Tagged the great outdoors

Red Eyed Tree Frog

Things to do in Costa Rica – An Adrenaline Junkie’s Oasis

Written by and photos by Michael A.

COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA! As you can tell, I’m just a tad bit fond of my recent adventure in this beautiful country that really has everything for all types of travelers. I’d love to write a book on all you can do in this small country, but I’m going to try to keep it as brief as possible and let the pictures do the talking as words just won’t do this place justice. If you’re looking for things to do in Costa Rica, let this be your guide.

For those tired of exploring cities, Costa Rica really has it all for you. Just to name a few things before I get into my recommendations, Costa Rican highlights include: volcanoes, natural hot springs, beautiful beaches, rain forests, jungles, some of the most diverse wildlife of any country, all classes of whitewater rafting, zip lining, canyoning, rappelling, waterfall jumping, surfing, scuba diving, big game fishing, massages to knock your underwear off, and most importantly AMAZING customer service and knowledgeable guides.

I’d love to go on and on about how great the country is, but I really want to focus this article on a few companies that you absolutely must use when traveling to Costa Rica, or at least still searching for things to do in Costa Rica. I assume that you’re all smart people and have already decided that Costa Rica is the perfect vacation so I’m going to just tell you what you should do there. The customer support and service at all these below mentioned places are truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and that’s what really sets Costa Rica apart from the other 40 something countries I’ve traveled to. All of these guides or owners never seemed to be catering to its guests because it was part of business. Rather, it seemed as though each company really enjoyed its guest and was legitimately having a great time with each of us. I really recommend all these companies below!

Where to Stay Near Arenal Volcano – Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel


Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Bedroom
Spacious rooms with very fine wood giving the room a very earthly feel.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel bathroom
Spacious bathrooms with large windows to keep you constantly surrounded by nature.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Patio
Spacious patio to lounge on in the middle of the rainforest.
Private hotel homes
Private hotel homes
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Pool
The beautiful pool right next to the restaurant/bar
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is truly a unique stay and a vacation within a vacation in its own right. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is smack dab right in the middle of the rainforest while still relatively close to La Fortuna (the very touristy town next to the Arenal volcano). Personally, I couldn’t imagine staying in La Fortuna as I just didn’t find it very nice because it’s really just a place for excursion companies to operate. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is just a 25 minute drive away which allows you to really experience the rainforest of Costa Rica while still having access to all of the fun excursions that Costa Rica has to offer.

The rooms are beautifully kept and are built out of very high quality wood. Furthermore, as you can see in the picture above, each room comes with a beautiful patio with furniture and a table so that you can relax in the morning as the rain comes down or watch a sunset while listening to the hundreds of different species chirp. The rooms are very modern yet they still do a great job in keeping its natural feel of being in the middle of the rain forest.

The landscape of this property is absolutely stunning. This hotel owns a lot of the land and they have trails on their property, which are perfect for horseback riding, night tours, bird watching, day hikes and more (all of which you can purchase for a very affordable price through the hotel). You really don’t have any reason to leave the property between your beautiful room, gorgeous landscape, pool, wildlife, and a good restaurant all on premises.

The rooms are beautiful and the landscape is unreal, but my favorite part of my stay was getting to talk to one of the owners and hearing about how this is a hotel for the community. More times than not, business is all about money and getting the most out of each visitor. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel has done something extremely unique in this aspect which really makes this place extra special and gives it a very real Costa Rican vibe. These owners want to make sure that each of their guests really gets a true Costa Rican experience while still making sure to not turn the area into another resort where Americans visit and wipe out the culture to the point where you don’t even realize that you’re in a foreign country anymore. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is a very self-sufficient hotel where they grow a lot of their crops, recycle (obviously), and hire only those from the local town to ensure that this property remains not only a profitable business, but also a major contributor to the lives of the locals. You’ll see brothers and sisters working together or a uncle and nephew and so forth. I thought this was something truly special as you don’t have this authenticity elsewhere in Costa Rica.

Bottom line: Do yourself a favor and spend at least a few days here so that you can really enjoy Costa Rica for what it is and not just stay in the tourist trap of La Fortuna.

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5
TripAdvisor link

Arenal Combo Volcano Hike with Red Lava Tourist Service Center

Arenal Volcano
View of the famous Arenal Volcano at the start of the tour
They allow you to take a dip halfway through at this waterfall
Take a dip halfway through the tour at this waterfall

 

Natural hot springs
Nightcaps and mud facials in the natural hot springs.

The guides at Red Lava Tourist Service Center are knowledgeable and friendly! GREAT customer service! They have amazing reviews all over TripAdvisor for a very good reason. The company’s big seller is the Combo 2 Volcano Hike which I strongly recommend. I unfortunately only was able to do the second tour but it was still a great treat. The combo hike compared to the one I did are pretty different from one another. During the Combo hike, the morning hike is a bit rigorous as you climb the Chato Volcano, which is right next to the Arenal volcano. Make sure you bring solid hiking shoes; anyone in decent shape shouldn’t have any issues with the hike. I opted for the second hike as it’s much more leisurely. You could probably get away with wearing tennis shoes as there isn’t really any climbing. Your guide will take you to beautiful locations where you’ll have stunning views of the Arenal volcano. You’ll also visit a beautiful waterfall and end the day with shots in natural hot spring. The nature aspect of this trip is obviously stunning. However, the most impressive part of the hike was all of the knowledge our guide provided. We weren’t just walking from location to location. Every so often, our guide gave us facts about the plant life or a beautiful bird call we heard echoing throughout the rain forest. He made the trip very educational and fascinating. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this hike.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Rappelling and Whitewater rafting with Pure Trek Canyoning

 

175ft waterfall rappel
First Rappel of the day; 175ft down a waterfall
waterfall rappel
Rappelling through waterfalls

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Oh boy! If you want adrenaline, look no further. Start your morning off with a 185ft rappel down a gorgeous waterfall with Pure Trek Canyoning. Not your cup of tea? Well, I didn’t think it would be mine either since I’m kind of afraid of heights and I’ve never rappelled before. Somehow though, these great guides wiped away all my fear and got me to go through with the tour.

Although this trip is great for those seeking thrills, this actually turned into a big growing experience for many of us on this tour. These guides face customers with my similar fears on a regular basis. They are nice and friendly and really help you believe in yourself to overcome fears. Before you know it, you’re rappelling down 100ft waterfalls like it’s absolutely nothing. I think we went down a total of around nine amazingly beautiful waterfalls. Also, there is a zip line/monkey drop where you essentially zip line about 50 ft. At that point they stop you and then you just drop another 50 ft or so right before the stop you a few feet above the ground from your free fall. SO MUCH FUN!

Although the guides were having a great time with us, we constantly felt safe in their hands.

Whitewater Rafting the Balsa River (Class 2 and 3)

Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.
Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.

Once the rappelling in the rain forest wrapped up, Pure Trek Canyoning then took us to the Balsa River where we went whitewater rafting. Much like the rappelling, I didn’t really have much experience with this extreme sport. Once again though, I felt perfectly safe. They made sure to keep the guides/customer ratio very good at around one guide for every four people. Although I thought a Class 3 was going to be a bit easy, these rapids actually turned out to be a lot more fun, adventurous, and continuous than the Class 5 that I did previously.

At this point in the day, we were all pretty hungry as we’d been moving around since around 8 a.m. This tour thankfully comes with lunch. This was no ham and cheese sandwich type of lunch though. They took us to a restaurant where we had an authentic Costa Rican meal and even got to try freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. Once we finished eating, they showed us how sugar is produced from sugar cane. This trip was much more than just an adrenaline rush, but was also an educational trip leaving us a bit more knowledgeable and cultured about the country.

typical Costa Rican food
An authentic Costa Rican meal

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

 

Night Jungle Tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge

 

Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
There's a SNAKE in my boot!!
There’s a SNAKE in my boot!!

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Tarantula Tarantula
Tarantula

I strongly advise going on a night jungle tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge as the jungle really awakens with some amazing creatures at night. This is pretty much a real life Planet Earth experience. As night became dark, we were led through the jungle with nothing but our flashlights. Our guide Issac was extremely knowledgeable and seemed to know just an unfathomable amount of information about each insect, reptile, amphibian or plant. He also taught us about their calls, behavior, and why certain traits evolved the way they did. The tour was around two hours and we saw a ton of wildlife, including poisonous snakes, Banana spiders, and the only Red Eye Tree Frog that I saw my whole time in Costa Rica. I told Issac how important it was to me find one of these and he was thankfully able to come through. This was a surreal experience and a true bargain. Make sure you do at least one night jungle hike while in the area.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Desafio Gravity Falls

rapelling in Costa Rica
Literally stepping off of a cliff
One of your rappels
One of your rappels
canyoning
Canyoning through the beautiful Costa Rican Rainforest

I think we all grew up with the love of jumping in rivers off of rocks or swinging into lakes by a rope. Well, this takes those loves to the next level with Costa Rica’s newest extreme excursion which combines waterfall free jumping and some rappelling. You must be in at least decent shape for this one and love a good rush! This was definitely the excursion that I was worried about the most during my time in Costa Rica. Rappelling down 150ft waterfalls and jumping without ropes over waterfalls 30ft down can easily make your skin chill. However, Desafio makes you feel extremely safe as they take you through beautiful canyons deep in the rainforest. They had three guides for the four of us on the tour so that we each had individual attention throughout each jump and rappel. They really emphasized safety with every single jump. Plus, this company had a professional camera that was able to take some amazing photos of you in action as you conquered your fears. They also took us out to a very nice lunch once our goosebumps finally settled.

Desafio Cooking Class

homemade tortillas
Making tortillas from scratch
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
A typical Costa Rican meal
A typical Costa Rican meal

Although Desafio definitely prides itself on being extreme and for adrenaline junkies, they also cater to those that want to get a little more sophistication and culture out of their Costa Rican experience. For a rather small fee, they take you up to the mountains to a restaurant where 80 percent of the food is grown on that property. They walk you around and show you all the plants to give you a better understanding of spices and medicines in their natural state. Once our small group finished walking around, we headed to the kitchen where we had two Costa Rican ladies help prepare a traditional  meal. By far the coolest part of this excursion was learning how to make tortillas from scratch. Culture is often deeply rooted in food and this was a very cool experience.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Manuel Tour of Manuel Antonio National park

Concerned monkey
Concerned monkey
Howler Monkey
Howler Monkey

 

I'm going to steal your Taco Bell
I’m going to steal your Taco Bell

Photo 10-2-16 8 52 02 a.m.

 

I'm a proud iguana
I’m a proud iguana

Let me first start off by saying, Manuel is the man! I wouldn’t be surprised if the city of Manuel Antonio were named after him ;). Manuel runs his own operation, Manuel’s Tours, and he usually keeps his tour groups very small. He is unbelievably knowledgeable and very well respected amongst all of the guides of Manuel Antonio. When you hire Manuel to guide you through the national park, you actually hire 100 guides as all guides help one another out to make sure that their customers can see as much wildlife as possible and boy did we!

I’ve never spent money on a guide when going through a national park as I just didn’t think it was ever worth it. After trekking with Manuel, please take my advice and hire this man. Otherwise you are completely throwing away your $16 entrance fee down the drain. The animals in this national park are obviously hard to see as animals should be. Manuel let us look through his spotter scope, which made finding all of these animals crystal clear even when far away. Manuel was an absolute godsend and I can’t imagine my time in the forest would be as great had he not been our guide. There is so much more to see than just monkeys, but you won’t see it unless you have a guide like Manuel with a trained eye and his spotter scope.

Manuel’s Night Jungle Tour

A beautiful butterfly
A beautiful butterfly
Ribbbbet anyone?
Ribbbbet anyone?
scorpion-spider
Your worst nightmare; a scorpion-spider
nighttime crawlers - a scorpion
nighttime crawlers – a scorpion
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica

Once again, let me start off by saying, MANUEL IS THE MAN!! Did I mention that he fought off Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake right in front of me? Yeah, that happened. As with the day tour, it was an incredibly small group (me and one other person) so he was able to answer all of our questions and taught us a lot about the evolution of the landscape and life within it. He taught us some neat tricks on how to spot these creatures in the middle of the night. Among other things, we saw snakes, toads, scorpions, and the hideous scorpion spider. Manuel is truly a good man that cares deeply about his guests having a great time and you will when learning all of the cool facts that he has to offer.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

ADR Adventure Park

waterfall zip-lining
Zip-lining through a waterfall. Yeh, that’s pretty damn cool
Rapeling through the rainforest
Rappelling through the rain forest

Eight extreme activities all wrapped up into one excursion! Although the name is a bit confusing, this is NOT a park. The guides at ADR Adventure Park took us into the middle of the jungle for the activities. This is a great value for the amount of different things you get to try, like zip lining through a waterfall (Yes, you read that correctly!). There is quite a bit of zip lining in this excursion which is one of Costa Rica’s main attraction. So, if you’re looking to do some zip lining which I’m sure 90% of you are, then take this tour. You get a taste of a lot of different activities such as a high rope swing, rappelling, a good amount of hiking, a waterfall jump, and more all included in one. The location is absolutely stunning and the photographer they bring is amazing! I had to buy these pictures as these action shots were just so unreal.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Surfing in Manuel Antonio with Coconut Surf and Skate

Your Surf scene
Your surf scene
surfing in costa rica
Costa Rica Surfin’

Surfing is big in Costa Rica. Although Jaco and Dominical are supposed to be pretty big surf spots, the town of Manuel Antonio has so much more to offer than these other towns.  Shoot Coconut Surf and Skate an email as his surf setup is right outside Manuel Antonio National park on the free public beach. If you’re driving toward the National Park from Quepos, it’s one of the first parking lots to the right you can enter and you’ll see him right there. He both rents out his boards and gives three hour surf lessons that I was told were pretty good by others. So, make sure to send him an email to get his prices and scheduling.

H2O Adventures (Class 5 Whitewater Rafting EL CHORRO)

With good reason, I was definitely nervous about this Class 5 rafting trip with H20 Adventures since I’ve only been rafting twice and the highest class I’ve ever done was a 3. It’s important to know how the classifications work though so you have an idea of what to expect. Class 5 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rapids are 10 times tougher than a Class 2 or 3 would be. In fact, the Class 3 might even be tougher. Rather, a very important factor in determining classification is based on the danger level and the magnitude of how badly someone could get hurt. Once again though, this company really emphasizes safety (of course after making you sign your life away via a waiver!). We had a 3:1 rider to guide ratio, which was perfect not only for getting down the river, but also learning logistics on the strategy of taming the beast. We saw a couple of wipeouts as some of these rapids get pretty intense as you drop 8-10 ft followed by hard rights and left turns to avoid slamming into boulders. I felt completely safe the entire time (that could also be because I had a secret plan to ride the body of any of my boat members in case we tipped). This company also had a professional photographer with us.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5

TripAdvisor link

As I’m sure you figured by now, I was a bit worried about many of these excursions due to my lack of experience and fear of heights. But, that’s what’s so great about Costa Rica; it’s a place far enough from home where you can be whatever you want to be, conquer your fears, get a rush like never before, and really grow as a person. If these words and glowing recommendations on things to do in Costa Rica haven’t convinced you to book a flight to Costa Rica immediately, I sure hope the pictures get you there because this is one special place.

 

 

 

Explore the many landscapes of Oregon

Crater Lake
I mean, just look at this place.

Written by and photos by Michael A.

Although no one would ever question the beauty of Oregon, the state is much more than just beautiful forests. Oregon is in a constant state of beauty whether you’re driving up the beautiful beaches, wandering around the forests, rock climbing in Smith Rock State Park, or eating the West Coast meets Southern style fusion food in Portland. And let’s not forget about all of the breweries and medical dispensaries that seem to be popping up all over the state.

So, follow me on a road trip from California through Oregon as I make stops in Klamath Falls, Crater Lake, Bend, Smith Rock State Park, Multnomah Falls, Portland, and all up and down the coast.

Crater Lake

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Although Crater Lake is regarded as one of Oregon’s biggest tourist destinations, it was pretty empty and peaceful on the day that I went. I should prefix that with the fact that I went on a Friday, mid-November afternoon when most people are working. Note to self: always check the driving advisories before making the trip to Crater Lake as it does get quite a bit of snow and your car will start sliding. Also, there aren’t any gas stations within around 30 miles of the Lake. So, don’t be like me and try to “man up” against your tank. Feed your car some of that sweet gas before making her drive to isolated areas. She’ll appreciate it ;).

I was a bit hesitant to make a stop here as there was a lot of other things I wanted to do in Oregon. Whether you want to stay by the coast your not, do yourself the favor and make a stop here. Although I had the benefit of not running into very many people, it’s hard not to find peace and tranquility with such a beautiful view.

Bend

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Up until my visit, I can honestly say that I didn’t know all that much about Bend. When you think of cities in Oregon, for the most part, we just think of the state as having a ton of trees and that one city named Portland. However, Bend is a great city to stop on your way up through the state. There are tons of food options and breweries everywhere you look. With this combination, it’s hard not to have a good time. Oh, and did I mention, attractive people everywhere! Who would have thought? Since you are somewhat in the middle of nowhere, prices are cheap and you can easily find a hotel room for under $100.

Smith Rock State Park

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The central/eastern part of Oregon definitely doesn’t feel like Oregon anymore. Out with the tall trees and in with the beautiful wide-open landscapes. Oregon quickly transforms itself from greenery everywhere you look to a hay-type hue with beautiful rock formations. If you decide to go to Bend on your way north to Portland, this is an easy stop on the way. If you’re a rock climber, you’ll definitely not want to miss this stop as you’ll see hundreds of rock climbers trying to make these rock formations their bitch.

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Multnomah Falls

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Just an hour or so east of Portland is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever laid my eyes on and that’s saying a lot. I’ve seen them all over Iceland, Ireland, Hawaii, Jamaica, etc. but there truly is something special about the waterfall here. It’s free to get in and you need to make sure you pick up your jaw, which will surely be hanging after 30 minutes of staring in awe as the mist eventually envelopes you as you work your way up to the top of the falls. There are great trails that you can spend hours on and essentially feel as though you’re trapped in some type of Disney fairy tale (or enjoyed the dispensaries way more than you should have).

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Portland

Portland

Oh boy! Just for a little perspective, I’ve been to 40 states and I usually try to go to the biggest to cities in each. I’ve heard good things in the past about Portland’s food and their beer culture, but it was never a top city of mine that I wanted to visit. I can now easily put Portland in my top five American cities to visit. The fusion of modern American/Southern comfort food is absolutely to die for (or from). While you’ll feel stuffed to the brim as you leave, every single meal left me with the ability to work up the energy to crack a smile before going into a two-hour food coma. SOOOOO GOOOOOOOD. Eat everything and do it as often as possible. Also, drink everywhere and do it as often as possible. Microbreweries are everywhere in this young man’s city so do yourself a favor and try to sign up for a beer tour as Portland is now known internationally for their unique and delicious beers.

Also, for all of you West Coast people who have always wanted to see the fall colors, don’t bother flying all the way across the country to the Northeast. I’ve lived on the east coast and although the fall season is beautiful, Portland does a great job making you forget all about the colors of New England.

Lastly, I can’t talk about Portland and not mention Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo Donuts is one of the top places to eat in Portland. You’ll likely wait a good 30 minutes just to get inside. Let me save you the time: OVERRATED. They are just donuts with the novelty of throwing a bunch of odd toppings on them like Fruit Loops. The donuts themselves don’t taste all that good and they are really heavy so you’re missing out an actual meal of delicious food from elsewhere in the city.

Oregon Coast

IMG_0716I strongly suggest driving up on the Eastern side of Oregon and then coming back down on the coast. The coast is beautifully filled with drastic cliffs cutting down into the ocean with tall forest trees resting above. It’s a rather unique view and one that you won’t get tired of as you drive the 8 hours or so from Northern Oregon to the California border.

TL, DR: Oregon = BEAUTY BEAUTY BEAUTY. Take the time, get a car, maybe a tent, a DD, and have a blast as you experience the many wonders of Oregon.

The simple beauty that is Oregon.
The simple beauty that is Oregon.

Who’s going to Lightning in a Bottle 2016?!

Written by Nadia Ibanez, Photos courtesy of Lightning in a Bottle

I should have a section on Wander for “Wishful Thinking” posts. It happens just about every week where I’m sitting at my 9-5 job and get a crazy inclination to check out a cool new art show, concert venue, totally crazy event, or new hotel — you name it, I’ve done it. Or, at least I’ve planned to go to something and then plans/universe turned me in a different direction. A couple years ago, I made the intention to check out Lightning in a Bottle at some point in my 20s/30s. And if you know me, you know this event is 1000% Nadia friendly.

Over Memorial Day weekend, thousands and thousands of people convene for a six-day festival of amazing music, yoga, live art installations, a meditation temple, cooking classes and demos, booze, and environmental consciousness in the form of food, vendors and much more. Essentially, people going to LIB are seeking full immersion in a culture that embraces community, self-awareness, the healing benefits of music and yoga, and the act of befriending strangers with common interests.

This year, Lightning in a Bottle will return to the San Antonio Recreation Center in Bradley, CA. Music headliners include some of my favorite artists like Chet Faker, Grimes and Jaime XX and a boatload of other DJs and musicians. While some people are going for the dance and EDM scene, I think I’m more excited about the yoga and meditation aspect, along with spending a couple days out in the wilderness and under the stars. For a hippie, festie girl, this would be a dream come true. Now it’s just a matter of finding a squad to join me.

For more information, check out lightninginabottle.org or check out the 2015 video below. Hope to see you there!

 

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: A Gem Not To Miss

Scuba Playa del Carmen
Scuba divers will absolutely love this story. Keep reading…

Written by and photos by Michael A.

We often don’t lump Mexico in as being an exciting international getaway destination. You need to stop this mindset immediately. Born and raised in Los Angeles, but a mere three-hour drive away from the Mexican border, I too was a culprit of this belief. I love my food and I love me some good international travel. I’ve traveled to roughly 40 countries, and other than a brief stint where I got stranded in Tijuana with a donkey painted zebra, I never had any intention of really making a vacation out of Mexico. However, I was absolutely blown away by the food, scuba diving, clear waters, and most importantly, how incredibly affordable Playa Del Carmen is.

Where to stay

The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.
The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.

For just $33 a night (yes you read that correctly), I’d recommend staying at Hacienda Real del Caribe. It has a beautiful salt-water pool and very spacious rooms. I’m a big fan of flat screen TV’s, which it was lacking, but the location of this hotel is just so perfect that you’ll forget all about that detail. This hotel is literally one block away from all of the night life, a plethora of great restaurants, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Ummmm, I think I also mentioned that it was $33 a night…so, yeah…if you’re on a budget, this is an amazing place to go.

A scuba diver’s paradise

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Cozumel constantly gets all of the hype for being one of the most amazing diving spots in the world (and rightfully so), but you have to make sure you don’t miss the Cenotes. I’ve been on some cool dives in the past, but the Cenotes….well….just look at these pictures for yourself. You won’t see much sea life down there, but the colors and the fact that you’re 35 feet under the surface of Earth is a pretty cool and special feeling in its own right. You are literally below the bottom of tree roots.

Ditch Cozumel and stay in Playa Del Carmen

The best chile relleno I've ever had.
The best chile relleno I’ve ever had.

Don’t make the mistake that my buddy and I made and get a hotel on this island. There really isn’t all that much going on there other than the best chile relleno you could possibly imagine! Cozumel is known world-wide as being one of the top dive locations in the world because of its ridiculously clear waters and visibility. However, I strongly suggest just staying in Playa Del Carmen and paying the extra $5-10 to the dive shop to take you to some diving out there. If you really want to spend some time on the island, it’s literally a $20 35-minute boat ride that leaves every hour from two different ports in Playa Del Carmen. Don’t bother renting a car either, since you won’t see very much other than the port and undeveloped areas.

Lionfish
Don’t touch the Lionfish…

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Do make sure that you go on some dives out there though as the swim-throughs are spectacular and plentiful. If you go within the next couple of years, be ready to see a lot of Lionfish and don’t be an idiot like me and get too close. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they are also extremely poisonous. Enjoy them from afar but don’t try to take that coveted selfie with one. Your underwater selfie can wait until you’ve entered one of the very few shipwrecks in the area. Look for the slightly dirty restroom and make sure you keep your eyes open for some of the biggest eels you’ve ever seen hanging underneath the cracks of the floorboards.

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Overall, Playa Del Carmen is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. The food is great, the stay is cheap, and there is beauty all around you — and under you in the case of the Cenotes.

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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.