Archive for the ‘Mexico’ Category

Rio Vista Hotel in El Fuerte, Mexico is an Excellent Value

Friday, April 9th, 2010

The exquisite colonial era town of El Fuerte, Mexico offers a wide choice of accommodations, but my preference is the Rio Vista Hotel. Built atop the highest hill in town, the Rio Vista turns its back on the hustle and bustle of town, instead offering stunning, tranquil vistas over the El Fuerte River.

Beautiful standard room at Rio Vista Hotel in El Fuerte, Mexico

I could easily have written a glowing review of the property based solely upon my room, which featured two queen size beds, ample shelves and racks for clothing, an ultra-modern bathroom with tile shower and toilet, and a separate vanity area with a sink constructed of hand-painted Mexican tiles. However owner Chal Gamez was kind enough to provide a tour of all the facilities, including the new wing and terrace that are currently under construction and scheduled to be ready for occupancy in a couple of months.

Hand painted vanity

Modern tiled bathrooms

Both the existing rooms and those in the new wing  feature amazing wall murals created by a local artisan, featuring scenes from historic El Fuerte as well as natural landscapes that abound in this part of Mexico. The new wing also faces the river and has a wide terrace furnished with tables and chairs where guests can wind down after a long day of touring and enjoy the sunset.

Existing Rooms that overlook the El Fuerte River

New Terrace is under comstruction

A second terrace overlooking the river does double duty as an open-air restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served. Not only is the food delicious and economically priced, daily selections incorporate fresh locally grown vegetables and fruit rather than the ubiquitous bean and cheese laden burritos and enchiladas found in most Mexican restaurants.

Murals in process in one of the new rooms

Gamez also goes out of his way to ensure that guests have a pleasant stay, arranging for tours to the nearby Indian village of Los Capomos to see the indigenous Danza del Venado (Deer Dance), and driving guests to and from the train station (El Fuerte is a major stop on the El Chepe Railroad, which runs through Mexico’s breathtaking Copper Canyon). Best of all, Rio Vista is priced economically at $600 pesos per night ($48 USD), and they accept credit cards.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Danza del Venado, Mayo Indians in the Village of Capomo, Mexico

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

One of the most interesting things to do in El Fuerte, Mexico is to visit the small indigenous community of Los Capomos, located about a 20-minute drive outside of the city. Los Capomos existed when the first Europeans arrived in the area and its name is derived from a tree called Capomo. In the village, all the adults and about half the children are multilingual, speaking Spanish as well as their own Mayo dialect, the language of all the Indian groups from the Cahita nation.

Danza del Venado (Deer Dance)

Mayo Indians are dissimilar to other indigenous groups in that they are introverted, more mystical, and more pure in essence. The tribal groups of Los Capomos are the most pure in the region; 50 years ago it was 100% pure, but now it is about 70% pure. Raising domestic farm animals provides the food base for the village – beef, milk, goat, chicken, eggs, pork, lard, corn and flour tortillas, chili, and onions are the staples of their diet. A few families have primitive ovens for baking bread. Tribal members typically dress in jeans, sandals, and a straw hat, except during festival times, when they revert to traditional coarse white cotton garments secured with black woven belts.

Ancient musical instruments still being used today

In addition to preserving their bloodline, the Mayo have preserved native dance traditions which include performing the Danza del Venado (Deer Dance), Danza del Judios (Dance of the Jews/Trumpeters), and Danza de Pascuas (Easter Dance) during sacred holidays. In essence, the dances are similar to those performed in ancient times, although as the Jesuit missionaries converted the Mayo from animistic beliefs to Catholicism, their tribal dances gradually began to incorporate religious symbolism. With prior arrangement, 70-year old tribal elder Jose Luis, who is currently being featured by the Mexican Tourism Board in a commercial promoting Mexico as a tourist destination, performs all three of these ancient dances for tour groups.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Miles of Sand, Sun, and Surf at Pescadero Beach in Baja California, Mexico

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

On the Pacific side of Mexico’s Baja California, in the tiny fishing village of Pescadero, a virtually undiscovered beach stretches for mile after mile. Fifteen minutes north lies the town of Todos Santos. Once a sleepy village, this artists enclave and its lovely beaches have long since been “discovered.” To the south are Cerritos and Cabo San Lucas, both overbuilt and overrun with tourists. But Pescadero is still just a handful of homes scattered across the high dunes behind the beach, many owned by U.S. and Canadian citizens. Aside from those residents, savvy local fishermen, and in-the-know surfers, this gorgeous strip of pristine sand is known to few.

Miles of beach sweep toward the northern point, a favorite surf break

Pescadero is not particularly welcoming to swimmers. The currents run strong on the Pacific side of Baja. But it offers up bounty for fishermen, whether surf casting or taking a boat offshore, and the northern point creates the kind of waves that surfers dream about. Much of the land is owned by one family, and they are in the process of building a palapa restaurant at the point, so the beach is bound to become more well known. But with the enormous expanse of sand that stretches from the southern end to the northern point, it will be many years before this beach is overrun or even the least bit crowded.

Surf fishing is popular with in-the-know locals

Day trips are great, but should you want to stick around for an extended time and drink in the serenity, there are numerous accommodation choices, ranging from a couple of upscale resorts to basic surf-shack-grab-a-hammock hostel operations. Pescadero is easily reached by car over good roads, or by bus from either La Paz or Cabo San Lucas.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

El Fuerte, Mexico, Turns Its Back on the River of the Same Name, but for Visitors the River Has Much to Offer

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Most towns founded alongside rivers face the water, but in the case of El Fuerte, Mexico, the town turns its back on the lovely river of the same name. This seems even stranger upon learning that the first white man to set foot in the area landed on the banks of the El Fuerte River, not far from the location of the present day town. Though the town’s focus is on its beautiful central square and colonial era restored buildings, visitors to the area should spend at least a few hours discovering the river, which has flowed continuously for a millennium on a 270-mile journey that begins high in the Sierra Tepehuanes Mountains in Durango until it empties into the Sea of Cortez.

Half-mile River Walk along the El Fuerte River

Begin by walking down the hill on The 16th of Septiembre Street. At the river, turn right onto the broad paver stone walkway that parallels the river for half a mile. At the end of the official River Walk, continue on the dirt street, winding down the hill for about a mile, always choosing the route closest to the river. Bird watchers will find this area particularly rich in avian species, especially early in the morning.

Cross the swinging bridge and continue on the path to see the ancient petroglyphs carved into boulders along the banks. Located about two miles down the path, the petroglyphs are believed to be Nahuatl in origin, the same race as the Aztecs. Visitors can seek out this ancient graffiti by themselves, or hire one of many local guides who will be happy to provide a half-day tour that combines bird watching with a hike to the rocks, or can arrange for canoe or rafting trips on the river.

Further upriver is the Miguel Hidalgo Dam, built in the mid-1950’s. Although the main reason for the dam was to provide water to the valley of El Fuerte for agricultural purposes, the lake also offers magnificent black bass fishing. Additionally, thermal hot springs are found in the village of Jiparo, near the Hidalgo Dam.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Hotel Lorimar, Cheap But Unfriendly Hotel in La Paz, Mexico

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

If all you care about is price, it’s hard to beat the Hotel Lorimar in La Paz, Mexico, where I got one of their “old rooms” for $22 per night, however the room had a few drawbacks. First, it was in desperate need of a good cleaning and a little maintenance work wouldn’t have hurt either. The concrete walls had been repeatedly patched but not painted, and the concrete that had crumbled onto the floor had obviously not been swept in weeks. I had to find a broom and sweep the floor myself before I could walk around barefoot and not come away with grit on the bottoms of my feet. The bathroom floor was disgustingly dirty and hadn’t seen a mop in quite some time.

Hotel Lorimar, La Paz, Mexico

An "old" (unrenovated) room - very basic & not too clean

Bathroom in an "old" (unrenovated) room - very rough

There is also a definite attitude problem at Hotel Lorimar. The staff is more interested in watching soccer games on TV or surfing the Internet than helping its guests, and their indifference made me feel unwelcome. Yet, if the lack of friendliness doesn’t put you off and you can afford one of he “new rooms,” priced at around $35 U.S. per night, the Lorimar is a great place to stay, due to its  ideal location just off the Malecon within easy walking distance to the central square and marina. The hotel also provides a TV, teapot, microwave, and free purified water in the common area.

Interior courtyard at the Lorimar Hotel

A "new" (renovated) room

Bathroom in a "new" (renovated) room

Hotel Lorimar is located at Nicolas Bravo No. 110 Centro, La Paz, Mexico. They do not have a website, but reservations may be made by phoning internationally +52 (612) 125-3822.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Mirador Museum Chronicles the History of Colonial El Fuerte, Mexico

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Though it might seem obvious, many non-Spanish speaking visitors to El Fuerte, Mexico are unaware that the name of the town means “fort” in English. Upon learning this fact, most look up at the imposing stone fortress that spreads across highest hilltop in town and assume that this is the ancient ramparts for which the town was named. It is an easily made mistake, for the fort looks authentic. In truth, however, it was constructed in 2001 as a museum that is devoted to documenting the history of El Fuerte.

Mirador Museum, El Fuerte, Mexico

I spent a couple of hours reading the displays and looking at the old photos in the museum’s interior halls and came away with a much better appreciation for the history of the area. When the Spaniards first arrived in the Rio Fuerte Valley, it was densely populated with indigenous Yoreme (Mayo) farming communities, with a minimum total population of at least 30,000. Spanish Conquistadors tried to settle the area from the first time they stepped onto the banks of the present day El Fuerte River in 1533, but all efforts were unsuccessful until the Jesuit Missionaries arrived in 1590 and began their efforts to convert the local Indians. Most of the time, the Jesuits were left in peace, but n 1593, Father Gonzalo de Tapia died at the hands of local Indians, prompting the Spaniards to begin building forts along the river.

El Fuerte Fort, originally named El Fuerte de Montesclaros, was completed in 1610. The building was rectangular, with thick adobe walls and towers at each corner. Inside there was room enough for cavalry horses, cattle corrals, hen houses, a small garden, at least 17 rooms or apartments, and a large warehouse for provisions. Apparently, the dimensions were approximately 100 meters on each side and its walls were seven meters high.

Enormous cistern fills the center of the Mirador Museum, while historic displays are located in the outer galleries

The exact location of the original structure is today uncertain, though most believe it was built upon the same hilltop now occupied by the museum. Some accounts indicate that remains of the original fort were still visible n the hilltop at the beginning of the 20th century, however in 1920 a water tank was constructed atop the hill it is likely any remaining evidence of the fort was destroyed at that time. The water tank is still in use today; it occupied the center of the present day Mirador Museum.

The museum is open seven days per week until 6 p.m. and the nominal entrance fee of 50 pesos was waived for me because they did not have change for a $100 peso bill; the director of the museum, Lula, who did not know I was a travel writer, thought it more important for me to learn about her beautiful colonial town than collect a fee. At least half of the museum is devoted to historic photo galleries, documents, and timelines; these are simple but well done and most are properly translated into English. The balance displays the work of local artists, archeological items, with machinery and instruments from colonial days scattered around the grounds between the outer galleries and the old water cistern. After visiting all the galleries, be sure to take the stairs to the upper ramparts for a great view of the town of El Fuerte in one direction, and El Fuerte River in the other.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Lover’s Beach and Divorce Beach Lie Back-to-Back at Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

At the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula a narrow breach in the sheer rock walls shelter two delightful beaches, Lover’s Beach and Divorce Beach. Lying back-to-back on this narrow isthmus, Lover’s Beach faces the Sea of Cortez and Divorce Beach faces the Pacific Ocean. The only way to visit these two gems is by boat, but fortunately this is no problem, since dozens of glass-bottom boat captains at Darsena Marina are only too happy to whisk you across the harbor for a fee of $5-6 per person.

Lover's Beach, tucked around the corner from the famous rock arch

While it is simple to arrange for passage, it is more difficult to actually set foot on these beaches. The waves here are often high and strong, and there is no dock. Captains bring their launches as close to shore as possible at Lover’s Beach, but passengers must ultimately jump out into the water, so it is advisable to wear swimwear and not bring a lot of gear. When the waves are not rough, it is possible to swim and even snorkel a bit at Lover’s Beach, as long as you do not round the point. Currents on the Pacific side are so strong that it is not advisable to get into the water at all; the rough seas here are perhaps the reason it was named Divorce Beach.

Lover's Beach on the Sea of Cortez side at Land's End

Once on the beach, the scenery is astounding: soft creamy pink sand with aquamarine water, all surrounded by towering rock spires painted black, ochre, and brown. Shake out your beach towel and enjoy a cerveza (beer) from one of the vendors who haul drinks to the beaches in coolers every morning. Or search the rock nooks and crannies for pirate graffiti. In the 1940’s, John Steinbeck wrote about Lover’s Beach, which was then called Playa Doña Chepa:

The tip of the Cape at San Lucas, with the huge gray Friars standing up on the end, has behind the rocks a little beach which is a small boy’s dream of pirates . . . and this little beach must so have appealed to earlier men, for the names of pirates are still in the rock, and the pirate ships did dart out of here and did come back.

After a few hours (or at whatever time you have pre-arranged) your captain will return to pick you up. Unless the seas are extremely calm on the day you visit, getting back into the boat can be a challenge, necessitating wading out into the water and timing your jump with the trough of a wave. But despite the challenges, a visit to Lover’s and Divorce Beaches is definitely worth the trouble.

Photo Credit: Top: el vaquero; bottom: naz66
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Crown Jewel of El Fuerte, Mexico, the Palacio Municipal

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Many of El Fuerte’s historic buildings and mansions date back to the mid-1700’s, but the crown jewel of architecture in this colonial-era town in northwest Mexico is the town’s Palacio Municipal. Though the Palacio was constructed between 1903 and 1907, its relative youth does not detract from its manorial appearance.

Interior courtyard of the Palacio Municipal in El Fuerte, Mexico

The two-story brick structure today occupies an entire city block on one side of the town square. Designed in a traditional rectangle with an open-air courtyard, the front of the Palacio features five colonnaded arches that give way to the interior, where two levels of recessed government offices enjoy protection from the midday sun provided by a double tier of pink arches, connected by bougainvilla-laced wrought iron railings. In the center of the courtyard, children climb on a lovely splashing fountain while waiting for their parents. Even climbing to the second floor is like strolling through history, for the open stairwell is covered in an exquisite hand-painted mural that chronicles the history of El Fuerte.

Built in 1910, the Palacio Municipal dominates El Fuerte's town square

The Palacio was the passion of  Don Rafael J. Almada, who was the highest official in El Fuerte during the time it was being built. Almada was greatly criticized for constructing a municipal palace so grand and ostentatious during times of great economic hardship; mining was no longer a major economic force in the area and within six years of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, El Fuerte lost its designation as capital of the State of Sinaloa. Today, Almada is celebrated as a man of vision, for few towns the size of El Fuerte can claim such a magnificent municipal building.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Our Lady of La Paz Cathedral, La Paz, Mexico

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Since life in Mexico revolves around family and religion, it is not surprising that most towns and cities are built around a central square with a church on one side. In cities of any size, the church is usually a cathedral; some are large, some are small, but all are quite beautiful.

Our Lady of La Paz Cathedral in the center of La Paz, Mexico

Our Lady of La Paz Cathedral, located on one end of Velasco Gardens in the central square, is the most important religious center in the city of La Paz. Construction was begun in 1861 by Bishop Juan Francisco Escalante y Moreno and was completely funded by the congregation. When completed in 1865, it featured a peaked roof called “dos aguas” (two waters) and no towers. The left tower was added in 1910. Ten years later a second tower, similar to the first, was added on the right side. Close examination will reveal slight differences in construction: the size of the native rocks used for construction, the color of the mortar, and different bell arrangements in the bell tower.

One of the beautiful stained glass windows inside the cathedral

Cleaning Madonna and child statue mounted on the front wall of the cathedral

Inside, stunning stained glass windows run down the side walls and on the front wall, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary with infant, exquisite in its simplicity, gazes down on the congregation. The cathedral is also known for a shrine in the Sacristy, which is a replica of the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels

Cabo Inn Offers the Best Rates in Cabo San Lucas

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In the tourist mecca of Cabo San Lucas on the tip of Baja California, Mexico, budget accommodations are hard to come by. However, there is one hotel that can be relied upon to provide a fair price for clean, well-maintained rooms in the heart of town: the Cabo Inn Hotel.

Cabo Inn Hotel, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Owner/managers Stan and Maria go to great lengths to ensure their guests have a pleasant stay. Upon arrival, Stan provides each guest with a rundown, pointing out the corner laundromat, a 24-hour juice and fruit stand around the corner, and a nearby food shack that sells delicious, huge burritos. Maria knows all the best tour operators and can arrange for guests to visit the rock window at Land’s End or go whale spotting. In hostel fashion, the ground floor patio has cable TV with English stations, filtered water, and a coffee pot with free coffee each motioning. Guests are encouraged to buy and prepare their own food, using the communal refrigerator and microwave.

Room with two twins

Nice common area outside the rooms

Rooftop lounge and library

Small pool and massage area on roof

Each modest but clean room is outfitted with homey bedspreads, fluffy towels, and mini refrigerator. The bathrooms are modern, with spacious showers. The uppermost floor of the three-story hotel offers a communal sitting area with book exchange library and a small pool, which is open until 10 p.m. each night. After 10 p.m., this area is reserved for the use of the guests in the two rooftop rooms, which go for significantly more than the $45 regular rooms.

Ground floor common area with small kitchen, microwave, refrigerator, coffee pot, and TV

The only drawback is the hotel’s location, a mere three blocks from Squid Roe bar, where a DJ screams at the top of his lungs three or four nights per week until at least 4 a.m., making it particularly difficult to sleep on these nights. On the other hand, those who come to Cabo to party will find the location near the Marina to be a bonus. Contact the Cabo Inn Hotel through their website:, email at, or phone their U.S.number: 619-819-2727, or their Mexico number: +52 624-123-0819.

Photo Credit: Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels