I never knew that you could ski in Spain. I always equated skiing with the Alps and Spain with sunshine, beaches, flamenco and bull-fighting. But apparently, you can ski in Spain - up in the stunning Spanish Pyrenees in the Catalonia region of the country.
Fancy a luxury escape? Then look no further than Costa Cruises. This sea-faring cruise brand offers a first-rate holiday experience complete with elegant surroundings, superb onboard facilities and a chic Italian style throughout. Across its fleet of comfortable, modern ships, Costa Cruises offers an unforgettable holiday experience across a wide choice of destinations - ranging from the familiar shores of the Med to the paradise islands of the Caribbean.
Since AeroMexico launched their daily direct flight from JFK to Cancun (only a 4 hour flight) back in July 2012, I've been meaning to make a long weekend trip down there to get out of the bi-polar summer weather that has been plaguing New York. When I finally got the chance, I decided not to stay in Cancun but take an ADO busapproximately 2 hours south (128 km or 80 mi) to Tulum, a pre-Columbian Maya walled city that served as a major port. It was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas. The Tulum ruins are the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. They are the only ruins with the picturesque view of the Caribbean.
I was excited to see the ruins and explore the nearby small cenotes (sinkholes), but more importantly, I was happy to find that there was quite a selection of eco-lodges to stay at here all the way up to the Si'an Biosphere Reserve.
I'm not a huge fan of staying in huge hotels. When I travel, I prefer the intimacy of a boutique property - the smaller and the more unique, the better. I love connecting closely with the staff (knowing their names) and also knowing that my stay is contributing positively to the local economy.
I decided to stay at Nueva Vida de Ramiro, a luxurious and unpretentious eco-resort on km 8.5 owned by Cancún-based architect Oscar Ortiz and his wife, Gea. One of the older eco-lodges in Tulum (located on kilometer 8.5), it opened in 1998 originally with 4 bungalows. Built 2 years after their son Ramiro woke up against all odds from a year long coma after a terrible motorcycle accident, Oscar and Gea named the hotel in honor of Ramiro's new life: Nueva Vida de Ramiro, or in English The New Life of Ramiro.
Today, it's expanded to 32 rooms - a combination of bungalows, newer suites and a few two-room eco-houses suitable for families with children on 7.5 hectares of preserved property. It was really such a breath of fresh air being there. Being an eco-lodge, there is no air-conditioning, but the breeze of the sea was just what I needed to keep me cool. The rooms come equipped with fans and mosquito nets around the bed. Hair-dryers are also not allowed on the property since it the electricity on the property is run primarily on solar panels and a generator. I didn't really need a hair-dryer on this trip and since the weather was so warm, my hair easily air-dried.
The bath products are also locally-made specially for the hotel. I really dug their Oatmeal Soap Bar and their Peppermint Mouthwash.
Most of the staff at Nueva Vida de Ramiro are hired from the local community and are from Mayan descent. The lush garden is kept by the very friendly Juanito, the resident gardener and local shaman. If you want to find a natural cure to one of your ailments, he'll gladly find you a solution in the hotel grounds. We were happy to find that aloe vera plants were in abundance for our sunburns.
The hotel is also very active in preserving the turtles that come to its shores to lay their eggs. The hotel sponsors 3 turtle conservationists who live rent-free in camper vans on the property. They patrol the area for turtle eggs and if nests are laid on paths where hotel guests can step on them, the eggs are carefully relocated to a nesting cage where they can safely incubate. From May to October, 120 turtles came onto the shores of the hotel's beach to lay eggs. The hatching will occur later this summer.
The hotel guests also receive a wooden hard-carved turtle made by Mayan artisans as a parting gift. The turtles are made of sustainably harvested wood.
Breakfast was included with our stay and we had a selection of local fresh fruits, fresh juice and coffee/tea. My favorite was the very delicious and soft homemade bread that we had with a local fruit preserve and butter.
We also sat on the beach and ordered from the hotel's restaurant Casa Banana. We had their lunch speciality - guacamole, chips and the seafood ceviche - which were all excellent.
The ceviche in particular was one of the best that I've ever tasted.
We rented bikes from Iguana Bike Shop and explored the area and the town.
We biked to a place called La Vita e Bella to have some Italian food (excellent penne with shrimp) before we headed to the ruins.
Very important:Be sure to bring a bottle of water with you during the bike ride, it gets really hot! I ended up needing to lie down for a moment to recover from the heat.
For a taste of real, authentic local life, here's a list of local hole-in-the-wall eats in town that were recommended to us by Mariela, the Operational Manager of Nueva Vida:El Curondero (a bar), El Camello (for the seafood), La Nave and El Asadero.
There are three cenotes located only a short bike ride away from the hotel (Cenote Encantado, Cenote Beh Ha and Cenote Tercer Cielo). Not all the cenotes were open due to the rains, but we were able to rent a kayak and snorkeling equipment for a hundred pesos (about US$10) and explore Cenote Encantado.
Afterwards, we stopped at a shop to purchase some Mayan Clay that detoxes your skin, regenerates cells, and relieves stress from Mayan Clay Spaand walked around the beach for an hour before jumping into the ocean to wash it all off. Our skin definitely felt good after being encased in sunbaked clay for that long. It was a rejuvenating weekend indeed for our bodies, minds and spirit.
All the photos of my stay at Nueva Vida de Ramiro were either taken by me or Daniel Para Mata. I hope you enjoy them! xoxoxo