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Posts Tagged ‘Playa del Carmen hotel’

The Naked Truth About Playa del Carmen

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 20, 2011

Playa del CarmenAs owners of the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar, we read a lot of internet chatter about Playa del Carmen. After all, we live and work here and want to keep up with what people are thinking about Playa. We also take note of people’s questions about traveling here. Over the years, we have seen many repeat questions on a few certain topics that never seem to go away or get fully answered.

Many people ask about the weather: “My family will be there the second week of August of next year. Will it rain during our vacation?” Others ask about safety: “My brother-in-law’s friend’s boss’ cousin says he heard that people were being machine gunned down in the Walmart. Should I cancel my trip?” But probably our favorite repeat question is…“Are there any nude or topless beaches in Playa del Carmen?”

Some folks ask about nude or topless beaches because they want to search them out to do a little au natural sunbathing. Others want to avoid them, worrying their husbands or sons will be scarred for life by exposure to all that flesh. And some are just…curious. So here is the truth about what you can and can’t wear on the beaches of Playa del Carmen (and some other select spots).

The Law

Many people say that Mexico prohibits all public nudity. And they are right. Mexico federal law prohibits lewd or immoral behavior, including nudity, on public federal lands. All beaches in Mexico including those in the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum) are federal land. However, as in most cases of the law, there are few absolutes and a lot of gray areas about this.

Mexico’s federal law on public nudity is enforced by local authorities who have the discretion to decide what constitutes lewd behavior. In Playa del Carmen the local authorities have never enforced the law with regard to topless sunbathing. They do not consider it “lewd conduct.” On Playa’s main resort beach (between Juarez and Constituyentes) and in Playa’s north beach (Playa Norte), topless sunbathing is commonplace and will not draw the attention of any cops, except for perhaps an admiring glance. Topless sunbathing and swimming is also accepted on the beaches in Xpu-ha and in Tulum.

The Tradition

Xpu-Ha BeachSo why does Playa allow women to go topless on the beach when other places in Mexico don’t? Primarily it is a tradition that predates Playa’s city government and status as a resort town.

A couple of decades ago Playa del Carmen was a sleepy little beach town know mostly as a place to catch the ferry to Cozumel. The world and the travel industry paid little attention to it. However, Playa was exactly the unspoiled tropical paradise many people were looking for.

European travelers, mostly from Italy, began to visit here. Some never left, and a large Italian expat community began to develop. The Italians brought many traditions to Mexico with them including great pasta and “European style” sunbathing. In other words…topless.

Along with the Italian expats, Playa became a destination for American vagabond travelers, i.e. “hippies,” whose lifestyle was based on being free–which included getting naked on the beach.

In the beginning, there was no one who cared. The town was too small and remote for anyone to worry about boobs on the beach. By the time the town grew and was discovered as a destination by the travel industry, the existence of topless beaches had become accepted by the local authorities.

This is not to say everyone does it. Only a relatively small percentage of visitors to our beaches go topless, but it is still a significant number of women who feel at ease in just a swimsuit bottom on the beach, in the water and occasionally at the beach bars.

The All Over Tan

While being topless is acceptable on Playa’s beaches, complete nudity is not.
In all the years we have been coming to and living in Playa, we have never seen nudity on the town’s main beaches. We suspect that if someone was nude on one of those beaches, with the first complaint from onlookers the police would step in.

There was a nude beach in Playa some 10 or 12 years ago. Coco Beach, north of town, was commonly used by those seeking to avoid tan lines. Back then the town ended at Constituyentes, and access to this beach was limited, so no one raised a fuss. However, the famous nude beach disappeared when it was washed away during a particularly bad storm season and then rebuilt as condos and resorts as Playa’s city limits expanded north. As of now, there is no place in Playa’s city limits where public nude sunbathing is allowed.

TulumHowever Tulum has for many years had a reputation for allowing total nudity. A few beach hotel/resorts in Tulum are clothing optional. In addition, while there is no nude beach per se, we have observed over the years that the smaller beach clubs seem to have no objection to nude guests. We have seen a fair number of nude sunbathers on the beaches of Tulum and once observed an entire soccer team from England get off their bus and completely disrobe in the parking lot before running buck naked down to the water! However Tulum has recently grown large enough to create its own local government which by some accounts is very strict about beach club rules. It might be best to ask the beach club employees if it is okay before losing those swimsuits.

Beach Etiquette: What do You Say to a Naked Lady?

Women who sunbathe or swim topless or nude are doing so for their own enjoyment, not yours.
It is not an invitation to stare at them, talk to them, photograph them without permission or comment about them. They may not meet someone’s particular standard of beauty or age…and neither should they have to. The same goes for men who may choose a swimsuit to their liking but not yours. We have seen all ages, shapes and sizes in all stages of undress on the beaches and we have never felt offended.

If someone’s attire or lack of attire is bothering you, simply move to another part of the beach. There is no beach so small in the Riviera Maya that you need sit near someone or something that makes you uncomfortable. We regularly relocate when someone near us is smoking heavily.

If you do want to get topless or naked on a beach, remember that Mexico is still a conservative Catholic country where many women swim in t-shirts and shorts rather than a skimpy bathing suit. Please limit your expressions of personal freedom to the resort zone beaches which allow such behavior. Avoid the smaller out of the way beaches where local families gather. Tourists are guests in this country and should conduct themselves in away that does not upset the locals.

The Final Word

A word of warning: If you do find yourself on one of the Riviera Maya’s tropical seashores, and in the heat of the moment you are tempted to expose a little more skin than you normally do back home, we would strongly suggest one little word to make the experience more enjoyable… SUNBLOCK! And lots of it.

Have fun on our beautiful beaches no matter what you do or do not wear.

For our most recent blog entry on this top, check out Getting Naked in Playa del Carmen, Again.

‘LIKE’ the Luna Blue Hotel & Bar

Posted in Living the Dream, The Love of Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Thanksgiving and more…on the beach

Posted by Tony & Cheri on November 5, 2010

Can you believe it? November is already here. Only seven weeks until Christmas and a week more to a whole new year. The whirlwind of the holiday season is almost upon us. Here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico this time of year brings some of the familiar activities we remember from the United States and some uniquely different ones.

Bye Bye Hurricane SeasonBye Bye Hurricane Season
When November shows up on the calendar the first thing that happens is that those of us living in the tropics begin to relax a little about the weather. The hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean officially runs from June 1st through December 1st. However the final month of November sees water temperatures drop, and the chance of a major storm is almost zero. This storm season has been very good for us here along the Mayan Riviera. While there were many named storms, including a large number of hurricanes, they never made landfall or even threatened this part of the Caribbean. In fact, we didn’t even have much in the way of normal rainfall. It was a great summer for hitting the beach down here in Mexico.

November in Playa also means getting ready for the “snowbirds,” the masses of tourists who come each year escaping the cold winds of winter in the north. Just after Halloween when temperatures drop up in the States, people start thinking about time in the sun. Around town you see businesses putting on a new coat of paint, sprucing up and making improvements in anticipation of our yearly winter migration of tourists.

Turkey Day
The first influx of the tourist season will happen around the time of the US Thanksgiving day. More and more people see that long four-day weekend as a chance to get away and get a tan before the snow starts falling back home. In response, many businesses in Playa del Carmen have adopted the holiday as its own. When we first moved to Playa many years ago we couldn’t even find a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. How things have changed.

Happy ThanksgivingThis morning on our weekly shopping trip to Sam’s Club we saw not only frozen turkeys but all sorts of holiday dinner paraphernalia like Thanksgiving platters, napkins, cooking utensils, and decorations. The stores here in Playa del Carmen now stock cranberries, stuffing mix and canned gravy this time of year. We even found pumpkin pie mix!! So if you are here in town and have a room with cooking facilities (like the Luna Blue’s Garden View Deluxe rooms with full kitchen) you can prepare a holiday meal just like back home…only with warmer weather.

Don’t Wanna Cook?
And if you think being on vacation means a break from cooking, you can still enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Many restaurants have special menus on Thanksgiving. Last year you could have had a gourmet turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Wicky’s or John Gray’s Place. Or you could have opted for a feast on the beach with buffets at Zenzi or Bad Boys beach clubs. Great multi-course Thanksgiving meals were also served at Cocina 38, Off the Vine, El Bistro and Ajua Maya among others. We expect an even larger list of restaurants serving turkey dinners this year. So instead of slaving over the stove all day, you can head for the beach, swim in the Caribbean sea and then go to dinner where someone else did all the work (and will wash the dishes afterwards).

The Game
Another Thanksgiving Day tradition you will find here in Mexico…Football! For many red blooded American men and women, Turkey Day just isn’t complete without seeing “the game.” That is no problem here where satellite TV will beam the broadcast into several popular sports bars in town. Our personal favorite is PG’s Sandbox which has several big screen TVs, good drinks and plenty of things to snack on (in case you are still hungry after dinner!). PG’s is just down the street from the Luna Blue Hotel at the corner of Calle 26 and 1st Avenue.

Fun Local Charity Events
Of course there is a lot to do down here during November in Playa del Carmen besides overeat on Thanksgiving day. This month there will be a fun charity event with which we are proud to be associated.

The Peanut Pet Shelter “Feed a Friend” Drive. People donating a $25 bag of food to the Peanut Pet Shelter are entered in a drawing to win a free vacation in Playa del Carmen including a week’s stay at our own Luna Blue Hotel. The party for drawing the winner will be held at the Luna Blue Bar on November 9, 2010. Click here for more details.

For Foodies & Jazz Buffs
November is also when Playa hosts two wonderful annual events, Taste of Playa and the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival.

Try the Luna Blue's newest drink, 'Sex on the Bar' at Taste of PlayaThe Taste of Playa, held on Sunday, November 21, is a food and beverage festival featuring tasting menus and samples from 40 of the best restaurants and bars in the area. This year, our own Luna Blue Bar will be participating this year, offering tastes of some of our finest cocktails including the legendary “Sarita B Careful” margarita and the new wonderfully wicked “Sex on the Bar.” Our booth will be a replica of our bar with Jorge serving the drinks and with some of the infamous “tangas” (thongs) hanging from the ceiling. Please stop by and see us if you come to the festival.

In addition, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival will take place November 25-28 at Mamita’s Beach Club and will feature jazz musicians from around the world. Personally we are really looking forward to hearing the Manhattan Transfer vocal group. Mamita’s is on Calle 28th just a few blocks from the Luna Blue Hotel. Regular blog readers already know that guests of the Luna Blue receive free use of chairs and umbrellas at Mamita’s. But now our guests will also get 10% off of their food and beverage purchases at Mamita’s. So now you can spend the day at the beach for free while eating and drinking for some of the lowest prices on the sand.

For more details on both the Taste of Playa and the Riviera Jazz Festival see our previous blog entry here.

Now’s the Time to Visit
As you can see there is a lot going on in our lives and in Playa del Carmen this month. It really is a great time to visit. The weather is still warm and the beautiful beaches are not yet crowded with visitors. And you can save money by staying with us at the Luna Blue Hotel. We still have a few rooms available for the week of November 21st (Thanksgiving week), and if you reserve and pay in full at the time of your reservation you can still take advantage of our 10% discount. Please visit our website for more details.

And remember whenever you are traveling in this area to stop on by and say hello. We love to meet the folks who read our blog.

Posted in Activities, Dining in Playa, Events & Happenings, News & Politics, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mexico is On Sale at the Luna Blue Starting at Under $50 per Night!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on April 17, 2010

Everybody needs a vacation…But in the current difficult times it’s tough to find something affordable. We understand this at the Luna Blue Hotel, so we have temporarily slashed the prices on all our rooms as much as 40%. ALL our rooms for the rest of the spring, summer and fall are currently on sale. Caribbean Mexico is safe, beautiful, and now affordable at the Luna Blue Hotel.

In addition to incredibly low rates, guests at the Luna Blue Hotel receive:

Breakfast at the Luna Blue...coffee, tea and giant homemade muffinsFREE breakfast snacks with coffee, tea & giant homemade muffins served every morning in our beautiful tropical garden.

FREE use of three of the hottest beach clubs on Mexico’s Caribbean coast: Mamita’s, Wicky’s and Blucacao. Our guests also receive a 10% discount at the new Canibal Royal beach club.

FREE welcoming margaritas at the popular Luna Blue Bar.

FREE beach clubs, FREE morning coffee and homemade muffins, FREE margaritas and a tropical beach vacation STARTING AT LESS THAN $50 PER NIGHT! What are you waiting for? You can’t afford NOT to vacation in Mexico!

Make a reservation at the Luna Blue Hotel to get started.

This is a limited offer, and prices may revert back at any time. Book today to take advantage of these amazing low rates.

Limited only to NEW reservations booked directly with the hotel. Sale prices are not valid with other discounts or offers. All other restrictions and regulations set forth on the Luna Blue Hotel website and in correspondence apply. There are no hidden fees or charges at the Luna Blue. We don’t believe in that sort of thing.

Posted in Events & Happenings, The Hotel & Bar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

New and Improved: LunaBlueHotel Dot Com!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on January 7, 2009

We’re pleased as punch to announce that FINALLY, as of yesterday, we have a website of which we can be proud! The day to day work of running the hotel has consumed all of our energy these past three years, and somehow updating our website was always put on the back burner.

But then our friend Mike, creator of the awesome video site about Playa del Carmen, Playatube, said, “Hey, I’ll do your website.” After a huge amount of patience on his part, weeks of sending detailed emails back and forth, and several long breaks where he thought we had fallen off the planet, he produced what we think is a really great site, the new and improved www.lunabluehotel.com. Not only did Mike create some kick ass videos but he worked closely with us to get all the pages just right. He was a dream to work with–just the right mix of “I’ll do whatever you want” and “Let me tell you why I think your way won’t work.” 🙂

We’re happy as clams. Check out our new website if you get a chance and give us your feedback. Now that we have a fresh new site, we’re hoping to keep it updated on a more regular basis with current happenings in Playa, hotel specials and other goodies. We’re also planning to integrate our blog onto our main site later in the year, as well.

And to Cheri’s brother Dean in Sacramento (owner of our favorite shopping site, where we start whenever we buy anything online, fightdivx.com), who spent hours and hours of time he didn’t really have, thank you SOOOOO much for everything. Your knowledge, advice and time was very much appreciated. You’re the best!!

Woo hoo!! We’ve earned us a beach day!

P.S. Important note: We love feedback on our blog. However, if you’re doing a comment here requesting information on hotel availability, your’re better off going to our new website and sending us a request via email. Other than the times we have trouble with email (it is Mexico, after all) that’s the fastest way to reach us, since we generally respond to email every single day. Muchas gracias.

Posted in The Hotel & Bar, What's New | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Why We Never Have Time to Go to the Beach

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 30, 2008

Friday, Aug 29, a relatively average day:

The bane of our FridayGet up early and do our morning tasks. At 9:00 am the two of us walk over to Nativo & get some fruit drinks para llevar and head to Scotiabank to pick up a new e-llave, the little security token we need to do our internet banking. Since all of the monthly tax payments have to be done via the internet, this little thingy is required for us to do anything with our bank account. The one we have stopped working, so we need a new one. No big deal, we think.

We wait in line 30 minutes for one of the account executives. He tells us lo siento, but they have no e-llaves. Of course not. Why did we think this would be easy? At our request, he calls over to the Centro Maya branch, a 20 minute drive across town, to confirm they do indeed have them. No problem.

Tony goes to the hotel to work & Cheri drives across town to the bank. She waits 40 minutes for an account executive. After ten minutes, he decides his computer isn’t working properly, so she’s handed off to another guy who enters some data into his computer and then tells Cheri to go stand in the teller line to pick up the token. After twenty minutes in line, the teller asks for Cheri’s passport, which of course she hadn’t thought to bring.

Back across town. Stop at the hotel and write some checks (might as well do the other banking at the same time). Pick up passport at home. Drive back to the bank.

Stand in line another 30 minutes. The teller tells Cheri to go stand in line for the account executives if she wants an e-llave. Trying hard not to explode, Cheri explains that she has already talked to him and he told her to pick it up from the teller and no, he didn’t give her any paper with numbers on it. After Cheri refuses to back down, the teller hands her off to the manager. After the manager looks at his computer for awhile, then has a pow wow with two other people and then calls over the original account executive, the manager asks, “Quien es Anthony Head?” She replies, “mi esposo.” Oh, lo siento, but the e-llave is issued to him, I’m very sorry but we can’t just give it to YOU. Bank policy, you understand. After ten minutes of begging, pleading, frustration and explanation gets her nowhere, Cheri asks the manager if he’s SURE he’ll be there in 45 minutes when she returns with Tony. Yes of course, no problema. Then she asks if he can at least cash her two checks. No, sorry, you have to wait for one of the tellers for that. ARGHH!!!

Twenty five minutes later, she gets back in the Big Bastard & calls Tony and tells him to find his passport, because only HE can be issued this stupid little piece of plastic. THEY COULDN’T HAVE MENTIONED THIS ON EITHER OF THE LAST TWO TRIPS HERE???!?!? Tension level: very high. He goes home, finds his passport. Cheri picks him up so that she can return for the FOURTH trip to the bank today. We’re not happy.

On our way into the bank we see the bank manager leaving, of course. When it’s clear we’re about to accost him the parking lot, he tells us no problema, go see Ana at window 3 and she’ll help you. We go in and walk up to window 3, infuriating all the people standing in line waiting (do they KNOW this is our 4th trip to the bank today?!?!). Ana motions us over to another window where she spends the next 45 MINUTES looking at her computer, punching in numbers, looking frustrated, and getting nowhere. Finally we ask what the problem is. She says that her computer system is not working, but we can wait if we want to. By now it’s 3:30 on Friday afternoon, the last banking day of the month. We’re both ready to scream. She senses the frustration and says that she’ll keep trying to make it work and as soon as it’s ready, she’ll call us and all we’ll have to do is come back and pick it up. Yeah. We’ve heard that one before. Give ’em some hope so they’ll go home & leave us alone.

We leave. She never calls. The bank closes at 5:00.

Total trips to the bank? Four

Total time spent on this task? Six and a half hours

Mission accomplished? Not even close

Welcome to our world. Now you know why tequila is so popular in Mexico. 🙂

Posted in Living the Dream | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Little Hurricane Humor

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 28, 2008

As hurricanes become part of our daily focus, we thought we’d share some humor from theonion.com that was posted by our favorite meteorologist, Dr. Jeff Masters, on wunderground.com (click on the title below).

Hurricane Bound For Texas Slowed By Large Land Mass To The South

It’s so true. We once saw a Weather Channel broadcaster exclaim, “Thank goodness the storm hit Mexico!” And of course there’s always our favorite, Fox News, which, after Hurricane Dean missed us last year by a couple of hundred miles, dramatically declared, “Playa del Carmen is destroyed!”

Enjoy.

Posted in Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What a Long, Strange Trip it Has Been

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 27, 2008

Three years ago today we pulled up in front of the Hotel Zanzibar in the Big Bastard, our dream of living in paradise waiting to unfold. We brought with us three cats, an English bulldog and a van full of things we thought we couldn’t live without. (To read our trip report of that journey, click here.) Tony & CheriNow here we are three years later. The Zanzibar is now the Luna Blue; two of our old cats have passed on; and many of the things we thought we couldn’t live without have never been unpacked. And life here south of the border continues to be a series of surprises and amazements.

We came to Mexico with certain expectations. Some of those expectations ended up dashed on the rocks of reality, but some of them were fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams. On the plus side, the little backpacker hotel that we took over that day became a huge success. When we bought the Hotel Zanzibar, it was barely making a profit. When we left for Mexico, Cheri admonished us both that we would have to be very careful with our spending and pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to afford even such luxuries as paper towels. This year the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden closed out high season occupancy at 99%. We still laugh about the paper towels. 🙂

Tony & CheriDuring our trip to sign the papers for the hotel in February of 2005, we bought a small place in Paamul. We envisioned mornings swimming and kayaking in the Caribbean and then wandering into the hotel mid-day. As it happened, we never spent a single night there and ended up selling the place almost three years later. Turns out we were far busier than we ever imagined, and even the short commute to Paamul was way too long to make sense to us. Not to mention the cleanup required there after Hurricane Emily and later Hurricane Wilma. Luckily, it was the only really big mistake we made along the way.

Life in Playa was quite different in early 2005 than it is today. On our trip to sign the papers in February of that year, one of the questions we struggled with was: where would we find good fruits and vegetables? And what about pet food? At the time there were only a couple of supermarkets in town and their selections were very limited. So our plan at the time was to drive to Costco in Cancun every week with a cooler and stock up. When Walmart came to town, life changed drastically. It’s funny, we never set foot in a Walmart in the States; down here we can’t live without it. On its heels came Mega. Soon afterwards we were spending far less time traveling from store to store to find the most basic needs. Life sure became easier at that point.

Tony & CheriAnother change in our lives over these past three years has been our self-sufficiency in matters of basic housing. Back in the US, if we had the smallest leak under the sink, we called a plumber. We could change our own light bulbs, but any problem bigger than that required an expert. All we knew was the certainty than when you turned the tap, water came out and when you flipped the switch, lights came on. It was magic to us. In Mexico, we found out that things weren’t so certain, and that the magic didn’t always work.

Since moving to Mexico, we’ve had to become our own magicians. We’ve installed our own ceiling fans and air conditioners, learned the intricacies of wiring and plumbing and understand where water comes from and where to get it when it doesn’t. We’ve hauled a water tank to the top of our hotel with ropes and pulleys and soldered broken pipes in the middle of pouring rain. We’ve even had the “joy” of shoveling out the sewage trap both at home and in the hotel. We sure never did that in the States!

The bureaucracy of Mexico’s government was something else we had heard about but weren’t quite prepared for three years ago. You can read about the corruption, but you can’t really appreciate it until you have to live with it every day. Whether or not to pay bribes, called mordidas (literally “little bite”), is a problem everyone faces down here–Mexican and expat alike. The system built on offering little “gifts” runs against everything Americans are used to, i.e., direct access to a somewhat efficient and honest government. The prevalence of bribery here has frustrated us and sometimes scared us, but other times it has been a welcome opportunity to get things accomplished in a relatively quick and easy fashion. Good or bad, it’s something that is now just part of life in paradise.

In the past three years we’ve had plenty of ups and downs. During that time, we survived the largest hurricane in history, months of hurricane relief in Mahahual, an architect who stole lots of money from us, the loss of three pets, several large construction projects, and the extra tortilla weight each of us found along the way. And sadly, we’ve been disappointed by some people we thought to be our friends.

Tony & CheriBut on the plus side, overwhelmingly the people we have met on our journey have been good to us and in many cases as anxious to see us succeed as we were ourselves. We’ve made several very good friendships, learned a lot about living in another culture, adopted three new pets from the streets, found that we were tougher than we ever imagined, and managed not to strangle each other even when the stress was more than we thought we could bear. And life here is never boring, as no two days are ever alike.

We don’t get to the beach nearly as much as we thought we would, our Spanish still leaves a lot to be desired, and we still struggle with the mañana attitude sometimes. But the past three years have been an adventure we wouldn’t have traded for anything the world. To those of you who have encouraged us along the way and have seen us through some of the low points, thanks from the bottom of our hearts. We’re looking forward to more adventures and maybe…just maybe…we’ll finally find some time to really enjoy this magical place we call home.

Tony & Cheri

P.S. Happy birthday, Don. You’re the best brother (& brother in law) one could ever wish for.

P.P.S. VOTE OBAMA IN 2008!!!

Posted in Living the Dream, Trip Report | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »

An August Day at Akumal Bay

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 23, 2008

A sea turtle as can be seen in Akumal Bay.  Click here to read more about these creatures on Wikipedia.August means a couple of things to us down here in Caribbean Mexico. First of all, it is hot, hot, HOT. Even in the evening it stays pretty oppressive. Usually we have a few thunderstorms to cool things off at least temporarily, however the skies have been clear for weeks. The good news has been we’ve seen no tropical storms or hurricanes yet, although we are keeping our eyes open for the weeks ahead.

The other seasonal guarantee is that August and September are part of low season for us at the Luna Blue. That means we can actually take some time and enjoy our beautiful coastline. Today was one of those “time off” days. We used it to get in a little water time by snorkeling in Akumal Bay.

Akumal is on the coast about a 20 minute drive south of Playa Del Carmen. Akumal sits at the entrance of Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay and Yal-ku Lagoon. The word “Akumal” means “The Place of the Turtle” in Maya, and Akumal Bay is known as a sea turtle nesting and feeding area. It has an interesting “floor” that combines sandy flat spots bordering large stretches of seas grass with active coral growth areas. As a result the sea life which can be seen there can be pretty amazing.

As usual we picked a spot on the beach in front of the Lol-Ha restaurant, set down our towels and sandals, and waded into the water. A boat lane marked by buoys divides the bay. We usually swim out to the right of the boat lane which takes us over some areas of sea grass, a favorite food of the sea turtle. As we snorkeled that direction we quickly ran into a large sea turtle slowly traveling along the sea floor, munching sea grass. He was three to four feet long and didn’t seem to mind our company as we floated above him. Occasionally he would rise up the 15 or 20 feet to the water’s surface to gulp some air before returning to his lunch. Sadly we had not brought our camera. The photos in this blog entry are from Wikipedia. Click on the photos to be taken to the Wikipedia page for more information on the amazing creatures pictured.

A barracuda.  Click here to read more about these sinister-looking creatures on Wikipedia. At one point a couple of tourists swam up to join the party. Unfortunately they began to chase the turtle, diving down to grab its shell. This bothered us, since we know the sea turtle is an endangered species. When they surfaced we yelled over to them, “Hey, don’t touch the turtle!” They looked quizzically at us. Then Cheri said, “No tocar!” They understood that, and swam off to do damage elsewhere.

We moved along and quickly ran into an even larger turtle that had two large feeder fish clinging to his shell. These fish feed by cleaning the shell of the turtle. Again we hung around for a while watching the big guy having lunch.

We then headed for the other side of the bay to the coral area. As we swam we came upon the largest school of fish we had ever seen: It looked to be 15,000 to 20,000 identical fish packed together creating a virtual wall. The school stretched like a gigantic green snake, circling around and over itself as it disappeared into the distance.

Suddenly we saw what was causing the fish to pack together to appear like one large creature. We found ourselves floating only a few feet from a five plus foot long barracuda. We know from experience that it is rare that a barracuda will attack a swimmer. A spotted eagle ray.  Click here to read more about these beautiful creatures on Wikipedia.They prefer smaller fish that can be easily swallowed. Still, the jutting jaw, the hooded eyes, the sharp dagger-like teeth sticking out of the mouth, and the size of the thing made us catch our breath. We watched for awhile, the school parting around its enemy, as the predator floated and waited patiently for one to swim out of the protection of the group. We never saw it happen.

We crossed over into a flat sandy area and were rewarded with the sight of a number of rays. We saw several smaller eagle rays swimming gracefully a few inches above the sea floor, the motion of their beautiful “wings” occasionally causing a puff of sand to rise up beneath them. Then as we began to head back to shore we spotted something we hadn’t seen before, a spotted eagle ray also commonly know as a leopard ray. It was good sized, with a wing span of three feet or more and with a tail about eight feet long! We finished off by swimming among several parrotfish feeding on the coral.

Later, when we were back on shore we rewarded our hard work with milkshakes and onion rings while sitting on the deck at Lol-Ha. We gazed out on the bay and marveled at a sight that never grows old. The water of the Caribbean Sea was wonderfully calm and a gorgeous blue green in color. This, we reminded ourselves was one of the reasons we lived down here.

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Delectable Spanish Tapas…in Playa del Carmen!

Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 19, 2008

Las Cazuelas, Calle 26 Norte in Playa del Carmen--view from the Luna Blue BarTonight, just ten steps from our own Luna Blue Hotel, we ate one of the best meals we’ve ever had in Playa del Carmen. Miguel, the owner of Las Cazuelas, the tiny restaurant right across the street from the hotel, was trained in Spain and France and is an absolute whiz in the kitchen. We have eaten at Las Cazuelas a couple of times, and each time it was very good. They have a breakfast menu (which we have yet to try) and a comida corrida for lunch (a full meal with appetizer, entree, desert and drink for a fixed price). But in the evenings, his menu includes an amazing array of paellas & Spanish tapas.

Miguel, the owner of Las Cazuelas We have been talking about offering some of Miguel’s tapas on our bar menu for quite some time, and tonight we finally had a chance to try them out. WOW!! All we had to do was tell Miguel we wanted to try some of the tapas, and he told us to sit down and he would take care of the rest. He brought us two large glasses of jamaica (a tasty drink made from the hibiscus flower and very popular here in Mexico), some bread, and some chips with one of his famous salsas. Just a short while later he came out with two huge platters of nine different tastes of some of his favorite tapas, all of them wonderfully rich and flavorful. Where do we start??!?!?

Here are the dishes he brought us, with their Spanish & English names from his menu:

Chorizo Espanol, Albondigas, Chorizo Espanol, and Perenjenas al HornoChorizo Espanol (Spanish Sausage) – Two different and very unusual chorizos. Served cold, they had a very strong flavor. Cheri didn’t care for this one, but Tony loved it.

Albondigas (Meat Balls) – Tiny little meat balls in a sauce unlike anything we’ve ever tasted. With tiny little potatoes.

Berenjenas al Horno (Baked Eggplant) – Neither of us are eggplant fans, but this was delicious. Very thinly sliced pieces of eggplant, grilled and topped with very thinly sliced & proscuitto with a little bit of cheese to top it off. Yummy.

Tortilla Española (Spanish Tortilla) – More like a potato omelette or fritatta, it seemed to have potatoes, onions & egg. It was really good.

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Gambas Al Ajo, Ensalada Rusa, Pescaditas & Pollo Al AjilloGambas Al Ajo (Garlic Shrimp) – This was our favorite dish. Spicy with prawns, garlic and some kind of chilli flavor. When the shrimps were gone we used everything else available to soak up the sauce. Really, really, really tasty.

Ensalada Rusa (Russian Salad) – This was our second favorite. A Spanish style potato salad with a spicy mayonnaise base, it had lots of subtle and interesting flavors.

Pescaditas (Small Fishes) – Little pieces of lightly breaded fish with a mild and pleasant taste.

Pollo Al Ajillo (Garlic Chicken) – Little chunks of chicken with very thinly sliced pieces of melt-in-your-mouth toasted garlic.

And he also brought us something not on the menu, a small dish with tiny pastas, shrimp and calamari. As if we weren’t full enough!

The other items on the “Paellas y Tapas” menu that we didn’t have tonight are Jamón Serrano (Ham from the Mountains), Queso Manchego (Manchego Cheese), Huevos Mimosa (Mimosa Eggs), Pescado Al Gusto (To Taste Fish), Carne Estofada (Stew Meet – Beef), Pan Tumaca, Patatas Al Ajo (Potatoes with Garlic), Patatas Bravas (Typical Bravas Potatoes), Paella Mixta (Mixed Paella), Paella Vegetariana (Vegetarian Paella), Paella de Mariscos (Seafood Paella), Ensalada Nordica (Nordic Salad), Ensalada Española (Spanish Salad), Ensalada Mediterranea (Mediterranean Salad) and Ensalada Las Cazuelas (“Las Cazuelas” Salad).

The tapas all range in price from $35 to $90 pesos per plate, with most in the $35 to $50 range. The paellas, which are quite large, are in the $130 to $180 peso range. (We have had Miguel’s paellas a couple of times in the past and they are quite good.) The salads, which are also large, are in the $35 to $60 peso range. Everything is very reasonably priced, in our opinion.

As we gushed over the delicious meal, Miguel was quite proud to tell us that the items on the menu are just the standards. Every Friday & Saturday he whips up two or three different ones…whatever strikes his fancy. We can’t wait to eat at Las Cazuelas again. Not only is the food delicious, but Miguel is delightful. This just may be our new favorite restaurant.

And remember, within the next couple of weeks, if you’re in the neighborhood & stop by the Luna Blue Bar for a drink, you’ll be able to try out many of these delicacies…delivered right to your swing. 🙂

Las Cazuelas is open Monday through Saturday and located on Calle 26 Norte, between 5th Avenue & 10th Avenue, in Playa del Carmen, just across the street from the world-renowned Luna Blue Hotel & Bar. 😉

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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 awhile. 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 sun beds 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
Cheri

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
clouds

A well deserved rest
Tony snoozing in the hammock

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