Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 95
May 15, 1999

Last Update 10 May 1999 1700ET

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MEXICO: YUCATAN & MAYAN RIVIERA BY DAN BERGEN

Trip 4/99

Day 1: 

We  booked  this  as  a last minute decision. Our daughter had gone to Europe 
with  a  school  tour  group  for  the  Easter  break,  so  we suddenly found 
ourselves  with  an  "empty  nest"  for  a  week. I have always dreamed about 
visiting  the  Mayan  ruins  &  the "costa turquesa", so I called my agent at 
1:00  PM  on Saturday April 3rd. Yes, 2 "air only" tickets were available for 
Cancun,  and  at  a bargain price of $288 (Canadian) each. The catch was that 
the  plane  departed  the  next morning at 6:00 AM, from Winnipeg, a 360 mile 
drive  from our home in Regina. We both tracked down our "bosses" & confirmed 
that  we could take the week off. Just as we were leaving at 3:00 PM (2 hours 
after  booking),  we  heard  there  was  a  blizzard warning for the southern 
Canadian  prairies,  which  happened  to be our route to Winnipeg. We hit the 
storm  about  an  hour out, and then crawled along in treacherous conditions, 
visibility  down  to zero, and arrived in Winnipeg at 1:00 AM Sunday morning. 
We  encountered  many  cars  in  the ditch along the way, but arrived safely, 
although about 4 hours later than we intended. 

Day 2: 

We  bedded down at the Comfort Inn for 3 hours of sleep before it was time to 
head   to  the  airport.  The  departure  of  our  Canada  3000  charter  was 
questionable  right  up to the moment of boarding due to the heavy snowfall & 
blizzard  conditions.  After  about  an  hour  of  de-icing,  we were finally 
airborne.  We  landed  at  Cancun  just  before  noon. As I was headed to the 
Budget  counter  to  pick up the Geo Tracker I had reserved, the guy from the 
Dollar  booth  waved me over, saying he "handled" all Budget reservations! He 
offered  to  beat  Budget's weekly rental of $270.00 (US) by $20.00 so I said 
sure,  let's do it. He accepted my VISA, & did not put any charge against the 
card,  also  allowed  me  to  waive  all  insurance  in  lieu of my Gold card 
coverage.  So off with the top & away we go. And yes, we checked to ensure we 
had  the  jack,  wrench,  spare  tire,  &  noted  the  few  scratches  to the 
attendant.  

Although  Cancun  was  not  our  intended  destination,  we  decided to drive 
through  the  "zona  hotelera"  for a look-see. Our decision to head inland & 
later  to the Mayan Riviera was quickly confirmed as a good choice. Cancun is 
certainly  not for us, way too many people, way too many huge hotels, way too 
many  Hard  Rock Cafes & Planet Hollywood's! So we headed to Centro to gas up 
&  get  some pesos from an ATM. Then we headed for our first destination, the 
charming  Mayan  city  of  Valladolid.  We  drove  the  toll  road, through a 
military  check-point  with  no problem, and arrived at the Hotel El Meson de 
Marques  at about 5:00 PM. That drive was mighty hot with the top down on the 
Geo,  the  Cavalier  with  A/C  was starting to look like a better option! We 
booked  into  the  Hotel  El  Meson de Marques, an awesome hotel, the lobby & 
restaurant  are  built  in  a 300 year old colonial mansion. We ate dinner in 
the  hotel's  restaurant  which  surrounds a central courtyard & fountain. We 
both  ordered  Yucatecan  chicken  dishes,  prepared Mayan style, terrific!!! 
After  dinner,  we attended the Easter Sunday evening mass at the massive old 
church  across  the "zocalo" from our hotel. This church was originally built 
in  1545,  but was later rebuilt as it was partially destroyed in the 1800's. 
After  the  church service, all the Vallodestano families moved into the city 
square  (zocalo)  for  an  evening of traditional music & dance. What a great 
experience for us! Then off to bed, after a long tiring & very hot day.  

Day 3: 

We  got  up early as we wanted to beat both the heat & the Cancun tour busses 
to  the  Mayan  archeological  site of Chichen Itza. We had the Mexican style 
breakfast  "huevos  mexicana"  (very  good) at the hotel restaurant, and then 
headed  for  Chichen  Itza, about a 30 minute drive. The ruins are everything 
we  had  read  about, truly amazing. By noon, it was over 40 C and the busses 
were  rolling  in, so we headed back to Valladolid. Beers & "poc chuc" (Mayan 
pork  dish)  for  lunch.  Again  the  food  was  delicious at the El Meson de 
Marques.  In  the  afternoon, we visited the Cenote Zaci in town & the Cenote 
Dzitnup  just  outside  of  town.  I  went  swimming  in  this  crystal clear 
underground  lagoon,  the  cool  water  was very refreshing. As it was Easter 
Monday,  all the local school kids had the same idea! Dinner was again at the 
hotel  restaurant  & the service & food was again outstanding. The meals were 
priced  at  about 70 pesos ($7.00 US). Our room was a "superior" class, as we 
had a balcony, and cost us 470 pesos. ($47.00 US)  

Day 4: 

Up  early  again,  as  we headed cross-country on a secondary highway for the 
Coba  archeological site. The drive took a bit longer than the normal 1 hour, 
as  I  took a wrong turn, as the sign for Coba at the turn was overgrown with 
jungle  vegetation.  After  about  20 kms, I realized the sun was hitting the 
wrong  shoulder!  Well,  we  still  beat the tour busses, but not the heat. I 
love  the  heat  especially  when it is snowing back home in Canada, but Coba 
must  be the hottest place on the planet. No breeze as the ruins are right in 
the  jungle. We walked the 2 km narrow path to the "Castillo", very different 
than  Chichen  Itza, as the ruins have been left in their natural "crumbling" 
state  &  they  are  right  in the jungle. I felt like "Indiana Jones" at the 
Temple  of  Doom  for  a  moment!  The  ball  court  is also very impressive, 
although  much  smaller than the ball court at Chichen Itza. When the heat of 
high  noon  hit, we headed off to the coast at Tulum. We arrived at the beach 
"Cabanas  Ana  y  Jose",  only  to find they had no rooms available until the 
next  day (we had only reserved our first nights accommodation in Valladolid) 
so  we  booked  in next door at Cabanas Tulum. Now Cabanas Tulum is your very 
basic  accommodation,  2 mattresses on concrete slabs, 1 bare light bulb with 
electricity  for  2  hours each evening, and a bathroom with cold water only. 
But  still,  it  was  clean,  except for that fine white beach sand that kept 
blowing  in  under  the  door!  And  this  place  is "right on the beach". We 
drifted  off  to  sleep to the sound of the Caribbean surf pounding the beach 
outside our door.  

Day 5: 

Up  early again, do you see a theme here?? We headed off to the Tulum Ruins & 
arrived  at  8:00 AM when the gates opened. By now we knew all about the heat 
of  mid-day  and  those omnipresent tour groups on the busses from the Cancun 
mega  resorts.  Tulum  may  be  the most beautiful place I have ever visited. 
Looking  down  at  the  aqua  coloured  Caribbean  from the Temple takes your 
breath  away.  I  enjoyed the view of the temple from the water just as much. 
We  explored every nook & cranny of the walled city and took about 2 rolls of 
pictures.  This  morning was definitely a highlight. And yes, we left just as 
the  hordes  arrived!  Back  to  "Ana  y Jose's" restaurant for lunch - beer, 
ceviche  &  tacos! I could get used to this! We moved over from Cabanas Tulum 
to  one  of Ana & Jose's beautiful cabana units. We had a second storey unit, 
complete  with  thatched  roof  &  tiled floors & bathroom. The ceiling fan & 
excellent  ventilation  were appreciated. No A/C, no phone, no TV, and lights 
for  a  few  hours each evening & yet we both agreed that Ana & Jose's is one 
of  the  nicest  places  we  have  ever  slept!  But  I  am  getting ahead of 
myself....  during  the  hot afternoon, I decided to do a little body-surfing 
(a  poor  imitation actually), and maybe it was the beer, but I went into the 
surf  with  my prescription glasses & clip-on sun shades. After the first big 
wave  hit  me, my glasses were gone, and immediately I was glad I had already 
"seen"  the  ruins  as  I  would  be  seeing  a  lot less for the rest of the 
week....  We  walked  the beach many times hoping they would wash ashore, but 
by  then they may have been in Cuba. Oh, dinner at Ana & Jose's was very good 
again,  we  had  the  fish  cooked  in chaya leaves, wrapped in foil, and the 
Mexican  steak. The flan for dessert was heavenly. The restaurant is right on 
the  beach,  with a sand floor & screens for walls, so you can hear & see the 
ocean while dining.  

Day 6: 

We  drove  about 30 miles north up the coast to Akumal. On the way we stopped 
&  toured  the newly renovated all-inclusive resort Club Oasis Akumal. What a 
joint!  If  I  ever  decide  to  take a more gringo-like vacation, this place 
looked  all right. The guests appeared to be mainly Europeans, you can always 
tell  by  the  beach attire. ;) Then on to Half Moon Bay at Akumal Norte, and 
we  got  lucky  to get the last room at the Vista Del Mar Hotel. We were very 
impressed  with  this  hotel, great views of the beach from the balcony & the 
hammock  on  the  balcony  is a nice touch. The room was impeccably clean and 
again  the  ceiling  fan & cross ventilation made the A/C superfluous. We had 
both  lunch & dinner at La Buena Vida, right on the beach, next to the hotel. 
Lunch  was again beer, tacos & cheeseburgers, which we consumed while sitting 
in  the swing chairs at the bar, the definition of relaxation. For dinner, we 
went  to  their  upstairs,  more  formal  dining  area and found that we much 
preferred  the  atmosphere  down  in  the  bar  area.  The food was good, but 
nothing  special. I think we were spoiled eating the Yucatecan cuisine in the 
interior of the Yucatan earlier in the week.  

Day 7: 

We  went to the bakery near the main gate for breakfast, a very popular place 
&  we  were  not  disappointed. We shared a table with a couple from Germany, 
and  compared  experiences  of  Chichen  Itza,  Coba  &  Tulum. The coconut & 
carrot   muffins  were  delicious,  as  was  the very freshly squeezed orange 
juice.  Then  we  again  headed up the coast, as we wanted to finish our week 
reasonable  close  to the airport for our Sunday departure for home. We ended 
up  in Playa del Carmen, a very interesting & very lively town. This seems to 
be  the  destination for those travellers who do not want the mega resorts of 
Cancun,  but  still  want  the  creature  comforts  of  home  as well as some 
nightlife.  We  had  read  good  things  about the Hotel Mosquito Blue on the 
Internet  &  were  fortunate  to  get  a  beautiful  room with a huge balcony 
overlooking  the  pool & courtyard. After exploring the beach area as well as 
the  "people  watching"  5th  Avenue  stroll,  we  decided on Las Limones for 
dinner.  A  beautiful  & romantic setting and the food was ok, but nothing to 
rave  about.  After  dinner  we  strolled  around town, listening to the many 
musical acts that perform every evening.  

Day 8: 

As  this  was  our  last full day, we decided to do the beach thing. We spent 
most  of  the  day  at "Fisherman's Village" in Playacar, which serves as the 
off-site  beach  club for the Hotel Mosquito Blue. This is a beautiful resort 
on  a great beach. We walked the beach, played in the surf, swam in the pool, 
drank  beer & ate snacks from the beach bar for most of the day. And as usual 
on  the  final day of vacation, I took in a bit too much sun. We finished the 
day  with  dinner  at La Parilla, BBQ Ribs & enchiladas. A very busy & lively 
restaurant  right  on  5th Ave., it was ok. Then back to our room at Mosquito 
Blue for our last sleep in Mexico.  

Day 9: 

“Breakfast  to  go” from Java Joe's, their croissants are delicious. Then the 
drive  back  to Aeropuerto Cancun. We returned the rental to Dollar, and lo & 
behold,  the jack & tire wrench were missing. I know they were under the seat 
at  mid-week, so they must have disappeared in Playa del Carmen. It is really 
difficult  to  adequately  secure  a  canvas  covered vehicle. We hadn't even 
bothered  to zip in the rear windows at night, seemed like too much hassle at 
the  time.  They  tried  to hold me up for $100 to replace the jack. I kindly 
informed  the attendant that no, it was not gold plated. I held firm until he 
called  his  "superviserio",  we eventually settled for $50, which I will try 
to  get  back  from my VISA gold card insurance. It takes alot more than that 
to  spoil  a great week on the Mayan Riviera.  Our plane was early and we got 
back  to  Winnipeg ahead of schedule. The 6 hour drive home was very pleasant 
as  the  40  cm of snow we encountered a week earlier had all melted. And yes 
... we will go back!  

Our Ratings: 

Hotels: 

1.  El  Meson de Marques, Valladolid: (470 pesos) Our favorite, rated a "10", 
great rooms, colonial style, oozing with history, and a great staff. 

2.  Cabanas  Tulum:  (450  pesos) Basic accommodation, rated a "5", good in a 
pinch or on a tight budget! 

3.  Cabanas  Ana  y  Jose: (700 pesos) Excellent, very "Mexican", clean, nice 
people, rated a "9". 

4.  Hotel  Vista  del Mar, Akumal Norte: (750 pesos) A very nice clean hotel, 
excellent location, very clean, rated an "8". 

5.  Hotel  Mosquito Blue, Playa del Carmen: (850 pesos)  Another great place, 
but  not  on  the  beach.  Clean & quiet & full of local art. If you consider 
their off-site beach club, this place also rates a "9".  

Restaurants: 

1.  El  Meson  del  Marques,  Valladolid:  Outstanding  &  authentic  Mayan & 
Yucatecan cuisine, 70 pesos for dinner, a "10". 

2.  Restaurant Ana y Jose: Terrific location & setting, on the beach, rated a 
"9". 

3.  La  Buena  Vida, Akumal Norte: Fun atmosphere in the open air bar, dining 
room a bit pricey, rated an "8". 

4. The Bakery, Akumal: Great breakfast joint, rated an "8". 

5. Las Limones, Playa del Carmen: Beautiful place, average food. "7". 

6. La Parilla, Playa del Carmen: Draws a crowd, not sure why. "6" 

7.  Java  Joe's, Playa del Carmen: Fresh coffee, freshly squeezed OJ, freshly 
baked croissants, "8"  

Sights we visited: 

Chichen  Itza,  Coba  &  Tulum all rated a "10", Tulum was our favourite. The 
cenotes  at Dzitnup & Zaci were interesting, maybe an "8" for Dzitnup & a "6" 
for Zaci.  

Best beaches: 

1. At the Tulum ruins, below the main temple. 

2. At Ana & Jose's 

3. Playa Aventuras 

4. Playacar 

5. Akumal Bay 

6.  Playa  del  Carmen   Well,  sorry  this was so long, maybe "you had to be 
there"!  

MEXICO: CLUB OASIS PUERTO AVENTURAS BY LIZ AND CHRIS KELLY

4/1999

First  off,  we  got  a  terrific  deal  for  this all inclusive. $770 pp for 
everything,  including  direct  airfare from Montreal. The flight was about 4 
hours.

We  had requested a room with two double beds for the girls and a room with a 
hot  tub  for  us  (we'd heard they had hot tubs, but had yet to find someone 
who  had  stayed  in a room with one). We arrived very late in the evening, a 
cloudy  evening.  The  ride  from  Cancun was about 1 1/2 hours on the bus, I 
fell  asleep.  Check  in  was  a  snap (@ 2am). We go to check out the rooms, 
first  checking the one for Chris and me....it is very large with a king bed, 
ceiling  fan  and  a  HUGE  wrap  around  balcony  (room no. 370). There is a 
wonderful  hot  tub  on  the  balcony!!! We can hear the waves but cannot see 
anything  because  of  the clouds. We are pleased and anxious to see the view 
in the daylight.

We  then  bring  the  girls to their room which does have 2 double beds and a 
small  balcony.  Their room overlooks the pool area and they also have a view 
of  the Caribbean (which we find out in the AM). We also see upon waking that 
our  view is stupendous! We can see the entire beach area (to the left we can 
see  to the point where the condos are and we also can see the pool areas and 
restaurant  area,  the  drink  palapa,  volleyball  court  and  all the beach 
areas),  it is just outstanding beyond belief! We are amazed every day at how 
gorgeous  our  view  is.  And  the  view  from the hot tub is superb as well! 
Needless  to  stay,  we  spent a few evenings in our hot tub watching the sky 
and surf and water and bubbles floating around! Ah!

The  rooms  on  the  other side of the hotel have marina view (which is still 
attractive)  and views of the pool and bar on that side. A tip: if it is very 
windy  on  the  beach  side,  it  is often NOT at the other pool (marina side 
pool).  But  there  is  little  shade on that side and no palapas. They serve 
sandwiches  at  lunch  time  at  the  bar.  There are very nice, quiet palapa 
tables  there  with  a  nice view of the waterways. The bikes are checked out 
from there as well - not the best bikes, but serviceable.

The  grounds  are  beautiful,  the beach very swimmable and the snorkeling is 
fine.  There was one area at the main beach where there were tons of Sargeant 
Majors  who  would  come  up  to visit you, as well as several other kinds of 
fish  (including  the  one I call the "pencil fish" but is (I believe) called 
the  "needle  fish"). The Sargeant Majors were quite friendly, but not nippy! 
For  good local snorkeling, there's a shuttle van between the Oasis, downtown 
PA,  and  the  beach  near the Papaya Republic. This beach has some fantastic 
corral  formations  -  spikes,  heads,  trees, purple sea fans, etc... etc... 
It's  very  shallow  in  spots,  so good for all levels of ability. The usual 
nice array of colorful fish abound.

There  are  plenty  of palapas and trees for shade. Though quite a few of the 
towel  people  putting their towels on chairs at 6:00AM. Nevertheless, though 
we  would  get  up late (9ish) and then eat breakfast, we never had a problem 
finding  a  spot.  We tended toward the far right of the beach past La Galera 
(buffet  breakfast  and  lunch  and night spot). They were adding several new 
palapas  while  we  were there, as well as putting in steps to a neat natural 
pool.  There  is also a soft drink and juice bar there. This is near the sand 
volleyball  court  so  Chris  was happy with that. A very nice, rather windy, 
spot  with fewer folks. Topless sunbathing was a bit more common here, though 
we only saw 1 or 2 folks partaking over the week.

  We  snorkeled  off  the  far  left  side  one  day.  It was so-so. Good for 
beginners.  Chris  did  several  kayaking  days and got tossed a lot one day, 
losing  his  hat  (he  found  it) and his sunglasses (lost forever). He had a 
great  time!  The  staff didn't monitor the sea conditions overly closely, so 
novice kayakers should be cautious and practice in the calm part of the bay.

The  food  was  adequate,  not  fabulous.  We  had  dinner  one  night at the 
reservations  only place, which was good. The service is fantastic throughout 
the  resort  and  we  tipped  often.  The  red wine with lunch and dinner was 
surprisingly  good.  The drinks were plentiful and we often got an extra shot 
to  spice  them  up  a bit. : ) We were surprised too find that they had many 
top-shelf liquors (Hornitos and Cuervo tequila, Bacardi rum...)

The  beach  bar  (La  Mar)  also  serves light lunches, chicken, burgers, hot 
dogs,  great  salsa  and  guacamole.  And the girls were pleased to find that 
they had ice cream cones.

Dinners  were  your usual buffet fare. Though all the Mexican dishes they had 
were  really  good.  I  really  liked  the  fajitas!  The  salsa  was  always 
excellent.

As  opposed  to our last trip to Mexico, we spent a lot of time at the resort 
and  in  Puerto  Aventuras.  Our  one  jaunt out of PA was to Xel-Ha with the 
girls  and  some  friends who came over from Cozumel. It was a great success. 
We  saw 2 stringrays, a sea turtle and lots and lots of other fish, including 
the  biggest  parrotfish ever (2.5 ft)! I think I saw a barracuda as well, it 
sure  scared  me  whatever  it was! The dolphins were putting on quite a show 
too.

We  went  into Puerto Aventuras a few times (once on bikes). We biked down to 
Papaya  Republic  which  has a very pretty beach and nice menu. The rooms are 
right  on  the  beach too. We didn't like that they had 3 spider monkeys tied 
up  on  short ropes though and chose not to eat there. At the very end of the 
road  past  Papaya  and  La  Mission B and B is a nice looking swimming spot, 
very pretty. There were several folks swimming there.

The  Dolphin  Discovery  seemed  to  be  doing a good business and Alicia was 
quite  disappointed that I wouldn't shell out the $$ for her to swim with the 
dolphins.  The  seals  were very friendly too. We did some shopping at Azteca 
Artesians  and  got  some  great  deals.  There  were  some HUGE boats in the 
marina,  it  was  very  pretty.  All  was  a short walk from the resort. Nice 
looking  restaurants in PA, but we didn't avail ourselves of them, as we were 
satisfied with the Oasis.

All  in  all it was another fabulous vacation. Club Oasis was wonderful, well 
kept,  very  good  service  and  happy  folks working there. The girls really 
enjoyed  the night life (though we can never stay up past 10). It was a truly 
magical place!

PUERTO RICO BY ANDREAS LETZNER

Trip 2/99

Two  weeks  are very short to travel to an island like Puerto Rico. There are 
many  islands  in  the  world,  where  two  weeks  seems to be enough time to 
explore  an  island. Puerto Rico is absolutely *not* one of these. There is a 
lot to see, especially outside the San Juan area. 

We,  as  an  European  couple with two kids, have had a lot of experiences in 
traveling  to  many  different places. Though not working in this profession, 
we  joined  a  geographical  education  tour during our study. We are used to 
organizing  our  trips  by ourselves and like to explore a foreign country by 
our  own.  It  was not easy to plan the trip to Puerto Rico from Germany. The 
information  about  Puerto  Rico  is  rather poor if you ask for it in German 
travel  agencies.  For  us  in  Berlin  it  is  much easier to get offers and 
information  about  traveling to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or the 
French  overseas  Departments  of Martinique and Guadeloupe. We just got some 
information  about hotels in the San Juan area, nothing else besides that. So 
we  searched  the  internet, but it was very difficult to find something with 
moderate  prices for a family like we are. At last we got help over a contact 
in  the  CompuServe  Caribbean Travel Forum. Will Melendez, from Puerto Rico, 
but now living in Copenhagen, helped us a lot with some hints. 

In  general  we  enjoyed our trip very much. The people we met were very nice 
and  helpful.  We  liked  the  Puerto Rican music and the food even in simple 
restaurants  out  in the countryside. The weather was great and we think that 
Puerto  Rico  has a great potential for a very attractive travel destination. 
We  have  the  impression that the more we went out into the countryside, the 
more  the  people  are  interested  in talking with us. We felt never unsafe. 
Many people gave us hints for further trips. 

In  the  first  week we visited the west coast including Mayaguez, spent some 
time  in  Sabana Grande and other places in mountain areas like Lares and San 
Sebastian.  From  there  we  drove  to some attractions like the caves of Rio 
Camuy,  the  observatory  south  of Arecibo, the south west coast at Boqueron 
and  the  State  Forest and Biosphere Reserve close to Guanica. In the second 
week  we  rented an apartment at the beach in Patillas (east of Arroyo). From 
there  we  made  trips  to  El Yunque, Ponce, the Seven Seas Beaches close to 
Fajardo. At last we visited San Juan. 

There  is always something that can be improved. From our point of view as an 
European  family,  we  think,  that  there  can be done something to keep the 
attractiveness of PR. 

1.  Garbage  (especially  at the public beaches) - First we thought that this 
is  a result of the last hurricane, but then we saw how Puerto Rican families 
behave  at  public beaches on a Sunday afternoon; the sense of responsibility 
to  keep  their  own  resources  seems  to be very low compared to Europe. We 
didn't  see  the  beaches  in  the  San Juan area. There might be someone who 
takes  care of the trash. But in the small villages like Arroyo, nobody seems 
to  do  that.  It's  up to the people living there to keep it. I saw a lot of 
beaches  in  different  places of the world especially in southeast Asia, but 
some  of  the  Puerto  Rican beaches are the dirtiest I've ever seen. Another 
example:  close to our apartment was a small river that flows behind a public 
school  to  the  sea.  We saw that the kids throw a lot of plastic stuff into 
this river, like if it would be a garbage can. 

2.  Accommodations  -  As  I mentioned before, it was very difficult, to plan 
the  trip  from  Europe;  even staying in PR we missed family friendly hotels 
and  apartments  with  moderate  prices  or private accommodations. In Europe 
there  is  a special market for a holiday on a farm; our kids especially love 
that  kind of holiday. I think the offers could be more oriented to the needs 
of  the  tourists. I think it is worth it to specialize the offers a bit more 
and  improve  the  marketing  (internet).  The  conditions of reservation and 
payment  can  be  more  flexible  for people from outside the US (some didn't 
accept credit cards). 

3. Traffic 

a.  Missing  Directional  Signs  -  We  missed  a  lot  of signs, even on the 
highways.  For  example  the  highway at the east from Fajardo to Humacao has 
hardly  any  directional  signs,  there is just the sign "Salida" (that means 
exit)  and  no  hint  about the name of the place or city. The possibility of 
being  disorientated is sometimes high. We couldn't get real topographic maps 
-  just  street  maps. For another example, we were driving from Ponce on the 
highway  52  to the east. We wanted to leave that highway in the direction of 
Arroyo,  but there was no hint for a exit number nor for the exit name of any 
city.  We  missed  the exit and drove up to the mountains in the direction to 
San  Juan,  where  we  had  to pay about $1.50 at the next poll station twice 
(both  ways,  because  we  had  to  turn  back). We felt as if we'd been in a 
"tourist"  trap.  Later some Puerto Ricans told us, that they knew about this 
missing  sign,  but  they  didn't  care.  I'm not really mad about that, just 
astonished.  I  should  have  paid  more  attention  about  finding the right 
highway  exit.  But  anyway, we should not measure everything too much by our 
West  European value system. During holidays I have time and I don't care too 
much about those little problems. 

b.  Discipline  on  the roads - We saw some dangerous situations; some people 
liked  to  overtake  in the emergency lane on the highways. Many people in PR 
like  to  drive very fast and doing that, they drive very close to the car in 
front of them. We never saw any policemen, controlling the traffic. 

c.  There  seem  to  be  not  enough  parking  areas  in the cities or public 
transport  facilities  -  especially  in  Mayaguez.  In  the old town area of 
Sabana  Grande  they  seem  to save the money for the priority signs and they 
drive  rather  slow.  Another  reason  for this might be, that there are some 
holes on the streets of this town; the traffic is a little bit chaotic. 

I  want  to  state  it  again  -  we enjoyed our trip very much. The positive 
aspects  are  dominant  and  we  recommend  PR  as  a  very attractive travel 
destination. Our favorite places on that island are: 

-  Gilligans  Island south of Guanica, with beautiful beaches surrounded by a 
mangrove  forest.  The  water  was  crystal  clear,  but  there were currents 
through  the  mangroves  coming from the open sea that were a little bit hard 
to  swim  against  but  very enjoyable to swim back. This is a good place for 
snorkeling. 

-  We  were  very  impressed  by one special cafe in the city of Lares, where 
they  offer  ice  cream  with  about 50 different kinds of flavours; some ice 
cream  is  made from vegetables - for example tomato, celery, rice and so on. 
We  couldn't try a lot, but What we choose, was very good. This cafe seems to 
be  unique in the world; I've heard that this cafe is well known all over the 
island. 

I  asked  the  12  and 15 year old girls, what they liked most. The older one 
said   the  warm  water  of  the  sea,  the  vegetation  with  the  beautiful 
butterflies,  the  nice weather, the TV programs (that's opposite for me) and 
the  hammocks  in  the  garden  of our apartment under the coconut trees. The 
younger  one  said  the  warm  weather,  the tropical beaches, the trip to El 
Yunque,  with  the  bath  under  the  water fall, and the boutiques with good 
prices and offers of clothes, even in small towns. 

We  all  enjoyed  the  hospitality  of  those people, who invited us to their 
homes,  where  we  had a very nice time. We hope, that we can give it back to 
them, if they may visit us sometimes. 

ST. LUCIA: LESPORT BY KAREN KANTOMAA

We  chose  to  go to St. Lucia on our honeymoon, since neither of us had ever 
been  there before, and chose LeSport because the spa treatments looked great 
to  us.  We'd read some reviews here before we left, and I ended up feeling a 
little apprehensive.

We  left  from  Toronto  on March 21st 1999 on Skyservice. It was a five hour 
flight  and  we  arrived  in St. Lucia at 7:30 pm their time. When we got off 
the  plane, it was a gorgeous 25 C. We went through customs and were met by a 
LeSport  rep, and he put us in a taxi. It was about an hour and twenty minute 
drive  from  the  airport  to  the hotel, and we couldn't believe the driving 
there!  The  roads  are so twisty, and not surprisingly, we saw our first car 
accident on the way.

Check-in

We  finally  arrived  at  LeSport  at roughly 9 pm. The reception wasn't very 
warm,  and  I  started  getting  nervous right away. They handed us a medical 
form  and  asked  that  we fill it out and give it to the nurse the following 
morning  at  9  am.  This  would be what she based our spa treatments on. The 
luggage  handler  asked  if  we'd  like some welcome drinks, but the woman at 
reception  said  he  should  take  us  to  the dining room because dinner was 
winding  down  and  she  expected that we were hungry, which we were. We were 
taken  to  the  piano  bar  while  they got our table ready, and we ordered a 
couple  of  drinks.  We  were  finally  seated  and  had  a great dinner (see 
'Dining' below).

Rooms

Our  room was a premium oceanview, room number 117. As another person stated, 
the  rooms  were starting to show their age, however they were very clean and 
the  bed  was  lovely.  There were two robes on our bed with flowers...a very 
nice  touch. We had a basket of flowers and a bottle of champagne waiting for 
us,  a  wedding  gift  from management. My only complaint about the room, was 
the  hairdryer  in  the bathroom. Unless you have really short, fine hair, it 
will  take  forever  to dry your hair! Housekeeping was wonderful and prompt, 
and fresh bath and beach towels were provided every day.

Spa Treatments

We  received  our  spa  program after seeing the nurse (who was really nice), 
and  had  our  first  2  treatments our first day. The spa staff are all very 
nice,  and  make  you  feel  comfortable despite how you may feel about being 
half,  and  sometimes  completely  naked!  We  received  2  treatments a day, 
including  Swedish massage, facials, foot massage, hair and scalp treatments, 
seaweed  wraps  and more. We also had an hour honeymoon massage session where 
we  learned  how to give each other full body massages. These treatments were 
all  fabulous  and  the  Oasis  is a great facility...this is also where they 
have  aerobics and other activities. I am lazy and chose to relax rather than 
work out.

Activities

There  is always something to do at LeSport. From 7 am until 6 pm, activities 
go  on  throughout the day. From introduction to archery (Mikael went to this 
and  enjoyed  it),  to  meditation  to  windsailing  to a bike ride to Pigeon 
Island,  there  is  always  something to go to, or participate in. There is a 
great  beach  which,  although  it is public, was very private. When I wasn't 
soaking  up  the sun, which wasn't often due to perfect weather every day, we 
tried  some  snorkeling.  We  signed  out the equipment from the water sports 
area, and everything was in great shape.

Nightlife

The  nightlife at LeSport was basically based on the guests. The week we were 
there,  there  seemed  to  be  a  lot  of  fun  people. There were some great 
entertainers  that  really  got  everyone dancing. My favourite night was the 
Staff  Show.  On  this  evening,  the  staff  at  the hotel, showed off their 
talents  for the guests. There was lip synching, and calypso dances, some hip 
hop  and  one  staff member danced to 'Memory' from Cats. There were a couple 
of  nights  where  we  were  tired and turned in early, but we could hear the 
music  in  the  background from our room, so I assume they were fun nights as 
well.

Dining and Bars

We  loved  the  food....and  our  weight  gain  proves  it.  I  was  a little 
disappointed  when  I  found  out that LeSport only had one restaurant, after 
having  been  to  Sandals,  but  I  ended up being anything but disappointed. 
Breakfasts  were  buffet  style,  and  included  omelets  with  a  variety of 
fillings  of  your  choice, eggs any way, pancakes, French toast, croissants, 
toast,  local  style cornmeal porridge, fresh fruit and fruit juices, roasted 
potatoes,  grilled  tomatoes,  bacon, sausage, etc. Everything was delicious. 
Lunches  were  also  buffet, and some days had themes, such as 'Deli day' and 
'Oriental  day'  There  were  cold  cuts,  cheeses, fish, pastas, vegetables, 
soup,  rice,  salad,  rolls,  an  array of desserts and fresh fruit. Wine was 
served  with  lunch,  or  you  could order a drink and the staff would get it 
from  the  bar.  We found there was a great variety daily, including the fish 
selections.

We  wrote  down everything we ordered at dinner, to illustrate the variety of 
choices.

Sunday  night  on arrival: We both ordered the cold h'ors d'ouerves which was 
a  plate  with  little bread triangles with seafood and meat pates. I ordered 
leg  of  lamb  with vegetables, while Mikael ordered a seafood dish with rice 
(a  little  happy  face  indicated  it was a light choice). We both loved our 
meals,  including  the  daily house white and red wine. For dessert I ordered 
an  individual  lemon meringue pie with vanilla ice cream, and I can honestly 
say  it  was the best I ever tasted. Mikael ordered a fresh fruit charolotte, 
and coffee.

Monday:  This  was  a  Caribbean  Buffet,  and  included  beef,  chicken  and 
vegetarian  roti,  rice  and  peas,  salads,  mixed vegetables, grilled fish, 
roasted  pork,  and  display  of desserts and fruit. We chose the house white 
wine that night.

Tuesday:  I started out with a fabulous mushroom tarragon soup, and chose the 
grilled  dorado (a local fish) on spaghetti of vegetables with a beurre blanc 
sauce.  This  was the best fish dish I ever had, and I'm not even a huge fish 
fan.  For  dessert, I ordered a peach tart with sweet risotto and vanilla ice 
cream.  Mikael  had  a  really  fresh  tasting  gazpacho, marinated lamb with 
roasted  garlic  and  mashed  potatoes,  and  opted  for the fresh fruit with 
orange pineapple ice cream for dessert. We chose the offered rose wine.

Wednesday:  I  had a black bean soup with sour cream and scallions, then pork 
loin  with a savoury apple stuffing in pastry, with puree of pumpkin, and for 
dessert,  Columbian coco marquise with a caremelized orange sauce. Mikael had 
a  cucumber  and  seafood  salad,  cornmeal  crusted  grilled kingfish with a 
creole  sauce and rice, for dessert, a honey pecan pie with a chantilly cream 
on the side.

Thursday:  Barbeque Buffet which offered bbq chicken and lamb, baked potatoes 
with  all  the fitting condiments, corn on the cob, vegetable soup, marcaroni 
and  cheese, seafood salad, pasta, grilled fish, garlic bread and salads. For 
dessert,  along  with  pastries  and  fruit,  there  were bananas flambe with 
rasins,  and  a  selection  of  cheese.  We took the white wine, which wasn't 
good,  so  they  went  and  opened  a  bottle  of rose for us, which was very 
enjoyable.

Friday:  I  had  a  fabulous  fish cake with tartar sauce as an appetizer...I 
would  have  liked  it  as  an  entree.  This  was  the  only  dinner  I  was 
disappointed  in, but that was mostly my fault for not asking what it was. It 
was  described  as  grilled  Christophene  au  gratin stuffed with shrimp and 
spinach.  I  thought  it would be fish, however it turned out to be some sort 
of  squash  like  vegetable that to me, seemed really tough. I only ate about 
half  of it. The dessert made up for it, which was a banana crumble tart on a 
cinnamon  sauce with vanilla ice cream. Mikael had a delicious pumpkin ginger 
soup,  Jerk  chicken  breast and for dessert, coconut creme brule with raisin 
biscuits.

Saturday:  I  had the chilled potato and leek soup to start, for dinner I had 
a  chicken breast stuffed with mushroom and ham with a green peppercorn sauce 
and  rosti  on  the  side,  and  for  dessert,  a  trio of chocolate desserts 
(chocolate  ice  cream,  a  chocolat  tart  and chocolate mousse) on a coffee 
sauce.  Mikael  had  French  terrine  of  chicken liver and pork with toasted 
bread  rounds and a tomato chutney. He chose lamb shanks with root vegetables 
for  dinner,  and dessert, a refreshing and wonderful champagne bavarois with 
pink grapefruit sorbet.

Our  last  lunch  before  we  left was Sunday brunch, which included a Ceasar 
salad  station, eggs benedict, French toast, ham and cheese croissants, pasta 
station and salads.

Excursions

Choosing  excursions  is  difficult  for  two  reasons:  there are so many to 
choose  from,  and you don't know which treatments you're willing to give up! 
We  chose  a  half day tour called Trail Trekkers. You get taken around in an 
open  Range Rover through Castries, and then into the off-beaten track of the 
Rainforest,  where  you  then  get  out and go for a 20 minute hike. The tour 
guides  were  great  and  a  lot of fun! Our spa treatments were later in the 
day, so we were able to keep our appointments.

We  also  chose the 'Endless Summer' catamaran tour. On this tour, you cruise 
from  one  end  of  St. Lucia to Soufriere, where you then take a tour bus to 
Sulphur  Springs,  the  botanical garden and Diamond Falls. You have lunch on 
the  boat,  soft drinks and rum punch are free throughout and then you get to 
do  some  snorkeling.  On the way back, you make a short stop in Marigot Bay. 
It  rained on and off all day (the only 'bad' weather we encountered), and we 
still  managed  to  get  a pretty nasty sunburn. This trip was well worth the 
$80 per person, and I highly recommend it.

All  in  all  this was the best trip I've ever been on. Everyone was great as 
far  as  staff went...they were all very friendly and completely professional 
in  their  training. We had a great time. We plan on making a return trip one 
day,  and  we're  even  thinking  of  trying  their  sister hotel LaSource in 
Grenada.  We  thought  this was as perfect as a honeymoon can get! LeSport is 
fantastic! 

ST. LUCIA-MORGAN BAY RESORT BY CHRIS AND DOROTHY ANDERSON

Trip 4/99   

If  you  are  the  type  who  feels  you must rent a car at your destination, 
please   think  twice  about  renting at St. Lucia.  The flight from Miami to 
St.  Lucia   lands  about 10:30 PM at the Hewanorra airport, which is located 
on  the  island   almost diametrically opposite the Morgan Bay Resort and the 
majority  of  the  other hotels as well. Although the distance is only around 
20  miles,  it  took   a good hour and a half to taxi from the airport to our 
hotel.  Traffic  is  on   the  left  side,  the road is very narrow with deep 
drainage  ditches  on  both   sides,  and  it tightly winds up and down steep 
hills.  The  roads  in the  interior of the island are even narrower and full 
of  potholes. Taxis are  plentiful and guided tours are a fine way to see the 
island. The Morgan Bay  Resort includes the taxi to and from the airport.  

Should  you  feel  the  hour and a half ride from the airport is too much for  
you,  the  Vigie  Airport  is  only  about  five  minutes from the Morgan Bay  
Wyndham.  The  only  problem  is  that  the  field  is  small  and  will  not 
accommodate   jets.  If  commuter airplanes don't bother you, you can book an 
American  Eagle   flight  through  Puerto Rico or connect to one of the other 
airlines serving  the other islands.  

We  were  glad  that  we  took the long way. Although we couldn't see much at  
night,  on  our morning return we got some beautiful views of the rather wild  
Atlantic  side  of  the island and the fishing village of Dennery. Almost all 
of   the  hotels are on the Caribbean side where the water is much calmer and 
great  for water sports.  

One  of  our  interests is scuba diving.  In the past we have taken dive tour  
vacations.  We  are  older  now and felt that doing 3-4 dives per day was not  
exactly  what  we  wanted  to  or  were  physically  able to do for an entire  
vacation.   We  opted  instead  to  do  two days of two dives each. We booked 
these   at  the  Morgan  Bay  Hotel  through  "Dive Fair Helen." The cost was 
$79.00  per   person  for  a 2 tank dive without equipment rental. It was not 
the  most  polished dive operation were had been on, but they did an adequate 
job.  We   were  a little disturbed at first that they put snorkelers, resort 
divers  with  only the most rudimentary of training, and certified drivers on 
the  same   boat;  however  they managed to handle it all very well, dropping 
off  the  snorkelers with a dive master at one site, the resort divers with a 
dive   master  at  another,  and the certified divers with dive master at yet 
another   place.  We all were back on board for a St. Lucia lunch of chicken, 
rice,  and   fruit cooked by the crew. A second dive was done after lunch. On 
the  second   day,  we  did  a  different  reef  and  a wreck dive of a small 
freighter  in  about  70 feet of water. The reefs were all close to shore and 
nice,  but  could   really  not  compare  to Cayman, Bon Aire, and other more 
noted  dive  places. We  saw no rays or  turtles. St. Lucia is doing its best 
to  protect  the  reefs.   They do not allow gloves and absolutely forbid any 
souvenir  taking.  Part  of  the cost of the dives is a permit to dive in the 
Marine Reserve areas.        

If  you  wish to do more diving or snorkeling on your St. Lucia  vacation, we 
would  recommend  staying  at  the  Anse   Chastanet  Beach  Hotel.  A  great 
snorkeling   area   is  accessed  from  the  hotel  beach  (all  beaches  are  
officially  public  in  St.  Lucia, but it seems that you can only get to the  
hotel  beach  by  boat  or  my  staying at the hotel). The deeper part of the 
reef   is  good  diving.  It  would  be a great place for night dives off the 
beach.  The   dive  operation  run  from the hotel seemed much more extensive 
than our drive  tour operation.  


As  mentioned,  since  diving  was  not  the  prime  reason for the trip, the  
Morgan  Bay  Resort  was  just  fine for us.  We liked the idea of having all  
meals  and  beverages provided. It is truly a vacation when you don't have to  
keep  taking  your  wallet  out  for  every  drink  you order. Tipping is not  
allowed.  There  were  two  restaurants.  The  main  restaurant did not allow 
shorts   and  T-shirts for dinner and it was necessary to make a reservation. 
The  menu   selection  was  extensive  and  everything  we had was very good, 
including  nice   table  wines.   The second restaurant was open noon to 5 to 
serve   light   grilled   food.  After  11:30  it  reopened  until  1AM  with 
interesting  theme  buffets.  The   main  bar  was  open  from  10  AM  until 
midnight.,  and  provided  varied nightly  entertainment.  Everything is open 
air.   If you have a bird phobia, you might  have problems. There are quite a 
few  Caribbean  grackles,  which  dispute   gallant  efforts  of the staff to 
remove  abandoned  plates  immediately, come  perching  on chairs looking for 
scraps  at  breakfast  and  lunch.   We  saw very  few bugs and there were no 
mosquitoes or no-see-ums.  

The  hotel  has  a  nice  pool  near the bar and a very clean beach. The sand 
seems   to  churn  up a bit in the water, so forget trying to snorkeling from 
the   beach.  We  enjoyed using the Hobbie Cats. They also have paddle boats, 
a   banana  tube  that they pull by motor boat, wind surfers, and resort-type  
kayaks.  Water  ski  lessons  were also available. All this is free of  extra  
charge. 

Even  though the hotel is lovely, it would be a shame not to spend  some time 
exploring  the beautiful tropical island.  There are a variety of  tours that 
you  can  arrange  from the hotel run by independent companies. We  took two. 
Joy's  tour took us by boat to the town of Soufriere where we  motored to the 
remnants  of the volcano which erupted catastrophically in the  1700's. Great 
sulfur  smelling  clouds  of  steam emanated from the bubbling  water and mud 
pots  in  the  old caldera.  Although this spot was jammed with  tour groups, 
we  had  the  next  spot  all to ourselves.  It was a warm waterfall  spring, 
which  made  for  a  wonderful  quick  dip. We then returned to the boat  and 
journeyed  further south down the coast to see the two landmark peaks  called 
the  Pitons  (the  local  beer is named after them) The Hilton hotel  located 
between  them.   We  returned north a bit and landed at a nice beach in  view 
of  one  of  the  Pitons  to enjoy a Creole lunch. After lunch we stopped for  
snorkeling  at  the  Anse Chastanet Beach and then on the long boat ride home  
were  supplied  with  plenty of soda or Piton. It was well worth the  cost of  
$70 per person.


Our  second  trip was to the Marquis Plantation was arranged through  SunLink 
Tours  who  had  a  desk  at  the  hotel.   It  is no longer a working banana  
plantation,  but  provided  us  an  insight into the life and  history of the  
island.  It  included a trip from the plantation down a river that flows into  
the  Atlantic,  and  of  course  a great Creole lunch, which we watched being  
prepared. Cost was only $56 per person. 

Many  trips  of  interest are available such as sunset rides on a tall  ship, 
jeep  safaris,  rain  forest  trip,  tropical  garden  trip,  trips to nearby  
islands,  and  several others. There is a 9 hole golf course on the island to  
which tours can also be arranged. 

One  of  the  nicest  things  about  the island is that you don't detect  any 
great  poverty  in  the  population.  Most  people  don't  have much, but all  
appear  to  be  living  in  harmony,  at  least  from  what  we could detect. 
Education   is  mandatory  and  proved  to all residents. English is the main 
language,  but   Creole is used extensively among the locals.  Almost 100% of 
the  population  are descendants from slaves that were imported by the French 
and British to  work on the sugar plantations. 

The  tourists  to  the  island  are primarily British. Americans came  second 
with  an  occasional  German.  Almost  all  the  American  we  met were, like  
ourselves,  from  Midwestern  areas.  We  met only one woman from New Jersey, 
who   said the reason she likes the island is that no one from the East Coast 
seems   to travel there.  We thought it interesting that the tourists were so 
well   behaved.  Even  though  you  could drink as much as you wanted, no one 
became  obnoxious.   

The   ambiance   of  the  country,  its  friendly  people,  courteous  fellow  
tourists,  and  a  very  competent  hotel  staff  made  our  vacation  a very 
relaxing  and enjoyable time.    

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