Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Vacation Part II: Excursions and Playa Del Carmen.

To read Part I of our vacation (the one where we stayed and pictures of the beaches), click HERE.

Vacations are a funny thing for Drew and I. We both love them, but tend to be on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our definites of "fun and relaxing." Drew is all about adventure, and vacation to him means new adventures, specifically ones that tend to be a bit on the dangerous and wild side. I, on the other hand, prefer nothing more than to sit beachside with a good book or magazine, sipping margaritas. In other words, I prefer rest ;) Thankfully Drew humors me by doing beach vacations, and we've been able to come to good compromises in balancing his need for adventure and my need to be lazy. Cruises have always been a happy medium for us, but since we decided to do an all-inclusive land vacation this time, we had to put our thinking caps together to come up with some ideas to drag me away from my lounge chair and pool side cabana.

When we went on our honeymoon 10 years ago, we did an excursion that took us to the Mayan ruins in Tulum, and then for half a day at a natural eco park called Xel-Ha. To date, this had been one of the most fun tours we had been on, and it was perfect for us because it combined fun things to do along with the option to sit and relax if you got tired. Since we both felt like seeing the Mayan ruins once was probably enough for us, we decided to just spend an entire day at Xel-Ha. I was so happy that we did, because we were able to adventure into areas that we hadn't even known about last time we had been down to Mexico.
this picture really doesn't do the park justice. The water is absolutely crystal clear, gorgeous.
You're not allowed to go out in the ocean there due to how strong the waves are... for obvious reasons! It was insane how crazy the current was during the morning hours when we were there.
I mean, is there really anything more awkward than vacation photos when it's just you two? I feel so silly taking pictures of each other. ha!
there are little coves all throughout the park that have a TON of hammocks. We took a nap (or two) while we were there.
see all of those "little rocks" sticking out in the middle of the lagoon? They were actually HUGE rock formations with coral underneath. From the top, you would NEVER know how large they were. So neat to see how perspective changes everything, even in things like rocks.
Iguanas were everywhere in Mexico, and Xelha was no exception.
we were walking a path towards the back of the park and had hear small chirping noises but didn't think anything of it. I literally almost stepped on this cute little duck and his friends. They weren't scared at all.
At Xelha (and really these are all around the Riviera Maya), there are underwater caves, called Cenotes. You can actually snorkel out to these, but Drew and I never made it out that far.
these fish were in one of the smaller lagoons, and their eyes intrigued me. Neon green and hot pink. Who knew they would have fish who were in style with 80s neon fashion? ;)
there are natural rock formations throughout the park that have coral fossils on them.
to get to the back of the park that has a few of the amenities (including the river), you have to either take a tram or ride a bike. We chose to ride bikes, of course!
At Xelha there is a river (kind of like a lazy river, only this is natural) that runs through the park. It's about an hour float, give or take a little depending on if you are helping yourself move or just taking it leisurely. Anyways, along the river are spots to stop and rest, snorkel or have a little fun. Wanna guess what Drew's favorite part was? ;) I actually did the jump too (we had already put the camera away in our locker when I went), and I promise you that I screamed louder enough for the entire park to hear me. I am such a wimp when it comes to anything remotely dangerous. I blame the time I almost drowned when I was a preschooler to ruin me forever when it comes to water and danger.
Have yall seen the documentary on Netflix called Blackfish? If not, you should watch it. It has totally changed my perspective on the attractions that allow people to swim with animals. I felt so sad watching this dolphin literally just sit there like this for over 15 minutes. That is not normal behavior. So sad to me that they are trapped in a small cage when they were meant to swim freely. Also, the water the dolphins were in was so much dirtier looking than all of the rest of the park. Breaks my heart.

We also wanted to try out something new this time we were in the Riviera Maya, so we decided on a ziplining park that is near Playa Del Carmen, called Xplor. I have to admit, this was done on the second day of our trip, and since I wasn't feeling the greatest, I felt like I didn't really get to experience the fun as much as Drew (I mean, nothing gives you a thrill by worrying that you'll literally poop your pants while ziplining over people). Plus, we literally had to climb up 10 towers, and if you know anything about me, then you know that extreme exercise is not my cup of tea. Combine that with jumping OFF of the towers, and I was just glad to have walked out of the excursion alive (and without pants pooping incidents) ;) Drew had a blast though, and so I was glad that we did it. Xplor was definitely up his alley in terms of fun and adventure.
(don't worry. Drew got to drive too. There are two separate trails at the park, so Drew drove the first one and I drove the second one. These little ATVs made me feel like we were in TV show MASH. Also, I'll tell you that I felt about a 7 on a 10 scale for Redneck with not wearing my t-shirt while driving an ATV.)
the entire park was centered around El Corozone... or "the heart". There was actually a huge massive heart in the middle of the cave that beat so that you could know if you were getting close to the middle. Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture at the big heart because we thought we'd be able to buy pictures that they took of us throughout the park. BUT... at $80 for a disc of pictures, we thought that was overkill and went with our own pics.
you can't really tell, but behind us was the zipline entrance into the cave. After you went on all 15 ziplines, you ziplined into the water and entered the cave. The water was SO SO SO cold, which is why we decided not to do the river swim at the park. We did do a sit on top kayak through the cave, which was probably our favorite part. Unfortunately, I was worried about the camera getting ruined, so we have no pictures of us at that part of the park, which is a real shame because it was awesome.
before we left we spent a good 30 minutes napping in a hammock. So relaxing and peaceful. The day after Xplor I could barely do anything I was still so wiped out. I'm so very glad that we did this tour at the beginning of our trip and not the end, that way we were able to recuperate a bit afterwards.

In the middle of our trip we spent a morning touring some of the tourist areas in Playa Del Carmen. I loved 5th Avenue, which is lined with different open air restaurants and shops, as well as smaller, more boutique style hotels. My one regret is that I had decided to leave my SLR camera at the hotel, so I really missed out on some unique photograph opportunities due to the constraints that our point and shoot has.
lots of little boutique hotels in Playa. They were so cute and quaint.
5th Avenue in Playa Del Carmen
shooting off of 5th Avenue were little streets like this. They were lined with Oceanfront Condos and then ended at the beach. Some of these condos were only $170K US Dollars. If it weren't for American amenities that we tend to forget about (mainly clean drinking water and adequate plumbing, and the opportunity for a big greasy burger made our of American Angus beef), I would really consider retiring there.
what can I say... it's hard to resist a Senor in a sombrero
we had a local at our resort recommend a little grill/bar close to the beaches in Playa, so we stopped there during our little sight seeing adventure. We were charged $8 per margarita (that is steep in Mexico), and aside from the smooth texture, we were really disappointed. I guess we're just spoiled by the awesome margaritas at our local restaurants in NWA, because most of the drinks we tried in Mexico were extremely light on alcohol. For comparison, if Drew had the same sized drink in America, he wouldn't be able to drive, and I can generally only drink about half of the size I had before feeling the tequila. Live and learn...
we ran into this little hut during our walk in Playa. This man was selling whole coconuts that he chopped the top off so you could drink the coconut water (or is it called milk? Either way, it was good).
he cut it just enough so you could put a straw in it
after we finished drinking out of the coconut, he then chopped it open and carved out the coconut meat... such a neat experience.
the locals all raved about the beaches in Playa and pointed us to this specific beach. While it was pretty, we were not really awed (I think comparatively speaking that the beaches at our resort were much nicer and less commercialized).

Other than these three days spent outside the resort, we laid low by the pool or beach. I really couldn't have asked for a better vacation of relaxation and time away alone with Drew. It was perfect for us in every way. And evidenced by the fact that we were still referred to as "honey-mooners" by the street vendors in Playa, I'd say that 10 years later, we still got it ;)

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