Finding Aldea Zama

In previous posts, I mentioned how our resort was on a never-ending, dusty road and we were forced to walk for what seemed like an eternity to get anywhere. That’s what we thought until one day we noticed a few cars were turning right off of the road onto a bumpy, sandy side street. A quick GPS search back at the resort and we found out there are a few shops down that road so we set off one morning to do some exploring and eating.

The neighborhood we ended up finding down this side street was called Aldea Zama and it was dramatically closer to our resort than either of the other destinations we had been going to – the Tulum beachfront and La Veleta.

The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. The neighborhood had a very posh look to it and it seemed to be recovering from the pandemic, as every other window had a promotional sign trying to get you to buy an available condo and there was plenty of construction projects going on.

A nice, chill atmosphere.

We reached our first stop, Matcha Mama, a cute little smoothie cafe that made incredible use of the tiniest space. Seriously, they crammed an entire shop into a booth the size of a standard closet. We had a broad choice of seating options to enjoy our Mango Tango smoothie bowl, but we hunkered under the balcony for a little shade. This thing was delicious and one bowl easily satiated both of our bellies.

Mango Tango.

Our next stop was the number one reason I wanted to stop by this neighborhood; we were headed for Mamazul, a 4-star hotel with an incredible mezcaleria on the ground floor. I checked the screenshot I had of Google Maps and we set off down one street, made a turn here, walked down another until I said “hmm…”

Now I am one of those people that will walk forever around a place, half-getting to our destination, half-just checking out the new environment. Rachel, whom I was with, is not like that. She took my brief pause of uncertainty to mean that we were lost in the jungle with no way out, a feeling only further exacerbated by the burning heat of the mid-day sun.

The place was just one block over…

The first thing you notice is the huge, open-concept layout of the bar with a super high ceiling, a front entrance that was open-air, and a stretching shelf of mezcals behind the bar that needed a rolling ladder (like what you associate with libraries) to reach the top shelves.

Isn’t it lovely?

We downed some fresh juices that sounded better than they ended up being, but where they disappointed, the mezcal tastings did not.

We sipped down the smoky, smooth elixir, letting the feeling linger at the back of our throats and debated over which of the endless bottles had the coolest label design. Between the drinks, the decor, and the overall atmosphere, I will 100% be returning to Mamazul when I get back to Tulum. I really wanted to purchase a bottle of mezcal right after to bring home, but I never check a bag on my flights so I had to wait for the duty-free shop which had a much larger selection that I remembered. Luckily, I had started packing “empty space” before trips to allow myself to grab a bottle of alcohol souvenir before heading home.

As we headed back, I wanted to stop by an art installation that I had read about, The Pyramid of Positive Thinking. First and foremost, I need to voice out an apology for this piece, because I did not understand the project at all when I had viewed it in person. My thoughts have since changed. [Blog post coming soon.]

We made our trek back, still shocked by how close this cool, little neighborhood was to us this whole time.

Relaxing At An Oasis In Tulum

The sun was hot, beating straight down on us. The trees that flanked the dusty road did nothing to shade us from the heat. We were walking from our AirBnb from the previous night to our resort that we would stay at for the remainder of the trip. As we passed a semi-busy looking resort called Mystiq, we paused for a second to make sure we were heading the correct direction. Yep – shouldn’t be much farther. Our resort had only opened earlier this year so a lot of online maps weren’t quite updated enough to show an exact location.

Finally, after what seemed like a while, we came upon a very large, wooden sign that read KAN Tulum. Beyond the sign, a dirt path stretched into the jungle. I didn’t even mind the extra walk, because at least it was in the shade. We passed some signs on the trees that definitely fed to the younger-generation lifestyle. “#GreenVibesOnly.”

Once we approached the security gate, we were let in and WOW! I couldn’t believe this lush, green oasis was just a stone’s throw away from the hot, dusty road on which we were just walking. We were guided to the reception desk where Edith welcomed us and gave us a tour of the property. It was absolutely beautiful. The paths intertwine through large, vibrant plant life, passing a hanging tear drop chair, a hammock, then to the pool which was fairly well centered and gave us a good visual of the property. A large building on the far side of the pool was where they offered massages and a really neat, bamboo-covered bridge led you to their breakfast/drink bar and the resort eventually plans on opening a vegetarian restaurant once they’ve expanded.

We were allowed to roam the property until our room was ready (check-out from our AirBNB was 4 hours prior to our check-in at KAN Tulum) but right when we went to get our swimsuits from our bags, they told us it was ready. Sweet!

We were shown to our room, which I guarantee had the best view on the property (seriously, we could see everything while still maintaining a little privacy on our terrace.)

According to their website, there are five room floorplans (which I think only two currently exist, the rest are part of the expansion. I could be wrong.) and it was very well thought out. The room we stayed in wraps around from the bedroom/kitchenette to the bathroom with a large, beautiful, two-sided mirror acting as the barrier between the king-size bed and a big, Instagram-worthy tub.

They used a breathable concrete made from a local root

I’d like to take the next couple sections to talk about 3 amazing highlights from our stay:

The Bar

Now this isn’t at all for the obvious reason. We did get one drink from the bar here – a really tasty passionfruit, mezcal cocktail – but it was $15 and we had other options. Mystiq, from up the road, had a mini-mart on its property where you can find bottles of wine for reasonable prices.

What the bar offered that really made our trip fantastic was its breakfast and coffee. Every morning, Saoul and his team presented a buffet style breakfast of vegetarian options from oats to fruit to beans to eggs and the styles varied each day. There were pitchers of fruit-infused water that I’ve been super exited to replicate at home in the new goblets I got in Charlotte. The meal was so good and we felt very healthy enjoying it.

Breakast views.

The staff was also always available to present us with coffee all the time. There was always someone around to brew together an Americano or Almond Latte. We really appreciated sitting at the pool and being handed a “cold coffee” which was really set off by coconut flakes.

The Pool

Despite seeing other people staying at the resort, we essentially had the pool to ourselves whenever we wanted. The water was comfortably warm like a bath and the sun fluttered in and out from behind the shade of the trees giving you an alternating warm shine and a cool escape from the heat. It was the perfect recipe for a nice tan.

The Cenote
View from the walkway.

One of the absolute best things to do on the Yucatán peninsula is to visit and swim in cenotes, underground water wells that are created by the collapse of limestone caves. KAN Tulum just happens to have one on the property, a few strides from the pool and overlooked by the bar.

A pump-fed waterfall creates a really nice look to the cenote, but once it turns off, you can see all the way through the calm, cool water to the bottom. We jumped in, splashed around, and floated above the water surrounded by cavern walls.

I cannot wait to come back to Tulum and explore the ruins and area around here and I will undoubtably stay at KAN Tulum again.

There are a couple nests above the rooms with great views; we just couldn’t think of a pose.

We Rode Bikes To The Tulum Ruins… And They Were Closed!

Our recent trip to Tulum was largely for rest and relaxation purposes, especially after the obstacles that jumped in our way. Still, there were a few occasions where we wanted to leave the sanctity of our little jungle oasis to go exploring. One day, we rented a pair of bicycles from our resort – these turned out to be more in line with mountain bikes than the typical beach cruiser we saw everyone else riding around.

It was a scorcher this day, settling around 90° F (32° C) by 11am, and we set off right when the sun was peaking just past noon. The road outside of our resort was an endless line of dust and sand-colored pavement that seemed to extend towards the horizon. No worries, though, according to Google Maps and the front receptionist, this should be a quick 13 minute ride to the beach and another 15 minutes to the ruins with a nice sea breeze for the second half.

The bike/walking path provided a nice buffer from traffic.

The stretch of road down to the beach had trees on either side, but since the sun was directly above, they didn’t provide any shade to utilize. We made sure to sunscreen up and brought a bottle along with us to reapply when needed. This stretch ended up taking twice as long as anticipated. It drug on and on and on with cars passing by, some giving us plenty of space, others narrowly avoiding us like we just weren’t there.

We finally arrived at the beachfront road (with limited visual access to the beach beyond an extended wall of hotels, restaurants, and clubs) and took a water break before continuing along. We did pass a stretch of beach where we noticed that the sargassum infestation that plagued our Cancun trip two years prior was still abundant. There were piles and piles of the smelly seaweed sitting on the beach and brown pelicans were using it as a resting nest. I didn’t think to take any photo or video of them, but we got to catch a few of these birds diving into the water in search of lunch.

What kind of Olympic athlete did they time to create this time expectation?

The stretch along the beach was full of trendy looking shops and restaurants, but we were on a mission. A side path for walkers and bikes began after the shops that gave us a little breathing room from the constant traffic as well as a little shade. The rest of the ride was racking up the minutes, though just a brief bit after we were supposed to arrive, we passed by what looked like a gate to the ruins. That turned out to not be the case. That was just the halfway point. We continued past beach club after beach club for a while until we finally approached the gate to the ruins.

Keeping a smile despite the circumstances.

A trio of blue-collared shirt clad individuals stopped us to tell us the ruins were closed. At this point, we had been riding for about an hour in the hot sun and just wanted to pause on the side of the road to finish our water, reapply sunscreen, and comprehend the news we were just given. The officials started to offer us alternative excursions that we could purchase at their stand which we declined. I became skeptical that this was just a sales tactic to catch unknowing foreigners before they could get to the ruins.

I saw an American couple come from the other side of the gate who were stopped by the same trio for the sales pitch (there was another entrance on the other side that led to downtown Tulum) so I decided to wait and talk to them when they passed by.

I asked them what was on the other side and they said they thought the ‘closed ruin’ news was a scam too so they continued all the way to the actual entrance to the ruins where they were turned away, confirming the closure. We later were told by a different employee at our resort that there was a confirmed COVID case at the ruins and they were closed for sanitation.

A break and refreshment.

After a brief sigh, our ride back was slow but steady. We passed some big iguanas and a coati that seemed to be overly comfortable with two local guys, acting like their pet. We stopped at a pharmacy on the way back to pick up some water and a little rest. I like to think I’m in good shape and I usually have no issue with endurance, but this ride kicked my butt.

Upon arriving back at our resort, lounging by the pool was the only to-do for the rest of the day.

The pool was much needed after today.

How To Get To Tulum From The Cancun Airport

So you’ve just arrived in beautiful, hot Mexico. You’ve ditched the sweatshirt you were wearing on the cool flight down and your sunglasses are on. Your next step is getting to your hotel, hostel, AirBnb, or wherever you’re staying in Tulum. Here are four options to fit your travel style and budget:

1. Taxi

The quickest way to go is via a taxi. Don’t worry about availability here; you will be met by no fewer than two hundred drivers that will continuously ask you where you’re going and if you already have a ride to your destination.

Be warned, these aren’t your typical yellow taxi. These are essentially private drivers that charge an astronomical fee (sometimes over 3000 pesos (~$175USD) to get you to where you’re going.

2. Shuttle

This is probably my recommendation if you’re not traveling on a shoestring budget. We used a shared shuttle service to transfer from our hotel (included pickup) to the airport. The journey took about 1 hour, 45 minutes and cost $83USD + tip. We only picked up one other pair of guys on our trip. The downside is the A/C was broken and the windows couldn’t open, so our drive in the 90 F degree (32 C) heat wasn’t the most pleasant. You can book either directly through the Cancun Airport website or a private company with a quick Google search.

The ADO bus stop is to the right once you exit the terminal. You can purchase tickets here.
3. ADO Bus

The budget option. We took the bus upon arrival down to Tulum due to our flight arriving about an hour before the next bus left. It was $18/person, but what we didn’t realize was that it made a stop in Playa del Carmen on the way down. This turned into a 3.5 hour drive that got us to Tulum pretty late. The ride itself wasn’t bad, with toilets on the bus, A/C, and comfortable seating. It drops you off in the middle of Tulum Centro and La Veleta. Our AirBnb for the first night was a nearly 2km walk over bumpy roads on a dimly lit street. We underestimated the bus drive time and the fact that it got dark so early in Mexico.

4. Rental Car

If you can, check out renting a car. This provides the maximum freedom that you may want to explore the Yucatán peninsula. Prices can start as low as $10/day, but do acknowledge that there is some form of mandatory coverage that will most likely be added to the bill. I’ve read dozens and dozens of reviews and forums and I still can’t find a consensus of if using a credit card with travel perks can cover at least part of the mandatory coverage. If you’ve had experience renting a car in Mexico, please leave a comment below.

The roads around the airport and major cities aren’t bad at all and very drivable. Having a rental car will let you explore ruins and cenotes at your own leisure without having to rack up expensive tours or transportations.

The downside to the bus is that it drops you off in city center, so you’re on your own to get to your sleeping arrangements from there.

Why Would I Go To Tulum?

Cancun is the top destination when flying into the nearby airport, attracting over 6 million foreign visitors in 2019 alone. It has a very chain-restaurant, chain-resort feel to it. If you’re looking to stay at an all-inclusive resort, by all means, enjoy your trip. However, Tulum has become a millennial-friendly spot, seeing an influx in digital nomads in recent years.

I was a big fan of its commitment to eco-tourism and health (seriously, you’ll find a raw food or açaí bowl every fourteenth step) that the city provides. You feel a nice connection between supporting locals and learning their culture while still having access to the conveniences that make travel easier. I will definitely stay in Tulum on my next visit to the region and make sure to share more stories with you.

QUICK READ: Flying With American Airlines During COVID-19

The Cancun Hotel Zone

It’s been a long time coming.

My last flight was in March of 2020, coming back to Maryland from a trip to New Orleans right before the world started to close down and I’ve been itching to get back in the skies ever since.

That opportunity came when we booked our trip to one of the only countries in the world that wasn’t requiring some sort of quarantine, Costa Rica. A few days before our flight, we had to make a quick change of destination to Mexico.

When the date arrived to walk down that glorious, skinny aisle, I was met with quite a few surprises:

It was much busier than I expected it to be. The long term parking lot was packed full and the bus from there to the terminal had no empty seats left and a young family packed themselves in at the last stop. Everyone was very good about wearing masks, however.

Getting through TSA and airport security on the other end was the easiest experience I’ve ever been through. The process was quick and the security officers were all very pleasant.

Our first flight was pretty empty. Flying on a Boeing-737, the first class and main cabin extra seats were full, then it was empty until you got to our seats in the back dozen or so rows. If anyone has a good read about the weight distribution of “not full flights”, please link it in the comments below.

The next three flights (first leg was BWI to CLT, then CLT to CUN on an A321, and the reverse) were full flights. My seating arraignment was middle, middle, aisle, middle, which I didn’t mind one bit. Now, while most of my 6′ frame is built of lanky torso, I still felt like there was plenty of leg room available. Our flight from Cancun to Charlotte was the only one with a little bit of discomfort when I sat next to a woman who I think was named Ms. Elbows.

The flights were all super quick, with the longest being 2 hours 30 minutes and I was able to nod off for a good chunk of the airtime.

Overall, I felt safe and American Airlines definitely had a commitment to ensuring all mask protocols were being met. I can’t wait to fly again.

QUICK READ: Getting Through TSA During Covid

We woke up to the second delay of our flight, bumping it back now to two hours after our initial takeoff time. That’s no big deal, as we had a long enough layover between flight legs to accommodate, but it would have been nice to get those two extra hours of sleep.

Flying out of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airport (BWI), we arrived to a much busier airport than we expected. Our shuttle from long-term parking was full and when we arrived, the line for security was seemingly endless.

The line was long, but it moved pretty quickly and the TSA agents were pretty friendly this morning. The only holdup was the three people in front of me set off the metal detector which bottlenecked the process. The first guy was an older gentlemen who left several accessories on before being instructed to remove them one at a time until he passed through successfully. The second lady left her watch on which set it off. The last guy left his phone and keys in his pocket that set it off. No need to remove your shoes, either, as you’re required to walk in tandem with a partner past a K-9 unit that sniffs behind you.

All in all, it only took 20 minutes to get through, but I’m very surprised at how busy this airport is.

We’re Cancelling Our Costa Rica Trip – How To Call An Audible On Your Trip In 2021

COVID-19 is frustrating. We just had to cancel our trip to Costa Rica that was supposed to happen in less than 48 hours. The country was one of the only places in the world that was allowing U.S. citizens in without the need for vaccination, negative testing, or quarantine periods (the latter-most being the biggest selling point.)

Additionally, our plans were based around excursions that enabled us to maintain social-distance and were all outside. Unfortunately, news from the end of April highlighted a huge spike in positive COVID tests, leading to a shutdown in the capital region that started this past Monday. While we were not going to be within 3 hours of the capital (our flight landed in the smaller, northern airport of Liberia) we inevitably decided to cancel our trip.

There are currently 403 ICU cases in the country, which takes up all available beds. Locals are restricted from driving after certain curfew times. There are a shortage of tests being done. Due to all of this, we did not wish to put any unnecessary strain on the medical system here. We feel awful about cancelling our reservations at some absolutely beautiful homes during a time when the country’s economy can really use the help, but we look forward to staying at them once the situation is a bit safer.

The Airbnb reservations were simple enough to cancel, with the one downside is we missed a cancellation policy by a few hours which meant we had to pay for the first night and a service fee (~$140). Our travel insurance and car rentals cancelled easily with a couple emails. Now here is where this story changes…

Since we purchased our American Airlines flights before April 1, we had no change fees and we could change them to another flight or receive flight credit to be used within a year.

After some intense searching, price-checking, communicating back and forth, breaking for a delicious barramundi lunch, and asking each other “are we sure?” a million times, we successfully switched our trip to Tulum, Mexico!

I feel really weird putting that into a small paragraph that is only one sentence long because of how intense this was due to the time constraint we were facing.

Mexico doesn’t require a negative test or quarantine period and the positive test statistics are on par with Maryland, where we live.

Due to the change in flights, we bumped our arrival time to the mid-afternoon and actually received a $200+ flight credit that we’ll use later this year. That’s essentially a pre-paid trip somewhere!

In an effort to maintain distance from the more crowded hotel zone and to splurge on ourselves a little bit to get out of the funk of losing our initial trip, we booked a stay with what looks like an incredible eco-resort. I’m excited now and I hope we made the right choice.

QUICK READ: Costa Rica Locks Down Central Valley

Less than a week before we fly out to Costa Rica, the country has implemented a lockdown of non-essential businesses in the central valley (the area around the capital city of San Jose) due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Luckily for us, none of our destinations have been affected and are not labeled as areas with rising cases, though the concern is obviously present.

This is definitely coming with great disappointment to the country’s Ministry of Tourism, which has been counting on a rebound in foreign visitors during 2021. Quite the opposite has occurred, with numbers a fraction of what they were last year which was a fraction of the year before.

To combat that, the government has exempted tourist-friendly entities like hotels from its lockdowns in an effort to encourage visitors, citing a warming statistic – in the first four months of the year, less than 1% of foreign visitors tested positive when they were leaving the country. Additionally, they are promoting the country’s eco-tourism sector which encourages social distancing.

We’ll be doubling down on our efforts to remain safe, but look forward to a little R&R nonetheless.

Purchasing Travel Insurance For Costa Rica In 2021

We have an upcoming trip to Costa Rica – our first international trip since the start of the pandemic. The country opened its borders to U.S. citizens last November with no quarantine, negative test, or vaccination requirements.

We’re covered.

That gave me pause for a long while before inevitably deciding to purchase our plane tickets and prep for this trip. A few key reasons I felt safe to do so are that Costa Rica was one of the first Latin American countries to start vaccinating their citizens and there is a good culture of social distancing, sanitization, and mask-wearing in the country. With no standing army to fund, the country’s budget goes toward a very good healthcare system here. I also work in an environment that puts me in close contact with a lot of people on a daily basis. This trip may just limit my exposure to other people for a week or so. We won’t be entering any areas that are deemed “Orange Zones” where cases have increased. Flying into the smaller Liberia airport (rather than the usual San Jose airport) and driving around the north-west portion of the country, we’re avoiding all of the areas that have had any kind of problems.

While there are no quarantine, negative test, or vaccination requirements, there are a few things that Costa Rica does require before you can enter the country:

  • Fill out an online Health Pass with basic info and stating that you’re not experiencing any COVID-related symptoms.
  • Must have Travel Insurance that covers a minimum of $50,000 in COVID-related cases and $2,000 in extended lodging expenses.
  • The U.S. does require a negative test within 72 hours of your returning flight.

In the past, I’ve traveled with World Nomads insurance, however the verbiage on their policies led me to believe they wouldn’t cover COVID-related medical expenses. Without the 100% certainty and some recommendations from a few vlogs and blogs, I went with Trawick International who has an insurance policy, called the Safe Travels Voyager, designed specifically for Costa Rica’s requirements. For about $55/person, we’re covered for more than the country’s minimums.

This will be my first flight since pre-COVID, so I’m interested to see how different the travel process may feel. If the journey is what we remember, this whole atmosphere is definitely one not to forget.

A Weekend In Charlotte – Pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

The plan was to sleep in and recharge after a long week of early mornings, but our body’s alarm clock woke us up with the sun. Luckily, we took a nice, long time to wake up and get ready.

A short trip to a nearby Goodwill (Rachel runs a brilliant, thrift-based online clothes shop and wanted to add to her inventory) and Starbucks got us started off right.

More alert and ready for the day, we met up with our friends at Sunflour Bakery for some breakfast. The food looked delicious and comes with rave reviews. The service was meh, but it was some decent food and the coconut macaroons were soooo good.

Tom and I explored around Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, a comic shop across the street, for a few minutes. I was in search of the second part to Anthony Bourdain’s graphic novel, Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi – a story about a badass sushi chef set in a dystopian future where the city is run by rival restaurants. Technically, it’s a prequel, but I couldn’t find it nonetheless.

We met up with Rachel and Courtney around the corner in a really cool thrift store, East 8th Thrift. They were happily at home here, rummaging through some sweet, vintage finds. I dawdled my time by petting the shop dog and looking through some neat cocktail glasses. We came across a cool set of ceramic goblets and a pitcher that we ended up coming back for later. I got real sipping-wine-from-on-top-of-the-Parthenon vibes from the set.

After spending some time back at their place, we set out to explore the Mint Museum. There are two locations which have different collections. The one in Uptown is modern and focuses on contemporary and American art as well as collections from North Carolina’s craft & design past. While tickets get you into both locations on the same day, we opted for the Randolph location. Walking through here is like walking through an old manor as you explore the history of North Carolina’s first coin mint, costumes from African heritage, and a lot of pottery.

In the spirit of continuity for this trip, we made sure to reward ourselves with more drink and feast. Legion Brewing provided the first libations of the day along with a pretzel much bigger than my head. Over the past year, I had moved away from beer and towards spirits and wine more, so I chose a pilsner for my first drink. It was also called Penguin Pils, which is definitely in my top 3 favorite animals. If you know what my #1 favorite animal is or want to guess, leave a comment below!

For my second drink, I went with their mystery Adventure Tap. You don’t get to choose the beer, but $1 of every drink sold goes toward a rotating, monthly charity. April saw donations go towards Autism Charlotte. The mystery brew ended up being the pilsner again. So much for the adventure, but it was a good drink.

My newly chopped off hair.

Next stop was The Bohemian wine bar. We sat at the front window that overlooked the empty parking lot and street. It was a nice setting to enjoy a glass of vinho verde. This style of wine comes from the hilly, northern region of Portugal, where you can find many households still practicing the old-style of growing grapes and wine-making. I cannot wait to explore this region in the near future. (Sidenote: The European Union is in talks to open up to vaccinated U.S. travelers this Summer.)

Wine and sunlight.

After my palate enjoyed a taste of Iberian Peninsula, our taste buds decided to trek back over the pond to a more American-Mexican food at Three Amigos. Courtney and I got enjoyed some fishbowl sized margaritas with some delicious, greasy food. I go through phases in my Mexican food journey, where I will order the same thing over and over without change, then I’ll cycle on to the next menu item. I love it all, but for some reason, I’ll get on these kicks where I want just one thing. Right now is fajita season.

Charlotte is a cool city with a nice pace to it. There’s plenty to do, but it retains charm, nature, and walkability. I would love to explore more of the city in future trips, like Uptown or the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Would you make a trip to Charlotte? Have you been and have suggestions? Leave a comment below with any tips you might have.