Family Travel

Travel Snaps: Akumal, Mexico

February 16, 2015
Akumal Mexico

My family and I recently spent a week in Akumal, Mexico. If you haven’t heard of it, you likely soon will as it’s nestled on the Mayan Riviera between the fashionable Playa del Carmen and the newest hotter than hot spot, Tulum. The word Akumal means “place of turtles” and as such attracts day-trippers from all the area resorts, bohemian travellers, local condo owners and randoms like us who come to swim in pristine waters and look for turtles (and other sea creatures).

Akumal Condo

Stay

As this was our first time to Akumal, we rented a beautiful new build, gated-condo in the jungle – found on Airbnb.com. Although Akumal is so small, there are several condo and luxury rentals along the sea, most of which can be found online. I had a vision that we would arrive in Akumal, and find a little place on the beach for next to nothing to stay after our condo rental. No such luck – Akumal is not cheap and deals are better found online!

For our next trip to Akumal though, I would love to round up a bunch of friends and rent a 5 or 6 bedroom mansion on Yal-Ku lagoon – a dream!

Do

Akumal is the most perfect location for exploring the entire area and with a hefty budget, there is so much to do! Many of the “attractions” are nature and/or adventure-based: off-roading through the jungle, zip-lining, swimming in caves (cenotes) or even holding crocodiles at the crocodile zoo! Honestly, the whole Mayan Riviera is designed and/or caters to tourists – there is a lot to choose from!

The largest and most popular destinations are the “experiences xcaret” and include:
Xel-Ha: a huge natural water park to swim and snorkel with tropical fish, dolphins and manatees all day! Sort of like Discovery Cove in Florida, but much larger and all natural!
Xcaret: Jaguars, butterflies, birds and fish. Mayan entertainment, rivers, cenotes and jungle walks. There is so much to do – it takes a whole two days to experience Xcaret!

Akumal Bay

Beaches:

Akumal Bay is absolutely gorgeous! Palm trees on a pristine beach (much needed for shade!), intensely gradiated blue and turquoise sea, tropical fish swimming around your legs and if you swim further out – turtles! There are snorkel rentals available on the beach (about $15US), scuba tours and boats for hire everywhere! There are a few other bays in the area, mostly lined with small hotels and condos. Equally intimate and gorgeous, although on one of our visits to Half Moon Bay, swimming was impossible because of all of the mounds of sea grass that had washed up onto the beach.

Akumal

Akumal

Fish tacos

Fish tacos on the side of the road in Akumal, Mexico

Akumal

Our trusty little VW Gol rental

 

Car

We rented a car during our stay in Akumal and it was the greatest! Pure freedom to zip around the Mayan Riviera! I read sooooo many negative reviews about renting a car in Mexico and getting ripped off at gas stations – fortunately we had a good experience with both. We rented a little VW Gol from America Car Rental in Playa del Carmen (online). The rental included all necessary insurance (except tire and window coverage and after seeing the extra giant speed bumps, or topes, I understand why this is extra!) and even if we didn’t need it, the peace of mind was worth the extra pesos. A car is definitely the best option for getting around the area.

Otherwise, if you are coming into Akumal, you can take one of the many collectivos – cheap, zippy little vans that drive up and down the highway all day! Once you get off at the main stop, it is quite a long (hot!) walk to the beach or anywhere interesting really with kids in tow. However, cabs are available as well.

 

All in all, Akumal is a definite new fave of mine! Although I have plans to see the entire world, I hope to fit the Mayan Riviera into my plans at least yearly!

 

MamaStyle

Mama Celeb Style – Solange Knowles

February 12, 2015

Solange Knowles, the 28-year-old younger sister of Beyonce, is probably best known for taking several swings at Jay Z in an elevator. However, she is also a talented musician, actress and “she be taking pictures” – on Instagram that is. She has almost 740,000 followers who, like me, are just digging her vibe – she’s cool, creative, chill, colorful and couldn’t care less! And of course, a mama to a 10-year-old, blue-eyed boy.

All photos via Instagram:

Solange K

Solange K

Solange K

Solange K

Solange K

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Solange K

Family Travel

A Fabulous Family Day in Playa del Carmen

February 5, 2015

Playa del Carmen, situated on Mexico’s east coast in the Yucatan Peninsula, is warm and sunny, uber cool and home to thousands of expats and foreigners, all living the good life by the sea! It is super safe, small enough to walk all over yet large enough for diversity, awesome for party people but also perfect for families like ours that opted to skip the all inclusive vacation this year and try to live like the locals!

In the most eastern part of Playa, closest to the beach, is where the foreigners are and where we stayed. Luxury condos, beach clubs, interlocking stone streets bordered by palms, enticing Italian restaurants and the famed 5th Avenue reside here, which is why it’s often referred to as the ‘Europe of Mexico’. Once you venture slightly out of the tourist area, you find the local 10 peso taco shops, grocery stores, Pelateria’s (popsicle shops) and food stands.

Playa del Carmen is a really amazing town, and depending on your budget could provide the greatest vacation ever! Because our goal was to travel for a much longer time than usual, it was important that we stuck to our budget which meant mostly avoiding the outdoor, 5th Avenue restaurants. That was hard! We did however manage to sample (cheap!) Mexican foods here and there, an adventure all its own!

Having said that – here is a real life account of a fabulous day in Playa del Carmen with my family:

Balcony in Playa

Morning – Breakfast

Wake up in our Mexican-style condo overlooking 5th Avenue (completely unnecessary for us – next time we will stay off of 5th!), smile, give thanks and enjoy the beautiful blue sky and lush palm trees from the balcony.

Breakfast in would be a little breakfast of organic eggs and drinking yogurt (so much cheaper here) or fresh fruit smoothies, while breakfast out would be a lovely indulgence sitting on the outdoor patio at Chez Céline, just a few blocks away. Authentic french baguettes and quiche in a Mexican city (so worth the extra cost compared to the crap pancakes you might get at an off-the-beaten path restaurant unless of course you head to 100% Natural and try the surprisingly yummy whole wheat pancakes).

If we had breakfast in, we would head out afterwards for some coffee and chocolate at Ah Cacao! While I try to avoid “tourist trap” places, this chain of cafe’s really lived up to the hype. The coffee is very good, while the cacao (mochas, sipping chocolate, chocolate croissants…) is antioxidant-rich goodness, grown in Mexico – there’s something here for all of us!

Bike Playa del CarmenAh Cacao5th Avenue Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen

After a coffee and treat, we may stroll along 5th Avenue to look at all the colorful souvenirs that spill out of hundreds of stores that line each side of the walkway. While we are called to from shop owners hundreds of times, it is still a nice walk, especially since there are no cars to dodge! From here, we walk south to the area where the Cozumel ferry is. There is a really great playground in the sand (about the safest you can find in Playa) where the kids can run around and buy fresh watermelon, mango and plantain chips from the carts that are in abundance in these parts.

Fruit carts Park on beach

Afternoon – Beach

A perfect day for me definitely involves grabbing a large fresh fruit shake (about 30 pesos for .5 litre) and/or some tequila coolers and heading to the beach to soak up some sun and salt air, so off to the beach we go! With lots of money in the budget, we would pay to sit on comfy chairs with umbrellas at a beach club (there are many to choose from) since the shade from an umbrella is welcomed! But beggars can’t be choosers, so a spot on the crowded sand is awesome too – preferably slightly away from the most popular Mamita’s Beach Club, which although is lovely, blasts techno music all day and night – ideal if that’s your thing.Beach Playa del Carmen

Now, I found during our 10-day stay that beach days at Playa are unpredictable. One day might be picture-perfect, while others the sea is too wavy or mounds of seaweed – or sea grass – has washed up onto the beach, making it too uncomfortable to swim. In my experience, there were cigarette butts and bottle caps on the beach everyday.

On a perfect day though, the sky is blue (with a little cloud coverage for shade), the sea is calm and our spot on the sand is free of trash from last night’s party.

Beach Playa del Carmen

Beach Playa del Carmen

A very busy Sunday on the beach in Playa del Carmen

Beach Playa del Carmen

Seagrass!

Beach Playa del Carmen

Evening

I can think of nothing better than an indulgent dinner at one of the (authentic) Italian restaurants on or near 5th with their wood-burning pizza ovens and handmade pasta. Outdoor patio dining, candles and palm tree decor, delicious food and drink – a dream! Near our rental at 26th street, there were plenty to choose from.

A dinner in, of fresh fish tacos with guacamole and corn tortillas, made by my hubby however is also a wonderful dinner in Playa – one that we had many, many times! It took us awhile, but we finally found a local pescaderia (seafood market & restaurant), El Pirata, located on 40th street, west of Av 5th – amazing since all the grocery stores sell some sort of ‘orientele’ fish which scares me!

An after dinner walk is essential – the city is so beautiful and lively at night! We avoid 5th Av, south of Av Constituyentes with all its crowds and either stroll north where it’s quieter and less populated or head up to 30th instead where we find  little gelaterias (ice cream), cheap tostadas and my favorite, DAC market – one of the few healthy grocery stores in Playa. Here we buy organic Mexican coffee grounds, organic eggs and vegetables and delicious tapioca, vanilla coconut baked goodies! This place is always busy!

TostadasMuralGolden man Playa at night

By this time, my little one has fallen asleep in his stroller (since he never takes a siesta), so we head back to our rental to whip up some late night guacamole and chips and one or two margaritas that we enjoy on our balcony.

On a perfect day, it’s cool enough to sleep with just the fans on and the bar below us won’t blare the music until 2 or 3 am. Not having to bundle in fleece pjs and slippers, we slip into clean sheets with smiles on our faces, give thanks for a beautiful day and hope we can come again and again!

 

 

Family Travel

Playa del Carmen with Kids: Playground Crawl

January 28, 2015
Parque Fundores

Before leaving for our Mexican vacation to Playa del Carmen, I made a point to research outdoor things to do with kids that didn’t involve spending a ton of money. While I’m thankful for other families’ accounts of family activities, I simply learned during our 10-day stay that Playa is similar to any other town (by the sea) – and all the usual suspects apply: PARK, BEACH, WALK, TREATS – and POOL if you have one.

There are a few differences, of course. Playgrounds in Playa del Carmen (or any Mexican city) are not as abundant as we are used to Toronto and they are mostly unkempt, if not a little dangerous! Having said that, we managed to seek out a few (shaded!) playgrounds in town where the boys were able to get the ants out of their pants and have some fun!

parqueceiba1

1. Parque la Ceiba (Calle 1 Sur / Diagonal 60)

Mexico is hot! Even in January – so coming upon this playground set in a jungle-like setting with shade trees was such a welcome!

Parque la Ceiba, located way off the beaten path, is an environmentally conscious, financially sponsored green space that teaches children about recycling and the environment. There is an Internet cafe, yoga classes, a theatre and two little playgrounds, all found by walking along little paths through the forest.
The larger playground is made up of discarded truck tires turned into swings and climbing structures, an old train car and basically just ropes and wooden posts – all in an effort to reuse and recycle. The boys had a great time trying out new things and we all enjoyed walking along the paths and discovering new little areas.


 

Parque Fundores

2. Parque Fundadores (Juarez at 5th  (the beach)

The newest playground in Playa and thus the best! Set up like a little castle and best suited for smaller children, this wooden structure with its slides, monkey bars and ramps is right at the beach! During the day, it was pretty quiet, but in the evenings when the Mexican children were out of school, it seemed the liveliest place to be! Plus with shops and fruit stands along either edge of the boulevard, hoards of people arriving from the ferries and the Voladores de Papantla performers, who swing upside down from a 98f pole in the square, the energy of this playground made it our favorite!


3. Benito Juarez & 15th Av

This little park, with its basketball court and broken-down pirate-themed playground seemed to be a local favorite. Cheap vendors come out in the evenings, as well as many local families who come to play and snack on street foods and fresh churros.

My guys managed to climb, swing from thick metal cables and jump from tire to tire for awhile, but I was so worried someone would get cut from the rusty slide or fall through the wooden bridge with its missing planks, I basically encouraged them to stay on the ground. Although falling apart, the park was rammed at night with local children. Still, an adventure!


 

 

park_playa3park_playa2

4. 24th Calle east of 20th Av

Among all the lush foliage in the main tourist neighbourhood, sits this little playground – the one we visited most during our stay in Playa. Equipped with the basics – swings, a rusty slide, and a little playhouse plus some benches and a beautiful shade tree – my youngest was able to get some much needed exercise! He had the greatest fun sliding down the broken plastic slide that almost sent him over the side each time! Great location, safe and quiet – we definitely appreciated this one!


More Playa del Carmen & Mayan Riviera with Kids

+ A Fabulous Day with the Family in Playa del Carmen

+ Akumal Travel Snaps

+ A Tulum Family Love Affair