Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico

The Day of the Dead is a fascinating cultural celebration dating back to ancient times. It is a time of honoring and remembering those who have passed, through color, food, drink and music. On November 2, families all across Mexico gather in local cemeteries, singing, laughing, eating and drinking, believing that the spirits of their departed loved ones return to visit them that day.

During the week leading up to November 2, visitors to Mexico gain a sneak peak into this ancient tradition, experiencing some of the sights, smells, tastes and customs unique to Dia de los Muertos. 

Day of the Dead in Playa Del Carmen

At the end of October, colorful skulls made from sugar and chocolate appear on the shelves of the local supermarkets.

Day of the Dead skulls

These are often used to decorated altars within family homes, along with other food, drink and trinkets. It is believed that the spirits of the departed return on November 2 to enjoy earthly pleasures like food, drink and music, and families ensure their loved ones have their favorite treats waiting for them.

Day of the Dead altar

Altars and grave sites are decorated with golden marigolds and other flowers. It is believed that the bright color and strong scent of the marigold helps the spirits find their way back to the earthly realm to spend time with their families.

The flowers are sold in the market in large, bulging bunches of color, and are an important ingredient of the festivities, reminding us of the vibrant beauty of life.

Day of the dead flowers

A special bread, Pan de Muerte is baked and sold in the market leading up to the Day of the Dead. The type of bread varies in different regions of Mexico. In the Yucatan, the bread is covered in sugar crystals, while in Oaxaca, faces are baked into crust and hand painted with vegetable dyes.

pan de muerte

Many stores and homes will be decorated in the last week of October. As the Day of the Dead is just after Halloween, in some parts of Mexico with a large ex-pat community from the United States, Halloween decorations will also abound.

Children dress up in their best ghoulish costumes and ‘trick or treat’ for candy and small coins. I’m always impressed by the lengths parents go to to dress their children up as scarily as possible!

My favorite part of the celebration, however, are the ornate altars erected in homes, stores and hotel lobbies. Altars usually have three levels, signifying the different realms of existence, and are always decorated in bright colors of gold and pink.

day of the dead altar lobby

It is a real treat to visit Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebrations, and I love observing all the different customs associated with the ancient tradition. In coming together to remember the dead, people are filled with a sense of togetherness and aliveness, while enjoying the good things in life -family, friends, food, drink, music and laughter.


Tepoznieves: The Sweet Taste of Mexico

Just around the corner from the properties of Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen, is a little ice creamery with a lot of character. Tepoznieves is not your normal ice creamery, however. It is a very special place where you can discover the unique flavors of Mexico, and where one scoop of the delicious refreshing treat is never enough.


Tepoznieves is situated on the corner of Constituyentes and Avenida 10, just around the corner from Porto Playa condos. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but at just 25 Pesos (around $2) for a small cup with two scoops, I’ve decided it’s a very, very good thing.

The best thing, however, is that you will be offered samples of various flavors before you decide on your favorite.

And I’m talking about very unique flavors here! Tequila ice-cream (yes!), queso (cheese), avocado, mantequilla (butter) and more. Of course the usual suspects are still available such as chocolate, but it’s not just any chocolate, this is Mayan chocolate made from pure cacao with dark chocolate chunks and it is absolutely delicious.

counter at tepoznieves

There are fruit sorbet styles such as passionfruit, limon and mango as well as creamy varieties such as coconut and vanilla.

Both cups and cones are available and you can mix your favorite flavors to create a unique taste sensation. They have some of the most original ice cream flavors I have ever had, such as deliciously fruity guabana or the blow-your-head-off ‘coffee with yoghurt’.

Initially some of the flavors seem a little strange, but I love the way they take off-beat ingredients such as basil, rice and corn and turn it into a delicious sweet treat.

The really adventurous can even sprinkle on a little chili powder for a truly local taste!

The small store is beautifully designed in bright colors and ornate decorations, creating a vibrant atmosphere for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Small tables decorated in brightly colored fruit and vegetables adorn the sidewalk where you can sit and watch the world go by as you savor your refreshingly treat.

What’s more, Tepoznieves uses all natural ingredients which means no nasty chemicals or additives. Children are safe to enjoy a special treat on a hot day without parents worrying about preservatives or artificial flavors.

family at tepoznieves

The all natural ice cream also makes a lovely desert after a dinner on Fifth avenue, as it is such a lovely spot to sit in the evening and catch a cool sea breeze.

night lights at tepoznieves

I think everyone who visits Playa del Carmen should visit Tepoznieves, to experience the unique flavors of this wonderful country. Never before has ‘going for ice cream’ been such a culinary and cultural experience, and its convenience to Condo Hotels’ properties means there is simply no excuse not to stop by for a scoop… or three.

ice cream

Believe me, once you try it, you’ll be back for more!

A Day on Cozumel Island

Situated just off the coast of Playa del Carmen is Mexico’s third largest Island, Cozumel. We decided to experience Island life for a day and headed over on one of the fast ferries which depart regularly from the port at the southern end of town.

Tickets are around $12 per person, one way, and can be purchased at the ticket counter at the port. Ferries run all day from early morning to late evening to ensure you maximum time on the island. As it was our first time to Cozumel, we didn’t know what to expect so decided not to make plans and to simply take the day as it came.

Ferry to Cozumel

We took our snorkels as we’d heard about the fantastic coral reef fringing the island. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest barrier reef.

Upon alighting the ferry at the port, we were surprised by the designer store fronts and high end brands in residence on Cozumel. A glimpse of the large international cruise ships docking at the port put the pieces of the puzzle together; it is a popular stop-off destination for Caribbean cruises.

We bypassed the shiny stores and headed through the town into a quaint, brightly painted square. Old men sat peacefully watching the world go by while women gathered to gossip and wrangle small children. This was the sort of laid back island life I had hoped to see, and it was lovely to stroll through the square under the shade of old leafy trees.

It was nice to see that despite the importance of cruise ship tourism to the local economy, there was still a local flavor alive and well on the island.

Cozumel street

Door in Cozumel

We wandered through the back streets of the town and admired the brightly painted buildings and quaint local restaurants. It was mid morning and the sun began to beat down strongly, encouraging us to seek out relief in the Caribbean Sea. Somewhat stubbornly ignoring calls from enthusiastic taxi drivers looking to make a fare, we resolved to explore on foot and headed south along the coast.

Yellow house in Cozumel

We passed a few waterfront restaurants with access to the water, wondering where we would find a suitable access point into the cool Caribbean. The water shone like bright blue crystals, reflecting the sun’s rays, begging us to submerge in it’s cool embrace.

We came to a lighthouse which sat on a lovely bay and decided we could wait no longer – we were going in! Only two other people were on the tiny beach as we laid our bags down and prepared to cool off. The water was deliciously refreshing and small colorful fish darted around the rocks beneath the surface.

private beach in Cozumel

Rejuvenated by our swim in our ‘private bay,’ we then guzzled down ice-cold sodas and snacked on chips and salsa at the waterfront restaurant, admiring the view. It was a weekday, and we had to pinch ourselves that we were sitting beach-side on a Caribbean island, while most people we knew were slaving away at their jobs back home.

We decided to explore more of the island on foot, and cut through the center of it. We emerged at a bustling town full of locals going about their busy days. Squares, government buildings, hospitals and stores buzzed with the midday rush. It was hard to believe that just across the water from Playa del Carmen, there was a busy, functioning city with a thriving population.

We stopped in at a local restaurant for lunch, far form the tourist trail. While we dined, we chatted to the owner of the restaurant who was more than happy to fill us in on the state of the island. He told us that the economy was suffering a little since the hurricane of ’05 which damaged some of the reef system and washed away some of the beaches on the east coast.

Restaurant in Cozumel

But he enjoyed the slow pace of life on the island – it was the only life he ever knew. He dreamed of moving to the colonial town of Valledolid some day, but wasn’t sure when that would be.

It was great to get a local’s perspective of the island from someone who has seen all the changes occur over the years. It struck me how vulnerable islands are to the natural environment, compared to the mainland where growth simply continues along the coast or inland.

I was glad our experience of Cozumel consisted of a nice swim, a good walk, and some interesting conversation with the locals.

Foodstall in CozumelSlow paced island life on Cozumel…

As we made our way back to the dock to depart on the ferry, I wished the island well in it’s attempt to balance large scale cruise ship tourism with the local culture, and hoped the local people, especially the friendly restauranteur, would continue to thrive in their beautiful island home.

Capturing the Color of Playa del Carmen

What is it about Playa del Carmen that makes it so special? Is it the turquoise Caribbean Sea? World-class restaurants? Night-life? Cosmopolitan atmosphere? I’ve been pondering this question lately, wondering what it is exactly that has me head-over-heels in love with this sea-side town.

And I think I found the answer.

It’s the color!

Everywhere you look in Playa del Carmen, from the sparkling blue sea to the fuchia bouganvillia tumbling off balconies, color is all around.


I think it’s the color of Playa that makes it so special, creating a vibrant atmosphere to lift the spirits of everyone who visits its shores.

beautiful flowers in playa del carmen

After the rainy season, tropical flowers are everywhere, blooming in every shade of pink…

playa del carmen sunset

A pink which is reflected in the sky every evening at dusk, bathing the town in a warm, soothing glow…

Food at Imprevist

The food of course, is some of the most colorful in the world, not to mention the most flavorsome…

church in playa del carmen

And the sky shines a brilliant, bright blue…

Imprevist al fresco

When dining al fresco, the streets are bathed in a golden glow, and the leaves of the trees are lit up in an iridescent ‘verde’.


Shopping on Fifth Avenue is a feast for the eyes with so much life and color all around, from the vibrant textiles to the ‘colorful characters’ you’ll meet!


Perhaps you’d like to take a little piece of the colorful culture home with you…

ice cream

Or simply savor all the colorful flavors while you can! Traditional Mexican ice-cream, anyone?


Murals and street art adorn the walls of the town for everyone to enjoy. I love this enormous, vibrant mural in the courtyard of the Palacio Municipal building in the town square.

tropical fruit

Tropical fruit lines the shelves of the local mercado, looking very inviting in every bright color imaginable!


And then of course, there is the Sea. The sparking blue Caribbean, which is perhaps the most beautiful color of all, enticing swimmers into its refreshing waters and rejuvenating them from the heat of the day.

If only there was a way of capturing the color of Playa del Carmen and taking it home with you! But it’s just another reason to keep coming back for your annual dose of color therapy; to be revived and rejuvenated by the uniquely vibrant beauty of this town.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

One of the biggest draw cards of the Riviera Maya is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks in the Caribbean Sea from June to September. The waters off the coast off Cancun, less than an hour’s drive from Playa del Carmen, offer one of the best sites in the world for whale shark spotting. Condo Hotels can arrange a professional tour, including all equipment, breakfast and lunch with guaranteed sightings of these majestic creatures.

Whale Shark in Playa del Carmen

We departed Playa del Carmen at 6:30 AM, arriving at the marina near Cancun about an hour later. After a quick breakfast, we boarded the speedboat and were given a briefing on the feeding patterns of the sharks, as well as a safety briefing.

The boat ride out to the feeding site was about 45 minutes, and I would recommend taking precautions for sea sickness, as some people on our boat did suffer. Of course, once we spotted the first fins, tails and enormous heads gliding through the water with huge gaping mouths, all was forgotten.

Whale shark mouth

We were in awe already, and we hadn’t even taken to the water yet.

Though there were about ten on our boat, only three people were permitted at a time with each guide, ensuring the safety of both the sharks and swimmers. It is a privilege to be able to observe these majestic creatures carry out their natural feeding patterns in the wild, so touching them is not permitted.

There were times, however, when the sharks came quite close, especially the huge tail fins which power the enormous creatures through the water.

Our guides encouraged us to swim towards the head of the shark, in the direction they were swimming, then swim alongside them for as long as we could keep up.

Staring into the eye of these magnificent fish and watching them filter water through their huge, gaping gills was an experience I will never forget.

whale shark eye

Truly a once in a lifetime experience!

After the group had two turns in the water each, we headed to the gorgeous Isla Mujeres for lunch. The boat anchored in the crystal clear waters of the shallow lagoon at the north end of the island, and we had a refreshing dip as the crew prepared a delicious lunch of sandwiches and fresh ceviche.

It was a wonderfully relaxing end to an exciting day swimming with the giants of the sea. Check out the video for a glimpse of what to expect, although keep in mind that nothing compares to seeing them in person!

Living the High Life at Porto Playa

I recently had the pleasure of staying in one of the two bedroom penthouses at Porto Playa condos, and experienced what living the high life was all about! My sister was visiting Playa del Carmen from the states and I wanted her to experience the best of this town I have come to love so much.

Upon entering the glass doors of the apartment, we were immediately struck by the stylish yet earthy design, influenced by Mayan culture. There is definitely something unique about Condo Hotels, an attention to detail which simply isn’t found at large all-inclusive resorts catering to droves of tourists.

Porto Playa certainly felt like a ‘home away from home’ for us as we made the most of the luxury and comfort of our suite. Soft, pillow top beds, natural bath products and marble flooring throughout created a welcoming oasis after days spent shopping and beach hopping in Playa del Carmen.

And then there was the view! Overlooking the pool, we kept an eye on the sun and planned our day around sunbathing and relaxing by the deep blue cascading infinity pool. My sister loved the in-built lounge chairs for relaxing in the cool, clear water. Having seen all of the condo hotel pools now, I think that the pool at Porto Playa is now my favorite.

Porto Playa pool


Surrounded by lush green gardens, it feels like a jungle paradise with a decidedly tropical feel, and the elevated position provides excellent views of the surrounding area.

Pool at Porto Playa

Love this pool!

Our evenings were spent grilling on our own private roof terrace, then simmering in the private jacuzzi under the moon-lit sky. Screens of green plants provided total seclusion, making us feel like the only ones in the place!

terrace at Porto Playa

Private terrace with BBQ and Jacuzzi…

The enormous space we had to utilize during our stay made us not want to leave the condo, and instead just enjoy all the facilities on offer. We did, however, tear ourselves away on occasion to relax on soft lounges at the nearby Indigo beach club and listen to the gentle waves lap the sandy shore.

Indigo beach club

Chilling at Indigo beach club

After exploring the great restaurants around town for dinner, we would return home to watch a movie on the flat screen television in the living room before retiring to our comfy beds where we slept soundly each night.

Life at Porto Playa was very easy to get used to, so when it came time to leave the luxury and comfort of our penthouse, we couldn’t help but be a little sad. We had experienced what it was like to live the high life, so returning to normal life wouldn’t be easy, but we had created special memories to last a lifetime and knew that someday we would return.

Porto Playa collage

Memories of Porto Playa condos…

Renting a Car in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a great city for walking, with many options for transport and sight-seeing. It is also the perfect base for a variety of day trips to cenotes, ruins and deserted beaches, so renting a car in Playa del Carmen is a great way to explore the surrounding Riviera Maya.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

There are a multitude of car rental companies around town, and the process for renting is very straightforward. Prices generally range from about $50 for a compact car to $100 for an SUV, including full insurance. This is important to have, as it’s always better to be safe than sorry when embarking on a self-drive tour.

Are the roads safe in Mexico?

The road in Playa del Carmen

Some people who have never traveled to this region of Mexico may be concerned about the roads, but after driving around Playa del Carmen and beyond to the surrounding Riviera Maya countless times, I can assure you that they are in very good condition.

Some of the local streets around town may suffer minor disrepair after it rains, but the highways are very well sealed and well signed.

Watch out for the topes!

One of the main differences I have noticed about the roads in Mexico is the prevalence of speed bumps, or ‘topes’. As a safety precaution and speed deterrent they perform a very important role, but keep an eye out for signs marked ‘Tope’ or you will be in for quite a shock when you suddenly find yourself at one!

Why rent a car when you can take a tour?

This really comes down to personal preference, and what your individual vacation style is. Some people prefer to have the concierge organize all their transport and tours, and this is a very convenient option. Some of us, however, prefer a little more adventure and freedom on our travels, and renting a car offers the freedom to create your own schedule and be your own tour guide.

Many people prefer having the freedom to go wherever, whenever they want without relying on someone else’s pre-determined schedule. Also, renting a car for a family or a small group can be very economical, both time and money wise.

Where should I go?

There are so many options for day trips from Playa del Carmen. Drive to a local cenote, explore ancient ruins, deserted beaches or visit a colonial town.

Suggested itineraries:

Turtles and Cenote - Head south to Akumal bay (about 40 mins) and snorkel with giant sea turtles. Relax on white sand beaches and have lunch at a waterfront restaurant. Visit a cenote in the afternoon, such as Azul, Cristallino or ‘Jardin del Eden’ and take a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water of these natural sink holes.

Coba Ruins - About one and a half hours’ drive south-west from Playa del Carmen is the ancient city of Coba. Explore by bicycle or cycle taxi, climb an ancient pyramid, and then drive to one of three nearby cenotes to cool off from the heat of the day.

Yal ku lagoon - A unique and fascinating place to spend the day, snorkeling, swimming and relaxing, north of Akumal bay.

Day trip to Valledolid - About two hours’ drive from Playa del Carmen, Valledolid is a great town to visit for history buffs and cultural enthusiasts. Eat ice cream in the zocalo, visit the small museum and wander through cavernous cathedrals built hundreds of years ago. Stop off to marvel at the natural wonder of cenote Zaci, in a natural cave filled with fresh water and dripping with green vegetation.



Wherever you decide to visit with your rental car, you will be sure to discover the many fascinating sites of the Riviera Maya and beyond, with the freedom to explore them at your leisure. As long as you have a valid driver’s license and purchase the necessary insurance, you can be assured a unique and adventure filled vacation. Happy driving!

Rental Car Playa del Carmen

A Little Book With A Big Mission

We are very pleased to announce we have a published author in the Condo Hotels community! Bonnie Ballantyne, author of the illustrated book, ‘Crocodile Goes Out’, is a condo owner at Porto Playa, and her book is set to create positive change throughout Playa del Carmen and beyond.

Crocodile Goes Out

I first met Bonnie at a writer’s circle in Playa del Carmen, and was immediately drawn to her story. As detailed in the book, Bonnie developed a keen interest in the Maya culture since buying her condo in Porto Playa, and became drawn to the writings of Carl Calleman on ‘The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness.’

She became fascinated with Calleman’s theories regarding a stele found at the ruins of Coba, which suggested that the nine cycles of human consciousness would come to an end on October 28, 2011. She decided to chronicle the last 20 days on Facebook, and in order to remember the order of the Day Lords of the Mayan calendar, she created a story beginning with the words, “Crocodile goes out…”

Maya Calendar

Bonnie planned to commemorate the day at Coba, but after a hurricane warning, she decided the beach at Playa del Carmen would be a better place. On October 28, 2011, she received the terrible news that her son, Adam, had passed away suddenly. The day marked the end of life as she knew it and the start of a new chapter in which she would never be the same.

At Adam’s memorial, she met a friend of her son to whom she told the story of Crocodile Goes Out. The friend was an artist and together, they decided to make a book to honor Adam’s memory; spreading a message of healing and hope.

Crocodile Goes Out is the only book on Amazon written in English, Spanish and Mayan glyphs. The story itself is simple yet poetic and is accompanied by beautiful original water colors by Elizabeth McClellan. It is entertaining, poignant and educational, and contains a glossary of common Mayan glyphs in the back of the book.

Bonnie believes the book will be a useful resource for local children in Playa del Carmen and beyond to other parts of Mexico. It will also benefit English speaking students learning Spanish, or anyone with an interest in the ancient culture of the Maya. I have to agree. The book is something really special, from the back story, to the turn of events in which it came to be written, to the beautiful artwork.Maya Artwork

Mostly though, it is the incorporation of the Mayan calendar into the story, along with the inclusion of authentic Mayan glyphs that makes the book so very unique. Bonnie hopes to get the book into local schools and libraries throughout Playa del Carmen, so students can learn about Maya culture through story telling and art.

Condo Hotels is very pleased to be selling copies of the book for $10, the proceeds of which will go towards providing more books to the local charity organization, KKIS (Keeping Kids In School), who provide school supplies to needy children and work closely with schools in the area. We have copies available in the reception of Porto Playa.

We are very proud to support one of our condo owners and hope you will help us give back to the local community by buying a copy of Crocodile Goes Out to take home with you!

For more information you can visit Bonnie’s website, or check out the book on Amazon.

Sacred Mayan Journey, a self journey…

The urge to know more about the place were I live, brought me to path to investigate about the  7th Sacred Mayan Journey that is celebrated this year from May 23th to May 25th 2013.

I started asking the locals about it, but they only told me that it was a recreation of something our ancestors did to worship Ixchél goddess of the moon, from Xcaret to Cozumel Island.

This information was not clear at all for me but guided to know who could be the perfect guide to learn more about it. My searching started looking for an oarsman who is participating this May 23th.

I found Carlos, he is one of the oarsman this year, we met a coffee and I shocked with all the information he had about this topic. He began explaining how this started, 1000 years ago, yearly pilgrimage was made, exchanging products at a Kii’ wiik wich means marketplace, that after will be offer to the goddess.

My question: Why Ixchel Goddes? Carlos explain that she ruled over fertility, health, water and vegetation, represented by the Moon. Who takes care of the Caribbean Ocean, source of food, transportation and the Cenotes which represents the entrance of Xilbaba (The Underworld).

"300 oarsmen this year"

“300 oarsmen this year”300 Oarsmen in 30 canoes are participating this year, departing from Xel-há and arriving at Chankanaab in Cozumel, and then finishing their journey in Xcaret. This have not been easy for the participants who have been training since 6 months ago.

They start at dusk with a ceremony to bless, they are welcome at Cozumel and at night the oarsmen visit Ixchel Sanctuary to present their offerings also to hear her message: “Should live in peace and harmony, care for their life and of the living beings around them”.

The next day they will meet at shore, to cross toward Xcaret, before the Ruler of the Land of Cozumel, will bless them and remind them Ixchel message:  Inside us we carry strength, hope, life and seeds of corn that we must share with those close to us.

The Chief of land of Cozuel Island, reminds the oarsmen the message of Ixchel Goddess

The Chief of land of Cozuel Island, reminds the oarsmen the message of Ixchel Goddess

The oarsmen arrive to Xcaret, and will be welcome with the wise words of Batab ( the chief) telling them that the corn was taken to the 4 corners of the world in 4 different colors, so the sacred nourishment will never been lacking.

 painting sacredI was completely amazed with this story, making me think hours later after I say goodbye to Carlos, that maybe we are not physically making the journey to Cozumel, but everyone is making a full journey inside of our self’s, this is a new era, a new opportunity to start over, create a new world, and a different story, as better beings, bearers of the seed of a new life. So plant this seed in others, so in a couple of years our descendants can pick up the crops.


Why get married at the Riviera Maya?

While I was waking down the shore, I was surprised by a lovely wedding right on the beach. A couple meters later I found another one, so I started thinking about how many couples were getting married by day, week, month here at Playa del Carmen.

If this was a trend to get married on the beach or if it was cheaper?

Today, 15 percent of couples tie the knot at — actually on — a tropical location, as opposed to the more traditional, walk-down-the-aisle-inside-the-church wedding. There are wonderful, memorable benefits to getting married on a beautiful beach strand, and here on Playa del Carmen, we have the most beautiful beach around. So if your big day is on the horizon and being a bride on the beach sounds good to you, here are some things to consider as you’re kicking off your shoes.

“The turquoise sea, the perfect background”

Weddings on the beach tend to be a whole lot (40 percent!) less expensive than those held elsewhere. Very little money needs to be spent on decorations; the sea, the sand and the setting sun are your backdrop. You don’t have to buy shoes — well, maybe flip-flops — and you can plan to have a weddingmoon — a combination wedding and honeymoon, which will save you money on traveling.

"At the end of the ceremony, all the guest throw flower petals to the bride and groomPlaya del Carmen is located over sacred Mayan land so is pretty common that couples are choosing to have a more spiritual and interactive Mayan ceremony, you might think that a Mayan Wedding will be involved with face painted man wearing feathers, jumping and dancing around among drums.

But is a ceremony right in front of the sea in balance with Nature, with the 4 basic elements (Fire, Earth, Water and Air) and the Universe. The Shaman will bless your union setting an altar for the Mayan gods with flowers, fruits, seeds and fire.

But saving some dough is secondary when compared to the memories, the photographs, the fun, the adventure and the pure romance of saying your vows with the echo of the surf in the background. Interested? I’m Just need to find the perfect prince charming!