Saturday, September 10, 2016

1MB Travels: Cancun, Mexico: Day 4: Downtown Cancun, La Habichuela and Night Time Beach Swings

After a few days of underwater adventure, we were ready to have a more low-key day on land, exploring the city (plus, @gourmetpigs was leaving the next morning and we needed to observe the no-diving 24-hours prior to flying safety rule).

We set out in search of local spot Loncheria El Pocito, in a working class neighborhood in Cancun.

It was off the beaten track, and no English was spoken by restaurant staff, which is just how we wanted it.
Though, this meant we were to do our best with our limited vocab, to decipher the menus.

But everything we ordered was fresh made and tasty - starting with these tamales ($16 pesos ~$0.85 USD).
And cochinta ($85 pesos ~$4.50 USD) pulled pork plate with pickled onions and plantains.

Loved that the fresh made flour tortillas were served in a coconut shell.
The dish that most surprised us was the Pollo Horneado ($85 pesos ~$4.50 USD) baked chicken served with spaghetti in tomato sauce, an interesting mashup of cultures, origins unknown.

To walk off our lunch, we drove to Mercado 28, an outdoor marketplace with stalls of souvenirs and street food.

Of course we had to stop by the elote cart!
It was a sweltering day, so a refrigerated case of ice cream stopped us in our tracks. And in it, was this awesome find of Pela Pop, a vanilla ice cream bar in the shape of a banana, with a jelly/doughy wrap carefully formed on the outside to create a soft, yielding edible peel!  So much fun, and delicious too!

Apparently this frozen treat is made by Nestle, so I'm sure it's a commonly available product, but it was the first time I'd ever encountered it and I was in love!!

Made a note to self to look for this treat in Mexican markets when I returned to LA.

We couldn't leave without some margaritas, and chose to get the BOGO deal at happy hour at The Alley/El Callejon bar at the entrance of Mercado 28, and as indicated in its name, in an alley.

The Alley has signs everywhere that markets their margaritas as the best in Cancun - we hadn't imbibed enough to know whether this was true, but the portion sizes are definitely generous.  We would recommend selecting one of the other fruit flavors that isn't lime though - we wanted to stay away from far too sweet, but the lime one went the opposite direction and was extremely sour.

We did love the ambience of the semi-hidden away, sunlit, serene alley-way setting though.

After a power nap, we headed out as was becoming our dive-vacation tradition, to have one fine dining dinner on the final night.

@gourmetpigs found an amazing Mayan-themed place that felt like a hidden gem in plain sight on the hotel zone strip, with its archaeological inspired interiors, and lush jungled sculpture garden patio: La Habichuela.

The receptionist greeted us with free necklaces, as if these were portkeys to another time and space (yep, had to throw a Harry Potter reference in there).

This may read like it's a gimmick as a part of a theme restaurant, but the design of the space and experience is so artful that it didn't feel like a 'theme' restaurant in the way that it would in the U.S.

The back garden patio, with its ornate white-washed wrought iron chairs, strung lights, and dock overlooking yachts, created a quietly magical ambience that made it easy to see why La Habichuela is a popular place for special occasions including weddings.

While the decor was Mayan, the menu took inspiration from Caribbean and Mexican cuisine.

We started with a trio of tamales.
Then the showstopper: Cocobichuela ($504 pesos or ~$27 USD): chunks of lobster and shrimp in curry sauce, served in a coconut shell with rice and tropical fruit.

La Habichuela had another dramatic offering to close out the meal in an unforgettable way: Cafe Maya ($110 pesos or ~$6 USD), made with Xtabentun, brandy, cream, and ground cinnamon.

Xtabentun is a liquer made in the Yucatan, that may have taken its inspiration from a ceremonial spirit produced by Mayans, now made with anise, honey made by bees feeding on the nectar of xtabentun flowers, and rum.  This liquer added depth and a sweet / licorice-like flavor to the coffee, which was served in a Mayan inspired stone chalice - and lit on fire.  (Yes, I'm a sucker for drinks crowned with blue flames first.)
We couldn't leave without doing one shamelessly touristy duty: visit the vibrant "Cancun" sign at Playa Delfines for a photo opp.

But one of my favorite moments from our trip was actually also from that beach, a short walk from the colorful beacon...there was a playground/gym that was made of rustic logs, and a thatched cover, which came with swings - right on the sand, overlooking the water.

It was an incredibly simple joy, propelling ourselves high into the air, to the sound of ocean lapping, white sand beneath our feet, under the open star-filled sky - swinging like pendulums between kid-like glee and cynics'-reprieve gratefulness for all in our lives, good and bad, because everything led to us all arriving to that moment.  Definitely felt more than #blessed for one of the best trips ever, and to be able to share that with the most amazing friends.

And then to be blown away the very next day, that I couldn't even imagine would be able to even top the already amazing days that we'd spent in the area.

Looking for more activity ideas for Cancun / Tulum / the Yucatan? Check out how we maximized our trip in my recaps of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 5. For more photos from this trip, please visit my Instagram @onemorebiteblog


Cancun, Mexico

Ontime Car Rental
Blvd. Kukulcan, Km 11.5 Loc. 101-B
Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico 77500
Ph: +52 998 883 0160

Mercado 28
Xel-Ha 28, 77509 Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Supermanzana 28

Loncheria El Pocito
31 Norte Lte 23 Mz35, Sm 63, 77513 CancĂșn, Q.R., Mexico
Ph: +52 998 252 2654
Facebook page 

The Alley/ El Callejon
Avenida Xel-Ha, Plaza Bonita, Xel-ha, Cancun 77500, Mexico
Facebook page

La Habichuela
Calle Margaritas 25, Centro, 77500 CancĂșn, Q.R., Mexico
Ph: +52 998 884 3158

Playa Delfines 
Boulevard Kukulkan | Zona Hotelera, Cancun 77500, Mexico

Westin Resort & Spa Cancun
Boulevard Kukulcan KM 20, Cancun, Quintana Roo 77500, Mexico 
Ph: +52 (998) 848-7400

Day 4 costs breakdown:

  • Car Rental: $40 USD per day = $10 per person per day including mandatory liability insurance
    • Gas: 200 pesos per day = 50 pesos per person per day (~$3 USD)
  • Lunch at Loncheria El Pocito ~$185 pesos per person (~$10 USD)
  • Mercado 28 ~$25 pesos (~$1.32 USD): 
    • Elote
    • Pela banana ice cream pop 
    • Margaritas
  • La Habichuela:  ~$583 pesos per person (~$31 USD)
  • Hotel: 8,500 Starwood points
  • Total: ~$60 USD per person

(See my recaps for Day 1 here, Day 2 here, Day 3 here, and Day 5 here.  To see more photos from this trip, check out my Instagram @onemorebiteblog)



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