Mayakoba – Riviera Maya, Mexico

With direct flights from London and good weather awaiting you, Mexico and the Mayakoba resort are a wise choice if you are contemplating guaranteed sun, thanks to temperatures that rarely drop below the low twenties.

Getting to the Mayakoba from Cancun airport is easy and convenient with a short drive of less than an hour along a very straight road. It’s worth noting that I encountered minimal hassle at Cancun airport aside from a customs form you have to complete (and retain for the return). In fact I don’t think I have had an easier journey from plane to hotel.

Arriving in Mexico under the cover of darkness I felt the reassuring warmth in the air from a hot summers day. Sadly it was almost pitch black outside as our driver proudly told us about the 200 miles of Caribbean coastline we couldn’t see to our left as we travelled along Highway 307, a long straight coastal route to Playa Del Carmen, the coastal town on the Riviera Maya in which Mayakoba is located and my home for the next 10 days.

The Riviera Maya is a tourism resort district beside Highway 307 and part of a region called The Yucatán Peninsula which juts out of mainland Mexico like a thumb separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, therefore you can expect the same glorious Caribbean weather as I found in Grenada, with great beaches and the worlds second largest coral reef.

Not only is the weather great here but the region also contains the unique feature of well over a thousand sinkholes, known as ‘Cenotes’, which in some cases have been turned into swimming parks such as the popular Xcaret, one of many in the area. Apparently these drains were carved out of limestone over centuries through the erosion caused by the natural water drainage running out to sea. More are being discovered regularly which leads me to imagine the ground beneath your feet being quite possibly like swiss cheese in substance.

The other big attractions to this coastline area and worth a trip are Tulum beachside resort area, the ancient Mayan city ruins of Tulum and the Mayan pyramids of Coba.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

None of this however is quite as remarkable as the resort of Mayakoba; an eco-friendly, both architecturally and naturally beautiful resort created as a passion project by a Spanish construction company in a swamp.

Now, leave your initial thoughts for a moment, because this is no ordinary swamp. I am aware the word conjures up all manner of negative thoughts from muddy and smelly waterways to alligator death-traps. The reality of the swamp here is rather different to any preconceived notions.

The water is mostly gin clear and often a brilliant turquoise blue. That in itself sounds ideal but what makes Mayakoba really special is that you are literally surrounded by nature and the lagoons and trees are simply alive with indigenous flora and fauna. The design is so carefully thought out that when in your villa the resort feels empty despite occupancy fluctuating between 60-90% during my visit. Exactly what you would wish for on a holiday.

Mayakoba has it’s own beach and almost all accommodation is facing the water whether it is a lagoon or the sea, mine was facing the lagoon and I really enjoyed early mornings in the garden with a spiced Mexican coffee while I watched a variety of wildlife swim past me in the swamp, including whole families of turtle, tilapia fish and all manner of song birds through to herons and ducks. One of the most fascinating things I saw was a skinny looking version of perhaps my least favourite bird of all, the cormorant, in this environment the bird was extremely graceful to watch as it hunted it’s prey down under the clear water.

Opportunities to spot wildlife are abundant here and during my visit I saw several Iguana’s a Spider Monkey, A Coati (type of Mexican racoon) and a small Crocodile. I was reassured to know the the crocodiles are kept under observation and removed before they start to see you as on the menu!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mayakoba is a luxury resort with a first class level of service throughout however what makes Mayakoba more special than resorts of this type I have visited is because within it’s boundaries it offers accommodation with four recognised hoteliers; Banyan Tree, Rosewood, Andaz and Fairmont.

Each hotel has the ability to cross-payment so the whole resort is open for exploration wherever you stay. Now rather than be limited to four or five dining options and just one spa you have a multitude of dining options and four spas so there really is zero excuse to struggle for options during even the longest of holidays. Some lucky residents have seized this opportunity for a lifelong holiday purchasing homes within the resort.

Map Of Mayakoba

Most importantly Mayakoba offers fishing excursions and hosts two outstanding golf courses: El Camaleón an 18-hole golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the latter of which made golfing history in 2007 when it became the first PGA TOUR event ever contested outside of the US and Canada. This is a truly stunning location for golfing, where else in the world can you play golf amongst beautiful turquoise blue lagoons? The stunning contrast between golfing greens and bright blue waters I have captured below in this picture but only the natural eye can really do them justice.

The golf course has an excellent restaurant called Koba with a large full fronted outdoor terrace looking out over the course, there truly has been no better way to relax after a game of golf than with one of their margaritas and outstanding octopus panucho dishes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Within Mayakoba there is also the opportunity to visit their very own sinkhole Cenote Burrodromo and ‘El Pueblito’ a rather tastefully newly-built version of a classic Mexican village square complete with a marketplace which hosts a farmers market on Sundays, a cafe, boutiques and an art gallery, most impressive was a beautifully decorated Catholic chapel as pictured below.

I stayed in Banyan Tree and Rosewood but had my favourite meal in Casa Amate at Andaz, a review of all these to follow soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mayakoba Residences
www.mayakobaresidences.com
info@mayakobaresidences.com
Tel. +(52) 984 8734920

Continue Reading

5 Things To Do In Grenada

1. Snorkelling & Diving with Aquanauts

The dive centre team here are a friendly and professional outfit offering tours of sites suitable for both beginners and experienced divers.

Dive sites in Grenada include the worlds first Underwater Sculpture Park which GT visited, this was created by artist Jason de Caires Taylor to depict Grenada’s culture and help hurricane damaged coral to grow again. There are also some substantial wreck sites which look equally impressive.

Grenada has a huge variety of reef creatures from plentiful shoals of Yellowtail Snapper to the more elusive camouflaged Frog Fish, there are also large Turtles and Caribbean Reef Sharks. Aquanauts can be found on the marina at True Blue Bay resort.

Grenada Resort

View of True Blue Bay resort from a Boat

2. Lion Fish and Dockside Ale at True Blue Bay

While out diving or snorkelling with Aquanauts GT recommend you ask the instructor to catch a Lion Fish for you. These spiked predatory fish are a lesser known delicacy in Grenada which can either be served baked or fried with a taste somewhere between Snapper and Cod. Your instructor will be more than happy to catch some for your dinner to help keep the number of these predators down.

The restaurant at True Blue Bay restaurant will prepare your fish for you and when choosing a good drink to accompany your meal you are in luck as just next door you will find the West Indies Beer Company; an excellent microbrewery who produce Grenadas only real beer, Dockside Ale, which is exceptionally good and served exclusively in the restaurant and bar.

Grenada Waterfall

Tour guide Telfour Bedeau at Mt Carmel Waterfall

3. Take a Guided Tour of Grenada

GT was very fortunate to be introduced to Telfour Bedeau, Grenada’s very own Indiana Jones. Telfour is a sprightly 73 year old Grenadian hiking tour guide who is fitter now than most people in their 20’s.

Telfour is very engaging and wonderful company, you can ask him absolutely anything about Grenada and it’s surrounding smaller islands and he will have the answer for you.

We went on a mountain hike to Mt Carmel waterfalls and encountered all manner of interesting tropical plants on the way including the Immortal Plant which had bright red flowers, is almost impossible to kill and used historically to mark territorial borders. GT would definitely recommend this tour for a great chance to stretch your legs and discover more about Grenada’s tropical habitat.

You can reach Telfour Bedeau on his landline (473) 442 6200 you may need to leave a message to arrange your booking.

St George's Grenada

St George’s Grenada

4. Visit The Beautiful Capital City of St. George’s

On approach by road this bustling capital city greets you with a magnificent array of colourful roof tops and two looming hill forts which are either side of a horseshoe shaped harbour. You can visit the forts and see their secret tunnels which were carved out by French colonists in the 1700’s to secretly ambush invaders including the British who gave the city it’s current name.

The city contains plenty of nightlife and good restaurants including BB’s Crab Back, which GT recommend visiting to try their signature dish; a delicious combination of crab and cheese sauce, a big hit with visitors to St. George’s.

Cocoa Grenada

Cocoa Drying in Grenada

5. Visit the Belmont Estate

This farming estate provides an agro-tourism experience. GT visited their old plantation and original working factory which produces high quality chocolate for export.

It is more interesting than you may expect to learn about the specific fermentation and drying processes which are required before the cocoa plant can develop a mature cocoa bean suitable for chocolate.

GT was also surprised to hear that many Grenadians process their own cocoa to create what they call ‘Cocoa Tea’ an absolutely delicious hot chocolate drink made with cane sugar and spices like nutmeg.

For more inspiration visit the official website for the Grenada Tourist Authority.

Continue Reading

6 Places To Eat In Madrid

Restaurant IO

What: The modern and bright gastro home of Spanish celeb Chef Iñaki Oyarbide. The menu is divided into large and small plates and four different groups; Lo de Siempre (the usuals), Lo Nuestro (traditional), Iñakis (invented by Iñaki himself) and From the World.
Dish: Carpaccio of Almeria Red Prawn
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their request form or by telephone (00 34) 91 344 05 56
Website: here

Restaurant Bar

The bar at Restaurant IO

NO Restaurant

What: Just over a year old this restaurant features a striking monochrome interior and a brilliant terrace that is private yet breezy. The Chef, Xavier Márquez,  trained in London and it shows with a British touch, less ingredients and higher prices than expected in Madrid.
Dish: Boneless Pig’s Trotters, Prawns and Pedro Ximenez Glaze
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine or by telephone (00 34) 91 431 64 56
Website: here

Terrace

The terrace at NO Restaurant

Lobby Market

What: Bustling all-day spot with a restaurant area with traditional seating and an informal “Gourmet Zone” with stools and high tables. The latter has a menu packed with pinchos and sharing plates, the former larger dishes with some options to share. The food is bright, fresh and traditional with a flash of the unexpected.
Dish: Crumbed Aubergines with Honey and Garlic Foam
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Market

The Gourmet Zone at Lobby Market

El Club Allard

What: Widely appreciated as Madrid’s best restaurant bursting with awards including two Michelin stars. They serve three menus at different price points to be eaten by the entire table; Rendezvous, Seduction, Revolution. Each of which are an example of the magic of modern Spanish cooking where each dish is a tiny piece of art.
Dish: After ordering you are brought a dip.. with which to eat the very menu you selected from. Brilliant.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine, or by telephone for last minute availability (0034) 91 559 09 39.
Website: here

Restaurant Interior

El Club Allard Interior

Zalacain

What: Old school Madrileño establishment that has just celebrated it’s 40th birthday and naturally it frequently welcomes royalty, ministers and foreign dignitaries. The food is equally as grand with a modern flair and as much emphasis on their desserts as the rest of the menu.
Dish: Sirloin with Foie Gras and Minted Lentils
Reservations: Reservations can be made by emailing admon@zalacain.es or by telephone (00 34) 91 561 48 40
Website: here

Staff

Director, Chef and Sommelier at Zalacain Restaurant

Pandelujo

What: An old bread factory transformed by clever architecture that exploits “light, reflection and sensations” more effectively so after dark. Dishes are designed for sharing and are essentially Spanish with a Mediterranean flourish.
Dish: Try the dessert fruit platter that features at least 20 seasonal fruits and looks brilliant against the style of interior.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Restaurant

Pandelujo Restaurant Interior

Casino de Madrid

What: The whole experience is beautiful and surprising from start to finish: The building itself (dating from 1836) is a marvel of painting, sculpture and opulence, the roof-top dining room is a modern version of similar elegance and the avant-garde food comes from a kitchen advised by Ferran Adrià. Tasting menu at night, set-lunch otherwise.
Dish: Shrimp Omelette (yes you can guess it won’t be that simple)
Reservations: Reservations can be made by email terraza.casino@nh-hotels.com or by telephone (00 34) 91 532 12 75
Website: here

Restaurant

Casino de Madrid Restaurant Interior

Mercado de San Anton

What: An old food market totally renovated to a bright and clean 3-floor foodie destination. The first floor hosts “traditional” market stalls, the second is a range of independent stalls serving ready to eat snacks ranging from basic to gourmet, the third is occupied by a restaurant very popular for watching the sun set over Chueca with a cocktail in hand from their brilliant terrace.
Dish: Select your raw ingredients from the first floor and the third floor restaurant will cook it for you or try the modern and traditional ready-to-eat bites from the second floor. Finish with a cocktail on the terrace.
Reservations: No reservations required for the market, grab a table and start snacking. To reserve a table to eat in the restaurant or on the terrace book online here
Website: here

Market

Arial view of the Mercado de San Anton

Continue Reading