Category Archives: Travel Features

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Montecito Beach Village – Step into the Dream in Huatulco

By: Lisa Coleman

Flip through the pages of Architectural Digest or Robb Report and you’ll see that Mexico’s luxury villa market is making an impact. Quietly carving out a niche for distinguished buyers from around world, Mexico is on the move. Second home seekers and wealthy expats have discovered the beauty and perfection that can be found along some of most breathtaking beaches in the country. Ultra exclusive communities in Punta Mita (near Puerto Vallarta), Cabo San Lucas (Baja California), and Costa Careyes (between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo) are known worldwide by a discerning clientele. But it’s a small, unique development called Montecito in the beach town of Huatulco that is defining extraordinary.

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Huatulco is far different from its high profile companions. Considered and developed as an “ecotourism” resort in the early 1970’s, 70% of Huatulco is made up of ecological preserves. In 1988, then President Ernesto Zedillo converted most of the area’s preserves into a giant national park (protecting both land and marine life).  Huatulco prides itself in being a totally “green” resort. Mexico’s FONATUR (National Trust for Tourism Development), who built the resort town, still ensures that all new projects meet certain standards in order to maintain Huatulco’s Green Globe status.

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At the center of Huatulco’s allure are a series of nine spectacular bays notched into 21 miles of shoreline hosting 36 beaches, countless inlets and coves, and arguably some of the most remarkable coastline on the Pacific. The main areas are: Tangolunda Bay, home to the big name resorts, an 18-hole golf course, and a smattering of nightlife. The bay of Santa Cruz has a bustling marina, an intimate village with beachside restaurants and bars, plenty of shops and a cruise ship dock. And, Chahue Bay (CHAH-way) located between the other two, with a marina, lots of new high-end condo projects and a public beach. About a mile inland, the charming hamlet of La Crucecita is a slice of pure Mexico. With a colorful and quaint town square, plenty of inviting restaurants and bars, a few excellent fresh seafood stalls to pick up the daily catch, and a brand new grocery store, the infrastructure is solidly in place. It’s not unusual to see a jet or two parked at palapa-topped international airport.

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Located at the east end of the resort on a private peninsula, Montecito Beach Village is an unforgettable collection of 2, 3 & 4 bedroom beach and oceanfront Villas. This low-density (only 30 Villas in total when complete) 12-acre masterpiece is quickly becoming one of the most notable developments in Mexico. Touching the shores of two beaches and hosting phenomenal views, Montecito is at home on an incredible piece of land. Designed by famed Mexican architect, Diego Villaseñor, whose past works include the Four Seasons in Punta Mita and the Four Seasons in the Dominican Republic (to name a couple), Montecito’s impeccable style was developed to promote sustainable, elegant coastal living.

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Project Director and Managing Partner, Greg Glassman, describes the concept that makes Montecito so special, “We integrate the natural environment into the human habitat. We have created this development with minimal impact and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to develop such a unique community on this land. We are careful to protect and preserve all the flora and fauna on the property and create each Villa with nature in mind.”  Glassman further describes, “We strive to not only integrate our Village into the natural environment but the cultural environment as well. This kind of living experience can’t be found anywhere else.”

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And, I’d have to agree. There is an intrinsic perfection to everything here. “Architecture is about the art of living and the way to construct the human habitat,” says architect Diego Villaseñor. “I create spaces that resound in the soul and imagination, that give human beings a sense of protection, freedom and a place to be with themselves.”  Having spent time at Montecito, I can confidently say it’s a one-of-a-kind development.  It’s where I wander in awe and step into my own dream. This is the ultimate in beachside living. They haven’t missed a thing. Every detail is in place and every inch of the property is thought out.  It’s among the best of the best. For me, Montecito is a probably just a dream I can visit when I’m in Huatulco, but for those who can make a place like this a reality, they shouldn’t miss the opportunity.

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Montecito’s Phases 1 and 2 are in the process of completion. These phases will be comprised of 15 villas, two clubs (the Cala Beach Club and the hilltop Loma Lounge), and the management buildings.  Lifestyle perks include daily housekeeping, gardening, maintenance, pool cleaning, concierge, and cooking services.  Prices start at $1.2 million and they have already built and sold 5 villas in the past year.  (If you just want a taste, some of the villas at Montecito are available for rent. You can get info on the website. )

For more information visit: www.montecito.mx.

Could The Pyramid Of The Sun Pancake?

The great city, now archaeological site, of Teotihuacan was built 1,000 years before the Aztecs occupied it. It was one of the great cities of the world before 1400 and was inhabited by 100,000 people. It covered 8 square miles, but scientists claim that only about 5% has been excavated. No one is certain who built it, but it continues to be one of Mexico’s most popular attractions.

But now scientists are reporting that the main structure, the magnificent Pyramid of the Sun, maybe be in danger of collapse. Ironically, an attempt in the 1070s to preserve is might have backfired. Read more about it here

http://www.sandiegored.com/noticias/49935/Mexico-s-Pyramid-of-the-Sun-in-danger-of-collapse/

Hacienda Los Laureles – A Oaxacan Gem

By: Lisa Coleman

One of my all time favorite Mariachi songs is called “Volver, Volver.” Loosely translated the title means “Come back, Come back,” and it symbolizes what I feel every time I leave Mexico. My heart always aches a bit and the words to that song run through my head. There is something remarkable about returning to a place that touches your soul. It’s never like the first time; it’s better. There’s a touch of familiarity that gives the impression of being welcomed back home. That’s how I felt about coming back to Oaxaca and Hacienda Los Laureles.

On a map, the state of Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) can be found about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City. The entire region is filled with both natural and cultural beauty, but the centerpiece of the state is the magical Oaxaca City. Founded in 1532, the city is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range and sits atop a highland plateau some 5,000 feet above sea level. And though the city is densely populated, it remains unusually intimate. Easily explored on foot, it has the warm and inviting pace of a village. There is a certain energy that radiates from the people and buildings, almost as if the past remains in the present. The city is widely considered one of the finest displays of Spanish colonial architecture in the entire country and was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1987. A total of 1,200 historic monuments remain throughout the city and surrounding areas.

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The charming and elegant Hacienda Los Laureles is located a quick 8 to 10 minutes from the zócalo (city center).  Tucked away in the foothills, this hotel is a real gem.  Built in the early 1800s, the property maintains its grand colonial style, while offering all the modern amenities. My first visit to the hacienda was back in 2001, and I was happy to discover it was even more beautiful upon my return. The lush and manicured gardens had matured even more and are now filled with blooming flowers along with huge cypress and mango trees. To add to the natural peacefulness of the grounds, a symphony of singing birds can be heard throughout the foliage.

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From the moment you arrive, it will feel as though you are in your own private hacienda. With a total of only 23 guest rooms (including four master suites and presidential suite), the service is very personal. Owner, Peter Kaiser, tells me, “We want our guests to have a unique experience here so the staff is always available to cater to their needs.” Peter has built his reputation on attention to detail and understands the importance of “the little things” that make a hotel experience memorable.  Los Laureles is a member of the exclusive Mexico Boutique Hotels group, and received Four Diamonds from AAA. In addition, the hacienda was bestowed with the Tesoro (Treasure) Award from the Oaxaca State Government and an “M” from the Tourism Ministry presented by the previous Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevarra. The “M” is for “Modern,” but obtaining it requires exhaustive training and inspection.

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Each room and suite has its own look and feel. Keeping true to its historical roots, heavy wood furniture is accented with Mexican handicrafts, bursts of color and fresh flowers. The suites have big, comfortable beds and plenty of space. Everything feels special here. We were in Oaxaca celebrating my 50th birthday, so when we checked in, our bed was adorned with rose petals spelling out “Feliz Cumpleaños” (Happy Birthday).  It was such a nice touch. There are small tables and chairs just outside your door are the ideal place to sip some coffee and take in the beauty of the garden and grounds. If you need a bit more pampering, stop into the Le Petit Spa for a memorable massage or refreshing facial. Or, take a spiritual journey in the temazcal. A “temazcal” is a traditional Mexican steam bath similar to the Native American sweat lodge. Los Laureles has a small one on the property that will fit three people. Ask at the spa for details.

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Though there are plenty of wonderful restaurants in Oaxaca, I must say that one of the finest in town can be found at the hotel – Los Cipreses. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a candlelit table set in the garden and treated to an extraordinary meal. In fact, we were so impressed with the service and the food that we ate dinner on the property two out of the three nights of our stay. Chef Horacio Reyes is brilliant. Offerings range from the tasty Camarones a la Oaxaqueña (Oaxacan style shrimp with onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomato, mezcal and white wine) and an expertly prepared Filete de Res del Bosque (Filet mignon with mushrooms and herbs) to the amazing Ensalada de Nopales (sliced cactus with peeled tomatoes, onions and avocado) and the Canasta de Chapulines al Cilantro (basket of grasshoppers with coriander, garlic, onion tomato with guacamole and tortillas). Yes, I said “grasshoppers.” They are a very famous dish in Oaxaca and a “must try.” Don’t worry, you will be pleasantly surprised! In addition, the Chef offers cooking classes that will give you insight into these unforgettable dishes.

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During our stay, their was a private birthday party being set  up. The tent and tables were festive and flawless. The hacienda is well known for hosting special events, meetings and gorgeous weddings. If you’re looking for an intimate and off-the-beaten-path place for your ceremony, you might want to add Los Laureles to your consideration list.

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 The hacienda is also a premiere location to use as a jumping off spot to explore the region. The front desk can call for a taxi for trips in and out of the city and arrange any kind of tour (private or group) with an English-speaking driver/guide. Be sure to study up on the area so you know what you’d like to see, but I would certainly recommend the archeological sites of Monte Albán and Mitla, and the artisan village of San Martin Tilcajete.

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Monte Alban

My return trip to Oaxaca and Hacienda Los Laureles was outstanding. The service was brilliant, the room was perfect and I felt as if I was coming home. This is a place I know I will return to again and again and I know it will always be magical. For more information contact Sylvie Laitre at Mexico Boutique Hotels (sylvie@mexicoboutiquehotels.com ).

Huatulco and Las Palmas – A Match made in Heaven

By: Lisa Coleman

Santorini, Greece – Interlaken and Lucerne, Switzerland – Positano, Italy – The Himalayas – these are a few of the destinations that make my short list of “no matter how you imagined it, it’s better.” After my recent trip to Oaxaca for my 50th birthday, it’s time to add a couple more to the list: Huatulco and the ocean front villas and casitas at Las Palmas.

As a writer, I have the rare opportunity to travel through Mexico in search of paradise. I have found hundreds of amazing destinations throughout this marvelous country, but from the heart, I can tell you Huatulco is simply one of the best beach resorts in the entire country, and Las Palmas one of most perfect places where I’ve had a chance to stay… and that’s a tall order. There is a certain inexplicable magic here, a laid back sweetness if you will, all wrapped in the inviting smiles of the local people who are always happy you chose their charming, yet isolated, gem of a beach town on the Pacific.

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In the early 1970’s, the Mexican government embarked on an ambitious plan to develop tourism through a series of integrated master-planned beach resorts. FONATUR, which is the National Trust for Tourism Development (Fondo Nacional del Fomento al Turismo), was responsible for the blockbuster resorts of Cancun, Ixtapa and Los Cabos, as well as the lesser-known communities of Loreto and the Bahías de Huatulco (the Bays of Huatulco, which has been shortened to simply “Huatulco.”) Nonetheless, their loss is your gain. The very fact that it hasn’t exploded with tourism is exactly what makes it so very special. Huatulco is far different from its high profile companions. Considered and developed as an “ecotourism” resort, 70% of Huatulco is made up of ecological preserves. In 1988, then President Ernesto Zedillo converted most of Huatulco’s preserves into a giant national park (protecting both land and marine life).  They pride themselves in being a totally “green” resort. FONATUR still controls all local land sales within the development and ensures that all new projects meet certain standards in order to maintain Huatulco’s Green Globe status.

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    At the center of it all are a series of nine spectacular bays notched into 21 miles of shoreline hosting 36 beaches, countless inlets and coves, and arguably some of the most extraordinary coastline on the Pacific. The crystal clear water, and usually sparsely populated golden sand beaches, somehow don’t feel like a tourist destination. It all seems a bit more secluded and private. And since some of the bays and beaches are only accessible by boat, everything remains as nature intended. I wouldn’t usually recommend much snorkeling on some parts of the Pacific coast, but rest assured you won’t be disappointed here.

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In my opinion, there just aren’t a lot of places like this left in the world. There is just enough development here to give you anything and everything you want in a beach resort, and just enough off-the-beaten-path remoteness to keep it off most tourists’ radar. Of the nine bays that were slated for development, only six have “visitor facilities.” The main areas are: Tangolunda Bay, home to the big resorts, an 18-hole golf course, a smattering of nightlife and a little resort shopping. The bay of Santa Cruz, with a good-sized marina, an intimate little village with beachside restaurants and bars, plenty of shops and an often-deserted cruise ship dock. And, Chahue Bay (CHAH-way), located between the two above, sports another marina, lots of new high-end condo projects and a public beach. About a mile inland, the charming little town of La Crucecita is a slice of pure Mexico. With a colorful and quaint town square, plenty of inviting restaurants and bars, a few excellent fresh seafood stalls to pick up the daily catch, and a very well-stocked grocery store (the Súper Che) that takes U.S. dollars and gives change in pesos at a great rate… what more do you need?

Well, you need an amazing place to stay… and that’s the subtle, refined, and perfectly done Las Palmas. Since we were looking for a villa, my good friend Sylvie Laitre, who owns and operates Mexico Boutique Hotels, made the recommendation. A quick glance at the endless 5-star reviews on Trip Advisor and it was an easy sell. I was put in contact with the darling and incredibly efficient manager, Courtney Glassman. Her title, Director of Escapes, is very appropriate. She is the ideal hostess and makes sure everything is in perfect order before you arrive.

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Las Palmas has a prestigious location, perched on a cliff with incomparable views of Violin Bay on one side and Santa Cruz Bay on the other.  Just five minutes from La Crucecita and 15 minutes from the Tangolunda Golf Club, you won’t spend more than $6 USD to get anywhere in the area. (Taxis are plentiful and happy to wait for you at the grocery store.) With a total of five casitas and three villas, Las Palmas has the look and feel of an expertly designed Mexican estate. Owners, Ron and Jackie Williams, saw it as just that. Ron told me, “We came down here in 2001 with another couple. We had always wanted something tropical but had been leaning towards Hawaii. On our fourth day in Huatulco we saw the beach at Violin Bay from the road, looked up at the cliff and, even though it was all jungle, knew this was the place.”  Ron and Jackie tell their story with such love and passion that their energy can’t help but flow into the property.  “We took a boat around to the bay and looked at the property by sea. We wired the money as fast as we could.”

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Over the course of the next several months and years, the vision of Las Palmas began to develop. There was infrastructure in place with fresh water and electricity available at the street. They interviewed three different architects and finally decided on Gontran Orozco Canales, who Ron and Jackie affectionately call the “contractor from heaven.” The doors opened to the Turtle Bay and Dolphin Cove Villas in 2007, the casitas followed in 2008 and the House of the Rising Sun villa in 2009. And since the beginning, it’s been all about the guests. “We have so many repeat guests that are like family to us now,” Jackie says. “The same five couples come every year and we arrange our big bookings (which are weddings) around our regulars,” Ron boasts with a smile. “It’s just soulful here and we do our best to make it unforgettable for everyone.” From where I sit, I’d say they have certainly succeeded in doing just that.

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Even though there were only four of us, we went all out and opted for the Dolphin Cove Villa. As many times as I looked at the pictures on their website in the months before we left, it was even more breathtaking when we arrived. We kept staring at each other in disbelief. The open-air dining room and living room flowed seamlessly to the negative edge pool that seemed to connect to the Pacific horizon. The view… well, check out some of the photos and I think you’ll agree it’s quite breathtaking. Our concierge, Talina, was waiting for us at the villa to offer her services for anything we might need – excursions, private massages, restaurant reservations, etc.

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All three of the villas are gigantic and everything is wide open. Each has four suites, making them ideal for both couples and families. Daily housekeeping service and a grounds keeper ensure you feel completely spoiled. There is also the option of having your meals prepared daily – TAKE IT! DO IT! There are few things more decadent than waking up and having fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and fruit waiting for you on your poolside terrace. Follow that with a ridiculously delicious traditional Mexican breakfast and every day is off to a superb start. There are countless options for things to do and see if you’re feeling ambitious, but I can promise you’ll be hard pressed to leave the glorious sanctuary of your own pool over the Pacific.

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To enjoy the beach on Violin Bay, it’s a short, and not particularly steep, hike down to the usually deserted shore. The snorkeling is great and you’ll feel as though you have the ocean all to yourself. There is another fantastic swimming and snorkeling beach, La Entrega, that is also an easy walk from the property. There are a number of little restaurants there so bring some pesos. Avid snorkelers can also take a bay tour that brings you into some remote beaches by boat.

I’d like to tell you we ventured out and explored more, but we are saving that for our return trip. This trip was dedicated to pure relaxation and soul rejuvenation. It was also about sleeping in, taking an hour and half to eat breakfast, cruising to the Súper Che to pick up wine and other goodies, napping, swimming, reading and stuffing ourselves with fresh ceviche prepared for us daily by the incomparable Margarita (our angelic and splendid cook, housekeeper and professional happy person).  They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I am quite sure after checking out some of these you’re already planning your trip here… and you should be!

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Ron also gave us a tour of a couple of the casitas. They were all full at the time, but the other guests welcomed us with open arms to take a peek. The five casitas all have one-bedroom suites with ocean views and share a pool and a cozy common area with tables where everyone meets, greets and enjoys breakfast and afternoon snacks (featuring the best homemade guacamole ever!).  If you must (and I did) check email, there is free WiFi there too. A lot of people we met had been coming for years, and it was just as Ron described, like being part of a family.  (And, if you’re considering planning your wedding in Mexico, look no further, as this would be an unforgettable spot.)

A quick shout out to a local restaurant we visited in Tangolunda: We did actually leave our private paradise to sample some local fare with Ron and Jackie. There are a lot of expats here and one of their favorite hangs is the exceptional Cafe Vienna. The colorful Austrian owners, Manfred and Helmut, serve an unusual and delectable fusion of Austrian and Thai cuisine. It was excellent food and service and the only time in my life I have eaten expertly prepared European schnitzel in Mexico!

Trust me when I tell you I could ramble on and on about this place… and I most likely will in some following posts. Suffice to say, you’ll love it here. I promise. There are few times in life when reality meets your expectations. A visit to Huatulco and a stay at Las Palmas may very well be one of them.

For more information visit their website at www.laspalmashuatulco.com or email Courtney at courtney@laspalmashuatulco.com

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* Professional photos courtesy of Las Palmas (Only the two of the bay from above and this last one are mine!)

Turning 50 in Oaxaca – A Celebration of the Senses

By: Lisa Coleman

20 years ago I sat on the shores of Playa la Ropa in Zihuatanejo celebrating my 30th birthday. My dear friend from Switzerland told me she had planned a party on the beach. It sounded great, but since this was a new destination for me, turns out she was the only person I knew when I arrived at my own fiesta. A gorgeous table covered with plates of fresh fish, flowers and gifts came courtesy of the locals – people I’d never met, friends I didn’t even know I had.  A trio of musicians stood in the sand and serenaded me with song after song. By the time the evening was over, I had fallen even more in love with Mexico and the extraordinary people that embraced this stranger with smiles, laughter and kindness. It was pure magic. It was pure Mexico.

At the time, I had only been working in Mexico for a few years and had yet to discover the many gifts this magnificent country would continue to give me.  Nonetheless, I knew immediately I was drawn to the country’s more off-the-beaten path places:  the more intimate locales filled with culture and beauty, and the towns and villages enjoyed by the traveler rather than the tourist.  As my 50th birthday loomed on the horizon (and I don’t say that lightly!), I knew in my heart the only place to celebrate this milestone would be my favorite place on earth: Mexico. But where? So many choices, so many memories…  it was difficult to pin such an occasion on a single destination. After much contemplating, I decided to make it a combo adventure – my favorite colonial city and a beach town I’d always wanted to see. And so the wheels were in motion for a trip to the state of Oaxaca.

Photo by Josh Slocum
Photo by Josh Slocum

If you’ve spent much time traveling Mexico, you know this country is a chameleon. Every state shows a different color, every region a unique energy, and every local culture a special tradition. The only constant is diversity… And so it is with the Mexican state of Oaxaca. As intriguing as its name, Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) is one of the most unusual and dynamic places in all of Mexico. On a map, the state of Oaxaca can be found about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City. Its stunning Pacific coastline is home to the remarkable beach resort of Huatulco (more on that later), but the centerpiece of the state is the magical Oaxaca City. Founded in 1532, the city is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range and sits atop an arid highland plateau some 5,000 feet above sea level. And though the city is densely populated, it remains unusually intimate. Easily explored on foot, it has the warm and inviting pace of a village. There is a certain energy that radiates from the people and buildings, almost as if the past remains in the present. The streets resemble a brightly colored painting, enticing aromas fill the air and music abounds… everything looks and feels like a celebration.

When it came down to planning, I reached out to my good friend, Sylvie Laitre, who owns and operates Mexico Boutique Hotels. For me, MBH is simply the best of the best. Sylvie personally chooses each property in the collection and there is something enchanting about staying in a boutique setting rather than a big chain hotel. The service is unprecedented and the feel and experience are completely different.  Over the years, as I have become a savvier traveler, I completely embrace “small property” hospitality, attention to detail and personal touch – especially in Mexico.

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My birthday digs in Oaxaca City would be at the exquisite Hacienda Los Laureles located just a few minutes (five to eight at most and about $4 USD) by taxi outside the center of town. I had stayed here once before (on one of my first trips to Mexico with my husband), so the property holds special meaning for me. With a total of only 23 rooms and suites, Los Laureles is the ideal combination of traditional Mexican style and classic colonial elegance. You feel as though you are in your own private hacienda, complete with lush gardens, towering cypress trees, outstanding service and one of the best restaurants in town. Nestled in the mountain foothills, the hotel maintains its 19th century charm. The owner, Peter Kaiser, makes it his personal goal to ensure every guest feels at home. The evening we arrived, a “Feliz Cumpleaños” was written in flower petals on our bed, and a candlelit dinner was planned for us in the garden. It was a wonderful beginning to my birthday adventure, and the rest of our stay was equally as flawless. (Stay tuned for a more detailed feature story on Hacienda Los Laureles coming soon.)

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Monte Alban

The highlight of any trip to Oaxaca is going to be a visit to the majestic archeological site of Monte Albán.  Indigenous tribes of Zapotec and Mixtec inhabited the area for centuries and built mighty stone cities that flourished for thousands of years. Over 2,500 years ago, the Zapotecs built the holy city of Monte Albán on a hilltop overlooking the Valley of Oaxaca. The view is nothing short of spectacular and whether you’re an archeological buff or not, this will be well worth the visit. We had a fantastic guide, Suzanne Barbezat, from Discover Oaxaca Tours . She and her husband, Benito Hernández, offer six different day trips around the area, and will also customize excursions to fit your personal needs. Benito is Zapotec and has lived most of his life in Oaxaca City so he offers prolific knowledge on culture, tradition and history. Suzanne comes to Oaxaca via Canada. She first visited in 1997 and fell in love with Benito (and Oaxaca!). She is completely bilingual, holds a degree in anthropology, and is the writer and editor for About.com’s Mexico Travel website . They are quite the impassioned pair about anything and everything Oaxaca, and I recommend them highly.  (If you love bird watching, Benito also does birding tours—visit www.birdingoaxaca.com)

Suzanne and Benito
Suzanne and Benito

After a memorable day at Monte Albán, it was time for the main event: a birthday dinner at the famous Casa Oaxaca Restaurant. I selected this restaurant based on the location (just steps from the Santo Domingo church in the city center), the ambiance (simple and romantic with wood tables and towering white stucco ceiling), the awesome rooftop bar, and of course, the exceptional cuisine provided by world-renowned chef, Alejandro Ruiz Olmeda. Known for his creative dishes, Chef Alejandro has populated the menu with everything from expertly prepared rack of lamb, duck in green agave sauce and venison in yellow mole, to traditional Oaxacan specialties and fresh herbed octopus and grilled fish.Our party of eight enjoyed bottle after bottle of Mexican and Spanish selections from the extensive wine list while listening to a trio of musicians playing Mexican favorites. All was as it should be in Mexico – great friends, great food, and great wine, all wrapped up in cozy restaurant.

All too soon it was time to head south to the beach for the last leg of the celebration. We hopped on Aerotucan’s 8-seater commuter for our 45-minute flight to Huatulco (wah-TOOL-co). You can take a bus or rent a car, but you’re in for six to eight hours of winding roads. Despite the steep price tag, it’s certainly the fastest and best way to connect the cities. Of all the resorts in Mexico, I had never been to Huatulco; lucky for me it looks like I saved the best for last. This 21-mile stretch of coastline with nine pristine bays and beaches was one of the most striking beach destinations in Mexico that I’d ever seen. Anchored by the charming little town of La Crucecita, Huatulco was developed by Mexico’s tourism fund (FONATUR) and was designed to be a major Pacific coast resort community. Nonetheless, it has remained small and almost undiscovered… which, to me, is a good thing.

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I had also worked with Sylvie from Mexico Boutique Hotels on a location in Huatulco and she recommended Hotel Las Palmas. After a quick look at their website, and some communications with their amazing staff, it was an easy choice. We were met at Huatulco’s “palapa-topped” airport and were greeted by hotel transportation. The service was spot on from the instant we arrived. When we got to the Dolphin Cove Villa at Las Palmas, it was nothing short of astonishing. I don’t use that word often, but that’s the only description that really sums it up. Our massive 4-bedroom/4-bath villa had an open-air living area, huge kitchen and negative-edge pool overlooking the picturesque Violina Bay and beach. Even though we were there in the dry season it was incredibly beautiful. Owners Ron and Jackie Williams came to Huatulco on a trip from Lake Tahoe in 2001. They took one look at the area and knew they had to realize their dream and build a hotel overlooking the Pacific. Well, their dream turned out to be my dream come true too, as you won’t find many places in Mexico as breathtaking as this. With a total of five casitas and three villas, Las Palmas feels more like a giant private home rather than a hotel. At the risk of overstating the obvious, it was perfect.  (Stay tuned for a full feature story on Las Palmas and Huatulco coming up as well.)023

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about turning 50. But, I can tell you this: turning 50 in Oaxaca is the way to go. Thank you, Mexico. Thank you for reaching into my soul and giving me so many gifts of so many memories. I look forward to the next 50 and continuing to discover your treasures.

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Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors Takes Its Colorful Circus-like Wrestling Shows On Tour

Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors United We Stand Tour http://luchalibreusa.com.  (PRNewsFoto/Lucha Libre USA)
Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors United We Stand Tour http://luchalibreusa.com. (PRNewsFoto/Lucha Libre USA)

United We Stand Tour Brings Family-Friendly Entertainment To Fans On National Tour

Bigger, badder, better—and even more popular. The Lucha Libre USA phenomenon, the immensely entertaining brand of wrestling born in Mexico and transplanted to the U.S., continues to grow, especially in the Hispanic community. Beginning April 12, Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors will embark on a national United We Stand. The tour will makes its way to major arenas in Houston, San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin, Laredo, San Antonio, Chicago and Dallas.

The fight over good and evil spills into the ring with the larger-than-life, legendary Luchastars Blue Demon Jr. and his former nemesis Solar taking on their American counterparts RJ Brewer and his group, The Right. The matches pit Mexican and American wrestling styles as well as churning up conflicts as cultures clash.

Brewer’s in-your-face, belligerent anti-illegal immigration stance has made him the villain Lucha Libre USA’s large concentration of Latino fans love to hate. Brewer was recently profiled on ABC’s “Nightline.” The ever-defiant Brewer has spawned a slew of copycats in other wrestling organizations but none has gained his notoriety or ability to rouse a crowd. One of his opponents Solar is one of the most revered of Mexico’s luchadores and his career was the subject of an award-winning PBS documentary.

Among the celebrated Luchastars joining the “United We Stand” tour is Marco Corleone, known as the International All-Star. The American-born Corleone, a former WWE wrestler who moved to Mexico to pursue his love of the Lucha style of wrestling, is a huge star in Mexico not only as a famous Luchador but also as one of the two lead actors in Mexico’s hottest telenovella, Porque el Amor Manda airing on Televisa TV. Playing the big villain on the show, soon Corleone will be seen by millions in America as the beloved telenovella premiered March 11 th on Univision Television.

Outside the ropes, Lucha Libre USA is fighting a different battle. In each of the cities on the United We Stand Tour, wrestlers are carrying an anti-bullying message to schools. They’re using their superstardom to convince mainly elementary school youngsters that bullying is unacceptable. “Hearing the message from such their heroes really drives the point home,” says Alex Abrahantes, Lucha Libre USA’s Vice President. “The campaign is our way of giving back to the community.”

Lucha Libre USA has become well known for its interactive, fan and family-friendly spin on sports entertainment, encouraging its followers to attend events dressed up as their favorite Luchastar, awarding prizes for the best costume, loudest supporter and the most creative sign. Free preshow activities get the crowd energized and people who purchase VIP tickets have the opportunity to attend an exclusive meet and greet with the wrestlers.

“We see our events as a non-stop fan party,” says Lucha Libre USA’s CEO Steven Ship. “We want you to be totally engaged from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave.”

The United We Stand tour line up will include a bigger roster of stars, including Blue Demon Jr., RJ Brewer, Lizmark Jr., The Firewall Jon Rekon, Stevie Richards, Psicosis, El Hijo Del Fantasma, Super Crazy, Super Nova, Pequeno Halloween, Mascara Purpura, Solar, Melina, and Shane “Hurricane” Helms and many more.

In several cities, Lucha Libre USA: Masked Warriors will also partner with Univision Radio on promotional events. Additional sponsors for potions of the tour include Volaris Airlines and Curacao, the West Coast based electronic and appliance retailers.

Lucha Libre USA is the only company in America dedicated entirely to Mexican pro wrestling. Almost a religion in Mexico, where it rivals soccer in attendance, lucha libre (free wrestling) boasts a 75-year history of colorful, fun-for-the-whole family entertainment. With over 50 million Hispanics living in the U.S. and a huge contingent of American wrestling fans, the spirited, action-packed spectacular is literally growing by leaps and bounds. Defying gravity with highly athletic, thoroughly exhilarating moves, the 2013 United We Stand Tour brings Mexican wresting to an entirely new level. http://luchalibreusa.com/

2013 UNITED WE STAND TOUR
Houston, TX
San Jose, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Phoenix, AZ
Austin, TX
Laredo, TX
San Antonio, TX
Chicago, IL
Dallas, TX

Get Ready for Whale Season in Baja with RED Sustainable Travel

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism” ~ Albert Einstein

Tis almost the season… whale season that is. Mexico and marine life have a very specific bond, and there are few places where it is felt more strongly than along the coasts of the Baja Peninsula. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Cortés on the other, this is one of the best locations anywhere to witness nature’s magnificent wonders. The Sea of Cortés is one of the world’s unique ocean environments, and is considered by some to be the most biologically rich body of water on earth. In late December through the end of March, it also happens to be one of the premiere whale watching destinations in the world.

RED Sustainable Travel makes its home in La Paz, which means “peace” in Spanish. This is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and is the second largest city south of Tijuana on the Baja Peninsula. La Paz is also arguably the ecotourism capital of North America. Just outside the city itself are countless deserted beaches, calm bays and ecologically pure offshore islands. The region’s complex wildlife, plant life, and geology are truly astonishing. More than 850 species of marine life make their home in its temperate waters. Colonies of sea lions, pods of Humpback, Blue, Sperm, Fin and seasonal migrating Gray whales are a very common site.

Each year an estimated 12,000 of the world’s 21,000 Gray whales make a 6,000-mile journey to bear their calves in the warm waters of the Pacific lagoons to the north of Los Cabos. From there, many continue south, veering around the tip of the Baja into the crystal waters of the Sea of Cortés. Here they find peace and freedom and provide whale-watchers with incredible thrills. At birth, the pacific gray whale is approximately 15 feet long. As adults, their average length can be from 40 to 46 feet (about the same as a Greyhound bus!), and they can weigh up to 35 tons. They spend their summers northwest of Alaska in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas before making their way toward Mexico for the winter. The journey to Mexican waters is a lengthy trip for the gray whales that travel in pods as small as three whales and as large as sixteen members. Though they only swim at about five miles per hour, they are extremely agile. Diving as deep as 500 feet, they can stay under water for up to 30 minutes. Since they are mammals and surface to breathe, they have two blowholes near the top of their heads. You can hear them spouting from nearly a half a mile away and the stream of water shooting from their blowhole can rise 10-13 feet above the surface.

In the sheltered lagoons of the Baja, the calves learn survival skills and gain strength by swimming against the ocean currents flowing into the calmer waters. The calves weigh around 3,000 pounds and are about 19 feet long when they are ready to leave.  RED’s whale tours take place in Magdalena Bay, which is one of the most famous breeding lagoons in the area and it’s not uncommon for the “friendlies,” as they’re called, to approach the small boats (“pangas”) of whale watchers. The sweet-tempered leviathans often approach the boats and welcome a gentle rub from humans… truly extraordinary. It’s an encounter with nature not easily duplicated. The Magdalena Bay area comprises the largest wetland ecosystem on the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula and is considered one of the most important in North America. The Bay not only provides a vital calving area for the Gray whale, but is also feeding grounds for several species of endangered marine turtles. There are mangrove forests, barrier beaches and sand dune islands, contributing to the incredible scenery and diverse biological makeup of the zone. The Bay harbors the continent’s northernmost breeding colony of magnificent frigate, the southernmost breeding site for threatened bald eagles, a large nesting colony of the endangered California brown pelican, and one of the largest California sea lion colonies on the Pacific coast of the peninsula.

There are a number of tour operators in the area, but RED takes a particularly unique approach to nature-based travel. According to their website, “RED Sustainable Travel was founded in 2009 upon the idea that conservation and socioeconomic well-being go hand in hand.  Since its founding, the RED project has shattered paradigms, changed lives, and created natural resource stewards in rural communities throughout northwest Mexico.  RED takes conservation projects – such as sea turtle monitoring – and turns them into Conservation Adventures, along the way creating sustainable economic alternatives (to poaching, for instance) to local communities along northwest México. As part of these efforts, RED fosters direct support for conservation work and community development (such as cash or volunteer time), and promotes a model of tourism for the region based on natural resource preservation.”

RED works with TourRadar (a social platform for organized group tours) to offer the upcoming GRAY WHALE AND SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION ADVENTURE. This is one not to be missed and incorporates working with the sea turtles as well. (Five species of sea turtle are at home along the Baja peninsula. This area provides both nesting habitat and vital feeding grounds for turtles from as far away as Japan and Indonesia.)

Description: This tour will start and end in La Paz. Experience the wonder of the gray whales, on this 5-day expedition in scenic Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula where  come to mate and give birth to their calves before returning north towards the Bering Sea. You will also take part in a sea turtle conservation project recognized around the world as a model for community based conservation. From your secluded base camp on a tiny shell island, learn about the importance of the green sea turtle’s survival and the role local fishermen play in the species’ recovery, before heading out in pangas to capture and release turtles after recording vital data.

Activities: Gray whales, Sea turtle monitoring, mangrove exploration, dune hikes, cultural interaction, bird watching, star gazing, gourmet cuisine. For more information and trip details visit: http://www.tourradar.com/t/45256

About TourRadar

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