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Adventures in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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Posts Tagged ‘beach’

The “Old” Playa del Carmen Just Keeps Getting Better

Posted by Tony & Cheri on March 25, 2014

Bad Boys Beach ClubThe Luna Blue Hotel and Bar…”a last little piece of the old Playa del Carmen”…is thrilled to announce the legendary Bad Boys Beach Club as the newest addition to the family of quality beach clubs that welcome the guests of the Luna Blue Hotel with special discounts and values.

It’s a perfect coming together of two of Playa del Carmen’s most iconic establishments.

This little resort town of ours here on the edge of the Caribbean Sea has seen quite a few changes over the years. It has gotten bigger, fancier and more modern in some ways. And that’s fine…because we know the Playa that we all fell in love with–the old Playa Del Carmen–is still here. Both the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar and Bad Boys Beach Club are part of the tradition of the palapa-covered, laid back, sometimes funky, always fun Caribe-Mexican vibe that made Playa famous to begin with.

We invite all our guests and friends to join us under Bad Boys’ Jolly Roger Flag for great drinks, food, and music on the sand. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel enjoy free use of a lounge chair and umbrella at Bad Boys when they spend a minimum of $150 pesos for food and beverages (about $12.00 US) AND Luna Blue Hotel guests get a 10% discount on their food and drink orders!

This is just the beginning. Watch for some fun announcements of promotions and parties in the days ahead as the Luna Blue and Bad Boys take you back to the real Playa del Carmen. As Mike Grabow, Playa’s favorite singer-songwriter, says…“This is where you want to be.”

Bad Boys Beach Club

Posted in Events & Happenings, Friends, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Heading for the Beach? The Luna Blue’s Newest Beach Clubs

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 5, 2013

Beach Club at Grand CoralPlaya del Carmen has what many consider to be the best beaches around. In order to help our guests get the most out of their stay here in paradise, the Luna Blue Hotel has always offered discounts and passes to some of the most popular beach clubs in town. From time to time those clubs change based on feedback from our guests and from the clubs themselves. Here is the latest news on our associate beach clubs.

First and foremost we are very happy to announce the reopening of the Beach Club at the Grand Coral (formerly Blucacao). This beautiful upscale club has long been a favorite of our guests for its pristine, uncrowded beach, its two shallow infinity pools and the restaurant/bar overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The beach club was badly damaged earlier this year in a fire and has been closed for several months. However it has now been completely repaired and is open once again, bigger and better than ever. Guests staying at the Luna Blue Hotel receive free use of the beach club facilities including use of the pools, pool side loungers, beach chairs and umbrellas. The restaurant does have one of the more pricey menus on the beach, however it also features some of the most interesting and highest quality dishes around. Best of all, guests from the Luna Blue Hotel receive a 10% discount on their food and drinks. And the setting can’t be beat.

Indigo Beach ClubWe are also very pleased to announce the return of the Indigo Beach Club to the Luna Blue Hotel family. Set on Playa’s central beach at the foot of Calle 14, the Indigo Beach Club offers a lovely arrangement of loungers, tables, beach chairs and umbrellas. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel may receive free use of beach chairs and umbrellas after 11 am, when the breakfast crowd clears out, with a $150 pesos minimum food or beverage purchase. In addition, Indigo has a new young chef, Rubén López. Rubén, who many may know as the head chef from the upscale Negrosal, has put together a series of upscale tasting menus of various prices for the evening hours. For those on a honeymoon—or just feel like they are on a honeymoon—there is a special “Romantic” tasting menu with a private seaside, candle-lit setting and private lounge. We can’t wait to try it. Maybe for our upcoming anniversary. 🙂 The food at Indigo is not only top-notch, but it’s beautifully prepared as well. Guests of the Luna Blue Hotel receive a 10% discount on all dinners as well as all of the tasting menus.

On the north end of Playa we continue our association with the Canibal Royal Beach Club. Set in a cozy little cove on the shore, Canibal Royal offers not only a perfect beach setting to catch some rays, but also has a two floor restaurant with spectacular views of the ocean and a fascinating menu not seen elsewhere on the beach front. Luna Blue Hotel guests receive free use of a beach chair and towel at Canibal Royal with a minimum food or beverage purchase. And after sunning, drinking and dining at Canibal Royal, don’t forget to head up to the giant third floor hot tub to soak under the sky while looking out over an unspoiled view of the Caribbean Sea.

Wicky's Beach ClubFinally we continue our association with Wicky’s Restaurant and Beach Club. Wicky’s sits in the middle of all the action of Playa’s beautiful central beach. You can stroll on the shore, bar crawl or just people watch from your own lounge chair. Wicky’s offers one of the best and most upscale menus in Playa whether it be a traditional American breakfast or a “surf and turf” dinner. Dine on the deck or sitting on the beautiful white sand beach. Luna Blue Hotel guests receive free use of beach chairs and a 10% discount on food and beverages at Wicky’s Beach Club. During high season there is a small minimum food or beverage purchase required.

We are very happy to offer our guests use of such a diverse group of beach clubs. Of course both Playa’s central and north beaches are dotted with various beach clubs where you can rent chairs and umbrellas for just a few pesos. We recommend trying as many as you can. By the way, due to a difficult and unresponsive management and repeated problems with service, we are no longer recommending Mamita’s Beach Club to our guests. This was a difficult decision, but our concern is always that our guests receive consistent and high quality service.

For the most current information regarding the amenities of the Luna Blue Hotel, including our beach clubs affiliations, please check out our website. Do no rely on information found elsewhere on the internet. Hasta pronto from Playa del Carmen…where it’s always summertime. 🙂

Posted in Dining in Playa, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar | 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 »

Jazz on the Beach, Sex on the Bar and Plenty to be Thankful For

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 20, 2010

Summer is over and fall is here.. For some that will mean shorter days and cold weather. In fact, experts are predicting the coldest autumn in years for much of the US and Canada. And for Americans like us it won’t be long now until our Thanksgiving Day and the beginning of the holiday season.

But here in the tropics autumn means sunny days, trips to the beach and margaritas instead of hot cocoa. And this year Playa del Carmen is going all out with a week long celebration in late November with some incredible events.

On November 21 the second annual Taste of Playa will gather the finest restaurants and bars in the Riviera Maya for a tasting festival. If you are thinking traditional Mexican dishes you will be surprised. World-class chefs will be offering samples of spectacular foods and special tasting menus. Last year’s festival drew over forty participating restaurants and bars and thousands of visitors. It was a smashing success (see our previous blog entry), and this year will be even better.

And participating this year with many local and international favorites will be our own Luna Blue Bar! Playa’s favorite bartender Jorge Sierra will be on hand with other members of our “family” to offer samples of some of the special cocktails that have made us so popular, like the “Sarita B Careful Margarita” and the new “Sex on the Bar.” We are very pleased to be part of this year’s festivities.

And that’s just the start of the week!

On November 25-28 the 2010 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival will take place at Mamita’s Beach Club, just a five minute stroll from the Luna Blue Hotel and Bar. Each evening will present international jazz stars who will perform free on the beach only a few feet away from the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Imagine spending the day on a tropical beach sipping boat drinks only to have world class entertainers serenade you as the sun goes down!

The line-up is amazing. Among the performers will be some of Mexico’s finest jazz musicians and vocalists, like the big band sounds of Armando Manzanero, the vocal stylings of Eugenia León and many more. Included in the international line-up is one of our personal favorites, The Manhattan Transfer. It will be four nights of great music and lots of fun.

In the middle of all these festivities is the US Thanksgiving day. Of course, for most Americans, Thanksgiving means turkey, dressing and cranberries. So to make visitors feel at home, many of the finer restaurants around town will offer special Thanksgiving day menus with all the traditional favorites from turkey to pumpkin pie. And if you want to watch football after turkey you will find plenty of bars with big screen TVs to bring you not only the action but a bucket of ice cold Mexican beer as well.

Thanksgiving week is the second most popular week here on the Riviera Maya (second only to Christmas/New Year). Here at the award-winning Luna Blue Hotel and Bar most of our rooms are already reserved, many by folks who have made Playa their annual Thanksgiving trip. However we still have a few rooms left, so why not join us this holiday week? You get a 10% discount with our special advance pre-payment sale, along with all the usual special treatment the Luna Blue has to offer: free use of five different beach clubs, discounts on food and drinks, free homemade muffins with coffee and tea every morning, and free “Welcome to Mexico” margaritas.

So this year, why spend your time raking leaves, cleaning gutters or fighting the crush of department store holiday sales when you can be laying on a white sand beach, swimming in a crystal clear blue ocean and sipping a boat drink while watching the waves? Now that would be something to be thankful for.

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, Living the Dream, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Paradise…for $40?!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on September 14, 2010

Summer is over and the chilly winds of autumn will be starting soon. Before you know it the hectic race to the holidays will begin. But there is still time to lie in the sun on a beautiful Caribbean beach one last time this year. And it’s now more affordable than ever before. At the Luna Blue Hotel we are having an incredible Fall Fest Sale with all our rooms on sale for only $40 US!

Yes it’s true…All rooms at the Luna Blue are now $40 for the next six weeks! For the cost of a Mexican meal in the US, you can have a night in Mexico instead.

Make a new reservation now for a minimum three night stay between September 15 and October 23 and you can have the best available room for $40 plus tax. Every room in the hotel is $40…from our private Treetop Terrace rooms to our spacious Garden View Deluxe rooms with full kitchens to our Tropical Hideaway rooms to our cozy Courtyard Nook rooms. Rooms will be assigned on a first come, first served basis, so book early for the best room and the best deal.

With the FREE use of beach clubs, the discounts on beach club drinks and meals, FREE margaritas and FREE muffins and coffee in the morning, you can’t afford to stay home.

And right now you can find some amazing deals on air fare before the prices go up for the winter season. Don’t worry about missing the cold weather. It will still be there when you get back.

Wouldn’t it be nice to start winter with a tan?

Is your fall going to look like this…
Yucky weather

Or this…
Beautiful Playa del Carmen

Posted in Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Perfect Day

Posted by Tony & Cheri on May 26, 2009

What Should We Do Today?
Guests at our Luna Blue Hotel often ask our help in planning their activities. The questions we are most commonly asked are “What do you like to do on your days off?” and “What would be a perfect day here in Playa?” Those are difficult questions to answer. There are so many things to do and many places to visit, and of course, there is the whole Caribbean coast that runs from Cancun through Playa Del Carmen and on down to Tulum and beyond. A lot depends on the guests themselves and the type of activities they enjoy. Some folks like a day of strenuous activity while others like to be laid back and relaxed for the whole vacation. For us, the answer is a combination of taking it easy and something a little more adventurous. And of course, any “perfect” day in Playa Del Carmen has to include some time experiencing the beauty of the Caribbean Sea. With the recent slow down in Playa’s tourism (see our recent blog entry A Trip to the Beach and Some Thoughts on the Swine Flu Hysteria) we decided to take some time off from the hotel and have our own Perfect Day.

The Perfect Morning
the beach at Blucacao Beach ClubWe started out by heading over to Blucacao Beach Club. Since we added free use of the Blucacao for guests of the Luna Blue earlier this year we have heard nothing but rave reviews. And it’s easy to see why. Blucacao is an upscale, beautiful and sexy beach club for the discriminating traveler. It has two pools, a chic bar and one of the better restaurants in town, not to mention a classic Caribbean beach front. Check out the photos we have of Blucacao at Blucacao, Luna Blue’s Newest Beach Club. So when we decided to start our “Perfect Day” on the beach the Blucacao was an easy choice. Once we got there we laid down on a wonderfully cushy beach bed, shaded by an umbrella only steps from the water’s edge. As always the service was terrific. The waiters swarmed over us getting us drinks, snacks, towels and anything else we needed. We alternated between lying in the shade of the umbrella, admiring the incredible vista and wading into the calm water to float under the morning sun. Then, as the morning drew to a close we said goodbye to our friends at the beach club and headed back into town for the afternoon portion of our “Perfect Day.”

The Perfect Afternoon
Spa ItzaOver a year ago our darling “semi-adopted” daughter Sarah and her husband Adam gave us a gift certificate to Playa’s premier spa, Spa Itza. We have long recommended Spa Itza to our guests for their top quality spa treatments but had never found the time to make use of our free massages. So, as part of our “Perfect Day” we called Spa Itza and scheduled some time.

The spa is located in the middle of Calle Corazon just off 5th Avenue. It is a multi-level building in the style of an open-air tree house. The facility has flowering trees, small gardens, and decks. They greeted us warmly, gave us a chilled towel to cool off from the afternoon heat (ahhhhh!!!!) and took us to our third-floor massage room. We each received a towel, a pareo, a key to a locker and a robe before being directed to the appropriate shower/changing area. We then went to the massage room where we each had a fifty-minute massage that left us limp and content. Then it was up to the rooftop where we were shown the temescal (a traditional Mayan sweat lodge), the lounge area, a sauna and showers. The whole area is a pleasant blend of stone and wood with the open sky above and the ocean in the distance. There is even an intercom for requesting water or fruit juices if you want.

First, we tried the Mayan sweat lodge. The temescal is a short (about 4 feet high) rounded structure with a wooden floor and the steam source in the center. We crawled in and sat in the near darkness with the steam swirling around us. It’s a little like a sensory deprivation chamber with heat. After a while we crawled out into the bright sunlight and cooled off under the open air stone and wood shower stall. Then we popped into the traditional dry sauna for a few minutes. By this time we could not have been more relaxed. If we had wanted we then could have relaxed in lounge chairs on the roof top deck, but we had to move along for the final part of the “Perfect Day”… a sunset cruise on the Caribbean!

The Perfect Evening
Regular readers of this blog know how much we enjoy the Catamaya sailing trips. We recommend them to our guests as one of the best tours/activites in Playa. The boat itself is beautiful, and the crew is always attentive and loads of fun. Besides, the Catamaya owners are just good people. Fabio and his wife Elvie are always willing to help out and donate to any good cause or need, like the Bomberos and the Peanut Pet Shelter. And the way they treat their staff like family says a lot about what kind of people they are. On this particular evening, they were taking the boat out with some family and friends just to enjoy a little time on the water. We were thrilled when they invited us to join them.

We all met at the dock in Puerto Aventuras at 4:00 pm. Fabio introduced us to his other guests. Then we were off. As we cleared the channel leading from the harbor to the open ocean, the sky was a lovely shade of darkening blue. The waters were calm and the breezes gentle so the sail was unfurled and we were soon skimming along the waves heading north along the coast. The regular crew was serving and working that evening and soon everyone was enjoying drinks and snacks. We chatted with Fabio and Elvie about the rewards and difficulties of operating a business in Mexico. We traded some stories of outrageous events and funny happenings, a common pastime among foreigners down here.

We eventually dropped anchor and a number of guests (us included) dove overboard to take a sunset swim in the warm water. The Fat Cat catamaran, another Playa tour company and friendly competitor of Catamaya, was anchored not far away with a full boat of guests. Suddenly somebody on the Catamaya let out a loud laugh and we all turned to look. The folks on the Fat Cat had lined up on the deck, turned their backs to us on the Catamaya, and then dropped their swim trunks and bikini bottoms. A full mooning! We all had a good laugh and some good-natured cat calling went back and forth.

The crew then began dinner. The grill was filled with lobster, steak and sausage. Pasta, salads and pastries were also served. Fabio and Elvie could not have been better, or nicer, hosts. We anchored for a while, enjoying dinner and watching a large storm pelt Playa with rain and spectacular bolts of lightning that lit up the evening sky over the jungle. Then as we unhooked from the anchorage and began to motor home we ended up in a bit of weather ourselves. The wind picked up and the waves began to roll. A downpour eventually forced us all inside the cabin and we watched as lightning crackled in the skies above us. To take advantage of the rolling of the boat the music was turned up and salsa lessons ensued, with Alberto the newest crew member donning the infamous tiger bikini for his lessons! Eventually, the storm passed on and we motored back into Puerto Aventuras. Thank you, Fabio and Elvie for a thoroughly delightful time!

So there you have it…our Perfect Day. It started with floating in the Caribbean and ended up sailing upon it. This is why we live here. Of course, living in paradise means there are still lots of other perfect days yet to come. And if you make it down here to visit us, we can help you have one too. 🙂

Buffett Plays Playa Update:
Still no word from Jimmy. If you haven’t e-mailed Jimmy yet (or you want to send a second…or third…e-mail) go here for the whole story.

Tony at Blucacao

Cheri enjoying a mimosa at Blucacao

Cheri in Spa Itza robe

The temescal–Mayan sweat lodge– at Spa Itza

Tony relaxing in the Spa Itza garden after his massage

Cheri enjoying the outdoor shower at Spa Itza

Our massage room

Alejandro, Captain of the Catamaya

Tony on the Catamaya

Jose, the Catamaya’s bartender

The crew raising the sail

Alberto teaching the girls to fish

Cheri catching the last rays of the day’s sun

Fatcat Full Moon

Tatiana, Elvie & Fabio’s daughter, with her boyfriend Ivan

Tony & Fabio

The End of a Perfect Day

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Recommended Reading: A Great Guidebook

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 24, 2009

Click here to see 'Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Riviera Maya by Joshua Eden Hinsdale' on Amazon.comWhen we first bought the hotel, we didn’t know a thing about marketing. We naively thought it was just a case of writing or calling up companies that published guidebooks and telling them we were open for business. Haha! We quickly found out that’s not the way it works.

Getting mentioned in a guidebook can be difficult. If you’re not already a known entity (which we weren’t) you might not be mentioned because there’s only so much space in a book and the writers already have their favorites. And, even if the book is updated, you may have to get on a waiting list for a couple of years to be mentioned.

We also discovered that reviews of hotels in the travel writing industry sometimes are the result of the hotel’s “generosity” to the reviewer. Many large hotels finance press junkets and pay for rooms, airfare, food and other perks for travel writers. We had two problems with that. First it seemed kinda phony that you could buy a good review in a travel book and secondly…we couldn’t afford it. So we resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t get much mention in the world of guidebook publishing.

However, in the early days of the Luna Blue Hotel, we had a young travel writer stop by to look at our hotel. Joshua Eden Hinsdale was working on a guidebook for the Riviera Maya with an emphasis on Playa del Carmen. Josh had lived in the area for many years, was active in the travel industry, and knew his way around the Mayan Riviera. He was enthusiastic about spreading the word that Playa was the hottest place to travel and wanted his guidebook to be as up to date and detailed as it could be. He wanted visitors to have the same insider information that locals have. Best of all, he wasn’t looking for a handout or compensation; he just wanted to write the best guidebook possible.

We spent a lovely afternoon talking with Josh. Several months later a guest in the hotel showed us a copy of his newly printed book, “Playa del Carmen, Tulum and the Riviera Maya: A Complete Guide” published as part of the Great Destinations guidebook series. In our opinion, it was everything Josh had said it would be. We were especially happy that he had done a very complimentary review of the Luna Blue Hotel. It was our first guidebook mention! We even stole one of his quotes from the review to use on our website: “The Luna Blue Hotel…has a lost in time quality that’s not easy to find in a modern resort destination.”

Over the next couple of years we couldn’t count the number of people who have shown up at our front desk with his book in hand. It obviously has been a real help for visitors to Playa del Carmen.

Then, last year, Josh stopped by again. He explained he was updating his guidebook and wanted to see what was new with the hotel and get our feedback on changes, improvements and additions to Playa del Carmen in general. He also asked if he could interview us for a sidebar inclusion in the book. Oh yeah, twist our arms! We spent a pleasant couple of hours with Josh sitting in the garden next to the waterfall and talking about one of our favorite subjects, Playa del Carmen.

Fast forward to today. This morning some guests in the hotel came to the front desk with a copy of the new 2nd Edition of Joshua’s guidebook which they had brought for us. (We have the nicest guests!!) We just finished leafing through it and have to say it’s even better than the first one. The information is detailed in a way that most guidebooks aren’t. It offers specifics about where to go, what to do, how to get there and how much to pay.

But what makes this book really special and different is the insider commentary about things in Playa del Carmen that visitors often don’t see or hear about. Joshua talks about our famous fire department, the Bomberos, and tells people how they can help support it. He offers a long list of items that are needed by the local Playa del Carmen Children and Family Services Department with information about where to bring such items. He also peppers the book with entertaining commentaries such as the “Top 10 Songs to Load on your iPod” before coming to Playa (Margaritaville tops the list of course); suggestions for walking tours and stories about Mayan history and myth. He even does a review of local “adult” clubs with pricing information! There are plenty of maps and lots of photos. He also tells the reader about other sources of local information, including the website which he notes is “favored by many locals.” (We might have put in a good word. 😉 )

Of course our favorite pages are 142, 143 and 192. It’s here you can find favorable reviews of the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden, the Luna Blue Bar (which he recommends) and almost a full page story about us which he called “Living the Dream.” It was pretty cool to see that. Now we’re just waiting for someone to purchase the movie rights. 🙂 🙂

So if you’re going to be coming to Playa del Carmen soon or just want a book to take you there on a cold South Dakota winter’s night (that’s for you, Tim & Ruth), pick up a copy or order it from and make the mailman trudge thru the snow with your copy. We think you’ll like it.

Here’s an excerpt from the book that shows Joshua’s spot on attitude about traveling south of the border:

It May be Paradise, but it’s Still the Jungle

Don’t forget, even though Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya are exotic and wonderful beach vacation destinations, they are still relatively undeveloped and are in close proximity to the jungle, and you should set your expectations accordingly. You should also remember that there are hassles and frustrations inherent to any travel situation. You’re on vacation to have fun and celebrate life, so try not to let little challenges you encounter bother you.

If a chicken walks into your beachfront restaurant and pecks at your crumbs, don’t get mad–take a picture. If a gecko streaks across the wall of your hotel room, don’t call the front desk–give him a name and consider him a pet. If your shower runs out of hot water, don’t complain to the concierge–it’s good for your sunburn. And most importantly, if you find yourself at odds with your travel partner, it’s time to hit the nearest bar, order a margarita, feel the warm breeze, and remember why you came here in the first place.

Posted in Living the Dream, Recommendations, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Xpu-Ha Beach…a Gem Close to Playa

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 6, 2008

Xpu-Ha beachThere are many great stretches of beach in the Riviera Maya. North Beach in Playa Del Carmen with Mamita’s and Kool Beach Clubs is our favorite “every day” beach. It’s beautiful and close to our house, and even closer to the hotel, so a quick walk down for a swim is pretty easy. We also love Tulum’s beaches. They are about an hour from the house, so when we get a day off, it’s one of our regular destinations.

However, lately we have been spending more and more time at a not-so-well-known beach about 20 minutes down the road called Xpu-Ha. Xpu-Ha was a popular beach for a while. It was wild, undeveloped, and had a cute little restaurant, the Café del Mar. Unfortunately, awhile back the Café del Mar closed, and beach access became a little more restricted. However, there still are public roads to Xpu-Ha, still some wild undeveloped stretches of beach, and three beach clubs of varying style and cost.

Our favorite of these is La Playa Beach Club. The entrance is on the ocean side of 307, just south of the Catalonia resort. There’s a big sign saying “La Playa” at the entrance of a dubious looking dirt road. On weekends, there’s a rope across the road. Nearby is a house from which someone will come to lower the rope and let you in for the cost of $25 pesos per person. As the old joke goes: they don’t own the beach; they don’t own the road, but they own the rope. This money is refunded to you when you leave if you spend $100 pesos or more (approximately $8) while at the beach club. To collect your refund, just bring your receipt and wristbands back to the “gatekeeper” when you leave.

Xpu-Ha beachOnce inside the entrance, you’ll find about a half mile of curvy, pothole-filled dirt road. Drive slowly as you go over the bumps. The road will end at the beach. Pull your car into the sand parking lot and take in the sweeping view. Walk through the restaurant out onto the deck of the beach club and down onto one of the most gorgeous tropical beaches you will find.

La Playa is a typical beach club. They have lounge chairs and palapa umbrellas, the use of which is free with your $25 peso admission price. The several hammocks hanging on the beach are also available for free use. If you like fancier beach lounging, there are sunbeds and very cool rocking loungers available for an additional fee. The restaurant food is…okay and typical of beach fare. The burgers ain’t bad. Cheri says the pina coladas are big and yummy. You can eat and drink on the restaurant deck overlooking the ocean or on your chair on the sand. We’ve always found the service to be friendly and reasonably fast (by Mexico standards). Here you can also do a bit of shopping, with a large shady shack selling local handicrafts.

There are lots of activities—sailing, snorkeling, jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, etc. if that is your interest. For your scuba & snorkeling needs, check out Bahia Divers, just 20 yards from La Playa Beach Club. We tend to lie in the sand and float in the water.

If you stroll along the beach south of La Playa, you’ll hit a very funky little beach area called Bonanza RV Park. There is space for camping, some undeveloped beach, a few lean-tos with some locals selling handicrafts, and a funky but very friendly feel. If you want to lay on the sand undisturbed, this is the place, but bring your own towel and shade. There are no chairs or umbrellas.

Walking even further south, what you’ll find is a long stretch of undeveloped Caribbean beach. And that’s not bad.

Here’s a video of utter bliss: no music, no noise, no people. Just the sounds of the waves and the wind.

If you head north on the beach from La Playa, again you’ll find an area pretty much undeveloped. As you stroll, keep an eye open for a small wooden shack with brightly colored hammocks and string chairs hanging about. This is the store of Juan and Juan, father and son, who make and sell beautiful hammocks. We have a number of them in the hotel.

Continuing your stroll, you’ll eventually hit the Hacienda Vista Real (HVR) Beach Club. It’s normally for the exclusive use of that all-inclusive resort, but in low season, they tend to welcome walk-up guests and rent chairs for a nominal fee. It’s a small beach club with an even smaller restaurant. When we were there, the quiet is what attracted us. No pounding music, no DJs. Just the sound of the surf. Ah….heaven.

This summer, life has not been exactly low key for us. Opening a bar, dealing with some employee matters, and enlarging the house—with all the construction noise, dirt and hassles that go along with it—have made paradise a little less tranquil than usual. Getting down to Xpu-Ha on occasion has allowed us to remember some of the reasons we moved to Mexico in the first place. It forces us to slow down and get in touch with nature, each other and ourselves. Every time we float in that beautiful water, we always make a vow that we are going to do this more often.

Here are some more pictures of a day at Xpu-Ha beach:

Two Buddhas
Tony & his buddy Buddha

La Playa Beach Club as seen from the ocean
Xpu-Ha beach

A view from the La Playa restaurant
La Playa beach

Cheri the Mermaid

The Caribbean as seen from a beach chair
Xpu-Ha beach

Not-so-old Man and the Sea
Tony at Xpu-Ha beach

Fishing boat
A fishing boat at Xpu-Ha beach

Cheri strolling on the beach
Cheri strolling on Xpu-Ha beach

La Playa Beach Club on Xpu-Ha Beach
La Playa Beach Club

Cloud Mountain

A well deserved rest
Tony snoozing in the hammock

Posted in Activities, Living the Dream | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

It Was a Good Day

Posted by Tony & Cheri on June 29, 2008

We’re finally into low season. Every morning we check to see if there are any storms or hurricanes on the horizon, we start planning for some of the maintenance and projects we couldn’t get to during high season, and we finally get to relax a little. Today was one of those days for relaxing.

Today started like every other Sunday, with Tony at the front desk of the hotel and Cheri sleeping in. Early Sunday morning is one of our regular shifts at the hotel front desk. Despite living in paradise, we keep a pretty regular work schedule. Sunday mornings are normally quiet as people recover from their tequila tasting of Saturday night, and this time of year, with the hotel only three-quarters full, it’s even more tranquil. Cheri came in later in the morning to do emails, and by the time Jaime showed up in the early afternoon to take over front desk duty, we were ready to take a break.

Free chocolate samples at Ah CacaoThe last week has seen a lot of rain; it’s just that time of year. Thunder and lightning storms roll in off the Caribbean bringing lots of moisture. When it’s not raining, it’s still damp and humid. But today we had clear skies and milder temperatures (in the upper 80s) and it struck us as being a perfect beach day. So we headed down to Mamita’s Beach Club. Neither of us had eaten, so we stopped for a quick slice of takeaway pizza on the road to the beach and ate it as we strolled.

When we got to the water around 3:30, there was no sign that this was low season. The beach was packed. But with a little bit of searching, we found a couple of lounge chairs, threw down our stuff and jumped into the water. Since we haven’t gotten down to the beach in the mornings for quite a few weeks for our “morning meetings,” we decided this was more like a “get together for drinks after work” kinda meeting. We bobbed and splashed and floated and talked for over an hour, soaking in the warm sun and perfect waves. There were lots of others with the same idea, and everyone just seemed happy.

We would have stayed until dark except that we had somewhere to be at 6:00. So, we left around 5:30 to go home for a quick shower and then headed over to the new Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe for their Grand Opening. Free chocolate samples and salsa dancing? We didn’t want to miss that! The invitation said they would start at 6:00 sharp, but in true Mexican fashion, we knew we had time to stop for dinner. Since nothing seemed to be happening at 6:00, we went over to Antica Osteria del Mar for a little pasta. We were sad to see that our friend Bruno was on vacation, but Tony got over his disappointment when he discovered that his replacement was a couple of really cute Italian girls. We were also pleased to find that the menu had been expanded with many new pasta dishes and new sauces. We tried a couple of new things and were happy with our choices. This is our favorite Italian restaurant in Playa.

Dancing girls at Ah CacaoAfter dinner, we looked over at Ah Cacao and saw that the festivities had finally begun. A large crowd had gathered in the patio area outside the store. A buffet table was filled with chocolate goodies to sample, including the world famous brownies. We may have sampled them once. Okay twice. Maybe even more, but who’s counting? 🙂 In addition, Ah Cacao servers moved through the crowd with trays full of ice cream, brownies, chocolate pieces and our favorite drink, the Chocolate Maya.

While people gorged themselves on all the free chocolate, the entertainment began. A troupe of talented and beautiful young dancers went through a number of routines from modern dance in sexy gangster outfits to Vegas showgirl style numbers and various salsa dances. There were more costume changes than a Cher concert. One of the highlights was when a statuesque beauty in towering heels and skintight salsa dress pulled a diminutive aged grandmother from the crowd, and the two of them did a salsa duet to a Cuban number. Grandma held her own, and the crowd went crazy.

After that, we took a stroll by the hotel to say hello to a few people sipping some of Jose’s legendary mojitos at the Luna Blue Bar. Then we came home, and Cheri finished loading the last of our CDs onto the new iPod we picked up in the US. Almost 10,000 songs, including nearly 2000 Christmas songs. It will be a feliz navidad this year, for sure. 🙂

This week, of course, is the Fourth of July. We wish all of our friends back in the US a happy and safe Independence Day. Don’t drink and drive. Sparklers only; no cherry bombs. We will be celebrating at Bad Boys on the Beach, which is having a big barbeque and music all day long with the house band, the Nasty Bastards and a recording session with Playa’s own cowboy blues maestro, Grady.

Also on 4th of July at Bad Boys, the Peanut Pet Shelter, of which we have often blogged, will be holding a raffle to raise money. There are lots of cool prizes, including a three night stay at our own Luna Blue Hotel & Garden and a couple of bar tabs at the Luna Blue Bar.

As of right now, here are the prizes you can win, but more prizes are added all the time:

FatCat trip for two
F1 trip for two
Beer tab at the Beer Bucket for $500 peso
All you can eat rib night at Manne’s Biergarten
3 night stay in a Superior room at the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden (no expiration date)
ATV Jungle tour for two
Microlite flight
Two $250 peso bar tabs at the Luna Blue Bar
1 hour Massage at Reflex
3 month banner advertisement (value $2,500 pesos) on Playa Maya News
2 x 1 hour snorkle dives with Antonio @ Kool
$500 peso meal at Tango Taco
A 3 night stay at Fusion Hotel
2 x $500 peso bar tabs At Fusion
2 x $500 peso meals at La Tortuga’s resturant El Bistro
An original painting by our favorite artist, Barry Launius, Cabanas of Tulum
2 months of English classes at Harmon Hall (any level, i.e., basic, intermediate or advanced), Valued at around US$350
Meal at La Famiglia for $500 pesos
$200 peso gift voucher from Off The Vine
A 1 night stay in a superior room at La Tortuga, valid until 12/23/08
3 prizes of V.I.P. Smart Cards from John & Libby
A Discover dive or Two tank dive (depending on certification) with Paolo at Geofish

For more info, including a current list of prizes and how to buy tickets, check out Peanut Pet Shelter 4th of July Raffle. Tickets are $5.00 each. Be sure to enter in the comments field that you’re buying tickets for the raffle, and leave a valid email address. Andy & Jen, the owners of the pet shelter, will email you your ticket numbers. You don’t need to be present to win.

Have a great week!

Posted in Activities, Events & Happenings, Friends, Living the Dream | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Some Bragging Rights

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 6, 2008

April 2008's  Outside MagazineHello everybody. We’re sorry we haven’t blogged for a while, but it has been pretty busy here in Playa. With Easter coming early this year and March being the high point of the spring break season, we really haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and blog. The hotel has been and is completely full of people. We also spent a couple of weeks doing some fundraising for our local fire department, the Bomberos of the Riviera Maya. And of course we have the new bar to watch over. We have gotten away on some day trips with friends visiting from out of town, and we will be blogging about that in the very near future. But tonight we have a little bragging to do.

First of all, within a year of starting our blog, we now have had over 100,000 hits! We’d like to thank everybody who has visited us here at PlayaZone and especially those who have left their comments, opinions and ideas. We really enjoy hearing that the information we write about brings people to our adopted home of Playa del Carmen or helps them enjoy their vacations more. We’re going to keep blogging, and we hope you’ll keep reading.

Other big news is our latest award. The April edition of Outside Magazine contains its 2008 Travel Awards. Our own Luna Blue Hotel & Garden was named the “Best-Beach-For-Cheap Hotel” in the world. As part of their Trips of the Year 2008, Outside Magazine suggests people wanting a cheap beach vacation should come to Playa del Carmen and stay at the Luna Blue! We are very honored. Outside Magazine is America’s leading active-lifestyle and adventure-travel magazine and has a readership of over 650,000 people.

In the past, we have received awards from and been recommended by such respected travel writers and publications as the Today Program’s Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, the New York Post and USA Today, among others. This latest award came as a complete surprise. When the magazine called us over a month ago to tell us that we were a recipient, we were thrilled. Unfortunately, this being Mexico, we had no way to get a copy of the magazine announcing our award. At the time, we weren’t even sure what we had been commended for. We sent out the word to family and friends to please be on the lookout for the April issue and call us if and when they had a copy in their hands.

Luna Blue Hotel and Garden - Best-Beach-For-Cheap-Hotel, April 2008 Outside MagazineOur good friend Tim Smith, who lives in snow covered (at least at this time of year) South Dakota, braved the chilly weather to hunt a copy up for us. He not only called us to let us know the exact nature of our award but sent us photographs of the magazine which we’ve included here. Since there we have gotten our hands on a couple of copies. The plan is to frame them and display them prominently. 🙂

It really is very gratifying for us to have the work we’ve done at the Luna Blue recognized by others in the travel industry as well as by our friends and guests.

That’s all for now. We will be back very soon with stories of some adventures up and down the coast and life in Mexico. And if you’re going to be traveling in Playa del Carmen anytime in the near future, please stop by and say hi.

Posted in Friends, The Hotel & Bar, The Love of Travel, Uncategorized, What's New | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »