Cancun, Mexico - Article by P. Lanier


The Caribbean coast of Mexico offers families a unique, in fact unprecedented variety of activities in an easy-to-reach area. Flights to Cancun abound, including many rock-bottom prices. Consult your Sunday paper for the best prices and/or call your travel agent. To maximize your fun you will need a rental car, although excursions are also available by bus or by making arrangement with a taxi. Using Cancun as our point of departure, we recommend stopping at "El Pueblito" (Phone 52-9-88-50422). It is right in the heart of the hotel zone. El Pueblito sits among its grand and high-rise neighbors in intimate fashion. Rooms are clean and spacious but not luxurious. The pool area boasts a cozy scene and a nice restaurant/bar, but best of all the most spectacular section of Cancun beach is right there. And the prices are excellent for a room which comfortably accommodated our family of 4 (2 double beds and a roll-away cheerfully provided). Our little deck had a fabulous view of those turquoise waters. Our hands-down favorite place to eat is Pericos, "Where it's forever fiesta," located at 61 Yaxchilan Avenida in downtown Cancun. Not only is the food great, but you enjoy an evening of very upbeat entertainment, and the kids will love it. Cancun is a natural starting point for a trip to some of the nearby Mayan ruins such as Chichen-Itza, Coba, Tulm. Chichen Itza is one of our very favorite places, ever, anywhere, something about the aura of the surrounding jungle combined with the awe-inspiring ruins, and the two very evocative hotels we frequent makes for magic. We suggest staying in the Hotel Mayaland (Phone in the U.S. 1-800-223-4084, or 011-52-99-25-21-22) whose less expensive rooms are suitable for families with two double beds and a sofa. Ask for the second or third floor where your terrace will directly overlook the Caracol Observatory. What we don't recommend is dining at Hotel Mayaland. Breakfast is a buffet and OK in a pinch, but you're better off across the street at Hacienda Chichen, where breakfast is cooked to order and elegantly served on the original hacienda verandah. Another choice dining spot is in the nearby town of Piste (5 kilometers) Las Metizas, features authentic regional cuisine in a clean open air environment. Don't miss the Poc-chuc. At the ruins, be sure to catch the Sol y Luz show each evening--a spectacular display of sound and light. Our favorite guides at the ruins are Manuel Zaldivar and Jorge Martinez. Check for them at the hotel and/or at the Visitors Center. We strongly recommend that you visit the site early in the morning, before the big tour buses arrive. Then return to the hotel for an afternoon swim and siesta, returning to the grounds at 3:30pm for more exploration. Check the hours for admission to the inner temple inside the Great Temple of Kukulcan. It's damp and slippery and steep, so wear good shoes. You'll feel like Indiana Jones making the ascent. Playa del Carmen is rapidly evolving into a world-class Caribbean hot spot after years as the jumping-off place for nearby Cozumel. Right now Playa is a delight with good beaches, fun restaurants, a three-block-long walking boulevard and good prices. Our favorite place to stay is Quinta Mija (Phone: 011-52-98-7-30-111), a collection of rooms and condo and efficiency apartments around a small pool. Innkeepers Sally and Greg Hrehovcsik will really make you feel welcome and tune you into the best local beaches, etc. For day trips out of Playa del Carmen, you can try 1. Coba, a magical archaeological site deep in the forest, only part of which has been excavated. This place will make you feel like you are living in the real Mayan world. It centers around a lake in which children splash amidst the lilypads. The largest pyramid in Central America towers over the site. It's about one hour by car from Playa del Carmen on good roads, an incredibly beautiful drive. You will pass Tulum on the way, an interesting site, if a bit over-hyped. Go down to the beach and float on your back observing the ruins from that perspective. 2. Just south of Puerto Aventuras, about 20 miles south of Playa del Carmen, is the gorgeous beach of Xpu-ha. You'll see several signs, but turn at the one that shows an international diving sign. The little restaurant at this beach is being talked about in Rome! Order the camarones en mojo de ajo or the lobster. Lounge, eat, swim - you get it. 3. Almost across the road from Xpu-ha is the lovely "Cenote Azul." Fantastic freshwater swimming in an idylic setting. Especially good if the surf's up in Playa del Carmen and you crave some tranquil water. 4. Now much hyped, and not inexpensive, Xcaret is a delightful, natural theme park. Again, go early or later in the afternoon for maximum enjoyment. A good idea might be to arrive for lunch, visit the beach, then approach the Cenote River trip, which is what this site is famous for. You don a life jacket, and head through a winding two miles of underground river. Lit by holes in the ceiling, the colorations of the water against the white limestone are sensational. You and your kids will be talking about this one for years to come! RECIPES What's a trip without a few good recipes? The following are a few of my adaptations for home cooks: Poc Chuc - the regional dish of Quintana Roo: Take thin pork chops and rub into them a paste made of 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, moistened with lemon juice to achieve a paste consistency. Grill or broil. Enjoy with rice, black beans (the canned ones are pretty good), corn tortillas, and a salad. Camarones en Mojo de Ajo: S-l-o-w-l-y simmer a head of peeled, crushed garlic in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. When it has dissolved into a grey-brown paste, it's done. In a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add one pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined. Immediately add the garlic paste. Saute over low heat for 5 minutes. Shrimp should be just congealed, not rubbery. Add juice of 1 or 2 limes and salt. Cook 30 seconds more. Serve. Sopa de Limon: Heat one quart good chicken stock to boiling. Add 1/2 lime (peel and all) and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, stack and cut 4 corn tortillas into thin match-sticks. Saute them in 1 tablespoon oil in a hot frying pan until crisp. Place the tortillas in each of four bowls along with one slice of lime cut from the remaining half. Ladle on hot broth. Enjoy. Possible additions - shredded chicken or small cubes of firm avocado added just as you serve. SEVEN DAY DO-IT-YOURSELF ARCHAEOLOGICAL TOUR OF THE YUCATAN WITH BEACH TIME TOO! This is the real thing - an adventure and a great trip for a family, especially those with older children. DAY 1: Fly into Cancun, pick up your budget car at the airport, spend the night in the beach hotel zone. DAY 2: Take a swim, have a substantial breakfast or brunch, and take the new toll highway. The drive will take you a quick 2 hours to Chichen-Itza and the Hotel Mayaland (800-223-4084), a real jewel. Enjoy the hotel's fabulous deep swimming pool; have dinner, and walk one block to the ruins for the 9pm Sound and Light show. There are other, cheaper places to stay at Piste, 5km. DAY 3: Big breakfast in the dining room, and off to the ruins before the crowds arrive. If the small door at the base of the pyramid is open, you're in luck. It leads to an inside passage; at the top is the jaguar throne of Quetzalcoatl! Spend the morning touring the ruins, then back to the hotel for a quick lunch by the pool, swim and check out. Take Highway 180 back toward Cancun, 1 hour; then go south at Nuevo Ixcan just past Valladolid on the Coba road; 45 minutes to Coba, one of the largest Mayan sites with the tallest pyramid in Meso-America. Check in at the Club Med Villa Arqueologica (800-528-3100). Coba, with its lakes and its ruins shrouded in jungle, is mysterious and magical. (There are other cheaper places to stay on the way into Coba.) DAYS 4, 5 and 6: Spend the morning viewing the ruins of Coba, than have lunch at the hotel, check out and continue on the same road to Tulum, 45 minutes away, a spectacular small site on the sea, from the post-classic period. You'll need about an hour and a half to enjoy Tulum, and there is great ocean swimming below the site. Drive on to Playa de Carmen, 45 minutes, and check into Quinta Mija (Phone: 987-30-111), a collection of rooms, condos and efficiency apartments around a small pool. The very capable and friendly innkeepers are Sally and Greg Hrehovcsik. DAY 7 and Beyond: Return to Cancun, a one-hour drive, and turn in your car. What a great trip!

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