Monday, July 25, 2016

You Say Rio, I Say Ria... Road Trip Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

The Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel Rio Lagartos
A few weeks back Max and I were invited to the Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel in the sleepy fishing village of Rio Lagartos, Yucatan. This was my second visit to the town, the first was a bit of a pouring rain disaster so I was excited to a) see the flamingos without having to squint through a deluge and b) introduce Max to the magic of the biosphere.

Flamingos. Pretty much self-explanatory

I suppose the first thing we need to get out of the way is the "Rio versus Ria" debate. As soon as I started posting on social media during the trip, I started to receive messages correcting me on the name. As I am a pro and have been doing this for a while now (ahem), I was very deliberate in the words I chose. "Rio Lagartos" is the name of the municipality, the small town on the gulf coast of Yucatan state. "Ria Lagartos" is the name of the biosphere and natural areas. A "ria" is defined as "a long narrow inlet formed by the partial submergence of a river valley", basically another word for "estuary". Therefore, BOTH terms are correct, though most travelers will use "rio" for simplicity. Ok, language lesson done for the day, moving forward.

Cormorant drying his wings

Driving in the Yucatan is really quite easy, the highways are well maintained and the signs are clearly marked. Getting to Rio Lagartos from Cancun we took the "cuota", the toll highway that brought us to Valladolid, then turned off to the straight path through the small pueblitos to the coast. It was tempting to stop in Temozon, famous for smoked meat and longaniza, but I resisted and pushed forward to our destination.

We're so pretty

We were set to meet up with Kristin of What Am I Still Doing in Cancun? and another friend from Isla Mujeres plus their kidlets. Moms and kids weekend, bring it on! As much as I would love a weekend away from being mommy, the truth is that traveling with kids (and Max in particular) is a dynamic way to explore and discover, seeing things through a child's eyes makes everything a little more magical.

Do not try this at home

We got ourselves checked in to Yuum Ha and were really delighted with the accommodations. Warm colours in a cozy room with the most spectacular views, speedy wifi and the oh so necessary in summer air conditioning. Max and I had beat the rest of the convoy so headed off to dinner on our own then back to the hotel to rest up for our Saturday of adventure.

Flamingos run on water to build up speed to fly, Who knew? 

We were up bright and early Saturday and it was a phenomenal weather day. The clear skies over the crystal waters and flocks of birds flying by, the view knocked my socks off as I drank my coffee, I was happy to know I wouldn't spend this particular flamingo adventure under a tarp. We gathered the gang together, had a tasty breakfast and met our capable captain of Rio Lagartos Adventures for the day's explorations.

The view from the Yuum Ha Hotel

Our little "panga" boat brought us to our first stop within a few minutes, a large group of flamingos feeding not far from shore. This is the nesting season, a time when thousands upon thousands of flamingos gather along the Yucatan Shore to "find romance" (they are monogamous creatures) and lay the one egg they will produce in the year. The babies are born white or grey, the pink colour intensifying as they age and eat more of the foods that give them their distinctive hues.

This is where we get the noms 

We ooohed and aaaahed over this first group of flamingos then the boat sped off towards the canals of the biosphere. If I were a professional birder, I would happily list off the exotic species we encountered. As I am but an amateur, I will say "We saw big birds, little birds, all different colour birds, cranes, eagles, cormorants, ducks oh so many birds!" I think the highlight for the kids was meeting a juvenile crocodile who seemed to be friends with our guide, coming up to our boat for a little pat on the head. We enjoyed seeing more large groups of flamingos, the famous pink waters near the "salineras" and of course, the requisite "Mayan bath", slathering ourselves with mineral-rich clay for a natural spa experience. We took a few minutes to enjoy the beach before making our way back to shore. 

Sunset over Rio Lagartos

The rest of the weekend was spent chilling in the solitude and peace of this charming little town. A spin in the golf cart, dinner at Ria Maya and a few sunset beers on the dock while the kids fished. I'm sure the people of the town were rather confused by our little group, two blondes, a Brit and three little kids who look very caucasian but speak Mexican (yes, I mean Mexican, the slang that kids use in Mexico is a very distinctive form of Spanish!) Tourism is somewhat new to the community and tourists are still a bit of a novelty, it is off the beaten path for most travelers but so worth the effort if you can make the time to visit. For a unique experience with nature and a peek into the culture of modern Yucatan, Rio Lagartos is definitely the place.

Big thanks, muchas gracias to Yuum Ha Boutique Hotel and Rio Lagartos Adventures for a fantastic family adventure! See all the photos from the trip here "Rio Lagartos, Yucatan photos".

For incredible Mayan ruins tours in Yucatan!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mahahual Waterpark "Lost Mayan Kingdom"

Lost Mayan Kingdom Mahahual
Our recent Mother/Son Road Trip was such a blast and a big part of it was our day at Lost Mayan Kingdom in Mahahual. The waterpark has been open less than a year, aiming at the cruise ship visitors who dock in the Costa Maya and they have done a fantastic job of creating an excursion for families that love adventure.

Love a waterpark with elevators! 
We had the great fortune of visiting on a day with no ships in port, we had the park almost completely to ourselves! Max better not get accustomed to this VIP/private water park treatment or I am in big trouble.

Adventure Dude
The concept of the park is unique, centered around a giant pyramid from which all the ziplines and waterslides originate. To the delight of my knees, there are no stairs or towers to climb, the elevators whisk you to the floor of your choice. With twelve waterslides and several zipline courses, the elevators were definitely a life saver. 

Max and I hit the ziplines first, fast and furious adrenaline! The staff were amazing, so friendly and funny though they take safety very seriously of course. They accompanied us through the whole course and I was really interested in their stories of life in Mahahual, a totally different vibe than Cancun (and very tempting to move there!) 

Never choose the easy path

The hanging rope bridge course offered easy, intermediate and advanced paths. Guess which one little Maxito chose....

Reach the bottom, go right back up again

After a quick lunch break (YUMMY hamburgers from the onsite food truck), we were ready to take the plunge on the waterslides. I took my turn on most of them then went for a nap in a hammock while Max gave the staff a run for their money to see how many times he could do each slide. His fave was "Chaac" racing down the slide on a mat, I lost count of how many times he went up and down on that baby.

Oh that smile
I finally convinced him to STOP and take a break with me on the Jaguar River (some say lazy, but that's just so negative). We chilled out, enjoyed the peace and the sunshine and the scenes that line the river depicting a Mayan jungle expedition. 

I thought we were done for the day, but try telling an energetic ten year old boy that it's time to leave his private water park. Yeah, no. We did a few more runs on the waterslides and I was SPENT. I managed to convince him it was time to go, after 17 "Just one more PLEEEEEASE!" moments.

A big thanks to all the folks at Lost Mayan Kingdom for a wonderful day, the activities were awesome, the adrenaline surge was fun and the staff made us feel like family. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the Costa Maya region! 

** We were provided complimentary entry by the park but all opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mexican Caribbean Road Trip - Detour to Tulum, Lo Siento Mucho Calakmul

In our last episode, Canucka and Max were leaving Mahahual, embarking on part two of their road trip, next planned stop, Calakmul in Campeche.

Uh oh, that is not a happy face

Aaaaaand, Calakmul isn't happening. After leaving Mahahual, we took a little pit stop on the highway for ahem, a visit to the bushes (it's not a road trip til you've peed in the bushes). I noticed smoke or steam coming up from under the car, opened the hood and was whacked with a wave of heat. I topped up the oil and coolant (we were literally in the middle of nowhere) and slowly made my way to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the closest town. The kind mechanic basically said "you are screwed" and I made the decision to NOT drive 6 hours into the jungle with no cel service nearby. Sorry Campeche, next time!

Zazil Kin Cabañas Tulum

So what's a girl and her son to do with cancelled plans, no place to stay and a car in trouble? Start driving towards home. Slowly. Stopping to cool down every twenty minutes. 

Tulum beach at Zazil Kin

We made it to the town of Tulum and the crowds of semana santa visitors. I didn't have much hope in finding somewhere affordable to stay on the beach, but took a chance and headed to my fave little cabañas at Zazil Kin with fingers crossed. LUCK. They had ONE cabaña left and at a decent price. Bad luck with the car, good luck with the hospitality gods, thanks universe, I owe you one.

Where the dawn is born, sunrise in Tulum

Sunrise is early. Yep, stating the obvious

We enjoyed the rest of the day on the beach then hit the hay. We woke up for the sunrise because YOU MUST see the sunrise in Tulum. The archaeological site of Tulum was originally called "Zama", meaning "the place where the sun is born", you miss the sunrise, you miss the magic.

Canucka in her happy place underwater

Max boogie boarded, I chilled with my book and we wasted the day away on the beach. On one of my lazy beach walks I asked a boat captain "How much?" for a snorkel trip to the reef. We chatted, we smiled and I got an AMAZING price and set us up for the next day's first tour out. First stop was a spot right in front of the archaeological site for picture time with the pyramids, then off to the reef.

CHEESE. Dang we look good in orange

We were accompanied by a group of tourists from Spain, lovely to meet them, frustrating to snorkel with beginners. I know, I know, we all have to start somewhere but being kicked in the face by flailing out of control fins just isn't cool. Max and I got away from the cluster, fought against a strong current and killer waves and had ourselves a blast. The captain promised us a private deep sea fishing trip, next time Capi!

Straight shooter under the sea

It was now time to go home to Cancun. Carefully. Slowly. Not overheating the car on the highway. Max was a perfect road trip partner, his adventurous spirit and instinct to help, his lust for new experiences and his laid-back attitude when things don't go as planned made this trip a dream. We bonded together as well as finding time for ourselves to be individuals. Frankly, I am tearing up as I close this out, oh sentimental Canucka! Sharing this time with my son, the good and the bad, is an experience I will remember forever and I hope he will too. My little dude is becoming a little man and I am blessed to be witness to the growth of this incredible person. As with all great road trips, this was not just about what we saw and did, it was a spiritual, life-affirming experience. (I promised myself I wouldn't cry, damn!)

Best Road Trip Ever.

Thanks so much for following along in our journey! I do hope it has inspired you to do something incredible with your loved ones, just take the leap and go, the return is far greater than the risk.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mexican Caribbean Road Trip - A Mother and Son Adventure

Mom and Max aka "Team Light, Love and Positivity". Booyah.

Being a single mom is not an easy job. And I am quite sure that being the only child of a single mom can be a bit trying for an energetic ten (almost eleven!) year old boy. We love each other to pieces but in the day to day routine of life we occasionally butt heads, pretty common situation especially as we both get bored easily.

The entrance to Blue Kay Mahahual

So, how do we survive the "semana santa" two week spring vacation without killing one another? ROAD TRIP. Truthfully, it is a bit of a crazy time to try to travel, the whole country is on vacation and has the same idea. Prices are high, availability is low, but where there is a will, there is a way and I was determined to find a great escape from big city Cancun life.

The Canucka in paradise

After hours of research, obsessing, and occasionally being sidetracked by Bali or Greece or Egypt or cats doing silly things, I settled on a trip to Mahahual, a small village on the sea in the south of Quintana Roo in the area known as "Costa Maya". Looking at the maps, I realized how close we would be to the state of Campeche and extended our plans to include Calakmul. After that, it was up in the air, either drive back via Yucatan stopping along the Ruta Puuc or heading back up the Riviera Maya way. Not having a plan was PERFECT, I mean really, isn't that the beauty of a true road trip?

Small but charming cabañas at Blue Kay

We packed up the car, downloaded audio books, loaded up on snacks and hit the road. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the drive flew by, 4 1/2 hours and we were out of Cancun and in our cabaña at Blue Kay Mahahual and three seconds later in the ocean. The next five days were pure bliss and relaxation, five days not wearing shoes, not cooking or cleaning, just hanging out with my best buddy. We fished, snorkeled, swam, walked along the malecon, napped in the hammock (ok, I napped, ten year old boys DO NOT NAP apparently). We had one terrific day at the new waterpark, Lost Mayan Kingdom (that's a whole other post, coming soon!) feeding our need for speed and adrenaline.

Max's "office" for a few days

Max showed his entrepreneurial spirit and got himself a "job" on the second day. He was desperate to go kayaking and bike riding so he offered to work at the activities booth in exchange for use of the equipment. Dude had ALL the kayaks rented out within 15 minutes to the delight of the concession. I lost him to that hut for a couple of days and he was in heaven, they even paid him and fed him and he made friends with EVERYONE.

Max drumming up kayak business

We both fell in love with Mahahual and really didn't want to leave (don't tell Max I told you, but he had a few tears at check-out). The town has a truly unique vibe, like a small pueblito in Yucatan set on the gorgeous Mexican Caribbean sea. No big hotels, no big stores, not even an "Oxxo" convenience store. It is still relatively undiscovered and not a major tourist destination, unless you happen to arrive in one of the cruise ships that regularly dock here. There are small boutique hotels and cabañas and camping and the malecon is dotted with rustic beach clubs. I was thrilled that the reef was close enough to swim to, no need for a boat trip (though I will take a snorkel trip to Banco Chinchorro next time!) I imagine it is like Holbox ten or fifteen years ago before the luxury hotels started charging an arm and a leg for rich tourists. We felt safe, welcomed, relaxed and cozy, I had no qualms about letting Max run free in paradise.

We said our goodbyes and "hasta prontos" and loaded up the car for the next chapter in our Mexican road trip adventure. Where will we end up? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

La Habichuela Cancun - Not Just for Lovers

La Habichuela Cancun is a pretty little restaurant hidden away in centro, known for the romantic setting in the garden with twinkling fairy lights and statues of Maya gods. It has always been my top recommendation for lovers and honeymooners for a magical evening of amor. My first experience at La Habichuela oozed romance, I was in love and the whole evening felt like I was floating as I stared into those deep brown eyes while sharing a CocoHabichuela. When that love turned to dust and he broke my heart into tiny little pieces, I thought I would never be able to return to "our" restaurant.

When I received the invitation to enjoy a dinner at this restaurant full of memories, I accepted as my "date" was going to be my good friend Kristin of What Am I Still Doing in Cancun. I knew I may face some anxiety but the promise of great food and a whole lot of "chisme" got me motivated to put on my big girl panties, a dress and a smile.

I met Kristin outside the restaurant and we started blah blah blahing immediately. We entered the restaurant talking non-stop, checking out the aquarium of pretty fishies briefly and making our way to our garden table. We were warmly welcomed (the staff is PHENOMENAL), ordered up some mojitos and the conversation flowed.

The appetizers arrived (scallop ceviche in tangerine and mint for me, what a treat!) and we had moved on from the basic "how are yous" to the dishy topics of life that girlfriends are so good at. The entrees came and the gossip momentarily halted as we ooohed and aaaahed over the delicious plates in front of us. I had a wee taste of Kristin's tamarind shrimp (it was delish!) before devouring my tender steak and shrimp brochette.

We both ordered the house specialty dessert, the outrageously good Choco Chichen Itza and I realized that I hadn't thought of romance, my broken heart or my forever alone status all night. The beautiful setting, fine cuisine and incredible conversation was all I needed and I overcame another hurdle in my recovery from heartbreak. 

La Habichuela has been reclaimed, it is no longer a place that provokes melancholy memories, I can once again enjoy the fairy lights and Mayan coffee! I will still recommend it as the most romantic spot in Cancun, but now without the bitter taste of tears while I do. Thank you to Kristin and La Habichuela for a wonderful evening, better than a month of psychotherapy! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Cancun as an Airtransat Expert Expat - Video

A photo posted by Notch Video (@notchvideo) on

Living in Cancun for the last twelve years I like to think I've learned a thing or two about the destination. I have explored and had adventures all up and down the coast and if you know me at all, you know I love to shout from the rooftops my love for Mexico and in particular the Riviera Maya. My digital proclamations of love attracted the attention of the fine folks at Air Transat and I was delighted when they invited me to shoot a video and write a few blogs as part of their "Expert Expat" series.

The production team from my hometown in Toronto contacted me and we began the plan of attack. I had a lot of ideas to share (I mean A LOT), so narrowing down the shooting schedule was all about finding the perfect locations to show off the things I love about the region; culture, history, nature and adventure. The guys from Notch Video and Cycle Productions were open to all my suggestions and I knew from the first emails that we were going to have a blast together.

My Canadian brethren arrived from the great white north and we started things off with an interview at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun. Oh those guys were sly, I didn't even realize the camera was rolling when they started asking questions, perfect way to ensure I wasn't nervous! They probably wondered if I would ever shut up, get me talking about my favourite topic and it's hard to stop me. We wrapped up the formal interview and were ready for adventure in the jungle.

A photo posted by CYCLE | Toronto (@wearecycle) on

Obvio I was going to take them ziplining and Selvatica set the scene perfectly with their patient and knowledgeable guides helping us get some rocking footage. It was no easy task getting the big cameras rigged up to the zips but oh so worth it in the end. I hope the guys from the production team had as much fun as Max and I did! We finished the day in time to make a sunset stop in Puerto Morelos, taking advantage of the lovely light and the crowds on the pier, even borrowing a fishing rod for Max to show off his casting skills.

Day two started off early in the markets of Cancun before hitting the road to Xcaret. It was the ideal shooting location, truly a great representation of all the qualities of Mexico that I adore. Our trusty guide Leo went above and beyond to capture just what we needed and the day was a success.

The experience overall was amazing, Max learned tonnes about video production and technology and I had a great time playing tour guide for the cameras. And now I present to you the final product, a beautiful representation of why I love Cancun and the Riviera Maya.

My gratitude to all who made this possible, having these shared moments with Max captured for posterity is a gift I will never forget.

D is for Dengue, Depression and Dread

I'm currently sitting in my Cancun apartment, staving off the Covid 19 panic and using all my Jungle Kelly powers to maintain my cal...