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Barbados 2018: Sea Turtles, Shipwrecks, & the History of Rum

One week in Barbados 2018: Gorgeous beaches, delicious Caribbean food, and snorkeling over shipwrecks with sea turtles

 

Barbados is the most southeastern island in the Caribbean island chain, not very far off the coast of Venezuela. When we told our friends in the US that we were going to Barbados, the reaction was usually excitement, followed by “where is that again?”

Barbados was colonized by the British, and remained a British colony until 1966, when it became a sovereign nation. The original Arawak and Carib native population was sadly decimated by colonization, and sugarcane and slavery were introduced to the island in the 1640’s. The majority of slaves were imported from West Africa until slavery was finally abolished in the 1800’s. The resulting culture in Barbados today is a mix of British, Caribbean, and African cultures that is uniquely Bajan.

Barbados
Image from https://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/namerica/caribb/bb.htm

There are a couple things about Barbados that make visiting this beautiful country easy for American travelers. The first is that the national language is English, so there is no language barrier for English-speaking travelers. The second is that the Barbados dollar is tied to the US dollar, at a rate of $2.00 BBD to $1.00 USD. This makes converting prices super easy–just cut all the prices in half to convert the rate to USD. No need to exchange currency, just withdraw cash from a bank ATM with your debit card on arrival (be sure to give your bank a travel notification before you leave the country). Many stores and restaurants and all taxi drivers take cash only, so be sure to have some cash on you while you are there. There is an ATM at the airport that you can use. US dollars are also widely accepted.

In addition, the water is clean and safe to drink, the crime rate is one of the lowest of all the Caribbean islands, and the beaches are some of the best in the world.

When I was a high school exchange student in Denmark in the 90’s, two of my fellow exchange student friends were students from Barbados, and this trip was our first time reuniting in 20 years. In addition, another of our mutual exchange student friends from Turkey came to join the reunion with her boyfriend as well. It was a fantastic week and an awesome experience to have our local friends show us around and share their island and culture with us.

 

Day 1:

We took JetBlue overnight with an early morning layover in New York. When we arrived, the line through passport control was long but it was a quick 15 minute taxi ride to our hotel from the airport once we got through.

We stayed at the Butterfly Beach  Hotel on the south coast. Our room was a reasonable price and included a small balcony with a partial ocean view and a mini fridge and hot water kettle. Butterfly Beach hotel also offers more expensive rooms with full ocean views, and rooms with kitchenettes for self-catering.

Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados
Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados
Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados
Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados
Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados
Butterfly Beach Hotel Barbados

Butterfly Beach Hotel is on the beach, but the waves were pretty rough so we didn’t go swimming here. They do have a nice pool and plenty of lounge chairs with ocean views.

We were starving when we checked in at 3:30, so we unpacked our stuff and headed down to the hotel bar for a little snack and a beer. We had Banks Beer (local beer in Barbados), Bajan fish cakes (deep fried balls of salt fish mixed with dough), and chicken wings. We loved the fish cakes.

banks beer barbados
Paddy enjoying his first Banks beer in Barbados
Bajan fish cakes
Bajan fish cakes

We had thought we were going to dinner at 7:00 and would have some time to rest a bit, but my friend Damien messaged me and told me the only reservation he could get was at 6:00 and he would pick us up at 5:45. It was 4:45, so we rushed back to the room to shower and get ready to go. No nap time for us.

Dinner was at Shakers Bar & Grill in Brown’s Gap. According to Damien, this is one of the favorite local restaurants on the island.

Shakers Barbados
Shakers Bar & Grill

We met with Damien’s wife Kyesha and his son Dimitri, and my other Bajan friend from my AFS Denmark exchange year, Monique.

I had blackened lionfish with grilled potato and salad, and Paddy had BBQ chicken. It was delicious and reasonably priced. I tried the rum punch, which is the national cocktail. It was strong! Rum punch does not mess around.

I had never had lionfish before. Damien and Kyesha told us that lionfish are an invasive species and are devastating the fish population and coral reefs in the area. Fisherman have been fishing them and encouraging people to eat them as an effort to control their populations. I had only known of lionfish as a fish to stay far away from when snorkeling, due to their venomous stinging spines. But apparently, once you take the spines out, the fish are safe to eat (and delicious).

lionfish
Lionfish. Image from http://oceana.org/blog/invasive-lionfish-are-delicious-%E2%80%94-it-safe-eat-them-6
Blackened lionfish at Shakers, Barbados
Blackened lionfish at Shakers, Barbados
Shakers Barbados
First night dinner at Shakers

If you want a truly local experience and great local food, Shakers should be on your restaurant list for your trip to Barbados.

After dinner, Damien’s wife and son headed home and Damien and Monique took us out for drinks in St Lawrence Gap.

St Lawrence Gap is where the party is at. Tourists and locals mix in the bars and restaurants along this little strip on the south coast. It is the most touristy area, but also the number one spot for nightlife. We went to Damien’s favorite spot, Hal’s Bar–a low-key open air sports bar with strong drinks and continued to catch up on the last 20 years.

We had to call it a night around 11:00 , we were tired from traveling. Before we went back to the hotel, Monique insisted that we had to try the BBQ pig tails from the street vendor outside Hal’s.

At first, I was picturing the long, curly part of the pig tail and wasn’t sure what eating that would be like. But BBQ pig tails are actually the tail bone of the pig with the little nub of a tail at the end. The long curly part is cut off and not used. They are slow cooked and tender, and were kind of like a pork rib. They were delicious! Don’t be afraid to try the pig tails, or you will miss out. Be sure to grab extra napkins.

BBQ pig tails in St Lawrence Gap
Street vendor selling BBQ pig tails and macaroni pie in St Lawrence Gap

 

Day 2:

Our first full day in Barbados was Sunday, and Monique and Damien had plans with their families, so we took the day to relax and recover from traveling.

We started our day with breakfast at the Surfer’s Cafe, a 10 minute walk down the road from our hotel. We snagged a two person table overlooking the gorgeous beach.

The prices weren’t super cheap, but not crazy expensive. The view was worth it. We each had the Barrel, a breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. It was the perfect amount of food. Coffee was great.

The service was on island time (a bit slow), but we weren’t in a hurry. Be sure to come here if you have time to relax, if you have limited time it is not the best choice.

Breakfast at the Surfer's Cafe, Barbados
Breakfast at the Surfer’s Cafe, Barbados
Surfers Cafe Barbados
Surfers Cafe Barbados
Surfers Cafe Barbados
View from our table at Surfers Cafe Barbados

*Tipping in Barbados: 

According to our local friends, tipping isn’t expected in Barbados. It is nice to leave 10% for really good service, but not expected as in the US. Often there will be a 10% service charge already added to the bill.

After breakfast we walked across the street to Massy grocery store to stock up on water, bug spray, and beer. I bought a loaf of whole wheat coconut bread in the bakery section which was pretty good– a bit sweet. We always love going to grocery stores in other countries to see what people eat.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool at the hotel.

Pool at Butterfly Beach Hotel

That evening we wanted to eat at Brown Sugar, a restaurant serving upscale Bajan fare. Looking at the map, it appeared to be next to Brownes Beach, and we figured there were probably some beach bars nearby that we could have a drink at beforehand.

We hired a taxi to take us within the vicinity of Brown Sugar. He was surprised that we didn’t want to go to one of the fancy tourist restaurants on the beach. He wanted to make sure we knew that it was more of a “jungle” setting and not on the beach. We were fine with that. Having reviewed a lot of the popular upscale restaurant menus online, they all seemed like a lot of money for food we could probably get at home. We wanted to try local flavors, and a beach view wasn’t a priority.

We were dropped off on Brownes Beach, the sun was starting to set. We walked up the main road towards Bridgetown, searching for a beach bar or anything interesting. Unfortunately, there was nothing along this stretch of road. There were a few small restaurants that were closed, but not much to see or do. We walked about a mile, thinking there had to be something around the corner, but there wasn’t. We turned back and went to the restaurant.

Our taxi driver said that Brown Sugar was popular for their Caribbean lunch buffet with cruise ship tourists and locals. Dinner is more relaxed. We had no problem getting a nice table without a reservation.

Brown Sugar, Barbados
Brown Sugar, Barbados

Brown Sugar isn’t really in the jungle, but once inside the restaurant you wouldn’t know that. Lush tropical plants surround the restaurant and frogs and crickets chirp, giving the open-air restaurant a tropical ambiance.

Brown Sugar, Barbados
Paddy at Brown Sugar, enjoying the jungle ambiance

We both ordered the Stuffed Roast Pork Caribe, which was pork stuffed with bacon and plantain stuffing and Bajan gravy. It came with potatoes and vegetables and was delicious!

Stuffed roast pork Caribe at Brown Sugar
Stuffed roast pork Caribe at Brown Sugar

They had tempting starters as well, but we weren’t starving and the entree alone was the perfect amount of food. Prices here are a little spendy, but not nearly as expensive as the tourist restaurants on the beach. We couldn’t pass on the dessert menu. I had the orange coconut cheesecake, and Paddy had the Caribbean coffee, which had brandy and Bajan falernum (sweet syrup with lime and spices), topped with whipped cream.

Orange coconut cheesecake at Brown Sugar
Orange coconut cheesecake at Brown Sugar
Paddy with his Caribbean coffee at Brown Sugar
Paddy with his Caribbean coffee at Brown Sugar

Dinner at Brown Sugar was one of the highlights of our trip. We were worried it would be touristy, but it was romantic and the food was outstanding. We would definitely recommend this place.

 

Day 3: 

After a day of relaxing, we were ready for a day of adventure. I had booked a snorkel tour with Stiletto Catamaran Cruises. I get seasick, so I opted for the three hour tour instead of the full five hour tour with lunch, hoping for minimum time on the catamaran. It was still a roll of the dice, but I wanted to see turtles and shipwrecks!

We were picked up at the hotel  in a shuttle bus and dropped off at the canal in the capital city of Bridgetown. I had sunscreen, acupressure bracelets for motion sickness, and had taken two Bonine tablets. I was doing well and hoping for the best. It was hot, but there was a nice breeze.

Bridgetown Canal
Bridgetown Canal
Bridgetown Canal
Bridgetown Canal

The canal was calm, and it didn’t take us long to sail to Carlisle Bay to snorkel with some sea turtles. Carlisle Bay is very sandy, so don’t expect beautiful coral gardens teeming with fish. However, we saw turtles and sting rays and that was plenty exciting. Paddy had never seen a sea turtle before and he was pretty stoked.

Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados–sting ray

The sting rays we saw appeared to be a mother and a baby. They were swimming around on the sandy ocean floor looking for food. Paddy said they are kind of like the “roombas of the sea.” The baby sting ray was bright green and zipped around much faster than it’s mother.

After we had enjoyed the turtles and sting rays, we got back on the catamaran and sailed a very short ways across the bay to a shipwreck. From the boat, it just looked like a big dark shape under the water. But as soon as we got in, it was right there, very close and a full marine ecosystem with lots of fish. Damien and his wife told me later that they have purposefully sunk some ships recently to try and create a faux coral reef to promote new coral growth and help sustain the local marine life.

Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados
Snorkeling in Carlisle Bay, Barbados

This was our first time snorkeling over shipwrecks, and it was pretty interesting. There were quite a few fish. We saw two wrecks that were right next to each other.

After we finished snorkeling, we got back on the boat and I started to feel woozy. I would have liked to get off at Carlisle Bay and head back to the hotel at that point, but the rest of the tour was an hour long sail up the west coast of the island, where we would be dropped off and the rest of the group who was on the five hour tour would continue sailing and have lunch. I ended up throwing up twice off the back of the catamaran while we sailed up the coast. It was not a fun way to end our adventure, but still worth it in my opinion. I did have a great time snorkeling and  I’m glad we did it.

**Tip for people who get seasick and still want to snorkel:

The Boatyard at Brownes Beach offers quick snorkel trips from the shore, included in the beach club price. We didn’t find this out until later in our trip–see details below on day 6.

Back at the hotel later that afternoon, I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from seasickness and resting.

My friend Sinem from Turkey and her boyfriend Hakan had arrived early that morning, had spent the day resting, and were ready to meet us downstairs at the hotel bar for a beer before we were all picked up for dinner by Damien. It was my first time seeing her in 20 years since our exchange year in Denmark, and it was a happy reunion.

Damien took us to his favorite Italian restaurant on the island, Buzo. We met Monique and had a nice dinner catching up on the last 20 years and reminiscing about our high school year abroad in Denmark.

Dinner at Buzo,Barbados
Dinner at Buzo,Barbados

Buzo was pretty fancy and the food was great. It is easy to rack up a large bill here, we ended up spending more here than we did at Brown Sugar. It was very nice Italian cuisine though, and the cocktails were outstanding.

After dinner we ended the night with a couple drinks at Sharkey’s, a very touristy bar in St Lawrence Gap. It was pretty quiet for a Monday night, and a fun place for a nightcap.

Drinks at Sharkey's in Saint Lawrence Gap
Drinks at Sharkey’s in Saint Lawrence Gap

 

Day 4: 

 

On Tuesday, Damien took part of the day off to show us some of the island. We started the day off with a rum tasting and history lesson at Mount Gay Rum. I had recently learned prior to our trip that rum originated in Barbados, and Mount Gay Rum is the oldest rum distillery still in operation, since 1703.

Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Mount Gay Rum, Barbados

Rum is a lot more complex than I realized. In the Pacific Northwest, rum is something you put in a mixed drink such as a mojito  or rum and coke, and we don’t think much about the type of rum or where it comes from.

In Barbados, rum is extremely complex. There are rums made from molasses or different ranges of sugar that produce very different flavor profiles. Barbados is proud of their Mount Gay Rum (as they should be), and they consume quite a bit of it–most commonly in rum punch.

The tour was $20 per person, and included tasting three rums.

Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Old rum still, Mount Gay Rum, Barbados

The tour doesn’t actually happen at the distillery, which is located on the North end of the island, due to safety and sanitary concerns. Instead we were given a short overview of rum production and a rum punch to enjoy in an air-conditioned room, and then went to a different building to watch a short film about the history of Mount Gay Rum.

At the end, we were given three rums to taste in the tasting room: The Eclipse, the Black Barrel, and the XO (extra old). Our favorite was the Black Barrel, which was spicy and full bodied, able to be sipped or mixed. XO is aged longer and meant to be a sipping rum.

Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Mount Gay Rum, Barbados

We weren’t able to taste the 1703 rum, which is the oldest and rarest variety and double-distilled and aged 10-30 years. However, for $15 we could pay for it in the bar downstairs. Paddy’s curiosity was peaked, and he went for it. It was very smooth.

Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Paddy and Damien at the bar, Paddy tasting the 1703. Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Mount Gay Rum, Barbados

You can buy some delicious cocktails at the bar there, as well as bottles to take home. The prices of the bottles are a bit high though, and we found Mount Gay rum for a lot less at the local grocery store. They also sell it at many liquor stores in the US, including BevMo.

After all that rum tasting we were ready for lunch. Damien took us to one of his favorite lunch spots, Rolli’s Bar and Grill in Pelican Village, where we met up with his wife and son for lunch.

Rolli's restaurant, Barbados
Rolli’s restaurant, Barbados
Rolli's restaurant, Barbados
Rolli’s restaurant, Barbados

Rolli’s has an affordable menu of classic Bajan and Caribbean fare, and it was delicious. I had flying fish with potato and salad, and Paddy had pulled Caribbean jerk pork with salad and fries. Paddy’s pork dish was really tender and flavorful.

Jerk pork dish with fries at Rolli's
Jerk pork dish with fries at Rolli’s
Flying fish with salad and potato at Rolli's
Flying fish with salad and potato at Rolli’s

Be sure to try the Bajan pepper sauce —it is a yellowish color and on every table just about everywhere. It has mustard and turmeric and a fantastic unique flavor. We stocked up on this sauce at the grocery store before we flew home. It is delicious on fried flying fish. You can get different varieties but the standard yellow one is fairly mild.

After lunch it was beach time. The best beaches in Barbados for swimming are on the West Coast. The sea is calmer and the sand is powdery white.

Damien took us to Sandy Lane Beach, where we parked across the street from Rihanna’s house (!!) and used the beach access next to her property.

Rihanna's house, Sandy Lane Barbados
Rihanna’s house, Sandy Lane Barbados

Technically, this giant mansion isn’t all Rihanna’s house. It is comprised of six apartments, the other five of which are owned by other rich and/or famous people as well.

Sandy Lane Beach is where the fancy people swim. Lots of private houses and B&Bs and fancy hotels. It isn’t a huge beach but looks kind of exclusive. We tried to set up our towels in one spot only to have the owner come out and tell us we had to move. We found a spot nearby—but be prepared for snobbery to the general public if you visit this beach.

Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados
Damien and Dimitri swimming, Sandy Lane Beach, Barbados

The shore is a tiny bit rocky at first, but drops off pretty quickly to soft sand. It wasn’t the best beach for kids because it gets shoulder to neck deep on adults very close off the shore. The water felt really good.

By the time we got back to our hotel on the South Shore that evening, it was about 7:00 and we were salty, sandy, and hungry. We quickly showered and changed and went with Sinem and Hakan in search of sustenance nearby.

Just a block or two up the road we found Breezer’s Bar & Grill, a local spot serving British pub food and blaring hits of the 80’s.

We sat outside and had some Banks beers and pub food, as well as a shared appetizer of Bajan fish cakes. It was casual and the food was great. Paddy had a curry dish that he really enjoyed, I tried a chicken mushroom pot pie with mashed potatoes and veggies. The prices were very reasonable.

Mushroom pot pie at Breezers Bar & Grill Barbados
Mushroom pot pie at Breezers Bar & Grill Barbados

 

Day 5: 

 

Wednesday was Safari Tour day. Both Damien and Monique said we absolutely HAD to do an island safari tour while we were here, and they came along on the tour for the day as well. Damien made a group reservation for us with Island Safari Barbados, and they picked us up at the hotel in the morning. We did the Adventure Safari, which was $98.00 USD per person, and includes a five hour tour of the island, hotel pick up and drop off, and a buffet lunch with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Typical Barbados chattel house. Island Safari Barbados

There aren’t many countries that you can see all in one day, but Barbados is one of them. We drove all around the island and saw many sights and viewpoints, with stops for photo ops and rum punch.

Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Sugar mill, Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Bathsheba beach–full of seaweed. Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados
Island Safari Barbados

The safari tour ended with a Bajan buffet lunch, including chicken, flying fish, macaroni pie, peas and rice, salad, and desserts. Wine and beer are included as well.

 

That evening Sinem and Hakan were too tired and jet lagged to go out, so we decided to see what Oistin’s was all about down the road.

Oistin's Barbados
Oistin’s Barbados

Oistin’s is a small south shore town where the fishermen bring in and clean their fish, known most notoriously for their Fish Fry every Friday night. All the vendors are open on Fridays and it turns into a big street party with locals and tourists alike.

On a Wednesday, it was pretty quiet. A lot of food stalls were closed but quite a few were open, serving different varieties of grilled and  fried fish and Bajan dishes. We were hustled into Pat’s Place by a woman with menus pulling people in off the sidewalk. We took a look around at the other stalls, and then decided Pat’s Place looked just as good as any other, and there was plenty of open seating.

Pat's Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat’s Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat's Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat’s Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat's Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat’s Place, Oistins Barbados: Fried chicken, breadfruit, macaroni pie, and peas and rice
Pat's Place, Oistins Barbados
Pat’s Place, Oistins Barbados: Kingfish, coleslaw, grilled potato, and macaroni pie.

There was table service, and our agressive but friendly street hustler/server brought us some Banks beers and took our order. For $15 USD  we could order a meat or fish and three sides. We decided to order some different things and share. I ordered fried chicken with peas and rice, macaroni pie, and breadfruit, and Paddy ordered kingfish with grilled potato, coleslaw, and macaroni pie.

Holy huge portions, Batman! We easily could have shared one dinner between the two of us. Fortunately our hotel room came with a fridge, so I ended up eating the leftovers for breakfast for the next two mornings.

The kingfish was grilled in a flavorful sauce, and the macaroni pie was delicious. Macaroni pie is pretty much like macaroni and cheese in casserole-form, with a bit more tomato flavor and spices mixed in than just cheese. Everything was fantastic. It was some of the best food we had our whole trip.

If you want real local Bajan food, go to Oistins. If you’re on a budget, two people can easily share one $15 dinner.

 

Day 6:

Thursday was Sinem and Hakan’s last day, and both Sinem and I wanted some more relaxing beach time before heading home. Damien suggested The Boatyard, a beach club on Brownes Beach, which is the best beach on the island. Extremely touristy, but $25.00 USD per person includes a beach chair and umbrella for the day, bathrooms and showers, and $20 credit towards food and drinks at the bar. A sun umbrella is essential for Paddy and I with our fair skin, and I wanted to relax somewhere with amenities like food and drinks and changing rooms.

Also, the Boatyard offers free snorkel trips out to the bay a few times during the day. Just sign up for a time after you pay your entrance fee. These are quick trips right to the shipwrecks and sea turtles in Carlisle Bay from  the dock at the boatyard, so there is very little time spent on the boat. Had I known this before, this definitely would have been the best option for me with my seasickness issues.

We took the local van shuttles, which is the best way to get around if you don’t have a car. They come down the road about every 2 minutes, and you can just wave at one to flag it down. You pay $2.00 BBD when you exit, just tell the driver where you are going and he or she will stop at the closest place on their route.

The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach
The Boatyard beach club, Brownes Beach

The Boatyard is very close to downtown Bridgetown, and Paddy wanted to check out the city. While we set up to relax on the beach, he went for a walk around town. He came back after a couple hours saying he saw a lot of tourist shops, and when he tried to get off the main drag people thought he was lost or trying to buy weed.

Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados

According to our local friends, Brownes Beach is the best beach on the island, and I would have to say that it must be. The powdered sugar sand was so soft and there was hardly any coral or rocks in the water. The only other beaches I’ve been to so far that compare are the ones on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico: Tulum and Isla Mujeres. The beach is very long, with the north end being more for tourists as it is closest to the cruise ship pier, and the south end being a bit more of a locals beach.

I think we were the only people at the Boatyard who weren’t off a cruise ship. It was REALLY touristy, and the party music (UB40 anyone?) was a little obnoxious, but the beach was so beautiful I was able to tune it out. Paddy had a more difficult time with it.

Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados

For lunch I had a fish sandwich (or “cutter” as they are called in Barbados). It was good, and reasonably priced. There were two for one cocktail specials going on so we ended up getting a few drinks and lunch for me (Paddy wasn’t hungry) and didn’t end up using more than the total $40 USD worth of food and drink included in our entrance fee.

There were one or two times where “free shots” were offered to whoever wanted them, during which a really obnoxious song about shots was blared and the bartenders got up on the bar and poured bright colored liquids into people’s mouths. Sinem and Hakan went for it just for fun. I don’t know what was in those bottles, but I didn’t think that neon high-fructose corn syrup with a tiny bit of alcohol needed to be in my body, so I opted out.

Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados

Damien and his son Dimitri joined us for a bit in the afternoon, and we stayed until closing around 5:00 PM. It was a good day and I would definitely make Brownes Beach a top priority when visiting Barbados. If  beach chairs and amenities aren’t a priority and you can’t handle cruise ship tourist free-shot UB40 time, head further south down the beach for a more local experience.

Brownes Beach Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados

That evening, we went back to Shaker’s for dinner again, as Sinem and Hakan hadn’t been there yet and it was their last night before heading back to Turkey. Damien’s wife and son met up with us for dinner and we had a nice evening. This time Paddy tried the steak and I dried the grilled shrimp. The shrimp were good, but I liked the blackened lionfish I had the first night better.

Brownes Beach Barbados
Steak at Shakers, Barbados
Brownes Beach Barbados
Grilled shrimp at Shakers, Barbados

After dinner we went out for a few drinks in St Lawrence Gap, where Monique joined us. We started off with some upscale cocktails at Cocktail Kitchen.  The cocktails were a bit pricey, but delicious. I felt like I needed a little kick along with my drink, so I had the Espresso Martini. The espresso shot and the vodka made the drink just the after dinner pick me up that I was looking for, and tasted like dessert. Damien had the classic Zombie tiki drink, made with Mount Gay black barrel and silver rums. He said it was good.

Cocktails at Cocktail Kitchen in St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados
Cocktails at Cocktail Kitchen in St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados: Zombie and Espresso Martini

After starting with a few nice cocktails, we stopped back off at Damien’s favorite bar (Hal’s Bar) again for some beers. It was busy with locals getting their Thursday night on. We had a few drinks and celebrated Sinem and Hakan’s last night.

Drinks at Hal's Bar in St Lawrence Gap, Barbados
Drinks at Hal’s Bar in St Lawrence Gap, Barbados

 

Day 7:

 

Our last day in Barbados, we took it easy. We had a mediocre breakfast at the hotel (the breakfast buffet isn’t that great at Butterfly, but we didn’t feel like going anywhere else). We walked down to the Massy grocery store to pick up some rum, jerk seasonings, and Bajan pepper sauce to take home. We then packed, read books, and lounged by the pool.

That evening, Damien picked us up and took us to the Oistin’s Fish Fry, a Friday night tradition in Barbados. If you are in Barbados on a Friday, you MUST go to the Fish Fry. It’s a great way to get a full dose of Bajan food and culture all in one.

The Fish Fry was BUSY. Traffic on the main road was bad so Damien took a back hills secret-squirrel route. Parking wasn’t too hard to find in the lot across the street, but it was filling up fast.

We weaved through the food stalls and stands selling souvenirs and crafts until we got to Damien’s favorite fish stand, Uncle George’s Fish Net Grill, where there was a line. The line didn’t seem that long, but it wasn’t moving very fast. Damien got us some beers from a rum shop next door to drink while we waited.

Of course, it started pouring rain while we were in line. We ducked under the overhang of the rum shop for a bit, but had to jump back in to claim our spots once the rain got back down to a drizzle.

Oistins Barbados
Waiting in the rain for Uncle George’s fish stall at Oistins

Uncle George’s was selling all kinds of fish. You chose your fish and it comes with a couple sides: macaroni salad, peas and rice, coleslaw, fries, or potato. The line took about an hour (good food takes time I suppose) but it was worth it.

Uncle George's Fish Net Grill, Oistins Barbados
Uncle George’s Fish Net Grill, Oistins Barbados
Uncle George's Fish Net Grill, Oistins Barbados
Uncle George’s Fish Net Grill, Oistins Barbados

Once we had placed our orders, we realized we had a conundrum–where to sit. The place was packed. We finally saw some people getting up to leave so we gave Damien our money and went with his son Dimitri to hold the table while Damien waited for the food. Paddy got another beer and a rum punch from the rum shop –the rum punch was STRONG. Delicious, but I couldn’t finish it as I didn’t want to be hungover for our 6:00 AM flight the next morning.

Dimitri and Paddy holding the table at Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Dimitri and Paddy holding the table at Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Whole red snapper, Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Swordfish, Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados

Monique joined us and after we ate we watched some of the dancers on the stage for a bit. The first three weren’t that great, but then a Michael Jackson duo started up and they were fabulous. One was doing an 80’s Michael impersonation and the other was 90’s Michael. Their dance moves and facial expressions were spot on. 80’s Michael was my favorite.

Michael Jackson dancers at Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados
Michael Jackson dancers at Oistins Fish Fry, Barbados

We wanted to stay late but we had an early flight the next morning. If you go to Barbados, try to make a point to arrange for a Friday night at Oistins. It was pretty fun.

 

 

Barbados is a beautiful country. A lot of people only see it for a day on a cruise ship stop, or spend most of their time at a mega resort. There is a lot more to see away from the tourist trail, but some of the touristy things are still pretty fun. We would definitely recommend the island safari as a great way to see the country, Oistins Fish Fry, and snorkeling with turtles and shipwrecks. The best beaches are on the west coast, but staying there can be pretty pricey. We liked staying near Oistins and being able to walk to a grocery store and good local food.

It was great to see my long lost exchange student friends again, and we felt fortunate to have local guides to show us what they love about their country. Damien and Monique showed us a great time and we are thankful for their hospitality on this trip.

 

 

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum, Mexico: Three days on the most beautiful stretch of beach we’ve seen in all our world travels.

 

This was our second trip to Tulum. Our first trip was back in 2009. We stayed in a little bungalow a the end of the Boca Paila beach road next to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. There was only electricity from a generator after 5:00 PM, and our Argentinian host cooked delicious yet simple BBQ dinners in the evenings. The powdered-sugar beach was amazing, and we often had it all to ourselves. Far (but not too far) from the maddening tourist crowds and all-inclusive resorts of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, Tulum felt like an undiscovered, sleepy paradise.

Tulum beach
Evening stroll on the beach, Tulum 2009
tulum beach bungalow
Our beach bungalow in Tulum in 2009
Tulum ruins
Tulum ruins beach, 2009

Read about our first trip to Tulum and the Yucatan here.

Needless to say, we’d been longing to go back. The two drawbacks to our first trip to Tulum were the time of year (September was WAY too hot for our taste, although we did enjoy the lack of crowds), and our bungalow at the end of the Boca Paila road was nice and remote, but if we needed to go to town we had to hire a taxi to take us the seven miles into town, which was expensive if we wanted to go to town frequently.

This trip, we went with a couple friends of ours during peak season in March, and stayed on the north end of the Boca Paila road closer to town. I had done a little research on the hotels along the beach road, and there were sections in the middle that were fairly rocky without a really nice  sandy beach. It looked like the best beach stretches were on the north and south ends. (Tip–to see what kind of beach a hotel has, use the Google Maps satellite feature to see the coast from above).

We opted to stay at La Vita e Bella, which was a bit more money than we wanted to spend but looked like it had a great beach.

**Excerpt from original post Mexico 2016: Isla Holbox, Valladolid, and Tulum. Read about the rest of our adventures in the Yucatan here.

Day 1:

When we arrived at Hotel La Vita e Bella in Tulum at 12:30, we were told that our room wouldn’t be ready until 3:00 but that we could leave our bags at the front desk luggage storage until then. Our friends Heather and Stephen had arrived a couple days prior and Heather met us in the beach bar and we took a taxi into town (Tulum Pueblo) for lunch. Unfortunately, Stephen had made the mistake of drinking some tamarind water from a taco truck on Isla Holbox, and had been pretty sick for their first two days.

**Pro tip: stick to bottled drinks only.

The Tulum Pueblo is a few miles from the hotels along the Boca Paila beach road, and a taxi or car is necessary to get to and from. The hotels and restaurants in the pueblo are much less expensive than the ones on the beach. That being said, the beach is the best beach we’ve ever been to in all our travels, and the extra money to stay on the beach is worth it. The sand is a soft, powdered sugar texture with no rocks or coral in the water in many places, and the water is electric blue.

Tulum Beach in front of Hotel La Vita e Bella
Tulum Beach in front of Hotel La Vita e Bella
Tulum Beach in front of Hotel La Vita e Bella
Tulum Beach in front of Hotel La Vita e Bella–view from the beach bar

In the Tulum Pueblo, we had lunch at La Barracuda, a great little local seafood restaurant on the far end of the main drag. Lunch came with complimentary chips and a tiny cup of a brothy crab soup. We had fish, shrimp, and octopus tacos and they were all outstanding. Prices were excellent—if you are in town looking for food, this place is worth the trek down to the end of the main street.

Seafood tacos at La Barracuda in Tulum pueblo
Seafood tacos at La Barracuda in Tulum pueblo: shrimp, octopus, and fish
Seafood tacos at La Barracuda in Tulum pueblo
Seafood tacos at La Barracuda in Tulum pueblo

When we arrived back to check into our room at La Vita e Bella, the girl working at the desk showed us to a very tiny bungalow near the public bathrooms with a view of the bushes in front of the restaurant, just steps from the front desk. Pretty much the shittiest mid-range bungalow they had.

We had booked a “junior suite,” which was described as being large with a large private deck. I went back and asked the front desk girl and she told me that the tiny bungalow was the same price as the junior suite (not sure what that was supposed to mean). She then said that she might have another room available if we would like to look at it. I said that we would.

We were then shown to a room that was exactly the description of what we booked, on the top floor of a four unit building. It had an ocean view, a large balcony with a hammock, and was very private. We opted to move.

Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum
Junior Suite at La Vita e Bella, Tulum

We were a bit annoyed that we weren’t put in this room to begin with. Heather had been taking care of Stephen while he was sick the last two days, and wasn’t so impressed with the front desk service. The front desk staff seemed unwelcoming and indifferent, more content to play around on Facebook on the computer than assist guests. Heather did say that the restaurant staff was very helpful and accommodating, however.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at the beach and in the hammock on our deck. It was pretty windy and the snorkel tour we had booked at Akumal the next day was cancelled. I was still recovering from my cold and we were sort of relieved to spend the rest of our last two days relaxing before flying home.

La Vita e Bella Tulum
La Vita e Bella Tulum
Tulum
Tulum

For dinner, Heather, Paddy, and I went down the road a short ways and across the street to Kitchen Table, a restaurant that pops up every night with a wood fired stove, coolers, and a grill to serve fresh food for dinner. The only light is from candles and a few solar powered lights in the kitchen and bar. We had some appetizers and cocktails, and they were outstanding. We knew Stephen would want to come here (he was back at the room trying to keep down some rice and beans) so we made a reservation for dinner on our last night. Note: Kitchen Table is cash only.

**Tip: When eating at restaurants on the jungle side of the beach road, wear LOTS of bug spray with DEET. The mosquitos are particularly bad after dusk.

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Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum

Day 2:

Since our snorkel tour was canceled due to strong winds, we decided to have a lazy day. Heather and Stephen (who was finally feeling better after his bout with tamarind tap water) had gone to Chichen Itza for the day with Eduardo from MyCancunTransportation.com. We had been to Chichen Itza on our previous visit, and we highly recommend it. We do recommend getting there right when they open in the morning, however as all the tour buses start showing up at about 10:30-11:00 AM. They said that Eduarado charged them about $200 USD for being their personal driver/tour guide for the day, and he was great. The drive to Chichen Itza from Tulum is about 2.5 hours each way, and they went at their own pace and made stops in Valladolid and at the Gran Cenote as well. Considering that a ticket on a tour bus is about $80-$115 per person, it was a great deal for them. They enthusiastically recommend Eduardo and said that he was a great guide.

Breakfast is complimentary at La Vita e Bella, and has a choice of a Mexican style breakfast, an American style breakfast, a “natural” style breakfast with yogurt, fruit, and granola, or a continental breakfast with fruit and croissants. We opted for the Mexican style breakfast, which was scrambled eggs with salsa, beans, tortillas, and rice.

La Vita e Bella breakfast Tulum
La Vita e Bella breakfast Tulum

We spent the day reading, relaxing, and walking on the beach.

Tulum Beach
Tulum Beach
Tulum Beach
Tulum Beach

That afternoon we went to the beach bar in front of the restaurant and sat down in some beach chairs. A staff member came by and asked us what our room number was. We told him 23, and were told that our beach chairs and palapa umbrella were further down away from the restaurant. (It would have been nice to be told that we had our own beach chairs, or anything about the way the beach restaurant/bar operated when we checked in…but that is the fabulous front desk service for you). We asked if we could sit in front of the restaurant as we wanted to order food and drinks and the waiter decided that it was okay that we sat there. I read the sign in front of the restaurant a little later and saw that they charge people 150 pesos to sit at the beach chair, intended for people who are visiting Tulum for the day and want a beach club to hang out at. There were a lot of beach chairs open, and for what they charge for the rooms there, we should be able to sit wherever the hell we want. But I digress…

We ordered some beers and pizzas for lunch, but we weren’t allowed to eat the pizza on the beach, and the restaurant service was separate from the beach service, so there was some confusion at the end when we asked for our bill for the two 7-Ups we drank on the beach and the two beers and two pizzas we ate in the restaurant. It was a little annoying.

That evening we met back up with Heather and Stephen and decided to check out the bars and restaurants further down the beach road. We were easily able to get a taxi upon walking out to the road, and found a little hub of restaurants, shops and bars about two miles down. We were a bit blown away by how developed the beach road had gotten. We remember it being just a gravel road with barely anything on it besides palm-shaded little driveways to little beach hotels back in 2009. Now it was paved for quite a ways and pretty built up. Paddy and I took a walk down the road a little ways while Heather and Stephen went to Mateo’s Mexican Grill for a drink.

We walked down to a rocky section of coast where some locals were fishing in the water. There was a group of seagulls and pelicans following them everywhere begging for fish.

Tulum fisherman being harassed by pelicans
Tulum fisherman being harassed by pelicans
Tulum fisherman being harassed by pelicans
Tulum fisherman being harassed by pelicans

One thing we noticed in this section of the Boca Paila road was an abundance of stand-alone ATMs, all dispensing US dollars. It was pretty perplexing—why not pesos? Are the shops and restaurants trying to cater to the average American tourists who find it too difficult to deal with pesos? Or is it because the peso has fallen recently and they want to accept the stronger dollar as currency to exchange for a better rate later? I tend to suspect the latter, since most of the shops and restaurants offer a poor exchange rate of 14 pesos to the dollar (vs the current rate of 18 pesos to the dollar if you withdraw pesos from a regular ATM).

When we arrived back to Mateo’s Mexican Grill, Heather and Stephen were just then getting the beers they ordered 15 minutes ago. The bar wasn’t that busy yet, so the slow service was a little odd. We ordered beers and were considering ordering food for dinner, but after our beers took 20 minutes and we began to get eaten alive by mosquitos, we decided just to ask for the check. It was a shame, because the ambiance at Mateo’s is pretty nice, despite the mosquitos.

Mateo's Mexican Grill Tulum
Mateo’s Mexican Grill Tulum

Across the street and a bit north of Mateo’s is a little tapas restaurant called Mi Vida Tapas. Paddy and I love Spanish tapas, and it was on the beach side of the road so no mosquitos. We were seated in a little greenhouse type structure on the beach, which was very nicely decorated and lit by candlelight. The glass windows blocked the beach wind. We were the only people eating there and had the place to ourselves.

Mi Vida Tapas restaurant Tulum
Mi Vida Tapas restaurant Tulum
Mi Vida Tapas restaurant Tulum
Mi Vida Tapas restaurant Tulum

The food and service were phenomenal. I had the Pulpo y Garbanzos (octopus with mashed chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil), and the Atun Sashimi (seared ahi tuna with tamarind sauce and mashed potatoes). Everyone else had the Mini Brochetas (filet mignon bites), and the Tagliata Pequeña de Res (small beef tenderloin with polenta, parmesean, arugula, and truffle oil), and a few others I can’t remember. Everyone was very happy with what they ordered. For dessert I tried the Chocolate Salami, because I can’t see something called “chocolate salami” on a menu without finding out what the hell that is. It turned out to be a roll of chocolate ganache with little rice crispies in it, sliced to look like slices of salami. A bit comical, but delicious.

Pulpo y garbanzo at La Vida Tapas, Tulum
Pulpo y garbanzo at La Vida Tapas, Tulum
Mini brochetas, Mi Vida Tapas, Tulum
Mini brochetas, Mi Vida Tapas, Tulum
"Chocolate Salami" at Mi Vida Tapas, Tulum
“Chocolate Salami” at Mi Vida Tapas, Tulum

After dinner we flagged down a taxi back to our hotel and had a few drinks at the hotel bar before going to bed.

Day 3:

We wanted to spend our last day enjoying the gorgeous Tulum beach, and that we did. We woke early enough to catch the sunrise at 7:00 on the beach, then went back to bed for a while, and then had a lazy morning reading and relaxing.

Tulum sunrise
Tulum sunrise

In late morning, we spent about an hour and a half in Tulum Pueblo (the main part of town) shopping for souvenirs. There are lots of great shops to explore. Be sure to negotiate, the vendors will always give you a really high price at first. It helps to bargain the price down if you are buying several things from one store, and it also helps if you speak a little Spanish.

In the afternoon the wind died down considerably and we enjoyed a great time at the beach. The waves were still pretty big and a lot of fun to body surf in. Mostly, we just spent time getting knocked around by the waves, which is actually a pretty good workout. It was a good last day in Mexico.

Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach

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Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach

We had our last dinner at Kitchen Table, and I think it was the best dinner we had on our whole trip. If you make it to Tulum, don’t miss Kitchen Table. I had the Deviled Avocado and the Pan Roasted Octopus with sweet potatoes and caramelized onions, which was the best octopus I’ve ever had. It even trumped the octopus I had the first night in Cancun, which was hard to top. Everything was outstanding and you can tell that the chefs at Kitchen Table really love what they do.

Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Deviled avocado, Kitchen Table Tulum
Deviled avocado, Kitchen Table Tulum
Arugula salad, Kitchen Table, Tulum
Arugula salad, Kitchen Table, Tulum
Pan roasted octopus, Kitchen Table, Tulum
Pan roasted octopus, Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Seared ahi tuna steak, Kitchen Table Tulum
Seared ahi tuna steak, Kitchen Table Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum
Kitchen Table, Tulum

Our first trip to Tulum was a bit more rustic, romantic and remote. This time around we enjoyed spending a little more time checking out Tulum Pueblo and some of the restaurants on the Boca Paila beach road.

Tulum is a great home base for seeing Mayan ruins, snorkeling in the Cenotes (fresh water underground caves and rivers), and shopping for souvenirs. Our last trip we were a bit more active, seeing the Mayan ruins in Tulum and a day trip to Chichen Itza. This time around, we ended our Yucatan trip in Tulum and were happy to just relax and enjoy the beach before heading home.

We will definitely be back to Tulum again. We have yet to find a better beach with soft sand and electric blue water in all our world travels. Our next trip I think we may try to stay down at the end of the Boca Paila beach road again near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. We liked the remoteness of it, and the rustic jungle/beach atmosphere. We weren’t super impressed with La Vita e Bella.

We would also like to explore the Cenotes in the area, and take a day tour in the Biosphere. But above all, we would come back to Tulum to relax and enjoy that magnificent beach.

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #4: Amaretto Sunset

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #4: Amaretto Sunset: A frozen blended citrus drink with dark rum and a bit of sweet Amaretto almond flavor.

 

The Amaretto Sunset was the fourth drink in my Tiki Cocktails book by Adam Rocke. It is another frozen blended drink, of which I’m a fan. I was new to Amaretto, however, and wasn’t sure what to expect. Sweet almond liqueur in a citrus drink? It sounded funky, but also like it just might work. We gave the Amaretto Sunset a shot.

Amaretto Sunset cocktail recipe:

1 oz. Amaretto

1/2 oz. dark rum (we went with a whole ounce of Meyer’s dark rum)

3 oz. orange juice

1 tsp. lemon juice

3-4 oz crushed ice

Blend all ingredients (except lemon juice) until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass, and garnish with a maraschino cherry. Float the lemon juice.

We decided that a half ounce of rum was silly, and changed it to a whole ounce. We also ended up using fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice as a float, because our friend Heather had brought some over. I misread the recipe and added a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of the Meyer lemon juice as a float on top of the blended cocktail, but since Meyer lemons are sweet it actually worked out pretty well and wasn’t overpowering.

Amaretto Sunset cocktail
Amaretto Sunset cocktail

Overall, the Amaretto Sunset was good and the Meyer lemon juice was a nice touch. I think Amaretto might be one of those a-little-goes-a-long-way ingredients, and this cocktail balanced out nicely. We would definitely recommend increasing the rum amount to a whole oz (or at tiny bit more if you really want to party).

Stay tuned for our next tiki drink adventure!

Amaretto Sunset cocktail
Amaretto Sunset cocktail

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #3: Aloha Cocktail

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #3: Aloha Cocktail. Creamy, citrus-y and boozy, with dark rum, coconut syrup, orange juice, pineapple juice, lime, and vanilla ice cream.

 

Looking at the ingredients in the Aloha cocktail, I knew it would be a sugar bomb. That being said, I wouldn’t drink more than one of these at a time.

The Aloha cocktail was cocktail # 3 in the Tiki Cocktails recipe book by Adam Rocke. It requires a blender, so be sure to have one on hand for this recipe. I altered the recipe a bit because no one at any liquor stores I went to had heard of Meyer’s Rum Cream Liqueur. Since it already called for dark rum and ice cream, I figured that there was enough cream in the cocktail already and doubled up on the dark rum instead.

aloha cocktail
Aloha Cocktail: We used Meyer’s dark rum and torani coconut syrup

The Aloha Cocktail:

1 oz. dark rum (we used Meyer’s, easily found at most stores that sell liquor)

1 oz Meyer’s Rum Cream Liqueur (Again, couldn’t find this anywhere, so we just used a second shot of Meyer’s Rum)

2 oz orange juice

2 oz pineapple juice

1 oz coconut syrup (we used Torani coconut syrup)

1 tbsp. lime juice

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

2-3 oz crushed ice

Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass, and garnish with a pineapple wedge. (We didn’t do the pineapple wedge garnish, as we didn’t want to purchase an entire pineapple for one drink. I do think it would have made for a nicer presentation, however).

Aloha Cocktail tiki time
Aloha Cocktail

The Aloha cocktail came out creamy and frothy, but not super thick. It was very sweet, but the lime juice and orange juice helped balance it out a bit. The rum, pineapple juice, and coconut syrup were the star flavors, making it taste a bit like a piña colada, but a bit more citrus-y.

Overall, we liked this drink. It definitely tasted like Hawaii. We couldn’t drink more than one in a sitting due to the sugar content and ice cream, but we would definitely make the Aloha cocktail again.

Aloha cocktail
Aloha cocktail

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #2: Agent Orange Cocktail

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #2: Agent Orange Cocktail. Vodka, apple schnapps, Midori, grenadine, orange juice, and ice. Blended, frozen, and very orange.

Continuing with our New Year’s resolution 2017 to make all the tiki drinks in the tiki drink recipe book Tiki Drinks by Adam Rocke, we concocted recipe # 2: The Agent Orange Cocktail.

Tiki Drinks recipe book by Adam Rocke
Tiki Drinks recipe book by Adam Rocke

The Agent Orange cocktail is a blended drink, and we actually invested in a blender for our tiki cocktail adventure. After reading up on good drink blenders under $100, we purchased a Ninja NJ600 for $89. We really wanted the Vitamix, but we didn’t have the funds available to live the fancy Vitamix lifestyle yet. Based on the reviews and our budget, the Ninja NJ600 looked like a good bet. Overall, it blended nicely and we were happy with our purchase.

Agent Orange cocktail recipe
Agent Orange cocktail recipe

We used Stoli vodka, Dekuyper Sour Apple Pucker, Midori, Rose’s grenadine, and natural orange juice. The Sour Apple Pucker and the Midori are both emerald green, so I wasn’t sure what they would do to the color of the drink, but the orange juice and the grenadine completely masked any green color when blended.

agent orange cocktail
Agent Orange cocktail ingredients

Agent Orange Cocktail:

3/4 oz. vodka

1/2 oz. apple schapps

1/2 oz. melon liqueur

2 tbsp. grenadine

4 oz. orange juice

3-4 oz. crushed ice

Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour into a chilled goblet or hurricane glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Agent Orange cocktail
Agent Orange cocktail

Paddy liked the Agent Orange cocktail a lot. I enjoyed it at first, but towards the last sip it started to taste a little sickly sweet to me. It really does taste like orange candy, sort of like an orange Jolly Rancher, but you can still taste the natural orange juice. If you had me try and guess the ingredients, I would never have guessed that Midori or Sour Apple Pucker were in the Agent Orange cocktail, but they really added to the sweet orange flavor along with the grenadine.

Overall, we both agreed that there was not enough booze in it. If we were to make it again, we would add an extra shot of vodka. 3/4 of a shot is not enough for this drink.

If you like orange-flavored candy and sweet drinks, you’ll like the Agent Orange Cocktail. Good for a hot summer day.

Tiki Time Cocktail Hour #1: Acapulco Cocktail

Adventures in tiki cocktails: recipe number one in Tiki Drinks by Adam Rocke. The Acapulco cocktail- rum, triple sec, lime, sugar, and egg white.

 

I’m not really big on New Year’s resolutions. However, this January I was flipping through Adam Rocke’s Tiki Cocktails recipe book that someone had given us as a tiki bar warming gift, and decided that our New Year’s resolution for 2017 should be to make all the tiki cocktails in the book and blog about them.

There are 60+ cocktails in the book, so I’m not sure that getting through them all in one year is realistic, but the journey of 60 cocktails begins with one drink, right? Right. And with the non-stop political horror show going on this year, I feel like this is a good resolution for 2017.

Cocktail #1 was the Acapulco cocktail. Seemed easy enough, although I’m always a little sketched out by drinks that have egg whites in them. We gave it a shot.

acapulco cocktail
Acapulco Cocktail–Tiki Cocktails by Adam Rocke #1
acapulco cocktail
Acapulco cocktail ingredients

For the egg whites, I bought Egg Beaters pasteurized egg whites in lieu of fresh egg whites as I am afraid of salmonella. I doubled the ingredients so that we could each try one, adding them all to the martini shaker and shaking with ice.

Acapulco cocktail:

1.5 oz. white rum

1/2 oz. triple sec

1/2 oz. lime juice

1/4 tsp. sugar

1 egg white (or three tablespoons Egg Beaters egg whites)

Mint leaf for garnish

The egg whites created such a froth that they oozed out of the sides of the shaker top a bit. The result was a frothy, opaque drink.

Acapulco cocktail
Acapulco cocktail

I would describe the Acapulco cocktail as the bastard love child of a Mojito and an Orange Julius. A bit more citrus than a traditional Mojito, and the creamy frothiness of an Orange Julius. I thought the mint was just a garnish to make it pretty, but it really added to the experience as you smelled it as you drank. It gave a nice mint essence without being a strong flavor.

Paddy and I both liked it. I don’t think I would go out of my way to make it again or order it in a bar–I’m still not a huge fan of egg whites in cocktails. However if someone made an Acapulco cocktail for me or wanted me to make them, I would definitely drink it again.

Cheers!

Building a Basement Tiki Lounge

Building a basement Tiki lounge: How we turned our drab basement into a retro tropical Polynesian retreat

 

I’ve always had a fascination and appreciation of Polynesian culture. I studied art and anthropology (including Pacific Island cultures) at the University of Hawaii Manoa on a year long program in college, and fell in love with Polynesia. We were fortunate enough to take our honeymoon in Tahiti and French Polynesia in 2010, and I’ve been itching to go back and explore more islands ever since.

When we decided to buy our first house last year, Paddy had a requirement that it needed to have a basement–with a bar. I was 100% in agreement, but it had to be a tiki lounge. We love the kitsch and retro nostalgia of the tiki bars of the 50’s and 60’s, when Hawaii’s statehood came to be and a booming post WWII economy allowed Americans to travel more. Polynesian culture and tropical exotica became all the rage, with restaurants such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s in California starting a nation-wide trend of Mai Tais and Zombie cocktails, “exotica” music and tropical fashion.

As luck would have it, we got a house with a basement. A finished basement at that. It was a dream come true.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Our basement before

The quintessential item in a tiki lounge is a bar.

Scouting Craigslist, we came upon several retro bars for sale but the prices were either exorbitant or they sold so fast that we didn’t stand a chance. I finally found a bar for $200 that looked cool, but the photo was terrible. It was covered with stuff, and taken at a bad angle. It looked like it might be cool, or at least we could make it cool with some work. I noticed it had been on Craigslist for awhile, so I finally emailed the guy and offered him $100 for it. He told me he was selling items from a family estate far from where he lived, so he didn’t want to go there unless we were definitely going to buy it. We decided to go for it as long as I could get it in my truck, and settled on $150. It was an awesome bar, in an awesome basement that hadn’t been redecorated since the 1960’s. There was even a rotary dial phone on the wall in the laundry area. We had a hell of a time getting it out of their basement through the garage, and strapped it rather precariously into my truck with rope, but we did it and the vintage bar made it back to our basement.

We already had a couple of vintage bamboo bar stools that Paddy had acquired somewhere down the line, and we found a couple more rattan bar stools and a bamboo/rattan style futon on Craigslist as well, which we ordered a new tropical cover for and matching pillows. We had a lot of unpacking to do and other more pressing home projects, so we hung up our tiki bar paddle, a few vintage framed records from Hawaii and Rarotonga, and called it good until we had time and energy to deck it out.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Basement bar decked out for our Christmas party, not quite tikilicious yet.

 

About 9 months went by, and finally we were ready to start finishing our tiki lounge. I wanted to go all out.

First, I measured the back wall of the room and the wall area behind the bar, and ordered several rolls of Lauhala matting (woven grass mats) on ebay (I found the best price on 48″ x 96″ rolls there), and four rolls of 36″ x 72″ natural bamboo fencing from Home Depot. We screwed the Lauhala mats to the wall, cutting out a section around the window. I used a stud finder to find the wall studs on the wall behind the bar, and marked them on the crown molding with masking tape so that we could easily find them later when we installed the bar shelves.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Lauhala matting screwed on the wall
how to build a basement tiki lounge
marking the wall studs with masking tape to find them later

The matting was hard to keep completely flat, so we struggled a bit with some bubbles that kept appearing when we were installing it. We got it about as flat as we could.

When cutting around the window, it was hard to keep a straight cut line. Fortunately, we planned on covering the window frame with bamboo, so my bad cutting job would be hidden eventually.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Not the straightest cutting job…

I had to cut out around an electrical panel next to the bar as well, and it didn’t look so awesome with the frayed grass mat edges. I got a roll of Lauhala ric rac on Etsy for $15.50 and used it to frame the edges around the electrical panel by gluing it with a hot glue gun. It looked much better and kept the cut grass from fraying any further. We did a border trim along the top of the matting on the wall as well, which gave it a more finished look.

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Lauhala ric rac around the cut-out matting for the electrical panel gave it a more finished look

Next, I ordered a 30″ x 96″ Mexican palm thatch runner from Forever Bamboo. We were trying to figure out how to create an overhang behind the bar that we could drape grass thatch over to give it that authentic tropical tiki lounge look. I drew up a plan of a frame we could construct and hang on the wall, but Paddy thought we could find something pre-made. I couldn’t find anything small and pre-made online. While we were pondering this conundrum, I remembered that there were some closet bars in a storage room in the basement installed by previous owners. It was perfect! I was stoked–we didn’t have to buy or build anything!

how to build a basement tiki lounge
closet bars!

At first we thought that hanging the supports upside-down would be best to give the bar the sloped-overhang we originally pictured.

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Unfortunately, while this looked cool, it would have been better on a very high ceiling. It covered up too much of the wall that we planned to use for bar shelves.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.

We put them right side up, which helped hold it up a lot better.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.
how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.
How to build a basement tiki lounge
Finnigan wanted to help.

Next we un-rolled the fencing and propped it against the wall and then Paddy screwed it to the wall below the matting. We had one electrical outlet we had to cut bamboo out of, but fortunately it was very low on the wall and we only had to cut a couple pieces off at the bottom end of the second roll. Paddy was able to do this (carefully) with a small hand saw.

How to build a basement tiki lounge
bamboo fencing as wainscoting.
how to build a basement tiki lounge
Cut out in bamboo fence for electrical outlet

As luck would have it, we had a couple pieces extra on the end of the last fence roll, so Paddy cut the wire holding them on and took them off. We screwed them to the wall above the fence roll to create a border and a more finished look.

How to build a basement tiki lounge

Next, we got some inexpensive brown shelves and supports from Home Depot and screwed them into the wall studs behind the bar in front of the matting. The top shelf still wasn’t very visible with the grass overhang, and it was bothering us. It was also hanging at about eye-level and was very annoying if you were behind the bar.

We remedied this by getting two thin pieces of tack board cut 18″ wide by 48″ long (our bar overhang was 96″ long), which Home Depot cut to size for us, and put it under the grass to give it a wider “shelf” to hang over. It worked perfectly.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Putting tack board under the grass overhang to lift it up and out further
how to build a basement tiki lounge
tack board under the grass overhang to prop it up and out further

After the bar was set up, we had to do something about the window frame and my bad matting cut-out job. I ordered a four-pack of 60″ long 5″ diameter split bamboo poles from Sunset Bamboo. Unfortunately they sent us full rounds, and it was a several week ordeal with a call tag and a reshipment to get the right items, with very poor customer service. We finally got the right product though.

Two of the 60″ lengths we were able to install over the window frame on the top and bottom without cutting, and the middle ones we cut to size with a chop saw. We put screws in the wall and the window frame and wired the bamboo poles on, so that they would be easy to take off if we ever wanted to.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Installing the bamboo split poles over the window frame
how to build a basement tiki lounge
Installing the bamboo split poles over the window frame

We were finally ready to decorate. The best part.

We added some fun lights that we got from the party supply store below each shelf behind the bar–bouys and parrots. To illuminate the top shelf, we got the Dioder LED 4 piece light strip pack from Ikea for $29.99. You can daisy-chain them together like we did for behind a bar, or seperate them out into four segments to put inside book cases. It was an awesome purchase. You can choose from a rainbow of colors, or make the lights fade in and out of each color with a handy little control.

how to build a basement tiki bar

A guy in a nearby neighborhood had a “tiki sale” at his house where we picked up some vintage tiki mugs, a poster, a really cool vintage bamboo chair, and some postcards from Hawaii and Tahiti from the 1960’s. No tiki lounge is complete without tiki mugs.

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Tiki mugs!

I got red and orange paper lanterns and pendant lights from Paper Lantern Store which added some warm funky ambiance to the room. The lime green rotary dial phone in the photo below is the phone I grew up with–and I’m so glad I kept it. It sits proudly in our tiki lounge in all of it’s lime green glory.

how to build a basement tiki bar

Shortly before we moved, I found this tiger print chair sitting front and center on display at the Ballard, Seattle Goodwill. I had to have it. The Goodwill employee I had write a furniture sale tag up for me said there was a lady who told her she was coming back for it. But she didn’t pay for it. And I had cash and a truck. I win.

Paddy added a Ralph Steadman poster from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hawaii-based book The Curse of the Lono. He’s a big fan.

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We found a pretty cool coconut lamp/chandelier  in Mexico, and a preserved puffer fish at a nearby antique mall in Burien, WA. We got a tiki mask at Home Depot and some glass floats at Party Display and Costume.

how to build a basement tiki bar

I re-covered all the bar stools with Tommy Bahama fabric from Joann Fabrics so that they would match.

My last addition to the bar was a painting of a hula girl in the moonlight that I painted myself.

how to build a basement tiki lounge

We would like to re-do the floors in wood laminate next year and get rid of the old carpeting, and get some tiki god side tables to replace the boring ones, but for now we’re going to call it good. We finished the tiki lounge just in time for a Forbidden Island party we threw and it was super fun.

One of the biggest elements of a great tiki lounge is kitsch. As years go by, I’m sure we will find all sorts of things to add to the bar in our international travels and wanderings through antique malls. Our tiki lounge will always be a work in progress.

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Isla Holbox, Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico: A laid-back sleepy little island with vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and fresh, delicious seafood.

 

We traveled to Isla Holbox during a week long trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in March 2016. While it is a bit more of a trek from the Cancun Airport than Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, it is worth it. The island vibe is very low-key, not the place for rowdy spring breakers and raucous nightlife. If you want to relax, enjoy some amazing fresh seafood, and lay in a hammock by the sea for a few days, this is the place to do it.

 

Excerpt from original post https://childfreelifeadventures.com/mexico-2016-isla-holbox-valladolid-tulum/

Day 1:

We stayed our first night in Mexico in downtown Cancun, as the ferry to Isla Holbox is a two and a half hour drive from the Cancun airport.

We had arranged a taxi pick up at 9:00 AM with our hotel at our next destination, Isla Holbox. We sat and waited until 9:30 with no driver, after which I was able to have the front desk lady call our Isla Holbox hotel to contact the driver for 20 pesos. After a few minutes, the front desk lady received a phone call back and we were told that the driver was stuck in rush hour traffic and expected to arrive at 10:00 AM. One thing to keep in mind in Mexico–you are often on Mexican time. Just relax.

Huevos Rancheros at El Rey Del Caribe Hotel Cancun Mexico
Huevos Rancheros at El Rey Del Caribe Hotel Cancun

I had done some extensive research on how to get from Cancun to the Chiquila ferry terminal with service to Isla Holbox, and the bus options were all at odd times and took a while to get there. Had we had a lot more time in Mexico, we may have figured out the bus, but since we only had a little over a week for our whole trip, we opted for a taxi. The taxi our hotel on Isla Holbox arranged for us was much cheaper than the shuttles that I quoted out. Total price was $110 USD, payable to the hotel in cash at check in.

At 10:00, our driver Pedro showed up, and we all crammed into his sedan. He didn’t speak a lot of English, but we were able to make small talk with our limited Spanish. He was very friendly.

**Note: It is very helpful to know some basic Spanish when taking taxis, most taxi drivers don’t speak a lot of English in our experience.

Two hours later, we arrived in Chiquila, right when the 12:00 ferry was departing, which we missed. We thanked Pedro and walked across the street from the ferry to find a little restaurant called La Sardina Enamorada (The sardine in love?).

La Sardina Enamorada restaurant, Chiquila, Mexico
La Sardina Enamorada restaurant, Chiquila, Mexico

Ferries depart once every hour, and often you can get a shuttle to the island from some independent boat drivers at the ferry dock. We weren’t in a huge hurry, and we were hungry. So we relaxed at La Sardina Enamorada and had some beers and delicious and very inexpensive food.

Ferry tickets are 120 pesos each way per person, which is about $7.00 USD. The ride was very smooth and only 30 minutes.

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Isla Holbox ferry terminal in Chiquila

isla holbox ferry mexico

Upon arrival on Isla Holbox, the golf cart taxis line up at the dock to take you to your hotel. There is a large sign at the terminal near the taxi pick up that says what the price should be from the ferry to each hotel, which was helpful. The taxi was only 30 pesos (less than $2 USD) to take us the half mile to our Hotel La Palapa on the beach. It was totally walkable, but our bags were heavy so we opted to take the taxi.

Isla Holbox ferry
Isla Holbox ferry

Isla Holbox, Mexico

**Note: Bring cash with you to Isla Holbox. There is an ATM in town, but I have read that it is sometimes out of cash. Very few restaurants take credit cards.

Hotel La Palapa is right in town, but also right on the beach. It was probably one of the most convenient locations of all the hotels that we saw. We paid cash at check in (as requested in our confirmation, I think they do take cards but said that sometimes their machine wifi isn’t working so well) and were shown around the hotel and to our room. We had booked a balcony room which was small but very clean, had a balcony on the second floor and air conditioning.

Isla Holbox Mexico
“street” leading to Hotel La Palapa
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Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox
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Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox
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Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox
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Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox
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Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox

The hotel had a nice beach with a bar and restaurant, and a very nice roof top deck with hammocks, lounge chairs, and a great view. The bed in the room was comfortable, the only issue we had was with the toilet not flushing very well. They sent maintenance up to fix it when we talked to the front desk. Overall we would totally stay here again.

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Roof top deck, Hotel La Palapa, Isla Holbox

Heather and Stephen were staying down the road at Hotel Takywara, which they were very pleased with as well. Their hotel was slightly more expensive than ours, but included a mini fridge and kitchenette and a breakfast basket delivered with fresh baked bread daily. The beach on their end of the island is very quiet and the hotel had a very relaxing vibe, including nice beach loungers and a meditation area. It was not a far walk from town at all.

Hotel Takywara, Isla Holbox
Hotel Takywara, Isla Holbox
Hotel Takywara, Isla Holbox
Hotel Takywara, Isla Holbox

Once we settled in and rested for a bit, Paddy and I took a walk around town. We pretty much saw it all in an hour. There was a lot of really awesome graffiti art on the buildings, and the streets are not paved, only sand. There were lots of little shops and restaurants.

Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox graffiti art Mexico
Isla Holbox

We met up with Heather and Stephen around 4:30 and ended up at Restaurante Bar Villa Mar for drinks. There was no one there but us, and the town was pretty quiet. I think 3-5 PM is siesta time. The bar had swings for seats and there were panties hung sporadically around the bar, alluding to a raucous late night party atomsphere.

We ordered a snack of guacamole, chips, and ceviche that the bartender said was small, but it was huge. It was fantastic mixed seafood ceviche, but pretty much ruined our appetite for dinner. If you come here, get the small ceviche. The large feeds a family of four.

I also tried the Rojo Ojo, which is a beer with clamato and spices. Kind of like a bloody beer with Caesar mix. It was pretty good.

Bar Villa Mar Holbox Mexico
coconut fence at Bar Villa Mar
Bar Villa Mar Holbox Mexico
Bar Villa Mar

The town was slowly waking up as the sun was setting, so after we finished as much ceviche as we could, we walked around a bit and poked around in the little shops on the sandy streets. In the center of town one block from the beach was the “Hot Corner” bar, which was advertising their “soft opening” that night at 8:00 PM with live music. Paddy wanted to check it out, but we had about two hours to kill. So we had a beer at another little bar and then picked up some tequila, beers, and a citronella candle at a convenience store and headed to our hotel rooftop. No one was up there, and it was nice with the light from the candle we bought.

Eventually we made it down to the Hot Corner, which had its soft opening now in full swing. There was a band and drinks were 50% off, and they were handing out free samples of some tuna tartare appetizers with chopsticks. I bought a round of four beers for 50 pesos, which is less than $3.00 USD.

The Hot Corner Bar, Isla Holbox. Image from https://www.facebook.com/The-Hot-Corner-772690436196916/
The Hot Corner Bar, Isla Holbox. Image from https://www.facebook.com/The-Hot-Corner-772690436196916/

Around 10:00 Stephen had hit the tequila a little hard, so Heather and I decided it was time for some tacos and tortas at Taco Queto kitty corner across the street. After that we found Paddy, who was nodding off at the Hot Corner, kept awake by a conscientious German woman. Perhaps we started drinking a bit too early.

Day 2:

In the morning we had a fantastic breakfast of empanadas at Las Planchas next door to our hotel, three for 30 pesos (just under $2 USD). We over-ordered a bit due to the low price, we thought the portions would be a bit smaller. They were delicious.

Empanadas at Las Panchas Isla Holbox
Empanadas at Las Panchas Isla Holbox

The weather was overcast, so we decided to rent a golf cart and tour the island. There are no cars on Isla Holbox, just golf cart vehicles. The island is actually quite large, but much of it is undeveloped. There is only so much you can see in a golf cart, but we thought we’d check it out.

Isla Holbox Map Mexico
image from http://www.beyondtheseastudio.com/isla-holbox-map.html

We walked down the main street between the beach and ferry and walked into the first golf cart rental place we saw, which advertised a four hour rental for 500 pesos (about $30 USD). It was probably the easiest vehicle rental I’ve ever done–just pay cash up front, sign a piece of paper saying that you will bring it back in good condition by the four hour point, and that was it. No deposit, no ID, no hassle.

Four of us fit on one cart with two in front and two in the back. We first drove toward the east of the island, past many beach hotels. It seemed that the beach east of town was the most popular and had the most hotels, but all the beach loungers at those hotels were not actually on the beach–they were in front of the hotels behind the road the golf carts travel on, and you have to cross the road to get to the water. In addition, you have people driving by you on golf carts all day. I was glad we stayed at Hotel La Palapa and would recommend the west end of the beach from town for peace and quiet.

Isla Holbox road heading east
Isla Holbox road heading east

We finally reached the end of the road, where we saw a sign telling us not to drive on the beach and to respect the wildlife. We parked and walked down to the sandy beach. It was a shallow sand bar that went on for miles, up to Punta Mosquito on the eastern tip of the island. You could walk for a long ways in the water without going much above your knees.

Isla Holbox Beach Mexico
Isla Holbox Beach
Shallow sand bar near Punta Mosquito Isla Holbox
Shallow sand bar near Punta Mosquito
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Shallow sand bar near Punta Mosquito
Shallow sand bar near Punta Mosquito Isla Holbox
Shallow sand bar near Punta Mosquito
punta mosquito isla holbox mexico
Baby sea star in the sand bar
dead puffer fish on the beach isla holbox mexico
Dead puffer fish on the beach

The overcast sky made the shallow sea blend right in with the sky. I’m sure it looks beautiful when the sun is out and the clouds reflect on the water.

After our stroll on the beach, we headed west to see what was on the other end of the island. We drove inland a bit on the main road past the airport (a landing strip in a loosely fenced pasture) and ended up at a very pretty cemetery.

Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
Isla Holbox Cemetery
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Iguana
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Iguana

There wasn’t much past the cemetery besides what looked like a dump. Looking at the map again now it looks like if we back-tracked and took a left and then another left, we might have found the road leading out to the west tip of the island, looking out at Isla de la Passion. We’ll save that exploration for the next trip.

We did back track and turned north back onto the northern beach road. The west end of the norther beach is very quiet and peaceful, there was barely anyone around.

It wasn’t long before we were back in town, and only ended up using two of the four hours of time we booked. We considered driving around a bit more but Paddy and Heather were getting a little motion sick from sitting backwards on the back end of the cart. We dropped it back off and walked around town a bit more, then went back to our hotels to relax a bit.

Hotel La Palapa beach Isla Holbox Mexico
Hotel La Palapa beach
Hotel La Palapa beach Isla Holbox Mexico
Hotel La Palapa beach

Paddy and I went back to the beach at our hotel and ordered some very delicious blended margaritas from the bar. We also ordered lunch there, which ended up being the only bad meal of our trip. The restaurant is Italian, with some beach bar items like burgers, sandwiches, etc. He ordered a quesadilla which was very oily and had no cheese on it that he could see. My club sandwich with avocado came on wonder bread with no avocado. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t come as promised. If you want to eat lunch on the beach and are feeling lazy, I’d recommend seeing if you can get some food to go from Las Panchas next door and stick to just ordering drinks from the Hotel La Palapa bar.

We read books and relaxed until evening.

Hotel La Palapa beach Isla Holbox Mexico

That night we went to Viva Zapata for dinner. A touristy, albeit fun restaurant themed around Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. It is a fun, ambient place with murals of scenes from the revolution on the walls, and swings as bar stools.

Viva Zapata, Isla Holbox
Viva Zapata, Isla Holbox
Viva Zapata margarita, Isla Holbox
Viva Zapata margarita, Isla Holbox

The Zapata margarita was outstanding, with pepper, cilantro, and cucumber. For dinner we ordered the grilled seafood platter for two, and Heather and Stephen ordered the grilled seafood and meat mix platter for two. Paddy ordered an additional steak skewer which he thought was just a skewer, but came with rice and was actually quite large. It was a lot of food, but so delicious.  If you come to Holbox, don’t miss this place.

viva zapata isla holbox
Seafood and meat grill platter for two at Viva Zapata
viva zapata isla holbox
Steak skewer at Viva Zapata
Seafood grill platter for two at Viva Zapata isla holbox Mexico
Seafood grill platter for two at Viva Zapata

After dinner Stephen was feeling a little tired and called it a night, and Paddy, Heather, and I decided to walk around and have a couple more drinks. We opted for the roof top bar at The Arena Lounge Bar in the center of town.

Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox Mexico
Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox
Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox Mexico
Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox Mexico

There was a great view of the town at the open air bar (it is also part of a hotel) and the drinks were very good.

Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox Mexico
View from The Arena Lounge Bar Isla Holbox

After that we stopped for another drink at a little reggae bar down the street, but our night out ended when everything shut down at 11:00 PM. It was fine, we weren’t out for a crazy night. Isla Holbox isn’t a place for raucous nightlife, there are bars but everything is very laid back and quiet.

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Day 4:

Paddy and I had breakfast at La Isla del Colibri, a Pepto-pink little restaurant in the center of town. It was a very cute little spot, with bright colors and art everywhere. Service was great and the food was good as well. I had the chilaquiles verde, and Paddy had Mexican style scrambled eggs with rice and beans. The orange juice was fresh squeezed.

La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
Chilaquiles at La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox
Chilaquiles at La Isla del Colibri restaurant Isla Holbox

It had been steadily overcast since we arrived, and we were hoping for sun breaks that afternoon so that we could enjoy time at the beach. We spent the warm, gray morning souvenir shopping and reading in the room and on the rooftop deck of the hotel.

We finally got some sun breaks and I took a walk down the beach before catching a little bit of sun in a beach lounger at the hotel. Heather and Stephen joined us for some margaritas on the beach for a bit. Next door to us on the beach was a little palapa where fishermen were bringing in their daily catch. There was a lot of conch and a small tiger shark hanging from the palapa roof.

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Isla Holbox Beach
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Pelican
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Isla Holbox Beach

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Fisherman with a tiger shark, Isla Holbox
Fisherman with a tiger shark, Isla Holbox
Conch shells for sale
Conch shells for sale
Tiger shark caught for food, Isla Holbox
Tiger shark caught for food, Isla Holbox

The clouds finally began to disappear as the sun sank lower in the sky, and we decided to head further west down the beach to watch the sunset in front of Heather and Stephen’s hotel. There were only a couple other lone individuals on the beach, and the sunset was spectacular.

Watching the sunset from Hotel Takywara
Watching the sunset from Hotel Takywara
Watching the sunset from Hotel Takywara
Watching the sunset from Hotel Takywara
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
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Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset
Isla Holbox Sunset

For dinner that night we went to Los Peleones, a Mexican wrestling (Lucha Libre) themed restaurant in the town. The food is Italian/Mediterranean/Mexican fusion, and it is a fun little spot.

Los Peleones Isla Holbox
Los Peleones Isla Holbox
Los Peleones Isla Holbox
Los Peleones Isla Holbox
Los Peleones Isla Holbox
“wrestling ring” lamp and comic strip place mat at Los Peleones Isla Holbox

The place mats included a little comic strip about Luchadores rescuing a sea turtle and the importance of caring for the environment.

The food was great. I had the lobster chalupitas, (which were outstanding) and house-made spaghetti with anchovy, chili flakes, and garlic. Paddy had a mole dish that was a bit sweet for my taste but he really enjoyed it.

Lobster chalupitas at Los Peleones
Lobster chalupitas at Los Peleones–highly recommended!

After dinner I was feeling a bit under the weather and Heather and Stephen were tired so we called it a night. Paddy stayed out for another Zapata Margarita at Viva Zapata, he wasn’t quite ready for bed yet and the Zapata Margaritas are just so damn delicious.

Viva Zapata
Viva Zapata

 

Isla Holbox is an amazing gem of an island, and we hope it doesn’t get as over-run with tourism as Isla Mujeres. We did see a lot of construction going on, so there is expansion on the island, and it seems to be less and less of a “best kept secret” spot in Mexico. We would love to go back in the summer to snorkel the infamous whale sharks, and will most likely be staying on the beach on the west side of town again where it is quieter. No matter what, we will be back. Especially now that Alaska Air now offers direct flights from Seattle to Cancun.

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic: a tiny beach town with some great food, a gorgeous beach, and a good home base for tours to the National Parks

 

Bayahibe was the second stop on our trip to The Dominican Republic in 2013. I was looking for a quiet little beach town in between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana similar to the ones we’ve been to in Mexico where we could enjoy a nice beach and some local culture. After extensive reading, I decided that Bayahibe might be a good fit. In addition to having a nice public beach, it was a good departure spot for tours to Isla Saona and the National Parks in the area. Overall we enjoyed our stay here more than at the resort we went to afterwards, despite one bad tour.

Excerpt from original post: Domincan Republic 2013: Santo Domingo, Bayahibe, and Cap Cana

 

Day 1:

We had reserved a shuttle to the town of Bayahibe from our hotel in Santo Domingo with Domincan Shuttles for about $120.00. I’m sure that there are less expensive ways to get to Bayahibe with the public bus, but we were willing to pay the extra money to go on our own schedule with direct service to our hotel.

The shuttle driver was very friendly, and the ride was about 2 hours. He made sure that we were let into the gate at our hotel by the owner before he left, which was much appreciated. We had booked three nights at the Hotel Villa Baya, a small and inexpensive mom-and-pop hotel in the town. The room wasn’t anything fancy, but very affordable at $40.00/night and had everything we needed. It had a double bed and a twin, a small table and chairs, ample closest space, a tiny TV, an outdoor patio, and a kitchen with a gas stove, sink, dishes, and a mini fridge. No A/C, but there was a fan. We were on the ground floor, and I think requesting an upper floor unit might be a little better with a more private deck.

Hotel Villa Baya Bayabibe Domincan Republic 090

Hotel Villa Baya Bayabibe Domincan Republic 089

The hotel also has a locked gate to the property that you need your key to get in and out of, providing extra security. There wasn’t a safe, so we hid our valuables that we didn’t take with us in socks deep in our backpacks in the closet, and made sure to leave a tip for the maid each day. We had no problem.

We walked around the tiny town, getting extra cash at the ATM at the grocery store, and water, beer, and wine to stock our mini fridge. We found the grocery store souvenir prices to be best here out of anywhere we went. They all had price tags on them too–a rarity in DR.

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Road back to the hotel from town
Bayahibe Harbor Domincan Republic 087
Bayahibe Harbor

That evening we ate at a little beach restaurant near the harbor, Chiky Blue. It was a super cute little beach spot with a grass roof, Christmas lights hung around for ambiance, and very friendly staff. I ordered a fried fish with rosemary potatoes, and it was the best whole fried fish I’ve ever eaten in my life.

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Chiky Blue Bayahibe Domincan Republic 093
Whole fried fish at Chiky Blue Bayahibe
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Chiky Blue Bayahibe

At night there was a congregation of locals around a bar/convenience store near the grocery store in town, partying, socializing, and listening to Dominican bachata music.

We picked up some milk and cereal for the morning, as we were getting up really early the next morning to leave on a tour. Having a kitchenette in our room was definitely a convenience.

Day 2:

We had booked two tours with Seavis Tours, an eco-tour company based out of Bayahibe. Originally, I had wanted to do the Jungle Tour in the Parque Nacional de Este, but it wasn’t offered on Mondays. They said the tour they had available on Mondays was the Monster Truck Safari, operated by a third party tour provider. We looked it over, the words “monster truck” and “safari” setting off major red flags of a horrendous tourist experience. It promised an educational tour of rural country life, a farm, and a rural school. It sounded interesting enough, so we deliberated a bit and decided to go for it.

We were picked up in front of the police station near our hotel by a shuttle driver, and then made a few stops at some resorts to pick up several other tourists, all European. When we reached the nearby town of Higuey, we were loaded into a hideous “monster truck” that made us cringe.

Monster Truck Safari Domincan Republic 134

We climbed aboard and monstered our way out into the countryside. If there was one thing I enjoyed about this tour, it was driving through the country. We passed houses and farms, getting a chance to view the vast diversity of country living.

Our first stop was at the home and farm of a middle class Dominican family. We were given a tour of the farm and it’s fruits and vegetables. The family who owned the farm was going about their day in the house, doing laundry, cleaning, watching TV, etc. We were told to go in and see the house, but Paddy and I didn’t feel very comfortable going in and gawking at a family in their home. I know the family was getting compensation for the tour, but it just felt weird and intrusive.

Next, we were led down the road to the family’s small store, and told that we were going to be visiting a Haitian village where the kids were very poor later in the trip. We were told that we should buy school supplies or candy to give them. Here’s where things got gross: They had TWO spiral notebooks and TWO pencils for all of us to buy for the kids, and a giant amount of candy. All sold by the family who owned the house at expensive American prices, not Dominican prices. We bought a small bag of candy and a notebook and pencil. None of the other tourists bought the remaining school supplies, all candy.

Now, had we known this was part of the tour, we would have stocked up on school supplies, food, toothbrushes, and other necessities from the grocery store in Bayahibe to give out to the kids. (At the end of the trip, we realized that this was all part of a big show put on for the tourists so that the family with the farm could make money. None of it was about helping poor Haitian kids. )

Next, we visited a rural country school. It was spring break, so the kids were gone but we were shown the classroom and told a bit about Dominican schools.

Rural school Dominican Republic

rural school Domincan Republic

rural school Domincan Republic

Before we left, our guides brought out some ugly safari hats with “Monster Truck Safari” on them, and told us that if we bought one (at $20 each) the proceeds would go to helping the school. No one bought one, until the guide put some pressure on us and one of the Europeans finally forked over $20.  My suspicion is that very little goes to helping the school, and that most of it goes to the Monster Truck Safari people. Had there been a teacher there talking about the school with a donation jar, we would have donated. Instead we felt a little put off.

Next we stopped at another “farm” where a family was selling jellies and fruit leather. More pressure to purchase, and not much in the way of a tour.

We then continued through the road, and past a sugarcane plantation with a giant mansion up on the top of a big hill overlooking the sugarcane fields. We turned a corner and approached the “Haitian village.” Kids were waiting for us, and we gave them our candy. They were jumping and grabbing for it, and we were told not to toss the candy to them because they fight. It was like feeding animals. I handed the notebook and pencil to one of the few adult women with the kids, who grabbed for it and gave it to a specific little girl. I’m sure she knew which kid needed it the most, and that was the only part that made us happy.

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Domincan Republic 132

Domincan Republic 131

As we drove away, monstering over a river and up a hill, the whole picture became clear. This wasn’t a “Haitian village,” it was a migrant farm-worker community who work the sugarcane fields for the rich guy on the hill with the mansion, who obviously pays them next to nothing. Their houses were shanties built with whatever scraps of building materials that they could find, and the “village” was just a section of the plantation owner’s land that he lets them live on.

The Monster Truck Safari people do this tour once a week, help the family with the farm make some money off the tourists by selling them candy at high prices, and then show the tourists the “poor Haitian kids” as a tourist attraction, like animals in a zoo. Those kids don’t need candy once a week. They need necessities, things that won’t rot their teeth.

We were pretty disgusted and bummed out by the whole ordeal. The guide tried to get “party time” going on again as we headed back to Higuey, trying to interest us in rum and cokes and beer. We weren’t interested.

Our last stop was in Higuey, where we walked through a market and then were brought to a store where we could buy souvenirs (big surprise) at “the best prices in the Dominican Republic.” (They weren’t the best prices.) For the resort tourists, they might have been as the resort gift shops charge exorbitant prices. We got most of our souvenirs at the Bayahibe grocery store instead for very reasonable prices.

Market in Higuey Domincan Republic
Market in Higuey
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Higuey

When we got back to Bayahibe, they dropped us off first, in front of the dirt road to our little hotel. Kids and chickens were running around the road, and the resort tourists in the van with us were somewhat horrified by our digs. We bid them goodbye and good riddance.

For dinner that evening we went to Bamboo Beach, another grass-roofed little spot with a view of the water. It was owned by French expats, and most of the customers appeared to be French tourists. The food was good and the atmosphere was nice.

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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
Bamboo Beach Restaurant Bayahibe Domincan Republic 139
Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
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Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe
Bamboo Beach Restaurant Bayahibe Domincan Republic 137
Bamboo Beach, Bayahibe

 

Day 3:

The next day was a lazy beach day. Bayahibe has a very nice public beach, with beach chairs for rent for $5.00 for the day.

**Tips:

1. You get a better deal paying in pesos for beach chairs instead of dollars

2. Stock up on water, beer, snacks, and toilet paper at the grocery store before you head to the beach. The public restroom is a bring your own TP type of situation, and the beers at the beach are ridiculously overpriced.

3. Take the back beach trail, not the one along the water to avoid the aggressive souvenir stands.

We had breakfast first at Cafe La Marina, an open air restaurant right in front of the main harbor. I think the owners were Italian. There were a lot of Italian style baked goods, and I got a very good foccacia bread with tomatoes. Coffee was tasty.

We took the back trail to avoid the touts at the souvenir stalls, and passed a small beach cemetery.

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Bayahibe Beach cemetery Domincan Republic 143

The beach itself was really nice, with soft sand, minimal coral, and bathtub warm water. My sunscreen expired a little before we left and I got a tiny bit burnt. Remember to re-apply!

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Bayahibe public beach
Bayahibe public beach Domincan Republic 145
Bayahibe public beach
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Bayahibe public beach

**Bathroom tip: Don’t use the “bathrooms” near the beach parking lot. They are the grossest outhouses I’ve ever seen. Head back to the public restroom near the town–make sure to bring your own toilet paper.

When we’d had enough sun, we walked back to the main marina area and had lunch at the Saona Cafe, a little bar and grill owned by French Canadian expats right in front of the harbor. We had some very tasty fish burgers and ice cold Presidentes.

Later that evening after a rest in our room, we went looking around for a place for dinner. There were a few interesting little spots on the harbor, but we ended up getting pizza back at Chiky Blue again. It had such great atmosphere and view, and the food and prices were great.

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Bayahibe Harbor
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Chiky Blu Bayahibe
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Chiky Blu Bayahibe

The next day we did a tour to Isla Saona with Seavis Tours, which was much better and the highlight of our trip to the Dominican Republic. I would definitely recommend Seavis Tours, but avoid the “Monster Truck Safari” tour operated by a third party.

I would recommend Bayahibe for budget travelers or people who want to get out of the resort bubble  and still enjoy a nice day at the beach. There are a variety of tours to do from the town as well, and it is a great location to use as a home base to explore.

Read about the rest of our adventures in the Dominican Republic here

The Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

The Phi Phi Islands, Thailand: Tonsai Village, Long Beach, Maya Bay, Bamboo Island, and a lot of drunk European college kids.

 

We went to the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced “pee-pee”) while on a two and a half week trip around Thailand in March 2014. The Phi Phi Islands are beautiful, albeit heavily visited by hoards of tourists hoping to visit the infamous Maya Bay from the movie The Beach. I think we were there during European college spring break, and there were drunk twentysomething European tourists everywhere whooping it up in Tonsai Village and Loh Dalum Bay. February might be a better time to visit, but I couldn’t say for sure. We do highly recommend an accommodation a good distance away from Loh Dalum Bay for some peace and quiet at night. Our hotel fortunately fit the bill.

 

(Excerpt from original post https://childfreelifeadventures.com/thailand-2014-phi-phi-islands-bangkok-chanthaburi-kao-laem-national-park/)

Day 1:

We caught the early 7:30 AM flight from Bangkok to Krabi, packed in like sardines onto a small Air Asia commuter plane, which was about an hour and a half plane ride.

Once in Krabi, we got a taxi to the Klong Jilard Pier on the outskirts of Krabi town, and had a little time to grab some sandwiches at a food stall before the 10:30 AM ferry. When you walk in to the terminal, you are greeted by a tourist guide selling tickets, who we purchased tickets from. When we went to get on the boat, we passed a ticket window around the corner where some locals were buying tickets from and realized that was the real ticket window. Our tickets were valid, but more expensive. I think we overpaid about $10.00 total. Oh well, live and learn.

We boarded the boat and were instructed to put our large backpacks in a pile on the boat deck. The boat was air conditioned, and there is a deck where you can sit in the sun if you want to. The sun was too hot even in the breeze, so we sat down below.

ferry to Phi Phi Don Thailand
ferry photo by Heather Smith
Phi Phi ferry ride Thailand
Phi Phi ferry

**Note: I read that in the spring and summer the southern Islands have rougher weather and sea, so the best time to visit the islands in the Southern part of Thailand is November through March.

We arrived Phi Phi Don at noon, and a man from our hotel was waiting at the ferry to show us the way there. He grabbed a big metal hand cart off the side of the road and instructed us to put our bags in it, and we followed him through a maze of little streets in Tonsai Village to the JJ Bungalow, which we booked through Booking.com.

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Tonsai Village

JJ Bungalow had decent enough reviews, and was about $75.00 a night. The attraction here was that it had AC, a pool, and was reported to be far away from the party scene on Phi Phi, so a quiet night could be expected.

The downside to JJ Bungalow, was the three flights of stairs up the hillside to the bungalows and pool. In the stifling afternoon heat, this wasn’t so pleasant. Fortunately, our super in-shape and used-to-the-heat bag carrier carried my backpack up for me. I was super thankful.

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JJ Bungalow

There was a fridge with bottled waters in it, and a little convenience store in the office downstairs that sold more beverages until late at night, which was very convenient. We cranked up the AC in our rooms and waited to cool down.

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JJ Bungalow
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JJ Bungalow

After a little while, I went and took a dip in the pool near our rooms, which had some nice shady areas and no one in it.

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JJ Bungalow pool

After a rest and a cool-down, we were getting hungry. We walked a short ways down the road from our hotel, and took a right down a beach road to Loh Dalum Bay beach. We were starving, and the beach was nice and quiet this late in the afternoon, so we just sat down at the first place we saw, Woody’s. There was barely anyone there, and after ordering some food we realized that we were in a popular nighttime party spot. There was a giant wood penis sticking out of the sand in front of the place, and next to it was another bar called the Slinky Bar, which also had a giant penis sticking out of the sand, although theirs was more….realistic. The food wasn’t bad, my pad see ew was actually really tasty. It’s always a little dicey eating somewhere that isn’t known for its food, though.

Below: Loh Dalum Bay

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Loh Dalum Bay
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Loh Dalum Bay
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Loh Dalum Bay

After some food, we did a little walking around, and then went back to rest a little more. The jet lag was catching up with us.

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Interesting graffiti on the street near our hotel

Below: a typical Thai clusterfuck of low-hanging power lines.

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Later that evening, Heather was tired, but Stephen, Paddy, and I were curious about the nightlife. We decided to walk back to the beach and check it out. On the way we grabbed some snacks from a stand selling all kinds of barbequed meats on skewers. Paddy got a chicken skewer and Stephen and I ordered squid. It was tasty.

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night market grill Phi Phi Don Thailand 443

When we got to the beach, Woody’s and the Slinky Bar were having competing fire shows with equally competing loud techno music. It was entertaining for about 15 minutes. At Woody’s, one of the fire jugglers seemed to be an 8 year old boy. I wonder how his mother feels about his profession.

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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Slinky Bar fire show Phi Phi
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Slinky Bar Phi Phi

The crowd was growing on the beach and in the streets of the village. Mostly Europeans and Australians wearing next to nothing and looking to party. Street stands were selling “buckets” which were comprised of some sort of do-it-yourself cocktail. It was all a little obnoxious. Maybe we’re just old.

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We wanted to get another snack before we ended our evening, and I’d read great things about Papaya Restaurant in Tonsai Village. We found it, a little place at the end of a short alley next to a Middle Eastern restaurant, with a few tables inside and outside.

We decided not to let the pregnant cat lounging on the counter of the restaurant next door discourage us, and ordered up some noodles. Stephen ordered their signature papaya salad. He said it was one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Our noodles were mediocre. Definitely come here for the papaya salad. It tends to be served nuclear spicy, so ask for not spicy if you want it milder.

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Papaya salad at Papaya Restaurant Phi Phi Thailand 456
Best papaya salad on Phi Phi

Day 2:

The next day we were anxious to check out the beach. We weren’t so keen on the party beach (Loh Dalum Bay), and our guidebook recommended a beach just a 10 minute long tail boat ride away called Long Beach. We packed up our gear and headed into the village for breakfast at Anna’s Restaurant, as also recommended by our guidebook. It was a European owned place and the breakfast was probably the best one we had in Thailand. It tends to open late for the hangover crowd, and the next two days we tried going there and it wasn’t open yet.

After breakfast, we easily located a longtail driver waiting to be hired. For 100 Baht each ($3.00) he drove us over to Long Beach.

Long Beach has several accommodations, and would be a good choice for people wanting to stay far away from the party scene in Tonsai. There is one resort restaurant and bar there on the beach, and one ATM. The beach itself was gorgeous, and offered great views of Phi Phi Leh, the neighboring national park island where where the movie The Beach was filmed.

My guidebook told us there was great snorkeling just off the beach, but there wasn’t a ton of coral (good for swimming, however).  I saw a few fish and a big squishy sea cucumber. Not the best snorkeling, but there is a little to see. Maybe I wasn’t in the right spot.

Long Beach Phi Phi Don Thailand

sea cucumber Long Beach Phi Phi Don Thailand
Sea cucumber

Heather and Stephen had lunch at the Phi Phi Paradise Pearl Resort restaurant on the beach. Paddy and I weren’t hungry, so we enjoyed the beach and read for awhile. When we were all ready to go, we easily located a longtail driver again to take us back to town.

We went back to our bungalows to shower and clean up. The stairs and the midday heat got to me when we reached our bungalow, I was overheated and trying to get my wet bathing suit top over my head so I could jump in the cold shower and cool down. I got stuck and had a small over-heated freakout moment that resulted in a bathing suit top being violently flung across the room. The AC kicked on, and eventually all was well again.

After we’d cooled down and got dressed, Paddy and I went into the village by ourselves to get a light lunch and do a little souvenir shopping. We went back to Papaya and had the papaya salad and some spring rolls. We then walked around a little bit and haggled with a few vendors over some souvenirs. Paddy bought a pair of sunglasses that didn’t disintegrate like the ones he bought off of a street vendor in Bangkok.

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Tonsai Village Phi Phi Thailand 460

Above: Fruit stands in Tonsai Village

We ended the afternoon with hour long foot massages at a little place near Loh Dahlum beach for $8.00 each. They were nice. They also included some stretching and bending of the neck at weird angles at the end. I’m not sure if that was good for me or not…but “buy the ticket take the ride,” right? Our feet sure did feel better though.

Below: Loh Dalum Bay at sunset

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Loh Dalum Beach sunset Phi Ph Thailand 458

Loh Dalum Beach sunset Phi Phi Thailand 457

We split up from Heather and Stephen and did our own thing for dinner that night. Our guidebook raved about Tonsai Seafood down on the beach near the ferry, so we decided to check it out. I don’t know what the guidebook was talking about. I recently looked it up on Tripadvisor and it sounds like we were lucky not to get food poisoning.

it is on the beach, and the seafood looks really fresh, on ice right near the sidewalk and you can see the cooks working in the open air kitchen.

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Tonsai Seafood

While the location was nice, the plastic tables and chairs were dirty, the cocktails mediocre and expensive, and the service was terrible. Paddy ordered a steak, which he said was alright. I ordered a seafood salad-not too spicy. I got a tasty seafood salad but it was nuclear and I couldn’t finish it. My whole fried fish was chosen out of the fresh fish on ice, and it was okay. Not great. We made it out without food poisoning (it sounds like some others weren’t so lucky) but not the best dining experience. Skip this place.

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Tonsai Seafood
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Tonsai Seafood

Day 3:

We wanted to see the famous Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the beach made famous by the 2000 movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. We were also well aware that every other tourist in the Andaman Sea island area has the same agenda. Therefore, we wanted to get up early and try and get there before the crowds.

We got up and headed into Tonsai Village around 7:30, and found some breakfast at a European style cafe called Capu Latte, which serves espresso, baked goods to go, and a full breakfast menu.

Our plan was to go negotiate a day tour with a longtail driver down on the beach, but we ended up going with a tour operator who booked us a full day with a driver including a fried rice and fresh pineapple lunch for $100 total. We might have gotten a better deal without lunch on our own, but $100 for a personal boat driver for the day with lunch was a reasonable price so we went with it. We were able to rent snorkel fins for $2.00 from a man around the corner from the tour desk.

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Longtail boats Phi Phi Don Thailand 465
Longtail boats waiting for hire in the morning

We found our driver and boat and set off to our first stop on Phi Phi Leh.

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I had taken a Dramamine, but the channel between the two islands was pretty rough and when we arrived I was beginning to doubt my ability to make it to the other locations on our agenda. I doubled up with another motion sickness medication called Bonine when we got to the beach, hoping that would work.

Phi Phi Leh is a national park protected island with no inhabitants or accommodations. We arrived at around 9:30 AM and the beach was already busy. The amount of tourism the island receives each day hasn’t had a great impact on the environment, and it’s unfortunate. Blame Hollywood.

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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh
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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh

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All that being said, Maya Bay really is a spectacular site to see.

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The crowds were growing, so after an hour we got back in the boat and moved on north towards Phi Phi Don. The sea wasn’t so rough after we got past the channel to the west side of Phi Phi Don.

Our next stop was Monkey Beach. We had read some disturbing things about Monkey Beach: Monkeys being fed potato chips, candy, and soda by tourists, monkeys chasing and attacking tourists, tourists being bit by monkeys and having to get rabies shots. So we were all a bit wary of visiting this beach.

We arrived at monkey beach and there were several other tour groups there….but not one monkey in site. It was kind of a let down.

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Monkey Beach, Koh Phi Phi

Also a let down was the disgusting amount of garbage left on the beach by tourists. I can’t believe people. Why would anyone think that it is okay to leave your trash on a beach? Tourism really saddens me sometimes.

Trash piles and rabid monkeys in hiding aside, it was a really beautiful beach. If you go here, don’t get close to monkeys, (maybe they’re around in the afternoon only?) don’t feed them, and keep all of your belongings on your person. They steal stuff, and you don’t want to try to get your camera back from a monkey. Also, pack it in, pack it out. Littering is a seriously shitty thing to do.

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Monkey Beach
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Monkey Beach
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Monkey Beach, Koh Phi Phi

After monkey beach, Heather and Stephen decided they had enough for the day and we dropped them off at nearby Loh Dalum Bay.

We were stoked on snorkeling and seeing our final destination, Bamboo Island, so we continued on with our driver.

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After a few minutes, our driver pulled into a small cove with a few other boats and told us that this was the best snorkeling spot. He was right–the water was deep and clear and like swimming in an aquarium. The fish were beautiful and we were having a great time for about 10 minutes.

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snorkeling koh phi phi Thailand 051

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Then I saw a huge white jellyfish the size of a trashcan lid. I quickly paddled back towards the boat, hoping that was the only one. We snorkeled for a minute in the other direction, and then I saw another jellyfish the size of a basketball. There were a lot of other people snorkeling and no one seemed to be getting stung by anything, but we weren’t going to chance it. We got out of the water and ate our packed veggie fried rice and fresh pineapple in the boat with our guide. It was kind of a bummer, because the snorkeling was really amazing.

Moving on, we headed north to Bamboo Island, a small national park island off the north coast of Phi Phi Don. There were tour groups here as well, but the island was large and the tourists were fewer. It was beautiful, and definitely worth the trip.

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Bamboo Island
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Bamboo Island

There was a little stand selling beers so we had a couple cold Singhas on the beach and then went for a swim. It was nice.

Finally, we headed back to Tonsai Bay and went back to the hotel to cool down and relax for a few.

For dinner we had read great things about Le Grand Bleu, a French-Thai fusion restaurant in Tonsai near the ferry pier, so we checked it out. The atmosphere and food were outstanding, as well as the service. It was a little more expensive than many other restaurants on Phi Phi, but worth the splurge. Don’t miss this place.

After dinner, we were all tired except Paddy, who really wanted to go see some live rock music advertised at the Rolling Stoned bar in Tonsai Village. He went out and had a crazy evening involving a hilarious massage parlor experience, partying with some guys from Spain, and getting up on stage singing AC/DC songs with the Thai cover band at the Rolling Stoned Bar. His story is best told by him over a few beers. Maybe if you have some beers with us sometime, he’ll tell it to you.

Day 4:

We had one last day on Phi Phi, and in retrospect I think we would have had a better time going back to Krabi instead of staying our fourth night in Phi Phi. Three nights of European spring break was plenty. Paddy was having some stomach issues so he decided that he was fine spending a day in the room reading in the air conditioning. Heather and Stephen were doing some shopping, and I felt like I should go to the beach at least one more time.

I went down to Loh Dalum Bay with a book, and paid $5.00 for a beach chair in front of Woody’s with an umbrella. The sun was scorching hot, and when I tried to walk on the sand without sandals, it burned my feet. The tide was out really far, so to cool off I had to walk way out there (in sandals) to get to knee deep water where I could try to dunk myself.

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Loh Dalum Bay Phi Phi Don Thailand 066

I went back to my beach chair to read a book in the shade. Two British girls in their early 20’s sat down in the chairs behind me, and were so hungover that one of them was vomiting bile into a puddle in the sand next to her chair. Then she got on Skype on her tablet and began chatting with some dude in London about all the partying they were doing. And that was enough beach for me.

That evening, Paddy wasn’t feeling so great, so Heather, Stephen and I went out without him. We went to Banana Sombrero, a Mexican restaurant in Tonsai Village. We ordered some ceviche, which wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t ceviche. I think it had a little mayonnaise in it. After we ate we climbed the precarious spiral staircase to the Banana Bar on the roof, which was a laid back little hippie bar with lots of lounge seating and wafting marijuana smoke in the air.

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Banana Sombrero

Another climb up a ladder to a higher platform gets you to a viewing deck and more seating. The view isn’t great, but it’s worth a peak.

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View from Banana Sombrero bar
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View from Banana Sombrero bar

We sat at the bar and had some drinks. I had a very tasty mango daiquiri.

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Banana Bar

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They were clearly setting up for a party that night, and we decided to move on. We went down to the waterfront near the ferry and sat in an open air bar and restaurant for another drink. The service was terrible, and 20 minutes after ordering our drinks and not receiving them we were getting up to leave, but a waiter rushed over and told us our drinks were on the way and told us to sit back down. We eventually got our drinks.

**Tip: Don’t order a bloody mary in Thailand. Just don’t.

Overall, I’d recommend avoiding all open-air tourist restaurants on the beach on Phi Phi. The food and service is much better in the village.

 

The next day we took the ferry back to Krabi for a night before heading back to Bangkok and continuing our travels around Thailand. I think if we went back to Phi Phi Island, we’d like to see some of the rest of the island, but most of it involves being shuttled to and from Tonsai Bay in a longtail boat when you stay at the more remote locations and resorts. The islands are gorgeous and well worth the trip, but we could do without the drunk spring breakers.

I think our hotel was a good option for being away from the action but still in walking distance to everything in Tonsai Village, which is what we wanted. If we were to go back to Phi Phi a second time, we might try one of the more remote places I was looking at such as Vikings Nature Resort near Long Beach, or Zeavola Resort (super swanky) up near the northern tip of the island.