Everything Yucatan: Tacos

Enjoying tacos is a family affair in Yucatan and all over Mexico

We recently worked on putting an article together about the best tacos in Merida, Yucatan when we realized that many people new to the Yucatan Peninsula and other parts of Mexico might not know what makes a good taco and our region’s take on this popular type of food.  Yucatan Compass Consulting’s Diana Gonzalez had some great taqueras on her list.  We thought we might pick her brain a little to first look into what makes a good taco, when to eat them and how tacos have been adapted in Yucatan from other parts of the country.  Diana should know about local cuisine as she has lived in Yucatan all her life, minus a semester learning language in Europe and her time traveling abroad. 

If you want to learn more about Diana and the Yucatan Compass Consulting team please click here.  

You can email her directly for more information about tacos or just about anything else related to living and doing business in the Yucatan Peninsula at diana@yucatancompass.com.

What Makes a Taco Great?

There is a lot that goes into a good taco.  For those not familiar with one of Mexico’s most favorite foods there are likely a few things to learn.

The meat used in a taco is the centerpiece of any flavor experience.  My opinion is different from some of my friends and family- but not that far off.  For me the most important feature of a good taco meat is quality, soft, fat-free meat with lots of flavor.  I really enjoy beef tacos like al pastor and arrachera.  This is a great place to start.

Then there is the tortilla.  Most taquerias (also sometimes spelled taqueras ) offer corn tortillas but some, depending on the style of taco, may also offer flour tortillas.  If you are looking for a really great taco you should look for taquerias that make their tortillas fresh and by hand.  Trust me- you can taste the difference between a fresh, handmade tortilla and one made by a machine a day or more before.  Since fresh tortillas are not always easy to make most taquerias that make their own tortillas will have a sign that highlights this fact somewhere.  Look for the term “tortillas hechas a mano.”

Lastly there are the sauces.  A traditional taqueria will offer at least two, usually more, sauces or “salsas” to go with your taco.  They may be tomato-based sauces yielding a red color or tomatillo-based sauces yielding a green color.  Some tacos have a sauce that is designed specifically for that type of taco.  For example, a popular variation on the taco is the ever-growing “Arabian” style.   This type of taco is typically accompanied by delicious cream-based sauces .  No matter what style of sauce is available it is important to check the level of spiciness prior to covering your entire taco and digging in.  For those not familiar with the localized perception of “spicy” in most of Mexico, even a sauce that is identified as “not spicy,” or “no pica,” can still be quite spicy.  As a rule of thumb, you should take a small amount of the salsa you want to try on a plate and taste it first.  If you can handle the spice level then go ahead and top off your taco with it and enjoy!

What is in your favorite taco? Share your ideas on our Facebook page!

When to Eat Tacos

Tacos are great for all occasions and many times of the day.  There are two main types taquerias in Merida- those open for breakfast and lunch and those open for dinner and late night dining.  I am most familiar with the late night taquerias.  Perhaps a result of the traditional afternoon rest from the heat and humidity (siesta), most evening activities in the Yucatan occur a little later than traditionally experienced in other parts of the world.  Dinner and other social events start later and, therefore, end later.  It is not unusual for a family or friend “reunion,” known in English as a “get together” or informal social gathering in one’s home, to last into the early hours of the following day.  After all that talking and even longer goodbyes you can get a little hungry.  This is when you search out for your favorite taquerias that are open and ready to whet your appetite.

The Popularity of Tacos in Yucatan

Tacos are not a traditional Yucatecan dish- many new to the area may not know that.  There has been an influx of new residents to the area from other parts of Mexico (mostly attracted to the quality of life and safety here) that have brought the taco concept and the variations on the concept to the region.  In the last decade the popularity of tacos has greatly increased along with the number of taquerias offering these tasty treats.  There are a lot of great options for tacos in the Merida area.

Before the growth in popularity, there were only a small number of informal taquerias in Merida and one or two local restaurant chains.  Now you can find tacos at establishments small (think eating a great taco standing up outside a roadside cart) to North American-style sit down restaurants.

Do you have more to share about tacos in Yucatan?  What do you think makes a delicious taco and why?  Share your thoughts here or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed

Look for Diana’s list of the best taquerias in Merida in our next “Yucatan Top Five” article coming soon!

Yucatan Travel Tips: Preparing for your dream trip to Mexico

Get ready to have the time of your life during your Mexico vacation

If you are planning on visiting Mexico it is best to be prepared!  Be prepared to amazing weather, food, culture, people and places.  You should also prepare yourself by recognizing different policies and procedures here.  Just like travel to many other destinations in the world- you are likely going to enjoy amenities equal (and sometimes far better) to those you might find at home.  Still, the last thing you want is to ruin a great trip because you were not aware of some easy-to-avoid travel mistakes.  Who knows- your trip may be so great you may find yourself back again… as our new neighbor!

Mexico’s Federal Bureau of Consumer Interests (Profeco) has a great page in English to prepare tourists for care-free fun.  We think that all travelers to Mexico should check it out- especially if this is your first visit.

If you are fluent in Spanish the Profeco site has great consumer protection information

You can check out the Profeco list of 20 tips for tourists here. 

We admit that some are more common sense than anything else.  Number thirteen endearingly advises tourists to “avoid sunbathing, walking barefoot, drinking or overeating. Excesses are never good for your body.”   Another very thoughtful tip can be found at number five:  “Develop a list that includes the expenditure before and after your trip.  Try not to exceed it, otherwise you will pay the costs when you go back home.”  We all know this to be true, right?

We feel that the following tips are the most important:

  • Learn about your consumer rights when using transportation, accommodation, food services, and entertainment centers.  AKA- Ask around for and fully understand policies related to paying for stuff.  An unprepared tourist will always pay more.
  • Book early transportation and accommodation.  AKA- Make sure you know where you will sleep and how you will get to where you sleep before you leave home.
  • If possible, take advantage of lodging options that your family and friends offer you.  AKA- Staying where other seasoned travelers stay is always a good bet.
  • Traveling in low season is a great opportunity to find the best deals and for avoiding tumults.  AKA- You will save a bundle and enjoy the same sights with fewer drunken college students around you if you travel in the off-season.  This is generally late September-early December, the last two weeks in January, May and June.
  •  When booking your accommodation thoroughly check the terms and conditions.  AKA- Know what your rights are BEFORE you book.  This is especially important when you book a package vacation.  Read the fine print- you will be happy you did.
  • Be aware of oversold flights, these are not illegal.  Take precautions and be on time.  AKA- Well… this one is quite clear. Despite the urge to linger on the beach it is important to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

We hope that you have a wonderful time when you visit our neck of the woods.  Please let us know if these tips were helpful or if you have better tips to offer our readers.  We welcome you to comment below or reach out to us on our Facebook page or Twitter feed! 

Your New Life in Yucatan: Make your own bug spray… You know you’ll use it.

Read more ideas about keeping those pesky skeeters away at the MyTravelBunny blog.

When you visit southeastern Mexico (namely the Yucatan Peninsula) you will notice a few things.  There are beautiful people to meet and wonderful sights to see.  There are also lots of mosquitoes.  You take the good with the bad, right?  Those who live in similar climates around the world have been dealing with these pesky kittle insects for thousands of years.  The answer to this problem is not always what you find on store shelves.

These little guys can be a challenging fact of life that are especially annoying in the wet summer months through the end of hurricane season.  When it rains you can expect a lot of them.

There are several very effective bug sprays on the market that do a wonderful job.  The costs of these products vary but can really add up over time.  There are also long lists of chemicals, many hard to pronounce, in these repellants that make them effective but with what other consequences?  If you are a person who values “natural” options or simply has sensitive skin you might want to consider making your own repellant.  They may require more frequent application but they are really quite effective.

We got this idea when we recently stumbled upon a charming YouTube video from the folks at Mexico’s Federal Bureau of Consumer Interests (Profeco).  It is in Spanish but you should be able to get the general idea even if you don’t speak the language.  The main ingredients can be found in most local pharmacies and the concoction lasts a year- if you don’t use it all up in one season.

To view the Profeco “how-to” video for at-home mosquito repellant on YouTube click here.

We do have to admit, their recipe seems a little trickier than others we were able to find.

A simple recipe for homemade mosquito repellant requires an essential oil that mosquitoes don’t like and a carrier oil or alcohol.  You can make batches in any quantity as long as you stick to a ratio of one part essential oil to ten to twenty parts carrier oil/alcohol.  You can alter the recipe based on effectiveness and any skin sensitivity you might have to the ingredients you choose.  For the first batch we think a more concentrated mixture is good to start with as you can always dilute it later.

While you enjoy your bug-free martini might we suggest a trip to the YCC Magazine Facebook page? Perfect along with vermouth and an olive.

Essential oils that mosquitoes despise include:

  • cinnamon oil
  • lemon eucalyptus oil
  • citronella oil
  • castor oil

Good carrier oils/alcohols to mix with these essential oils include:

  • olive oil
  • sunflower oil
  • any other cooking oil
  • witch hazel
  • vodka

If you have dry skin the oils used in these recipes will also help you to retain moisture.  If you happen to have oily skin or have sensitive skin we think that vodka is likely the best and easiest option.  Not to mention you can make a martini to enjoy on the patio- without having to worry about those pesky mosquitoes.

Do you have a recipe for bug spray that works that you would like to share?  How about some tips for newbie “bug spray makers” based on your experience.  Please share them below or on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.  

Progreso, Mexico-Tampa Bay, USA Ferry Update: Expat input needed

The Yucatan Peninsula has been touted as a safe, cost effective and enchanting place to live for some time now.  If you are interested in what some of our friends from the north think about living and visiting the area you can read articles from Kiplinger and Readers Digest Canada about traveling and retiring here.

Those of us who live here part time and year round know that travel back and forth from our family and friends up north to our new home is most effectively made via airplane.  Mexico is a really big country and a road trip, though desirable for some, can take a toll on your vehicle and a big chunk of time.  The benefits of traveling with your vehicle are great if you have the time and energy to do it.  You will have a car to drive here in Mexico, for one.  You also can bring more comforts of home along with you – like a nice little stockpile of your favorite foods and beauty care products you just can’t find here.  The fees for extra baggage are not always cost effective when it comes to bringing things back to Mexico and you can only fit so much into the overhead bin of an average airplane.

Dreaming of other travel options…

So what if you had another option?  What if you could pack your car on a ferry in, say, Tampa Bay, Florida and travel by sea to Progreso, Yucatan?  The trip from locations on the eastern seaboard of the US would be even more relaxing if you board the Amtrak train service called the “Auto Train” from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida- saving over 900 miles of driving.  The service even allows for SUVs and minivans.

That would be a dream right?

Maybe this is not a dream.

Read about Amtrak's Auto Train on USAToday.com

The beginnings of a reality of ferry service between Yucatan and Florida

A company called United Caribbean Lines is currently in negotiations with Mexican and US government officials to make a ferry I have just described a possibility.  There is a lot of work involved in a venture like this so it is not surprising that an initial expected launch date of 2011 is not in the cards.  There is a strong possibility, however, that we can expect to see service start sometime in 2012.

We hear from local expatriates involved in this process that a launch date and web site will be announced as soon as negotiations indicate the service is viable, marketable and sustainable.

If you would like to be a part of this process you can indicate your interest in a Progreso, Yucatan-Tampa Bay, Florida ferry service by completing a survey.

Your input can help

Here is an excerpt from an email we received about the survey:

If you live six or more months a year in Mexico or any other country in Central or South America please follow this link and complete the Survey entitled Expatriate Ferry Survey.  If the link doesn’t work please copy and paste it into your browser.

http://4563016.polldaddy.com/s/new-survey

If you travel back and forth or live less than 6 months of each year in Mexico or any other country in Central or South America please follow this link and complete the Survey entitled Snow Bird Ferry Survey.  If the link doesn’t work please copy and paste it into your browser.

http://4563016.polldaddy.com/s/snow-bird-ferry-survey-1

Both surveys will be open until September 16th so please respond as quickly as possible.  Please feel free to forward this email to anyone else you think should complete the surveys.  Thank you in advance for your participation.  We look forward to your responses.

On a side note- this is not the first attempt to bring ferry service to the Yucatan Peninsula from Florida.  The “Yucatan Express,” a ferry that spent summers in the US state of Maine, had service to Progreso in the winter of 2003 but did not continue due to a lack of travelers.  If you have interest in learning more about the details surrounding boat service between Progreso and Florida (cost, length of the trip, options for container shipping between the two locations, etc.) please read an article on the topic from Yucatan-Life.com here

We will do everything we can to keep you updated on this potential new service as we receive new information.  In the meantime- let us know how you travel back and forth between your home in Mexico and your home up north.  Would you take a ferry if it was available to you?  What would make a ferry service like this more valuable to you?  You can comment below or on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.  

Yucatan Top Five: Beaches

In an effort to highlight the beauty of the Yucatan from a local perspective we have asked Diana Gonzalez, Yucatan Compass Consulting’s Project Manager, to share the top five beach towns that she thinks you should explore.  Diana is a life-long Yucatan resident with a background in international travel, languages, economics and finance.  We are sharing this as a part of our “Yucatan Top Five” series.  If you have a favorite beach that is not on this list that you would like to share please feel free to contact us or comment below.  If you would like to reach out to Diana directly you can email her at diana@yucatancompass.com.

Miles and miles of beaches await your exploration in Yucatan, Mexico

The Beaches of Yucatan

The Mexican state of Yucatan has over 300 km (485 miles) of beautiful shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico.  Far from the crowded beaches of Rivera Maya- Yucatan hosts some of the most beautiful and tranquil tropical beaches in Mexico.  From Celestun in the west to El Cuyo in the east there are beaches to suit almost every taste.  When I decided to put this article together I had a hard time choosing just five beaches because there is so much diversity in the geography of our coastline as well as the attractions that surround it.

Here is a list of the top five beaches I like to visit in Yucatan based on my years of living here.  I think you will love every one of them for their beautiful calm seas that range in color from crystal clear to green, blue and every hue in between.  Enjoy a relaxing day by yourself or with family and friends.  Don’t forget to stick around for a little while or you will miss our famous Yucatan beachside sunsets.

It is well worth sticking around for a beautiful Yucatan beach sunset

Celestun

Celestun is small village on the west side of the state is located 90 kilometers from Merida.  The sea there is calm and crystal clear. Coconut palms line the shores along with fishing boats as Celestun is a working town with many fishermen.  As you enjoy your visit you can watch these men prepare for a day on the open water and return with their bounty- a nice, picturesque image of Yucatan life.

The reason I recommend Celestun is not only because of its beach but the amazing biodiversity surrounding it.  I’m Yucatecan and as a child I went to Celestun once or twice and I didn’t think I saw anything especially memorable.  It wasn’t until about two years ago that I really discovered the wonder of this village.  Ironically at that time I worked at a travel agency and I went as a tour guide with a group of French students.  This trip was probably more exciting for me than it was for the students as it was the first time I really appreciated what this corner of our state has to offer.

Celestun’s ecosystem is unique because of the combination of fresh water from the Ria Celestun (a small river that runs parallel to the sea) and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico.  River trips can be arranged by guides at the entrance to Celestun.  Each boat takes 4 to 8 people, depending on the tide. Once on the tour you get to see the famous flamingos that have an intense pink color due to the concentration of carotene in the water.

Besides flamingos you get to see many other spectacles of nature: a large variety of bird species such as pelicans, mangroves, cenotes with delicious fresh water traveling to the sea from the peninsula’s underground river system (where you can swim to refresh yourself), crocodiles and an amazing petrified forest.

Celestun is also an extremely popular beach for expatriates to choose as their new home here in the Yucatan.

Sisal

The oldest memory I have of Sisal is going fishing with my uncle, an amateur fisherman, and my cousins.  He used to say that the best sea to go fishing was the “sea of Sisal.”  Besides the great fishing, Sisal has a lot to offer visitors.

First of all it has a lot of history; it used to be the most important port for henequen export back to the 19th Century.  The name of this port is attributed to a particular variety of henequen, agave sisalana, whose fiber is the main export product of the henequen industry in Brazil.  It also has an emblematic fort that was built to protect against the pirate raids.

Sisal has rich flora with mangrove forests, hillocks, swamps and marshes that shelter many animal species including many migratory birds.  Next to Sisal is a very important ecological reserve where hawksbill turtles spawn.

Another activity to do in Sisal, if you enjoy the sport, is duck hunting.  Hunting season goes from December to April.  There are extensive estuaries in the area that support a thriving population of ducks- as many as twenty different species.  Five species of ducks are exclusive to the Yucatan and can’t be found anywhere else.

Discover the Yucatan beaches we have highlighted and every one in between- from our friends at Explorando Mexico

Chelem

Chelem used to be the favorite beach for Meridans to build their beach houses for quick and relaxing getaways- especially in the heat of the summer months.  Younger generations of locals seem to prefer Progreso, Chicxulub and Uaymitun these days so this quiet village next to the sea has become a popular settlement for expatriates who seek a sun drenched, relaxing beach life.  One of the big reasons this area has become so popular for expatriates is the access to quality public services and infrastructure.  What doesn’t hurt is the proximity to Merida via the modern Merida-Progreso highway as well as the village of Yucalpeten where harbors serve as shelter for boats of all shapes and sizes.

Progreso

Progreso is a “must go” beach because it’s the most important port of Yucatan, the entrance to the state from the seas of the world.

It is strategically located 32 kilometers north of Merida- making it the favorite beach for city dwellers who seek a refreshing beach getaway during the hot summer months.  It is common these days for families from Merida to own a home in Progreso.  This phenomenon has lead to increased development in nearby Chicxulub, Uaymitun and San Benito to meet the demands of weekend vacationers.  These local economies have experienced beneficial growth from the demand for more restaurants, nightclubs and other establishments.  Visitors benefit from this growth with an ever-increasing list of entertainment and dining options to enjoy.

I have many fond childhood memories of spending summer days and nights in Progreso with my family.  We would spend our days on the beach and the nights in restaurants and clubs with great food, music and people watching.  You can’t beat the refreshing night breezes.  I know these memories are shared by many Meridians.  When the summer season has faded, many of these homes are rented to foreigners, mostly Canadians, who come to Yucatan looking for warmer weather.

Fishing boats rest in the afternoon sun next to the famous pier in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico.

Progreso is a first-rate seaport for import and export.  It is hard to miss the pier built out into the area’s shallow waters as it is over 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) long!  It is also a port-of-call for several international cruise lines.  The city is festive but really comes alive on days when cruise ships dock for the day: artists of all types come to showcase their wares to travelers, musicians stroll the beaches and the seaside restaurants are filled with sun seekers.  The area near the pier has a great selection of bars and restaurants- many of whom have excellent seafood (surprising, right?).  Whether you are visiting for the day from land or sea there are several fun options for visitors to enjoy right on shore including banana boat rides, windsurfing, kite surfing and kayaking.

Dzilam de Bravo

This beach town is on Yucatan’s eastern shores and is known for its amazing ecological reserve that is filled with cenotes, eccentric flora and fauna and a beautifully tranquil beach.  If you are looking for a more organic beach experience than the excitement that Progreso can offer this may be the beach for you.  You will encounter nature around every corner in Dzilam- where the noise of the surrounding villages seems to be “switched off” so you can truly enjoy the scenery and the solitude of this beautiful place.

If you have an interest in archaeology this area has a number of great Mayan ruin sites to explore nearby including Xalau, Tamba, Bolmay, Petul, Sotpol, Xuyap, Poxil, Xcoom, Palaban, Xmaos and Xcan.

What are your favorite beaches in Yucatan?  There are so many, right?  Share your favorite beach spot by commenting here or on our Facebook page.  Once we have enough of your ideas we will be happy to share your recommendations with readers in a “Part Two” beach article!

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