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Archive for the ‘Recommendations’ Category

The Luna Blue Hotel Newsletter…Our Latest Endeavor

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 8, 2011

We are starting a monthly e-mail newsletter for the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. Each month we will send out information about events around Playa del Carmen, news from the area and specials and happenings at the Luna Blue.

The really good news is that each month we will pick a newsletter subscriber to receive a two night stay at the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar–absolutely FREE!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Don’t worry, this list is our private property. You don’t have to buy anything, and we will not sell or give your information to anyone for any reason. We won’t inundate you with emails, and you can unsubscribe with a click at any time. The newsletter is simply our way of staying in touch with the many folks who know and love Playa del Carmen and the Luna Blue.

Even if you have received e-mails from us in the past, you must subscribe if you want to receive the new newsletter. So please sign up today and become part of the new Luna Blue internet family.

Posted in Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Playa del Carmen Right Outside your Door: Small Hotels vs. All Inclusives

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 11, 2011

You are going to Mexico! You have been dreaming of margaritas and white sand beaches in the beautiful seaside village of Playa Del Carmen. You’ve waited all year for this vacation and now you just have to decide where you will stay.

We’re Going to Playa! Now Where Should We Stay?

Playa Del Carmen has a large number of small boutique-style hotels throughout the resort/hotel zone which stretches along the shoreline of the Caribbean Sea. The resort/hotel zone goes from Juarez Avenue in the south to Calle 40 in the north and from Avenida 10 east to the beach. There are also many mega-resorts up and down the coast outside of town which list “Playa del Carmen” as their location. These generally are all-inclusive properties—which means the price you pay includes food, drinks, and your room, much like the cruise ship vacation your great aunt Myrtle takes every year.

All inclusive resorts (called “AI’s”) have become quite popular in the travel industry. That popularity has been helped along by a tourist industry which too often places its fees ahead of your interests. Such resorts are often part of an international chain which can afford not only extensive advertising but also to host and finance press junkets for travel writers and pay travel agents large commissions to steer their clients to them.

This is not to say that such a giant resort might not be right for you. But we think the decision should be based on what kind of vacation you want and not because someone else will make the most money from recommending a property to you.

Of course, we are not objective on the matter. We own one of the most popular small hotels in Playa del Carmen, the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, and have long encouraged people to think about a visit to Mexico outside of some resort’s gated compound.

Over the years we’ve heard many reasons why people prefer AI vacations—generally by people who’ve never traveled any other way. The following is a list of those reasons, along with our own opinions and views. We hope it helps with your vacation planning.


The number one reason given by most people for choosing to stay in a gated, all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is safety.

Some visitors are frightened by the sensationalized media portrayal of all of Mexico being engulfed in a violent drug war. Others are just concerned about possible problems of being on their own in a country where they don’t know the language or the culture. Both fears are understandable, but neither is a realistic view of Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

Playa del Carmen is Safe
Mexico’s drug wars are taking place primarily around Ciudad Juarez, a city near the border with the southwest United States. The violence and crime associated with that problem have not spread to the eastern coast some 3000 miles away. The Caribbean border state of Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum, has a crime rate much lower than many large US cities. Playa Del Carmen is perfectly safe for any visitor, and there is no need for visitors to hide away in a fortress-like compound, avoiding and missing the true spirit and flavor of Mexico.

Likewise, finding yourself on your own without resources or help or unable to speak the language even to ask for assistance is simply not going to happen. Playa is a modern city. Many of the locals working in the hotels, restaurants and bars speak very good English. Well trained English-speaking doctors and health care workers are readily available. There is even a special branch of the police department called the “Tourist Police” that patrols the resort zone to help visitors with problems.

And if you should need assistance, you will find it easier to get help in a small hotel where you are a familiar face to the people working there than a large resort where you are just another room number in a crowd of hundreds or thousands.


Many people also think that an all inclusive experience offers the most convenient way to travel. They think that having shops, a beach club, bars, and restaurants all in the same compound will make their vacation easier.

The truth is that the widest range of services and stores in the area are in downtown Playa within easy walking distance to the small hotels. Laundries, clothing stores, pharmacies, wine and liquor shops and souvenirs of all types are available in hundreds of stores lining Fifth Avenue. Even our Super Walmart is conveniently located just outside the central part of the downtown hotel zone. By staying in a boutique hotel in town you have not only convenience but also more choices. By staying in a mega resort outside of town (and very few of the AI resorts are within walking distance of town), you are limited to the choices available there on the resort grounds, and you must share those resources with the hundreds and possibly thousands of others staying there at the same time.

The same is true for restaurants, bars, and cafes. With a few feet of any small hotel in town, you will discover limitless dining and drinking possibilities. For example, within one block of our own small Luna Blue Hotel, guests can find eight restaurants and three bars. A ten minute walk down 5th Avenue or in any direction will bring dozens more of all types and price ranges. The same can be said for any small hotel in Playa.

We think having access to several dozen restaurants of varying cuisines within a few minutes stroll is certainly more convenient than taking a long hike down to the food complex across the resort grounds to choose from a small group of restaurants, all of which share the same kitchen.

Beach Clubs
Visitors staying in town will find more beach clubs and find them more conveniently located than at a giant resort. For example, some rooms at a large resort like the Mayan Palace may require guests to take a shuttle bus or even two to get to the beach. Once there you may find the infamous “towel game” in full effect, i.e. when people rise early, go to the beach and “save” chairs with towels or personal items to use later in the day. As most large resorts do not have a beach chair for every guest, many beachgoers end up with no comfortable way to enjoy a day on the sand.

On the other hand, since the resort/hotel zone of downtown Playa parallels the beach it is only a short 5-minute walk from almost any small hotel in the area to the beach. And some hotels can even be found right on the beach. Once on the sand you will find Playa’s two main beaches (centro and norte) to be lined with beach clubs, bars, and restaurants. Instead of having one beach club where you may not even get a chair, the person staying in town can pick a new beach club every day of their vacation. In short, you are nearer to the beach and have more choices when staying in a small hotel in town.


People can get a little fussy about food. They know what they like, and many folks are not too willing to try something foreign or different. That need for some familiarity combined with the myth that “Montezuma Revenge” awaits anyone who eats in Mexico makes some people conclude it is safer and easier to eat at the buffet or American-style restaurants usually provided by the big AI resorts. Once again, this commonly held view turns out to be untrue.

The truth is that most large all-inclusive resorts will have at most three to five dining rooms (featuring steak, seafood, Mexican, or Asian food). In addition, there will be a buffet or two and a couple of burger/pizza grills. One or two of the fancier restaurants will require reservations and have a dress code. Now compare this to what you can find in town.

Playa is a Food Lover’s Paradise
The number of restaurants available within a block or two of any small hotel will be in the dozens. The resort zone has literally several hundred choices of where to eat. One will find Thai, Spanish tapas, sushi, steak (Argentinean, American, and Mexican style), and Italian (often featuring excellent homemade pasta from expat Italians). There is traditional Mexican food, French, fondue, vegetarian, seafood featuring fish caught that day, or lobsters fresh from the tank. You will find local specialties like lobster macaroni and cheese, coconut shrimp and marinated barbequed pork tacos. Street-side cafes offer fresh coffee and Mexico’s famous chocolate. There are grills with hamburgers and hot dogs, street carts with tacos and empanadas. And don’t forget the Italian bakeries and gelato stores. And of course, there are some familiar names like Burger King, MacDonald’s, Johnny Rockets, Haagen Dazs, Starbucks, and even Dairy Queen. Or you can even have Domino’s deliver a pizza to your hotel room.

Whether you will only eat the same food you know from back home or want to experiment with something new, you will find many times more restaurants within steps of your hotel than you will in any major resort. And it is perfectly safe to eat at these places.

Yes, it’s Safe
Playa Del Carmen has an efficient system of health inspection. Restaurants in town are held to the same high standard by the same government inspectors as the kitchens and dining rooms of the large all inclusive resorts. There is no more need to worry about your health when eating in town than when eating at a resort. In fact it might even be safer to eat at a restaurant in the resort zone where the meal is prepared when you order it instead of having food which has been sitting out in an AI buffet for hours.

And if drinking is a favorite pastime, you will certainly not go thirsty in Playa. You will find bars with swings, bars on the sand, bars with swimming pools, bars with dancing, bars with live entertainment and bars with big screen TVs showing the latest sports. A bar crawl with friends at an AI resort will most likely consist of a drink at the pool bar and one at the disco. In downtown Playa a bar crawl will become a fun filled fiesta stretching from one end of town or the beach to the other. And don’t worry about drinking the water. Purified water is provided in every restaurant in Playa’s resort zone, and ice in your drink is also purified. Most small hotels provide bottled drinking water for their guests.


Another concern which leads people to stay at an AI is their own lack of Spanish language skills and the fear they won’t be able to speak to the people around them. It’s a needless worry.

In Playa Del Carmen and all of the Riviera Maya, the number one source of income is tourism, primarily from English speaking countries. Over the years this has caused a Mexican national workforce to develop which is fluent not only in English but other languages as well. It is not unusual to find a waiter or bartender with limited formal education who can speak not only Spanish but also English and Mayan. He or she will probably have some knowledge of Italian and maybe even a smattering of French or German, as tourists speaking those languages are frequent visitors here. You will also find most restaurants have English language menus available.

Of course Spanish is the primary language of Mexico, so it should not be a surprise to visitors that it is spoken in most places and circumstances. And while many Mexicans will be glad to switch to English for you if they can, it is still nice to remember you are a visitor in a land with a different language from your own. So even if you can’t speak much Spanish, just try a little…such as “hola” (hello) or “por favor” (please) or “gracias” (thank you). After all, part of the adventure of a new land is negotiating a new language. At the very least it will earn you a smile.

And it would seem to go without saying that your chances of meeting, speaking to and interacting with locals is much more likely in town than at a gated resort that most Mexicans will never see the inside of.


In the end, after the issues of safety, convenience, food, and language have been shown to favor the small boutique hotel, it always boils down to money. Some people believe that an all inclusive is cheaper because the guest doesn’t have to pay for food and drinks. That is simply not true.

There is No Free Lunch
One doesn’t eat or drink for “free” at an AI. The price of what you will consume during your stay is factored into the price of the room. Those prices fluctuate greatly depending on the resort and on the time of year you are visiting Mexico. The truth is a stay in a small hotel in town, even adding in the cost of dining out, can easily be less expensive than the cost of staying at a large resort. More importantly, the small hotel can make decisions about discounts and upgrades on the spot. Rarely do they need to forward your requests up the corporate chain for a decision by someone not even in the same country.

AIs may occasionally offer what appear to be very low rates. However, it is important to remember that those rates are per person, not per room like you’d find in a small hotel. And of course there are often extra fees—for towels, for use of sports and leisure equipment, and for those mysterious “resort fees.” Be sure to factor in all costs and fees, or you won’t be comparing apples to apples.

Playa Won’t Break Your Budget
If you’re concerned about cost, do a little research to look for the best deal. Look on the internet. Contact the hotels directly. Ask your travel agent’s advice. Go to and other travel-based websites. And don’t worry about paying for your own meals and drinks. After finding the small hotel that is right for you, you can be assured that the costs of dining out in Playa will still be very low. Most of the restaurants in Playa are mid-range to outright cheap. Sure, you can find a four-star, multi-course dinner for a top price, but if budget is your issue, you can find plenty of places to stretch your dining dollars. Eating and drinking well for little money is a tradition in Mexico that has been passed on to its visitors.

A One of a Kind Experience
And a vacation is not just about cost. People work hard for their money and want a quality experience when they take some time off. Cheapest is not always the best. And if you’re looking for a unique experience customized to your interests, you won’t find it in an AI. Why? Because large resorts are generally owned by international corporations which standardize their services and costs. Food is mass produced—often ahead of time—in order to serve thousands of meals each day. Accommodations must be of the same mass-manufactured design so that furniture and fixtures are interchangeable. Tours, activities and events are chosen and marketed to the guests based exclusively on the commission paid to the hotel, and steps are often taken to limit the guests’ access to other activities.

And often any spirit of the people or culture is eliminated when creating cost-effective generic resorts. You might be in an AI in Orlando one day and in one in Mexico the next and not be able to tell the difference.

You can choose an AI and have a “cookie cutter” hotel experience similar to every other hotel or resort. Or, you can choose a small hotel vacation and have a unique, one-of-a-kind experience You can stay in cabanas right on the beach or in a classic Mexican posada, experience the trendy hip vibe of a modern Euro-style hotel, or settle into a quaint, peaceful Caribbean bed and breakfast set amidst a tropical garden. It will be a vacation unlike any other you have had. And you will remember it forever.

It’s Your Vacation; It Should be Your Choice
In the end, if you’re planning a trip south of the border, you should consider the type of experience you want to enjoy. If you choose to come to Mexico because of its physical beauty, because of its rich culture, or because of its unique traditions and heritage…and if you want the adventure of new experiences and to meet and get to know people who live life differently than you do…then don’t lock yourself away in a gated high-rise resort. As a friend once remarked to us, “There is more to Mexico than what you can see from the lobby bar of a big resort.”

Consider a stay at a small hotel in Playa Del Carmen where the flavor, the adventure, and the people of Mexico are right outside your door.

Posted in Recommendations, Safety in Mexico, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

SCUBA Diving…More Goodies for Luna Blue Guests

Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 20, 2010

Mexico Blue Dream dive center in Playa del Carmen MexicoOne of the most popular activities here in the Mayan Riviera is SCUBA diving. That’s not a surprise since just offshore is the world’s second largest continuous coral reef. With a few hours of training, visitors can be swimming among some of the most beautiful and diverse sea life in the world.

Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel who have always wanted to try SCUBA diving are now in luck. Starting today, all Luna Blue guests receive a free SCUBA pool demo with our friends at Mexico Blue Dream dive center, just a couple of blocks from the hotel and a half block from the best beach in Playa.

Mexico Blue Dream dive center in Playa del Carmen MexicoIf you’d like to give SCUBA a try, just let us know before or after your arrival and we’ll set it up for you. You’ll be able to try SCUBA in the safety of a pool with trained dive masters at no cost at all. If you find you love it, the folks at Mexico Blue Dream will be happy to talk with you about a Discover SCUBA class or even about how you can become certified. Or, if you find that snorkeling is more your preference, they can take you to some of the best snorkeling spots in the area.

If you’re already a SCUBA diver, we highly recommend Mexico Blue Dream for some of the best prices and service you’ll find in Playa del Carmen.

In the near future, we’ll be offering some attractive dive packages for our diving friends where you can save both on your hotel and diving costs. So keep in touch. 🙂

Posted in Activities, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Planning Ahead to Save Money on Your Vacation

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 5, 2010

Is this what you want to do on your vacation?Cold weather is unfortunately right around the corner. Come winter, when you’re up north facing yet another pile of snow to shovel, you know you’re going to wish you had a Playa trip to look forward to.

So for those of you smart folks who plan such things in advance, we’ve got some good news. If you book your winter or spring trip to Playa del Carmen before November 1, and pay in full for your Luna Blue Hotel stay, you can save 10% off our already reasonable high season rates! This offer applies for any stays during high season (November 15-December 21 and January 5-April 30).

Wouldn't you rather be here?Planning ahead can save you money on all aspects of your trip. The cost of air travel is expected to increase in the months ahead. Travel experts suggest making your winter and spring vacation arrangements now to save some money.

Don’t wait – give yourself something to look forward to and save some of your hard-earned cash in the meantime. There’s never been a better time to come to the Riviera Maya. Experience hot sunny days, crystal clear multi-hued blue water and margaritas aplenty where life is laid back and vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. Experience Playa del Carmen and find out why so many people say, “I’m feeling Luna Blue…take me back to Playa del Carmen!”

And don’t worry, you won’t miss winter. It’ll still be there when you get back. 🙂

Playa del Carmen….still safe, still affordable and still beautiful.

Posted in Events & Happenings, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sabor a Mexico, Another New Local “Joint”…And This One Healthy!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on June 2, 2010

Update 9/5/10: We’re sorry to say that this little gem of a restaurant is now closed, another apparent victim of the drop in tourism. We wish Karmen the best of luck in future endeavors and sure hope she opens another restaurant at some point in the future.

We had the pleasure of eating lunch yesterday at a new spot on the other end of town from us, but one we’re sure to return to again. It’s called Sabor a Mexico. Located on Calle 4 between Avenidas 20 & 25 (a block from Kalaka, another of our favorite spots), it’s a few blocks out of the tourist zone, but worth the stroll.

Sabor a MexicoOwned by a beautiful and energetic young woman named Karmen, Sabor a Mexico looks like many small Mexican eateries, but cuter and cleaner. We were introduced to Karmen over the phone by our friend Mayte (former owner of Bloody Chicas & current owner of local favorite watering hole El Bar) when we were trying to find someone to cater a private event we’re having in a couple of weeks. We decided to stop by Karmen’s restaurant and see if her food is as good as Mayte said it was.

Happily, we weren’t disappointed. Sabor a Mexico was opened by Karmen about four months ago and features food from central Mexico. What makes this spot different from many others is Karmen’s focus on her dishes. As she explained, her food is “saludable” or healthy. She uses a minimum of fat in her cooking and very little pork. Everything is prepared with a focus on healthy eating–or as healthy as Mexican food can be. 🙂

We both decided to try the comida del dia, or meal of the day. This sort of eating is often also called “comida corrida” and generally consists of a complete meal including starter, entree and beverage (and sometimes dessert) for one price. Sabor a Mexico‘s comida del dia started with a chicken noodle soup followed by our choice of four entrees and included rice, beans, tortillas and unlimited fruit water (first lemonade then later jamaica). Tony had the meatball soup, and Cheri had the picadillo de res. Both were delicious and obviously fresh and well-prepared. We ate a full meal yet walked away not feeling completely stuffed like we normally do after a Mexican meal. And the price of our lunch was only $90 pesos–about $7 US–for both of us. There are cocktails on 5th Avenue that cost more than that! There were other items on the menu as well that we’ll likely try our next time there.

After lunch we talked with Karmen a bit about what she could do for us for the event. She described some of her other specialties, was extremely organized, took notes, and said she would call us the next day with a price quote. She showed up at the hotel this morning with a list of all the different dishes she suggested as well as a “presupuesto” (or quote) that was very reasonable. She seemed like she’d been doing this forever, but when we asked if she had done an event like this before, she said it was her first, but that she had two more events later in the month. We were very happy, told her she had a deal and said we’d talk in a few days.

It was a delight to find such a pleasant little spot owned by someone who clearly cares about good food and good health.

Sabor a Mexico is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm. We’ll be returning soon to try breakfast.

If you’re looking for healthy but delicious food prepared with care, check out Sabor a Mexico.

Sopa de Albondigas

Sabor a Mexico

Picadillo de Res

Posted in Dining in Playa, Friends, Recommendations, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Newest Member of the Luna Blue Family…Indigo Beach

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 22, 2010

Just when you think paradise is as good as it gets…something new comes along and raises the bar. This time it’s Playa’s newest beach club/restaurant, Indigo Beach.

xxxThis last week our good friends Tim and Ruth were in town. On their final day, they decided to spend some time on the beach so they could grab some last rays before heading north. We decided to join them. They had already been to Mamita’s and Blucacao and Xpu-ha, so Cheri suggested we all try a new place…and so we headed for the brand new Indigo Beach beach club.

Indigo Beach is a short 10-minute walk from our hotel, located on the beach at the foot of Calle 14, in front of El Taj condominiums. As we strolled on to the beautiful beach, imagine our surprise when who should greet us but our old friend Prad. Prad has managed a number of clubs and restaurants in town over the years and now is working at Indigo Beach.

In a few minutes, Prad had us fixed up with very cool beach loungers (they adjust at both ends…very convenient) and umbrellas. And we have to say the newly renovated central beach is gorgeous. As soon as we settled in, Carlos, who would take care of us that day, was at our side taking drink orders and making sure we were comfortable. Throughout the entire day, we had terrific service. And it wasn’t just us. We saw waiters moving among the chairs helping people all day long.

When we arrived, the restaurant part of the club was still serving its daily breakfast buffet. We had already eaten so we didn’t partake, but we went to take a look…and it looked great. For $130 pesos you have your choices from a buffet filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, cereals, breads (more on the breads later) and a daily special hot dish among other things. It was quite an impressive spread.

xxxAfter swimming, napping, reading and more swimming we did finally decide to eat. We could have had our meals brought to us at our chairs, or we could have gone inside the dining room which looks out on the beach. Instead, we decided to sit in the lovely dining area with tables, chairs and white fringed umbrellas sitting directly on the sand.

The menu was pretty interesting with a more varied selection than one usually finds on the beach. It is billed as being Thai-Caribbean fusion which sounded pretty exciting. Still, we were anticipating the usual mediocre beach food. It seems to be that the better the view, the less attention is paid to the food. But that didn’t happen here. What we got was one of the best meals we have had in Playa. Seriously.

First we munched on the bread and olive oil. We know that doesn’t sound very special, but the basket of various breads of different shapes and textures was out of this world. We discovered that Indigo Beach bakes its own breads on site fresh daily…for breakfast and meals throughout the day. They were wonderful (we might have eaten two baskets full). And they are made even better after dipping in the chili infused olive oil. We were already stuffed when the foods we ordered began to arrive.

We had appetizers of Tuna Sashimi upon coffee emulsion with red onions and capers ($120 pesos), and Aguachile Sauce Shrimp with red onion and cucumber ($130 pesos). Both were delicious. Then came our main courses. We had ordered some hamburgers which turned out to be HUGE! They are served on giant homemade toasted buns with cheese, onion rings & bacon (on the burger) and all sorts of goodies. Trust us…this is the best burger in Playa. Really. And the burgers come with a side of crispy (YES!) french fries ($130 pesos).

We also ordered a house special Crudaiola pizza ($130 pesos). For the price, we assumed the pizzas would be personal sized, i.e., for one person, but they are very large…certainly they can be shared as a meal for two. And it was excellent, overflowing with toppings and a thin crisp crust. We also had a Caesar salad with salmon. Fresh un-wilted lettuce (that’s a find in itself) and plenty of large chunks of smoked salmon. ($100 pesos).

xxxAs we passed everything around for tastes, our table was filled with the sounds of each of us groaning in pleasure. But we weren’t done yet. Prad insisted we try some deserts (ok…twist our arms). We had Mousse of Passion Fruit with chocolate heart ($100 pesos). We also had the world’s best crème brulee with vanilla and raspberry flavors ($80 pesos). Cheri doesn’t even like crème brulee…but she loved this.

Finally, good coffee. Not a little demitasse cup like you usually get in Playa restaurants, but a big honkin’ cup…served with a pitcher of steamed milk! The four of us waddled back to our chairs on the beach swearing we would never eat again. We finished out the afternoon watching the colors of the Caribbean Sea change with the fading light.

The next day (today) we had a busy, busy work day. Around six tonight we decided we deserved a reward for working so hard, so we headed back to Indigo Beach for dinner. We were the only ones there. We were seated at a table overlooking the beach with cool breezes blowing in off of the sea. Paulo the chef (whom we met yesterday) came out to say hello and promised us a great meal. He wasn’t wrong. We started with wontons of shrimp, crab and cream cheese in a sweet chili sauce. Then we had the Indigo Pizza (shrimp, pesto, and cherry tomatoes). Paulo then insisted he make something special…who were we to say no? He made us giant hand rolled tortellinis stuffed with homemade spinach ricotta and served with a sweet cream carrot/truffle sauce. Yes…it tasted as good as it sounds.

To enjoy this meal while the beach slowly turned dark and the lights of Cozumel began to twinkle was an experience you can only have here in Playa.

We have fallen in love with this place, as you can tell. Great beach, fun beach club and an extraordinary restaurant. We loved it so much we asked the Indigo Beach to become one of the Luna Blue Hotel’s featured beach clubs. We are pleased to say they welcomed the idea. So now guests of the Luna Blue have the FREE use of four different and unique beach clubs…Mamita’s, Blucacao, Wicky’s and the new Indigo Beach, where our guests will have free use of chairs and umbrellas. We think we are the first and only hotel to offer guests that many choices for free beach club use.

Whether you are a guest of the Luna Blue Hotel, or another fine accommodation in town, or just passing through town for the day…do yourself a favor and stop by the Indigo Beach for some time in the tropical sun and one of the best meals you will have anywhere. Trust us…this place will become a Playa classic. Indigo Beach is open from 8 am to 7 pm. The breakfast buffet goes from 8 am to 12:30 pm, with the lunch/dinner menu starting at 12:30 pm.

And if you are in town this Saturday (April 24) stop by for Indigo Beach’s Official Grand Opening from 4:00 pm until 9:00 pm. We hope to see you there.


Click here to look at Indigo’s main dining menu (pizza menu will be posted separately).

Posted in Dining in Playa, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

The Beaches and Beach Clubs of Playa del Carmen: Part 1…Playa Norte

Posted by Tony & Cheri on February 24, 2010

There is no doubt about it …Playa del Carmen has one of the best beaches in the world. But you don’t have to take our word for it. The beach here in Playa has been called the “#1 Tropical Beach in the World” by the Times of London, and one of the “Sexiest Beaches in the World” by Forbes Traveler. Any top ten best beaches list worth the salt on its margarita will have Playa del Carmen on it.

Blucacao Beach ClubTo make a good thing even better, recently much of the beach in Playa has been reconstructed with new sand and populated with some fun new beach clubs. We thought this would be a good time to let people know about the condition of the beaches and take another look at some the newer beach clubs along with some old favorites.

Let’s start with Playa Norte, or North Beach, which is the area north of Avenida Constituyentes. The beach here needed no reconstruction. It continues to be a wide ribbon of white powder sand stretching into the blue Caribbean. Playa Norte doesn’t have the crowding of hotels or boats that the beach in central Playa does, so it appeals to those who like a more “open” feel to their beach.

There is plenty of space on Playa Norte if you want to take a towel and a cooler and spread out on the sand. Remember, all of Mexico’s beaches are open to the public, even if they are in front of a hotel. But if you prefer the convenience of a beach club with chairs, umbrellas, a bar, and food service, you can find here some of the biggest and most popular beach clubs in the Riviera Maya. But please note: much like you can’t bring your own food or drinks to a bar, if you do use the services of a beach club, such as chairs and umbrellas, you won’t be allowed to bring your own snacks or beverages.

At the northernmost part of the beach (about 60 minutes walk on the sand from Constituyentes or a five-minute cab ride) you will find Blucacao Beach Club. We have written about Blucacao on this blog before. While on the high end price-wise, Blucacao has one of the best restaurants/bars on the beach and is well worth the money, in our opinion. They also have a chic, elevated pool area with loungers and covered sun beds overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Best of all there are no crowds! And if you stay at the Luna Blue Hotel you get to use the facilities for FREE. Otherwise, the daily cost of a cushy chair is $50 pesos, large sunbeds surrounding the pool are $300 pesos and fit four people, and large sunbeds on the beach rent for $200 pesos.

Canibal Royal Beach ClubHeading south you’ll find the newest addition to North Beach, the Canibal Royal Beach Club. It’s on the beach next to the Grand Coco Bay hotel at the foot of Calle 48. The two-story club with restaurant, bar, and sundeck jacuzzi is designed in retro Fifties-style Brazilian architecture and has the look and feel of an old cruise ship (check out the “portholes” on the bathroom doors)! Canibal Royal has a unique menu of high-quality foods featuring influences from Brazil, Peru, Africa, and Mexico. It even has a wood-burning oven. Their tarte flambe in one of our favorites…it’s really a fancy way to say “really yummy thin crust pizza.” The $200 peso cost of renting a chair or sunbed is applied to your bar/food tab. And, if you’re a guest of the Luna Blue Hotel, you also get a 10% discount on your food and drink purchases on every visit!

Continuing south on the sand you will find the reigning queen of Playa’s beach clubs, Mamita’s Beach Club, at Calle 28 and the beach. Mamita’s has one of the best beach locations in all of the Caribbean with a huge beach and a wide unobstructed view of the Caribbean Sea. Mamita’s is divided into the beach club with beach chairs and umbrellas and the more expensive lounge area with sun beds, champagne bar and DJ. This is ground zero for beautiful people watching as it attracts a large, young, international crowd from the States, Europe and South America. Beach chairs and umbrellas cost $35 to $45 pesos, and sunbeds in the lounge are much more with minimum drink and food purchases. There are lockers and a pool which requires an additional fee. If you stay at the Luna Blue Hotel, you get the chairs and umbrella for free.Mamitas Beach Club

Right next door is the Kool Beach Club. Kool has a nicer restaurant deck area with better food and a bigger bar than Mamita’s. Unfortunately they have a smaller section of the beachfront, and as a result, the lounge chairs seem crammed together. However, it is still a beautiful section of the beach and they have a fun pool on the deck overlooking the sand. Chairs start at $45 pesos and include the use of an umbrella. Sunbeds are more.

Playa del Carmen’s North Beach is a tropical paradise. It has white powdered sand, crystal clear blue Caribbean water and a range of fun beach clubs ranging from upscale to funky. You can have a margarita, play in the surf, have a great meal, rent some beach toys, swing in a hammock, go sailing in a catamaran, take a fishing trip, catch a boat out to the reef to snorkel beneath the waves, or just work on your tan. And it’s also a wonderful place to take a nap and rest up for an evening on Fifth Avenue. Playa Norte is one of the premier beach destinations on the Caribbean Sea.

Coming soon: Part 2…the central beach in Playa.

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Luna Blue Hotel & Bar Proudly Sponsors Taste of Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 1, 2009

Taste of Playa 2009We at the Luna Blue Hotel & Luna Blue Bar are proud to be Executive Sponsors of a new community culinary event happening this coming Saturday September 5, Taste of Playa. Taste of Playa promises to be a world-class culinary event. Top level chefs from the best restaurants in the area will be creating samples of their best dishes for the public to try at very reasonable prices. Local select food vendors will also be selling their specialty food products. And local bars will be showcasing some fine wines and tequilas, as well.

This is the first time we’ve put our sponsorship behind any major commercial event in Playa, but this one spoke to us on a couple of different levels. First off, Taste of Playa is a community focused event. When we asked one of the organizers why this event isn’t being held in high season, but rather one of the slowest times in the tourist year, the answer was, “We wanted the focus to be on the community, not on the tourists.” As most of you probably know, Mexico has been hard hit this year with tales of drug wars and most recently, the overblown media hype called swine flu. Our little part of Mexico has seen a huge decline in tourism since May, as scared tourists stayed away. While swine flu was never a problem in this area, the resulting drop is tourism has been a tough blow for many locals. Many small businesses have closed for the season and some permanently. Many, many local people have lost their jobs and are struggling just to feed their families. We liked the idea of supporting an event with a focus on the people of Playa. We felt that such a unique event would draw many people to Playa, and the more people who come to Playa and spend tourist dollars, the more the locals are able to get back to their normal lives. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from this year’s Taste of Playa will be used to provide a year’s worth of safe drinking water to a local school.

The other reason we wanted to support Taste of Playa is purely personal. Having come from San Francisco, a food-lover’s paradise, we both love to eat. One of the great things about living in Playa del Carmen is that Playa has become a place to find fantastic food. Some of the high end restaurants in Playa easily equal those we’ve come to love in San Francisco. Even many of the mid range restaurants have some amazing food. And we believe that some of the best food one could ever have can be found at the cheap off-the-beaten-path eateries just a few blocks outside the main tourist zone. We figured if all of this came together in one spot, how great would that be??

“VIP Passports” to Taste of Playa are currently being sold at only two venues: at our hotel, the Luna Blue, on Calle 26 between 5th Avenue and 10th Avenue and Tropical Casablanca Hotel, on Avenida 1 between Calles 10 and 12. VIP passports cost $400 pesos each and entitle the bearer to one “taste” from each table/restaurant. Only a limited number of passports will be sold, so if you’re going to be in town and plan on being hungry Saturday afternoon, you may want to pick one up ahead of time. The event will be held at Parque Fundadores, the gorgeous little park down near the Cozumel ferry at the south end of town, from 3-9 pm. However, VIP Passport holders will be allowed entrance at 2 pm. If you have limited time or money, Taste of Playa “Pesos” will also be sold at the cost of $10 pesos each. Each “taste” will cost either 1 or 2 “Pesos,” or about $.80 to $1.60 US–a very reasonable price. A list of participating restaurants can be found here.

The event will also feature music and other surprises. If you’re in town and love to eat, don’t miss it. If you’re not in town, you might think about a last minute trip. We think Taste of Playa will be one of the best events of the year, and we’re proud to be associated with it.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Kalaka…A New ‘Must Try’ Restaurant in Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on June 21, 2009

Cheri at KalakaWe were looking for a new restaurant to try the other night and ended up at Kalaka. It was an instant hit with us, and it’s already become one of our “must recommend” places. We enjoyed everything about this restaurant and have already eaten there twice in the last three days.

Kalaka bills itself as serving Italian/Mexican fusion food. We were a little dubious about that description and were unimpressed when we first read the menu. The entrees offered are pretty basic, i.e., steak, fish, fajitas, pasta. Basic Playa style restaurant fare. However, it was cute and intimate with only eight tables in an open storefront setting on Calle 4 between 15th and 20th Avenues, and it got points from us for being outside the resort zone. We decided to give it a try.

As soon as we sat down, we had a cute little free appetizer delivered to the table consisting of cheese and olives in a pool of olive oil. There is an extensive wine list but unfortunately only by the bottle. Wine by the glass is limited to your basic red and white “Chateau de Sam’s Club.” There is a full bar.

The first night Cheri ordered chicken in a mushroom cream sauce. It was a large chicken breast completely covered in a thick cream sauce full of very large sliced mushrooms (no canned stuff). In our opinion, cream sauces tend to be too thick and a little bland in taste. This one was flavorful and delicious. The chicken came with rice and some steamed vegetables which had been perfectly cooked and flavored with a whole lot of butter. Tony ordered shrimp fajitas. Rather than getting the standard bowl of shrimp with some overcooked onions and pepper strips, he got a plate full of well-spiced shrimp surrounded by huge amounts of steamed vegetables. The vegetables were fresh, well-cooked and perfectly set off the shrimps. This was accompanied by homemade tortillas and some of the best guacamole in Playa. We were both extremely impressed with our meals.

The after-dinner tequilasThe next time we returned, Cheri had the shrimp brochette, which consisted of giant shrimps wrapped in bacon and grilled on skewers with various vegetables. This was covered by a light and very flavorful sauce. It was served with a baked potato and more of those delicious vegetables. Tony ordered one of the two filet mignons on the menu. It was a good sized steak grilled perfectly and covered with hollandaise and a tangy soy-based sauce. It was easily as good as any steak we’ve ever had in Playa. It was, frankly, better than the steaks we had at Chicago Don Jose’s and equal to the more expensive steaks we had at John Gray’s Place. It was served with fresh asparagus and a baked potato swimming in butter and sour cream. At the end of both meals, a small tray with two shots of tequila, lime, salt and watermelon chunks was placed on the table. It was a nice touch.

We met the owners, Sylvia and Max, who are from Milan. They were friendly and gracious and are obviously very enthusiastic about their restaurant. We really liked this place, as you can tell. The intimacy and soft lighting makes it a very romantic spot. The quality of the food makes it one of the better restaurants we have eaten at in Playa del Carmen. And because it is a couple blocks off of Fifth Avenue, the prices are not outrageous. The most expensive thing on the menu was the filet mignon Tony ordered at $225 pesos (about $17 US).

This place has style and is worth keeping around. We’re definitely going back (next time we’re ordering from the extensive pasta menu) and highly recommend that our readers give it a try when they visit Playa.

Shrimp Fajitas

Pollo con Champinones (Chicken with Mushrooms)

Inside Kalaka

And on a totally different topic…for those of you who have been worrying about the weather, the beaches, the sunshine, etc. (especially our friends, “the other Tony & Cheri”), here are some pictures we took this morning on Xpu-Ha beach. This is why we live here.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Living the Dream, Recommendations, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Eating Like a Local: Hacienda La Herradura & La Route des Vins

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 1, 2009

One of the things we love about Playa del Carmen is that it is always changing and reinventing itself. Seems like every week we walk by a new restaurant, shop or bar and say, “Wow, where did that come from??” There’s always something new to explore. And for those of us who like to eat, there are always new restaurants to try.

We recently ventured out, in our never ending R&D roles (we love our jobs!) and tried two of Playa’s newest restaurants:

Hacienda La Herradura

Hacienda La HerraduraJust half a block from our hotel, the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden, on the corner of 10th Avenue and Calle 26, is a great new spot, Hacienda La Herradura. We ate here for the first time when our friends Sarah & Adam were in town a few weeks ago and have since been back again with other friends and a couple of times on our own. We were pleasantly surprised each time. They have a large menu, very good food, great service and reasonable prices–who could ask for more? The first time we went we were given a free round of interesting house drinks when we arrived – pink ones for the girls (a tequila, coconut, pineapple drink) and green ones for the boys (a tequila, midori, lime concoction). We don’t know if this is standard practice since this is a new spot or simply because we introduced ourselves as their neighbors, but it was a welcome treat, and the drinks were interesting. The second time we went, the management also brought us two rounds of tequila shots after our meal, all on the house. Not a bad marketing ploy! 🙂

The menu is Mexican, with an Argentinian influence. Their entradas, or starters, range in price from $30 to $85 pesos. We were amazed to find one of our very favorite Mexican dishes on the appetizer menu, Chiles en Nogada. This is a wonderful dish that you normally only find at Christmastime, as it is usually made with pomegranate, something that is only found here at that time of year. We ordered the Chiles en Nogada (sans pomegranate) and an order of guacamole. Both were excellent.

They also have two soups and several salads on the menu. The Ensalada del Mediterraneo con arrachera ($75 pesos) was large enough for a main course, and the arrachera was some of the best we’ve ever had in Playa, rivaling HC de Monterrey!

They have an assortment of tacos on their menu, six chicken and six pork dishes, eight fish dishes and some pasta dishes. They also have a nice array of outstanding steaks, ranging from the standard arrachera to Rib Eye, T-Bone and New York steak. All of us were pleased with the quality and quantity of food that we ordered. The most expensive single-person dish on the menu is $150 pesos, and most dishes are far less than that.

Yesterday we stopped by for some lunch on our way to do some shopping. Tony had the tacos de arrachera and Cheri had the breaded shrimp tacos. Both were extremely good and super cheap (30 pesos for three arrachera tacos and 40 pesos for three shrimp tacos). So far this place has been excellent every time we’ve been. This is destined to become like La Pesca to us…one of our regular haunts. The fact that it’s so close to the hotel is just an added bonus!

La Route des Vins

La Route des VinsJust around the corner from the hotel on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Calle 28 is a large, airy restaurant with European style cuisine called La Route des Vins. The menu is very unusual for Playa and in our opinion, very welcome, adding to Playa’s image as a city of the world. La Route des Vins offers an extensive menu of tartines (pastries and breads with fillings and toppings); toasts (little pieces of bread with various toppings); mussels in a number of different presentations, crepes, salads and several types of fondues (meat, cheese, chocolate and more).

The portions are quite large, even the appetizers. We regretted not having split one. We ordered a cheese fondue to share for our main course, and it was still almost too much for two people. The fondue we ordered was the “country” fondue with multiple cheeses, bacon and mushrooms mixed in with the cheese. This was accompanied by a large plate of toasted bread pieces, slices of sausage and little potatoes for dipping. The service was very attentive, and one of the owners came by to make sure we were being taken care of. There is an extensive wine list, along with wine specials of the day.

This is one of a number of restaurants that the owners are opening throughout Mexico. As we were told, they are bringing through their “A Team” to set up their restaurant before setting up the next location. It will be interesting to see if when the local team takes over, the food, service, etc. stays at the same high level.

The restaurant is a pleasant corner building with huge doors that are opened to allow a feeling that you’re sitting outside on Fifth Avenue. It’s bright and airy.

The prices are reasonable and midrange. We felt that for the amount and quality of food, it was a good deal. Next time–and there will be a next time–we’ll skip the appetizer to save room for some of that chocolate fondue. 🙂 But then again, La Route des Vins is right across the street from our very favorite (and well-priced) gelato store, Corsi. Either way, dessert is covered!

Here are some photos of our dining experiences in these two new restaurants:

Two of the pretty servers at Hacienda La Herradura

Hacienda La Herradura dining room

One of the fish dishes at Hacienda La Herradura

Chicken Cordon Bleu at Hacienda La Herradura

One of our favorites, Chiles en Nogada, at Hacienda La Herradura

Ensalada Mediterranean with arrachera, at Hacienda La Herradura

A tartine appetizer – WOW – at La Route des Vins

Another appetizer at La Route des Vins – cheese and salmon toasts

Cheese fondue (country style) & dippers at La Route des Vins

Cheese fondue up close at La Route des Vins

Just across the street from La Route des Vins….
our favorite gelato place, Corsi

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