Paradise Found in Magic Town of Bacalar

From Cancun all the way south along the coastline, passing Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Sian Kaan, and down to Mahahual, the Mexican Caribbean coast has dazzling shades of blue waters, fine sand, and over 345km of beachfront to find the perfect tropical escape. On my latest travels through Mexico, I found my perfect paradise at a Mexico Beach rentals in Bacalar.

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Over the years dedicated to traveling Mexico as much as I can, I have covered most of the Mexican-Caribbean coast, from Cancun to Tulum and even the surrounding islands of Holbox, Mujeres, and Cozumel. My visits here were usually crossing off the “must sees” down typical tourist tracks… but on my last trip I was searching for a truly unordinary escape, yearning for those idyllic shades of blue waters but somewhere far away from mega-resorts and overpriced bo-ho huts.  What I found was the paradise of Bacalar.

About four to five hours from Cancun, Bacalar is a small village just a bit inland from the ocean’s coast.  It is a Magic Town (my favorites places in Mexico!) and known for its large freshwater lagoons that display an impressive kaleidoscope of blue shades…. hint the nickname “Lagoon of Seven Colors”. It is just outside the Riviera Maya region and nearly borders the neighboring country of Belize.

In Bacalar, visitors will find basic infrastructure and a city center spanning just a few blocks. Artisan shops, small supermarkets, and enough restaurants to provide variety make the town very cozy.  The lagoon’s coast is dotted with palapa-hutted hotels and private homes for rent with dreamy, picturesque views of wooden swings overlooking the ocean and sun-dreched hammocks strewn across decks.  My favorite part of Bacalar is that the cool breezes on the lagoon create ideal sailing conditions, a popular activity for visitors, and perfect way to discover the hidden treasures waiting to be discovered, including the great Cenote Azul.

With a intriguing history of Mayans, Spanish, and pirates I do believe the Magic Town of Bacalar is indeed meaningful to Mexico’s heritage and culture. On my next trip to Mexico’s southern Caribbean coast, I plan on combining Bacalar with a few days in Sian Kaan, a protected Biosphere Reseve with virgin beaches and nearly no development besides one or two hotels and grand, private homes to rent for the week.

If planning to visit this area, the best best is to find a Mexico beach rental. With limited infrastructed, it is very important to find a private rental with all services included (staff, meals, etc) so you can feel comfrotable during your stay. After knowing and traveling almost all of Mexico, this is one, true unspoiled beach destination where you can truly just relax.

B A C A L A R 💙

A photo posted by Jessica Seba (@mexicanatheartj) on

Falling for Mexico in Guanajuato

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View from our room at Boutique Hotel Casa Colorada

When I told my Mom I was moving from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City she was not thrilled. Her idea of Mexico was laying on a beach with endless margaritas and the thought of having to visit me in the giant, polluted metropolis of D.F. didn’t really sound too enticing to her. Reluctantly, but with an open  mind, she visited me in D.F. for the first time in December 2011. As suspected, she hated it. I myself definitely think D.F. is for a certain type of traveler and not for everyone, but it still stung a little because this was her first glimpse into ‘real Mexico’ and I wanted her to see why I feel so madly in love with the country. Oh well.

After that trip, we decided the next time she visited that we would meet in Riviera Maya or Puerto Vallarta, which worked out nice for the both of us. Almost two whole years later, she decided she would give Mexico City another try (well, it wasn’t so much that, more than the last-minute flight was only $250 dollars). I was excited and determined to get her to fall in love with ‘the real Mexico’ the way I have. So the agenda was: head to Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende! They were two places I was already familiar with and knew their charm was hard to resist.

As with most baby-boomer Americans, this region of Mexico is one of the few non-beach destinations people have heard of, so she was excited when I told her. I had decided that we would leave on a Thursday for a long weekend: 2 days in Guanajuato and 2 in San Miguel de Allende. I had reached out to my friends at Hoteles Mision because I had heard they had an amazing  boutique hotel that overlooked the entire city and I wanted her to have the best of the best for the trip. Arriving first thing Thursday morning and checking into Boutique Hotel Casa Colorada Guanajuato;  my  mom was already stunned simply by walking into the room. At the end of the inviting room was floor to ceiling windows with the most colorful and incredible paroramic vista of the entire city. Her jaw dropping was first sign that this was going to be a trip to win her over.

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The hotel kindly set up for us a private tour of Guanajuato through Grupo Minero Turistico. Down to the last detail both parties had everything covered. Our guide picked us up at the hotel an we made our way down to El Pipila. Now, El Pipila is where all tourists go up to get the iconic panoramic views and shots of the city, but since our hotel actually sat even higher than Pipila, we had to come down as our guide pointed out major buildings in the city.

After taking literally, like a million photos (that will still never do the view justice), we made our way down to land via the funicular (cable car) and headed to Teatro Juarez. Minutes from closing, the nice lady at the ticket booth let us in which I think was mostly because she and everyone in town seemed to know our guide. Most tours in Guanajauato just do a quick drive by Teatro Juarez with a brief explanation so  I actually was really happy we had an explanation.  It was the first time I understood the importance and history of the magnificent place and I was able to appreciate it more than ‘just a pretty building’. With our guide, we stopped at all the other Guanajuato highlights: Museo Iconográfico del Quijote, Plaza de la Paz, The Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato, La Plaza Baratillo, Guanajuato University, Callejon del Beso, Mercado Hidalgo, Bocamina de San Ramón, Templo de San Cayetano de Valenciana, Museo de la Inquicision, and Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato.

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All was great, as usual, and all, without a doubt are must-sees. BUT I will say, skip the Museo de la Inquicision. It is all about torture techniques used back in the day, and last time I went it was really large and interesting filled with lots of “eewwwwws” and “yuuucks”, but this time it was small, rushed, and the best parts were taken away. My favorite part of Guanajuato (besides the over all European-feel to the city) has to be San Cayetano and learning about how important mining was…. and hundred of years later, still continues to be.

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After the long day of touring around the city, we couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel. After plopping down on our soft beds, my mom let out a giant sigh and said  “well, that was a lot of fun! I really like this place, it would be cool to live here”.  Yep, Guanajuato will do that to you! Mission Accomplished: Get Mom to love Mexico beyond the beaches.

 

 

A special thanks to Hoteles Mision for hosting our night’s stay and making it a very memorable trip to Guanajuato. 

 

 

 

Dia de los Muertos in Queretaro

Looking for a destination in Mexico that delivers the traditions of Dia de los Muertos? I found it in Queretaro State thanks to Hotel Mision’s unique haciendas in off-the-beaten path places.

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Cemetary in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro

In 2012, Eddy and I decided to head to Queretaro for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) weekend–which just happens to be our anniversary weekend as well. Combining both the holiday and our anniversary, this is undoubtedly favorite week of the entire year. The two years prior to this would be hard to beat as we spent them in some of the most traditional cities for Dia de los Muertos (Oaxaca and Mixquic) but  I was convinced Queretaro would be great as well. Thanks to our friends at Hoteles Mision, we were able to enjoy the long weekend in a couple of their properties, touristing around the state. The weekend called for romance, culture, and lots of cempasuchils!

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Huamantlada, My Favorite (Really) Mexican Festival

It’s here! It’s here! August is my most favorite month of the year! Why? I travel to Tlaxcala for La Humantlada and running of the bulls!

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Parade in Huamantla, Tlaxcala

Last year (2012) was the first time I visited Tlaxcala’s tiny Magic Town called Huamantla during  their biggest fair, La Feria – Humantlada. The fair, mostly known for the weekend in which they have a running of the bulls, is actually a month long celebration dedicated to the Virgin Mary. There are two huge events held during this period attracting over 300,000 visitors.

The first main event is La Noche Que Nadie Durme when the townspeople create crazy-beautiful art in the street with sand and sawdust called tapetes (rugs). This tradition is the most emblematic of Huamantla. It always starts on August 14 when the majority of the streets are closed in anticipation for the  bulls. With the streets closed,  the community is able to start the creation of their sawdust tapetes that covers about 6.5 kms. They all must finish by midnight because that is when the party and pilgrimage of Virgin de la Asuncion begins (better known to the Huamntlecos as Virgen de la Caridad).  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness this event since it took place during the week.. but eventually it will fall on the weekend, and I am super excited to see it.

The second main event is the actual bull run, called Huamantlada, and a tradition that has been going on for over 50 years! It takes place the Saturday following La Noche Que Nadie Duerme. The main streets of the town are barricaded off (called burladeros) and are filled with locals and visitors pumped with adrenaline (and tequila!) to confront the bulls. La Huamantlada isn’t just a running of the bulls, it has a full program around it; charreadas, parade of matadors burladeros, classic car racing, a traditional carnival (rides andgreasyfood!), art exhibitons, musical performances and more will keep you busy during La Humantlada.

My boyfriend Eddy had been going to the fair for years and was excited to include me along in his tradition. He pretty much explained it to me as a super-Mexican version of Spain’s running with the bulls and the only bull running that still exists in Mexico today. I had no idea what to expect.

Okay, I lied, I had tequila and banda music and Mexicans all over the place in my mind, and surprise, surprise, when we got there, my stereotypical vision was actually true; a sea of Mexicans, leather boots, tequila, pinatas, cuaguamas (40 oz beers) filled the streets! The most Mexican of it all was the burladeros, the seating and wood-fencing that lined the streets to “protect” people from the bulls. It was set-up in the most creative and most Mexican ways you can imagine — not coming close to any safety standards or codes– I loved it. We wandered around  and tried to find some bleachers where we could watch the releasing of the bulls from above. It’s tough- I sincerely recommend securing a spot for yourself early as it fills up quickly. See the chaos below!

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At 12 noon sharp, the town releases about 20 bulls. The brave are still standing in the streets, waiting for the bulls to make its round so they have a chance to touch them, or slap them, or waving their red capes to test their skills at matador-ing.  Besides the excitement of the bulls that lasts about 5 hours, the parade and charreada are also super fun. The parade, which happens the night before the bulls, is amazing, colorful, and instead of passing out candy, they literally pass out shots of tequila (I LOVE Mexico!).

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I had so much fun at La Feria de Huamantla, that in anticipation for 2013 Humantlada, I  bought my very own leather rodeo boots! Bring it on, toros! This year’s Huamantlada takes place August 17.  For more information on Huamantla, click here. For information about the fair, visit laferiahuamantla.com.

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Never Leaving the Resort in Playa del Carmen

 

Riviera Maya Resort Hacienda Tres Rios

Waking up to paradise

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest at the Hacienda Tres Rios in Playa del Carmen. It was a very last-minute trip planned for my Mom and me. I know that I had just visited the Riviera Maya a month prior, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to spend more time on the beautiful crystal clear shores of Playa.

This visit would mark my ninth trip to the area, and for the first time, in a long time, the plan was to do nothing but enjoy the resort and relax. No crazy excursions, no to-and-from, no nightlife… Nothing but savoring every minute in paradise with good company.

Let me start by saying, that not every resort is the type of resort where you could spend 8 days straight and not go stir-crazy. Luckily, Hacienda Tres Rios is one of those resorts. It is located within their own 326 acre eco-park of mangroves, which makes it  unique to any other hotel in Playa del Carmen. Remember my post “How to Choose a Hotel in the Riviera Maya“? Well, if you plan on not leaving the resort, you’ll want to choose one like Hacienda Tres Rios.

Here is what we filled our days with:

Rise and shine! Everyday we woke up early for  yoga and stretching. I had never done yoga before in my life, but in this setting, how could I refuse?

Yoga in the Riviera Maya
If there was one thing we absolutely couldn’t get enough of– it was the food! We both spent weeks dieting before vacation, but while we were actually on the vacation we were trying to look skinny for, we just completely let go. How could you not? Being waited on at any hour of the day, regardless of where you are, with lots of yummy options (6 restaurants). Whoever said “Food doesn’t taste as good as skinny feels” has obviously never been to an all-inclusive resort before!

 

While we’re on the topic of food, our absolute best experience was at the Chef’s Table. Now this was out of the all-inclusive ‘deal’ but the hotel kindly invited us and so glad that they did. I’m a hotdog and hamburger kinda girl, so I was nervous for a seven course gourmet meal of things that sounded extremely frilly, but yum, it was delicious. I even enjoyed the raw tuna and I hate raw fish. Bonus? Chef Mario is a cutie!

Chef Mario Hacienda Tres Rios

Raw tuna

 

Cenotes kept us feeling young. No seriously, cenotes are thought to be sacred by the Mayans and have healing properties! The resort has nine cenotes in its eco-park and there are a couple that you can swim in!

Cenotes in RIviera Maya at Hacienda Tres RiosCenotes at Hacienda Tres Rios

 

Getting to know the eco-park via bicycle rides! Although it was kind of short, we took a ride into the mangroves and learned about different types of flora and fauna that the property has.

Bicycle Tour in Playa del Carmen

 

I spent lots of time hanging out at the breathtakingly beautiful beach that is “private” just for “owners”. Unfortunately, Mother Nature took away most of the beach access to resort guests only leaving “the pretty part” to the timeshare owners. Being the rebel that I am, I went and used the other side anyways. Since it was low season, and there was tons of vacancy, it seemed to be okay.

Private beach in Hacienda Tres Rios

Near the beach on one of the many bali beds is usually where you could find me. I myself prefer the ones without shade; I slap on some SPF and take several naps throughout the day.

 

While interesting to navigate through one of the riviers thorough the mangroves, I found out  one day that kayaking isn’t for me. I prefer photographing them instead!

I yi yi yi, canta y no llores. I could listen to mariachi day and night — and I did!

Mariachi Music in Playa del Carmen

 

The most eccentric thing we did was the sense adventure,  a ‘tour of perception and exploration‘. I’m super into the universe all-mighty and holistic experiences so thought this was a really cool, and completely unique tour that I was happy to have the chance to participate in.

hacienda tres rios senses tour

 

We also went to a Mole Cooking and History Class. Mom had just been introduced to the delicious flavors of Mole Poblano on her previous Mexico trip and fell in love, so getting to taste this delicious chocolate/chile sauce was a super treat! 

 

Disclaimer: I would like to thank Hacienda Tres Rios for inviting me to be a guest at their resort. For more pics and info during my week at HTR, check the hashtag #TresRiosResort  on instagram, twitter, or pinterest!

 

Choosing a Hotel in the Riviera Maya

Dreams Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive

Maybe this Riviera Maya hotel near Tulum?

Before becoming completely enamored with Mexico, I knew I wanted to work in tourism– I truly wanted to help people spend their recreation/vacation time to the maximum. Now that I’ve established myself as Mexico savvy, between my large network of personal friends combined with the followers of Mexican At Heart, every month I get inquires on the who, where, when, and hows of Mexico travel, and the truth is, I don’t mind one bit helping people!

Most of the time people just come out and ask about what hotel to stay at in Cancun or the Riviera Maya — mostly honeymooners (yea, I’m at that age where all my friends are getting married!). That is a complex question that varies on the likes and dislikes of the traveler. I always ask: Are you active? Are you going to do excursions? Are you going to hide in your hotel all week? etc.

Usually a majority of people have lived the Cancun experience, so I rule it out, because Mexico is much more than a Mexican-style Vegas…But then comes this dilemma: Riviera Maya is a big chunk of land, stretching all the way along the coast for hours, so in order not to waste precious vacation time driving all around, to and from, I’ve come up with some questions that you need to ask yourself before deciding to pick between the Riviera Maya’s million gazillion hotel options.

How to Choose a Hotel in the Riviera Maya:
1) Are you active at the hotel or a complete beach bum?
2) Do you want adults-only or family friendly?
3) Do you want a nightlife outside of the hotel?
4) Are you going to stay in your hotel or venture your surroundings?
5) What excursions are you going to be doing?
6) What is your budget? Do you want all-inclusive?

Beaches in Tulum

Not all of Riviera Maya has crystal clear waters like here at Dreams Tulum

Privacy in the Riviera Maya

Dreams Puerto Aventuras

An overall theme I found was that most lovebirds around my age wanted a romantic getaway, but not boring. In addition to lovey-dovey amenities, they wanted activities and entertainment. Okay so that answers questions 1 and 2 –try to look for a hotel that has a wide selection of restaurants, an entertainment staff, night shows, and things like complimentary use of kayaks.

Question 3 and 4 deciphers whether you should stay right in the town of Playa del Carmen or if it’s okay to stay somewhere else like Puerto Aventuras or Tulum. If you plan on partying every night, or wanting to shop and eat at fancy restaurants, you should stay near Playa del Carmen (like in the Playacar area). The last thing you want is to choose a hotel an hour away from Playa del Carmen and be shuffling back and forth every night.

Question 5 I think is super important because I know no vacationer wants to waste hours and hours of vacation driving around the whole dang state… plus, transportation costs are extremely inflated. If you plan on swimming with dolphins, visiting Coba, Tulum, cenotes or Xelha, I recommend staying south of Playa del Carmen — starting at Puerto Avenuras extending to Tulum (including Akumal). You will chop off lots of time sitting in a taxi when you could be outside enjoying your vacation.

Once you figured out 1-5, you can pretty much pick exactly what hotel is right for you based on your answer to number 6. A overall good choice for a vacation to the Riviera Maya is choosing a property at Secrets, Dreams, or Now Resorts. They have several properties that will cover your needs based on your answers. I recently had the chance to stay at Dreams Puerto Aventuras and Dreams Tulum and was thrilled with my choices. It was right in the location we needed to be! Eddy and I were there on our anniversary and were treated as so but even better, they catered to both me (the beach bum) and Eddy (the active one). Secrets Resorts offers the same, but is adults-only and Now Resorts is aimed at being trendy for young adults. There is something for everyone in the Riviera Maya!

Dreams Tulum

Is a super mega resort your style?

Views from balcony at Dreams Puerto Aventuras

This is what vacation is all about for me!

What hotel in Riviera Maya

It doesn’t take hours of research or deep Mexico knowledge to decide what hotel you should stay at in the Riviera Maya!