By John Mitchell

Canoes leaving the village of Polé at the Sacred Mayan Journey 2011 event, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Click on photo to see larger version.

Perched on steep cliffs overlooking white-sand beaches and the startlingly blue Caribbean Sea, the ruined city of Tulum is now a magnet for tourists visiting the Riviera Maya. At one time, however, Tulum was part of a network of busy ports from which Mayan seafarers embarked on trading journeys that took them as far away as Panama. The Yucatec Maya also made frequent pilgrimages to the island of Cutzamil, now modern-day Cozumel, where they worshiped the moon goddess Ixchel who – among other things – governed the tides, sent hurricanes and bestowed fertility.

The Sacred Mayan Journey project was founded in 2007 with the intent of bringing this ancient religious pilgrimage back to life. Then and every year since, about 300 men and women volunteers from the Riviera Maya communities of Xcaret, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen have trained for months in order to make the grueling 100-kilometer (60-mile) round trip to Cozumel in up to 30 traditional Mayan dugout canoes. The crossing takes at least five hours each way on the rough waters of the Cozumel channel.

This year (May 19-21, 2011), the Riviera Maya marked the fifth anniversary of the Sacred Mayan Journey event, and I was fortunate enough to be invited, along with a number of other travel journalists, to attend the festivities. The event began at Xcaret with the re-creation of an ancient Mayan market or Kii’wik. Before entering the market, we were told to put our pesos and dollars away. Each of us was then given a bag of cacao beans (most other visitors had to pay for theirs), which were used as currency by the Maya in pre-Hispanic times. Once inside the bustling outdoor marketplace, we were immersed in a world of exotic sights, sounds, and smells.

The pungent odor of copal incense wafted through the air, and the local Mayan dialect replaced Spanish as vendors dressed in traditional costumes hawked their wares. Offered for sale in a maze of wooden stalls were honey, seashell jewelry, herbs and spices, fresh produce, plus a host of other earthy delights. Craftspeople were hard at work making baskets and wooden carvings, while others cooked tortillas and roasted cacao beans in huge ceramic bowls. From the steps of a stone ceremonial platform at the center of the market, an elderly Maya chieftain or shaman — I wasn’t sure which — sporting a regal feathered headdress serenely surveyed the hectic scene. The market was obviously theater. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was upbeat, and proceeds from sales went to help local Maya communities.

Leaving the market, we joined the throng heading towards the seaside village of Polé to watch the opening ceremonies. En route, we were purified by clouds of copal incense pouring from chalices held high by dancers clad in white gowns. The path wound through lush forest past a voluptuous effigy of Ixchel surrounded by offerings of flowers, ears of corn, and squash. Soon we arrived at the beach where there was a palpable air of anticipation as the spectators awaited the arrival of warriors with Guerrero Gonzalez, a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who had been captured and enslaved by the Maya.

What followed was a program of traditional music, colorful purification rituals and dances that stretched into the night. Our small group eventually headed back to our comfy hotel, the Hacienda Tres Rios, for a few hours of shuteye before returning to Polé to witness the departure of the boats. At the first light of dawn, we were back at the cove with some 3000 people watching the hardy paddlers climb into their canoes and sail off into the choppy water under a pink-tinged sky. Shamans, along with baritone blasts from conch-shell horns and cheers from the crowd, bid the seafarers farewell. Once at Cutzamil, the oarsmen would present the slave Guerrero Gonzalez and other offerings to Ixchel and then ask the goddess for her blessings, which they would take back to the mainland.

On the following afternoon, we gathered on the beach at Xamanhá, now the resort city of Playa del Carmen, to await the pilgrims’ return. The crowd eagerly scanned the horizon for signs of the canoes. Suddenly they appeared from around a rocky point, accompanied by two Mexican naval vessels. Bravos rang out as the first canoes hit the sandy shore, and a wave of people ran to greet and hug the paddlers.

A closing ceremony ensued with more music, dancing and theater, this time featuring a reborn Guerrero Gonzalez, who had been granted his freedom while on Cutzamil and was about to elope with an alluring Mayan princess. Most moving of all, though, was the presentation of awards to the paddlers, who looked tired and sunburned but were obviously in high spirits. The glowing looks on the participants’ faces as they received medals and certificates spoke of their sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that will no doubt ensure the continuation of this demanding journey in years to come.

Here is a slideshow of some of my photos taken at this year’s Sacred Mayan Journey event. Move the cursor over the screen to view captions. Click on individual images to see larger versions and for information on ordering prints or downloading photos.

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Sacred Mayan Journey 2011 – Images by John Mitchell

Mexico Rated 14th Best Destination for Conventions, by PromovisionPV.com

Mexico is ranked in 14th place worldwide as a prime location for congresses and conventions, according to an index of international partnership that rates these locations.

Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, Deputy Director-General of the Council of Tourism Promotion in Mexico (CPTM), reported that the authorities will continue to promote the development of congresses and conventions with the aim of increasing the number of foreign visitors. Meeting and convention tourism is an industry with “high potential to generate an important economic apportionment,” he said.

The average expenditure by international convention tourists in Mexico for July 2010 was $427 USD, an increase of 11.9% when compared to the same period of 2009.

The CPTM seeks to make Mexico a leading meeting tourism destination. Mexico maintains a strategic alliance with the International Association of Congress and Convention, making it easy to obtain information necessary to organize strategies with Mexico destinations, venues and associations in creating professional conferences and working together to attract these activities to Mexico.


Cabo Azul Resort Named as One of the Top-Ranked Hotels on Expedia® Insiders’ Select™ List

Expedia® has named Cabo Azul Resort among the top-ranked hotels on this year’s Expedia Insiders’ Select™ list.

Expedia® has named Cabo Azul Resort among the top-ranked hotels on this year’s Expedia Insiders’ Select™ list. The Insiders’ Select list formally recognizes individual hotels worldwide that consistently deliver excellent service, a great overall experience and a notable value. The full list represents only 500 of Expedia’s top-ranked hotels selected from the more than 130,000 properties offered by Expedia®, the world’s largest online travel company.

“Delivering our guests superior service is a top priority at Cabo Azul Resort,” said Les Abeyta, Vice President of Marketing. “We are pleased that our efforts have been acknowledged by Expedia travelers and we look forward to extending our high level of service to even more guests. Cabo Azul Resort is also only one of two Los Cabos properties to receive this recognition in 2011”

The 2011 Expedia Insiders’ Select™ list is compiled based on the more than 500,000 annual Guest Reviews collected by Expedia, combined with a value rating and the local market expertise of more than 500 Expedia employees in local markets worldwide, resulting in an easy-to-browse list that provides travelers with a powerful way to find the perfect hotel using the trusted insight of other travelers like them. The list showcases the diverse selection of travel destinations and hotel properties.

For more information about the Insider Select program, visit http://www.expedia.com/insidersselect.

If you are engaged to be married or about to celebrate a special anniversary, Cabo Azul Resort would be happy to have you celebrate your wedding, honeymoon, or anniversary at this award winning resort. Visit http://caboazulresort.com to see what we have to offer. Cabo Azul Resort is a beachfront luxury property at the tip of Baja California and has been awarded a four-diamond rating of excellence from AAA. Our fabulous Corazon chapel, which overlooks the Sea of Cortez, is a purpose built $14 Million open air chapel. It is an architectural gem perfect for your Mexico destination wedding.

Call us toll free (866) 653-9108 to talk to our Celebration Specialist to see if Cabo Azul Resort is right for you. Also, visit http://caboazulresort.com to learn more about our resort.


News From Jimm Budd In Mexico City

Mexican President in Vegas

Addressing the World Travel and Tourism Council in Las Vegas, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that cities like Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans are more dangerous than any place in his own country. While nearly 35,000 people have died as drug smugglers battle each other, the Mexican military and police, the number of tourists caught up in such battles can be counted on the fingers of one hand, Calderon added.

Two for Cozumel

Cozumel Mayor Joaquin Gonzalez has announced that a firm headed by Donald Trump will invest 60 million dollars to build a 1,000-room resort with a golf course and a marina on Mexico’s largest Caribbean island. Hilton, he added, also will be coming in with a 200-room resort being built at a cost of five million dollars. This may be a major change for Cozumel, which was attracting tourists long before anyone had heard of Cancun. Once a favorite with scuba divers, Cozumel lately has become better known as a prime port of call for cruise ships. Almost all resorts on the island now are all-inclusive. What precisely are the plans of The Donald have yet to be announced, but apparently the project will keep him so busy that he cannot run for president.

Airport fees

Passengers may soon be required to pay airport use fees directly, one more step in the check-in process. This will also drive home what few notice: the fee is 14.90 dollars for domestic flights and 18.34 dollars for international travel. How these odd sums are set and why payment is in dollars, not pesos, has yet to be explained. At the moment, airlines collect these fees when selling tickets, but they have not been passing on what they collect to airport management. Aeroméxico is said to owe 130 million pesos. Financially troubled and grounded Aviacsa, which planned to return to the skies earlier tis month, was told that first it must pay the 90 million pesos it collected in fees but ever passed on to the Mexico City airport

Preclearance issue

Once again, the question is being raised about allowing the U.S. Border Protection Service to formally admit to the United States passengers still at Mexican airports. Preclearance, as it is called, is allowed in Canada and several Caribbean countries. It would facilitate direct flights to U. S. cities lacking international airports. Opponents, however, argue that the concept would trample on Mexican sovereignty and that authorization from Congress would be required. Although international travel to Mexico has been declining, observers doubt that Congress – in which no party holds a majority – will do anything to make the current administration look good. However, the airport at Los Cabos announced that next week it will be installing Global Entry kiosks to speed the processing of U. S. passengers who have paid a 100 dollar fee to demonstrate that they are not security risks.

Bidding for the Tianguis

Although Acapulco is still struggling to get back the annual Tianguis Turistico trade show, plans to stage it in different destinations have won wide approval. Acapulco had been the host city since the inception of the event in 1976. Now at least 22 potential hosts have announced their bids. And the winner is…?

More hotels planned

According to the Mexican Hotel Association, 665 million dolars will be invested in the construction of 63 hotels during the next pair of years. This takes into account plans announced by AMResorts, Quinta Inns, City Express, Starwood, the PosadasGroup and Hilton. The Tourism Ministry has announced that more than 900 million dollars were invested in tourism-related projects during the first quarter of 20111. This was an increase of 127 percent over last year.


Mexico City, May 20th, 2011. Aeroméxico, Mexico’s global airline, has announced that it will migrate its reservations and airport check in systems to its new Sabre technological platform between 9 a.m. and 12 midnight Mexico City time this coming Sunday, May 22nd.


The Sabre system will improve Aeroméxico’s customer experience at all points of contact throughout the reservation, ticketing and check in processes.


Aeroméxico kindly requests that its customers purchase their tickets in advance and recommends that passengers traveling on Sunday, May 22nd, be at the airport three hours before their scheduled domestic flight departures, and four hours before their scheduled international flight departures, while also keeping in mind that they will have to be at the boarding gate at least 25 minutes prior to departure.


Customer Service teams at all passenger points of contact, including airports,  and certain processes will be somewhat slow during the stabilization phase, so Grupo Aeroméxico appreciates its passengers’ understanding during this migration to the Sabre system, which will undoubtedly yield great results.

Solmar Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Newest Luxury Property With Grand Opening At Land’s End

Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas Officially Open for Business 
Los Cabos, Mexico (May 19, 2011) – Located at the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula where the Sea of Cortes meets the Pacific Ocean, Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas celebrates its official grand opening on May 21, 2011. Currently accepting reservations, Grand Solmar holds the title of the only new resort opening in Los Cabos this year.The latest offering from Solmar Hotels & Resorts, Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas marks the fifth property owned and operated in Cabo San Lucas by the reputable hotel group.

“Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas offers guests a once in a lifetime experience while setting a new standard of luxury in Cabo” says Ricardo Orozco, Managing Director of Solmar Hotels & Resorts. “No other resort in the destination can lay claim to a setting that is literally at the tip of ‘Land’s End’.”
Set along the naturally exclusive white sand beaches of Playa Solmar, Grand Solmar’s location is matched by none. As a poetic return to the origins of Solmar Hotels & Resorts and the site of the first Solmar Hotel built in the 1970’s, the property’s 119 suites boast unobstructed views of majestic Pacific Ocean and azure waters of the Sea of Cortes. Truly offering “the best of both worlds” Grand Solmar provides guests with a private haven of luxurious relaxation while maintaining the convenience of lively downtown Cabo San Lucas, only minutes away by foot.
An extraordinary selection of world-class features including top-quality accommodations, two oceanfront restaurants, and an expert staff to provide outstanding personalized service, await guests of Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas. With the extraordinary vision of renowned Dallas architecture firm HKS and interior design by Arquitectura De Interiores, the resort celebrates its unparalleled location and blends harmoniously with its surroundings to offer a vacation experience like no other.
In celebration of the grand opening, travelers are encouraged to take advantage of incredible savings offered by Solmar Hotels & Resorts from now through the end of July.  The “Grand Opening Special” includes a discount of up to 50% a stay a minimum four-night stay at Grand Solmar for travel through July 31, 2011 and includes a resort credit of up to $400 to be used for food & beverage purchases on property. Reservations for Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas are available now by calling 1-800-344-3349 or visiting http://www.solmar.com/.
Located on Baja California Sur’s most exclusive and private beach, Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas sets a new standard of luxury in Los Cabos. Perfectly situated at the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, the luxurious property offers unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortes along beautiful white sand beaches. Guests at Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa Cabo San Lucas are treated with infinite hospitality in the form of plush accommodations, full service spa, beauty salon, fitness center, tennis courts, business center, 24-hour check-in and security, concierge, heated pools and Jacuzzis, laundry valet, child care services, certified romance coordinator, 24-hour in-villa dining, daily turn down service and much more. For more information on Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa, please visit http://www.solmar.com/,

The Villa Group Brings Luxury to Loreto with the Grand Opening of Villa Del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto

Pristine beaches and ecotourism adventures await travelers at the new Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa at the Islands of Loreto. Located in Baja California South, the resort offers 181 spacious suites (studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom villas as well as an Ambassador Suite, Royal Suite and Presidential four-bedroom Suites) with views of the sparkling Sea of Cortez. Future developments include tennis courts and a 35,000 square-foot state-of-the-art fitness center and spa, which will open this summer.

Loreto was named the number eight destination to visit in a recent New York Times “Where to Go in 2011” article. Just a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles, Calif., this ecological wonderland is home to one of the world’s largest marine parks and the oldest colonial town on the peninsula.

The resort faces Danzante Island and is surrounded by the majestic Sierra de la Giganta Mountains. With the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez, a unique turtle-shaped pool and the largest Jacuzzi in the entire Baja California South, Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa at the Islands of Loreto offers a variety of water activities including snorkeling, kayaking and scuba diving. The resort also offers ecological activities such as mountain hiking, climbing, camping and much more in the Bay of Loreto, home to close to 900 species of reef-dwelling and migratory fish.

“Loreto is one of Mexico’s most incredible hidden gems,” said Villa Group Resort partner Luz Maria Torres. “We’re elated to open Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto and welcome travelers to such a magical place.”

Villa del Palmar is the only five-star resort in the area and the first property in the Villa Group Resort’s planned 1,800-acre development in Loreto, “Danzante Bay,” which will include seven resort hotels, 240 home sites, additional restaurants and a Rees Jones golf course.

Guests can receive the third and fifth nights free with special summer rates starting at $208 per night, based on double occupancy. They can also book an “Ultra-Inclusive” getaway including meals, beverages, golf and many outdoor activities starting at $350 per night, based on double occupancy – reflecting a 30 percent discount. These rates are valid for bookings from now through October 31, 2011.

For reservations or more information about Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa at the Islands of Loreto, call (888) 844-8169 or visit http://www.villadelpalmarloreto.com.

About The Villa Group

The Villa Group was founded in 1984 and is one of Mexico’s leading privately owned hotel, resort and real estate development companies. Their portfolio includes beachfront destination resorts, exclusive vacation ownership, and fractional and full ownership luxury real estate developments. The collection includes: Cabo San Lucas – Villa La Estancia, Villa del Arco and Villa del Palmar; Puerto Vallarta – Villa del Palmar; Riviera Nayarit – Villa del Palmar Flamingos and Villa La Estancia; Cancun – Villa del Palmar; The Islands of Loreto – Villa del Palmar. For more information visit www.VillaGroupResorts.com. Follow Villa Group Resorts on www.facebook.com/villagroup and www.twitter.com/villagroup.