Mud Season Escapes: Where Ski Towns Go After The Snow

sayulitaThe countdown has begun; most ski resorts will be closing in roughly three to four weeks, and then they’ll temporarily become ghost towns. Welcome to mud season, the bi-annual, post-season time when businesses shutter and residents escape to hotter climes – usually (die-hards head to South America to chase the snow).

Be they lift op or millionaire, most locals have their favorite vacation spots – most of them affordable and south of the border. I’ve lived in my share of ski towns (and thus enjoyed mud season exodus), and there’s just no avoiding the fact that certain destinations are southerly extensions of the mountains. What can I say? Ski bums have great taste.

The following are some of the most popular places locals flock to for mud season. The good news is, you don’t need to live in a ski town, or even be a skier, to appreciate them. Book your tickets!

Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico
Also known as “Telluride South.” There’s just no escaping your neighbors, clients and customers, but this sleepy fishing village has managed to retain its charm, despite being less than 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. Main activities: slurping ice cream, scarfing fish tacos, reading on the beach and watching the sunset.

Costa Rica
Crested Butte loves it some CR, especially a specific treehouse community (started by former locals) called Finca Bellavista. Tamarindo, Jacó and Mal Pais are also popular beach getaways for the off-season ski crowd. What better place for winter thrill-seekers to transition to warm weather pursuits such as whitewater rafting, surfing and volcano bagging?sea turtle
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Formerly known as the jumping off point for the ferry to Cozumel, Playa has become a bona fide resort, popular with families, couples and singles who desire a bit of luxury minus the crowds and squalor of Cancun.

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Located close to Playa, this buzzy village is better known as the home of some of Mexico’s most spectacular Mayan ruins. Popular with the backpacker crowd thanks to beachfront bungalow and palapa accommodations (alas, camping isn’t as prevalent or permissible as it used to be); Tulum is now a target destination for food lovers making a pilgrimage to Hartwood Restaurant, a solar-run operation that specializes in locally-sourced, contemporized regional cuisine (note it’s closed March 18-April 3 for annual maintenance). Also, don’t miss the cenotes, or sinkholes, that dot the countryside; you can swim in their crystalline waters, or even explore them via scuba.

Caye Caulker, Belize
Both diving and hammock enthusiasts are drawn to this laid-back island in the Caribbean Sea. Lobster at 9,000 feet can’t compare to freshly-caught.

Hawaii
A popular destination for trade wind-craving ski town refugees, especially Oahu, Maui and Kauai, depending upon budget and inclination. The diversity of outdoor adventure and relative ease of getting there is the draw.

[Photo credits: Sayulita, Flickr user waywuei; sea turtle, Flickr user -NINETIMES-]

A Taste Of Mayan Cuisine In Playa Del Carmen

mayan cuisine


On Playa del Carmen‘s main drag, you have a world of cuisines at your feet. Falafel? You’ve got it. Bagels? Right around the corner. Cuban bars, French patisseries, Italian pizzerias … the tourist districts of Mexico‘s Mayan Riviera certainly don’t lack for international options.

But authentic Mexican food? Well, that’s a different story.

I arrived in Playa after a multi-hour journey filled with layovers and bus transfers. My body was tired and my stomach was empty. I was hungry, but not just for food; I craved the tastes of Mexico, preferably paired with radish, lime and an ice cold Dos Equis.

Instead, I found Subway and Starbucks. About 20 minutes into the food hunt, I was about to throw in the towel and settle for a slice of pizza. But then, my nose caught a whiff of warmth and spice. There, on the corner of Avenida 5 and Calle 22, was exactly what I’d been looking for – Yaxche, a small but sophisticated spot promising a “journey into Mayan flavors.”

Before the Spaniards introduced their preferences, the people of the Yucatan peninsula subsisted on a staple diet of maize, squash, beans and chili peppers. Today, it’s rare to find traditional Mayan dishes in the over-touristed resort towns of the peninsula. But a culinary revival is afoot, with Yaxche at the forefront of efforts to rescue and preserve ancient Mayan cuisine.

The restaurant menu looked foreign, and not just because my Spanish was rusty. The majority of dishes are indigenous to the region, with names unfamiliar to my Western eyes and unpronounceable by my Western lips. I was intrigued by a section titled “Grandma’s Favorites,” as grandmothers tend to know their stuff.

I settled on a sampler of her suggestions, which promised a “journey into Mayan flavors.” There was Tsotolbilchay, a Mayan-style tamale filled with a spinach-like green called chaya, boiled eggs and pumpkin seeds, wrapped in a plantain leaf and covered in tomato sauce; Pibxcatic, an eye-wateringly spicy dish of grilled Xcatic peppers filled with slow-roasted pork; Papadzul, a type of egg taco covered with pumpkin seed sauce and epazote spice; Shrimp Panucho, another taco contraption, this time with refried black beans, shredded turkey, avocado, onions and perfectly grilled shrimp; and Tsic, a ceviche variation of shrimp and fish marinated in sour orange juice, Xcatic pepper and coriander.

“Mmmmmhh!!” read the menu after the Tsic description. “Mmmmmhh!!” was right. Each mouthful unlocked new, exotic tastes: the burning spice of the Xcatic pepper, the slight bitterness of the chaya leaf, the smoky sweetness of the pumpkin seeds. Yaxche wasn’t the 10-peso fish taco stand I had pictured, but it certainly served my craving for a taste of authenticity in an otherwise manufactured corner of Mexico.

Yaxche is located at the corner of Avenida 5 and Calle 22 in downtown Playa del Carmen. The “Moloch” sampler costs 205 Mexican Pesos (about US$15).

Visit Playa Del Carmen in Mexico