Magical Underwater Worlds: Cenote Diving in Mexico | Marie Overseas travel blog

Magical Underwater Worlds: Cenote Diving in Mexico

I learned to scuba dive a few months ago on a trip to Playa del Carmen, which is close to many amazing dive sites. One of the most enticing natural wonders in this region of Mexico is the cenote. Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water that occur throughout the Yucatan peninsula.

As a child in New Jersey, my family would often take me to my father’s hometown in Pennsylvania to visit my grandparents. Nearby there were a variety of caves and caverns that were open for exploring. It was one of the great delights of my childhood, and I developed a fascination with caves.

So wanting to dive in a cenote was a natural desire. I was enthralled by the idea of immersing myself in the underwater chambers of the cenotes.

When I first started scuba diving in April, I had a lot of trouble with my ears. (And I still do sometimes.) Due to the frequent changes in depth when diving a cenote, my instructors recommended that I wait until I was more experienced.

But when I returned to the area in August to swim with whale sharks, I had another opportunity.

Arriving in the morning at Scuba Playa, they outfitted us with our gear for the cenote dive. It was more than I was used to – full wetsuits, dive lights, and the like. We then hopped in our divemaster Marco’s truck with our gear in tow and drove a half hour into the jungle to reach Cenote Tajma Ha.

By the entrance to the cave, Marco briefed us on safety issues for the cenote dive: what to watch for in our air supply, how to signal in the dark, and what to do if there is any kind of problem.

Then we got on our gear and descended into the dark depths of the cenote.

Scuba diving at Tajma Ha cenote, Mexico | Marie Overseas travel blog
Diving at Tajma Ha!

Diving a cenote is like entering a whole new world, distinct from the colorful underwater kingdom of the sea. The draw of the cenote is not the marine life (though there are some small fish that nibble at your toes).

Instead, their beauty lies in the rock formations, the quality of the light, the fossils embedded in the walls and floor of the cave.

As I dove in the cenote, I looked up and saw a curious silver substance at the top of the cave. I looked closely, and a bit of it escaped, flowing out of its nook in the rock. As the bubbles from my breathing reached the ceiling, I realized that the mysterious substance was not silver or mercury but air bubbles that had gotten lodged in little holes in the rock.

As I shone my dive light into the deep caverns of the cenote, I was mesmerized by the colors of the light. When light is refracted through the water, it first loses red, then orange, then yellow, working its way along the visible spectrum. The further you go beneath the water, the more of a blue-green cast everything takes. In the case of my dive light, the further something was, the bluer it appeared. I shone the light on a wall that sloped away from me, and the light appeared as a rainbow of color. Nearby it had a reddish hue, working its way along the rainbow to a dim bluish light reflecting off the rocks furthest away.

Stalactites and stalagmites grew from the ceiling and floor. A small shrimp skittered across the floor of the cave, among the fossils of long-dead sea creatures.

At 12 meters, there is a halocline, a layer where fresh water and salt water meet. It looks like a blurry fog. Descending through it to reach the salt water below, you are momentarily blinded before entering once more into the clear waters below.

There is more than one entryway to the cenote, more than one hole that opens up from the ground to the daylight. One such opening was home to a tree, whose roots dangled meters into the water. The sunlight dripped through its leaves and shimmered down the tree roots, casting a beautiful green glow in the water. Rainbows shimmered as the light was refracted through the water.

We came up midway through the dive in a smaller cenote. We took a breath of fresh air and gazed up through the tangle of trees that peered down at us from above, sharing the water with us as they dipped their roots in for a drink.

Cenote diving | Marie Overseas blog
Photo by jhovani_serralta (Pixabay)

This was our halfway point before heading back. Marco checked our air supply, and we reflected on the wonders of what we had just seen – a magical world to which we would shortly return.

As we neared the entrance to the cenote once more, a shaft of light beamed in from above to light up a rock at the bottom of the cave. The image was like something out of a legend of old, the light shining down on King Arthur’s sword, the light of the gods peering between the clouds.

The two dives that we took in the cenote were like stepping into an alternate universe. I hope to have the privilege of returning one day. I hope to slip once more into the frigid waters, to glide once more among the stalactites, the tree roots, the shining rainbows of light.

What exactly is a cenote?

Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water. They are a natural phenomenon that occurs throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.

Millions of years ago, the Yucatan peninsula was submerged underwater. During the last Ice Age, the water level sunk. The coral reef died, turning into a layer of limestone as the jungle took over. Caves and caverns formed as the limestone dissolved. Some of these caverns eventually collapsed, leaving the open-air cenotes we have today. When the Ice Age ended, the sea level rose again, filling these caves with water.

During Pre-Hispanic times, the Mayan people considered cenotes sacred. They were seen as entrances into the mythical underworld, or “Xibalba.” Cenotes also served as the main source of water for the Maya, as they did not have access to a river or other major source of freshwater.

The waters of the cenotes are exceptionally clear, making them a good option for divers, underwater photographers, and snorkelers.

Cenote in Mexico | Marie Overseas blog
Photo by darvinsantos (Pixabay)

Cenote diving safety

When you dive a cenote, you do not need a cave diving certification because you technically stay in the cavern, rather than entering the caves.

However, there are still unique risks associated with cenote diving. For example, you pass through small, dark spaces. If you suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of the dark, then cenote diving is not for you.

Below are safety standards that you should follow during a cavern dive:

  • Always dive with a professional cavern diving guide.
  • Each diver should have at least one light source.
  • Always abide by the “rule of thirds” for air consumption. Keep 1/3 of your air supply for the way in, 1/3 for the way out, and 1/3 for your reserve.
  • Always keep a ratio of 4 divers or fewer per guide.
  • Follow the instructions of the divemaster. He or she will brief you before the dive on issues such as underwater communication with light signals, air supply management, environmental conservation, what to do in an emergency, and other safety procedures.

Eco-friendly cenote diving tips

Remember as always to be respectful of the environment when you dive:

  • Practice buoyancy control.
  • Be aware of your body and equipment while diving.
  • Inform yourself about the underwater environment and marine life, and be an advocate for the underwater world.
  • Choose dive operations with proven respect for the environment.
  • Don’t wear sunscreen in the cenotes, as they contain harmful chemicals that contaminate the water.

"Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Bubbles" - An important part of being a responsible scuba diver | Marie Overseas travel blog

Where should I dive? Can you recommend any dive shops?

If you have the opportunity to dive a cenote while in Mexico, I highly recommend it (barring claustrophobia or any health issues, of course).

There are plenty of good cenotes for scuba divers. Some popular options are Dos Ojos, Chak-Mool, Tajma Ha, Cenote Eden, and El Pit. For descriptions of each, check out this list by Phocéa Mexico. Your dive shop will also be able to give you recommendations.

Scuba Playa is an amazing dive shop in Playa del Carmen. I dove with them each time I visited the area.

Not only are they serious about safety; they also care deeply about their customers. They will get to know you, give you recommendations on dive sites, and give you pointers on how to improve. (They even helped me with a class project while I was there!) Plus, everyone who works there is warm-hearted and passionate about their job.

Their care for the environment is also apparent. This ranges from educating visitors about marine life to stopping the boat on the way to a dive site to pick up floating trash.

To learn more about cenote diving with Scuba Playa, visit their website.

cenote-edtribo-pixabay

Don’t dive? You should still visit!

There are many cenotes throughout the region that are open to swimmers and snorkelers. Even if you do not dive, you are in for an amazing experience!

I had the opportunity to visit Cenote Ik Kil as a swimmer and Cenote Dos Ojos as a snorkeler. They were both amazing experiences.

For non-divers, I would recommend the cenotes Ik Kil, Dos Ojos, Gran Cenote, Chaak Tun, or Cenote Azul.

Cenotes are a great place to scuba dive, snorkel, or swim during a trip to Mexico. Diving in these underwater caves feels like stepping into a whole new world. Read this post about the experience of diving a cenote in Mexico, plus tips on how to safely and responsibly dive a cenote. | Marie Overseas travel blog

Have you ever traveled somewhere that felt magical or out-of-this-world? Tell us in the comments!

Marie Overseas wins a Liebster Award!

Marie Overseas wins a Liebster Award!

Marie Overseas has been nominated for a Liebster Award!

Many thanks to the lovely Eu Millán of the blog Where is Eu? for the nomination! I am honored and grateful that she nominated my blog – especially after only three months blogging (which included a month-long hiatus in the middle somewhere… oops!)

If you haven’t seen Eu’s blog, be sure to check it out. She shares her experiences traveling in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. – all in a conversational and approachable manner. And her photos really give you a sense of place!

 

What exactly is the Liebster Award?

Marie Overseas wins a Liebster Award!

The Liebster Award is an Internet award given to bloggers by other bloggers. It is essentially a way for bloggers to connect with other members of the community and bring exposure to new and upcoming blogs.

Liebster in German means dearest, sweetest, kindest, beloved, pleasant, valued, endearing, and lots of nice things! The Liebster Award is a way for fellow bloggers to recognize us newbies for our efforts and accomplishments.

For more information, you can check out this post on the official rules of the Liebster Award for 2016.

Below are the rules for the Liebster Award:

  • Post the award on your blog so everybody knows how awesome you are.
  • Publicly thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
  • Answer their questions about yourself. Feel free to add photos!
  • Nominate 5 – 10 people with less than 1000 followers, and inform them via social media.
  • Write your own set of questions for your nominees.
  • Feel good about yourself for winning an award and passing it on.

 

Questions:

Who (blogger or not) inspired you to start blogging?

There is no “one person” who inspired me to start blogging. There were a few blogs that inspired me before I started my own blog, including Nomadic Matt and the Frugalwoods.

When I started blogging, one person who encouraged me to follow through on my plan was my boyfriend Rony. He also reviewed my first blog posts to ensure that they weren’t complete drivel that I should avoid putting on the web at all costs!

On our way to the Boston Harbor Lighthouse! | Marie Overseas blog
On our way to the Boston Harbor Lighthouse!

 

Name three things you cannot travel without.

My phone: I typically carry around my laptop, my DSLR camera, AND an underwater camera while traveling. But my phone is the most versatile technological tool I bring. On some of my shorter trips, I leave the heavy equipment at home and just bring my phone.

Water purifier: I have a Steripen UV water purifier* that I bring with me on trips abroad. It lets me drink tap water while traveling to other countries. It saves me money in the long term and minimizes plastic waste from buying single-use bottles.

Giacomo Pinguino: My penguin! Giacomo is not only a piece of home that I can carry around with me; he is also a conversation starter. People are often curious about the story behind the penguin I am photographing!

Giacomo Pinguino in Toledo, Spain | Marie Overseas blog
Me and Giacomo in Toledo, Spain!

 

Choose a place on every continent.

These are the places I most want to visit in each region of the world!

Africa: Egypt

Antarctica: Penguin Island (Need I say more?)

Asia: Japan

Europe: Ukraine

North America: Cuba

Oceania: New Zealand

South America: Peru

(P.S. I decided to consider regions instead of continents in the technical sense. Just in case you’re a stickler for geography!)

 

Backpack or carry-on luggage?

I am still working on getting my stuff down to carry-on size when I travel. For now, I usually travel with a checked suitcase and a carry-on backpack. (Don’t judge me, experienced travel ladies!) But for my upcoming trip to Australia, I plan to try to fit everything in a carry-on suitcase… Wish me luck!

 

Do you investigate some culturally related stuff before traveling? (like traditions, taboos, religious festivities, etc.)

Yes, I do! My favorite part of travel is learning about the other place’s history and culture.

Cobá, Mexico | Marie Overseas blog
Cobá, Mexico

 

And what about the language? Do you prepare or learn some sentences? (Why/why not?)

Funnily enough, I have mostly traveled to places where I already spoke some of the language (English, Spanish, or Italian). The only other place I have traveled is France. There, I was visiting a friend who willingly translated for me!

In the future, I plan to visit more countries where the language is unfamiliar to me. I hope to spend some time beforehand learning at least the basics. I think that some knowledge of the language is essential for getting around and ensuring your own safety. It also helps you connect more authentically with the people you meet.

 

What are your top three blogs you are reading?

Frugalwoods: The Frugalwoods were the people who inspired me to save money to reach my goals. They are a super adorable couple with a super adorable baby and a super adorable greyhound! They share their funny stories and frugality tips. And they’re legit: 32 and already retired, living on a homestead in Vermont!

A Dangerous Business: Come for Amanda’s references to your favorite fantasy series. Stay for her informative, well-written posts!

Free Candie: I appreciate Candice’s humor and lighthearted approach to travel blogging. And it was thanks to her that I discovered the Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice, so I’m eternally grateful! (tl;dr it’s one of the most beautiful bookstores in all the land.)

I've always been a #booklover, so this bookstore in Venice really captured my imagination and my heart! ❤️ Libreria Acqua Alta is bursting at the seams with new and used books, housed creatively not only on shelves but in gondolas, boats, and bathtubs to protect them from frequent flooding. The bookstore also uses old, unwanted books creatively as furniture, like this book staircase that leads to a lovely view of the canals. But Libreria Acqua Alta not only houses books… It is also a home to a few cats that wander around the store as you browse! 😸 If you are a bibliophile, definitely add this beautiful shop to your bucket list of bookstores to visit! What is the most amazing bookshop you have visited? 😄

A post shared by Marie Overseas (@marieoverseas) on

 

Where do you see yourself living in ten years?

Boston! I lived in Boston for 6 years for college and work. It’s my favorite city in the world and the one that best fits my personality. The only bad thing about it is the long, cold winters!

 

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I also practice calligraphy, and I love political science!

The last prompt of the @handletteredabcs 2016 challenge: Name! My name is Marie, and I live in Boston! I got started in handlettering kind of on a whim when I took a couple of classes with @letteringbyliz to up my pen pal game, and I started getting really into it when I decided to do the #handletteredabcs challenge last month! A little about me: I am a 2014 college graduate working as a social science researcher. I am excited to be moving to Mexico in April! Outside of work, I enjoy photography and traveling, and I love to read and write! I am also taking classes in journalism and website design on the side. I love to see the work of all you calligraphers on Instagram; you provide endless inspiration and motivation for me to find time for more creative pursuits! #handletteredABCs_2016 #abcs_name #marievabcs #handlettering #lettering #calligraphy #moderncalligraphy #ilovecalligraphy #tombow #tombowusa #tombowdualbrushpens #markers #name #marie

A post shared by Marie Victoria Calligraphy (@mvcalligraphy) on

 

Share your favorite travel quote and why you like it.

The quote I have been obsessing over recently is not exactly a travel quote, but I think it applies to any part of life about which you are passionate:

“On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail,

Reason the card, but passion is the gale.”

-Alexander Pope

(By the way, “card” means compass!)

Puerto Vallarta | Marie Overseas Blog
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

I would like to nominate the following for a Liebster Award:

  1. Adventure Dragon

Adventure Dragon is an amazing and kind of nerdy travel blog (which in my opinion is the best kind!) The blog starts with an amazing backstory of Jillian Michelle, the creator of the site, and her friend Dragon:

“Our story begins in the hospital…where a girl without intestines dreams up befriends a kitten dragon with self-confidence issues (because she drew him with too short of legs). Bonded together by mutual dreams of seeing the world but living in bodies too small and weak to reach their true potential, the two form an unlikely pair and vow to help each other achieve what doctors fear the girl cannot. Together they (and a team of dragonriders) aspire to explore every continent and encourage all whom they encounter to never stop believing in their dreams.”

I love the site’s message and mission. In addition to the fun stories on the blog, five percent of any funds generated from the site will be donated to research on intestinal diseases.

Plus, I kind of think that Giacomo Pinguino and Dragon would make good friends 🙂

 

  1. Flying Food Ninja

Flying Food Ninja is a food and travel blog. In her own words, Sally likes to “eat food, hunt for the next best foodie dish, shop for food, cook food and talk about food (basically in that order).”

Her pictures will literally make your mouth water. (I swear, I go to restaurants and the food never looks that good in real life!) Her food reviews are light-hearted and fun, inspiring you to travel the world just to experience its many culinary wonders.

Plus, that little ninja in her logo is so darn cute!

 

  1. The Lux Aviatrix

Jaye is a lot of cool things – a flight attendant, a published romance novelist, and a blogger! So as you can imagine, her site is really fun. As you might guess from a flight attendant, she goes all over the world. She has blog posts from Paris, Tokyo, Hawaii, Mexico, and more… Her posts give me serious wanderlust!

Plus, she shares useful tips on how to survive flights, reviews of books that you can add your in-flight reading list, and flight-friendly recipes.

 

  1. She Went Wear

She Went Wear is a travel and fashion blog. Angela shares stories of her travels to places all over the world – Los Angeles, Paris, Barcelona, Milan, and more – as well as travel tips and interviews with other travelers and fashionistas.

Umm, and might I mention, she always looks great doing it. (Especially coming from someone who barely likes getting dressed in the morning… I’m amazed!)

 

  1. Sugar & Stamps

Shem of Sugar & Stamps is a full-time nurse and part-time blogger with a thirst for travel. I love the design and color scheme of her website, so I’ve got a bit of blog envy going on. And her beautiful travel photos will make you want to hop on a plane right now to head to California or Amsterdam!

Plus, if you are as much of a coffee lover as me, you’ll enjoy her reviews of coffee joints in the places she travels. Delicious!

 

  1. Two Day Travels

Cynthia is a freelancer, so as you can imagine she’s pretty darn busy. So she came up with the idea of taking two-day vacations for less than $200! This lets her travel without taking too much time away from work and without spending too much of her savings. She not only shares pictures and fun details from her trips, but she also shares the breakdown of her budget so that other travelers can learn from her!

I love her idea of taking short, relatively inexpensive vacations, and I think her blog is an inspiration for working people. Not everyone has the time or money to just take off 6 months and backpack around Europe!

 

Be sure to check out these amazing ladies’ sites!

 

Here are my questions for my nominees:

  1. Two truths and a lie. (Let us know the answer at the end!)
  2. If you could share with other women one piece of advice, what would it be?
  3. Who is the most interesting character you have met during your travels?
  4. Is there any place you never plan to visit? Why? (This could be for ethical reasons, cultural differences, mere disinterest, etc.)
  5. Do you collect things on your travels (e.g., magnets, flags of the world, books)? What is your favorite piece from your collection?
  6. If you could travel to one fictional place, what would it be?
  7. What is the funniest or strangest situation you have found yourself in while traveling?
  8. What is one question that you get asked while traveling that drives you nuts? (Or an assumption or stereotype that you encounter!)
  9. An evil wizard places a spell on you. (He’s clearly jealous of how awesome your blog is.) You are able to return as many times as you want to every country you have already visited. But you can only ever travel to one new country among those you have not yet visited. What country would you choose, and why?
  10. In the words of Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Thanks again to Eu for the nomination, and congrats to Angela, Cynthia, Jaye, Jillian, Sally, and Shem! When you have posted your answers, please share them with me. I would love to read them!

 

Oh no! The Liebster Awards are coming! | Marie Overseas Wins a Liebster Award
Oh no! The Liebster Awards are coming!

 

*Yep, it’s an affiliate link! In other words, I earn a small percentage of any resulting purchases with no extra cost to you. Clearly, it’s a product I use and love, so I have no problem recommending it to you!

 

10 Ways to Meet People on the Road | Marie Overseas

10 Ways to Meet People on the Road

Traveling on your own or moving abroad is a great opportunity to make new friends! But how can you make new friends when you don’t even know where to start? Here are ten awesome ways to meet people while traveling abroad!

Hostels

Hostels are not only cheap; they are a great way to meet people! Sharing a space with a bunch of fellow travelers is a great opportunity to connect with other people. Plus, there are most likely other people traveling solo and looking for companions. Many hostels have bars and common spaces that are natural places to socialize.

Homestays

Staying in the home of a local is another great way to meet people during your travels. Plus, you have the added benefit of immersing yourself in the local culture and daily life. By staying with a local, you can tap into that person’s knowledge of the area. This can lead to opportunities and experiences that you might not have had on your own or with other travelers. And they may just introduce you to friends and family too!

Homestays are a particularly good way to meet new people because you can authentically learn about the place you are visiting. And you will have an even greater time if you treat the experience as an exchange. Don’t just take away – food, experiences, lessons. Share your own culture and experiences with your host too!

If you are looking to stay in a homestay, a good place to start is with https://www.homestay.com/. You can look for more location-specific options by searching for homestay organizers in the area you plan to visit. (For example, you can type “homestays in Chile” into Google).

As always, be mindful and respectful when you are staying in someone’s home. Check out these useful tips on homestay etiquette from Go Overseas.

House in Casablanca, Chile | Marie Overseas

Shared apartments through Airbnb

Have you ever booked a private room through Airbnb? Unlike when you book an entire home or apartment, you often share the space with the host or other guests. This can be a great opportunity for you to meet locals or other travelers, without the craziness of a hostel.

If this is your first time using Airbnb, you can sign up using this link to receive a $35 credit!

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a site through which locals and travelers can meet.

Staying with a local for free on Couchsurfing is a good way to save money and make a new friend while traveling. Through Couchsurfing, you can make new friends from around the world and engage in cultural exchange. I personally have some safety concerns with Couchsurfing, so I have not used the site for stays. (But there are many people who have and love it!)

Did you know that there are also events and conversation threads on Couchsurfing? This is how I have used the site, and I have made friends this way during my travels. Whether you attend a group salsa class, ask a question about the best cheap eats in the conversation threads, or directly contact another person with similar interests, Couchsurfing provides many ways to connect with other travelers and locals during your time abroad.

If you worry about couchsurfing safely, check out this girls’ guide to couchsurfing from Chantae was Here. I think most of her tips apply to both women and men who are planning to try couchsurfing!

Meetup

Meetup brings people from a local community together for events or gatherings. You can go to the website, enter your location, and find groups of people who share your interests. Why not join a weekly hiking trip? Go to a workshop on startups? Participate in a book club meeting? Or just head over to the local pub for a fun social gathering? Whatever your aims, you are likely to find many ways to connect through Meetup.

Tea with Strangers

Tea with Strangers is exactly what it sounds like: a community that connects total strangers to meet up over tea! (Don’t worry, people are usually ok if you order coffee instead!)

You might think this sounds awkward. I mean, what would you have in common with a complete stranger? Surprisingly, quite a lot!

At my first Tea with Strangers in Boston, I met two other young women who I found engaging and inspiring. It was as if we had been friends for a long time! We exchanged contact information, and one of them even came to my apartment for a get-together.

Tea with Strangers is best for people who plan to settle in a city for some time, since its focus is on building a local community. You can even apply to become a host!

Tea with Strangers is currently only active in a limited number of cities, but it is expanding! If you are in one of these cities, you are in luck: Boston, Chattanooga, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Nairobi, New York City, Philadelphia, Princeton, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Plus, they are coming soon to the following cities: Austin, Berlin, Cambridge (UK), Detroit, Miami, Portland, San Diego, and Toronto. If your city is not listed, you can submit it on their website.

Matcha latte | Marie Overseas
But why have coffee when matcha lattes are so delicious?

Facebook groups

There are a bunch of Facebook groups that are good for connecting with other people while traveling.

You can join travel groups on Facebook such as Girls Love Travel, Girls vs. Globe, Female Digital Nomads, or Men Who Travel. These groups sometimes have lists of people with their current locations, so that you can contact people directly. Or you can post on the wall and see if anyone else in your area would like to meet up!

Many cities also have their own Facebook groups where people advertise events and meet-ups. For example, if you plan to visit Boston, join the Secret Boston group for a pretty comprehensive view of what is going on in the city.

Language exchanges

Language exchanges are a mutually beneficial way to meet new people. You can practice your foreign language skills, help your partner with theirs, and hey, you might just make a new friend!

You can find language exchanges through Meetup. You can also search on Facebook for groups of expats in the city you will be visiting or on Google for language exchanges in your destination.

Volunteer

Volunteering can be a great way to give back to the community and make friends while you’re at it. A good place to start looking for volunteer opportunities are websites focused on travelers, such as WWOOF (volunteering on organic farms), Worldpackers, and Workaway. You can also search Google for volunteer programs in your area or ask on that city’s Couchsurfing threads for recommendations.

However, there are many ethical concerns you should consider when you are volunteering abroad. Look for a program that genuinely puts the needs of the community first. For a good resource on how to find an ethical volunteer program while traveling, check out this guide from Maria Abroad.

Volunteering in Chile | Marie Overseas
Volunteering in Chile

Ask friends!

Finally, let your friends know that you are traveling! Often your social network stretches further than you might think.

When I decided to move to Mexico for a few months, I had meals with a couple of friends, mentors, and professors before leaving the country. Almost all of them had a friend, coworker, or other connection in Mexico who they were more than happy to put me in touch with!

Plus, you might even have a friend in the country already! Last year, I had an 8-hour layover in Dublin. I posted on Facebook asking if anyone had any recommendations for what to do for 6 hours in the city. One of my best friends from high school wrote to me and said he actually lived in Dublin! It was a win-win; I got to see a good friend AND get a personal tour around the city!

(If you’re wondering how I didn’t know my good friend lived in Dublin, there’s no good excuse. I knew he had moved to Europe with his German girlfriend, so I just assumed he had moved to Germany!)

A note on safety

As always, exercise caution when you plan to meet strangers. Always do so in a public place, preferably during the daytime. Always trust your gut and remove yourself from any situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Making new friends abroad is an amazing experience. But be sure to look out for yourself, especially when traveling solo without anyone around to help you out in a pinch!

10 Ways to Meet People on the Road | Marie Overseas
Photo by A_Werdan (Pixabay)

What are your favorite ways to meet people while traveling?

The 5 Best Dives Sites in the Riviera Maya | Marie Overseas

The 5 Best Dive Sites in the Riviera Maya

I checked off a bucket list item this April when I got my PADI Open Water scuba certification. I was excited to learn to dive, which I had wanted to do for a long time. But I was even more excited by how much I loved it!

I did my Open Water certification in Playa del Carmen with Scuba Playa. (If you plan to dive in the area, I highly recommend them!) Then, I returned a few months later to do the Advanced Open Water certification.

Scuba Diving | Marie Overseas
Scuba selfie!

This area of Mexico has some dreamy dive sites for first-time and experienced divers alike. Its reefs are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest reef system in the world. It stretches over 620 miles from the Yucatan Peninsula all the way down to Honduras. The reef system is known for its biodiversity, with many species of coral, fish, turtles, and other marine life.

Without further ado, here are some of the five best diving experiences in the Riviera Maya / Cancun area:

Cenotes

Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water that occur throughout this region. They are a lot of fun to visit, but it is an extra special experience to dive beneath their clear waters.

The caves and caverns of the cenotes are filled with pristine water, with a high level of visibility. If you have only dived in the ocean, the experience will be totally new to you. In the cenote, you can see rock formations and the beautiful refraction effects of light shining through the water. There are archaeological remains on the bottom of some of the cenotes. In other cenotes, you can see a halocline, a layer of water where the fresh water above rapidly changes to salt water beneath, creating an interesting visual effect.

The 5 Best Dive Sites in the Riviera Maya | Marie Overseas blog
Photo by jhovani_serralta (Pixabay)

Some of the most famous cenotes for diving are Dos Ojos, Chac Mool, and El Pit.

Chac Mool is a good choice for all certified divers. This dive has enormous caverns where you can see sunbeams dance through the water and the jungle above. You can also surface in an air dome with ancient fossils and hundreds of thin stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The maximum depth is 14 meters, or 47 feet, passing through a halocline at around 10 meters, or 30 feet.

Dos Ojos means “Two Eyes.” The name refers to two adjacent cenotes that resemble two eyes peering out from underground. The two cenotes are connected underground with a large shared cavern zone. The maximum depth for cavern dives in Dos Ojos is about 10 meters, or 33 feet. During a dive, you will navigate between huge stalactites and columns. You can also surface in another cenote, called the “Bat Cave” for its abundance of the fuzzy little creatures! (If you’re still wondering what it’s like, check out this awesome video from user Dmitry on YouTube.)

Cenote El Pit is the deepest known cave in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. During a dive, you can enjoy the effect of light refracting through the water near the top of the cenote. You then pass through a shallow halocline and a hydrogen sulfide cloud at around 27 meters, or 90 feet. This dive is best for experienced divers: The maximum depth is 40 meters, or 130 feet, and you need good buoyancy control to prevent uncontrolled ascents and descents.

I went diving in the cenote Taj Maha, and it was one of my favorite experiences scuba diving. I will be posting soon with more details!

Diving at Tajma Ha cenote | Marie Overseas blog
Diving at Tajma Ha!

There are of course some special considerations if you plan to go cenote diving. The dives are better for those with good buoyancy control, as you will sometimes dive in tight spaces. Because you change depth frequently, the dive may be challenging if you have problems with equalization. You also should NOT do these dives if you have claustrophobia or a fear of the dark!

Tortugas Reef (and other Playa del Carmen reefs)

Diving at the Tortugas Reef is an unforgettable experience. If you couldn’t guess by the name, you are likely to see some sea turtles on this dive! When I dove at Tortugas, I saw hawksbill turtles and a huge loggerhead turtle who looked as old as time itself. In this area, you can also see amazing marine life, such as stingrays, parrot fish, triggerfish, puffer fish, barracudas, and moray eels!

The Tortugas Reef is special because of the opportunity to see sea turtles, but many of the other reefs near Playa del Carmen are also home to a breathtaking variety of marine life and vegetation. Some other amazing dives sites include Sabalos, Barracuda, Jardines, Pared Verde, and Moc-Che.

Diving in Playa del Carmen | Marie Overseas
Diving in the reefs near Playa del Carmen. My first attempt at underwater photography… Right before my camera inexplicably broke!

I went on my first night dive in the Jardines Reef near Playa del Carmen. I got to see a huge green moray eel sleeping in a cave and a small number of bioluminescent plankton!

MUSA Underwater Museum

Have you ever seen those eerie photos on Pinterest of underwater statues of pregnant women, children, and nuns being slowly overtaken by coral and sea life?

MUSA Underwater Museum - The Silent Evolution, by Jason deCaires Taylor | Marie Overseas
The Silent Evolution, underwater sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor

This is the MUSA underwater museum, off the coast of Cancun and Isla Mujeres. MUSA consists of over 500 life-size sculptures of humans, Volkswagen beetles, houses, and bombs. Started in 2009, the museum is an effort to grow an artificial reef and art attraction. The artists constructed the sculptures out of specialized materials to encourage coral growth.

The sea life growing to overtake the human faces and figures of the sculptures is something I can only describe as hauntingly beautiful. While you can see some of the statues by snorkeling, diving at the museum offers a much better opportunity to view the details of the art up close. The maximum depth is about 9 meters, or 30 feet, making it accessible to divers of all levels.

Approaching The Silent Evolution sculptures by Jason Decaires Taylor was eerie. Even with other divers nearby, the scene felt silent and lonely. The figures depict raw human emotions, huddled together in anguish or in prayer, in laughter or in silence. Yet the faces covered in coral and other marine life are distinctly inhuman. As I saw the ocean overtaking human creation, I was reminded once again that humanity and human creation are short-lived. Mother Nature inevitably takes back what is hers.

Shipwrecks

There are three awesome wreck dives in the Riviera Maya that serve as popular diving spots.

The 5 Best Dive Sites in the Riviera Maya
Photo by joakant (Pixabay)

Mama Viña is an old shrimping boat that was intentionally sunk for diving off the coast of Playa del Carmen in 1995. The ship has since turned into an artificial reef, with plenty of coral and sea life, including green moray eels and invasive lionfish. The maximum depth of this dive is 27 meters, or 90 feet.

The C53 Felipe Xicotencatl is a huge Navy ship that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1999 near Cozumel. The ship was built in 1944, and the U.S. Navy used it as a minesweeper during World War II. In 1962, the U.S. sold the ship to the Mexican Navy, who used it for rescue missions and for illegal arms and drug patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico. The Navy decommissioned and donated the ship in 1999. The ship is now home to coral, sponges, and tropical fish who have begun to inhabit the artificial reef. The maximum depth is about 24 meters, or 80 feet.

The C56 Juan Escutia is another former mine sweeper donated by the Mexican Navy. It was intentionally sunk in 2000 off the coast of Puerto Morelos. During the dive, you can see coral and sea life, such as eagle rays, stingrays, barracudas, and moray eels. The maximum depth of this dive is 30 meters, or 100 feet.

Due to the depth and strong currents around these sites, it is better to wait until you have some experience before diving these wrecks. Don’t worry if you do not have a wreck diving certification. (I don’t!) You can still dive these sites by following along the outside of the boats, which nonetheless offers a great opportunity to see the wrecks and the marine life that occupies them.

Cozumel

The island of Cozumel lies 6 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen. Cozumel’s reefs are world-renowned, with beautiful coral formations and abundant marine life. The currents of the water have carved out an interesting labyrinth of caverns and tunnels in the reefs, and divers find the dramatic wall dives exhilarating.

Among the underwater creatures that inhabit the reefs off of Cozumel are angelfish, toadfish, damselfish, turtles, sharks, and rays.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to dive Cozumel during my trip to the Riviera Maya. But hey, it just gives me one more reason to go back!

The 5 Best Dives Sites in the Riviera Maya | Marie Overseas

What are the best dive sites you have visited around the world?

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya

4 Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya

Planning a vacation to the Riviera Maya? One of the wonders of visiting this region of Mexico is its proximity to so many beautiful and historic archaeological sites. Trying to figure out which sites to visit? Check out the list below to read more about the history of some of the most popular Riviera Maya ruins and tips to make your visit one to remember!

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya, Mexico - Chichen Itza | Marie Overseas blog

Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” and for good reason! This ancient city is well-preserved and awe-inspiring.

The city of Chichén Itzá was one of the largest Mayan cities and thrived between the 600s and the 1200s. It was a regional capital and a major economic center in its heyday.

El Castillo is the most iconic image of Chichén Itzá, and it is a sight to see. The pyramid is actually a larger pyramid built atop another older pyramid. In the past, you were able to climb the pyramid and even enter the inner pyramid, but both are now closed to the public for health and safety reasons.

During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the light creates a serpent pattern on the steps up the pyramid, suggestive of the Mayan snake deity Kukulkan. Plus, if you stand in front of the pyramid and clap loudly, it will echo back to you with the sound of the quetzal bird!

In addition to the pyramid, Chichén Itzá has the largest and best-preserved ball court of ancient Mesoamerica; the Temple of the Warriors with rows upon rows carved warrior columns; the astronomical observatory El Caracol; the governmental palace Las Monjas; and many other impressive structures.

Chichén Itzá is also home to the Cenote Sagrado, or the Sacred Cenote. Cenotes are natural sinkholes filled with water that are found throughout this region of Mexico. The cenote served as a pilgrimage site for the ancient Mayan people. Archaeologists have found offerings at the bottom of the cenote, including pottery, shell, gold, jade, obsidian, and even human skeletons.

The best time to visit Chichén Itzá is in the morning, before the tours arrive and the sun gets too hot. The site is very popular with tourists and gets crowded during peak hours. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, comfortable walking shoes, and lots of water!

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya - Cobá | Marie Overseas blog

Cobá

Cobá is another ancient Mayan city, which experienced its peak between 500 A.D. and 900 A.D. The site was first inhabited between 50 B.C. and 100 A.D. and remained inhabited even up to the arrival of the Spanish.

During its prime, it was a site of great political and economic importance in the region. The city had contact with other city-states in Guatemala, southern Mexico, and central Mexico.

Eventually, the emergence of Chichén Itzá took away power from the city, and Cobá began its decline.

One of the highlights of the site is that you are still able to climb the pyramid at Cobá. The view from the top is remarkable, as you can see the forest and some of the city’s ruins from above.

Cobá is a less popular tourist site than the ruins at Chichén Itzá and Tulum, so it is a great place to visit without worrying about large crowds. Plus, the forest surrounding the ruins protects you from the sun. But you should still plan to bring sunscreen, a hat, and water!

Comfortable walking shoes are a must, as the ruins are spread out. Shoes with tread will be helpful if you climb the pyramid, as the stones are worn smooth in some parts. You can walk, rent a bike, or hire a bicycle taxi to get around the site. (I personally recommend the bicycle taxi, since our driver turned out to be an excellent guide too!)

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya: Ek Balam | Marie Overseas Blog
Photo by Pixabay contributor partam

Ek Balam

Ek Balam is a city that was populated for over 1,000 years, with its peak between 700 and 900 A.D. It served as a regional capital at one point, but it was later abandoned. The ruins are well preserved and have served as a valuable source of information for archaeologists studying ancient Mayan civilization.

The Ek Balam site has become a site of interest more recently, and some areas remain unexcavated. This has protected the site from some of the intense tourism seen by other sites in the area, such as Chichén Itzá.

Some notable structures on the site include the impressive tomb of one of Ek Balam’s rulers within the Acropolis, the city’s defensive walls, the Oval Palace, and the Entrance Arch. Another highlight of the site is the murals, some of which are still preserved. Plus, you can still climb most of the structures at Ek Balam!

Near Ek Balam there is also a cenote where you can go for a swim, about a one mile walk down a shaded path.

Ek Balam is another site that is less popular among tourists, and therefore less crowded. As always, bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and water!

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya, Mexico - Tulum | Marie Overseas Blog

Tulum

Tulum was a small walled city built in the 1200s to serve as a port for Cobá. Its peak lasted through the 1400s, and the city managed to survive even after Spanish settlers came to Mexico.

The site sits atop cliffs facing out toward the sea. With access to both land and sea routes, it served as an important trade hub.

Some of the most important structures of the city are the pyramid El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Ascending God. A mural is still preserved within the Temple of the Frescoes.

The most beautiful aspect of this archaeological site is the contrast between the ancient buildings and the clear turquoise water of the ocean below. There is also a beach area for swimming below the cliffs and ruins.

Tulum is another tourist site that attracts a lot of visitors, and it can get crowded around midday when the tour groups arrive from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Try to head over in the morning for a calmer visit. Be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat, a swimsuit, comfortable shoes, and water. I recommend the swimsuit so that you can enjoy the unforgettable beach among the ruins!

Four Amazing Ruins to Visit in the Riviera Maya, Mexico | Marie Overseas Blog

Have you ever visited any of these ruins? Which was your favorite? Tell us in the comments!

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City

Thinking of Mexico City as the next stop in your digital nomad travels? There are plenty of places throughout the city for digital nomads to find a reliable Internet connection. Living in La Condesa for two months, I was able to explore a lot of the cafés in the area. Below are my favorite cafés in La Condesa for working and staying connected!

Each has reliable wifi and an atmosphere conducive to working. Hopefully you can find one that fits your working style and tastes!

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Tomás Casa Editora de Té

Location: Tamaulipas 66, Condesa

Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M., Saturday & Sunday 9:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M.

Website: http://tomas.mx/

Tomás Casa Editora de Té is my favorite place to work in La Condesa. If you are a fan of tea, their selection is on point. They have an entire wall full of tea options, and each one I have tried is delicious!

The café is small but open, with a slight Asian feel. The doors are wide open to let in natural light and fresh air. The café has plenty of spaces to relax or work, with tables for laptop work and comfortable chairs and couches for reading.

A teapot costs 40 pesos and includes enough tea for 3-4 small cups. You can also order frappes and other fancier options for a little more. The food selection is small, mostly scones and a few other pastry options.

The café also has a bathroom, plenty of outlets, long hours, and a laid-back wait staff, which makes this the perfect place to cozy yourself up and work for long hours.

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Cafebrería El Péndulo

Location: Nuevo León 115, Condesa (with other locations in Polanco, Santa Fe, Perisur, Zona Rosa, and Roma)

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11:00 A.M.-11:00 P.M., Sunday 9:00 A.M.-11:00 P.M.

Website: http://pendulo.com/

Cafebrería El Péndulo is a booklover’s dream! El Péndulo is a chain of bookstore-cafés with locations throughout Mexico City. The most well-known location is in Polanco, but the one in La Condesa is also amazing. If you get inspired surrounded by books like me, this is the perfect place for you to work!

The café is two floors, with shelves full of books lining the walls surrounding the café. There are large windows that let in plenty of natural light during the day, and the café itself is comfortably spacious.

El Péndulo has plenty of drink options for coffee or tea lovers, and they also offer food and a couple of desserts.

The café has a variety of workspaces – tables with chairs that are good for working with a laptop and other comfy couches and chairs. With bathrooms nearby and plenty of seats, you will have no problem staying a long hours when you’re in the zone!

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Café Toscano del Mercado

Location: Mercado Local 15, Mercado Condesa, Tamaulipas, Condesa

Hours: Monday-Saturday 8:00 A.M.-11:00 P.M., Sunday 8:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M.

Wide open with large windows that let in plenty of light and fresh air, Café Toscano is a great place to hide out for a while and get some work done. The café is spacious, with plenty of comfortable seats and tables for you to stick around a while to work.

Plus, the café is located right in the middle of La Condesa, in case people-watching gives you inspiration!

The menu includes a variety of coffee and tea drinks, as well as food and delicious fresh juices. The café also has plenty of outlets, for you to plug in as you type away.

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Chiquitito Café

Location: Alfonso Reyes 232, Hipódromo (with another location in Cuauhtémoc)

Hours: All days 7:30 A.M.-7:30 P.M.

Website: http://chiquititocafe.com/

The Chiquitito Café is just as its name suggests – small! If you prefer a smaller café, then this is the place for you. But be sure to come early or in non-peak hours to secure a spot.

Chiquitito Café specializes in coffee, but they also have tea options for non-coffee lovers. Plus, they have sandwiches and pastries for those who want a snack or meal while they work.

The café has a few spots to sit comfortably and work at one of their small tables. The café has a small bathroom and a few outlets to plug in your computer.

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Yo Vivo Café

Location: Veracruz 107, Condesa

Hours: Monday-Friday 7:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M., Saturday 8:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M., Sunday 9:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M.

A small, relaxed café located along a tree-lined avenue, Yo Vivo Café is a nice place to sit down and work for a few hours. The café serves coffee sourced from Oaxaca, so you know you are supporting “local” (ish). Plus, they also have a good selection of pastries in case you have a sweet tooth!

Though the café is small, it is spacious. You can sit in either of the two rooms or outside, and the tables are often full of people studying together or working independently on a computer. There are plenty of outlets around and a bathroom in case you decide to spend long hours there!

Yo Vivo Café is a relaxing spot to work, but it can get a little dark inside on cloudy days when the large windows don’t let in much light.

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas

Bonus: Rococó Café

Location: Juan de la Barrera 4, Condesa

Hours: Monday-Saturday 7:00 A.M.-10:00 P.M.

Now, I didn’t include this café on the formal list. Why? Because my computer could not connect to the wifi when I was there.

However, the café still gets an “honorable mention” because of its eclectic style and delicious fare. The main color of the café’s décor is purple (my favorite!) and some may find their odd collection of artwork and mismatched chairs appealing. The café is situated right along the beautiful Parque España, so it is a good spot for people watching. Plus, their matcha tea lattes are to die for!

I was able to get some good writing done while disconnected from the Internet, though it was not my original plan. Since it was overall an enjoyable experience in spite of the wifi problem, I am including it on the list as another spot to consider in La Condesa!

Top 5 Cafés for Digital Nomads in La Condesa, Mexico City | Marie Overseas blog

Puebla & Cholula header

Three Days in Puebla and Cholula: Colonial Architecture, Ancient Pyramids, and Terrible Allergies!

The beautiful city of Puebla, Mexico, is located just 3 hours outside of Mexico City. Spanish settlers founded Puebla in 1531 between the indigenous cities of Tlaxcala and Cholula. It was a strategic position for the Spanish colonists along the trade route between Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz.

Puebla was designated a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO, due to its unique fusion of American and European styles and its preservation of old buildings and churches from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Puebla and Cholula for three short days.

I arrived late on Friday evening, after taking all day to publish my blog! (Yay!)

I stayed in the beautiful, historic Leonora Hostal. The building was built in the 18th century and was home to governor Agustín Mora. It was a private house until just two years ago, when the downstairs were converted into a restaurant. Seven months ago, the owners converted the upper level into the Leonora Hostal.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

I felt like a princess in this hostel! From the high ceilings decorated with paintings, carvings, and chandeliers, to the wooden library filled with old books, the Leonora Hostal made me feel like I was taking a step back in time.

From a balcony overlooking the Avenida 3 Oriente, I enjoyed a nice dinner of tortilla soup and a tlacoyo before heading to bed.

 

Saturday

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to meet up with a friend who is currently visiting family in Puebla state. For breakfast, I stopped at a restaurant around the Zócalo and tried one of Puebla’s chiles en nogada.

Chiles en nogada consist of a poblano pepper filled with a mix of shredded meat, fruits, and spices, topped with a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. The dish includes the three colors of the Mexican flag – the green chili, the white sauce, and the red pomegranate seeds.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Before my friend arrived, I walked around the Zócalo and took photos of the Cathedral.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

In the middle of the Zócalo, there was a hunger strike by university-age students, on their 12th day without food. The students were protesting the admissions policies of the state university of Puebla. They told me that many students rejected from the university are too poor to pay for more expensive public universities.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas
For an education that teaches us to think, not to obey

After exploring some of the side streets, I was finally able to meet up with my friend, her boyfriend, and her cousin for a lovely day of wandering through Puebla.

We started off entering the Cathedral, which I had been unable to enter earlier because there was a ceremony going on. Then, we headed to the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana was first public library in colonial Mexico and one of the first public libraries in all of the Americas.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana was founded in 1646. The bishop Juan Palafox y Mendoza donated 5,000 books from his personal collection to the Colegio de San Juan on the condition that they be available to the general public.

Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuerto ordered the construction of a house for the book collection over 100 years later. The building was finished in 1773.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Today, the book collection has over 41,000 books and manuscripts from the 15th through 20th centuries. The books focus on religion and on scientific inquiry, and they are organized thematically on each of the different floors. The first level houses books about God; the second level, books about the relation between man and God; and the third, books about man.

As a book lover, I loved visiting the Biblioteca Palafoxiana and admiring the old books. Only the first floor is open to the public, with the books behind protective casing, but they have books on display for you to appreciate. We even got the chance to participate in a free tour, where we learned more about the library, its books, and its history!

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana shares the building with a museum of religious artifacts. We visited the museum for free after the library. The most notable thing was just how many saints’ bones were on display. I had never seen so many of these relics before!

Afterward, we made our way over to the Templo de Santo Domingo. From the outside, the Baroque-style church looks nice but not particularly spectacular. Its red walls with white details are fitting with the vibrant colors of the city, but were worn in some places.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

When I first entered the church, the church looked as marvelous as many of the old churches I have seen throughout Mexico. The vaulted gold-and-white ceilings and the rows of pews naturally lead the eye forward to the golden altar filled with figurines of saints.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Walking further, you enter the Capilla del Rosario, or the Rosary Chapel. This is easily the most magnificent and opulent church I have ever seen. Gold leaf covers nearly every inch of the walls and ceiling, illuminating the saint figurines and the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary in the tabernacle. The walls are home to six larger-than-life paintings of religious scenes, surrounded by ornate sculptures and more gold. The effect is dazzling!

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

A man gave a free tour of the Capilla del Rosario, explaining the history, symbolism, and significance of the chapel. Afterward, he requested just a small tip from the group to be able to continue doing his work. We happily obliged!

Next to the church, we stumbled upon a free museum and decided to go in.

The Museo José Luis Bello y Zetina is the house of José Luis Bello y Zetina, who dedicated his home and collection of artwork to become a private museum upon his death. The museum shows the lifestyle of wealthy families from the 1800s. Some of the rooms – such as the owner’s bedroom – remain largely as they did during his lifetime. The museum houses a collection of paintings from European and Mexican artists, as well as sculptures, furniture, porcelain, and other objects.

(His brother, Mariano Bello y Acedo also donated his collection and the family house to the state to create the Museo José Luis Bello y González in 1944.)

Personally, the museum wasn’t my cup of tea, since I find these kinds of collections a little stuffy. But if you enjoy this kind of museum, you should definitely visit! The museum is free. Plus, you get a personal guided tour from a museum employee who explains each of the rooms to you.

Afterward, we wandered around the city streets for a little while, marveling at the colonial architecture and pastel colors of the buildings.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

We spent a couple of hours in the Mercado Artesanal “El Parián,” the oldest artisanal market in the city of Puebla. We tried on hand-embroidered shirts and purchased small gifts for our families back home in the States.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

At this point, we were all starving. It was 5:00 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast! We stopped at the Pozolería Matamoros on the corner of the street to enjoy a nice pozole and some other treats.

In the evening, we took advantage of the monthly Night of Museums, or Noche de Museos, in Puebla. One day each month, museums in Puebla offer free admission in the late afternoon and evening.

We visited the Museo Amparo, a museum that houses a large pre-Hispanic collection and a few rotating exhibitions. The terrace on the top floor provides a beautiful view of the churches and buildings of Puebla from above.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

We then made a quick stop at the Museo de Miniaturas, a small and quaint museum that is exactly as it sounds! There were miniature scenes of Mexican daily life, history, and folktales. My favorite was the Batalla del 5 de Mayo because of the detail required to create the scene with all the tiny soldiers!

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas
Sorry for the low-quality phone photo! 🙂

 

Sunday

On my second day, I spent the day in the nearby city of Cholula. By car, the city is only about a half hour from the center of Puebla, so it was a no-brainer to make a visit!

Cholula was an important pre-Hispanic city founded between 500 and 250 B.C. At its peak, it had an estimated population of 100,000 and was an important religious and trade center. It was the second largest city in Mexico after Tenochtitlan at the height of its power.

Today, Cholula is a common tourist destination in the center of Mexico. It has beautiful churches and buildings, as well as an important pre-Hispanic pyramid. It is said that Cholula has a total of 365 churches, one for each day of the year. (In reality, there are about 45 churches in Cholula, which is nonetheless a significant number given the city’s size and population!) The Mexican Secretariat of Tourism named Cholula a pueblo mágico (magical town) in 2012.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

I met up with my friends again in the morning. We enjoyed some street tacos and tamales before heading to the Great Pyramid of Cholula. The pyramid at Cholula is the largest known to exist in the world today, with a volume even greater than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. (Though the pyramid at Giza is taller!)

The pyramid was an important religious center in the pre-Hispanic era and was dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl. Different indigenous groups built up the pyramid in multiple stages from around the third century B.C. through the ninth century A.D.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the pyramid was overgrown. They built a church, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, on top of the mound that still stands today.

It was a Sunday, and the pyramid was free to enter. When we walked through the entrance, we immediately found ourselves in the tunnels underneath the pyramid. Archaeologists have excavated a total of about 8 kilometers of tunnels, but only about 800 meters of the tunnels are open to visitors.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

The tunnels are well-lit but small. Though it’s not a long walk through the tunnels, I would not recommend it if you suffer from claustrophobia! We jokingly recalled the scene from Hey Arnold where they were stuck in the subway.

Within the tunnels, you can see stairways going up and down further into the pyramid. Amusingly, some of the steps down had a handful of coins that people had dropped – like a wishing well!

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Emerging from the tunnels, we continued onward to see the pyramids. Upon first look, the pyramid seems to just be a large grassy mound with some stones, but walking around, you find the reconstructed remnants of the pyramid.

Just before the exit, there is a tall portion of the pyramid that you can still climb. As someone who is afraid of heights, I always struggle with steep steps, but I never let it prevent me from enjoying these kinds of activities. I made it to the top and enjoyed the beautiful view of the city of Cholula and the Popocatépetl volcano in the background.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

After exiting the pyramid site, we found ourselves back in the area of food, drink, and souvenir stands where we had started. There were dancers setting up for the Danza de los Voladores, so we stayed to watch.

If you have never seen this dance, you must! The dancers climb a tall pole and sit around the top. A dancer then performs a dance on a small platform at the top of the pole. Afterwards, the dancers attach themselves to ropes and push themselves backwards off the platform (surreptitiously blessing themselves before taking the plunge). The dancers then twirl slowly to the ground, where they dismount.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

The dance is an ancient Mesoamerican ritual, which some say was performed to ask the gods to end a severe drought. UNESCO added the dance to its intangible cultural heritage list to help preserve the practice.

(To see a video of the Danza de los Voladores, check out this YouTube video, or check out this somewhat scary video recorded by the dancers themselves using a GoPro!)

We then climbed the steps to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which sits atop the pyramid mound. The Spanish built the church between 1574 and 1575 and consecrated it in 1629. The Spanish chose to build a church on top of the temple grounds because of the religious and cultural significance of the location.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

From the top of the pyramid, you can see the entire city and the Popocatépetl volcano. It is a marvelous sight (evidenced by the large number of people vying for a spot near the edge to get a picture!)

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

My friends left to have lunch with their grandfather, while I headed over to explore the Zócalo of Cholula, or the Plaza de la Concordia. The park was large and full of life, with children playing and people strolling around the plaza. Surrounding the plaza are the Portal Guerrero and two large churches – the Convento Franciscano de San Gabriel and the Parroquia de San Pedro.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas
Convento Franciscano de San Gabriel
Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas
Parroquia de San Pedro

I met up with another friend who studies in Cholula. She took me to lunch at a restaurant called Pachamama and then invited me to a barbeque at her dorm building.

Unfortunately, I had begun to suffer from severe allergies. In the morning, I had begun with the occasional sneeze. By the end of the day, it had developed into a terrible headache, itchy throat, watery eyes, and endless sneezing.

A few people suggested that it could have been the volcanic ash in the air that was causing a reaction, but who knows? (Can you even get allergy-like symptoms from volcanic ash???) It put a damper on what was otherwise a lovely afternoon! Eventually, I decided to head back to Puebla for some rest.

 

Monday

On day 3, I woke up with my allergy symptoms still in full force. I mustered my energy and wandered around aimlessly for a bit through Puebla before deciding some medicine was in order.

I found myself a pharmacy and bought some cold and allergy medicine, which helped to alleviate some of the symptoms.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

Before leaving Puebla, I wanted to try cemitas, a typical sandwich made in Puebla. The receptionist at my hostel recommended a trip to the Mercado Carmen. The market is a somewhat far walk, but he said they sell the largest and most delicious cemitas!

After getting a bit lost (the entrance was not easy to find!), I finally made my way into the market. The Mercado Carmen is a local market with plenty of food stalls. It was cool to visit, but social anxiety immediately began to kick in as I tried to figure out where to buy cemitas!

After asking around a little bit, a woman directed me toward the Cemitas las Poblanitas stand. Here, I ordered a milanesa cemita (not spicy!), which came with avocado, breaded chicken, white cheese, and some sort of sauce. At the next stand over, I ordered a watermelon agua with some difficulty. (The woman didn’t understand me through my accent!)

I then sat down at a table to eat my cemita, and proceeded to have one of the most awkward solo-traveler meals on my trip so far. I was clearly the only tourist and the only person who was there alone, so I got a couple of strange looks. (Hence the lack of pictures: I already had “TOURIST” written all over me, so I didn’t want to make it any worse!)

However, some people were really nice. A few families told me, “Buen provecho,” as they walked past me or as they got up to leave. I’m not sure if they are normally this nice to everyone, or if they felt bad for me as a lonely tourist eating alone. Either way, I appreciated it!

The sandwich truly was delicious. But I won’t lie that I felt relieved when I took the last few bites and headed out.

Three Days in Puebla & Cholula | Marie Overseas

I made my way to the Calle de los Dulces, one of the last must-dos on my list for Puebla. I had to try one of their camote candies!

The Calle de los Dulces is a street filled with – you guessed it – candy stores! These stores have a wide selection of typical poblano candies, including camotes (sweet potato candies) and tortitas de Santa Clara (cookies). Here, you can buy packages of assorted candies to savor after your trip or to bring back for family and friends to try!

Camotes are a bit odd since they taste like… sweet potatoes. Duh! But in candy form, it’s a bit of an odd taste sensation.

After enjoying my stroll along the street of candies, the dark storm clouds began to threaten a rain shower. I decided it was time to head back to my hostel to collect my things. I got there just in time, as a torrential downpour started. (Seriously though, I got a warning email from the U.S. State Department that day about flash floods!)

I headed back to Mexico City, sad to leave such a beautiful place but glad to be getting away from whatever allergens were in the air!

Three Days in Puebla and Cholula, Mexico | Marie Overseas blog

Tips on how to save more money to travel

How I saved over $10,000 to travel the world

Let’s be real. Sometimes when I read posts by other bloggers about how they afford to travel, it makes me nervous. Often the advice goes something like this: If you want it, you will find the way. I pay for my travels and figure out how to make it work from there. Or perhaps something like this: Just buy fewer lattes and watch it all add up!

I am personally a bit of a “personal finance nerd,” so this advice always puts me on edge. But I agree with the general sentiment: Travel is not just for the rich.

After graduating from college, I decided I wanted to move to Mexico. I began looking for a job, but I had trouble finding one from afar.

One day, I was on the phone with a good friend. He suggested that I create a “Mexico Fund” and start saving up to move there regardless of my job prospects.

About a year and a half later, I had saved over $10,000 to travel and move to Mexico.

How was I able to save up this much money?

Was I working as an investment banker and slaving away my evenings and weekends? Was I eating nothing but college ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and living like a recluse to avoid spending money?

Nope! I was in a normal job, making no more than the median U.S. income, and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (thanks, Boston!)

I was able to save up for travel by setting up a smart personal financial system, examining my priorities, setting goals, and consciously spending. Below I share in detail how I was able to save up money to travel. You can save up money for that dream vacation too if you set yourself up for success using the following tips!

Mountains reflecting on the Laguna Cejar in Atacama, Chile
Laguna Cejar, Atacama, Chile

Setting up a savings account and direct deposit

To begin saving money, it is helpful to have a savings infrastructure that supports your savings goals. (Travel-related or otherwise!) Set up a savings account to keep your travel money separate from your everyday spending money in your checking account. (I personally use a Capital One 360 savings account, which allows you to make multiple sub-accounts for different savings goals.)

You should also set up a direct deposit with your employer into your savings account. By automatically subtracting money out of each paycheck, you make saving much easier. That way, you won’t forget to transfer the money or decide to spend it on something else.

Plus, you feel the loss much less when you never see the money in your checking account in the first place!

Setting realistic savings goals

This point may seem obvious, but do some research before setting your savings goals!

Research the cost of living in the area you want to travel to. Factor in costs of transportation, housing, food, souvenirs, and anything else you may spend money on. Leave room for unexpected expenses.

It is better to overestimate your expenses and save too much than to not have enough. You don’t want to have to settle for a shorter vacation just because you didn’t plan well!

But keep your plans realistic. It is better to start slow and increase your contributions when you realize you have room in your budget. You may get discouraged if you try to save too much from the start.

Using this research, set up a monthly savings goal and a timeline to achieve your goal.

Analyzing priorities

When trying to save, you have to analyze your priorities. To save more, you will have to cut expenses elsewhere.

Do you really need to buy lunch every day at work, or could you make your own lunch at home? Do you really need the most recent iPhone model, or could you use your current phone for another year before upgrading? Do you really need a new outfit every month, or is your closet already full to bursting? Each of these things takes away from your potential travel money!

I recommend that you track your spending for two weeks. This will help you to get a clear sense of what you are spending money on.

After seeing where the majority of your money is going, decide what your priorities are. If you decide you want to spend less on clothes, but it is important to you to continue going to dinner once a week, then go for it! Decide what is most important to you, and spend your money on that. Don’t waste your money on things that don’t bring you joy!

Plus, did you know that spending money on experiences has been shown to bring more satisfaction than spending money on things? It may be fun to shop for a new dress, but you will likely get more happiness by spending that money on an extra night in a hostel in Berlin.

Reevaluating savings contributions on a monthly basis

When I first started my Mexico Fund in November 2014, I saved a measly $30 from my paycheck every two weeks (or $60 a month). It would take me years to save enough to achieve my goals at that rate!

Over time, I increased my contributions to $50, then $100, then $300 from each paycheck. In some paychecks where I did not need to pay major bills, I was even able to put aside $500. As I saved more, I became more aware of spending money on things that were not priorities for me. Then, I was slowly able to carve out a larger and larger portion of my income to put toward my move to Mexico.

Saving takes practice! It is good to start with a reasonable goal and continue to optimize your expenses so you can increase your contributions over time.

Consciously spending

It is easy to justify spending small amounts of money, but these expenses add up over time.

Every morning on my way to work, I was tempted by Dunkin Donuts. By thinking of how many tacos al pastor I could buy in Mexico with that same money, I was (usually) able to prevent myself from buying a stale donut and a cup of watery coffee. (No offense, Dunkin!)

Now, this doesn’t have to be a calculation that takes up a lot of your mental space. It is difficult at first, but over time, you will get into a habit of not spending. Then it becomes easier and easier to prioritize your money!

A view of the Peña de Bernal from the streets of San Sebastián Bernal, Mexico
Peña de Bernal, Queretaro, Mexico

If you decide that travel is a priority for you, then go for it! Using these steps, you can start saving more money to be able to take that dream vacation, move abroad, or achieve a non-travel goal.

It makes no sense to spend money on things that don’t matter to you, when there are so many more valuable things that money could go toward. (Like Hawaii, or some other tropical paradise!) However, it takes practice and planning to be able to save money effectively to reach your goals and dreams.

How I saved over $10,000 to travel the world | Marie Overseas blog

 

How do you afford to travel?

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

Hiking Mexico’s Nevado de Toluca

About two hours outside of Mexico City lies the Nevado de Toluca, an extinct volcano and the fourth highest peak in Mexico. Following a long, winding path up the mountainside, you can take in a beautiful view of the countryside, forests, and mountain.

At the top of the volcanic crater lies even more natural beauty. Within its crater are two turquoise lakes, surrounded by peaks tipped with snow during most of the year.

The Nevado de Toluca reaches a height of 4,680 meters, or 15,354 feet. (For reference: this is about 15.5 Eiffel Towers tall, and higher than Machu Picchu!)

The volcano is also called Xinantecatl in Nahuatl, which means the Naked Lord, or El Señor Desnudo. The mountain was a sacred place in pre-Hispanic cultures, and archaeologists have found offerings that were deposited in the lakes. There are several official archaeological sites throughout the national park.

The Matlazincas, the indigenous people of Toluca valley, told legends of the creation of the volcano. One of the most popular was the tale of the two brothers. The two brothers fought for power, one through war and the other through religion. The older brother engaged in wars, while the younger brother tried to calm him with religion. Tired of the wars and human sacrifices of the older brother, the gods decided to stop the older brother. Unknowingly, the younger brother got between the gods and his older brother, and the gods mistakenly killed him. To remember him, the gods buried the younger brother in the forest, and the Jocotitlán hill was formed. The older brother, celebrating his victory and forgetting his brother, continued to use war to extend his power. Sick of the tyranny of the older brother, the gods sent him to the middle of the valley and stripped him of clothing. They opened his chest and left him to die a slow death. The older brother reached inside his chest and touched his heart, but it had begun to burn and create the volcano. Repentant, he apologized to the gods. He told them that it would be better to die and share the valley with his dead brother. The gods then covered up his heart, and the volcano died.

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

I hiked the Nevado de Toluca with a couple of friends in May, shortly after arriving to Mexico City. My friend Greta is from Toluca and makes the hike to the Nevado de Toluca once a year. She kindly invited me along!

In the morning, we took a bus from Mexico City to Toluca, and Greta picked us up in her car when we arrived. From there, we took the hour-long drive to the national park.

On the way, we stopped for breakfast and snacks. (A must!) It was at this point that I found out that the Nevado de Toluca would be quite cold due to the high elevation. In my shorts and tank top, I clearly hadn’t gotten the memo. Fortunately, I was wearing a warm jacket!

The ride there was scenic, as we passed first through the city of Toluca, then through the countryside. The trees and mountains on the ride to the national park were a welcome sight after having traveled through beaches and cities for the past few weeks.

After reaching the entrance to the park, we still had quite the way to go before arriving to the top. The road seemed to wind ever upward as we rose higher and higher through the trees.

Finally, we reached the end of the road and began the hike. It was a cloudy day, and the landscape was nearly all brown, yellow, and gray.

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

The hike, at a slight incline that would normally have been easy, was made difficult by the altitude. I ran out of breath quickly, feeling like I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. Honestly, I felt a little silly being unable to make it far without stopping. But living at sea level my whole life certainly didn’t help!

After a couple of breaks and some more walking, we reached the crater. The views were worth the lack of oxygen! Within the crater lay two magnificent lakes, surrounded by mountains. (The pictures just don’t do it justice!)

At this point, we chose to climb further upward, instead of hiking down to the two lakes.

Half-climbing, half-walking, we made our way up the rocky mountainside. Fortunately, there were many large rocks upon which I could perch when I lost my breath!

Near the top, I decided to stop. My head had begun to hurt, and I was once again out of breath. I stayed on a large, comfortable boulder while my friends continued to the top.

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

During this time, I took in the beauty of my surroundings and had the chance to take some photographs. There was beauty everywhere I looked, in the grand vista and in the small details.

I watched as the fog rolled in below my feet and blocked the mountains and lakes from my vision. I observed the small yellow flowers and green moss thriving among the rocks. I breathed in the clean (though thin) air away from the city.

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

My friends returned about twenty minutes later, and we headed back down the mountain.

On the ride back to Toluca, we all fell asleep. (Except for the driver, fortunately!) The hike and lack of oxygen had tired us out! We rewarded ourselves with tortas and fresh juice in Toluca, before heading to the bus station back to Toluca.

I later realized that I had suffered mild altitude sickness. I had a bad headache, lost my appetite (I didn’t even eat a third of my torta!), and was utterly exhausted for the rest of the day. I slept on the ride back and immediately collapsed into my bed when I got back to my apartment.

But it was totally worth it to see such a beautiful place! I am happy that my friend invited me to her annual pilgrimage to the top of the volcano. Such a sight to see!

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

The Nevado de Toluca

How to get there:

From Mexico City, you have a couple of options:

Option 1: Rent a car! This is the easiest option, as it will allow you to not only get to Toluca, but also to the top of the Nevado de Toluca.

But for those of you who prefer not to drive…

Option 2: Take the bus from Observatorio to Toluca. The bus station (also called Terminal Central de Poniente) is located across the street from the Observatorio metro station on the pink line 1. Buses leave every twenty minutes or so, and it takes about an hour to arrive to Toluca. (We used buses from the Flecha Roja line, and it cost about 60 pesos each way.)

At the Toluca terminal, you can find buses that take you to the Nevado de Toluca. I would recommend that you let the driver know where you want to stop when you board the bus, so you do not accidentally miss the entrance!

From where the bus drops you, it would be quite the long hike to the entrance of the park. I would recommend that you try to hitchhike further up the mountain, at least to the park entrance, since it was a long drive!

Park information:

Entrance fee per car: 20 pesos

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas
Panorama of the Nevado de Toluca

How to prepare for your trip:

  • Wear layers and sneakers or hiking boots. When I visited in May, it was about 50 degrees out and windy. While we were hiking, I felt warm in my jacket and shorts, but when I stopped and waited for my friends to return, the wind made me cold! (But I lived in Boston for the past six years, so I’ve felt worse!)
  • Bring lots of water. Your body needs more water at high altitudes, so bring about double what you expect to need just to be safe.
  • Eat a hearty breakfast and bring snacks. We did not eat until 3 or 4 pm, and most of us hadn’t eaten a full breakfast!
  • Be aware of the high altitude, which affects people differently. Be careful to take breaks when necessary, and stop hiking if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. When I hiked the Nevado de Toluca, I got a pretty bad headache and fatigue, but my friends were able to make it to the top without a problem. Listen to your body!
  • Bring a camera. You will want to record the beautiful views!
  • The two highest peaks are El Fraile and Pico de Aguila. If you wish to climb to the highest peaks, you will need professional climbing equipment and experience! You can reach the lakes and one of the smaller peaks near the trail to the crater without real climbing.
  • The Nevado de Toluca is covered by snow for most of the year. If you are planning to climb further than the crater, I would recommend taking a guided climb to be safe and ensure you have the right equipment.

Hiking Mexico's Nevado de Toluca | Marie Overseas

Vallarta Botanical Gardens: An under-appreciated beauty in Puerto Vallarta | Marie Overseas

Vallarta Botanical Gardens: An Under-Appreciated Beauty in Puerto Vallarta

When you think of Puerto Vallarta, what do you think of? Most likely the images that come to mind are the beautiful white sand beaches, the Malecón boardwalk, the hidden beach at the Marietas Islands, or perhaps even the old architecture in the Romantic Zone.

But one of the most under-appreciated attractions in Puerto Vallarta is the Vallarta Botanical Gardens (or the Jardín Botánico Vallarta). We decided to visit one morning after walking along the Malecón, and we were surprised by the beauty and tranquility that we encountered there.

Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens are unlike any other botanical garden I have visited. When I think of botanical gardens, I generally expect a variety of well-maintained trees and flowers with small plaques explaining what each plant is.

Pink flowers at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

But the Vallarta Botanical Gardens are that and more. The Vallarta Botanical Gardens also have long hiking paths through the forest, where you can enjoy nature untamed and view the local wildlife growing with nothing more than a path through the trees. A river flows through the grounds of the garden, where you can stop and cool off during your visit.

Nature trails at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions Butterfly at Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens are a great place to visit if love plants, but also if you are just generally interested in nature. Tourists who want to stay on the beach and walk around town often overlook the gardens, so it is the perfect place to get away for a few hours to enjoy nature and its tranquility.

Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

After walking on the hiking trails for a while, we went to the tended gardens. It was a lovely place to relax and take in the rainbow of colors in the plants surrounding us. Here the gardens were more structured, as you would expect from a botanical garden, and included small placards with information about the plants.

Gazebo at Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions Flower at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

The entrance fee includes a drink at the restaurants on the grounds. We headed over to the restaurant to cool off and grab a drink and a bite to eat. The drink was a light lemony tea, with a flower as garnish. We also ordered a mango colada to share and a hearty plate of nachos.

View from the restaurant in the Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

The restaurant also had lovely views of the forest. We sat back in comfortable chairs and observed hummingbirds as they darted between the trees and a few bird feeders on the roof.

View from the restaurant in the Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens are a nice, slightly off-the-beaten-track place to visit during a trip to Puerto Vallarta. I highly recommend it to any visitor who enjoys the opportunity to escape the crowds.

Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

Below are some useful tips for those planning a visit:

About Vallarta Botanical Gardens:

Entrance fee: 100 pesos per person, free for children under the age of 4

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The park is open 7 days a week from December through March, with closures on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The gardens are closed on Mondays from April through November.

The gardens open at 8 a.m. every Thursday from December through March.

Website: http://www.vbgardens.org/

Vallarta Botanical Gardens | Puerto Vallarta Attractions

How to prepare:

  • Wear sunscreen and bug spray. (They sell bug spray at the entrance to the park, if you forget to bring it.)
  • Wear sneakers to enjoy walking on the trails.
  • Wear cool clothing, since it gets hot in the sun! If you want to protect yourself from bugs, consider wearing pants.
  • Wear a bathing suit and bring a towel if you plan to swim in the river.
  • Bring a few water bottles to stay hydrated.
  • Note: The trails throughout the gardens are a bit rough and unfortunately may not be very wheelchair-friendly.

How to get there:

To get to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, you can either take a cab or the bus. Take the blue bus that says El Tuito/Botanical Gardens from the corner of V. Carranza and Aguacate. Buses leave every 20-30 minutes, and the trip should take you approximately an hour.

(For more information on bus routes within Puerto Vallarta, consult this useful page.)

If you plan to visit Puerto Vallarta, you may be thinking of white-sand beaches and the Marietas Islands. But be sure to visit the Vallarta Botanical Gardens, a unique and under-appreciated attraction in the area. | Marie Overseas blog