Our colleague at SASPO recently shared her experience along with her photos of her family trip to Mexico. If you are inspired from this blog then please contact us to start your own Mexican adventure.
When planning our family holiday destination, this year the compass pointed us to the multi-coloured country of Mexico. With a 9 year old boy, we concentrated our 2 week trip on the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan Peninsula, flying in and out of Cancun International Airport with convenient direct flights from the UK and Europe.
With Tulum as our base on the Riviera Maya, we explored ancient Mayan cities and swam in secluded cenotes before venturing inland to the Yucatan Peninsula to Chichen Itza (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and to the beautiful colonial city of Merida, ending with beach time on laid back Holbox Island.
As a family trip, Mexico has lots to offer and I wish to share with you my experience and personal input on suggested do’s and don’ts…
Flights from Europe generally arrive late afternoon/early evening so I would recommend an overnight stay in Cancun. We stayed at Beachscape Kin Ha Hotel which is a mid-range hotel just 25 minutes’ transfer from the airport and situated on the best beach in Cancun, facing the turquoise, tranquil Caribbean Sea.
The hotel is low key and offers great value. Rooms are arranged in blocks set within a tropical garden. There is a pool-side restaurant and a beach-front restaurant as well as nice communal areas with books and board games to borrow, a pool table and air hockey. For longer stays there is even a self-service laundry room, ideal when travelling with children.
From the hotel, you can stroll along the beach passing the neighbouring hotels or it’s an easy 10-minute walk to various nearby shopping malls with restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets.
Do: take an early morning walk to have the beach to yourself and enjoy the sunrise.
Don’t: change money at your hotel as there are exchange bureaux within a 5 minute walk of your hotel offering a better exchange rate.
There is a great range of hotels in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya’s Caribbean coastline to suit every budget – from “unlimited luxury” resorts to small eco boutique hotels. We stayed in Tulum, 130 km south of Cancun, with a transfer time of around 1½ hours. Tulum and the beaches south of Cancun are suffering at the moment from unsightly sargassum seaweed which gets washed ashore onto the previously pristine shores. So why stay here and not in Cancun? Eco-friendly and laid-back, you are much closer to nature and can get away from the crowds. The archaeological site of Tulum is literally on your doorstep. Built on a cliff above the sea in honour of the sun, Tulum is the only walled Mayan city to be discovered.
We stayed at the El Pez Colibri boutique hotel where the service was second-to-none. From the turndown service with tea and chocolates.. to the tray of morning coffee (and hot chocolate for our son) delivered to our room.. to the concierge’s call to our room at 10 pm on our first night to let us know that there was a sea turtle laying her eggs on the sand if we wanted to quietly come and watch.
Close to Tulum, there are gorgeous and easily accessible “cenotes”, natural freshwater pools in the rock – the water is deep and refreshingly cool after the heat of the beaches. Bring a mask and snorkel (or rent them along with buoyancy vests) and see the fish and turtles swimming in the crystal clear water. My personal highlight was a visit to the little-visited Muyil archaeological ruins and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a sprawling protected area and home to tons of wildlife, particularly birds and flamingos. Here you can take a boat ride through a freshwater lagoon and float down Mayan-built canals through the Yucatan jungle.
Along the Riviera Maya, there are also various eco-parks that make ideal day excursions for families with children. Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park with its own beach and natural pools as well as a coral reef aquarium, aviary and various shows. Xel-Ha is another eco-park with a collection of cenotes, lagoons, caves and zip-lines – ideal for families looking for adventure and adrenaline-pumping activities!
Do: visit the Tulum ruins in the evening (between 5-7 pm when the day-trippers have gone home) for picture-perfect views and gorgeous sunsets.
A 2-hour drive from Tulum, Chichen Itza is in the heart of the Yucatan. We stayed at the Lodge at Chichen Itza, part of the Mayaland Hotel, set in extensive tropical gardens with towering Royal palm trees. Within the gardens, there is a planetarium (with various shows each day), a spa and several swimming pools. In the tropical jungle heat, I recommend an afternoon by the swimming pool where you can spot different birds and huge lizards!
With a private entrance to the ruins from Mayaland Hotel, Chichen Itza can be visited in the early morning before the day visitors arrive and before the heat rises. A truly magical experience to see the sun rise over the pyramid of “El Castillo”.
Do: take a sunrise tour of the ruins and beat the crowds!
Don’t: try to do too much – it’s hot and humid so take time and relax.
From Chichen Itza, it’s a two-hour transfer to Mérida and I would recommend a stop at Izamal, a small traditional town with a pretty main square with market and its impressive yellow-painted Convento. The journey takes you along straight roads passing by small pueblos and Mayan communities and tropical forest.
Mérida is a charming city of wide tree-lined boulevards and historic mansions. We visited on a Saturday evening which is Noche Mexicana when Paseo de Montejo is closed to traffic and there was a lovely atmosphere with families strolling by and riding bicycles and musical and dance performances. Paseo de Montejo leads to the pretty downtown area with squares, churches, palm trees and good restaurants and pavement cafés. Both the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and the Celestún Biosphere Reserve with flocks of flamingos and birdlife are within easy reach for day excursions from Mérida .
We stayed at Hacienda Misne, a beautiful oasis 20 minutes’ drive outside Mérida (one-way taxi to downtown Mérida cost around US$5). The hacienda is situated in a rather plain suburb but once you step into the walled garden, you’re in another world with tall old trees, hammocks, an outside football table, small gym, two swimming pools with excellent waiter service and a superb restaurant. The guest rooms are situated in separate buildings lining the perimeter of the walled garden, built in similar style to the original hacienda building with high ceilings and steep roof.
Do: take a walking tour of the city to best appreciate its colonial architecture and fine churches.
Don’t: miss the opportunity to visit the ruins of Uxmal – one of the great showpieces of Mayan architecture.
It’s a pleasingly easy journey to the island of Holbox, situated just off the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula. From Mérida, it’s a 3½ hour drive along straight roads through the tropical forest to the port of Chiquila. En route, you can stop at the charming town of Valladolid with its lovely main square and interesting shops.
Valladolid would also make an ideal overnight stop for those who want to stay a little off the beaten track with a lovely colonial style hotel overlooking the square. From Chiquila, the ferry departs every 30 minutes and takes 20 minutes to cross the water to reach Holbox – all very straightforward with luggage loaded and unloaded quickly and efficiently. On arrival on Holbox, you are met by the “taxi rank” of golf buggies ready to take you along the sand road to your hotel as very few cars are permitted on the island.
There is a good selection of hotels to choose on Holbox – most are beach-front and “barefoot chic”. We stayed at Holbox Dreams Beachfront Hotel which is a mid-range hotel. Guest rooms are simple but attractively decorated with nice touches. There was no water on a couple of occasions but it came back pretty quickly and is one of the challenges of being on a small island. The hotel has two small swimming pools which are kept very clean and were lit at night. Walk through the gardens to reach the beautiful white sand beach with calm, shallow waters ideal for small children and a convenient beach club with restaurant, sun loungers and shade and excellent waiter service.
Holbox is easily walkable (or you can rent bicycles) with a small downtown area with good shops and restaurants. Our highlight on Holbox was a boat trip to swim with whale sharks. My initial nerves were swiftly allayed as these gentle giants are shy and docile and the experience of swimming alongside them is quite magical. Very well organised with experienced and helpful crew and snorkeling equipment and buoyancy vest provided, this is a full day tour with time also to snorkel on the reef and stop for a delicious ceviche lunch on the beach. I would recommend a 4 or 5 night stay on Holbox. There are various island tours and if you visit when there is no moon you have the opportunity to see the “Bioluminescence” – the phenomenon where the water on the beach is illuminated by micro-organisms in the sea.
After your stay on Holbox, you can easily make the transfer (ferry + drive) directly to Cancun airport for your flight home as most of the flights back to the UK and Europe depart in the late afternoon/evening. The transfer time to the airport is around 2 – 2 ½ hours plus the 20 minute ferry crossing.
Do: take a boat trip to swim with the whale sharks – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Don’t: over-pack – there are some superb restaurants on Holbox but island life is low key and informal.
All our transfers were arranged with a private car and driver with the flexibility to stop for lunch or to pick up water and supplies or change money, or even with time for a quick swim in a cenote en route.
Another option would be to have a rental car and self-drive. With straight roads passing through low forest and small towns, the peninsula is safe and easy to navigate.
Wishing you all happy planning, and remember that Mexico is not just beach. There is much more to explore inland and to experience the warmth of the Mexican welcome – travelling with or without children!
Every year Cruise America and Cruise Canada offer one way trips in their brand new RV’s and at reduced prices to clients. This allows them to move their new stock to the locations that they are needed in for the summer while allowing clients a chance to cross these two countries at a fair price. It is early in the year – typically April and May and the weather cannot be guaranteed.
However it is a great way to travel and at a quiet time of the year! Peter has done this 3 times over the past years and would recommend taking advantage of the offer. However, there are limited numbers of vehicles and they go on a first come first booked basis.
Please contact us if you like the idea of freewheeling across either country and would like more information.
With entry into many a country requiring the application of a visa or visa waiver prior to travel please do contact us for advice on the best way to do this if you are in any way unsure. We suggest that you go directly to the embassy or government website concerned where you will be directed to complete the relevant information, and only charged the fee required for the actual visa or visa waiver. There are many companies set up online who will be eager to action this for you, and in the process will charge you a service fee for doing so – this could amount to you paying well over the odds for your visa/visa waiver.
We are always happy to provide the website links to the official sites so please do get in touch for assistance. An ESTA for the USA, an eTA for Canada, an electronic visa for India and also for Sri Lanka are just some (but not all) of the locations where this is necessary.
We are often asked what and where is the best rail journey in the world? So in answer to this we have detailed below some of our must do Great Rail Journeys of the World:
Consider the luxury rail experience offered by the Eastern and Oriental Express, operating between Singapore and Bangkok and taking two or three nights depending on the direction of travel. Enjoy vistas of tea plantations, rolling farmland, colonial cities and historic temples.
Take a rail journey in Vietnam, from the bustling city of Hanoi to the village of Sapa, located in the mountains overlooking spectacular views of the Ta Van valley’s terraced rice fields. The train operates overnight in both directions.
Think about the super-fast Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’ in Japan. There are a number of routes on offer, but no trip to Japan is complete without at least one trip in the iconic Bullet Train.
Picture courtesy of JNTO
There are three iconic rail journeys available in New Zealand, one on the North Island, and two on the South.
On the North Island, the Northern Explorer runs from Auckland to Wellington through diverse countryside comprising of rolling farmland, towering viaducts and beautiful hidden valleys.
On the South Island, the Tranz Alpine train runs from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west through stunning scenery. A stop is made in the small mountain town of Arthur’s Pass, where a stay enables a closer inspection of this Alpine region. The Coastal Pacific runs from Picton (tying in perfectly with the ferry from Wellington on the NorthIsland) south to Christchurch. This rail journey stops in Kaikoura en route, where a stay gives the opportunity to take a whale watching cruise.
An impressive and popular rail journey on the Devil’s Nose section of railway in Ecuador could be a part of your holiday itinerary. Named Devil’s Nose due to the many deaths amongst workers as well as difficulty of building it, the route connects the Alausi and Sibambe stations taking a stunning trip down the rocky slopes of the Andes through breath-taking scenery.
Board the tourist train in Peru taking you on a journey through the Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley of the Incas, to the marvellous mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu.
One of the more popular rail routes is the Coast Starlight which takes you along the west coast between Seattle and Los Angeles stopping in Portland along the way. Why not take a day out of your itinerary to treat yourself by taking a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train where you can relax on-board the exquisitely restored vintage rail cars and experience fine dining service, multiple course meals and the stunning Napa Valley scenery. Most people see the Grand Canyon from the skies but since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been taking people right through the heart of this amazing place and you could be one of them, you’ll feel like you’re travelling back in time. For something a little different during your visit to Colorado why not travel along the 45 miles of 3 foot narrow gauge track on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway which has been running since 1881. However long your journey is travelling by rail is a definite must do during your USA holiday.
Picture courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer
The most famous rail journey in Canada has to be the Rocky Mountaineer. With a variety of routes available you can spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks on board. One of the more popular routes is the Journey through the Clouds which takes you between Vancouver and Jasper with an overnight stop in Kamloops. With different grades of service available this is a must no matter how big or small your budget is. If you want to travel the width of Canada in comfort and without missing the scenery as you concentrate on driving then take a ride on The Canadian. In the space of four nights and three days, you’ll get to see the lakes in Northern Ontario, the lush boreal forest, the western Prairies, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains as you travel between historical Quebec and modern Toronto.
Australia has some of the most iconic rail journeys in the world. There isn’t enough room here to talk about them all but here are some to whet your appetite. The Indian Pacific gets its name because it covers 4352km between Perth on the Indian Ocean and Sydney on the Pacific Ocean. The whole journey takes three nights, although you can break it up with a stop in Adelaide. You’ll travel through a variety of landscapes from towns and cities to the desert like Nullarbour Plain, from the outback to the forest of the Blue Mountains. So we’ve taken you East and West, but what if you want to go North and South? Named after the Afghan Cameleers who travelled this route, the Ghan will take between Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South going straight through the centre of Australia. If it’s just a day on a train that you would prefer then a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is perfect. It was built between 1882 and 1891 and is made up of 15 hand made tunnels and 37 bridges taking you from Cairns into the Barron Gorge National Park on your way to Karunda, known as the village in the rainforest.
Africa has a wealth of train experiences that cover the whole spectrum from world leader to leaving a lot to desire. Rovos Rail has exciting itineraries that stretch from Pretoria, in South Africa through all their southern neighbouring countries and even a trip to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Where possible they travel during the day. The Blue Train is another South African luxury train that travels from Johannesburg to Durban and Cape Town or vice versa.
Picture courtesy of SA Tourism
For further information, and for assistance planning your next bespoke, tailor made holiday which could incorporate one of these great rail journeys, please call us on 01323 446550, email us at email@example.com
With Christmas and New Year just around the corner, you may well have time to start thinking about your next adventure for your holiday next year. To help you consider all of the options why not come and join us at the above show – and free of charge!
We will be on stand H30 and pretty difficult to miss as we will have a Cruise America Motorhome on the stand – difficult to miss both from size and colour. We will be there to discuss all types of holidays but be glad to show you around the motorhome if you ever thought of free wheeling through the USA or Canada.
For your free tickets to the Show just go the following link and register:
I know it seems a long way off yet but if you are starting to think about your 2017 holiday why not look at something unique – sailing through the Panama Canal on a ship that carries just 64 passengers.
During this seven night cruise you will start off in Panama City. From there you will have an amazing opportunity to experience the untouched Darién Jungle. You will explore the Punta Patiño Nature Reserve on foot and travel down the Mogue River by motorised dugout canoe. Your expedition guide will be on hand to help you identify the many species of wildlife that live in the jungle.
Explore the flora and fauna of the mostly uninhabited Pearl Islands. At certain times of the year this is where you will be able to see dolphins and humpbacks so keep your eyes peeled.
At the Mira Flores Locks you will travel the 48 miles of the Panama Canal as you go between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. You will learn the history of this important waterway with a presentation from the Panama Canal Authority.
Take a step back in time as you walk among the battlements and canon of San Lorenzo Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Changres River is Panama’s largest river and was the used to transport the Incan gold in Colonial times. As you experience the river first hand by paddle board and kayak look out for the hundreds of birds and other wildlife that surround you.
Ever had the dream of being on a stunning white sand beach surrounded by nothing but palm trees then this will become a reality as you visit some of the 360 islands that make up Guna Yala. Experience daily life as you visit a village and spend time with the locals. Visit the market and buy a souvenir or a gift for friends and family.
This is a new cruise and with only 32 cabins don’t wait as it’s likely to sell quickly, call us today on 01313 446550 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about your next bespoke tailor made adventure.
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