Riviera Maya – Day 3: Nohoch Nah Chich Cenotes and Punta Soliman Bay

4 Jan

We booked a jungle crossing tour packed with activities with Alltournative for our third day in Playa del Carmen.  I would highly recommend Alltournative’s guide services for ecological tours.  They were eco-conscious about using organic suncreen to snorkel in the cenotes and the ocean for protection of the natural resources (spring water, coral reef, etc.)  For around $100 per adult, we got an action-packed day full of unforgettable adventures.   

Our hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 8:00 am, but we were scheduled to be picked up at the Banamex at for our jungle crossing tour at 7:45 am.  We decided that picking something up en route to the bank would be the way to go, and we ran across this:


Senor Tacombi, on Calle 12 between 5 and 10 Avenidas, serves tacos out of an old (but spiffied up) Volkswagen van.  Is there a better way to soak up Playa’s eclectic culture than ordering at the driver’s seat of a hippie van and watching the cook prepare your breakfast in the hollowed out interior?  Ok, so it’s not a taco van in the traditional sense since the location is permanent with a few small tables and stools under the awning, and I don’t believe the van is still mobile.  But just the concept of the restaurant alone has its appeal, and the food wasn’t half bad either.


Two shredded chicken tacos (one with cheese, one without) simmered in a tomato-chipotle sauce with tender large slices of cooked onions on a blue corn tortilla for $2 served as breakfast for us.  The flavorful moist shredded chicken tasted even better standing next to the Volkswagen van.  We were ready for a day of adventure.

We spent the morning off-roading in a Mercedes Unimog at Rancho San Felipe (a small Mayan family community) and snorkeling in the cenotes (fresh-water filled limestone sinkhole unique to the Yucatan) of the Nohoch Nah Chich underground river system.  Below is a picture of formations inside the “Heavens Gate” cenote.


We were also introduced to several native plants while at the ranch, including the achiote tree which supplies the coloring for the achiote paste used in Mayan dishes (such as the tikin xic and cochinita pibil we had at Yaxche the night before).

Achiote fruit on tree:


Opening one up to reveal the reddish-orange seeds:


Lunch was prepared by the Mayan ladies of Rancho San Felipe and consisted of a simple tomato-based vegetable soup with carrots, onions, cabbage, and squash, chicken on the bone simmered in a mildly spicy tomato-achiote based broth in a clay pot, black beans, rice, tortillas, and perfect, almost greaseless, shredded chicken empanadas with an assortment of salsas (ranging from the mild pico de gallo to the fiery habanero sauce).


It was amazing to watch all the women prepare this food in their outdoor kitchen under a thatched roof.  The food was more bland and lighter than what we had eaten in the restaurants thus far but satisfying in a comforting way.  I guess that whole “restaurants use more seasoning and grease” theory is universal.

After lunch, we departed for Punta Soliman for kayaking and snorkeling.


Underwater scenery:


And after we exhausted ourselves kayaking and exploring the coral reef, we rested ashore with fresh papaya, cantaloupe, pineapple, and chaya water to this amazing rainbow over the ocean:


We were shuttled back to our hotel in the late afternoon after a very active day.  I picked up a refreshing pineapple-coconut licuado on 10 Avenida (basically like a virgin pina colada with fresh fruit) to quench my thirst before taking a nap (does it still qualify as a siesta at 5:00pm?)

We spent the evening again strolling Quinta Avenida (trust me, the people watching never gets old with the diverse crowd) and stopped at Media Luna at the Calle 12 intersection for a light dinner.  We were seated along the sidewalk so we could enjoy the street scenery during dinner (mariachi bands, Santas greeting children, street vendors, etc).  We decided to split a meal (one appetizer, one entree) to save room for dessert at the appealing Glass Bar across the street.  Media Luna’s menu is basically New American/fusion.  We were presented with a basket of French bread with an herbed butter upon seating and our drink orders arrived quickly (one mai tai, one purified water).  We ordered the chicken satay for appetizer which wasn’t served with the traditional peanut dipping sauce, but rather drizzled with a soy-peanut reduction and topped with sweet/sour/spicy mango relish.


An interesting combination of flavors that made the chicken satay more exotic and tropical.  The farfalle pasta was our entree of choice, with mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, garlic, and bacon.  A solid pasta dish with a wonderful combination of varied textures and flavors in the ingredients.


Dinner was $18 for the entree, appetizer, two beverages, tax, and tip, very reasonable for a restaurant with atmosphere right on Quinta Avenida.  My one complaint about Media Luna is that the waitress seemed short with us.  I’ve been in restaurants before where the waitstaff seemed put off by my choice of splitting an entree with a companion, but at Media Luna everything was kept on one plate so I don’t think that’s a good reason for a terse and unenthusiastic waitress.  Then again, maybe she was just having a bad night.  One thing to note is that Media Luna’s menu is very vegetarian friendly, all the pastas come vegetarian and you have the option of adding meat.

Across the street at The Glass Bar, we ordered cannoli for dessert.  It turned out to be more about looks than taste.


Disguised in its gorgeous costume of fresh fruits and colorful sauces, the cannoli itself was really just an average rendition, and smaller than the one you get at Macaroni Grill.  It was a bit overpriced, too, at $8 ($10 after tax and tip).  At least our waiter was friendly enough to bring out an umbrella for the table when it started sprinkling.

Onto Day 4

Back to Day 2


One Response to “Riviera Maya – Day 3: Nohoch Nah Chich Cenotes and Punta Soliman Bay”

  1. lakiesha 10/15/2009 at 1:07 pm #

    that stuff loook nasty

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