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.

QUICK READ: Driving from Maryland to Charlotte, NC.

For a quick weekend trip, we went down to visit some friends in Charlotte – it’s about a 6.5 hour drive from west-central Maryland where we live. The drive is mostly along one of my least favorite highways, I-81, but it wasn’t too bad for the way down.

Starting from Frederick, MD, I can either drive all the way back up towards the MD/PA border to get onto 81 or I can take some backroads through the boonies to merge onto it in West Virginia. I chose the latter.

Slight majority of the drive is open like this.

The first half of the trip offers plenty of stops and sights. Some of my favorite being:

  1. Harper’s Ferry – a historical beauty of a town where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the crossroads of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I really enjoy stopping here for the Maryland Heights hiking trail then grabbing some well-deserved ice cream or a beer on the way out.
  2. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town – I went a few times over the stretch of two years in my younger 20’s. I made the mistake of winning a little bit on my first couple trips which boosted my confidence enough to lose all of those winnings in subsequent trips. Nevertheless, it’s a fun place to give away your money until 3am.
  3. The next couple hours are home to some pretty vies of farms and tons of farm animals. Seriously, I have never seen that many cows in one span of time.
  4. Natural Bridge and Virginia Safari Park – I have been to the second one and it’s a great time that I highly recommend. I’ll write about it here in the near future. The first stop, however, I have not been to, but would love to see the 215-ft tall limestone gorge.
  5. Luray and the surrounding caverns – I can’t say I have a big interest in cave systems or the underground (read my post about the Parisian Catacombs for my thoughts on naked mole rats), but it would be neat to see the largest and most popular cave systems on the U.S. east coast.
  6. Asheville, NC. – Okay, so this isn’t exactly on the way. It’s at least 1.5 to 2 hours out of the way, but it’s a badass town that I only got to explore once and have plenty more to see.

There’s a beautiful vista along the highway just before you get to the VA/NC border that makes you say “wow” when you pass, and if you’re lucky enough to get on the road without a bunch of tractor trailers, the drive isn’t too bad.

Pop on a playlist or podcast of your choosing and enjoy the drive.

Have you been down 81 in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, or North Carolina? What stops do you like to make or do you just drive straight through/

My 5 Favorite Flight Search Engines

If you ask a random person what their biggest obstacle to travel is, I can almost guarantee that they’ll say “cost” is number 1.

The easy thing to do would be to accept the price as stated, save up the required money, and purchase. Or, you can take a few extra steps to see where you can really save money, stretch your dollars further, and gain the ability to travel longer.

As data on the internet becomes more available and integrated, you’ll often find similar prices (if not the exact same) on each site, but it never hurts to explore all of your options. Below are 5 of my favorite search engines that I use every time I’m about to buy a plane ticket

1) Google Flights

This is my first stop for destination research. The live-map is the best feature for exploring destinations by price – simply plug in your dates and the map will show you current prices for destinations. I do like the desktop version better than the mobile version. Since this is Google, you also get a feed of When To Visit and Discover [what to do] along the side of the screen.

2) Momondo

I like this site for two main reasons – for one, you can put a flexible date range of up to +/- 3 days. The second is the site has a graph above the search results showing you an easy to read price comparison chart you can use to see if flying on a different day can bring you more savings.

3) Kayak and Booking.Com

Kayak and Booking are both companies owned by Booking Holdings, which also purchased Momondo in 2017. You’re likely to see the same flight prices on each of these three sites, but I still check each of them to potentially catch a hidden gem of a deal.

4) Skyscanner

This is the first site that I started browsing flights on. It provides quick price updates and easy comparisons. The first thing you’ll see on their app is a map of the world based on COVID-related restrictions. You can pick your home country and the map will updates to show where allows full entry, restricted entry, or no entry. Tap a country to get more in-depth information.

5) Hopper

This is the app I have the most fun on. I don’t know if it’s the simplicity of the app, or the colors, or both. You can choose a flight destination and easily see what time of year gives you the best chance to get cheaper tickets. You can set notifications that will tell you if the prices are likely to continue going down or if you should buy now for the best savings. I used Hopper last year to get super cheap tickets to New Orleans to escape the Mid-Atlantic winter.

BONUS: Scott’s Cheap Flights

For the more flexible traveler, there are subscription-based websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights that will email you whenever they find low cost flights to various destinations around the world. Just recently, I used their mailing list to save money and book a better airline for my next trip. Travel influencer couple, Kara and Nate, recently launched a similar business called FareDrop.

When you are picking your flights, keep in mind the rest of your budget. For instance, you might be able to save $30 on a flight by going down on a Friday instead of a Saturday, but then you’ll have to account for an additional night of lodging and food. Just something to keep in mind when you’re planning your next travels.

Do you use flight search engines or do you book directly with an airline for loyalty points? If you do like to compare prices, what is your go-to search engine?

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