Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cancun Part II - 10 Tips to Know Before You Go

10 Tips to Know Before Visiting Cancun, Mexico

The waters off of Cancun are even more spectacular in person!

I will admit that I didn't know much about Cancun when I began planning my vacation there. And to be perfectly honest, I was imaging crowded beaches filled with inebriated Spring Breakers downing beers and tequila - not exactly my cup of tea! But as it turns out, I was very pleasantly surprised!
Cancun has been trying to shed that image for some time now and what I discovered during my time there tells me that have succeeded in creating a more sophisticated Cancun - their reputation just needs to catch up now.
If you are looking to party, you can certainly find that, but if you are looking for relaxation, or adventure, you will find that too! You can learn more about where stay in Cancun by checking out Cancun Part I - Where to Stay?
But today we cover the things I wish I had known before I arrived to make the most of my Cancun getaway!
1. The Mayan Ruins

There are Mayan ruins all around the Yucatan including Cancun. The most popular and most accessible ruins around Cancun are Chichen Itza and Tulum. Concentrate your efforts on these two sites and decide if you'd like to visit one or both of them.
3. Chichen Itza Ruins

Chichen Itza is the larger of the two sites but is also more difficult to get to. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Cancun which makes it an all day activity. If you take a tour you can add even more travel time to accommodate the pick and drop off other tourists.
2. Tulum Ruins

 The Tulum ruins are very well preserved and located along the water.

 The views from Tulum are stunning!

Tulum is smaller but also closer and easier to get to from Cancun. It is only about an hour and half drive. As with any tour, travel time increases the more people are on the tour, but because it is closer to Cancun you may feel more comfortable driving yourself or hiring a private driver. Tulum is an easy day trip that can be combined with other activities such as a visit to Xel Ha, Playa Del Carmen, or Akumal.
3. Xel-Ha, Xplor, and Xcaret

Xel-Ha, Xplor, and Xcaret are aquatic and adventure theme parks set over archaeological sites. Imagine a beautiful waterfalls, rivers, and mountains with restaurants, zip lining, tubing and other activities available. They are advertised as all inclusive but often the more popular and fun activities cost extra. Learn about what each has to offer and decide if you'd like to visit any of these parks.

4. Shopping

 The indoor mall, Kukulcan Plaza, is located in the Hotel Zone

 La Isla Shopping Village is an outdoor shopping center

Shopping isn't something I love to do on vacation but I do make a point to pick up something authentic from wherever I am visiting. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find anything that fit this description but after some searching I found some authentic Mexican goods in a unlikely place: The Fiesta chain of stores. Many of the clothes there were made in Mexico and I picked up a cute shirt. The Tanya Moss store is a bit more high end but features jewelry (some of it very affordable) by Mexican designer Tanya Moss.

5. The Hotel Zone Shuttle

The Hotel Zone is a great place to stay if you enjoy nice hotels but want the option of venturing out to do a little shopping and eating out. If your hotel isn't walking distance to the shops or restaurants there is a shuttle that runs up and down the main street. You can wait at a designated stop or flag down the driver. It costs one dollar or ten pesos for a ride and you never have to wait more then a few minutes to get on board.

6. Tequila

La Destileria restaurant offers a wide variety of tequila tastings

Tequila is the libation of choice In Cancun, of course! Many restaurants offer tequila tastings so you can get to know the spirit as well as your own likes and dislikes and maybe even pick up a bottle to bring home. But remember that you must pack it in your checked bag! And if you decide to pick some up at the duty free store at the airport and have a layover, you must repack the liquid in your checked luggage. Its a bit of a pain but makes for a great souvenir! Also - you get free tequila tastings at the duty free store at the airport!

7. Isla Mujeres

There is no shortage of shopping opportunities on Isla Mujeres
The island is just beautiful and you can easily get around on foot

Isla Mujeres is a small island off the coast of Cancun and definitely worth a visit. You have a few options of getting there. You can take a tour that usually includes snorkeling or take a ferry on your own. On the island that are plenty of shops and restaurants and even massages on the beach!

8. Akumal

We spotted a ray snorkeling in Akumal!

Akumal is a tiny village that is known for it’s amazing snorkeling. It’s located between Cancun and the Riviera Maya area, where Tulum is located, making it a great stop along the way. You can go out into the water on your own or with a guide for a small fee. You’ll spot sea turtles, rays, and all sorts of beautiful fish!

9. Playa Del Carmen

There are numerous shops, including chain stores and one of a kind shops, in Playa Del Carmen

Playa Del Carmen is a small town just south of Cancun. It is well known for it’s main shopping strip along “5th Avenue.” You won’t find Chanel or Prada here but plenty of shopping opportunities and restaurants. There are many great hotels located here as well. It makes for a nice day trip or a stop on your way to and from Tulum.

10. Animal Photos Ops

Animals posing for photos are all over Cancun, and depending on your own personal beliefs, you can choose whether or not you want to support this activity. I was very surprised to see all sorts of animals on leashes, or perhaps under the influence of something, that you could take photos with. These were not free animals that have become accustomed to humans. They are pets, or worse, used to make money off of tourists. Be aware of this activity and decide how you would like to proceed.

Yes the water really is that clear and warm too!

Whether you are looking to party, to relax, or to have an adventure, you are sure to find it in Cancun!

READ MORE "Cancun Part II - 10 Tips to Know Before You Go"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cancun Part I – Where to stay?

Where is the best area to stay in when visiting Cancun, Mexico?

Visiting Cancun sounds simple enough, but when you begin exploring, you will quickly realize that are many options available. Depending on what you are looking to get out of your vacation, there are different areas in and around Cancun that might better suited to your needs then others. And I’m here to help! But before we get started, you need to be honest with yourself, and with those traveling with you, about you are looking for and set expectations. So think about that as you read this so you can pick the perfect place for your Cancun getaway!

Let’s get started!

I’m looking for: Relaxation 24/7

If you just want to do nothing except relax on the beach, read, and drink pina coladas, then a resort in Riviera Maya, also known as the Mayan Riviera, might be right for you. Riviera Maya is a district located roughly between the city of Playa Del Carmen and the Tulum ruins about an hour/hour and half south of Cancun. This area is well known for its large scale, often all inclusive, resorts. As you drive along Highway 307 you will see humungous and elaborate entrances to the resorts complete with guard gates. You cannot see any further than that, and that’s probably the point. These resorts are usually stunning and offer everything that you could ever want. Most importantly, they are located along a stretch of beach that you typically only see in travel magazines. White sands, turquoise water, and blue skies.

The water is so incredibly clear and warm!

Although there are numerous attractions located near this area, they are not within walking distance of the resorts. Actually, nothing is within walking distance. If you plan on venturing outside of your hotel, you will need a car or you will need to go with a tour group. Some of these nearby attractions include the Mayan ruins of Tulum, the small snorkel village of Akumal, and Xcaret and Xel Ha Parks.

 The view from the top of the Tulum Ruins is stunning! The colors are out of this world!

If you are staying at a resort in Mayan Riviera, you should pick a hotel that you really love and offers all the amenities you are looking for because chances are you, you won’t leave the property. And that’s perfectly ok! Pick your perfect cabana, grab a fruity cocktail, and relax!

I’m looking for: A little relaxation and a little exploration

If you want the best of both worlds, relaxing and a little sightseeing, choosing to stay in the Hotel Zone might be right for you. The Hotel Zone, or Zona Hotelera, is located on a stretch of land (sort of like a peninsula) between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupte Lagoon that houses mostly hotels, restaurants, and some shopping centers.

 A view up and down the Hotel Zone in Cancun. The beaches and water are pristine!

Although it is quite touristy because of the number of large hotels located here, you have the option of staying at your hotel and relaxing or venturing out on to do a little shopping or dining outside of your hotel. There is a bus that runs up and down the main throughway making it easy to get around. The bus runs often and because it is on a straight road, it is easy to navigate. Within a few minutes you can travel to another hotel, several shopping centers, restaurants, and downtown Cancun. If you want to visit some of the more  popular attractions, such a Tulum, Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Akumal, or Playa Del Carmen, you will need a car or book a tour. These attractions are about an hour and a half away from the Hotel Zone.

The indoor mall, Kukulcan Plaza, near the Hotel Zone in Cancun

 La Isla Shopping Village is an outdoor shopping center complete with movie theater and aquarium

I’m looking for: Something different

If you are in the mood to stay someplace a little different but that still offers relaxation and some sightseeing, consider staying on Isla Mujeres, a small island just north east of Cancun.  Most tourists simply take a day trip to this island but don’t stay much longer than that and don’t venture past the downtown area/ It’s small and quaint and offers tourist amenities as well as little local flavor and the same gorgeous water and beaches. 

 The downtown area of Isla Mujeres is lined with shops and restaurants

 A few blocks off of the main street you can a bit more authenticity

 The water and beach are beautiful in Isla Mujeres

The main land is a short ferry ride away, depending on where you are landing, so you can still see the major attractions. 

It would take a little extra planning to get yourself to and from the island and a little extra work taking your luggage on a boat, but if you are looking for something a bit unusual, give Isla Mujeres a try!

 The lively downtown beach area is beautiful, you can even get a massage on the beach!

I’m looking to: Party!

Believe it or not Cancun has been working hard to diminish its “Spring Break/Party” reputation, but that doesn’t mean the party has stopped. If you are looking for a party, you should look for the right hotel, not necessarily the right location. Hotels like the Hard Rock, Riu Cancun, Oasis Cancun, and Barcelo Tucancun are known for their younger guests, party atmosphere, and foam parties….yes, that’s exactly what you think it is. Even if your hotel isn’t bumping there are plenty of clubs that offer themed parties like the Coco Bongo and Senor Frogs.  In addition to more foam, they also have “Glow” parties that feature black light throughout and white clothing is a must.

 How about attending a "foam party" at Senor Frogs?

I’m looking for: adventure!

If you are the adventurous type you should focus your attention on the wide variety of tours and attractions that offer adventure activities.  Eco-archaeological parks such as Xcaret, and Xplor offer a vast variety of activates.  Xplor park offers zip lining, amphibious vehicles rentals, and underground raft rides. Xcaret is a bit more laid back and offers snorkeling in underground rivers and high speed boat rides. There are also many cenotes located throughout the Maya Riviera area that are sure to get your blood pumping. Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes that have collapsed and expose the water beneath. Some are bigger and deeper than others, but you can go beneath the surface of the earth and snorkel, scuba, or float.

Most of these attractions are located in the Maya Riviera area so if you plan on taking part in any of these activities it would be a good idea to stay nearby so you do not have to drive a long ways.

 Hola from Sonar Travel!

In a nutshell, the area is not so big that you can’t get around and see a few great attractions. With a little planning you can make sure you have an awesome Cancun vacation. Whatever you’re into, you’ll be sure to find it in Cancun, especially if you’re looking for fun and relaxation!

What are your favorite things to do in Cancun? Let me know!

READ MORE "Cancun Part I – Where to stay?"

Monday, June 9, 2014

Battle of the Ballet Flats - Finding the Perfect Travel Flat

The search for the perfect travel flat. These ballet flats battle it out for a place in my suitcase.

I have been searching literally for years to find the perfect travel shoe.

I am a little too old to rough it in heels, but way too young to strap on Velcro orthopedics, and too vain to sport white sneakers while traipsing through Paris. So what’s a girl to do?

Over the years I have purchased countless shoes to try to fit my needs but I have yet to find a pair I love. Most of these were inexpensive flats and some were pricier, but there were so many that I finally got to the point that I didn’t care how much they cost or who made them,  I just wanted something that looked decent and didn’t kill my feet.

One problem that I identified, in addition to purchasing poorly constructed shoes, was that I would make hasty purchase decisions. I’d order a pair of shoes and bring them with me on an trip only to discover that they weren't at all comfortable. And of course, at that point, it was too late to return them and I was stuck.

One example of such a mistake was when I bought a pair of Cole Haan Air Bacara ballet flats. They had Nike Air technology! They were cute! And there were hundreds of positives reviews online touting their comfort! How could they be a mistake? Oh, but they were.

I ordered a pair, flew to Paris with them, and within 20 minutes the backs were digging into my heels so badly that I had to go back to my flat to change. Well, there went a hundred and fifty bucks down the drain.  I was so angry but I guess that’s what I get for not doing my homework.

So with no immediate travel plans in my future I decided to go on a proper hunt for the perfect travel shoes.

I will start off by saying that I have a pair of acceptably sporty sneakers that I love for more causal travel. The Sketcher GOWalk 2.

Here I am in London trying to look cute and not too touristy in my Sketchers GoWalks2

These slip on sneakers are crazy comfy. The upper is made of a stretchy mesh material which ensures no uncomfortable rubbing or pinching. And the soles are so cushy it’s like walking on a cloud.  I brought these with me on a trip to London and loved them.  In fact, I loved them so much that didn't wear any of the other shoes I packed.  In the evenings, instead of changing into my nicer flats for dinner, I kept these on. By comparison, my other flats felt like torture devices.  They get an A+ for comfort but they are not the cutest in the world.  I hate looking like a tourist when I travel so I tried my best to “cute them up” with the rest of my outfits but at the end of the day, they are still sneakers.

What I really want is a pair of flats that I can wear with jeans, shorts, a summer dress, or even a dressier dress.  So let the hunt begin!

I started off with 4 pairs of shoes. I selected these based on reviews and style:

1. Tieks by Gavrieli


2. Cole Haan Manhattan Ballet

3. Patagonia Maha Breath

4. Cole Haan Air Monica

I ranked them AGAINST EACHOTHER, not against my Sketchers. A ranking of 1 meant that they performed the best in that category. In some cases there was no clear winner so I assigned the same ranking to multiple shoes.

At the end, the shoes with the LEAST amount of points wins!

For each shoe, I walked in them on my treadmill for about 20 minutes with surgical booties on so as not to damage them.  I would wear a different shoe on each foot and try each shoe on with my gel heel insert.  This went on for a couple days and I mixed up the order so one shoe wouldn’t seem deceivingly comfortable or uncomfortable when compared to the previous shoe. Got it?

But even though there has to be a loser, all 4 performed well and it's up to you to decide which shoe fits your foot, personal style, and budget.


Here are my ultra scientific findings and detailed reviews for the 4 shoes.

Heel rubbing
Since the heel portion is not elastic, there wasn’t too much rubbing, but a small dent remains in your heel after removing the shoe.
The heel portion is not elastic but it’s very high. I inserted a gel heel which helped alleviate some of the rubbing.
The heel is not elastic but it is also very high, so it rubbed a bit, but again, the gel insert helped.
The heel portion is not elastic but it is a little high so there is some rubbing. The gel heel inserts help.
Toe Rubbing
The classic leather is very stretchy so there was no rubbing on my pinkies or big toes.
The patent leather is not very forgiving and rubbed my pinkies after my first trial around the house. A footie sock helped.
There was a little pinkie toe rubbing even though the upper is mesh. My pinkie hit right in between where the leather and mesh met.
Very little toe rubbing in these even though the toe area is patent leather.
Top of foot rubbing
They leave a slight intention on the top of my foot but it didn’t hurt.
These do not really leave much of a mark on the top of my foot.
These leave behind almost no mark on the top of my foot.
Pretty much no top of foot rubbing here.
This flat feels very delicate and definitely needs the gel heel insole, without it my heels hurts even after a short time.
Although this shoe does not feature the Nike Air sole, it’s very cushy and feels very sturdy.
For a sporty flat, the soles feel a little thin and not as cushy as you’d expect.
These feature Nike Air technology so the soles are very cushy, but honestly, they feel similar to the Manhattans.
Very cute flat but note that because the leather is so soft you can see the outline of your toes – which I know bugs a lot of people. Also, the teal bottoms are very obvious which you may not like.
The nude color is great and will literally go with everything. The bow on the back is tiny and cute.
Just ok for me, it’s a little sportier then I would like and I don’t love the colors they come in. I probably wouldn’t wear these with a dressier outfit.
These are my favorite. The bow is cute but not over powering and the nude is perfect, the color  will go with anything.
These are well made but delicate. I would worry about longevity.
These feel very sturdy and well made. Also, they are water proof which is big bonus for me.
They are light but not delicate making me think they would hold up nicely.
These feel pretty durable but I would worry about the light leather getting dirty.
These fold up nicely so they take up almost no room in your suitcase.
They do not fold but they do not take up a lot of room either.
They do not fold but they do not take up a lot of room either.
They do not fold but they do not take up a lot of room either.
They start at $175
On sale they are about $116.
Full price they are $90.
On sale for $118
I have to admit, there is a cool factor with these and they come in so many cute color. If they were less expensive I would probably splurge on a pair to do some light traveling with.
I really like that these are waterproof. I plan to keep an eye on them and if they go on sale, buy a black pair for fall travel.
These were just too sporty for me, but I wanted to give them a shot. I would rather pay a little more and get a cuter pair.
I really love these but dang, they are pricey. Cole Haans tend to go on sale so I plan on keeping an eye on them.

And the winner is:
Cole Haan Air Monica is the winner!

Where ever my travels take me next, my new Cole Haan Air Monica’s will be coming with me. I will report back then and let you know if I made another terrible, pricy decision, or if these were the best purchase ever!

Stay tuned….

Do you have a favorite pair of travel shoes that I need to try? Let me know!

READ MORE "Battle of the Ballet Flats - Finding the Perfect Travel Flat"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Porsches, and Goats, and Maui! Oh My!

When in Maui, forget the beach and hit the pavement instead. Spend a day with goats and Porsches!

The drive to Upcountry on Maui is beautiful!

Ahhh, Hawaii….the picture perfect beach vacation. Sprawling beaches, tall palm trees, and endless oceans beckon honeymooners, families, and all types of travelers young and old.  As you board the plane, you think to yourself “All I’m going to do for the next week is sit on the beach.” And you do. But after about the third day, you start to look like a lobster, there is sand literally everywhere, and you realize you haven’t put on “real clothes” in quite a while. In a nutshell, you need a break from the beach, or from the sun at the very least.

But what do to? Snorkeling? Nope. Paddle boarding? Nope. Surfing? Nope. I know it’s hard to believe but there are other activities to participate in other than water sports and napping in the sand.

On day 4, when you can longer stand to sit on the beach for 8 hours, I propose the following: Porsches and goats.

You read that correctly.  When in Maui, give up your beach front real estate in exchange for a Porsche and some goats. At least for one day.

Our rented Porsche speedster from Maui Roadsters parked at the Surfing Goat Dairy in Maui

Start the morning off by renting a replica Porsche speedster from Maui Roadsters in Kihei.  If you are lucky and get there early, you might even be able to snag the coveted red Porsche! All the cars in their fleet are manuals so be sure you know how to drive one. Some come with a soft top and others are strictly convertible, so don’t pick a wet day for your adventure…..wet goats are also a bad idea!

My friend picking me up in our rented Porsche Speedster from Maui Roadsters

Once you have your roadster picked out and your scarf securely wrapped around your perfectly coiffed hair, you’re ready to hit the pavement.

In my case, it was a hat

You may be tempted to head towards the famous Hana Highway, but trust me, this is not something you want to do. This stretch of highway may be beautiful, but it’s also treacherous. You do not want to put your pretty Porsche through the ringer and drive it over monstrous pot holes and uneven gravel.  Stick to the paved roads instead. You might not encounter waterfalls, but you won’t encounter flat tires or a broken suspension either.  And since I promised you goats, we’re heading to Upcountry!

The drive towards Upcountry on Maui from our Porsche Speedster

The drive may not be quite as impressive at Hana but since you are in fact heading up, you will encounter lovely views of the mountains and oceans as you drive alongside towering sugar cane and quaint villages. 

Upcountry is the unofficial name for the area around the slopes of Maui's Haleakala Crater. This region mostly consists of fields growing produce for Maui such as tomatoes, strawberries, sweet Maui onions, and lettuce. But there are a few interesting attractions as well. There is the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, the Organic Ocean Vodka distillery, the Surfing Goat Diary, shops, and many delicious restaurants.

Beautiful views of mountains and craters from Upcountry on Maui 

We stopped at Hali’imaile General Store for one of the best lunches I have ever had.  The name is a little bit deceiving. I was expecting a sandwich shop, not a gourmet restaurant, but that’s what we got. The exterior looks a bit like a colonial style house with a wraparound porch and the interior is quaint, modern, and perfectly charming and inviting. We sat next to the window and enjoyed the views of the country side as well as the gawkers in the parking lot thinking that a real Porsche roadster was parked in the dirt.

The Hali'imaile General Store in Haliimaile, Maui, Hawaii has a gorgeous wraparound porch.

I started with a fabulously Hawaiian martini called Ho’olepo Moana which featured Organic Ocean vodka, pickled ogo seaweed, Maui onions, and  Hawaiian black salt.  The server described it perfectly as the “taste of the ocean.” Salty and delicious!

Ho’olepo Moana martini at Hali’imaile General Store featuring Ocean Vodka, ogo, onions and black salt

Next up, we shared the Sashimi Napoleon which was won tons layered with Ahi tartar, smoked salmon, sashimi, and wasabi vinaigrette. The presentation was almost too pretty to eat and the best part was that the server cut it for you so you didn’t have to do the dirty work yourself. And it was delicious to boot! The wasabi vinaigrette was perfectly spicy, the fish was fresh and melted in your mouth, and the crunchy won tons paired fantastically with the fish.

Sashimi Napoleon at Hali’imaile General Store featuring Ahi, salmon, won tons, and wasabi vinaigrette

Next up, I had the Blackened Salmon Tacos served on flour tortillas with homemade mole sauce, Cotija Blanco cheese, salsa fresca, lettuce, cilantro sour cream, guacamole and lime. They were great but as great as my friends dish. It was the special of the day so I don’t remember the official name of the entrĂ©e but it featured a type of swordfish served over rice with baby carrots and the most delectable, light, creamy sauce! And for dessert? We decided to go with the cheese…

 Blackened Salmon tacos at Hali’imaile General Store
Special of the day at Hali’imaile General Store

The Surfing Goat Diary is a fully functioning farm producing mostly goat cheese, as well as chocolates made with goat’s milk, and goat milk soap.  You can sample the award winning cheese, take a tour where you can actually milk a goat, or you can feed the goats if you’re a little bit nervous about touching an utter.

The Surfing Goat Dairy features a tasting room, shop, and pen for the baby goats

The big goats are goating around and climbing stuff at the Surfing Goat Diary in Maui

The cheese is delicious and you will be surprised how many different flavors and consistencies there are.  My personal favorites were "Diabolic" spicy feta and “Rolling Green” flavored with garlic and chives.

A custom sampler of the award winning cheeses made by Surfing Goat Diary

The cheese on it’s own is already amazing, but you add super cute baby goats to the mix it’s a recipe for cuteness overload!

I was lucky that the weekend I visited happen to be kidding season so there were about a dozen baby goats running around.  Most of them were only a few days old and the best part was that petting was allowed! You had to be careful though because the babies would try to suckle just about anything. Half of them were suckling the others half’s ears! Seriously. Baby goats, suckling each others ears. Does it get any cuter than that?

The pen with 3 day old baby goats, all desperately trying to suckle whatever they can!

After about 20 minutes of talking baby talk to the baby goats and squealing like an 8 year old girl, one of the employees took pity on me and came over to ask if I wanted to hold one. As if she even had to ask! Needless to say, I cuddled that little baby goat until closing time! As I played with the 3 day old goat and chatted with the lady, she informed me that they had 1 day old goats in the back…..would I care to see? As if she had to ask again! So if cuddling a 3 day old baby goat and eating cheese wasn’t enough, I got to play with a 1 day old baby goat too!

Here I am playing with this adorable, white 3 day old goat

 Quite possibly the best day ever! Here I am cuddling a 1 day old baby goat!

And since I am not an ageist, I bought some bags of hay and headed over to give the big goats some love too!

 You can purchase bags of hay to feed to the older goats. And check out those views!

The adult goats waiting for their hay! One tried to take a bite out of my dress!

As we headed back down the hill towards Kihei with the sun beginning to settle over the water, we reminisced about what a wonderful day we had in Maui. And it didn’t involve the beach.

So next time you need a break from the sun and sand, grab a Porsche and goat and head to Upcountry!

I leave you with this image of a baby goat, just hours old, hanging out in a play pen!

 Do you like goats, cheese, and Porsches? I want to hear about it! Drop me a comment!

READ MORE "Porsches, and Goats, and Maui! Oh My!"