Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Exploring the Riviera Maya: Andaz Mayakoba, Mexico

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The Cenote-inspired lobby of the Andaz Mayakoba

I recently spent a few days at the brand new Andaz Mayakoba just north of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The chic beach resort, located within the Mayakoba Eco-Resort, opened in December 2016.

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Birds of Paradise in the Andaz Mayakoba Lobby

Located about 45 minutes from the Cancun International Airport (CUN), It’s the just the sort of spot on Mexico’s Riviera Maya that appeals to luxury travelers who want the golden sand of Caribbean beaches without the spring break vibe of a mega resort.

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One of the three pools at the Andaz Mayakoba

I was suprised to find that Cancun was only 4 1/2 hours from Los Angeles by plane, and my flight had tail winds and landed thirty minutes early. The user-friendly nature of Mayakoba makes the resort geographically desirable from both US coasts, since Miami is only 90 minutes away by plane.

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Colorful octopus mural by Senkoeat the Andaz Mayakoba

I was amazed by how well-oiled the resort Andaz Mayakoba ran after being open less than a month. The service was surprisingly seemless. We were the first guests to occupy our suite. The only “tell” I could find of the property’s newness was trying to find out how to adjust the fan in my suite’s bedroom. Matainance showed up and we figured it out together in less than a minute.

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Fun floaty toys at the Andaz Mayakoba

All the construction on the property was finished and there are a few murals that were not yet complete, but that also allowed guests to have a chance to spot Playa del Carmen-based street artist Senkoe on the property.

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Left: Pool side at the Andaz Mayakoba Right: Colorful patio furniture on the suite’s patio

Keeping with the clean, contemporary, and cool vibe of the Andaz brand, the Andaz Mayakoba also has some cool Mexican touches. There are some local snacks in the complementary mini-bar.

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The Mayakoba Resort is technically located in Playa del Carmen, but it’s a destination unto itself. Mayakoba features luxury hotels from Fairmont, Banyan Tree, and Rosewood and now the Andaz. It’s less than 15 minutes to the main drag of Playa del Carmen, but you won’t want for anything if you never leave the resort.

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Rainbow in paradise at Mayakoba 

Mayakoba also has a Greg Norman-designed golf course, El Camaleón, a tennis center, and a nature trail and bike path that connects all the individual hotel properties. This helps the resort feel big but not overwhelming. It’s not a mega-resort and it’s low profile makes it feel more connected to lush mangrove jungles and Mexican landscape.

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Ferry service at the Andaz Mayakoba Resort

There is even a ferry service connecting all the properties, making it easy for guests to stay at one property and dine at another. Complimentary bikes are available for guests to cruise from the Andaz to the any of the other Mayakoba properties. There is even a cenote, or water-filled sink hole, right on the Mayakoba property.

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Guest rooms at the Andaz Mayakoba

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In-room tequila set up at the Andaz Mayakoba

The rooms at the Andaz are contemporary Mexican chic with lots of light and colorful accents. Each building of the resort boast colorful bird murals painted by Senkoe.

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Interior of a bedroom at the Andaz Mayakoba

Our suite was spacious with a huge bedroom, walk in closet, bathroom, living room, two balconies and plunge pool.

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Mayan whimsical touches in the interior of the Andaz Mayakoba

I really like the laid back luxury of the Andaz brand. Service is top notch but not intrusive. The staff at the Andaz Mayakoba is very friendly. Jorge, who was in charge of taking care of us at the property, introduced himself to me as “your new best friend.”

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Another view of the Andaz suite living room

The Andaz has 214 guest rooms, 41 of which are suites. It is a family-friendly resort and has a kids club called Kimbo that hosts a killer movie night under the stars that adults are known to crash.

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Set up for movie night at Kimbo, the Andaz Mayakoba’s kids club

With three pools and generous stretch of white-sand beach, the resort doesn’t feel cramped. Of course there is also bright and airy spa with outdoor rooms that I did not have time to visit during my brief stay at the property.

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Margarita with lemon at OllaTaco

There are four restaurants on the Andaz property, with my favorites being the seafood-centric OllaCeviche. I was also delighted to lear that OllaTaco serves tacos for breakfast on extremely cute Mexican wrestler plates.

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Patron tequila at OllaCeviche

OllaCeviche also has a nice cocktail menu featuring Mezcal and tequila-based cocktails. It’s patio boasts a nice view of the beach.

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Chilaquiles + Mexican wrestler plates = win

Two days was not enough time to stress test all three pools and the beach. I did make a point of taking the nature hike and cenote tour, which is offered daily. It’s a cool way to check out one of the natural limestone sink holes and learn about their lore without too much effort.

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Left: a spicy Mezcal cocktail at OllaCeviche Right: broiled lobster tail for lunch

After spending a few days at the property my husband told me that he could “stay here a week.” This is high praise coming from a notoriously fical guest who usually gets sick of every property’s food after three days.

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Portrait of Jorge, my new best friend at the Andaz Mayakoba

One thing I especially liked about the Andaz Mayakoba experience was that while it had all the bells and whistles one needs in a Mexican luxury beach resort, it wasn’t isolated. You can easily head to a different hotel for lunch or dinner without requiring a taxi.

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The chapel interior in El Pueblito

The resort has El Pueblito, a small traditionally inspired Mexican village, complete with a cooking school, a church, art gallery, and a coffee shop that Jorge told me had the best coffee in the area. He was right!
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Left: exterior of the Chapel Right: a statue in the Chapel

The chapel hosts a Catholic mass on Sundays that is attended by guests as well as employees.

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Dappled light in the Mayakoba cenote

Two days wasn’t enough to fully explore all the Andaz has to offer and I’m certain I’ll be back soon to check out that spa. Room rates start at about $450.

ANDAZ MAYAKOBA RESORT RIVIERA MAYA

Carretera Federal Cancun-Playa Del Carmen Km. 298

Playa del Carmen-Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 77710

Tel: +52 984 1491234

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A Guide to the Best Beaches on the South Coast of Bali (Including a Map)

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Perfect mix of black & white sand with aquamarine waters on Melasti Beach

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager for this blog, recently went to Bali and worked remotely for a month. During her time in Indonesia, she took up surfing and made a point to find the best beaches on the south coast of the Bali. I asked her to do this round up of her favorites for the blog. – Jen

When you go to a tropical island in the middle of the Indian ocean like Bali, you expect to find a lot of beaches. The choice can be overwhelming. The Southern coast of Bali has a wide array of different kinds of beaches. You can take your pick from smooth and wide sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing, to rocky coastal shores and coral reefs.

Here is the selection of my favorites.

Dreamland Beach

Dreamland beach is a popular surf spot. This is not a good choice for swimming. Coral along coast and strong breaks in the surf make it almost impossible to go in the water without a surfboard.

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Abandoned construction near Dreamland beach

You’ll spot numerous surfers waiting on a line up to catch their perfect wave. There is surfboard rental on site, and surf lessons also available for an additional fee.

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Sunset surf at Dreamland

Jimbaran Beach

One of the two beaches of Bukit Peninsula (the other one is Nusa Dua), Jimbaran is perfect for swimming, walking, running, and it is easily accessible by car or bike. With almost no waves, even during high tide, Jimbaran is a perfect place for families on vacation or a lazy day of sunbathing.

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Smooth and shallow Jimbaran beach is a great place for kids

Like seafood? The fish restaurants and markets along Jimbaran beach are the best in Bali. If you’re having a dinner at one of the places near the northern end of the beach, you’ll get the best sunset views:)

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Fishermen boats at sunset in Jimbaran bay

Nusa Dua Beach

The first thing you notice about Nusa Dua is how empty it is. The area is known for its luxury hotels, but the beach is open to the public. You don’t have to be a guest at one of the resorts to enjoy the golden sand, clean water and relative solitude for free, making Nusa Dua beach a budget luxury.

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You can have it all by yourself!

There is one spot in Nusa Dua called Water Blow, water comes there through a narrow opening, and then blows up, when the waves keep coming.

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Waves crashing at Waterblow

Pantai Pendawa

Pendawa has a few downsides. This is one of the few beaches in Southern Bali you have to pay for. The fee is 14K rupiahs (about $1USD) per person and should be paid upon entering the road to the beach. During a high tide, Pendawa is not advisable to swimming, but we spotted several surfers and kayaks there.

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Picturesque road to Pendawa Beach

Pendawa used to be a lesser known spot favored by locals, but since the new road was built it has became more popular with tourists.

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View from one of the Pendawa caves

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Surfing at Pendawa

Pantai Melasti

When we went to Bali we thought Melasti beach would be our secret spot. But we soon discovered that this beach is everyone’s secret spot, although it is still favored mostly by locals. There is a lot of coral, so it can be hard to your feet. But once you go into the water, but you can still enjoy the sand and the view.

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A view of Melasti Beach from a nearest hilltop

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The lines of black sand on Melasti

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Nyang-Nyang

We were warned this would be one of the hardest beaches to get to. Locals told us there would be “more than 500 steps down.” This is not exactly the case. But getting to Nyang-Nyang beach did involve a steep hike through the woods, complete with monkeys and spiders. The effort pays off when you arrive at the wonderful white strand of sand, where the sunset view is the most incredible on the whole island.

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Because of the hard to get to location, the people you’ll find at Nyang-Nyang are those who are not daunted by the steep hike. We saw a few photographers and campers, and a small group of Chinese students.

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East side of the sky at the sunset time

Nyang-nyang is located at the most southern tip of the Bukit, so the sun is setting on your right side, and the left side of the sky can burst with incredible colors.

Added Bonus– there is an old wooden shipwreck right on the beach, which makes a great spot for photography!

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Perfect sunset on Nyang-Nyang beach

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Exploring Stockholm, Sweden: a Photo Essay

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The view from Södermalm

I recently returned from an Arctic Adventure to Swedish and Finnish Lapland with Photo Enrichment Adventures. My first stop was Stockholm, Sweden, where I spent a few days getting over jet lag and exploring the “Capital of Scandinavia.”

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Love locks- they’re not just for Paris

Some of my favorite things about Stockholm were exploring the Nobel Museum in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. I enjoyed the charming cafes and interesting old streets in the area.
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Swedish still life in Södermalm

Södermalm was my favorite area of Stockholm, with it’s trendy restaurants, cafes and creative vibe.

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Taking a boat tour is a classic way to see Stockholm

If you’re into boats, don’t miss the Vasa Museum, one of the best experiences you’ll ever have with a sunken ship. I did not get to visit the Abba Museum, but I’m big on saving something for the next trip.

Swedish Zen at the Miss Clara Hotel

I stayed at the Miss Clara Hotel the first few nights. Located in a gorgeous 1910 Art Nouveau building that used to house a girls school, the vibe was modern and quiet, and had a lovely sauna in the basement.

Window shopping in Gamla Stan (old town)

Stockholm is chilly in the spring, with it’s waterfront location bringing winds off the Baltic sea.

A cute Stockholm native

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a Swedish Frenchie in old town

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Salmon, salmon and more salmon

I got to try a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord with all the trimmings at the Grand Hotel. Lingonberry jam, smoked fish, and the house 1874 Grand Aquavit to wash it down.

Skål! I’m a fan of the Aquavit

Flavored with caraway, anise and fennel, the aquavit reminded me of the Brennivín I tasted in Iceland.

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Stockholm at night

I did some night shooting in Stockholm in preparation for heading to Lapland and chasing the Aurora Borealis. I was colder during the night shoot in Stockholm than anytime during the lapland part of my trip, due to winds. But I do like I the images I got of the city at night.

I couldn’t resist taking a selfie in gorgeous Stockholm window light

The light in Stockholm was beautiful at times and flat at others. But the window light was so delicious I couldn’t resist taking a selfie on my iPhone 6s.

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Exploring the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash Site in Southern Iceland

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Wreckage from the 1973 DC-3 on Sólheimasandur Beach plus a red coat and a rainbow

The Sólheimasandur plane wreck in Southern Iceland is a must-see destination for aviation geeks and photographers alike.

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Moody clouds and rainbows add Icelandic atmosphere to the U.S. Navy Douglas Super DC-3

Located on the black sand of Sólheimasandur Beach, on the coast of Southern Iceland, the wreckage of the US Navy DC-3 plane is worth exploring.

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The DC-3 fuselage adds an unexpected element to Iceland’s already dramatic landscape

The Sólheimasandur plane crash site is not morbid — all the crew members survived the crash landing which was caused due to extreme icing that forced an emergency landing on the black sand of Sólheimasandur beach.

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Left: You can still faintly read the United States Navy on the fuselage Right: wires dangling from the cockpit

Rarely can you get this close to plane wreckage. You can even climb inside.

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The Sólheimasandur plane wreck has been hit by graffiti artists. I don’t think the pink works.

According to Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir, our photo guide in Iceland, the plane wreck site is much easier to reach since markers have been placed on the beach to guide tourists to the site. But you definitely need to be driving a 4×4 since the sand is soft in some parts.

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It’s amazing that you can actually walk up to (and into) the DC-3 wreckage

the Sólheimasandur plane wreck site can be reached off the ring road. Between the Skógafoss waterfall and Vik. The GPS coordinates are 63.459523,-19.364618.

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Sólheimasandur is a popular stop for aviation geeks and photographers visiting Iceland

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Dramatic clouds, rainbows, and black sand at Sólheimasandur wreck site

Visiting the wreckage on Sólheimasandur Beach is a bit surreal. The plane feels like a leftover prop from a movie shoot.

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Anastasia’s red coat adds a nice pop of color against the black sand of Sólheimasandur beach

 

 

 

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Exploring the Eldhraun Lava Field in Iceland

Nordic Little Red Riding Hood

Exploring Iceland’s second-largest lava field, Eldhraun, was like being transported into some moody Nordic fairytale. Discovering and photographing Eldhraun was an unexpected joy in southern Iceland. I wouldn’t have found this highly photogenic area without the help of my photo guide, Jorunn of Iceland Photo Tours who took Anastasia and I here on the first day of our Two Day Photo Tour of The Glacial Lagoon.

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Scenes from Eldraun: Woolly fringe moss grows thick as a futon over lava rock

Moss has grown thick as a mattress on the rocky craters of lava, which date back to an eruption from 1783-84, when Iceland was still part of the Danish Kingdom. The Eldhraun lava field covers about 218 square miles (565 square kilometers) of ground in southern Iceland.

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Left: Anastasia exploring Eldhraun Right: a crevice in the Eldhraun lava field

Now there is plant life peeking through the woolly fringe moss (scientific name Racomitrium lanuginosum) adding unexpected pops of color to this already moody and magical landscape.

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Yellow leaves in the wooly moss

With the skies shifting colors, I keep expecting to see Jon Snow, or at least a wildling or five.

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Left: Ana wandering through Eldraun Right: Red rain coat in Iceland’s second largest lava field

Having Anastasia wear a red raincoat added some extra contrast and interest to the landscape and transformed her into a Nordic Little Red Riding Hood.

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Plant life amidst the wooly moss of Eldhraun

The crew of the Apollo 11 (US astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) practiced before their moonlanding on this otherworldly landscape.

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Searching for trolls in  the Eldhraun 

In 2014 a new eruption created the Holuhraun lava field, which is now the biggest in Iceland. It’s also located in the Icelandic Highlands.

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The starkly beautiful moody landscape of Eldraun

 Eldhraun means “fire lava.”

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Red Rain Coat in the Eldraun Lava Field in Iceland

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