle Giants: Meeting the Extraordinary Whale Shark

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A whale shark off the coast of Mexico.

A whale shark off the coast of Mexico.

By Brad Nahill

The Caribbean Sea was gentle as our group of snorkelers headed by boat northwest from Isla Mujeres, a Mexican island near Cancun, on a bright summer day. The turquoise water near the island turned dark blue as we made our way towards the Gulf of Mexico. A group of dolphins known locally as the “Rude Boys” made a brief appearance.

After an hour-long ride, a small city seemed to appear on the horizon. As we approached, the city transformed into a group of boats collected together in a seemingly random spot, though once we got close, we saw the dorsal fins that attract people to jump into these deep waters.

Our boat came to a stop on the edge of a swirling mass of giant sharks. My wife and daughter pulled on their snorkeling gear while I got the camera ready. As they slipped into the water, an enormous creature slid by the boat. One thought ran through my head: Am I crazy to bring my family to swim face to face with the largest shark in the world?

Whale sharks have been high on my list since a 2008 visit to Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Park resulted in a near miss. Since the launch of SEEtheWILD in 2011, this whale shark trip with our partner Reefs to Rockies has been the most popular program that our conservation tourism project promotes and it was finally time for me to experience it myself.

I knew these animals were large; I’ve seen tons of photos, read the stories, and heard testimonials of their gigantism. None of that prepared me for the actual sight of a whale shark in the ocean. From the boat, their length is astonishing. But once you see them underwater, you realize that the overhead view is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Our day started with a talk by our guide, Logan, who has lived most of her life on Isla Mujeres. Whale sharks are the island’s leading attraction and local operators make sure that every visitor knows about the opportunity to see them. As Logan made clear, these sharks pose no threat; they have no teeth and are not aggressive to humans.

With their popularity come problems, however, and Logan made it very clear that touching these animals is strictly off limits. The most entertaining part of her monologue was a pantomime of the typical first reaction of people seeing the sharks for the first time – a combination of shock, wonder, and a bit of fear.

Logan’s prediction of that initial shock was dead on. After donning my own snorkeling gear and getting my first underwater view, I quickly lifted my head, needing a second to comprehend what my eyes had just seen. Their easy grace in the water belies the fact that these animals can be up to 40 feet long and weigh up to 20 tons.

To maintain their large size, they spend most of the day feeding by skimming the surface with their open mouths collecting plankton and fish eggs. The sea near Isla Mujeres is one of a few places around the world where whale sharks gather in large groups. Our group of 10 people rotated in and out of the boat with our two guides every few minutes, giving everyone several chances to see the sharks from the water.

A whale shark surfaces off the coast of Mexico.

A whale shark surfaces off the coast of Mexico.

For all their size, whale sharks are not immune to threats from humans. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers them “vulnerable” to threats such as boat strikes (primarily from larger vessels than the boat we were on), which can hurt or kill these amazing animals. In Asia for years they were caught in fisheries and can still be found in some fish markets.

As snorkeling with whale sharks becomes more popular, new threats are popping up. In the Philippines, some operators are feeding whale sharks to attract them, running the risk of altering migration routes. At Isla Mujeres, when there are few sharks, self-imposed rules go out the window to ensure tourists get to see these animals up close. Mexican scientists are currently working to determine the maximum tourism capacity.

Whale sharks can be found in tropical waters around the world, including Honduras, the Seychelles, and other places, but Isla Mujeres has become one of the most popular spots in the world. Whale shark tourism has grown dramatically over the past few years and their feeding aggregations draw thousands people each year. There were roughly 30 boats there on the morning we went out and double that by the time we left. If each boat had just ten tourists, that means 300 – 600 people there at one time. There are reportedly more than 200 boats with permits and quite a few more that participate illegally.

Leading up to this trip, one of my biggest concerns was whether this crush of people would take away from the experience. Those fears were allayed one I was in the water. When there is a large aggregation, the water doesn’t feel crowded with people. Most boats follow a rule that only allows two people per guide, so the majority of people are in the boats at any given time. And the large group was spread out enough that we did not see another group of people nearby during the two hours we spent there.

Whale shark tourism, when done right, can be a huge benefit to the sharks and other animals. The monetary value of the tourism creates an incentive to stop catching them for meat and several operators like Reefs to Rockies contribute towards conservation and research efforts like those of Ecocean, an organization that helps to research these little-known fish. Snorkelers can also contribute to a database by uploading their images to the whale shark library, which helps researchers learn about population dynamics.

Towards the end of our visit, I recorded a video of two slow-moving sharks swimming to my left. Even with about 10 feet between us, my camera could only capture part of the sharks in the frame. As they slid by, I was startled with surprise as my view was suddenly impaired by a large spotted animal at a very close distance. It was another whale shark, swimming in the opposite direction came between me and the other sharks. Nearby, my wife and daughter laughed as I quickly backed out the way of the large caudal (rear) fin as it passed by.

Maybe my choice of summer family entertainment really was a little bit crazy, but we wouldn’t trade the memories of this experience for any amusement park or camping trip.

 

brad nahill   Brad Nahill is the co-founder of SEEtheWILD.

 

 

Steve Jermanok’s Active Travels: Riu Palace Peninsula

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Tulum

Tulum

Follow my cue and wake up with a morning snorkel to the reef just beyond the beach of the Riu Palace Peninsula. Simply grab a mask, snorkel, and fins from the watersports hut and off you go to see the neon-colored fish. This being Cancun, the ocean beckons and the Riu takes full advantage of its waterfront location with a slew of activity. Certified scuba divers can head via boat 20 minutes to the east to find a live coral reef and two shipwrecks from World War II. Those who want to sail or paddle can easily grab a Hobie catamaran and open kayak from the beach. Yet, this being Cancun, the gateway to the ocean and the Yucatan peninsula, there’s so much more. The Riu can arrange daytrips to snorkel the natural aquarium, Xel-Ha, or the marine park of nearby Isla Mujeros. There’s the opportunity to deep-sea fish on private charters to hook marlin, sailfish, and tuna. You can even rent a small speedboat and cruise the mangroves in the Cancun lagoon.
Then, of course, there are the Mayan ruins on the beach of Tulum, which will be particularly enticing this week as thousands gather to commemorate the Mayan Day of Destruction on December 21st. The well-preserved Tulum ruins, 60 gray-black buildings in all, are perched on a cliff directly above a palm-fringed beach. Archaeologists place the beginnings of Tulum somewhere between 700-1000 A.D., a period when the Mayan civilization had already passed its peak. Don’t miss Tulum’s tallest building, a watchtower fortress overlooking the Caribbean that the Spanish called El Castillo. The staircase to the summit’s temple offers good views of the seas. Then take a refreshing dip in the ocean before the drive back to the Riu Palace Peninsula.
steve  Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.

Swimming with whale sharks

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Enter to Win the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway

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Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

We’re thrilled to be giving away The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. This incredible prize is for a three-night stay in a Junior Suite for two adults and two children at The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa in Mexico, a resort that made Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List 2012 and ranked as one of the best places to stay in the world. This remarkable prize is worth $895.

 

Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

ABOUT PUEBLO BONITO EMERALD BAY RESORT & SPA

Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa is a Conde Nast Award winner as one of the “Top 20 Resorts in Mexico.” The very private and secluded Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa sits in an exclusive area known as New Mazatlan. This elegant resort is set on 20 pristine acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean and its own private beach. The resort’s new Bistro open kitchen themed restaurant and sushi bar “will open your eyes to a new dining experience in Mazatlan.” As a guest, you can unwind in your condo-style suite with a panoramic ocean view or choose from an abundance of outdoor activities for the whole family. Pueblo Bonito’s “Luxury without Limitations” all-inclusive plan is now available, which features a wide array of beverages and world-class dining.

Pool at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

 

The Resort has received several major awards, including

 

Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List 2012 – Ranked as one of the best places to stay

TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2012 – Ranked among the Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Mexico

 Expedia® Insiders’ Select™ 2011 – Ranked 25 in Mexico and Central America

 AAA Four Diamond Award 2012 (Only AAA Four Diamond Hotel in Mazatlan)

 

Kids Club at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay

 

THE PRIZE

The giveaway, which runs from May 2 to June 2, 2012, is for The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. The prize is for a three (3) night stay in a Junior Suite for two (2) adults and two (2) children (age 12 and under). It also includes one full day of the resort’s Kids Club for up to two children. The Kids Club provides activities for children, including arts & crafts, board games, pool games, movies and more, for kids ages 4 to 11. The prize will be valid for one year from August 1, 2012.

Upgrades and the resort’s all-inclusive plan may be added to the winner’s stay, but will carry an additional charge.

The prize is based on availability. Major holidays are excluded and additional blackout dates may apply. Airfare is not included. The certificate is nontransferable and there is no extension on the expiration date. The cash value of the prize is approximately $895.

So enter daily for a chance to win The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway!

 

 

HOW TO ENTER & WIN

For a chance to win the The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway, just fill out the form below. Multiple entries are welcome, so come back and enter once a day through June 2, 2012. Complete rules are below. The winner will be notified by e-mail on or about June 17, 2012.

 

Important: Please adjust your spam filter to enable receipt of e-mails with the domain EverettPottersTravelReport.com, so that we can notify you if you’re a winner of The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. Good luck!

 

ENTRY FORM

Register for a chance to win The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. By entering, you agree to opt-in for weekly emails from Everett Potter’s Travel Report and occasional emails with information on special offers, promotions and news from Pueblo Bonito Resorts. To enter, you must be at least 21 years old and a legal resident of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, or Canada.
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COMPLETE RULES: The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway.

 

Presented by EverettPottersTravelReport.com and Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN

 

1. How to Enter. Between 9:00am Eastern Time (“ET”) on May 2, 2012and 11:59pm ET on June 2, 2012, (the “Giveaway Period”), you may log onto EverettPottersTravelReport.com to enter The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. To enter, fill out your full name and email on the entry form and click “Submit Now.” Entrants may enter once a day, each day, during the Giveaway Period.

 

All entrants must have a valid e-mail address. No automated entry devices and/or programs permitted. All entries become the sole and exclusive property of EverettPottersTravelReport.com and receipt of entries will not be acknowledged or returned. Delivery of prize will require a street address (no P.O. Boxes) upon winning. EverettPottersTravelReport.com is not responsible for lost, late, illegible, stolen, incomplete, invalid, unintelligible, misdirected, technically corrupted or garbled entries, which will be disqualified, or for problems of any kind whether mechanical, human or electronic. Only fully completed entries are eligible. Proof of submission is not proof of receipt by this web site.

 

2. Eligibility. Participation is open only to legal residents of the 50

United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada who are 21 or older as of date of entry. Proof of age and legal US residency may be required. Void outside of the 50United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada, where prohibited, taxed or restricted by law. Employees and partners of EverettPottersTravelReport.com, Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, its subsidiaries and affiliates, and their immediate families (parents, children, siblings, spouses) or members of the same household (whether related or not) of such employees/partners are not eligible to enter. This Giveaway may only be entered in or from the United States and entries originating from any other jurisdiction are not eligible for entry. You are not authorized to participate in the Giveaway if you are not located within the United States. All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply.

 

3. Random Drawing/Odds. One (1) winner will be selected in a random drawing from among all eligible entries received during the Giveaway Period. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. Drawing will be conducted by EverettPottersTravelReport.com on or about June 17, 2012. By entering the Giveaway, you fully and unconditionally agree to be bound by these official rules (“Complete Rules”) and the decisions of EverettPottersTravelReport.com, which will be final and binding in all matters relating to the Giveaway.

 

4. Prize. The prize will be given to one (1) winner. The giveaway, which runs from May 2 to June 2, 2012, is for The Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Family Getaway. The prize is for a three (3) night stay in a Junior Suite for two (2) adults and two (2) children (age 12 and under). It will be valid for one year from August 1, 2012. It also includes one full day of the resort’s Kids Club for up to two children. The Kids Club provides activities for children, including arts & crafts, board games, pool games, movies and more, for kids ages 4 to 11. Upgrades and the resort’s all-inclusive plan may be added to the winner’s stay, but will carry an additional charge.

 

The prize is based on availability. Major holidays are excluded and additional blackout dates may apply. Airfare is not included. The certificate is nontransferable and there is no extension on the expiration date. The cash value of the prize is approximately $895.

 

No credit will be extended for unused portion of the package. Package may not be redeemed for cash, resold or transferred.

 

In order to redeem the prize, the winner must contact Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa after notification from Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer or promotion. Winner will receive a prize email which must be submitted at time of booking or the space is not valid. The letter will contain instructions for redeeming the prize. The prize may not be sold on eBay or any other auction site, nor may it be sold directly to anyone for cash. Otherwise, the offer becomes invalid.

 

5. Notification. The winner will be notified by e-mail on or about June17, 2012. If the winner does not respond to our e-mailed notification within fourteen (14) calendar days of first notification attempt, if the prize notification is returned as undeliverable, if the winner rejects his/her prize, or in the event of noncompliance with these Complete Rules, such prize will be forfeited and EverettPottersTravelReport.com reserves the right to select an alternate winner from all remaining eligible entries. Upon prize forfeiture, no compensation will be given.

 

6. Conditions. By entering, you agree to opt-in for weekly emails from Everett Potter’s Travel Report and occasional emails on special offers, promotions and news from Pueblo Bonito Resorts. All federal, state and local taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner. Participation in this Giveaway and acceptance of prize constitutes the winner’s permission for EverettPottersTravelReport.com, and Pueblo Bonito Resort & Spa to use his/her name, address (hometown and state), likeness, photograph, picture, portrait, voice, biographical information and/or any statements made by each winner regarding the Giveaway or EverettPottersTravelReport.com for advertising and promotional purposes without notice or additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. EverettPottersTravelReport.com and Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa are not responsible if the prize cannot be awarded due to delays or interruptions due to acts of God, acts of war, natural disasters, weather or acts of terrorism. Entrants who do not comply with these Complete Rules or attempt to interfere with this Giveaway in any way will be disqualified. There is no purchase or sales presentation required to participate.

 

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8. Name of Winner. To obtain the name of the winner, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope by June 20, 2012 to: Everett Potters Travel Report Attn: Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa Giveaway Winner, 146 Third Avenue, Pelham, NY 10803.

 

 

 

Active Travels: Adventures in Puerto Vallarta

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The other side of Puerto Vallarta

By Steve Jermanok
Last Wednesday in Puerto Vallarta, I took a fast zodiac boat ride with the family across glorious Banderas Bay. Led by the outfitter Vallarta Adventures, we landed on the docks of the seaside village of Quimixto. We walked the cobblestone streets past the sleeping chihuahas and soon made our way to a pack of horses that were waiting to take us up the mountainous hillside. We got out of the saddle, only to walk to a hidden waterfall where we swam in the cool waters. After horseback riding, we snorkeled with a slew of angelfish and then had a delicious lunch on a quiet beach farther south in Pizotita. Our guide, Poncho, made a helluva margarita for the adults, while the kids were served coconut juice. Life was bliss and we laughed when Poncho said “Where are all the bandits in their big sombreros and guns blazing?” It was so peaceful here that my daughter wandered over to a hammock and took a nap.
The next day, a busload of passengers from a Celebrity cruise ship were on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, on their way to a nature hike, when they were robbed at gunpoint by a bandit. I was stunned. I had just spent the past two days in Puerto Vallarta, walked the Malecon, the broad boardwalk down by the ocean, had an excellent meal of authentic Mexican fare at Old Town’s Margarita Grill, and felt perfectly safe my entire stay in the region. But then the robbery happened. This being Mexico, which already faces a huge media blitz about crime and their drug cartels, it can only add salt to the wound. Yet, let’s be realistic. There’s crime in every city in America, so why wouldn’t a city of over 400,000 people like Puerto Vallarta face some adversity. I feel horrible for the people on that bus who were robbed of their cameras, money, and cell phones. Hopefully, the robbery was an anomaly and the city can go back to doing what it does best, making guacamole tableside with homemade salsa. For that dish alone, I wouldn’t hesitate to return.
  Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels. Follow him @activetravels

Active Travels: A Yoga Retreat in Mexico

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By Steve Jermanok

I had the privilege of traveling with Austin-Lehman Adventures last summer on a family trip to the Canadian Rockies and loved every minute of it. For 2012, founder Dan Austin is rolling out some exciting new adventures including a six-day biking trip through Burgundy and three trips in February heading to Yellowstone National Park in the quiet winter months. Yet, the trip that I’m most enthusiastic about is ALA’s first foray into yoga. From March 19-24, 2012, ALA will be heading to a private coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico. Wake up to sunrise yoga accompanied by the sounds of the tropical forest and a steaming mug of the plantation’s own coffee. Then head out to explore the Mayan ruins of Izapa, kayak through mangrove swamps on the Pacific Coast, hike to hidden waterfalls, and rest your weary body in a temazcal, an indigenous sauna bath, before digging into a dinner of local Mexican favorites. To a Boston boy who hates the month of March more than any other time in New England, this is the ideal warm-weather retreat.

 

  Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.

San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico

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In Search of the Real Mexico in San Cristobal

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Descendents of the Maya in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico

By Everett Potter

From the terrace of my rooftop room at Casa Felipe Flores, I can hear fireworks and the brassy sound of a mariachi band playing in a small parade for the patron saint of a local hospital. I’m surrounded by pine trees and palms, and at the edge of this city, San Cristobal de Las Casas, in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, are lush green hills.

Or as Graham Greene put it, San Cristobal is “Low single story houses with brown tiled roofs and little flowery patios, the mountains crouched all round like large and friendly dogs.” That was Greene’s still-accurate observation in his 1939 Mexico travelogue, “The Lawless Roads.”

 

Courtyard at Casa Felipe Flores, San Cristobal.

Anyone who even glances at the headlines knows that these are troubled times in Mexico. The drug-inspired violence in the northern part of the country has made a serious dent in tourism, one of the country’s lifeblood industries. So it was inspiring to listen to Mexican President Felipe Calderon talk with passion last night here in San Cristobal about the country’s commitment to adventure tourism. Calderon, speaking at the opening of the Adventure Travel World Summit, made it clear that Mexico has many treasures, natural and cultural, adding that sustainability was among the country’s biggest concerns.

A good place to start exploring the treasures of Mexico is here in Chiapas, a state unknown to most Americans used to visiting beach resorts like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Here at 7,200 feet above sea level lies a venerable colonial city, in the heart of Maya Mexico.

“Ah, you are going to the real Mexico,” said a Mexican acquaintance in New York when I told him where I was headed.  It turns out that the “real Mexico” takes work to get to – a nearly five hour non stop flight from JFK to Mexico City, followed by another flight of about 90 minutes to Tuxtla Gutierrez. Then there’s a 90 minute drive or so through the mountains to San Cristobal on roads often cloaked in fog.

 

The chapel at the cathedral in San Cristobal.

It was well worth the trip. On the streets are natives selling locally made and brightly colored textiles. They are descendents of the Maya from nearby Chamula, wearing black wool tufted skirts, or women from the village of Zinacantan, wearing black capes. There is a lively zocalo or plaza where mariachi music is played, hole in the wall cafes with guitarists and a handful of nicer restaurants aimed at gringos where yes, even more music is played.  Across from the zocalo is the cathedral, whose thick stone walls of red and yellow are a bright dash of deep color in an already colorful town. Backpackers, new agers and Italian and German tourists mix with the locals. You can live cheaply here – a coffee, made from locally grown fair trade beans, is among the best in Central America and will set you back a dollar. A Corona is less than $2, and a meal can be had for $5. At El Mercadito (Diego Dugelay 11)  my entire lunch — delicious and fresh chicken mole and rice – ran about $3.

 

Frans Blom and a Mayan descendent

 

You can visit Na Bolom,  a hotel in a compound that was the home of the Danish anthropologist Frans Blom and his Swiss photographer wife, Gertrude Duby beginning in the 1920’s. Now a hotel and a museum to their work in Chiapas – in early photographs he looks for all the world like a real-life Indiana Jones – is a glimpse into a lost Mexico that  existed here pre- and post-war, the country of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

A half hour’s drive from San Cristobal’s narrow streets brings you to Chamula, where the scene at San Juan de Chamula is like something out of the middle ages: a centuries old Catholic church where no priest may enter, a veritable forest of candles burning on the stone floor,  and Maya shaman rubbing live chickens over the head and shoulders of the afflicted. Coca Cola is drunk ritually and the praying natives chant in Tsoztzil, one of the Mayan languages.

If you know anything about Chiapas, it might be a recollection of the Zapatista Rebellion back in 1994. That uprising is long over.

“The irony is that Chiapas is probably now the safest place to be in Mexico,” says David Orr, an expatriate American, who owns and runs Casa Felipe Flores with his wife Nancy.

Living room at Casa Felipe Flores

It’s a dream of a Mexican colonial hotel and they extended one of the warmest welcomes I’ve received in some time. The Orrs bought and restored the old house 20 years ago and opened it as six-bedroom inn. In typical Mexican fashion, the stone exterior faces onto the street and gives no clue of the interior. But step inside and you enter a courtyard filled with lush plants that’s open to the sky. There is a living room with a fireplace, statues of saints from Guatemala, an assortment of contemporary artworks, and some of the textiles that Chiapas is known for. It feels like 19th century colonial Mexico come to life.

There’s an elegant dining room where breakfast is cooked to order. Several guestrooms lead off from the courtyard and there’s a passageway to a second courtyard, with columns, more plants, more guestrooms. Each guestroom has similar antiques and artworks, as well as a fireplace.

“We added the back building, which was where the previous owners, who had been here for 50 years, kept animals and had an outdoor bathroom,” David Orr says.

The rooftop room at Casa Felipe Flores

But I liked my room the best. It was located on the roof, reached by outdoor spiral stairs. The room itself is a small cube, perhaps 8 x 10, with a beamed ceiling, tile floors and two windows. I slept under a welcome duvet and an electric blanket, because here in the mountains, it can get chilly at night. Thankfully, there was also a corner fireplace where I lit a small fire of pinion logs which burned aromatically. The mantle was topped by a hand carved wooden Guatemalan statue of a saint.

The bath was compact but nicely done with bright Mexican tiles. The best part may have been the private terrace with table and chairs, with a view over the neighboring buildings to the green hills. It was an aerie, a meditative sanctuary in the heart of Maya Mexico. To my mind, it was  perfection.

San Cristobal is not the Mexico most of us are used to. The cafes and streets are shared with locals, not quarantined for tourists. It feels a bit like the 1950’s or 60’s here, and that’s not a bad thing.

“There’s s a small community of expats here,” says Nancy, who’s originally from Corpus Christi. “But we have many more Mexican friends. This is not like San Miguel de Allende, which is like a Texas country club compared to San Cristobal.”

You’d have to go a long ways to find a city more charming than San Cristobal, and a colonial inn more engaging than Casa Felipe Flores. In these troubled times, they are shining examples of what’s so inviting about Mexico.

Casa Felipe Flores, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

Doubles from $95.

 

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