Category Archives: Destinations

Cabo, San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Cabo

Known for its warm climate, beautiful coast, scuba diving, and marine life, Cabo San Lucas is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations. The city is located along the southern most tip of the Baja peninsula.

The area in October is still pretty warm … and for us, worth the trip. With easy access to several beaches, the combination of rock formations, tropical desert climate, and location make it a favorite destination for area visitors.

El Arco de Cabo San Lucas

Getting to Cabo

Los Cabos international airport connects with several North American hubs including Los Angeles, Phoenix, etc. as well as any US city with connections to Mexico City. The airport is one of Mexico’s busiest, located just outside of San Jose del Cabo,  and is a convenient 45 minute drive to Cabo San Lucas.

We enjoyed traveling by Cruise ship departing from the Los Angeles area. Although slower than by air, the 7 day trip is a relaxing way to go …as long as you’re not in a hurry. (Skip to map below)

The City

Cabo San Lucas reflects the desert tropical climate that it’s famous for with outdoor restaurants, shopping and marinas. And like many tourist locations it has numerous vendors hawking souvenirs and guided tours.

 

The city may come alive during ‘tourist’ season and spring break but to me still had a sleepy small town flavor. At one time, it was a fishing community that turned more tourista once the airport opened. A couple of references put the population at about 68,000 in 2010.

The Beach

The water along the beach(es) was beautiful although the waves were pretty choppy — which can be either a good or not so good thing depending upon your goals.

A number of local boat operators provide ocean side tours of the area, and will even drop you off at a couple of beaches. We paid $25 per person (Oct 2015) for the tour and water taxi service.

Quick Tips

Although more formal trips are available, Cabo  has plenty of walk up tours that will take you sight seeing, snorkeling, etc. Along the bay numerous shops will gladly sell you souvenirs, water and/or soft drinks. Internet access was available at a couple of café/bars.

Excursion prices vary tremendously in Mexico, and with some negotiation can often be cut down — depending of course upon your negotiating skills. However, we found tour operators less negotiable than in other Mexico cities, etc.

Anything Else?

Cabo is beautiful and the rock formations spectacular, so pack a suit case and bring a swimsuit if you have time and are so inclined:-)

Iggie the Iguana

 

Cabo — Map

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved.

Tulum

Tulum

Tulum is located along the Yucatan Peninsula coast just a few miles from Playa Carman. Although Mexico is quite famous for its Mayan ruins (including Chichen Itza), Tulum is the only major archeological site located on the Caribbean coast.

Tulum in July is hot, hot, hot… and worth the trip. With easy access to the beach, the combination of Mayan architecture and beach location make it a favorite destination for area visitors.

Temple at Tulum
Temple of the Descending God at Tulum

Getting to Tulum

Taxies, busses, and private transfers are available for the trip from Cancun to Tulum. Although many entrepreneurs provide organized excursions, we found that ADO buses are also a convenient way to get from Cancun to Playa Carman, and then on to Tulum.

We enjoyed traveling by bus with a stop over in Playa Carman (and visit to Cozumel).  We found the buses very inexpensive, clean and safe on our visit. Tour guides were available at Tulum that spoke either English or Spanish.  (Skip to map below)

The Settlement

The settlement is located along a bluff facing the Caribbean and was known as Zama (place of the dawning sun)  to its ancient inhabitants.

Archeological ruins
Archeological ruins – House of the Columns

Tulum is one of the few walled Maya cities. Limestone walls up to 15 feet in height (and 25 feet thick) surround the ruins on 3 of its sides with the ocean protecting the 4th side. An interesting theory holds the walls were not for protection but as a means of segregating priests (on the inside) from peasants (outside).

The site served as a key center for land and sea trade routes during its occupation by the Maya. The settlement peaked around the 13th – 15th century, and may have had a population of 1000+.

The Mayan ruins at Tulum were more extensive than I imagined with the Castile being the most prominent structure. Well developed paths lead visitors through the site with several places to sit, but no water fountains or concessions inside the park proper.

Mayan ruins at Tulum

Templo Dios del Viento

The temple of the god of the wind (Templo Dios del Viento)  overlooking the bluff is one of the settlement’s most recognizable land marks.

Templo Dios del Viento at Tulum (temple of the god of the wind)
Templo Dios del Viento at Tulum (temple of the god of the wind)

The Beach

A stairway provides access to the beach for a relaxing swim or just some sun bathing. If you have time, you may want to set aside a morning for a settlement tour and combine it with an afternoon swim.

A number of local boat operators provide ocean side tours of the ruins and beach. The prices seemed reasonable and provide a scenic ocean view.

Cliff overlooking the Caribbean, Tulum
Cliff overlooking the Caribbean, Tulum

Quick Tips

Although organized trips are available, Tulum is easily accessible by bus for an easy day trip from Playa Carman (or Cancun). It’s likely to be hot so be prepared and bring plenty of water.

Just outside the archeological site are a number of shops that will gladly sell you souvenirs,  water and/or soft drinks, but some come at a pretty hefty price, .e.g., I bought the smallest bottle that I had ever seen of soda for 20 pesos…

Excursion prices vary tremendously, and with some negotiation can often be cut in half — depending of course upon your negotiating skills.

Anything Else?

Tulum is hot, and arriving early is advisable. The beach is beautiful, so bring a swimsuit if you have time and are so inclined:-)

Iggie the Iguana

 

Tulum — Map

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved.

Things to do in Cancun

Cancun

Cancun is a popular destination that features incredible water sports including snorkeling / scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing, and beautiful beaches. A short distance away are the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza. Several shopping districts and restaurants with great food are also located throughout the area!

Cancun Hotel Zone

 

The Hotel Zone area is a fun place to go shopping, have dinner, or just enjoying a stroll along the Caribbean. Visitors can find near endless activities walking (or taking a bus) up and down the beach!

Water sports in Cancun

In addition to restaurants, the area is famous  for its water activities including parasailing and jet skis. Walking along the beach in the evenings we often came across turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Night life included fire shows, performances, and enjoying beautiful sun sets.

Getting to the Hotel Zone

Taxies, busses, and private transfers are available for the short trip from the airport to the hotel zone. Taxi fares from the airport are pretty pricy, and cost conscious travelers might want to consider either private transfer (e.g. http://www.usa-transfers.com/ ) or a city bus.

On our visit we found city buses a cheap way to get around (about 10.5 pesos). The buses literally run every few minutes and can get you quickly (and cheaply) up and down the zone. (Skip to map below)

Favorite Excursions

ADO buses are an inexpensive option for a trip to Playa Carman, Tulum, and other destinations. The ADO busses were clean and very comfortable.

Some of my favorite excursions included the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, the beautiful island Isla Mujeres, and Playa Carman/Cozumel. (Although in Cancun for 24 days, and didn’t try all the local possibilities, these three turned out to be my favorites.)

 Tulum

Tulum in July is hot, hot, hot… and worth the trip. Although you can get there by taxi, the ADO buses run regularly between Cancun and Playa Carman (if you want to stop over for a visit) and then on to Tulum.

The Mayan ruins were more extensive than I imagined and set along the coast overlooking the Caribbean. The village once served as an important land and sea trade center. (read more)

Mayan ruins at Tulum

Isla Mujeres

The island, located about 8 miles off the coast, is a short ferry ride from Cancun for a quick day trip, or all week, depending upon your travel plans. Isla Mujeres is a great way to trade some of the faster pace of Cancun for some snorkeling and scuba diving, shopping, sight seeing, or just laying back.

The island is a little over 4 miles long by less than 1/2 mile wide … read more

Isla Mujeres

 

Playa Carman/Cozumel

Cuzumel is a short ferry ride from Playa Carman and has some of the most beautiful reefs in the world. While there you might try a Discovery Dive with an experienced dive instructor (no certification required) or just snorkel at any of the beach access areas.

Cozumel
Cozumel

 

Quick Tips

Many/most of the shops accept both pesos or dollars although exchange rates vary considerably. For example, one shop in July (2015) would give a 14.8:1 exchange rate while others were at 13:1. Some taxis were closer to 10:1 which means that you can often save 15 – 30 percent by using pesos.

Banks can often exchange dollars for pesos, or you can use ATM’s to withdraw pesos (or dollars) directly from your account. Please note: Many banks must be notified that you plan to travel in Mexico – if not you may risk an account lock when you use your card in an ATM. For two of my banks all it took was a phone call…

Anything Else?

The people were friendly and I felt safe everywhere that I went. Enjoy your stay in Cancun! The beach is beautiful and awaits you :-)

 

Cancun Hotel Zone — Map

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved.

Isla Mujeres – Travel Tips

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a popular destination for visitors to the Cancun area that features incredible snorkeling / scuba diving, beautiful beaches, scenic cliffs, and great food. The island, located about 8 miles off the coast, is a short ferry ride from Cancun for a quick day trip, or all week, depending upon your travel plans.

The island is a little over 4 miles long by less than 1/2 mile wide. Along the southern shore are the beautiful cliffs at Punta Sur and snorkeling/recreational areas of Garrafon and Garrafon de Castilla.

Punta Sur
Punta Sur

The Northern beach and Centro with its shopping, restaurants, and ferries are located along the northern tip of the island. The Mininos and Velasquez are a couple of my favorite restaurants with great seafood at reasonable prices.

Docked
The dock area

The Centro area is a fun place to go shopping, have dinner, of just enjoy sight seeing.  Visitors can also rent a golf cart there for about 500+ pesos for a day/part of a day …depending on one’s negotiating skills:-) Golf carts are a very popular way to get around the island!

In addition to restaurants, the district has pharmacies, department and grocery stores (Super Xpres and Chedraui, etc.), banks, and exchange centers. Along the dock area short excursions can be booked – although I found prices were again subject to negotiation, i.e., the price is… but for you, the price is…

 Getting to the Island

Ferries leave the Cancun area from several locations, including Playa Caracol, Playa Tortugas, and Puerto Juarez. Ultramar ferries depart from all three locations although service from Puerto Juarez had the most frequent and least expensive service (of Ultramar)  in Jully 2015 (Skip to map below)

Ferry heading for dock

Pesos or Dollars?

Many/most of the shops accept both pesos or dollars although exchange rates vary considerably. For example, one shop in July (2015) would give a 14.8:1 exchange rate while others were at 13:1. Some taxis were closer to 10:1 which means that you can often save 15 – 30 percent by using pesos. Exchange booths were located immediately off the ferry dock and offered a reasonable rate.

Banks can often exchange dollars for pesos, or you can use ATM’s to withdraw pesos (or dollars) directly from your account. Please note: Many banks must be notified that you plan to travel in Mexico – if not you may risk an account lock when you use your card in an ATM. For two of my banks all it took was a phone call…

Banks may also charge a number of fees for international service so make sure you check it out. As long as a little precaution is taken (check with your bank, notify them of your travel planes, etc.) you probably won’t need to carry large quantitites of cash to the island.

Where to Stay

If you plan on staying overnight, the island has a limited (by Cancun standards) number of hotels, casitas, etc.  For myself, I wanted to get more of a flavor for the local area and stayed  in la Gloria (a neighborhood) while on the Island. The rates were reasonable and casitas clean !

Carribean Coasst

Anything Else?

Taxis and golf carts are a popular way to get around the island. Taxis when I was there were typically 40 pesos per trip. (Do ask before you ride though!) The people were friendly and I felt safe everywhere that I went!

Enjoy your stay at Isla Mujeres! The sunrise is beautiful and awaits you :-)

Sunrise on Isla Mujeres

 

Isla Mujeres– Map

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved.

Timpanogos Cave – the Hike

the trail

The Timpanogos Cave National Monument  is a popular destination for adventurers and families wanting to explore underworld caves. But did you know that it is also a very popular hiking destination!

The trail up to the cave has incredible scenic views of American Fork canyon and the surrounding area.  The hike is about 1.5 miles with a ~ 1100 foot climb from the base to the top, in good condition, with even a few benches scattered along the way. The trail grade varies from gentle to 15%+ at times.

Trail 1/4 of the way

Directions

From Interstate 15,  take the Alpine-Highland exit (#284 ), then head east on State Highway 92 for ten miles. (Skip to map below)

 

At the base of the hike leading up to the cave

The cave and trail are a part of the National Park Service and is a fee area although multiagency passes are available:

“The Monument is surrounded entirely by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and visitors must stop at a US Forest Service information station on the way to Timpanogos Cave. Visitors going just to Timpanogos Cave are not required to pay the US Forest Service American Fork Canyon fee. Visitors planning to go beyond the Monument and use US Forest Service recreation sites are subject to [fees]” Read more here

 The Cave is open from mid-May to October, depending upon the weather. Advanced purchase of tickets is highly advisable during peak periods. The trail is a very popular day hike and on a typical outing you may encounter individuals, families with small children, and other groups.

In my 2014 visit the trail was paved and in good shape. The trip to the cave — up and back — can take a couple of hours depending upon how often one stops to take pics! Do take plenty of water, especially in warmer months.

Timpanogos Cave — Map

 

 

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights

Battle Creek Falls

the Falls

Battle Creek Falls is located along a narrow, and occasionally steep trail just outside of Pleasant Grove, Utah. The trail itself continues 2.4 miles below and above the Falls, intersecting the Curly Springs trail at 1.1 mile before joining the  Dry Creek trail at 2.4 miles.

The falls and trail are a part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and in 2014 was a non-fee area.

Battle Creek Falls

The trail is a very popular day hike and on a typical outing you may encounter individuals, families with small children, and other groups. The trail is shared by hikers as well as mountain bikers and equestrians, i.e., do exercise some caution due to narrow trail conditions.

Battle Creek Falls
View of the Falls in Spring

The scenery along the trail is incredible with views of Utah Lake and the Valley. Dogs on leash are welcome and will enjoy playing in the stream.

Once at the falls, visitors can easily access the base with its cool spray and collecting pool. Or the more adventuresome might try rappelling the approximately 50 foot down the side of the falls.

Directions

From Pleasant Grove: Travel east on 200 S until it dead-ends at the trail head parking lot. The falls are a short hike up Battle Creek Canyon…(Skip to map below)

 Battle Creek Falls Trai
View from Battle Creek Falls Trai

In my 2014 visit the path was not paved or graveled but fairly well kept. The short trip to the falls started off fairly flat before becoming a little steeper closer to the falls. Trip up and back took less than 30 minutes each way …depending upon how often one stops to take pics!

Valley View
Looking back toward the Valley

Battle Creek Falls — Map

 

© 2014 by James Spruell All rights reserved

Granite Flats

the Campground

Granite Flats is located in the beautiful American Fork Canyon with camping sites scattered among Aspen, Douglas Fir, and Spruce stands. Campsites are easily accessed and conveniently located near water and restrooms. Picnic tables and fire pits are available.

The campground is a part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and is a fee campground and area.

Granite Flats, American Fork Canyon, Utah
View from Granite Flats

At roughly 6750 feet, evenings are often cool, and a nice escape from Valley heat. Children and adults can enjoy fishing and picnicking at Tribble Fork Reservoir located a short distance  away (about 1 mile). The small reservoir/lake is stocked with Rainbow trout with some resident brown trout, etc.

Timpanogos
View from base of Timpanogos

Hikers can explore any number of area trails including a steep but beautiful climb up to Timpanogos Cave, the Baker Fort Trail, or up to Box Elder Peak. In winter months outdoor adventurers enjoy family sledding or cross- country skiing.

Directions

Per USDA: “From Salt Lake City, Utah, take interstate 15 to the Alpine-Highland exit (exit 284) and go east on Highway 92 for 8 miles to mouth of American Fork Canyon. Go 5 miles up canyon to junction, take the North Fork (Forest Service Road 85) to Tribbles Fork Reservoir, stay left on paved road for 1 mile to campground. ” The campground is easily accessible with paved roads to the 44 single & 8 double campgrounds. (Skip to map below)

Granite Flats

In my 2014  visit to the campgrounds the grounds were clean, well kept, and the  forest and site staff friendly. We enjoyed our stay along with quick trips to the reservoir, Timpanogos, or site seeing along the road.

Granite Flats Campgound — Map

 

© 2014 by James Spruell All rights reserved

Hiking | Salt Lake City, Utah and Utah County area

Hiking in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City and the surrounding area (including Utah County) features versatile hiking trails from easy to challenging, mountain trails to city walks for the individual and family. Some of my favorite include hiking City Creek (yes, City Creek and Temple Square count) , Donut Falls, and Silver Lake.

And of course there that are waiting on the ‘To Do List’ …which someday I/we would hope to make! For now, here are a few to get you started.

Jordan River Parkway

Donut Falls, Utah Jordan River Parkway has trailheads located in a number of areas, some of which have restrooms, picnic tables, and play ground sets. I would rate all of trails as easy with typically county maintained paths… read more

 

Donut Falls – Spring

Donut Falls, Utah

Donut Falls is certainly beautiful in summer months, but the spring snow adds a rustic, rugged look. Melting snows and lingering ice can make the hike a bit slippery, but this past Saturday (May 17) there were many toddlers, children making it up to the falls — with Mom & Dad’s help of course… read more

 

Donut Falls – Summer

Donut Falls

Donut Falls is a popular, family friendly hike that can be enjoyed by most everyone. The trail wanders along a beautiful stream as it passes through woods and meadows on its way
up to the falls. The trail is well marked, child friendly, and provides scenic views of the mountains, forest, and wildlife … read more

 

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes is about a 1 mile hike (each way) with the trailhead branching off the trail around Silver Lake.
And even though I would rate
the trail has having a pretty good elevation rise (about 700 feet), I still saw many toddlers — several on the shoulders
of Dad — making the trek on a recent Saturday.

The hike is … read more

 

Silver Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon

Silver Lake at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon

Silver Lake is a family friendly area with picnic tables, fishing (with a Utah State fishing license), and hiking
for a great summer outing. On a typical Summer Saturday morning families with toddlers, even babies in strollers, can be found enjoying the 3/4 mile (approximate) walk around the lake.

Benches and picnic tables… read more

 

Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail | Upper 2/3

A bridge alone the Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail

Hiking the complete trail — approximately 7 miles — is a great workout for the biker, jogger, and most hikers. The path is very popular — especially on Saturdays — with a combination of couples,
singles, a few with gray hair, and even some 3-8 year olds.

The trail winds along a beautiful stream… read more

 

Bell Canyon

Bell Canyon

Hiking the complete trail at Bell Canyon is probably for the more adventuresome, i.e., sections will likely require some serious huffing & puffing even for the experienced!

Love the trail — the stream is beautiful and once you get up the hill, the view of the valley is striking. … read more

 

Temple Quarry Trail / Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail

Temple Quarry Trail

The Temple Quarry Trail is a popular & family friendly destination that includes natural and historic points of interest that range
from mountain scenery to any number of historical tidbits. On the historic side, Mormon pioneers once used
the granite from the quarry in their temple construction beginning in 1862.

The Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail is a little more taxing and continues… read more

 

Ledgemere Picnic Area

Ledgemere Picnic Area

Ledgemere is one of my favorite picnic areas with convenient highway access located approximately
1.4 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon Road.

The site runs along Big Cottonwood Canyon with a number of hiking trails across the highway. Tables are located along a gentle river with scenic views of the mountain and surrounding area…  read more

 

Wheeler Farm

Wheeler Farm

Wheeler Farm is a family friendly site that children love, especially the little ones. The farm is well laid out with paths that wander along the river/stream, around duck ponds, and the farm areas. Cattle and sheep still graze on the farm, ducks & geese are well, just about everywhere at times, and lots of birds (robins, pigeons, etc.) abound.

Wheeler farm is a wonderful destination for an afternoon picnic, jog… read more

 

Hiking in Utah County and surrounding area

Bridal Veils Falls

Utah County (and the surrounding area) also sports a number of great locations for hikes including Bridal Veils (which is beautiful even in Spring), the hike up to Timpanogos Cave, many more.

Trails are typically well kept although, as in other areas, are quite popular on Saturdays. A few of my favorite are shown below!

 

Timpanogos Cave – the Hike

Timpanogos, Utah

Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a popular destination for adventurers and families wanting to explore underworld caves. But did you know that it is also a very popular hiking destination!

The trail up to the cave has incredible scenic views of American Fork canyon and the surrounding area. The hike is about 1.5 miles … read more

 

Battle Creek Falls

Battle Creek Falls, Utah Battle Creek Falls is located along a narrow, and occasionally steep trail just outside of Pleasant Grove, Utah. The trail itself continues 2.4 miles below and above the Falls, intersecting the Curly Springs trail at 1.1 mile before joining the Dry Creek trail at 2.4 miles… read more

 

Granite Flats

Granite Flats, Utah Granite Flats is located in the beautiful American Fork Canyon with camping sites scattered among Aspen, Douglas Fir, and Spruce stands. Campsites are easily accessed and conveniently located near water and restrooms. Picnic tables and fire pits are available… read more

 

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved

Mexico Destinations

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo

Known for its warm climate, beautiful coast, scuba diving, and marine life, Cabo San Lucas is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations. The city is located along the southern most tip of the Baja peninsula…. read more

Things to do in Cancun

Cancun

Cancun is a popular destination that features incredible water sports including snorkeling / scuba diving, jet skiing,
parasailing, and beautiful beaches. A short distance away are the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza. Several shopping districts and restaurants with great food are also located throughout the area… read more

Tulum

Tulum

Tulum is located along the Yucatan Peninsula coast just a few miles from Playa Carman. Although Mexico is quite famous for its Mayan ruins (including Chichen Itza), Tulum is the only major archeological site located on the Caribbean coast…. read more

Isla Mujeres – Travel Tips

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a popular destination for visitors to the Cancun area that features
incredible snorkeling / scuba diving, beautiful beaches, scenic cliffs, and great food. The island,  located about 8 miles off the coast, is a short ferry ride from Cancun for a quick day trip, or all week, depending upon your travel plans.

The island is a little over 4 miles long by less than 1/2 mile wide
read more

Isla Mujeres: Punta Sur


Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres

The Video clip is a short presentation of images from Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres. The island is a favorite scuba dive destination as well
as a scenic and fun spot! 0:49

 

© 2015 by James Spruell All rights reserved