Como se dice "Tropical Father-Son Reunion" en español?
May 26, 2006 8:22 AM   Subscribe

"La Riviera Maya" (er, coastal Quintana Roo, Mexico) or Costa Rica for a Totally Awesome Father-Son Bonding Experience in March/April/May 2007?

Most important factors:

- It's the first time we'll be together in more than a year. Maximum fun required.

- Ten days to two weeks, leaving from southern California (so flying from any airport in the region, or Tijuana, is doable). We're splitting the cost, so cheaper (around $50-75 a night would be ideal) and cheerful (simple pleasures: hot showers, happy employees, screens on the windows, semi-to-very delicious food nearby) accomodation is better.

- I am a really, really independent traveler and Dad's never been abroad beyond going fishing with work buddies in Baja California once a year (where I think he never actually stayed overnight on land). Dad just got his first passport in November; I've been to four continents. We've never traveled together before on our own and are (I'm guessing) *very different* travelers.

- Dad is between 250 and 300 pounds and can't really do a whole lot of long walks, but he's down for a challenge anytime. We've got a great dude-to-dude relationship and I'd say we both recognize which of us is better at a particular thing and let that person handle it.

- I'll be organizing most of the trip online, from my current base in Indonesia, so web-friendliness in all aspects of the vacation is key.

We'd like to do some sportfishing, see some volcanoes and colonial architecture, eat lots of cheap seafood, meet some wildlife in a jungle, and retire to an acceptably welcoming spot at night. If we go to Mexico, we'd like to see some ruins. We don't really do beaches or sitting by pools, but it'd be nice to dip our toes in while sipping the local cerveza.

Now, Dad has said that he wants "all-inclusive," which I blanche at the sight of, but neither of us has ever done this - I'm guessing it's his general lack of experience traveling that's making him lean toward this. Thoughts? Any locally-run, small-scale outfits that offer similar amenities and will make him feel happy and relaxed without making me feel like I'm in a 200-acre-30-story Gringo Disneyland?

As for what we bring to the table: I'd rank our Spanish as a healthy 7 to 8 out of 10. We like to reserve things online, we're happy taking little egg-beater planes and (functioning) buses around, we pack light, and we'll have a GSM cell phone. We can rent a car, but I'd prefer not to as it relieves us of the stress of responsibility.

I've seen many of the other threads on both areas, checked out the NYT "Costa Rica" and "Mexico" sections, tooled around the Lonely Planet Thorntree, and "seached inside the book!" on Amazon and both places seem really good for what we want. Your personal recommendations will make the difference! Go, Green, go! Thanks!
posted by mdonley to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Er, I do realize that volcanoes are thin on the ground in the Yucatan. Whoops.
posted by mdonley at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2006

Given your dad's limitations, I would opt for something in Playa del Carmen, on the Yucatan.

My daughter and wife have been to Costa Rica twice, and, at least the way they did it, it was very physically active.

Playa del Carmen, while by no means pristine is at least sorta Mexican, still, as opposed to Cancun and Cozemel. Good beaches, and you are still close to various ruinas, such as Tulum and Chichen Itza.

There would be cheap taxis, as I have found renting a car in Mexico to be prohibitively expensive.

Have fun!
posted by Danf at 8:39 AM on May 26, 2006

Oh, Playa del Carmen is right up your alley to keep him in his comfort zone and you not bored senseless, and it's a good central spot to travel to ruins and other towns. I recommend the wider beaches and slightly quieter pace of the northern end, past Constitueynes. (There are two beach clubs right there. They'll bring you your cervesa on the beach. The grilled octopus is also very good.)

Talk to the folks at PlayaInfo. The daytrip tours they run are nicely done, also, and generally combine ruins or snorkeling with chilling-out-in-gorgeous-locations time. I find the site forums a bit annoying and chatty now, but they can be useful...though most of your questions will be answered on the site itself.

No need to stay in an all-inclusive -- the folks who run these small inns are friendly and helpful and often US or European expats. $50/night accomodations are no problem. Try Posada Mariposa or Zanzibar. There's great cheap food to be had in the area neighborhood (even though my Spanish is VERY limited, I had no problem venturing a few blocks away into the local neighborhoods for awesome tacos and pollo asado.)
posted by desuetude at 8:56 AM on May 26, 2006

I vote Playa del Carmen. SO easy.. TONS of terrific places to eat- upscale to 80 cent tacos. Everything is right there.

I liked Costa Rica (I actually took my older parents) but Playa is SO easy and fills all requests except for volcano of course.

I second Posada Mariposa! Cheap! LIke 50 bucks with AC when I went in april.

But Perhaps you do a couple over night trips?? Tulum for 2 days? And one of the colonial towns for 2 days? And perhaps to Chichen Itza.

Does your dad snorkle --- even if not you can go to a little cenote for a swim...

I away bring full size bag since I have scuba gear, candles, books but also have over night bag. Hotels are always more than happy to (in my experience) hold them before or after you get back.

The buses great! Comfortable and super cheap.

I have rented a car for a few days which is fun but we are from Boston so the driving isnt too daunting for us.

Good luck- have fun.
posted by beccaj at 9:09 AM on May 26, 2006

Response by poster: I think we can learn to snorkel, despite having never tried (people float, right?).

Any suggestions for 1) eco-lodge-y type places where we can commune with nature and 2) places completely devoid of mass tourism where we can really meet the locals and feel intrepid, even if only for a day?
posted by mdonley at 9:18 AM on May 26, 2006

Just thirding Playa del Carmen. It's a lovely place, calmer than Cancun, cheaper than Cozumel. Xcaret is an ecological theme park with a lot of different tours and excursions, and is quite near to town. It's an hour-ish to Tulum and Coba. Alltournatives does a number of tours, and their business plan is intended to provide income to the Mayan people of the Yucatan. We did their Coba tour last summer (I skipped the zipline part) with 20 friends and it was a wonderful day.

Arranging fishing excursions is not difficult, either, if you guys wanted to do something like that.

There are some really great hotels on 5th street (Quinta Avenida) right in town, a block from the beach. Probably most of them are not all-inclusive, but there are restaurants every 20 feet on 5th and if you go a couple of blocks up you'll find more. The only other place I'm familiar with is Capitan Lafitte, which is a lovely affordable place with air conditioning and beach and pool and all that. However, I stayed next door at a resort that closed last year so Lafitte could expand, so there may be construction going on still.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:21 AM on May 26, 2006

Best answer: One note more on the family travel than the destination (having just returned from a wine-tasting weekend with my mobility-limited father): It helped me to think of it as "A weekend with my father, at which there will be wine tasting" as opposed to "A weekend of wine tasting, at which my father will be present." If you're really using this as bonding time, use your travel experience and savvy to make the week easier for him, rather than just trying to more or less drag him along on your vacation, if that makes sense.

Which certainly doesn't mean you have to do the all-included walled-off-Americans thing. Just make sure that "maximum fun" doesn't leave him a tired wreck and you annoyed and resentful that you're not doing everything that was scheduled.

Cuz if you travel that much, then you can always come back later and hit the stuff you missed, right?
posted by occhiblu at 9:21 AM on May 26, 2006

mdonley, the Hemingway eco-resort outside Tulum gets good reviews, but I'm also noticing that just about every resort anywhere near Xcaret is starting to add "eco" to some aspect of its search results. The place I stayed had no electricity, and I don't think there are any other places quite so hardcore left in the area - that one, Kailuum, moved four hours away to Mahuahal. If you're willing to make the trek and get really away from it all, I highly recommend it.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:27 AM on May 26, 2006

My 17 yo daughter and I had a great trip to Costa Rica last summer (and thanks to the useful advice from mefites). No ancient ruins, but wonderful everything else. We traveled in a big circle in rented 4wd Toyota from San Jose in the center, east to the Carribean, north to cloud forests and volcanoes, west to the Pacific coast then back to San Jose. We both like to keep moving, and though there was a lot a driving (about half of every third day) it was an excellent bonding experience.
posted by anadem at 9:41 AM on May 26, 2006

I'd say Costa Maya but get out of Playa del Carmen and head south - Tulum Pueblo - snorkeling in the cenotes is easy for anyone of any weight - no wetsuit needed, the water is nice and cool, and you're basically floating - just go to a larger cenote that has no tough climbs or narrow spaces; visiting the ruins at Tulum, which are super walkable; relaxing on the beach and eating amazing food at a place like Ana y Jose; sitting out in a cafe in Tulum Pueblo eating a whole BBQ chicken and plenty of beer for $5.

Another idea is to fly into Cancun but instead of heading south, head east - take a ferry to Isla Mujeres, which is SUPER easy for anyone with mobility problems. Rent a golf cart and drive all over the island, nice beaches, great restaurants, nice bars, good fishing, great people - and after the hurricane they really need the money - they got hit harder than any other resort area down there. I recommend Casa Maya - wonderful little hotel a 5-minute easy stroll from town, private beach, great clear water and nice folks. Excellent restaurants and bars too.

Playa del Carmen is nice if you want a relaxed version of Cancun, but it is still a tourist mecca; Isla Mujeres is a relaxed version of Playa, sort of, but even less commercial. And Tulum is as away from it all as you're going to get in the area and still have all the amenities (plus lots of great food).

Tulum is about a 1.25 hour Colectivo ride south on the coastal highway ... You can take a commercial bus to the town for $8 and then a taxi for $4 to the resorts on the beach.
posted by luriete at 11:07 AM on May 26, 2006

(note - ocean snorkeling down there is fine but the cenotes are a much more interesting experience - if you go south, stop at Buddy Quattlebaum's "hidden worlds" gig on the coastal highway on the way to tulum, and don't be put off my the monkey in the cage. he'll send you out on a trip with a guide, tailored for your activity level, which you will not forget. cheap too - about $30 per person for an afternoon of snorkeling and cave exploring. and yes, you can learn - just basic swimming skill necessary.)
posted by luriete at 11:49 AM on May 26, 2006

My gf and I just went to Playa as part of a business trip, where we stayed at an all-inclusive (can't remember the name but it was "adults only" and I got the distinct impression it catered to newlyweds and business groups). The organizers gave us several options of activities... we went on one atv experience that was awful. You basically drove in a line (two-up on single seaters) with 30 other people around in sand. Not fun at all.

However... the Alltournatives kayak/scuba experience was terrific. They took us out to the ocean where we kayaked out about half a mile and did some snorkeling, looking at the reefs, fish, turtles, etc. Then they took us to two cenotes. The first was small and lit, I think the idea was to get us used to the idea. The second was much larger and really terrific... the view you get snorkeling is amazing. And you don't have to worry about wearing yourself out swimming: they give you lifejackets. Actually, when you're in the larger cenote, you're not supposed to kick around too much so you're floating/paddling along pretty easily. Oh, and they feed you.

BTW, they take you from place to place in a Unimog 'troop carrier' style. And they take you over some amazing terrain... it's like a slow roller coaster. Quite amazing.

Some of the all-inclusives (like Xcaret and the one we were at) are about 40 minutes from town. Take that into account when planning your activities.

Some of the folks we were with went to Tulum and loved it. Oh, and the town is pretty nifty... everything from bodegas to upscale american-style stores.
posted by jdfan at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2006

All-inclusive is great. My brother just had his wedding here in early May and I can't say enough good about the place. We didn't leave the place the entire time, which is what I think you are looking for.

Cost is high, but you don't spend any money other than the room costs, so you might be saving money. Others with more experience might be able to give a better comparison, but it was incredible, and I'm not a beach person.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on May 27, 2006

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