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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huamantlada-nutshell

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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!

Tequileros Making Tequila in Tequila, Jalisco

Headed to the Magical Town of Tequila? It’s a very informational and fascinating town especially if you visit one of the many tequila factories. I myself learned lots on a Jose Cuervo Factory Tour!

Tequilero

What comes to mind when I say “tequila”? Or actually, what type of face do you make when someone says “tequila”? I bet you’re doing it right now! If your reactions are not of beauty and fascination, you have some learning to do about Tequila. Tequila is more than a Jose Cuervo that burns your throat, it’s a beautiful town and landscape in Mexico.

I don’t know what it was like back in the day, but apparently the drink has been gaining popularity (45% consumption increase in  past 5 years) which is  no wonder why now all the rappers “got patron in they cup”…  People usually have a love/hate relationship with tequila but recently, its origin  have been gaining appreciation.  Tequila, Jalisco is the birthplace of the most representative beverage in Mexico is the proud producer of the worldwide spirit that bears its name.  ABC, MSNBC, and USA Today  all ran an article about this small town in Jalisco, Mexico – just outside Guadalajara. Living in Puerto Vallarta, Tequila was only about 4 hours away from me, so Eddy and I decided to rent a car and go see what the hype was about.


This  Magic Town sits against the Tequila Volcano which overlooks the valley encompassed by endless landscape of perfectly lined of blue agave plants. Built around Tequila’s main square of beautiful fountains and fresh flowers are the distilleries of popular producers such as Sauza and Jose Cuervo.  Despite being the “Disneyland” version, Eddy and I decided to tour the Jose Cuervo factory. The tour slots for the next 2 hours were full so we were scheduled for late afternoon and in the mean time decided to stroll around the zocalo.

Starting off with a visit to the 17th Century stone Santiago Apostol Church  we then hit all the ‘highlights’ listed on the map I picked up from the Tourist Info Kisok. The town was cute, however I think the true highlight was eating a juicy Torta Ahogadas (pork sandwiches drowned in a spicy red sauce – famous to the Guadalajara region) and sipping on nothing other than some tequila.

When it came time for us to head over to Mundo Cuervo, we were ready! Let me start by saying that what many people do not know is that tequila is not something that should be taken as a shot; rather it should be treated as a fine wine, acknowledging the various aromas and savoring ever nuance in flavor. Appreciating the smells and tastes of the actual liquid is one thing, but a true appreciation of Tequila comes from seeing the process of its creation from start to finish. In a small VIP group, we visited fertile agave fields, wandered through picturesque courtyards of the hacienda and toured the actual production factory. With the largest distillery in Latin America, the Cuervo brand started distilling a private tequila called ‘Reserva de la Familia’, reserved only for the Cuervo family. As time went by, they decided to share a very limited amount which is exclusively made in Mundo Cuervo, housing only barrels of Reserva during a specific season. I was able to try a very small sample of this limited edition tequila, and not exaggerating, it was one of the best Tequila Anejo’s I had ever tasted. No joke.

At the end of the tour, we learned how to distinguish quality tequila – much like you can distinguish a fine wine. One way is to swivel the tequila around in a glass and notice if any drops stick and form along the glass, the more droplets that adhere to the glass, the better the tequila. The other way, which I found most fascinating, is that Tequila has three very distinct scents depending on which part you smell.  Starting at the bottom portion of your glass, this is the scent where you appreciate the key ingredient, the aged agave plant, distinguished by its pungent scent of alcohol. Moving up to the middle portion, it is differentiated by a sweet fruity floral smell, much less harsh than the fragrance at the bottom. Reaching the top one-third portion of your glass, the aroma changes from a nice spring day to a warm cozy fire, emitting a rich wood smell due to the aging process in the barrels. Detecting and savoring each scent and learning about the long process and stages it makes to produce tequila, I developed a strong appreciation and understanding of the intricate process.

After a 3 hour tour around the facilities and numerous taste testing and margaritas (complements of the tour), I headed to the National Tequila Museum where, through its collections, I gained an even deeper understanding regarding the cultural values of the tequila region, which I learned was recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

 

Reflecting on our day trip, I learned more about Tequila then I ever thought imaginable, both the drink and the town. Both are unique and representative of the country in which they reside. Having only spent a day in Tequila, there’s still more to discover. The town has many other “tourist friendly” facilities and tours, including the infamous Tequila Express train ride and the giant tequila bottle-bus city tour – which are on my list next time!

 

Alebrijes in Mexico City

Giant alebrijes in Mexico City have become a modern and cultural tradition bringing attention to this unique Mexican folk art. Vibrant colors, intricate designs, and imaginative animals line the street on Reforma every October. 

Intricate Neon Alebrije

A big plus to living in a big city is that there is always something going on. Most of my favorite happenings in Mexico City occur on its main road, Paseo de la Reforma. This road can pretty much take you across the whole city and it is where the iconic Angel de la Indepencia is located.   Never is there a dull moment or shortage of pedestrians on Reforma because it is always lined with interesting art and photos, exhibitions, and sculptures that usually revolve around a theme.  I’ve been living in Mexico City for exactly a year now and I have to say, the most impressive by far has been the display of giant alebrijes.

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The Nanciyaga Experience in Catemaco, Veracruz

Catemaco, Veracruz is known for its beautiful wildlife and spiritual shamans. Take a trip to discover the mysticism that can be experienced on Nanciyaga Island.

Nanciyaga Kayaks

This year, Mexico hosted their first ‘Adeventure Travel Mexico’ trade show, ATMEX, in Veracruz. Lucky me, I was invited to participate on behalf of the Mexico Tourism Board and because of Journey Mexico’s affiliation with ATTA. Not only was I invited to attend the conference, but also to travel for several days prior! The conference’s theme was “Breaking New Trails” and showing off the adventurous side of Veracruz. The pre-trip included stenurous days of mountain biking, ziplining, and white-water rafting in Jalcomulco with Mexico Verde. After we were all worn out, the group of 50 was transported to the nearby town of Catemaco.
Catemaco is located in la Sierra Los Tuxtlas region and is pretty much the only pueblo that borders the large lake, Laguna Catemaco. It is known for many things: birdwatching, alligator island, monkey island, los brujos (witch doctors) and fishing. Our group had the choice of either kayaking to see wildlife or visiting the nearby island of Nanciyaga, where the witch doctors are. Me, being totally into the universe and psychics and all that, I was totally psyched to visit witches!
Our call time to be transferred to Nanciyaga was at 6:30AM. I was miserable that morning- I hadn’t woken up that early since high school! Thankfully, my grumpiness soon faded as I boarded the lancha (boat) and saw the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen in my life. The local fisherman were already out on the waters bringing in their nets…. and watching them do this as the water and sky transformed into different colors…. was really just an amazing and serene moment for me. When we arrived to Nanciyaga we feasted on a home-grown, vegetarian-friendly breakfast followed by a tour of the property. We all got purifying mud mask treatment before partaking in the spiritual ceremony.
The spiritual ceremony was intense. The shamans gave us limpias (cleansings) of our negative energies and bad auras. We sang, danced and many of us transformed and healed (no joking– this stuff can be powerful). I recorded it all on tape (yes, VHS ;-)) and put it into a lovely show for you!

This ceremony is open to the public during the Festival de Los Brujos, or better called, “Vive la Magia en Catemaco”.  It happens once a year, the first Friday of March.

Huasteca Potosina and Xilitla

My most favorite places in Mexico are in the Huasteca region of San Luis Potosí.  Skeptical of what would be there and wondering how to get to Xilitla, I soon discovered it truly is a surrealists dream set in the jungle.

Hands reaching out of the Earth

In 2011, the town of Xilita was named a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town, in the state of San Luis Potosi. Xilitla forms part of the Huasteca Potosina region along with  Ciudad Valles,  El Pozo de las Golondrinas, Tamúl, Tamasopo, Consuelo and Taninul. In case that makes no sense to you,‘Huasteca’ refers to the northeast part of Mexico (compromising of some of the states around the Pánuco River) and home to the indigenous Huastec people and speakers of the Huasteca Nahuatl dialect. ‘Potosina’ refers to the state, San Luis Potosí. [Read more…]

Dia de los Muertos in Mixquic

Wondering the best place to go in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos? A great option is Mixquic in Mexico City. It is an amazing place to witness the traditions and customs that take place on November 1st and 2nd. 

Families decorate the graves of their passed love ones, celebrating their death and welcoming their spirit as they believe their soul will revisit the earth on November 2nd

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that I find completely fascinating and beautiful. My first encounter with this holiday was in Oaxaca when I was trying to get away from Halloween in my college days 09. When I finally got to witness  the Dia de los Muertos celebration, I was completely captivated by the colors of the flowers and how everyone united to honor their loved ones who had passed.  Now,  I count down the days until this beautiful holiday arrives and  look forward to being able to experience it and appreciate all that it is about. [Read more…]