Teotihuacán and Mexico City

Las Alcabas

With a population of up to 25 million, Mexico City is huge. It is also the eight wealthiest city in the world. We stayed along Avenida Presidente Masaryk in the Polanco neighborhood. It is the highest-priced street and the one with the most upscale boutiques in all of Latin America. Our small hotel was exceptional and a pleasure to return to for the three nights we were there. It has justifiably won numerous awards for best urban hotel.

Aztec artefact

On our first day we went out to the pre-Aztec ruins of Teotihuacán. They are very impressive and certainly underrated compared to Chichen Itza. We went with a private guide, Eduardo, to learn more of the history and explored it all including walking along the avenue of the dead and climbing the Pyramid of the Moon and the Sun for the views. It was a great day. In the afternoon we visited the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. It is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism. People were already making their way there for December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast day.

Temple of the Moon

The following day we toured the city itself. Spending time around the Aztec ruins near the city square, visiting the National Palace and more. In the afternoon we went through the impressive Archaeological Museum and walked back through the parks and charming streets of Polanco to our hotel.

A big part of travel for me now is the food, and a city the size of Mexico city does not disappoint. On our first day we had lunch with Eduardo in the Zona Rosa neighborhood. He had recommended one of his favorite Mexican restaurants. It was rich in flavour, spicy, and very popular. Mexico City also has two of the top 50 restaurants in the world. We were fortunate to get into both of them. We had taster menus at Biko and Pujol. Both were exceptional and the Latin America wine pairings at BIKO were outstanding but of the two, Pujol was by far my favourite. Leanne ordered the seven-course sea taster menu and I ordered the nine-course land taster menu. So were were able to sample 16 different dishes and not one of them was similar to anything I had eaten before. Very impressive and a huge highlight. They also served the best margarita I’ve ever had.

Mexico City is one of the great cities of the world and we will hopefully visit again some day.

The Puuc Route

Ik Kil Cenote. I jumped in from the tallest platform.

On our last morning in Chichen Itza we visited the most popular cenote of all, Ik Kil. This place has secured free parking, lockers and is extremely well cared for and is known to be incredibly busy with tour buses bringing people there later in the morning for the remainder of the day. It is also one of the locations for Red Bull’s annual cliff diving contests when professionals dive in from a custom platform at the top of the cenote. We arrived at 8:30AM and three employees were just finishing removing the leaves that had fallen in from the previous night. I jumped in feet first from the highest drop of about 20+ feet. Leanne didn’t go in, but took photos instead. I had the entire pool to myself. It was incredible, I loved it.


We left Chichen Itza for a 200km drive to Uxmal. Our GPS has incredibly outdated maps and it led us through many small towns no one visits now that the major highways have been built to bypass them.  I get a thrill out of going through the small towns and we really enjoyed our drive. Leanne felt uneasy in one of the larger, and what felt like a rougher one Kanasin, mostly because we zigzagged through tiny local roads, but the trip was without incident. We made it to Uxmal and checked into the lodge. We then hit the road again to for an 80km round trip to visit three ruins Kabah, Sayil, and Labna along the Puuc Route. They were easy to visit and a pleasure to see in the late afternoon. We could climb all over them and there were at most a handful of people at any of them. The drive was also stunning through greenery trying to reclaim the road built through it. In the evening we foolishly went to the Uxmal light show because it was no additional charge since we were going in the morning anyway. We were also told it was better than the one in Chichen Itza. This wasn’t the case and again we left after a half hour.


sleeping on oranges

The following morning we entered Uxmal just as the park opened. We climbed all over most of it before returning to the hotel to clean-up, check-out and drive to Merida. We are currently in the airport waiting to fly to Mexico City. We are continuing to update photos at this link.

Quintana Roo and the Yucatan

Michael at Tulum

Road trip. One of our greatest travelling pleasures is getting a car and exploring on our own. We have had an amazing few days. We started with a trip to the ruins of Tulum. The ruins at this popular destination are simple and not attractive, but the location is stunning against the sea. We left the crowds to carry on with our trip. The next stop was at the ruins of Coba. We rented bicycles to get around the area and climbed up the largest of the towers for a view of the jungle.

Leanne climbing the ruins at Coba

Continuing our drive we left the state of Quintana Roo and entered into Yucutan.  We had passed through a number of uneventful police check points, but along the way we went through one where they stopped us for our first interrogation. As it was entirely in Spanish, of which I only understand a few basic words. I think his first question was to do with where we were going and I said Chichen Itza [not pronounced as Chicken Pizza, but close]. He then started directing us to turn around, which made me panic a bit. I quickly responded, “no, no, Valladolid” to which he understood we were in fact heading in the right direction. It is a city on the way that we wanted to stop in. He then asked me what nationality we were (the only full Spanish phrase I completely understood) and I replied Canadian.  He smiled, said bienvanidos and sent us on our way.

Chichen Itza (one of the seven world wonders)

Valladolid turned out to be a beautiful town. When we first entered it we were a little unsure of our decision to stray from the main roads, but it was worth the extra time.  We continued on and pulled into the lodge adjacent to the Chichen Itza archeological site. We were greeted with a refreshing welcome drink called Jamaica [ha-my-ka]. We settled in before going to the sound and light show at the ruins. The place we were staying at is adjacent to them and we have a private entrance to it. We took front row and waited while the buses of tourists filled the other spots. They ran out of chairs and many of them had to stand. The light show started and it was awful. We couldn’t understand most of what was being said and they just kept turning the lights on and off the different buildings as the story was told. We snuck out about two-thirds of the way into it, and almost getting lost on the grounds trying to get back to the hotel. We had a late dinner before going to our room.

Michael rappelling at X-Canche Cenote

The next morning we were up early. We had breakfast around 7:30 and entered the park as it opened at 8AM. We practically had the entire grounds to ourselves. It was voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it was the only one I still hadn’t seen. Our visit was awesome. We spent two hours thoroughly exploring it and the crowds of people were just starting to arrive when we were ready to leave. We were thrilled with our special access to it. We then went for a long drive to the ruins at Ek Balam. While these were good to see the main goal of the trip was to visit the X’Canche Cenote (sink hole).  This is one you can zip-line over and rappel into. It is far enough away that it does not get many visitors. The cost to rent bikes to get there (2km each way), the zip-line, rappelling, swimming and tour guide was about $10 total Canadian. They brought the price down without any battering on my part as I was slow to decide if I only wanted to rappel. It was a lot of fun and the water was very refreshing. It is about 90 feet deep and had little black catfish in it.

Dzitnup Cenote

Our next stop was a popular cenote called Dzitnup along the main road for Chichen Itza. We were pestered by children as we arrived in the parking lot. They were trying to extort us for money to make sure “nothing happens” to our car while we are away. I hate this scenario, it is the last thing you want to encourage, but you also feel vulnerable. At the previous one the kids attached an enormous snail to the bottom of our windshield when we were gone. Not a big deal, but I had heard stories of windows being broken and did not want to deal with it. I idiotically agreed to a tip of small change provided the car was “protected”.

We left the parking lot and made our way into the massive cavern. It is impressive, and needs to be artificially lit despite the opening in the center of the roof. There was a large cult of gringos all gathered together in the water in the middle of it. Their leader droned on in a loud monotone voice about being as one, and feeling the trees, and they all made humming sounds in unison. It was incredibly creepy.  We were anxious to leave. When we returned to the car the kids all came over for the “protection money”. I wrongly handed out a few coins, they wanted more and I said no. They were all over us as we got in the car. They saw a little cardboard prize inside we had from a bag of chips and the 8 kids all wanted it. They were pushing each other and begging us for it. We know so much better than this and I’m so mad we gave it away, but we did after I told them to back off the car or no one will get it. It will probably lead to the kids fighting over it and some were pretending to cry over the whole thing. At least I hope they were pretending. As a rule you never, never, ever give children items encouraging this type of behavior to beg from foreigners.  I know this. I have learned this from my own experiences, but more so from adults in poor countries explaining the problems it causes. Even well intentioned plans of handing out pencils turns out to be a disaster where some kids get them, others don’t and they all associate foreigners with gifts and get angry when they don’t get any. Anyway, this was the one downside of the day I wish I could do over, but the rest of the day was absolutely brilliant.

Riviera Maya

Resort at Maroma Beach

The start of our Mexico experience was at a five-star, adults-only, all-inclusive resort between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. This wasn’t travel, it was pure vacationing. We had a swim-out pool off our room, thanks to a complimentary upgrade, and our days were very repetitive but relaxing.  Step one: big buffet breakfast of crepes, omelets, fresh fruit, etc. Step two: back to the room and out to the pool. Step three: lunch time. Step four: lounging on the awesome resort chairs on Maroma beach and people watching while yummy beverages are being delivered to us. Step five: fancy dinner at the Mexican, French, Italian or Japanese restaurant. Step six: sleep. Repeat all steps each day, not necessarily in order.

Our room. View from the bathtub to the pool

We tried to be so careful with sun exposure on our first day. We stayed in the shade everywhere and kept commenting about the foolish people who were beet red and still sitting in the sun. That night when we were getting ready for dinner we realized we were both red ourselves. Even in the shade we had burnt.

After a few days of relaxation we were ready to move on. Vacationing is nice, but we missed the excitement of travelling.  We picked up a rental car and drove it to Playa del Carmen. Despite great weather the previous days, it did not cooperate with our excursion. We walked the length of tourist central, Avenida 5, in the rain. We returned to complete a few more of the daily steps and checked out the following morning.


Fixing the car in Old Havana

We arrived at the Havana International airport after connecting in Toronto. Unfortunately, Air Canada had neglected to load the tourist visas which they were required to hand out during the flight prior to arrival in Cuba. This resulted in all the passengers being unable to clear immigration. After an extremely long and frustrating wait we eventually had to pay our way through. When we finally cleared customs we took a taxi to our hotel. The car was modern, but many of the vehicles we passed were from the 50’s. We received a bit of attention from some excited locals who noticed us on the way. When we finally made it to the hotel I tried to check-in with the voucher I had purchased through a travel agent at home. I usually book everything myself, but was having problems finding a place in Cuba. It seems like most people who come here are simply on a packaged vacation. Something was wrong with the voucher and they apologized and asked me to be patient while they sorted it out. Over an hour later they explained that my reservation was not in their system and that the hotel was full. They said they were working on a solution and I’m not sure what they did but they eventually managed to clear a suite for us. We still had to wait as it needed to be cleaned, but we eventually got into the room close to 11PM that night.

Musicians in Havana

We visited Old Havana the following morning. We covered a lot of ground by foot, exploring most of the area. This part of the city is about 500 years old and is filled with tremendous character. It truly was a pleasure to experience it. Many people are insincerely friendly hoping to entice you to buy something, although we did meet people who seemed genuine and were happy to just talk to us. One fellow is a fan of the Toronto Bluejays (baseball is a religion here) and said that Canadians are loved in Cuba, we’ve heard the latter a few times. After chatting a bit, he wished us well as he and his girlfriend were heading the other way.

Bicycle Taxi in Cuba's Capital

In the late afternoon we travelled by Coco taxi, a motorized tricycle with two seats in the back covered by a rounded roof. It is an ideal way to sightsee, although it certainly struggled to climb hills with us in it. We visited the Plaza of the Revolution, where Fidel Castro gives his speeches to the public. It is a massive paved square with iron silhouettes of Ché and Fidel on the side of the closest buildings. We went by the University and over to the National Hotel. This grand place has welcomed many famous people including Winston Churchill and Al Capone. We sat out on the terrace looking out at the ocean, listening to the musicians play while drinking Mojitos. It was perfect. When the sun went down we asked a staff member at that hotel for a recommendation for a place to eat. He told us of a new private restaurant on the other side of town, and made a reservation for us. We went out and found another Coco taxi. As we had time to kill, he took us on a scenic trip along the Malecon (sea-wall). He suggested we take a look at another private restaurant and we obliged. We stopped at someone’s house. We had to wait a few minutes, we think they were staging the eating area by getting two people to sit at one of the tables, and then they let us in and showed us the menu being careful not to let us see into the kitchen. We politely declined and went on to our original destination. We ate at Dona Juana. It was on the roof top of a residential building in a suburb. The service, drinks, and food were divine. Dinner included frozen daiquiris, fresh seafood, cooked squash, fresh avocado and tomatoes and much more. For dessert I had cheesecake which was as good as any I have eaten.

Cuban Coco Taxi

On our next day we hired a local with a coco taxi to tour us around the other districts of Havana. We went all over including new Havana, one of the cities beautiful parks, the old neighborhood and homes of the millionaires who fled to Miami during the revolution. A highlight was wandering through the graffiti filled alley, Callejon de Hammel. This area is famous for its rumba music. We ended the tour back in Old Havana where we visited the Museum of the Revolution. It is housed in the decadent palace of the former ruler but is now filled with government propaganda.

Old Chevy Taxi in Cuba

We continued meandering through the old town, past the curio shops, restaurants, stores and hotels. We stopped in at Cuba’s only micro-brewery for a drink and some food. Unfortunately our table was next to where the band played, and while they were on a break when we sat down they performed midway through our time there. The music was good, but sitting so close it was loud and awkward. We were happy to get going. We zigzagged through more of the old city and finally caught a lift in a beautifully restored 50’s Chevrolet for the drive back to our hotel.

Dinner at La Guarida

On our final evening in Havana we went to the most famous of all restaurants in Cuba, Paladar La Guardina . Based on others’ advice, we made reservations before we left Canada. This small, private restaurant has hosted Queen Sofia of Spain; International stars: Jimmy Page, Javier Barden, Clive Owen; Law-breaking Americans: Stephen Spielberg, Jack Nicholson; and crazy people like Naomi Campbell and Gerard Depardieu. I went in with extremely high expectations and it did not disappoint. Our meal included spinach crepes stuffed with mushrooms and chicken, swordfish carpaccio with a light pepper sauce, plum stuffed pork loin, honey and lemon baked chicken, yuccas fried with garlic, and a chocolate torte with vanilla cream sauce. The place was packed and efficient and had a great atmosphere. It was certainly a highlight of our visit.

Audi in Cuba

We are currently waiting in the Havana Airport. When we checked at the hotel the flight departure showed 50 minutes earlier than we expected. When we arrived it was adjusted to an hour later than originally scheduled. It is easy to keep a blog while travelling when you have a laptop and time to kill. So here are some final thoughts on Cuba. The photos I had seen of Cuba highlighted the pre-embargo US vehicles which still fill the streets. While this is common and fun to see, despite the gross plums of exhaust emanating from their tailpipes, no one bothers to show that the roads are also scattered with newer vehicles. This is why I took a photo of a new Audi A6. There is nothing preventing imports from countries other than the US. This emphasizes another reality. The government here started allowing private enterprise over a decade ago. And as with the rest of the world, those who have more money live in different neighborhoods than those without.

I have enjoyed our brief visit to Cuba. The people are warm and Havana is a fascinating must-see for every traveller. Photos can be found here.