Tagged mexico

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.

 

The view from the Presidential Suite at Hotel Coral and Marina

A weekend full of seafood, wine tasting and history in Ensenada, Mexico

The view from the Presidential Suite at Hotel Coral and Marina
The view from the Presidential Suite at Hotel Coral and Marina

Written by Nadia Ibanez, Photos by Adam Stuckey

After starting a new job and settling into my new apartment, I was long overdue for a weekend getaway. Luckily, Adam and I managed to find the time to plan a visit south of the border. While we were slowly learning our way around Tijuana, we decided to delve deeper into Mexico and conjure up a trip to Ensenada.

WHERE TO STAY

The lobby inside Hotel Cora
The lobby inside Hotel Cora

We were introduced to Hotel Coral and Marina at the recent Latin Food Festival in San Diego. Deemed “the best hotel in Ensenada,” we knew then and there that we had to experience this beachside resort for ourselves.

Perched on the Bay of Todos Santos, minutes from downtown Ensenada and within earshot of the Port, Hotel Coral is amidst all of the city’s land and sea offerings. With nearly 150 ocean view suites, outdoor and indoor pools and Jacuzzis, an onsite spa, watersport rentals, and a fantastic bar and restaurant, Hotel Coral is perfect for business and leisure travelers who want to enjoy the city without lifting a finger. Whether you want to plan a whole day wine tasting in the nearby Guadalupe Valley, need a taxi to explore downtown, want to check out the seafood market, or need local restaurant recommendations, the staff at Hotel Coral will go above and beyond to cater to your every whim.

 Black Market (Mercado Negro) in Ensenada
Check out the Black Market (Mercado Negro) in Ensenada

WHERE TO EAT

Roasted goat on a spit during Sunday Brunch at Hotel Coral
Roasted goat on a spit during Sunday Brunch at Hotel Coral

Bistro & Cava – Hotel Coral & Marina was not only our home for the weekend but also provided delicious meals throughout our stay at Bistro & Cava. If you want a taste of everything Ensenada, go for the daily breakfast buffet where you’ll get your pick between handmade corn tortillas with all of the quesadilla fixings, a variety of typical Spanish dishes, an omelet bar, traditional Spanish breakfast pastries, and so much more. You cannot miss Sunday brunch at Bistro & Cava. In addition to its standard breakfast options, Sunday brunch goers can taste ceviches, seafood paella, freshly fried fish tacos, roasted meat on a spit, and so much more. Be prepared to eat yourself silly when you visit Ensenada – the seafood and traditional dishes are out of this world.

Hotel Coral's Molcajete
Hotel Coral’s Molcajete

We also had the chance to sample the dinner menu at Bistro & Cava, which was equally outstanding. Take your pick from seafood and meat dishes, or let the chef lead you in a tasting menu. We loved his tuna tartare, enormous molcajete, and pretty much anything that came from the sea. Even if you’re not a hotel guest, make sure to check this restaurant out.

Hotel Coral's Chicken Mole
Hotel Coral’s Chicken Mole

La Guerrerense – Before even crossing the border, food recommendations were coming left and right and all pointed into the direction of La Guerrerense, a street cart serving some famous seafood tostadas. Once we found the cart in the middle of downtown Ensenada, we waited a moment, watched locals order, and followed suit. While I couldn’t tell you everything I ordered, I highly suggest you ask about popular menu items, follow your eyes and nose, and go for the specialties. (And if you’re daring enough, order the award-winning sea snail tostada) You won’t be disappointed — there’s a reason why some call this the best food cart in the world.

La-Guerrerense-Ensenada-Tostada
Couldn’t manage to take my own photo of my tostadas, so a professional photo from La Guerrerense will have to suffice. Photo courtesy of La Guerrerense

While I apologize for devouring my tostadas before even taking a single photo of them, I encourage you to go La Guerrerense and experience it for yourself. Only after your first bite will you understand why I couldn’t put my plate down to take a photo.

Malva Cocina de BajaMalva Cocina de Baja is a fine example of how winemakers and regional chefs have carried the farm-to-table concept to the already progressive area. Executive Chef and Owner, Roberto Alcocer, mans the Swiss Family Robinson-styled restaurant, which serves locally-sourced Baja dishes with a twist. Floating above the Mina Penélope winery, we were honored to have Chef Alcocer guide us through his tasting menu.

Under the palapa roof at Malva Cocina in Valle de Guadalupe
Under the palapa roof at Malva Cocina in Valle de Guadalupe

While the restaurant may look and sound unassuming to the average wine-goer, Malva and its team work to showcase local ingredients wherever possible. Along with locally-sourced seafood, Chef Alcocer is raising a few families of goats and chickens onsite (for their meat and milk), further showing patrons that their food has its roots in Ensenada.

Malva-Cocina-Goats
Just some of the goats you’ll see at Malva Cocina

Our favorite dishes from Malva include the escolar with an onion ash in a corn cream served with sliced radish and lemon confit, grilled oysters with a drizzle of rich olive oil, braised goat, and goat’s milk ice cream with homemade dulce de leche and a marzipan crumble. A meal in wine country isn’t complete without a wine pairing at the Julio 14 from Mina Penélope made for an even more well-rounded lunch.

Malva Cocina's Escolar
Malva Cocina’s Escolar

The entire space and concept at Malva is definitely something to fall in love with. We’ll definitely be back soon and can’t wait to see Chef Alocer’s concept and passion prosper.

WHERE TO DRINK

Valle de Guadalupe – I’ve had my fair share of wine tasting tours throughout southern California, but I would have never guessed that the quality and abundance of winemakers found in the Valle de Guadalupe would be as significant. Our hotel set up a wine tour for the afternoon and we were able to squeeze in a few winery stops, all of which had their own distinct style and finesse.

Pagano at Hacienda La Lomita
Go for the Pagano at Hacienda La Lomita

Among the winemakers in Ensenada talked about how they brought in regional, natural resources to design their winery. Fernando Perez Castro, owner of Hacienda La Lomita, shared the story of how he carved out caverns in the natural hillside to hold their aging wine, while the winemakers at Las Nubes repurposed the rock and stone found after the demolition of the landscape back into the décor of their property. Go for a glass of Pagano at Hacienda La Lomita, which emphasizes the free-flow, gravitational approach to winemaking, if you’re looking for cherry, coffee and blackberry notes. Las Nubes has delicious, cloud-inspired wine blends and I especially enjoyed Cumulus, a Grenache and Tempranillo blend. Pay them both a visit and you’ll just get a small glimpse into what the Valley has to offer.

Las-Nubes-Ensenada

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hussong’s – If you really want to liven up your night, head downtown and go straight to Hussong’s. Established in 1892, Mexico’s oldest cantina serves up a mighty margarita. Rightfully so – one of Hussong’s bartenders created the first margarita in the 1940s. If you really want to drink like the locals, order your margarita with sangrita, a back of tomato and orange juice mixed with hot sauce. The “palate cleanser” will definitely help with the bartenders’ heavy tequila pours.

Hussongs-EnsenadaUltramarino – If local craft beer is more your scene, head over to Ultramarino. Just a couple blocks away from Hussong’s, Ultramarino offers local beer at a great price. There were a number of beers on tap so pick your poison with some help from the bartender. If you need something to soak up the booze, order up some oyster tacos and ceviche.

The menu at Ultramarino
The menu at Ultramarino

We had an amazing weekend in Ensenada and barely reached the surface of all of things to do and see in town. With only a mere 70+ miles in between the San Diego border and Ensenada, we’ll definitely be visiting more frequently. (We must give a HUGE thank you to everyone at Hotel Coral for their generosity and hospitality. We’ll surely be seeing you soon!)  

Mexican-Flag-Ensenada
The flag flies high in Ensenada. See you soon!