Jordan Verdin Photo

Playa Del Carmen vs. Cancun: An Amazing, Authentic Alternative for a Riviera Maya Vacation

by Andrea Verdin

When planning a vacation, who doesn’t immediately begin to daydream of an all inclusive resort, with beautiful white sandy beaches? Who doesn’t yearn for miles of beautiful tropical jungle, with a small village nestled in between the leaves and fronds? Who doesn’t want to climb and explore the ancient ruins, only to be washed by a rainstorm once at the top?

Jordan Verdin Photo
Jordan Verdin Photo

Well, for my family and me, this was the experience we had at Playa Del Carmen. Playa del Carmen is located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, about an hour south of Cancun. It’s in the state of Quintana Roo, in the Yucatán peninsula. While it’s only an hour away from the popular Cancun, it’s worlds apart in terms of experience. Firstly, Playa Del Carmen is still considered a beach town; that means everything is still smaller scale. Even the hotels and resorts, which are monolithic, are on the outskirts of town, leaving an adorable, sleepy town with locals at its center.

Playa Del Carmen has regulated hotels and large business so that they cannot go past three stories in height. This means that you do not have to worry about your view of the jungle or beach being marred by an obnoxious skyscraper. This is not the case in Cancun, which has a much more industrialized feeling attached.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find great food, or that you won’t be able to get some great shopping done while at Playa Del Carmen. Guests are encouraged to experience La Quinta, more commonly known by tourists as 5th Avenue.

La Quinta has an interesting mixture of shops. You can find both Mayan-made products with their makers sitting quietly in their booths, or you can access a sprawling, air conditioned mall with designer shops and familiar chain restaurants. One of the best ways to unwind after a day full of adventure, snorkeling and eating is to walk as far as you can down La Quinta. Pop into each shop, take a look at their wares, and negotiate with the shop owner to get the best bargain on the trinket, piece of clothing or memento you want to keep from your trip.

Jordan Verdin photo
Jordan Verdin photo

If you walk off the main strip, there are more localized shops and stands with food that the locals eat, such as el Fogon. This two story taco shop was packed with families, couples on dates, and tourists who knew how to shop around before settling on dinner. Everything was chopped as it was ordered, and you can’t help but try to fill yourself with as many tacos and tortas as possible.

While there are lovely restaurants along La Quinta, there are plenty of taco stands along the blocks near La Quinta that will give you the best – and cheapest – fare. What you need to do is look for a stand that has plenty of locals waiting in line for something to eat. This lets you know that the stand will have fresh food, great flavors, and a decent price attached. One of my husband’s favorite parts of the taco stand crawl was the churro guy at the end: once he received an order for churros, he would place the fresh batter into boiling oil before throwing it into the cinnamon mix. Customers are left with delicious, piping hot churros to top off their already full bellies.
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Another bonus of being in Playa Del Carmen is the quick access available to Cozumel, an island sitting just a few miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. For under 20 dollars, guests can take a round trip ride to an even more remote part of the Riviera Maya. Cozumel is only partially developed, and doesn’t have a lot going on after the sun falls, so it’s great for a day trip.

The view from our fish house in Cozumel
The view from our fish house in Cozumel

Once you arrive, don’t feel like you have to stay in the port village of Cozumel. There’s an entire island to see! We rented a buggy, then hit the open road. There’s a single road that circles the entire island, and we were able to stop at the southernmost point of the island and have lunch at a small shack on the beach.

The fish was freshly caught, the breeze was beautifully cool, and the sights were spectacular. Along the way around the island, there are several stands selling coconuts just off of the trees, and you can even stop and get a massage on the sand while your family or significant other snorkels along the reef.

 

In the middle of a vineyard, the impressive Aigle Castle, a fortress built in the 12th century built by the Savoy, and rebuild by the Bernese and at the end of the 15th Century, in the canton of Vaud. In the background are the peaks of Les Cornettes de Bise, Tete de la Lanche, les Jumelles and le Grammont.

Copyright by: Switzerland Tourism

Top Tips for Summer Switzerland Vacation Trips from an Insider: Nature, Wine and Chocolate Galore!

By Andrea Verdin
Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism

Even though we are in the middle of our summer vacation season, the Wander team cannot stop planning ahead and daydreaming about what next adventure is down the pipeline. Coming back from the Mexican Riviera, I’ve got my mind on the next big excursion, and Switzerland seems ideal for a luxurious getaway.

People around the world have been heading to the Alps for thousands of years for jaw-dropping views and amazing experiences that cannot be had elsewhere. However, there’s so much to experience, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do while in Switzerland.

I asked Switzerland expert Greg Witt from Alpenwild about some of the tops tours, attractions and special events that guests should make sure to include in their tours, and here’s just a glimpse of what Witt suggested. We reached out to Witt and Alpenwild because of the knowledge regarding the Alps he could provide.

“Alpenwild is the leading operator doing hiking and walking tours in the Alps. Our most popular trip is the Haute Route, a legendary trek through the highest peaks in the Alps linking Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn,” said Witt. “It’s the most scenic trek in Europe. It connects the historic mountain resorts of Chamonix France and Zermatt Switzerland. Along the way we traverse ancient trade routes, pass immense glaciers, skirt scenic alpine lakes, and come within view of the 14 highest peaks in the Alps.”

With no further ado, here’s what Witt recommends for those traveling to Switzerland this summer.

The majestic Matterhorn
The majestic Matterhorn
  • Book a view from the Swiss mountaintops
    If you’re looking to get 360° views and the fresh mountain air, Witt recommends the Stanserhorn Cabrio, the world’s first double-decker cable car with an open air upper deck. Another option is a new mountain attraction in Engelberg called the Rotair, the world’s first revolving gondola.

    “So like the Cabrio you get 360° views, but with the Rotair, the gondola car does the rotating as you ascend to the summit of Mt Titlis,” said Witt. “Once at the summit of Mt Titlis you can get your palms sweating by crossing Europe’s highest suspension bridge—the newly-completed Cliff Walk. On the tamer side, don’t miss the new Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Located at the home of International Olympic Committee, the newly-reopened museum explores the events, athletes, and history of the Olympic movement. It’s the most interactive, engaging, and entertaining museum I’ve ever visited—guaranteed fun for all.”

  • Eat the cheese and chocolate; sample the wine.
    If you’re planning a summer Switzerland vacation, it’s essential to eat as much Swiss chocolate as possible.

    “For chocolate lovers, Lindt will be opening a much-anticipated chocolate attraction in Zurich in 2016,” said Witt. “But for those who want to satisfy those cravings this very minute, go to Maison Cailler, Nestlé’s premier chocolate factory, for a tour followed by unlimited tastings.”

    SWITZERLAND - SOMMER - BRAUCHTUM - TRADITIONENFor those more interested in food and wine, Alpenwild offers a tour called Cheese, Chocolate, and the Scenic Alps.

    “We link Alpine meadows, farms, dairies, and vineyards with some of the most spectacular scenery in the Alps,” explained Witt. “Switzerland is really emerging as a gastronomic powerhouse in Europe, and it’s becoming recognized as one of the great culinary regions in Europe. The cheese, wine, and chocolate are superb. The word is getting out—you can have a great food and wine experience in the Alps.”

  • Find a travel agency that will cater to your specific wants.
    If you want a trip that focuses solely on hiking, then you need to find a company that primarily offers hiking trips. If you’re looking for a haute trip that has individualized experiences catered to small groups, don’t expect every company to provide what you want. However, Alpenwild offers a wide array of what Wanderers might be looking for.

    Dividing the cheese ceremony in the Justis valley, Bernese Oberland. Each cattle owner fetches his animals in autumn and collects his share of the cheese produced.
    Dividing the cheese ceremony in the Justis valley, Bernese Oberland. Each cattle owner fetches his animals in autumn and collects his share of the cheese produced.

    “We specialize in the Alps—it’s really all we do,” explained Witt. “It’s our passion and expertise and we’ve been at it for three decades. We know the trails and towns inside out. We know the hoteliers and their rooms, the restauranteurs and their menus. Our guides are on the trails every day throughout the summer which gives us a level of expertise that other operators can’t match. And our guests get a richer, more enjoyable experience.”

    Guests who choose a summer Switzerland vacation with Alpenwild will stay in carefully chosen inns, small hotels, and classic berghotels. They are typically independently-owned inns that offer a superbly satisfying mix of a welcoming atmosphere, traditional cuisine, and authentic charm.

    “We pride ourselves in offering exclusive experiences and unique itineraries that would never be possible on other tours or traveling alone. We make cheese over an open fire with an alpine farmer, we learn the art of making chocolate truffles with a master chocolatier, and we’re hosted for winery tours and tastings by the region’s top vintners.”

    Wine tasting in the wine cellar of Gerard Raymond at Saillon, Canton Valais.
    Wine tasting in the wine cellar of Gerard Raymond at Saillon, Canton Valais.

    Summer is prime time in the Alps and you’ll find a full array of hiking, walking, culinary, and sightseeing tours at www.alpenwild.com. Additionally, Alpenwild offers an intriguing variety of specialty and custom tours throughout the year—photo tours, cheesemaking, literary tripsplein aire paintinghistory toursChristmas market tours, and trips for cross-country skiers and snowshoeing.

For more information, or to book a summer Switzerland vacation, check out the Alpenwild website.

Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival - Hello Kitty with Girl

Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival launches in Los Angeles June 11

Summer season is concert season. That means that the Wander Crew is gearing up for a lot of festivals, concerts and tours in the next few months. While one of our editors is heading to Outsidelands in San Francisco, and another is covering San Diego festivals, we are all letting our Sanrio-loving selves get super excited for Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival, launching in Los Angeles on June 11.

Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival - Hello Kitty and Dancers

For those of you who are unaware, Hello Kitty isn’t just for little girls anymore. We loved getting to know all of Hello Kitty’s universe at Hello Kitty Con earlier this year, and her friends of all ages came together to enjoy the fancy free fun that comes with Hello Kitty and her fantastic friends. Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival will be a great way to dive right back into that world.

Going beyond a traditional live stage show, Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival offers a unique multi-component walk-around festival atmosphere for Sanrio fans of all ages.

01 Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival

If you are looking for a Keroppi purse, a Badtz-Maru blouse, or even some Pochacco, you’ll be able to grab one in between the live interactive shows, photo ops, and a few Sanrio surprises. Fans are invited to put on their finest Hello Kitty gear, and enjoy all of the elements that the Friendship Festival has to offer, such as:

  • DJ-driven dance segments with KRU HK dancers.
  • Hello Kitty and friends “in concert” with both characters and live singers and KRU HK dancers.
  • Larger-than-life Hello Kitty product photo opportunities.
  • Hello Kitty temporary tattoos.
  • Lounge areas to relax and charge your mobile devices.
  • Fashion Lane – view high fashion couture pieces inspired by Hello Kitty and friends.
  • Art Gallery featuring works by contemporary artists.
  • Hello Kitty retro product and Japanese heritage displays.
  • Pop-up Mini Shopping Kiosks.
  • Hello Kitty Origami workshops.

10 Hello Kitty's Supercute Friendship Festival

There are various ticket options available, including a VIP Platinum Bow  experience that lets you take photos with Hello Kitty herself!

For tour date information, go to Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival Tour page. For more information about the Friendship Festival and all of the excitement heading your way, check out the Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival website.

Calistoga and Saint Helena: Sun, local food and wine at your fingertips

VGS Chateau Potelle.
The starting lineup at VGS Chateau Potelle.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

After more than five months in the City, I’m starting to finally feel like I have a handle of the neighborhoods, my commute and my watering holes. But like any other restless traveler, I’m constantly looking elsewhere to explore. After my first trip to Napa Valley a couple months ago, I was long overdue for some wine tasting, farm-to-table eating and legit wine country sun. Thankfully a trip to Calistoga was just what the doctor ordered.

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Valette's Scallops en Croute.

Valette owner + chef show off the food, wine + passion of Sonoma in Healdsburg restaurant

Inside Healdsburg's newest restaurant, Valette.
Inside Healdsburg’s newest restaurant, Valette.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I always get a little giddy when I’m one of the first people to experience a new boutique hotel, taste a vintage wine straight out of the barrel, or get a sneak peek at a music festival’s lineup. But nothing gets me going more than dining at a new restaurant in town and meeting all of the wonderful people behind a soon-to-be burgeoning business. I had the absolute pleasure of dining at Valette, Healdsburg’s newest restaurant, which opened in March 2015. These guys are definitely going to make waves in the neighborhood.

Envisioned by brothers, locals Dustin Valette and Aaron Garzini, the duo wanted to create a restaurant inspired by Sonoma County’s food, wine and deeply-rooted passion. Executive Chef Dustin is at the helm of the beautiful, open kitchen while Aaron mans the front of the house while offering wonderful service. (We’re talking hugs and kisses to frequent guests, asking where diners are visiting from and treating everyone like family. You rarely see this kind of service in the City, that’s for sure.) The service is authentic and every server, runner and person on the dining room floor will go out of their way to take care of you, yet stay out of your way when necessary. It’s a beautiful culinary dance to be a part of if you’re lucky enough to find it. Read more