PB Eats… Copita

I’m back in London! I wasn’t supposed to be back so soon, but a combination of unhelpful travel agents, expensive tickets and fate meant that my plans to go back to Mexico didn’t work out.   Saying all that, it is good to be back, seeing family, catching up with friends and most importantly, enjoying my Indian food.  I didn’t miss it while travelling, but boy I was glad to overdose on it when I got back.  Thanks mum! Home made indian dishes, rotis, gol gappas, puris, yum yum.

And I’ve been catching up at the regular restaurants, Zizzi – I’ve missed that wonderful pizza base, Chawallas, Wagamama, Shoryu – mmm, soy milk ramen, delicious.  Incidentally, they have a deal on at the moment, £22 for a bun, ramen and delicious cocktail. Definitely worth it.  I’m not going to blog about any of those – but I will say that it is good having all this variety and choice of vegan food sans issues or drama.

The meal of the week though was at Copita, to catch up with my partner in crime (and evil thoughts – forgive me!! haha), M.  A nice, trendy space with that irritating rule of no reservations in the evening.  Being a lady of leisure, I got there nice and early in the evening and had my choice of tables – or bar stools.  Result!

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover not only do they have a lovely food menu, but a very very lovely gin and tonic menu!!! Tanqueray! Bloom! Whoo!!  And they have Fever Tree tonic water – the only tonic water worth drinking.

The service was helpful and friendly, but as the evening went on it did get harder to grab their attention.  They rattled off the dishes I could eat (leaving out a few ingredients), so I obediently ordered them ALL.  M ordered the chorizo, croquetas de champiñones (no pics), and the giant gambas (check them out!!), which I didn’t hear any negatives about.

We also got the sweet potato bravas (alioli on the side).  These were moist, juicy but not very spicy. Not at all to be honest.  The broccoli with a pepper sauce – delish.  Still crunchy broccoli, yummy sauce, I enjoyed this dish.

The highlight of the meal was the ajo blanco, dressed with grapes, beetroot, parsley and almonds.  It was so tasty – not too garlicy, really creamy and the bits on top added little bursts of texture and flavour.  Every mouthful tasted different – yum yum yum.  Please order this!  The lowlight of the meal, for reasons to explicit and nasty to mention here, was the roasted aubergine.  It didn’t really look appealing, it had no seasoning and the texture was not nice, and the top half was undercooked, and I couldn’t taste anything in the sauce.  The hazelnuts though, were excellent.


I had no room for dessert after all this food and the very tasty G&Ts (my dessert), but M ordered the coffee and burnt milk ice cream.  Judging from the speed at which it disappeared and her expression, it was a tasty dessert.  


Overall – it was a good meal, I would go back again and again just for that ajo blanco!

PB Travels… Quepos

So last few days in Costa Rica, and the next stop is Quepos, home of Manuel Antonio National Park, the main reason for being here.  Getting there was another short journey, 3 hours or so, and on the way, we stopped at a bridge to look at… crocs.  Yep, crocs which are up to 20 feet in length.  Beautiful…from a distance 🙂

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Where am I staying?

Hotel Sirena is in the town centre, a five minute walk to the seashore, but a 7km bus ride to the public beach.  It is a proper seaside hotel, all blue and white, nice rooms and a little swimming pool that was so so needed.  What was also very needed and appreciated was the cool cool A/C in the rooms.  My room was light, bright and cool.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low.  Everything was squeaky clean, but a bit tired
  • Bed = 8/10.  Comfy double bed, cool a/c, good night’s sleep. All good
  • Shower = 7/10. Hot water and ok pressure. Not too bad.

What did I eat?

Breakfasts included in the hotel.  No guesses what was on the menu – fruit, juice, tea, coffee, gallo pinto, eggs, toast – standard fare.  My go to breakfast was also standard -gallo pinto and toast with my nut butter, which is almost finished, as is my chilli sauce. Boohoo.

Lunches? Meh.  I went to Dos Locos for lunch one day – a veggie wrap with sweet potato fries.  Now a wrap filled with raw cabbage is not something that fills me with joy.  And look at the miserly serving of guac! I was not a happy bunny after this meal, or during it to be honest.

The next day we were in the park, and by the time we got out we were starving!  There are no restaurants in the park, take food in at your own risk – the racoons will get it, I saw it happen a few times, leaving with goodies and very traumatised people behind!  We walked into a proper tourist restaurant – Hawg and Bill for lunch – I ordered a garden salad, which actually turned out to be quite nice.  The vinaigrette did most of the work I think, it was quite yummy.

Dinners? We went to a local restaurant one night, Restaurant Tiquicia and I had the usual, Casado.  It was was ok, I liked the mountains of veggies.  They also had that cool mixture of carrot, onion, cauliflower, but unfortunately it wasn’t hot at all.

Next night – we went to El Avion, a gimmicky restaurant that has a bar in a plane.  It was really cool in the plane and the Margarita I ordered was really good.  Even in a restaurant like this, the only two options I could go for were either veggie rice (meh) or roasted veggie sandwich. I went for the latter and got a giant sandwich with too much bread. The veggies were really yum (after I added salt and pimped it with chilli sauce) – courgette, mushroom (which interestingly looks like meat..hehe), red pepper, tomato.  I had those with the chips, left the bread.  If you want to go here, go for the drinks, not the food.

I also had my usual share of fresh juices – pineapple, and a frozen green/pineapple juice. Yum in this unbearable heat.


What did I do?

That pool might look small, but it was the right size, and I spent one afternoon just lounging around, reading, chatting, snoozing in the sun.  However, the main reason for being here was the Manuel Antonio National Park.   5 minute walk to the main bus station, and 315 colones for a bus ride to the park.  As expected, it was very very busy – the busiest I’ve been to so far, but, it was excellent as we got to see so much wildlife! Sloths, toucans, howler monkeys, birds, spiders, wow. What a fitting end to Costa Rica.

There is a wonderful beach in the park – so once we had got hot, bothered and sweaty running after all the animals, we ran straight into the sea.  Oh mama.  Perfect sea, perfect temperature, perfect weather – I spent a lot of time in the sea until hunger pangs dragged me away..

Sunsets in Quepos were also stunning. We decided to walk to the marina to have a drink – as some of the girls had been there the day before for a brilliant sunset.  This marina is so Americanised – and it was full of Americans!  It did not feel like we were in Quepos, or even Costa Rica.  Thankfully the sunset made up for it – check it out!

So this is it in terms for travel for now – the plan was to go back to Mexico and explore ruins, but due to crappy travel agents and slow turnaround times, I couldn’t get my ticket changed and buying new ones was waay to expensive.  Never mind – that money will be saved for the next travel adventure – even I don’t know where I’m going.. South America? Asia? Europe? Watch this space….

PB Travels…Puerto Viejo, Sarapiqui

Leaving Tortuguero was sad – I could have spent longer there but I knew better things awaited ahead of me – wildlife wise. A short three hour journey to Sarapiqui, and I was ready for my next session of wildlife exploring.  The good thing is that Costa Rica is such a small country, travel times between destinations are short and sweet.

Where was I staying?

Posada Andrea Cristina, a wonderful little hotel, just off the main road.. It was super laid back, you could go into the kitchen and help yourself to crockery and cutlery. There was also a communal fridge where we could store drinks. Lovely communal dining area (the place only does breakfast – included), and an excellent area for bird watching, complete with enticing fruits nailed to a tree…

That bugged some people staying in the hotel (noisy trucks and all), but I got one of the rooms/cabins right at the back and it didn’t bother me one bit. What did bother me was seeds and coconuts falling on my corrugated iron roof – now that sound woke me up with a start every flipping time!!

The room was lovely – minimal but new and clean. Ratings:

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent – it was a brand new room
  • Bed = 8/10. Sleep well, marks deducted due to fright.
  • Shower: 3/10. No hot water! You might say, who needs hot water when you’re in such humidity? ME!

What did I eat?

Breakfast was a selection of fresh fruit – papaya, pineapple, melaon and bananas (from a tree on the hotel grounds). AND. Excellent home made bread made by Alex, who was in charge of breakfast.

I found a last sachet of almond butter (need to find more!) so had that one day with banana – delicious.

Puerto Viejo Sarapiqui is alittle town (not funky like Tortuguero – this was just dull and a bit sad), apart from a couple of decent restaurants – one of them is Soda Mi Lindo. So for lunch one day, I had a lovely smoothie (sin azucar – they add sugar to all drinks!!) – spinach, celery, cucumber and orange. Yummy.

For mains, arroz con vegetables (alright), papas fritas (meh), ensalada (rico – the tomatoes were so flavourful). It was a massive portion – I didn’t finish the rice.

So still craving avocados, I went to the supermarket to buy some – hard like stone or soft as butter – take you pick. I got a few hard ones (STILL waiting for them to ripen) and a single soft one. I also bought a bottle of ‘hot’ chilli sauce (not really) and some yucca crisps (excellente). The avocado turned out to be very good, and smooshed up with lime and chilli turned out to be an amazing lunch. The photo might not look pretty, but I was SO happy (told you before, doesn’t take much!)

Dinner on one night was a salad delivery. Simple salad – tomato, lettuce, cucumber, onion and heart  of palm – love those things, just don’t get fresh ones very often. Very tasty. Crunchy, flavourful and very edible.

Dinner the next night was from the other decent place in town (delivered to the hotel) a pizza! It was thin crust, really tasty base with loads of veggies – including carrot, broccoli and cauliflower :). Definitely got my 5 a day from this pizza! Very tasty.

What did I do?

So along with my wildlife fix, I got my flower fix too. The flora and fauna around here is stunning, and I was very click happy. Look!

This region is know for extreme water sports and white water rafting, but I wasn’t interested in that – all I wanted was to check out the wildlife.

We went for a morning walk to La Selva. I really really enjoyed this walk. I strongly recommend it to everyone. We had a brilliant guide and saw loads of birds – trogans, motmots, toucans –  sloths, wild boar, spiders – excellent!

The wildlife was excellent, but so was the flora, fauna and the whole place in general made it a very enjoyable day.  The rest of the wildlife was not spotted in a national park or reserve – but in the gardens of the hotel!! I am still mastering the names of the birds (don’t ask me just yet) – they were amazing. Throw in a squirrel to boot and PB = a very happy bunny.

And then in the evening, Alex spotted THE frog of Costa Rica – the red eyed tree frog… Result!

I didn’t like the town but the wildlife in the hotel and the reserve in Sarapiqui was super excellent amazing brilliant. I’m loving it!!!!

PB Travels… Back to Antigua

First leg of travelling over. I’m back in Antigua, booked myself into a lovely little hotel for a couple of days to essentially relax and enjoy the last few attractions in Guatemala.

Where am I staying?

San Rafael, my hotel is located just under the arch – superb location, 5 minutes walk to the main square.  It is a small boutique hotel, I think a max of 9 rooms and it used to be a private residence before.The public areas are stunning – I have been lounging about making use of them.

The room is BEAUTIFUL, sitting area, comfortable bed, massive bathroom – BLISS.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = erm. Nada. Nothing. Cleanliness as  expected with this calibre of hotels. Pristine and lovely smelling room and sheets.
  • Bed = 10/10. So so comfy. And the room is dark and night – perfect sleep.
  • Shower = 10/10. Rain shower, hand held, lovely toiletries.

I love this hotel – and if I didn’t have to think about budgeting, I would stay in hotels like this all the time.. luxurious, small and with character. But I’m happy with travelling normally most of the time and then taking it up a notch for a few days – I’ve always done this and have stayed in some brilliant hotels – keeps me happy 🙂

What did I eat? 

Breakfasts are included in the hotel, everything from continental, to pancakes to traditional with a twist. My go to has been a version of ‘Antigua’s best breakfast’ that comes with eggs, frijoles, platanos and cheese.

Replace eggs and cheese with mushrooms and hash browns, and yes. This could be Antigua’s best breakfast.  I have thoroughly enjoyed eating it. Nice presentation – check out the frijoles! (And they have an amazing home made salsa – es muy picante!). There is fresh orange juice and fruit to start. And their coffee is excellent!

What I like about this place is breakfast is a la carte – made to order (order what you want and as much – just finish it) so there is no wastage of food.  Other things I’ve been eating are falafel wraps from Roots Juice Bar – extremely tasty and fresh (extra guac of course) and a liver cleanser (beetroot, apple, celery, lime). They have a whole range of juices – all tasty sounding.

Rainbow Cafe is another go to for veggie/vegan options (thank you Happy Cow). I had the falafel plate – wanted to compare them to Roots. Roots wins. These ones were a bit dry, but the tahini sauce and pico de gallo made up for it. And they had hummus which was very good.  I also had a Jamaica iced tea – it was really good, nice and sour but a tad too sweet for me.

I went to the market one day and came across a truly local place. For Q25, I got a plate of rice, veggies and frijoles and a horchata. Simple and tasty, and what really elevated the meal was their home made pickle. STUNNING.

Please don’t hesitate to eat in a place like this – local, high turnaround, simple yet clean – it was a really good meal. I really enjoyed it.  Dinners were back at Frida’s – Nachos con Verduras sin queso y crema. YUMMO. Those salsas are some of the best I’ve had!

I also went to La Fonda de la Calle Real – a popular place that serves authentic Guatemalan food. I wanted to try Pepian, a stew with a sauce made from pumpkin seeds and tomatoes and coriander – and they had a veggie version here!

What came was chayote (or chuchu/shushu) in a rich sauce. It was really dark and full of flavour –  but I found it quite heavy, only had 1/2 of it with the rice.  The little tamale was stuffed with frijoles, but was super dry. Didn’t eat it.  I also had a Jamaica juice – nice and tart and not too sweet (finally!!!!).  Other than that, I’ve been overdosing on fresh juices…

Eating perfectly ripe avocados on their own,


And I also had a cheeky Chinese takeaway. I can’t do MSG – and I appreciate that they were honest enough to say they use it, and that they wouldn’t for me. They didn’t… the noodles were simple yet tasty and light.  I react instantly to it and I know the tell tale signs – so thank you Chinese takeaway place (yep, forgot the name, but it is on the 5th Avenida)


What did I do?

Antigua is such a beautiful town I have enjoyed walking around, exploring the markets I didn’t get to see the first time round, meandering around the streets day and night (it is so safe), having random conversations with locals and tourists and generally just taking it all in.

I finally decided to do some shopping and bought a few money purses. Antigua is also the jade capital of Guatemala, so I had to get myself a souvenir. If you want really pretty jewellery at a really good price, please go visit Jose – tienda cuarenta in the Artisan market.

At first glance I thought, erm…nothing here – but he has got some amazing stuff and is very knowledgable. I got a Lila jade ring, and a jaguar jade ring (seeing that in the Mayan Calendar, my zodiac animal is a baby jaguar – and I like that colour of green), and another rose quartz pendant (you can never have to many!). All at very reasonable prices!! And he even resized a ring for me.. Muchos Gracias Jose!

I also went back to Cerro de la Cruz -the views this time were just as good as last. I can see why so many people enjoy Antigua. It has a bit of everything and I’m glad I stayed here for a bit longer. Next stop – Costa Rica. But first – a stop to Honduras.

PB Travels… Panajachel

Goodbye Mexico (mi amor), hola Guatemala (again). I could tell instantly that I was back in Guatemala – the place just feels different – in a good way! We were on our way to check out the mother of all lakes, Lake Atitlan, but before that, a homestay!

I love meeting locals and hanging out with them – you get a completely different view of the world. We crossed the border and got into the town, a lot more vibrant and bigger than I was expecting. My host was young Derrick, 23 years old, married with the most gorgeous, cuddly baby – or gordita (haha) as he called her.

He lived with his younger brother (21 and also married) and his amazing mother. She was so cool – so strong and independent and with it, it was a pleasure spending time with her. She definitely took me through my paces regarding Spanish! They were absolutely wonderful, hospitality rate = 100%. I helped make the meals (sorry no pics of the soup), including tortillas!!

Guess which are the mum’s and which are mine.. haha. We dressed up like a local ladies and had a whale of a time. We also spent time checking out the town – small, vibrant and very local. Almost all the women were wearing traditional clothes. It was a lot of fun. Next stop? Panajachel or Pana as affectionately referred to by the locals.

Where am I staying?

Panajachel is a beautiful but very sleepy town in my opinion. Once you’ve checked it out, if you’re not there for a specific reason, there isn’t a need to stay (or so I think). We were there for 2 nights, staying in the Utz Jay (‘Welcome’ in the local Maya dialect).

Beautiful grounds (as usual), quirky hotel, room furnished with local textiles, lots of natural light, another hotel that I liked.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. A bit tired but clean.
  • Shower = 7/10. Hot water but dodgy showerhead which meant I had to dance in the shower to ensure the water got to where it had to.
  • Bed = 7/10. Comfy enough, but with Lilliputian pillows – slightly challenging.

What did I eat? 

Ignore what I ate for now – Let me tell you what I drank!!!!  The best coffee in the world. I kid you not. This coffee was sublime verging on orgasmic. The Best Coffee I Have Ever Had. Where? Cafe Loco.

Those amongst you with eagle eyes will notice the Korean text. Yes. This cafe is run by Korean brothers living in Pana. And God bless them for doing so. Cute little cafe, with all coffee related paraphernalia (who knew there was so much).

Look at the size of the dream catcher!!!!! I had a flat white with  soya (the last of their non dairy milk). BLOOMING HECK. I was speechless. It was like drinking liquid velvet that tasted of all my favourite things put together. And it wasn’t just me – everyone loved their coffees (with the staff smiling smugly – and rightly so). They were great with their coffee art – reminded me of the guys at Riso in Tromso.

Next coffee – iced hazel Americano and I also tried a hot version – both super amazing. They also have creative names for their coffees, everything from Dark Knight (mocha with orange) to hulk (mint and coffee).  These guys have mastered the art of making a good cup of coffee – every step of the process. If you are ever here, DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE. OR ELSE. YES. This is a threat. GO GO GO. Make it the first thing you do.

Breakfasts – included at the hotel, the usual continental, fruit, toast and coffee – but it can’t compare to Cafe Loco!

Lunches? We came across a ‘Vietnamese-Mayan fusion’ food joint. Sounded good.  I had a veggie coconut milk curry – full of sugar! It was ok – the Mayan veggies were good – but it did feel like I was eating dessert. Had to pimp it with my usual suspects – lime and salsa picante to make it enjoyable.

Lunch the next day was much better – on the island of San Juan, we found this cute little cafe – Cafe Atitlan – servicing local, simple, home cooked food.  Fresh pineapple juice and a veggie plate with salad, veggies, frijoles, rice and avo. Delicious!

Dinners? I went to Circus Bar on one night – it was absolutely brilliant. The decor, layout, menu, staff – everything was on point, including the food.  There was hummus on the menu! I had to order it. Delicious and full of flavour. One of the girls ordered a salad – it was really good.


I ordered pasta with tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach. Sounds bizarre but I mixed the rest of the hummus in the pasta and that just took it to the next level. Might start doing that at home! There was also live music – so much fun and entertaining.

Dinner on the next night was at Chintas. Asian food. The decor was beautiful, it was a nice space to chill and eat in.

I forgot to take a pic of my food. I ordered a satay plate – rice, salad, tofu skewers and peanut sauce. Super tasty, and there were loads of items on the menu that I would have liked to try.  Snacks? On the way to Pana we stopped for a fuel break and came across this tray of wares.

Coconut, orange, pumpkin, brittle – all coated/soaked/immersed in sugar. I went for the coconut – middle right – super sweet, to the point my teeth started to hurt – and that is coming from someone who can handle her sugar!!

What did I do?

Carrying on from Las Cristobal, I continued to relax. This included walking up and down the town. There was stall after stall and shop after shop selling the same stuff – it became quite exhausting after a while even just looking! The one thing that I realised was how expensive Guatemala is in comparison to Mexico!  What I really enjoyed doing was going down to the shore and watching the sunset over the lake – very beautiful.

One night there was a guy tossing fire balls (don’t know what that is actually called), another night there was a band (a really good band) playing – most enjoyable. I have thoroughly enjoyed all the live music on this trip. The other taxing activity (NOT) was taking a boat across Lake Atitlan to San Juan. There are lots of islands, and lots of tours where you can visit them all, I choose just one. Q25 for a one way ticket, 30 minute ride and you’re there. A bumpy ride (it was a windy morning), but nothing too strenous, unless you’re this American girl who became hysterical and put on her life jacket when the boat started bouncing.

Stunning views on the lake, and the island was quite pretty too – once you got past the shops and galleries (selling the same paintings). They were pretty but a bit too busy for my taste. We just walked around at tourist pace, taking it all in, not a care in the world.

I did like this pic of a couple in a boat – but not enough to buy it. So where am I now? I’m chilling in Antigua, planning the next steps of the holiday. Stay tuned!

PB Travels… Merida 

Ok Mexico. It is official. Te amo, Mexico. I love you and I am in love with you. Mucho. The people, the food, the ruins, the landscape – everything. I feel so at home here, it reminds me so much of where I grew up – and the last 2 days have been nothing short of magical. 2 amazing ruins, another cenote and a beach out of your (well, my) dreams – I loved every second of it.

Where am I staying? 

Hotel Reforma, in the centre of the old town. Beautiful entrance, stunning communal areas, and the room was lovely too.  Big double beds, high high ceilings – simply decorated, beautifully done.  Nice location, it was close to the cathedral, main square and Paseo Montejo, the Champs Elysee of Merida (or so I thought).

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. The room was clean, the bathroom a bit tired.
  • Bed = 7/10. Decent enough bed, low marks for the fact that you can hear everything – not from other rooms but from reception and the communal spaces – where people were chatting until wee hours of the morning.
  • Shower= 5/10, did the job but stank of moth balls. HATE that smell. Eugh

What did I eat?

We decided to leave PDC early to get to the ruins at Chichen Itza at a decent time, so we stopped for breakfast at a local service stop.

Basic, rustic and clean – but nothing for me to eat on the menu. There were lots of meaty and eggy options. However I always know I that I will find one thing on the menu – so I went for platanos Fritos and pan toastada. And then I remembered my jar of peanut butter that I had in my bag. Breakfast sorted.

To drink? Nescafé – lol. I want a decent cup of coffee! That gave me all the energy for Chichen Itza.  By the time we got to Merida it was 3pm, too late for lunch, too early for dinner. We only had a few hours to explore the town (we had a whole day of activities tomorrow).

I stumbled across Pola – an ice cream shop with dairy free sorbets!! Whoop! I went for chocolate sorbet (dark, luscious, lush), and avocado sorbet (creamy, avocado-y, a bit too sweet), perfect power boost to keep me going until dinner. Please go here – amazing!!

We met at La Chaya Maya for dinner, a place serving proper Yucatan food.

Chaya if you remember is Mayan spinach – loved it in every form I’ve had it. I decided to try a Chaya margarita – what a wonderful drink! Spinach-y in a very good way, perfectly balanced, not too strong and thankfully not too sweet.

For mains I went for tortillas topped with veggies, more chaya, pickled onions and this stunning powder made from pumpkin seeds. I don’t know the local name, but this stuff is like food crack. SO BLOOMING TASTY – Earthy, warming, depth of flavour, checked all the boxes.

It might not look like much, but it was amazing amazing amazing. So tasty, soft, crunchy, oozing with so much flavour.  Everyone’s meals were good, we were all ooh-ing and aah-ing over them. Go here if you are in Merida. Please.  Next day was an early start, we got to Ek Balam – the ruins of the day – so early that no food vendors or local restaurants were open.  So what did we do? Our guide found a hotel and we had breakfast there. Frijoles, tortillas and juicy ripe tomatoes for me.

Perfectly flavoured, beans not too mushy and those tomatoes were stunning. Lunch was on our way to the pink beach. We stopped at a restaurant on the Rio Lagartos – this was like a beach hut, or rather, river hut. This meal was GOOD, the views amazing.

The scenery, surroundings, weather – I think they all add to a meal experience, and I loved it even more for all those reasons.

Rice, frijoles – pulverised, like a soup – with a good chilli kick, salad and guacamole (I should clarify that the empty plate of guacamole in the background was a shared plate – not just mine! Haha).

I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat after this meal. We got to Merida at 10pm after our epic day, exhausted, super content and in no mood to eat. So no dinner.  Forgot to mention another super snack I had. It was so hot after the cenote, we had fresh coconut water (ONLY 25 pesos each). I usually ask for it to be cut open so I can eat the ‘carne’ – as it is. But no. It was cut open, doused in chili pepper and lemon. You can only imagine my reaction. Superdelicioustastystunning. Amazing.

What did I do?

First set of ruins – Chichen Itza. So two things about this place. I saw pictures of it when I was 9 years old, and that kicked off my fascination with all things to do with the Maya. Secondly, and sadly, I was told it is so touristy that the experience of the ruins is lost. Well. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the latter, I went there with no expectations – and boy oh boy. I was blown away.

I just love the close relationship that was created between nature, scientifical calculation and practicality, never forgetting the whole time who is the head honcho – nature.

We had a super cool guide – William. He should have actually been a philosopher, he was so brilliant in his explanations and stories, I could have listened to him talk for hours. He was full of fascinating facts!

He seems to be the guide Godfather – all other guides would don their caps, salute or bow when he walked past – we definitely struck guide gold!! Thank you Chichen Itza, I love you and I will be back.   Merida has stolen my heart. We power walked all over the town for three hours (as soon as we got there). Beautiful, colourful buildings, shops selling every piece of bling and kitsch imaginable, a market (one of the nicest I’ve been – food, clothes and anything else you want to buy) and super friendly people.


The cathedral stunning, the square beautiful, colour everywhere – loved this place. There weren’t many tourists but I felt completely safe and secure.

And, no, our day wasn’t over yet. Our guide told us that there is a community led bike ride around the streets of Merida every Wednesday – the day we were there! 9pm – 11pm, how could I say no!? (Pics to follow, they are on my other camera).    It was so much fun. There must have been around 120-150 people, and we cycled around Merida to the sounds of music, laughter and singing. It was fabulous! A really well organised ride, nothing strenuous about it though!

The next day was even better. There is a pink beach (it is an an area dense with sea salt), and we wanted to see it. But since we wanted our cake, and to eat it, we also wanted out guide to throw in some ruins.  Introducing Ek Balam, near the town of Valladolid, my most favourite ruins of the trip. I could post a hundred pictures and it still won’t do the place justice.


There was so much to see and take in, more to explore, and the energy of the place was phenomenal. I felt like I had plugged into an energy grid – and I probably had!   Once again, our guide was very interesting, honest and funny and it was fascinating to listen to the history of building all these structures.

I will say one thing – for all these ruins, don’t scrimp on the guides. Don’t think they charge too much – they don’t. If you were to walk them yourselves without knowing about the ruins, you might as well stop. The gold nuggets of information were priceless.   Ek Balam done, we hopped on bikes to cycle to our 2nd attraction – a cenote! This one thankfully not as restrictive as the first. Not knowing what to expect, I was so so happy when I saw this sight. Isn’t it just magical??

Swimming in it was even better. The water was the right temperature, the views everywhere I looked were PERFECT. I even donned my snorkel and followed a few black fishies around. However the water wasn’t that clear, other than the fish, there want much else to see. I wanted to stay in there for much longer, but there was a long drive to get to our main attraction.

So after our lovely lunch, we drove for another two hours to Las Colorades. Worth every second (and the four hour drive back). Look at this view – it was so beautiful, almost like being on another planet.

And it isn’t over yet – there are also flamingos in the area!!! Not in the same salt lake, but on the other side. Look!!!!! Obviously more than just two, will upload pics from my other camera.  I loved watching them. We stayed there to see the sunset, and yes, cheesy, cliched, it was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Starting with Ek Balam, finishing with a super sunset, it was a really really wonderful day. I STRONGLY recommend this combination of attractions – you will not be disappointed.  Merida has been the highlight of Mexico for me. It is the base for lots of ruins and cenote exploring. I am not ruined out, I am not cenote-d out, I feel I MUST return to check them out.. SOON!

PB Travels… Playa Del Carmen

After a magical time checking out the ruins at Coba and jumping into centoes, we got to Playa Del Carmen in time for dinner. What a shock to the system! After staying in rustic hotels, being knee deep in nature – we ended up in what was a mini Las Vegas. Playa Del Carmen is a buzzing place, full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shopping galore.


Where am I staying?

We checked into the One Hotel, essentially an Ibis/Premier Inn, a stark contrast to the character filled hotels I have been staying in so far. A smaller room than the others I’ve been staying in, with a double and single bed, brilliant shower, all mod cons, super fast wifi (i.e the same speed as back home haha).  I’ve just realised I didn’t take pics of the room – sorry!

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = non-existent. We are in serious tourist land, and it showed.
  • Bed = 6/10. Bed was ok, but there was an alarm blaring outside my room for both nights I was there, so sleep was interrupted.
  • Shower = 9/10 powerful, hot water and all toiletries thrown in? Result!!

What did I eat?

We went to La Casota, a restaurant on Calle 12, in the middle of all the action.  By now you can guess what I chose. Guacamole, yes – but with a twist. Here they make it table side for you (by our Mexican Peter Andre lookalike waiter) – nice, but I needed to add more salt.

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Every time I eat this, it tastes different, and every time I love it a little bit more. Mains on the other hand were dull dull dull. Veggie fajitas.  Basic, boring, tasteless – not even the yummy salsa picante could redeem them.  I felt this was a tourist restaurant, wouldn’t recommend it to be honest.

I woke up late the next day (9 am), after relatively early starts, this was great. Breakfast was basic continental ( no pic – use your imagination). I walked past 100% Natural the night before, a restaurant that had a lot of veggie and vegan options, and wanted to go there for lunch. So I left the girls at the beach and wandered to the restaurant, which was set in a stunning space.

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I am pleased to report I was treated like a local – spoken to in Spanish, given a Spanish menu (which I understood most of – come on, it’s food related) – I was quite flattered! I went for an agua fresca with strawberry and blueberry purée (with sparkling water, like a scholer) – cool, refreshing and exactly what I needed after my tough day relaxing in the beach under blue skies.  I ordered the lentil burger that came with a few sweet potato fries. Pimped with some fresh habanero salsa, I was in heaven once again. So delicious, juicy and tasty.  There were a few more things on the menu I would have liked to try, but not enough time.

Dinner was very different to the night before – we went to a local place where our meals cost a third of what they did the night before.  I went for a tamarind agua fresca – nice, but too sweet like almost every drink I had here.

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For mains I had a huarache – or a ‘slipper tortilla’, or let’s not beat around the bush – a makki di roti for those of you in the know. Topped with very saucy frijoles, nopales (rapidly joining frijoles and guacamole in my favourite things to eat), onions and salsa. Tasty (after I added a decent amount of salt) and I got my Indian and Mexican fix in one meal. Interesting that here, they under salt the food and over sweeten the drinks!).

On the way back to the hotel, one of the girls had a marquesita for dessert. It was interesting to see being made. It was a crepe – a crispy/waffle. One crepe, stuffed with Nutella and… queso. Yes, cheese – like a mild edam.  Obviously didn’t try it, but apparently the combination is very complementary and complimentary and went down very quickly.

What did I do? 

Another day of vegetation on the beach. Hard life, but somebody’s got to do it! The beach is beautiful – warm, blue water, soft sand.

The beach was over infested with people. After having secluded ruins and beaches all to ourselves up to now, this felt very weird. We found a decent sun lounger (150 pesos to hire – you need to pay to relax in Playa Del Carmen), I spent my time reading-sleeping-swimming. Oh, and I had an $18, 30 minute massage on the beach. PERFECT!

I did walk around too – day and night, it felt like too much of a theme park (check out the colours at night), with the main aim bring to spend money in any way possible – look at Playaland! Your one stop souvenir mega shop.

Overall impression, once I put the commercialism aside, I enjoyed the place – specifically the beach. Like with almost all beatific beach towns, the underlying vibe was chilled. But I was happy to move on to the next town – Merida.

PB Travels… Tulum

We woke up early to get the 6.30 am water taxi, back to Belize City where our bus was waiting to take us to Tulum – in Mexico!  The border crossing was effortless once again, we got through in 10 minutes – no queues. Once again, our guide said that was very rare. More time for us in Tulum I say! And with the weather hotting up even more, I was super happy.

Where am I staying?

El Punto is a small hotel/hostel with 9 rooms, a gourmet restaurant, a trendy bar and chill out area. It is only 1.5 years old, so it was in very good nick.

The owner’s wife did all the interior design and decor – I quite liked the minimal bare look, especially all the inspirational messages dotted around the room and hotel. My room had 2 double beds (one for me, one for my bags ;), a big enough bathroom and it was spacious.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = non existent. Clean, slick and lovely
  • Bed = 9/10. I slept really well – virtual no light in the room at night was a big factor. Comfy bed and hard pillows – perfect.
  • Shower = 7/10. Hot hot water, a lot of it. The only problem was, as the water came from underground, it was loaded with natural stuff which had a sulphurous pong. Whiffy, but very clean we were assured.  Still unnerving while showering!

Where did I eat? 

So before we got to the hotel we stopped at La Playita – a stunning stunning restaurant – with views of a lagoon! See for yourself!

And the food thankfully matched up to the surroundings. I had guacamole – delicioso! And a big salad with tofu! Soft, melting tofu. That accompanied by nachos (crunchy and melt in the mouth at the same time) and this killer habanero sauce was an excellent meal. So so so tasty and fresh. I also had a chaya, pineapple and lime juice. Super refreshing.  Other options – prawn tacos and a burger – which were enjoyed as much as I enjoyed my meal.

All sensationally good.  Other lunches? We were at Zamas – where we vegetated for a whole day (see further down for pics). I had veggie tacos – sheesh. Is all the food in Mexico this delicious??? Mixed veggies, frijoles, guac – absolutely delicious and flavourful. I was in food heaven.  And I had a margarita on the rocks – SO much better than the frozen ones! YUMMO! Best one so far on the trip.

Last lunch – a takeaway from the hotel restaurant for our activity to Coba – a veggie bagel, accompanied with potatoes, peppers and avocado. Seriously people, I can’t fault this one either. The view helped too 🙂 🙂

Breakfast was at the hotel one day – I just wanted fruit, toast and coffee, and it was as expected. Simple but yummy. Pineapple was so sweet!

Breakfast the day before (yes, I’m all over the place – go with the flow 🙂 was at Zamas – after exploring the Tulum ruins by the beach. What did I have? Avo on toast with fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes (menu default was with goats cheese), with killer salsas. I am already contemplating moving here. Mainly for the avocados. Eaten with a view of the beach and sand in my toes? BLISS. So delicious.

Dinners? First night there was at an Italian (can’t remember the name) – I had a simple veggie pasta that hit the spot.  The other girls had pizza and fish fillets – all went down really well.

Dinner on the last night in Tulum was at a popular local place. The honestly said that there wasn’t much for me, and I decided to go with their option and try the nopales – or cactus, cooked with peppers and onions, and a side of platanos fritos. Mains and dessert at the same time!  I actually liked the nopales – which basically looked like fat string beans and tasted similar. This restaurant was a hit and miss – only half of us enjoyed our meals, me being one of them.  🙂

And one of the last things I had – COCONUT MILK ICE CREAM! Helado sin leche! This adorable old man had a food caravan down from the hotel – Buena Estrella.

I chose avocado and cacao, and he literally blended fresh avocado, Mayan chocolate beans and coconut milk, stuck it on a cold plate (like they do in Asia, and three minutes later – smooth, creamy, not sweet but just sweet enough ice cream. LOVED IT!

What did I do? 

We walked town – lots and lots of shops (still haven’t bought much), but the main reasons to come to Tulum were the ruins, the beach and the sun.  So we woke up early enough and took a cab (you can cycle, but we had issues hiring bikes – our hotel didn’t have any and all the bike shops wanted to hold on to our passports – erm. I think not).  We walked around for an hour – it isn’t a big complex – sans guide.  I have decided going forward – all ruins should be done with a guide. The ruins were pretty, not not as amazing as Yaxha and Tikal for me.

I loved the view of the sea from the ruins. Usually if the weather and sea are good, tourists are allowed to swim. Today, the Danger flag and the ‘there could be jellyfish in the water that could kill you’ flag was flying. That will be the blue one then. I also loved the iguanas that were all around the ruins

Ruins for the day done? Off to the beach for a whole day of doing nothing. We ended up at Zamas – wise choice. We were literally there from about 10am – 5pm.. They even had live music later in the afternoon – excellent!

So recommend this place – lovely food, lovely staff, lovely beach – only thing to watch out are a few rocks in the sea if you plan to swim.  Next? Playa Del Carmen! But before that, a few of us decided to go to Coba for a day of ruins, zip lining and cenotes.  We had a guide to take us around – Henri, a Mexican French man. Coba is a fascinating place with amazing structures, history and stories. There was a steep pyramid to climb (go soon, as they are going to stop the public from climbing it), circular pyramids, a thatched temple on top of a pyramid that still has its red and blue decorations intact, unexcavated temples, a ball court. BRILLIANT! All of it!!


I was completely fascinated – and it wasn’t over yet!  After the ruins, we had more fun to look forward to.  Canoeing and zip lining (no pics – we were having too much fun) across Punta Laguna – a stunning body of water, where our true blue Mayan guide took over.  The zip lining was rustic and SO much fun.  Loved it. Very much.  Final activity – exploring a cenote – but before that – a quick visit to the shaman for a Mayan blessing!!

Cenote are essentially underground bodies of water formed when limestone collapses (for more info, please ask my friend Google). This was the entrance to the cenote:

Yep – to get into the cenote, you had to be willing to take the plunge, literally. One of the girls looked at the entrance and said ‘I’m out!’ So 2 of us went for it. We absailed down, and once we got past the darkness, ho ho ho. A cave, about 20 feet in diameter, with CLEAR blue water 8 metres down – I could see everything, including the skulls of people who were reportedly sacrificed here. I was completely dumbstruck. It wa like being in another world. I could see the root systems of the trees, there were bats flying around, but at the same time – so peaceful and eerie and magical. The water wasn’t the warmest, but the hardest part was pulling myself up a slippery ladder, wet and cold. But I did it.

I SO recommend Coba. I so recommend going into cenotes that are not in guide books. There were virtually no tourists at the cenote -6 in total which added to the mysticism of the place. And don’t freak out – they are SO SO worth it!

PB Travels… Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is a tiny island off the coast of Belize – and my destination for the next three days.  I knew from the minute I stepped on the island, I would be completely chilled. The island vibe is so palpable, you can’t help yourself – you just want to chill..

Where am I staying? 

Caye Caulker Plaza hotel is in a great location – 5 minutes from the water taxi, and well, 5 minutes from anywhere you need to be. But then again, who is counting minutes? Not I!

The rooms were ginormous – I had two double beds in mine, and a balcony too! The bathroom however was a different story. Rusty taps, a bit mouldy – not nice

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = medium, primarily because of the shower. Also, their cleaning products were cloying and over scented – did not appreciate that!
  • Bed = 6/10. Comfy, but when you have a bed with wheels that moves every time you turn, there is a problem!
  • Shower = 2/10, and that is only because the water was hot.

What did I eat?

What I loved about eating here was that all restaurants were either open air or had outdoor seating – and why not! The weather was perfect for it! Dinner on the first night was at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen. I chose a Rum Punch – yah man! This is definitely an island drink!!

There was one dish that stood out for me – the veggie coconut curry with coconut rice. There was also plantain, which doubled up as dessert as it was hot, sweet and nicely caramelised.  It was super tasty – well cooked veggies, flavourful sauce, and I’ll tell you one thing – these guys know how to make killer coconut rice! DELISH!  Other options – jerk chicken, which went down just as well.

Other dinners were at Rose’s Grill and Bar, down the road from the hotel.  This place specialised, like so many other restaurants, in seafood.  The girls I was with could actually pick and chose the poor lobster that would become their meal!

I went for a veggie kebab, with cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and pineapple. It came with roast potatoes (yum), salad (yum), watermelon and pineapple purée (hmmm). Veggies were still beautifully crunchy but a bit bland.   Obviously had to pimp them with some habanero sauce.  Everyone oooh-ed and aaah-ed over their lobster.

Last night was at Enjoy Restaurant, I went for the jerk vegetables with rice.  This meal was hot, tasty, chilli, flavourful and so so delicious, I ate the whole thing and I could have done it again! And again.

Lunches were either sandwiches from ‘sub-away’ (same concept) or when we went out snorkelling for the day – a fruit platter and rice and beans.  Not just rice and beans, but with a selection of chilli sauces! No guessing my reaction and subsequent mood!!

Ending with breakfast – we had them in the same place – Amor Y cafe. Yummy and delicious – they hit the spot!

The coffee was lovely here – and I loved the fact that they used coffee ice cubes so the flavour of coffee wasn’t diluted!

What did I do?

NOTHING! Haha. Chilled, relaxed, walked around the island – it isn’t that big – and took in the scenery and enjoyed

We did go snorkelling with Amado (USD95, including lunch, drinks, all equipment) – I strongly recommend looking him up. We went out on a sailboat, unlike other companies that use power boats. He was also very eco friendly – considering the sea (not feeding sharks like other tour operators), environment (using reusable crockery/cutlery).

Obviously no underwater shots, but we saw nurse sharks, barracuda, snapper, grouper, names of fish I don’t know, turtles, and coral. Loved loved loved loved the whole experience.  I loved loved loved the island too – hotel could have been better but in hindsight I spent no time in the room.  Next stop = Mexico! Arriba Arriba! Back to the Spanish – I’ve taken a break since everyone in Belize speaks English or Creole with the coolest accent!!

PB Travels… San Ignacio, Belize 

Tikal done and over with meant one thing – bye bye Guatemala, hello Belize!  Our guide warned us to watch out for big mamas who jump the queues at the border crossing and that we had to make sure that didn’t happen to us – or we would be there all day.  Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about this – we literally sauntered across both borders within 15 minutes. I love walking across borders – and this was no exception. It was very laid back, and from the Belize customs point onwards, everyone I met was lovely and genuinely helpful.  The plan was to stay in the small town of San Ignacio for one night – and move onto Caye Caulker for 3 nights.  The weather is getting warmer!! Looking forward to some blue skies and proper heat!

Where am I staying?

We checked into Midas Hotel, a splendid hotel decked in about 6 shades of green (including staff uniforms!).  I loved this place. The grounds, the staff and my room, which was essentially a bungalow.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. Very very clean
  • Bed = 8/10. I had a good night’s sleep
  • Shower = 4/10. Clean, but what is the use if there is no warm water

What did I eat? 

After checking in we went into town to check it out – it is a dinky little place, we had figured out what was where in 10 minutes – small and colourful.

Interestingly enough, the town is full of Indian and Chinese shops, selling virtually everything imaginable.  For dinner, we went to Erwa’s Restaurant, specialising in local Belizean food.  To drink? I tried the local drink of Belize – a rum punch which felt like a tropical party in my mouth. I ordered what was the best meal of my trip so far.

Coconut rice – so well cooked; kidney beans – super tasty and well seasoned; and the veggies. Oh my oh my oh my.  Chaya – the local maya spinach, peppers and onions. So so so so so tasty, simply cooked but so moreish and full of flavour. Some of the group had fish – they loved it.

And being in Belize, I realised that there isn’t just one kind of Habanero Sauce – hot. Marie Sharps is the brand, and flavours are everything from mild, hot, medium, hot, fiery hot, and my favourite, beware hot. (Souvenir for the brother and brother in law sorted!!)  Breakfast the next morning was at Pops, at 6.30 as we were getting ready for exploring the ATM cave. A cup of black coffee (AMAZING coffee everywhere!!!!) and fry jacks (for those in the know, essentially triangular bhaturas!) doused with maple syrup they were quite yummy, giving me the energy for the caves.

Lunch after the caves was rice and veggie (that coleslaw was untouched – bear in mind these lunch boxes were out in the sun all morning), and more of my favourite hot sauce.  Oh, and some more of that rum punch 🙂

What did I do?

The main reason why people come to San Ignacio is for the ATM cave. ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal, an impressive Maya site with a lot interesting artefacts – ceramics, stoneware, skeletons (whole human skeletons) and bones (monkey, jaguar).  Not a cheap trip – USD 95 (or USD120 including transfers to Belize City), I will tell you now – DO IT!!! NO BRAINER.    We were warned before hand that we will be wet (fully, completely wet) for most of the 4 hour tour, and that we must must wear closed shoes. We also wore a helmet, and once inside the cave, headlamps were essential. These are all provided.

The tour company we went with were called Maya Walk (however there are many to choose from) and there was a 45 minute drive along a bumpy road to get to the cave. We drove past corn and orange plantations, and very descriptive road signs. Haha.

Once we got to the entrance, we had to leave everything behind other than a bottle of water – no bags, no cameras – a clumsy tourist dropped his on a skull in the cave and cracked it (both the camera and the skull). Since then there has been a very very strict no camera rule.

It was brilliant. 45 minute walk to the entrance of the cave, crossing 3 rivers of varying heights (chest, knees, ankles – no current and the water is very clean). About 20 minutes walking, wading, swimming. Going up and down over boulders, squeezing through gaps – and then the main cave. We had a good guide who explained it all – mind blown.  It is a visually stunning cave and the way to get there utterly gorgeous – you forget all about being wet – and the history amazing.  The tour company sent a few photos through, but there are some videos on you tube if you want to check it out further.

Amazing activity, loved loved loved it and so recommend it.  One thing though – closed shoes are ESSENTIAL.  You can’t get away with sandals, and definitely no flip flops! Too many sharp and jagged rocks.  Now bring on some relaxing island life on!!! Caye (pronounced KEY, tourists, listen!!) Caulker!