Category Archives: Mexico

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent…

The calendar says it’s Summer but the weather here is San Francisco is a little too brisk to even consider wearing shorts or running through the sprinklers.  I’m pretty used to it after spending four summers shivering through Fourth of July fireworks and craving heart soups instead of light salads while the rest of the country basks in sun.  But having spent my whole childhood sweating through 100 degree temps, hosing myself in the backyard and laying on top of the comforter listening to the hum of the air conditioner at night, I still find myself checking the weather expecting to see the optimistic sun graphic in the ten day forecast.

It’s around the end of June that I start craving real Summer.  I head down to Manteca to get my 15 minutes of relentless heat (all I can really handle before I’m pining for the cool breezes of SF) under the guise of visiting my parents.  I convince Roem to take a Zipcar across the Golden Gate to warmer pastures; intent on getting my monthly dose of Vitamin D.  Sometimes though, it all gets to be too much.  I need some time on a beach without wearing a sweatshirt.  I need the freckles across my nose to return in all their spotted glory from winter hibernation.  I need a good excuse to read trashy books without hiding them behind more studious covers.  I need sun in 12 hour cycles.

So last month, Roem and I discussed some possible summer destinations on our rather meager vacation budget.  I originally had my heart set on a European adventure but quickly decided that spending $1,500 a plane ticket for a 9 day trip just wouldn’t work for us.  Even with visions of freshly baked baguettes, runny stinky cheeses and glorious picnics in Provence, I couldn’t justify it.  We tend to budget our trips based on a daily price tag, so $3,000 in airfare over three months wouldn’t be inconceivable at $33 a day, but $333 a day is way over our daily price point.  Unfortunately, due to increased gas prices, extra flight surcharges and a decrease in capacity from the airlines, flights this Summer are more expensive than ever.

I am not a patient person by nature but I took a deep breath and waited. When you are working with a small budget, it’s never a good idea to have a single destination in mind because in the end your budget will pick the location.  So I compulsively checked airfarewatchdog.com for possible sales and read every blog online looking for deals.  I included previously dismissed locations like Hawaii, the Carribean and even a few locations within the continental US.  And finally a few weeks ago, I came across cheap tickets to Mexico that were $450 inclusive of taxes and fees bringing us to a reasonable $100 per day flight budget.

Street food near the bus station in Playa del Carmen.

You may recall that last year for our honeymoon, we traveled to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  The only destination we traveled to in Mexico on that trip was Playa del Carmen and, while beautiful, it wasn’t really our style.  It was perfect for our relaxing, luxurious honeymoon but we still yearned for the more authentic side of Mexico we only caught glimpses of during that trip.  For this trip, we consulted the well traveled foodies over at Tacolicious for some advice.  They showered us with recommendations for beautiful guest houses, amazing resturants and great off the beaten track attractions.  It wasn’t long before our flight into Mexico City and out of Puerto Vallarta was booked for the first week of July.

Our itinerary will include a few days in Mexico City, then a bus to San Miguel de Allende, another bus to Guanajuato, and an overnight bus to Puerto Vallarta with our final destination being Sayulita.  It’s a full itinerary but with our main objective being to stuff our faces with as many street tacos, fresh seafood and authentic mole as we can find, I think we will be in good shape (or not, based on aforementioned taco consumption).  So any thoughts/suggestions/admonishments for us?  Have you been to these locations?  And most importantly, where do you recommend we eat?

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Filed under Airline Travel, Lifestyle, Mexico, San Francisco, Travel, Uncategorized

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Affordable Luxury

Once we bought our tickets and knew the beginning and end of our honeymoon trip, we got to work on the destinations.  In looking at the map, it seemed like the best route was to stay in Cancun a few days, cross into Belize and go down to the Cayes before heading into Belizean jungle, going over to Tikkal and ending up in Antigua, Guatemala. It kind of looked like this: Roem really wanted a nice hotel room for our first few nights so I researched Cancun and was just really hesitant to stay there after reading about the touristy

Our first night in Playa del Carmen at the Casa Ticul.

nature of the area.  We decided to stay right outside of Cancun in Playa del Carmen and booked a 4 star hotel room  for about $110 on Expedia.  Our room was at Casa Ticul, a well appointed, adults-only boutique hotel that was well situated to the beach, restaurants and shopping.  It is highly rated on tripadvisor, which is our go to travel review website and we felt pretty confident that our budget accommodations would be luxurious and relaxing.

The next leg of the trip was traveling from Playa del Carmen to a destination in the Belizean Cayes.  We knew the pricey flight from Cancun to Belize City was out, but Roem was resistant to taking a long dusty bus ride that would eat into our limited vacation time.  We decided to avoid a 12 hour trip to Belize City and instead take a bus to the border town of Corozal before taking the early morning ferry to the Cayes the next day.  We chose Corozal instead of the more popular crossing at Chetumal, because most reviews seemed to agree that Corozal was a charming little town with better accommodations.  We both decided that the night’s hotel would be a budget accommodation and we chose the Mirador Hotel for its convenient location and small price tag of $40.

As for the Belizean Cayes, we had heard Ambergris Caye was beautiful, but we were craving a more off the beaten path destination for our honeymoon.  A friend of mine had traveled to Caye Caulker a few years ago and raved about this secluded, sleepy village.  I did some reading on the wikitravel site and was

Reading from a hammock on our balcony in Caye Caulker.

bewitched by the description of Caye Caulker as “popular with backpackers and budget travelers for its (relatively) cheap prices, laid-back vibe, and abundance of restaurants and bars.”  I had also heard there was a popular bakery on the island that baked fresh cinnamon rolls each morning and that lobster was reasonably priced in July, so that sealed the deal for both of us.

There are very few hotels on Caye Caulker and the one that stood out to us right away was the Seaside Cabanas for its laid back vibe, beautiful rooms and excellent reviews.  Because we saved money on our room in Corozal, we could afford the $125 price tag for three nights.  Caye Caulker was also said to have more affordable dining and recreation options, so we knew our budget would go further by staying there than one of the more pricier islands.  A comparable room in Ambegris Caye would have cost us about 60% more so we ended up with more money to put into our beer fund.

To get back onto the mainland from the Cayes, we had to take a ferry to Belize City and then another bus to our destination in the Cayo Region of Belize.  For this stop, I had dreams of a romantic hidden property that would be cut off from the rest of the world where we could enjoy each other and have some amazing food.  It was only a short search until I found the place that fit the bill and I knew I had to find money in the budget to stay at Table Rock Lodge.  The website described

Roem taking a walk at Table Rock.

Table Rock as “a sustainable lodge in a canopied rainforest setting unlike any other in the Cayo District of Belize” and it looked like the ultimate honeymoon destination.  It was about a half an hour from the main town so all-inclusive meal options were available and every review raved about the quality of the food.  There were a few other lodges that looked beautiful so I waffled on this decision for a few days but ultimately went with Table Rock Lodge because of their timely email responses and exceptional customer service.  We booked the Aracari Room for $95.00 a night and added the breakfast and dinner option for $29.00 a person.  A full review will come in a later post but if you are considering traveling to this area of the world at all, please book a few nights at Table Rock.  It was easily the highlight of our entire trip.

Upon leaving the Cayo District, we planned on heading into Guatemala to tour the Tikal ruins.  There are only two options near Tikal and both get average reviews and tend to be pricey.  We booked a room at a budget hotel in a good location called Hotel Santana because there really wasn’t one a stellar option in our price range.  The Hotel Santana was $50 and we figured our room would only be used to sleep in considering the main objective in Flores, Guatemala was to see the ruins.

Our inexpensive hotel in Flores, left us with a little extra money for the last few nights of our honeymoon in Antigua.  We were both really excited to end our trip in Antigua as we’d heard it was a magnificent city with lots of attractions.  We decided to leave our accommodations open and gauge our budget a few days ahead of time before we booked a hotel.  We did not know at the time that we were visiting this ancient town during a religious festival and most hotels had been booked for weeks.  This led to an experience that included one of the worst hostel rooms in my entire life and one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I have ever stayed in.  More on that experience in our next installment of the Booking An Affordable Honeymoon.

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Filed under Beer, Belize, Finance, Food, Guatemala, Honeymoon, Lifestyle, Marriage, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Finding the Finances

When we first started talking about planning a wedding, we set our budget at a modest $5,000.  I had visions of a self catered, do it yourself affair with plenty of cash left over for a lavish, European honeymoon.  As Roem and I discussed our ideal wedding, I started adding up costs in my head.  Let’s just say that modest budget was doubled once we added in a photographer, my dream dress, and paying people to do a few things that were causing me to dissolve into tears on a regular basis.

Photo by: Karen Ling

I had my heart set on a romantic and extravagant honeymoon, and I was despondent over the fact we might not get to jet off anywhere.  Traveling is so much a part of our lives that I really wanted to take a trip and connect with my new husband.  We talked a bit about a destination wedding but knew it would put a strain on some our loved ones we really wanted to be there.  So we began planning the wedding and I put away whatever extra money I could into a savings account with all the optimism I could muster.

A few months before we were set to tie the knot I revisited the idea of a honeymoon.  Our reserve savings account had grown to about $2,000 after accounting for unforeseen wedding expenses.  I wasn’t tied to any one location and I was determined to plan a kick a$$ trip on a small budget with a few luxurious touches, even if it was in my own backyard.  After scouring the web for good deals, I spotted a 48 hour sale on flights to Mexico with tickets running about $300 each.

I love Mexico, but I hesitated to go there because I really wanted something a little more exotic and adventurous.  On a whim, I check flights into Cancun and out of Guatemala City, a place I had always wanted to visit.  Turns out the open jaw ticket was even a little cheaper than a round trip to Cancun, so I quickly purchased them before putting together a complete itinerary.  I think it’s always a good idea to act a bit impetuously when booking travel.  If you’ve done your research, then you will know a good price range for your ticket. That way you can act quickly when you find a deal, as chances are it will sell out fast.

I knew our meager budget wouldn’t cover our whole trip, especially with Roem requesting more luxurious accommodations than our usual budget hotel or hostel.  I did some research on virtual honeymoon registries  and finally decided to sign up for honeyfund.  I was a little nervous about how our guests would respond to this, but I liked honeyfund because it allowed guests to purchase “experiences” for you instead of just sending a paypal payment.  We set up our website with lots of different price points and added things like romantic dinners, casual meals on the beach, cave tubing and even hotels to our registry.  We personalized the site and wrote about our philosophy on travel and our plans for the trip.  The response from our guests was overwhelming.  Everyone from my Grandma to my Parents, loved the online registry and we had to scramble to add items because of everyone’s generosity.

You can check out our registry for ideas here: http://www.honeyfund.com/wedding/amberandroem

Sneak preview of our blissed out faces on our honeymoon.

We started plotting the route and decided to spend a few days on the beach in Cancun before heading to the border and crossing into Belize and ending up in Guatemala for our flight back home.  I began searching for some budget-friendly stops along the way before I passed off the research to Roem.  It was hard to give up some of the control, but I knew I was overwhelmed and really couldn’t deal with another thing on my plate.  As we approached the one month out mark, I revisited the honeymoon and started booking what would be one of the most amazing trips we would take together.

Next up:

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Affordable Luxury

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Filed under Adventure, Airline Travel, Belize, Guatemala, Honeymoon, Mexico, Travel