Adventure in the Yucatan

 

Our Ride to the Cenote
Our Ride to the Cenote

Our Yucatan adventure started a few weeks before our departure when it came to my attention that American Airlines still did not have approval to fly to Merida. Luckily, even though it was a prime holiday travel week I was able to find two seats in Business Class on AeroMexico.

This was my third trip to the interior of the Yucatan, and my primary goal was to see Uxmal. The other goal was to stay in one hotel for the duration of the trip, so we booked the centrally located Hacienda Temozon, a part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection (yes, I can get you VIP perks here too!).

Hacienda Temozon
Hacienda Temozon

Our Junior Suite was located near the main entrance, and was appointed with all of the creature comforts that one would expect at this level of hotel. I appreciated the cold air-conditioning, crisp clean sheets, abundance of bottled water, and last but not least, the adorable towel art.

Towel Art Elephant
Towel Art Elephant

For our first full day we toured some of the Puuc Route visiting Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, and had lunch at the beautiful Hacienda Xocnaceh. Uxmal exceeded my expectations, and is quite different in comparison to the other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan.

Our lunch at Hacienda Xocnaceh was amazing. A beautiful setting with more food than we could ever hope to eat, although we gave it our best try. Plus, impeccable service from Juan Carlos who never let our glasses go empty.

Lunch was followed by a swim in the former water tank that has been converted into a pool. There’s nothing better after a hot day of exploring ruins than taking a cold refreshing dip.

The next day we went to Celestun Biospehere Reserve to take a boat ride to see the pink flamingos. Another nice break from seeing ruins. It was refreshing to be out on the water, ans interesting to get to go into the mangroves.

Day Four was where the adventure truly began. Our journey back in time to see what Mayan ruins looked like before they were excavated and reassembled. The first stop was the parking lot at Labna where we met our archaeologist guide, an assistant, and Juan Carlos. We all smushed into a small well-loved pickup truck and barreled down some dirt roads into the jungle. What fun!

Our first stop was Huntichmul, a largely unexcavated site. We hiked up a hill, or what appeared to be a hill. Upon closer inspection everywhere you looked there were piles of stones, rubble, from ruins that had collapsed.

Huntichmul
Huntichmul

Of course, Juan Carlos was waiting for us with comfy chairs and refreshments after we hiked back down to the truck.

 

We got back in the truck and bounced down the roads toward our final destination of the day, Kiuic. The site is surrounded by the Kaxil Kiuic the Millsaps Biocultural Reserve, operated by an international organization that carries out archaeological and biological research.

It was interesting and sobering to see ruins that had never or only partially been excavated. To be able to picture in your mind how this carries through the entire Yucatan peninsula. There were so many people living here and now there are so few, and so much of their culture has been lost.

Beyond that, the amount of effort and skill that goes into creating sites like Uxmal and Chichen Itza, and how much more money is needed to maintain, preserve, and continue exploration. And to whose benefit? We had lots to think about on our way back to Hacienda Temozon that evening.

Day Five was purposefully planned as a free day, since it would be the last day of our vacation. We slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. Took a ride on the old rialway to the cenote for a swim. Participated in a cooking class, ate a delicious lunch, had a couples massage, and lazed by the pool for a couple of hours.

The perfect end to another amazing trip to the Yucatan with Catherwood Travels.

Interested in having your own adventure in the Yucatan? Contact me via email or phone at 508-485-3061.

PS: Stayed tuned for our next adventure in Mexico when we visit Chiapas later this year!

Paradise Found: The Brando

The Brando
The Brando

 

There are some hotels that tug at your heartstrings from the very first photo. I knew from the moment that I was introduced to The Brando that I was destined to stay there. Lucky for me, my 10th Wedding Anniversary presented the perfect opportunity.

We arrived into Fa’a’a airport from our stay in Bora Bora at the St. Regis and Four Seasons. After collecting our luggage we made our way to the Air Tetiaroa terminal.

Aie Tetiaroa has their own private terminal and their planes serve one and only one destination, Tetiaroa, also known as Marlon Brando’s private island, or simply The Brando.

I am a fan of traveling, but not so much of flying, so I was a little hesitant about the small plane, but thankfully the views are gorgeous and it is a short flight.

Upon arrival at The Brando, all guests are greeted with music and dancing, have their photographs taken, and are whisked away on golf carts to their villas.

We spent seven nights in a One Bedroom Villa which is a generous 1,033-sq.-ft. (96-sq.-m). The resort also offers two and three bedroom villa options. The Brando is a new build from the ground up and the villas reflect a thoughtful and balanced design; neither to heavy on form, nor on function.

There is a media room with flat screen television, sofa, and desk. This opens into a living room with dining table, mini-fridge, and coffee / tea area. You then proceed up a short flight of stairs to the bedroom with attached dressing area and bathroom with tub outside, for baths while stargazing.

 

The best part about the villa, however, was the outside. The views were stunning, the grounds were lush and private, the plunge pool deep and cool.

It is truly an eco-friendly resort that doesn’t compromise on luxury. Cold air conditioning from sea water, plenty of hot water in your shower from the sun, rain water in the toilets.

They don’t play lip service to an environmental ethic with a stupid placard on your bed whose sole purpose is to save the hotel money, nor do they skimp on providing the quality level that guests expect.

In fact, their groundbreaking non-toxic mosquito eradication project means that you are almost guaranteed a bite free vacation. No repellent required!

If you book the all-inclusive plan then all meals and drinks are included in your rate, as well as activities and spa treatments (the number of which depends on the length of your stay). I absolutely loved having the spa treatments included as I don’t normally indulge in multiple spa visits.

View from the Varua Spa
View from the Varua Spa

There are two restaurants and two bars at The Brando, and far and away our favorite was Bob’s Bar. It truly is one of the word’s great beach bars. They have a great mixology program, and some addictive bar snacks.

Finished with your cocktail? How about a dip in the pool? There is only one on property, yet hardly anyone was ever there. On an island where everyone has their own beachfront pool, there is no shortage of swimming opportunities.

In short, it is a unique and exclusive experience that you cannot have anywhere in the world. Contact me today at 508-485-3061 or via email to discuss your next vacation at The Brando.

Exclusively for Virtuoso guests:

For 2016 & 2017

  • Upgrades are not applicable with this participant
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • 100 EURO Resort or Hotel credit per villa to be utilized during stay (cannot be used at Hinerava Pearl Shop, not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

Luxury Travels in Italy: Part 1 Florence

Ponte Vecchio
US Airways 718 PHL-FCO Business Class
US Airways 718 PHL-FCO Business Class

In October 2015 I went on a whirlwind nine day trip to experience some of the best of Florence, Tuscany, and Rome with one of my favorite Virtuoso on-sites, Italian Dream Incorporated Travel (IDI).

I found a great deal on Business Class tickets to Rome, so I set aside my general aversion to flying out of my way and booked the tickets from Boston via Philadelphia. Technically, I was starting my trip in Florence, but when I looked at the flight times and costs it made the most sense to arrive into Rome and take car service the rest of the way.

I spent my first night in Italy at the exquisite hidden gem that is Villa Cora in Florence. Wow! This hotel is often overlooked because it is slightly outside of the heart of Florence. However, it is truly an oasis that is just minutes from the Ponte Vecchio. There is complimentary shuttle service, or you can take a taxi or even walk.

Villa Cora
Villa Cora

I had a beautiful well-appointed suite with views of the gardens and outdoor heated swimming pool.

Suite at Villa Cora
Suite at Villa Cora

The true highlight of my stay was the Food & Beverage team. The dining experiences were second to none. At every meal they knew that I was a vegetarian and offered me personal suggestions and recommendations. They didn’t make a big fuss about it, nor did they expect me to remind them or specifically ask for accommodation. They simply offered excellent service and gracious hospitality. It sounds simple enough, but is in reality it is quite rare.

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Exclusively for Virtuoso guests:

For 2016:

  • Upgrade at time of arrival, subject to availability
  • Complimentary buffet breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay
  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Children’s amenities available, welcome gift per room, per stay
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

I spent the next two nights of my stay in Florence at the beautiful Portrait Firenze. The suite interiors are all painted a soothing dove gray and each one has a kitchenette. Located on the Arno River, the hotel is a half block from the Ponte Vecchio.

Ponte Vecchio
Sunset over the Ponte Vecchio

Exclusively for Virtuoso guests:

For 2016

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • A bottle of Italian sparkling wine in room upon arrival
  • Complimentary one-way transfer to airport
  • Complimentary internet access
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

There is so much to see and do in Florence that three nights is not enough time to have the full experience. I definitely recommend using private guides and planning your stay well in advance. This will ensure that you are maximizing whatever time you have and are getting the most out of your experience in Florence.

The highlight of my sightseeing was an exclusive visit to Michelangelo’s Secret Archive. Beyond words!

There is no shortage of gorgeous art and architecture in Florence. Here are a few photos from the Accademia Gallery, the Uffizi, and the Duomo.

In addition to my sightseeing activities, I also did a number of hotel site inspections which included the Hotel Savoy, Villa la MassaHotel Lungarno, Gallery Hotel Art, and the Continentale. The first three are Virtuoso and come with usual complimentary amenity package. The latter two are lovely four star hotels for those on a smaller budget. Of course, I can VIP you at all of them!

If you have questions about luxury travel in Italy, please do not hesitate to give me a call at 508-485-3061 or send me an email.

Grazie!

See also: Luxury Travels in Italy Part 2 Tuscany and Luxury Travels in Italy Part 3: Rome