Hello travelers and friends of Vacations Away, I have just returned from a week in Mazatlan, Mexico and I’m beside myself waiting to tell you all about it! I’ve traveled Mexico, the Caribbean, the US, Africa and Europe, but no word of a lie – I think I had the most fun in Mazatlan. And here’s why:
Mazatlan is on the Western Mainland Coast of Mexico due East from Los Cabos. This area has 2 climates depending on the time of year you go. If you visit May through October, you’ll find summer rains and humidity which decorate the whole state of Sinaloa in beautiful greens with plumeria flowers. But if you visit November through April, you’ll find a semi-dry area rich with beaches and cacti. As I traveled in September, it was not unusual for the daily temperature to reach +44 celsius with humidity……everyone, even the locals, were non-stop sweating. Through the winter months, the temperature is usually a much more comfortable +30 to +35 with less humidity. There were a few thunder storms during my week there, but typically late at night or early in the morning which would serve to help cool the city down.
On arrival in Mazatlan, as a group of Travel Agents from Western Canada, we were greeted by the Elite Club staff from El Cid Resorts with a beautiful sign marking our stay sponsored by Westjet and El Cid. We were greeted with a cold drink and air conditioned bus and after a 45 minute transfer provided by Prona Tours, we arrived at the beautiful El Cid Moro Beach Resort & Spa and were treated to a Mexican Fiesta show in the lobby on arrival! As our stay included the All Inclusive Elite promo, we had full access to all restaurants throughout the 4 El Cid Resorts, so our first night we had dinner at the La Pergola Mexican buffet restaurant and enjoyed a Mexican Fiesta Dinner show with live Mariachi music and folkloric dancing. You can see a snippet here: https://www.facebook.com/vacationsawayinc/videos/1900090943403941/
The next day we explored the city. Mazatlan is a city with history dating from the 16th century, so on your upcoming travels, you will see some restoration construction being done at the historic district. They are updating the walk way of the 17 km long Malecon, as well as facades of the centuries old buildings. From here, we watched the famous cliff divers performing at the South End of the Malecon. Incredibly dangerous, the divers have only 3 feet of water to dive into.
Their precision must be exact as they need to enter the water as the tide comes in so that the water’s depth is safe enough to jump into. They perform for tips. Just beyond here, you will also find Mazatlan’s famous Ocean Pool. It’s a walled in pool filled by ocean water. This is free to the public and is something quite unique to the city.
The highlight of this evening was dinner off resort at Pedro & Lola’s in Machado Plaza. After an open air pulmonia cab ride:
we toured the gorgeous Angela Peralta Opera House, museum and art gallery. At dinner, we were treated to a local dish called Imperial Shrimp. These are super jump shrimp stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and in this particular instance, served in a chipotle sauce. This was divine! Mazatlan is the shrimp capital of the world, after all, and this is a must try when in destination.
After a day of site inspections at the 4 El Cid properties (Marina, Moro, Castilla & Granada), we headed on a Mexican countryside tour to the towns of Malpica, Concordia and Copala.
Malpica is a small town of 1500 with a very tasty panaderia (bakery) run out of the owners home, as well as a small market where you can purchase the famed fire opal jewelry Mazatlan is known for, as well as watch hand made tiles be created.
Concordia town is a great city with a unique historic church that due to the large number of immigrants from other nations settling here, has one Star of David on each of the 28 windows in solidarity with the Jewish Community.
Lastly, we toured the small town of Copala. Colorful homes line the cobbled streets on route to the towns 1 restaurant and artisan shops. Again, outside the historic plaza is the church dating from 1765 that is still used for Sunday service every week.
For a day of fun, we took a trimaran cruise to Deer Island which is directly across from the El Cid Moro and El Cid Castilla resorts. After an hour cruise on the water, we stopped at the island for an afternoon of snorkeling, banana boating, lunch and relaxation. The water was clean, clear and warm as a bath tub. There were plenty of shaded palapas to hang out under as well as hammocks to swing and nap in. That evening, we took a Wine Tasting Class with El Cid Sommelier, Christian, at the El Cid Moro which is provided free of charge once or twice per week to All Inclusive Elite guests.
This next day was a huge highlight for each of us. We spent the morning touring Las Labradas – the historic home of the Azatlan people.
Here they carved art into the black volcanic rocks, images ranging from circles representing the cycles of the sun, to skulls, to animals and more.
The whole area is a protected site, so collecting shells and rocks is prohibited. Make sure to spend time under the pergola watching the waves crash on the rocks.
Following this, we spent our afternoon at the wonderful El Verde Camacho Marine Turtle Station.
This amazing place is a non-profit organization dedicated to regrowing the number of sea turtles in the ocean. There is one marine biologist, one permanent staff member, and a team of 20 volunteers. Each night, the team watches sea turtles nesting on the beach and has 8 hours to dig and relocate the eggs to safe locations – whether at the beach sanctuary or the storage space in coolers. Each storage spot is monitored for temperature by a sensor that goes directly to the Marine Biologist’s phone.
**Marine biologist, Daniel Ruiz
After learning the procedures and had lunch, we released the new hatched turtles into the sea. Of all baby turtles released, only 1% survive to adulthood.
As this is a non-profit, the money that they make comes from tours provided by Prona Tours. Guests can donate extra if they wish, or we can even arrange for you to spend a night on site and volunteering with the team. Any money they do make goes to supplies they may need, but more importantly, to meeting with school kids to teach them about conservation.
Our last full day in Mazatlan was a free day, though we were encouraged to explore more of the city. And explore, we did! Starting early at 6:30am, I went to the lighthouse – the tallest naturally occurring lighthouse still in operation in the world. This is a hard hike. It only takes about a half hour to get to the top, but it’s half an hour going UP. It is certainly hard work and the ground is uneven, but there are several rest points throughout and the view from the top is worth it. From the top, you get the full city view of Mazatlan including Stone Island and the Pacifico Brewing Factory. The glass bridge lookout point costs $1 peso per person and is absolutely safe. Wear socks as you can not walk on the bridge in shoes, otherwise you’ll be given slippers to wear over your shoes.
Once we got back down, we stopped at a local taquiera for breakfast called Tacos Figueroa. There was a woman singing (yes, even for breakfast). I ate tacos suave de carne con papa (tacos with beef and potatoes), and fresh delicious horchata (a Mexican rice water drink with condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla). 3 people ate a hearty breakfast of 6 tacos and 3 drinks for less than $200 pesos. Service was extremely fast, very friendly and the food was delicious and authentic with hand made tortillas. 10/10 would recommend. Find them here: https://www.facebook.com/ConElFigueroa/
After this, we joined others from the group for an excursion to the Mazatlan Aquarium.
It’s roughly the size of the Saskatoon Forestry Farm, but there are plans to expand it to be the largest aquarium in Latin America by 2021. Here we explored the indoor aquarium with all kinds of sea life, watched a diver interact with sharks, explored ruins of a shrimp boat, enjoyed the art installations made from recyclable materials, watched a 3 piece sea lion show as well as a parrot feeding experience.
Not only this, but they also had touch tanks, crocodiles, tortoises and birds on display as well as a good little gift shop. There are 9 sea lions on site, 4 were rescued and the rest were born here. The animals are well cared for and enjoy a great relationship with their handlers. The aquarium also runs a turtle hatchery and because of this, clients are also able to participate in turtle releases at their resort from November to April.
This has been a lot of information to take in, I know. But there are main points I want everyone to take home about Mazatlan:
– the people are amazingly friendly and welcoming. Almost all workers in Mazatlan were born and raised here and often confessed to having a great quality of life so they didn’t want to leave.
– the city is authentically Mexican with plenty of history
– the food is phenomenal and unique with shrimp and filet mignon being especially sought after
– conservation is near and dear to everyone’s heart
– the best money to have in Mazatlan is Mexican Peso. Vendors do not take USD or CAD cash, and often changing either currency into Peso locally can be a burden. I strongly recommend pre-ordering peso’s to take with you.
– Mazatlan is SAFE. I, and others, never felt threatened in any way. We walked late at night off resort and we all agreed that we felt safer in Mazatlan than we do at home.
– As there are 4 different resorts, El Cid has a property to cater to each kind of traveler and I’ve experienced them all to help make your holiday planning easier!
All the above is just some of the things I could tell you about Mazatlan and how wonderful it is! Please do consider making Mazatlan your next destination of choice!
Check out this fantastic video by El Cid Resorts of our amazing time in Mazatlan! https://vimeo.com/297199635/d08ff45554?fbclid=IwAR0HkZ7TrpAUzA_ZishwOtPgifvrgPBlb6xdkFrMMEjwlJsf9mQnIvA7Wog
Join us on September 6 from 5-9pm at OUTSaskatoon for an information evening on LGBTQ+ travel. We’ll have everything from tourism boards of LGBTQ+ friendly destinations, inclusive and equal opportunity travel employers, and more! Don’t miss out! RSVP to [email protected]
In addition to my 2014 adventure to Africa, I flew with KLM who happily offer free stops in Amsterdam or Paris. I chose Amsterdam.
**Here I am at the canals!
My friend I thought we’d take a day to explore the city. We had 12 hours. First, we had to ditch our carry on luggage, it was far too much to carry around for the day. Luckily, Schipol International Airport offers tourist lockers of varying sizes. They were easy to find, had plenty of space for items like back packs, camera equipment, and extra shoes and jackets (we traveled in February, remember).
Then, we took the train from Schipol to Centraal Station right in the heart of downtown Amsterdam. First time tourists we are, we had no idea how to read the signs. We asked a friendly local lady how to get downtown, and after thanking her the ride took about 25 minutes and ran as smooth as silk.
What’s the first thing to do in Amsterdam? Take a canal cruise, of course!
Steps from Centraal Station is the canal cruise desk. Full of kitschy knick knacks, magnets and souvenirs, we purchased our passes for 5 euro and were off for an hour cruise. We cruised past homes, ultra modern architecture, the Anne Frank House, and more. This was a perfect way to orient ourselves on the countless bridges the city has.
After the cruise, we stayed at Dam Square for some time. After all, just in this small town square is the Royal Palace, the House of Bols, the Heineken Experience, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) and more.
We took a quick half hour tour of the Royal Palace public areas – be sure to check your bags and cameras at the check in area! Following our time at Dam Square, we continued on to the flower market – the only floating flower market in the world, operating since 1862.
Blown away by the number of tour booths in the city, we grabbed a few museum passes. We guided ourselves through the medieval torture museum, and the sex museum. Being just a short stop over, we didn’t think we could do justice to the grandeur of the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum.
We strolled past unique shoe stores, hostels, had the most amazing Italian Pizza at a family owned pizzeria, and explored the red light district. The rest of our day was spent strolling the cool city streets, people watching, and visiting various monuments throughout the city.
If you’re considering a stop in Amsterdam, you won’t be disappointed! The city is beautiful, they just ask that tourists be respectful.
In February 2014, I had the extreme pleasure of experiencing my ultimate destination vacation – an East African Safari. Over a month, I camped with G Adventures in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
**home away from home!
First item on the bucket list – baby elephants, baby! I spent part of the afternoon at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust just outside of Nairobi. This wonderful organization takes in orphan elephants and rhinos – whether orphaned due to abandonment or poaching. Not to mention all the veterinary care they provide to wild animals throughout Kenya. We tourists lined up to”adopt” an elephant and have a chance to bed them down that night. We all lined up around the secure area, and then came the green jacketed care takers and their baby elephants. We got to watch these little sweeties drink bottles of milk (which is in fact – infant formula!), play soccer, romp in the water, and wrestle with each other. If they got close enough, we could pat their gorgeous grey skin, temporarily died red from rolling in the dirt to protect from bugs and sunburn. After an hour of observation, it was off for exercise and back to the hotel for us. I was spent from giggling like a child, anyway.
After 2 nights in Nairobi to acclimatize and get over jet lag, we were off in the then still-to-be updated G Adventures Overland Truck. This truck was everything to us. Transportation, rest stop, phone charger, and safe place. On one particular tour, our local vehicles didn’t arrive for a game drive. So what did our fearless tour guide and driver decide to do? Take the overland truck, of course!
All was well for most of the day, if you didn’t look while climbing rock faces, anyway. All was well…until it wasn’t. We were stuck…aaaand stuck good. All of us piled out of the truck to push and pull. No way, nothing doing. So, we wait while our guide figures out what to do. What does a group of 18 to 30 somethings do while there’s nothing to do? Well this would seem the perfect time to watch “The Lion King” on iPad! So while we watch, our guide arranges several other G Adventures team members to come pick us up in a series of vans (there are 23 of us). It’s dark now, getting quite cold, and we’re in the middle of an open to the wild game reserve. There are lions. Finally, our hero arrives to take us back to the camp site. Only one vehicle of 3 showed up. So now what do we do? We cram 23 fun loving travelers into a 7 seater mini van! No word of a lie. This became a highlight of the trip for me.
We continue our travel over Lake Victoria – the mouth of The Nile river on our way to the Equator and on to the first active experience – a chimpanzee trek! We split into groups. Sadly, mine was the one that managed to only see a chimpanzee arm! Those chimps…they knew we were there. They were playing games with us. One of us would say “Over there!” and we’d head that way, only for the chimps to laugh and rush off again. That night, at our most basic camp ground of the tour, was a group of local children waiting to sing and dance for us. Sadly, these kids were growing up in a local non-profit orphanage as each and everyone had lost their parents due to HIV & AIDS or some other equally sad reason. Of course, we all supplied what we could and enjoyed the performance. Circumstances behind them, the kids were just happy to make new friends.
We continue on to Lake Bunyonyi west of Kabale, the deepest lake in Uganda at approximately 6500 ft deep. This was to be our home for the next few nights while our group broke into smaller groups for the ultimate highlight – Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. To my, still to this day, heartbreak, I was not allowed to do this Gorilla trek. I had come down with a cold, and as the numbers of Western Lowland Gorillas are critical, the park wardens are extremely protective of the animals as they can contract the same viruses as humans. So, I had to live through my friends’ camera lens.
So, I spent my day exploring the village and resort at the entrance to Bwindi while I awaited the happy stories of my compadre’s.
Next came our first safari sightings! Lions, rhino’s, zebra’s, buffalo, and the hippos! Oh, the hippos!
Those sweet little ears and judgy eyes. Slay me. I love hippos.
Finally, we’ve made it to Tanzania! At the border crossing, there are Maasai women selling jewelry and blankets, there are scores of tourists waiting for visa processing, there’s the samosa guy selling his wares to hungry folks hanging out their tour buses, it’s bustling. The heat has hit, it’s like the air conditioning has been turned off and I’ve finally found the Africa I imagined. We head to the Ngorongoro Crater to camp for a night and I’ve found the most beautiful night sky I’ve ever seen in my life. The milky way so amazingly purple and close, more stars than can be possible, and the most crisp, calm night air. Animals below us in the caldera – this is nirvana, this is what I came to Africa for. The temp drops to -7 that night, so I couldn’t have thanked the on site staff enough as they set up our tents and provided us with sleeping mats and extra thick blankets for the low temperatures.
Now, we head into the Serengeti. We meet a mother cheetah on a hilly lookout protecting her cubs in their den;
a lion family lazing on the rocks with not one but 2 males in the group which is most unusual for a lion pride;
We camp out in the open tonight. The sun sets over the flat top acacia trees and we settle in for the night. No one can sleep, we can hear lion’s chuffing in the distance, hyena’s buzz past our camp site hot on the heels of the wildebeest stamping by. I’m awake all night, and I love it.
One more early morning game drive at the Ngorongoro Crater, before we head to Zanzibar – the spice island! After 24 nights of camping, a bit of luxury was needed. We stayed at the beautiful Amaan Beach Bungalows in Nungwi for 3 nights – we relaxed in the Indian Ocean, had a beach barbeque, and had drinks at a rooftop bar to watch sunset, it was gorgeous. Finally, we spent one last night in Stonetown – the town Freddie Mercury of Queen was born in. A town once pivotal to the slave trade, we toured humbling exhibits to this sad past. The maze of alley ways forces you to get off the beaten path, especially if you’ve forgotten your map in your hotel. The Arab history of Zanzibar comes to life in Stonetown with the great number of Mosques and heavy doors reminiscent of a different time.
The carvings around the door tell each families story, as each door is carved with a different yet equally as intricate pattern.
This has been a short going over of a deep loved destination of mine. I would love the opportunity to help each and every one of you with your East African dreams, and I’m confident that G Adventures can get you there safely, responsibly, and show you a good time when you’re there!
Our office loves Las Vegas – one of us even owns a home there! We’ve stayed everywhere from the Excalibur, Tropicana, MGM Grand, Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, The Venetian, The Linq, Rio All Suites and so many more! Here are our experiences at some of them:
Excalibur – one of the first resorts after you leave the airport. Rooms have been fully renovated with modern decor and a great new pool area! The resort has a large food court on site with restaurants from Krispy Kreme, Popeye’s, Starbucks and much more. Not to mention sit down restaurants including Dick’s Last Resort, Johnny Rockets, the buffet and others. Live entertainment here consists of Thunder From Down Under, the Tournament of Kings (a family favourite!), and other rotating shows. The Deuce stops across the street in front of Tropicana so it’s a great location for hopping a cheap ride.
The Linq – a new favourite! Formerly the Imperial Palace, this resort was completed gutted and rebuilt about 2 years ago. Now ultra modern and perfectly located in the centre of the strip, it’s hard to pass this one for value! Experience the all new High Roller for the best views of Vegas, and stop at Hash House Ago for a full day fill up! Perfect options for those looking for value in the middle of the strip!
Cosmopolitan – Gorgeous resort! This is one of the only resorts in Las Vegas that have rooms with balconies – many over looking the fountains at Bellagio! Posh resort frequented by the Kardashians – perfect for when you want glamour on the strip!
The Venetian – Towards the North end of the strip with one of the most beautiful and authentic plaza spaces in front of the resort, The Venetian can’t be beat! Music pours out from the speakers while gondoliers propel their guests along the canals of Las Vegas, it’s like being in Italy! Beautifully decorated rooms and a beyond grand resort entrance and casino.
In April 2016, I was lucky enough to take my little family to the 4.5 star Riu Vallarta for a week’s holiday. We were a party of 2 adults and a 1.5 year old. We flew with Westjet on non-stop direct flights. Private transfers were non-stop and took about 20 minutes from the airport in each direction.
Check in at the resort was quick as there were 4 agents at the desk. We had requested a room with king bed and crib. This was accommodated – though we did have to ask a few times for the crib to arrive. We were upgraded to a partial-ocean view room. I personally would have preferred a garden view room on the back side of the resort because as we found out, with our room overlooking the courtyard, the night time entertainment did make it hard for a young toddler to sleep. That said, the night time entertainment I managed to catch was great! Each night beginning with a performance from the kids in the kids club, then on to live music, acrobats, dancers, etc. I enjoy the night time shows at resorts.
Admittedly – the bed was the hardest bed I have ever slept on in my life! So to note, please request a mattress topper when staying at the Riu Vallarta.
The kids club is for kids aged 4+, my son was only 1.5 at the time, but I was allowed to bring him in for some play time, coloring, music and cartoons in the air conditioning. There is a very small round children’s pool in the kids club which would be perfect for parents with infants. We did have full access to the Riu Jalisco next door, which is known to have a wonderful kids pool so we spent quite a few afternoons here. The staff at both kids clubs were fantastic. There are 2 pools at the Riu Vallarta, one is adults only with a swim up bar and the other is family friendly with 2 small water slides for older kids.
Food at the resort was great! Tons of variety as the buffet area is huge, plenty of seating, and lots of great staff. Even if there was something not out that I wanted (such as peanut butter for a toddler who lives off the stuff!) at dinner time, I only had to ask and it was provided. There are no longer reservations that need to be made for a la carte restaurants at Riu resorts.
Resort staff were constantly cleaning. The resort was immaculate, and I loved the grandeur of the lobby with the beautiful, large flower arrangement. Regarding wifi – we paid to have it throughout the resort and it was wonderful. Fast and no buffer time.
One thing I did find was the courtyard bar, even with 2 or 3 servers, can be fairly slow as it is the place to be at night. Please be patient, folks!
The beach – well, the beach is incredible. Long and wide and you can walk forever! All the way up to Bucerias and back. Plenty of space and chairs for guests.
Room attendants were very sweet ladies. At check out, it turned out we had forgotten our son’s blanket. Before we left the resort, our room attendant came running to find us with the blanket. I was so grateful for to her and as any parent knows, a kid without their a blankie is a kid that doesn’t sleep.
Overall, I enjoyed this resort. I especially loved the beach and dining options. I would recommend a garden view room or ocean front suite as I find the partial ocean view far too “partial” and loud. The view from the picture below is hanging out and looking around our balcony.
I saw several weddings while I was here, and having planned weddings at Riu’s, I know the staff are top notch. The resort is great for budget minded groups looking for a beautiful sunset wedding!
WOW! What an unreal deal! 7 nights accommodation, daily breakfast, 2 city tours, Dubai Creek boat ride, jeep safari, Abu Dhabi city tour, round trip airport transfers, AND flights included from Vancouver or Calgary! Add on flights from Saskatoon are available.
Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity to Discover All That’s Possible!
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
December 7 – 14, 2017
Flights from Saskatoon
5 star Iberostar Playa Mita, ocean view room
Priced under $1220 per person, tax included!!
IBEROSTAR Playa Mita, a 5-star Premium Gold hotel located near Punta de Mita, Riviera Nayarit, offers a relaxing and all-inclusive atmosphere complete with mouthwatering international dishes and endless activities for guests of all ages. Standing tall near the beautiful Punta de Mita, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, IBEROSTAR Playa Mita is conveniently located 25 miles from Puerto Vallarta International Airport.