Magi Azul - Caribe Beach House

Enjoy my family's adventure living on a Caribbean island as they build a boutique vacation beach house. Get a peek at island living and join me in some mischievous musings!

Monday, December 3, 2012

10 Island Travel Tips

1. Airport Pickup - Pre-arrange airport pickup. It will save you quite a bit and make your arrival faster and hassle free. We assist our guest with this at Magi Azul, but any upscale hotel or vacation rental should be able to provide this service. Ask the driver to stop at a casa de cambio on the way to the ferry and change most of your money for your trip.  The exchange rate will be better in Cancun than on the island, and it will save your precious beach time for that lounge chair instead of trudging around looking for a casa de cambio.
2. Money Matters - Once you get to your room leave all your valuables there and carry just enough money for your outing.  The island is safe and you will not get mugged, but there is always the possibility of a misplaced backpack or purse. If you like to get in the water, consider a waterproof packet or container to slip money in that you can wear in the water.
3. Cuanto Cuesta? - Always ask how much something is in pesos instead of U.S. dollars.  You will pay less.
4. Know Your Taxi Rates -  Ask a local the rate to your destination. You may not get that rate, but you can at least get close.  You say the rate to the driver BEFORE you get in the taxi. If they know you know the rate they will not try to gouge you as much. This will save you from paying  double or maybe triple the normal fare. Also generally taxis are cheaper if you catch them on the street rather than at a taxi stand.
5. Notice Your Taxi Number - If you ever accidentally leave anything in a taxi, knowing the taxi number will increase your chances in retrieving it. One of my guests learned this the hard way, when he left his backpack with his passport and camera in a taxi.  With that in mind, also bring a copy of your passport and driver's license and put them in a different bag than your originals.  It will make replacing documentation easier if you need to.
6. Camera Care & Electronics - Throw a few silica packets from pill bottles into your camera bag or any bag with electronics.  Moisture in a tropical climate can be hard on them.  Also be VERY careful on the beach.  One grain of sand can ruin a camera fast.
7. Supplies 101 -   Bring a hat that protects you from the sun and that doesn't blow off easily. It is often windy on the island. Also big beach sarongs are better than heavy beach towels.  They are easier to carry, sand shakes off of them easily, they dry quickly and can double as a beach cover-up.  I also recommend throwing some Ibuprofen or your pain reliever of choice in your suitcase.  If you don't speak Spanish trying to communicate what you need at a pharmacy will be difficult but amusing for the pharmacist. And of course sunscreen, water, antibacterial gel and some glamorous sunglasses.
8. A Map - I recommend Chick Maps.  These maps are the most comprehensive that I have seen and really give you an insider's view of the island.  It shows information, reviews and locations of popular and obscure destinations.  They are well worth the $10.  You will save time and experience places you would have never known about. Order them on-line at

9. Bring Snorkel Gear and Dive Booties - If you have room in your suitcase, it is worth it to buy a set of snorkel gear. Finding equipment to rent outside of a guided snorkel tour can be difficult and is not cheap if you do find them.  In fact, I would go so far as to say, "Make room for a set of snorkel gear."  You are in some of the most beautiful waters in the world and with your own gear exploring is easy and free!  If you don't want to invest a lot, you can get a cheap set at Sam's for $39 that will last the week you are there.  If you don't mind spending more, a quality mask is the most important item. I buy online at  Don't forget dive booties.  They can be used as water shoes and allow you to walk on the rocks and coral without cutting your feet, and then you can slip your fins on over them.  They will also prevent the fins from chaffing your feet.
10. Be Adventuresome - I will never forget an evening spent dancing with gypsies by a campfire in the Indian desert. (No, I was not drinking.) Try something new.  I recommend a snorkel trip no matter what your expertise or lack there of.  I use Casa Del Buceo.  Local divers will know the best places and point out wild life you would have never noticed.  Go early in the morning (7am) before the afternoon crowds scare the big marine creatures away.   Also swimming with the whale sharks is a definite item to add to your bucket list. Make sure it is the season when they are in the area.

These are just a few tips for a hassle free vacation of a life time on Isla Mujeres. If you have some tips of your own. I would love to hear them. Please add a comment.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Confession

I have a confession to make. My blog is called Island Living, but we don't live on the island anymore.  We are rented so much that we now live in Merida, Mexico most of the time and run to the island when we have a vacancy. My dreams of island living have been thwarted by success! But I have no need to shed any tears. I enjoy the best of 2 worlds - cultured life in a historic city and laid back island life. We are actually about to start renovating a 150 year old French Colonial house and will rent out a cute little casita in the back of our property. I think it will be called The Arbor - Casita.   Merida is located about 3 hours from Isla Mujeres and about 30 minutes from the coastal town of Progresso. It was named the safest city in all of Mexico and is even called the La Cuidad de Paz or The City of Peace.  With it's gorgeous architecture, wonderful shopping and restaurants and central location to many  nearby site-seeing destination, it it the perfect home base to see the Yucatan.  There is always something going on almost nightly. From theater to museums and festivals there is never a shortage of things to do.  Convent and hacienda tours, Chichenitza ruins, and beautiful cenotes to swim in are just minutes away. Anyway, I have been a little (ok mucho) slack in writing about the island, because I haven't had the pleasure of being there.  But don't think I have forgotten my island paradise. Since I will not be mesmerized by the blue water I may actually write a blog about something practical like tipping since I always get asked questions about it all the time. Or I think I may write about some of my favorite restaurants on the island (I miss you Basto's!)  So now that you know my conscience can be at rest. I'm still island living,\ - but it is only very part time now.  But that makes it all the more sweeter.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Word

           If you could describe the ocean with one word, what would it be? I would use the word - deep.  When something is deep it is profound and past understanding. What could be more mysterious and wild? It is both ominous and utterly peaceful as you are buoyed in your own private world. There is something primal about listening to your own breathing as you float in this watery womb.  Only here do adrenalin and calm co-exist.  I always swim with my eyes wide open looking for adventure and I always find it. One day I touch a giant sea turtle, the next I pause for 2 passing eagle rays as they glide by in underwater flight. Another day I get caught in a pescado stampede or chase giant parrot fish.  And of course my eyes are always peeled for a passing dolphin or the dreaded shark. Unfortunately I haven't seen either one while I was in the water. I have mixed emotions about seeing a shark on my own, but I have my trusty dive knife I call Barracuda.  I've never used her, but somehow she makes me feel a little less vulnerable. I have never heard of a shark attack on Isla Mujeres, but I am ready anyway.
          My daughter always complains that I always see the cool stuff when she's not with me. I explain that maybe that's because she is not behind me thrashing like a wild colt.  I need to teach her the art of stealth swimming. Now I understand how my Dad felt on our nature walks when we were kids, and he told us we had to be quiet if we wanted to see any animals.  Anyway from my little beach house I have an underwater universe in my backyard. And whenever life seems overwhelming and I need a little peace; or if it seems humdrum and I need some adventure, all I have to do is grab my fins, Barracuda, and venture out into the deep!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Magic in Every Moment

You know that feeling of wonder you get when you experience a place for the first time?  The sights and the sounds overwhelm your senses, and you are temporarily Dorothy in Oz.  We have spent most of our time in Mexico for the last several years, and we just returned to Missouri this April to get our house there ready to sell.  All our friends say with a sigh, "Ahhh you are living the dream." And I think we are.  Although, those same friends might change their mind if they lived awhile in the tropics with no a/c, no hot water. and a one burner hot plate. That's the price of building or renovating in paradise!
Anyway, Dorothy is back in Kansas now as we return to our house in Missouri. But somehow it seems a little more like Oz.  The pink dogwoods are in bloom, and my azaleas are in vibrant fuchsia dress. A carpet of pink cherry blossoms blanket the ground under our trees and the birds are singing so beautifully that I just have to close my eyes and soak it in. When I walk down our tree lined street that looks more like a park than a neighborhood, I get that feeling  a foreigner gets when they visit some place exotic. I am giddy and gushing about how green and gorgeous everything is.

 So whether  I am in Mexico, the U.S. or some other corner of the universe I am looking with wonder at the beauty I find around every corner. I am learning there is magic in every moment if I look for it.  ERRRRCK!!  That is the brakes of my cheese-ball spill screeching to a halt. My beautiful Spring epiphany has come to a grim reality check spelled - HAY-FEVER or ALLERGIES or SINUS INFLAMMATION!  The magic I am finding in this moment is that I still have my head on my shoulders after I have blown it off with a thousand tissues. I don't even usually have problems with my sinuses, but evidently this is a particularly brutal allergy season in good old Missouri.  And so I am guzzling down my husband's homeopathic brew and sneaking in allergy pills, ibuprofen and blessed sleep. Wake me up when I have a plane ticket back to Mexico! Until then pass the tissue please.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Marvels of the Deep Return

As whale shark season is approaching, it it time for me to do my annual repost of this article. Every year when these giants visit the waters off Isla Mujeres, we always go out to marvel at the beautiful creatures. It is an experience not to be missed. 

  I've had a pretty adventurous life so far. A few of my excursions have included:  whitewater rafting down the Snake River in Idaho, riding in a camel caravan in India, and tromping through the jungles of Indonesia on the back of an elephant. But of all the adventures I have experienced, I consider swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of  Isla Mujeres as the greatest wonder of all.  I can hardly believe it is possible for the general public to be able to take a boat ride out to sea and swim  in the wild with these gentle giants. During the months of June through September the whale sharks migrate through the area in swarms that the locals call afuera following plankton blooms created by the joining of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  This migratory path was only discovered about 6 years ago by  local fishermen.  Nowhere else in the world do whale sharks gather in such numbers.  In the summer of 2009, 420 whale sharks comprised the largest number of whale sharks observed in a single aerial survey.   

It is not uncommon for me to hear of friends swimming with several hundred whale sharks.  Giant manta rays measuring about 10 ft. across follow the same plankton blooms and are often seen with whale sharks.  Since both are filter feeders they share the same migratory paths. The primary reaction to experiencing these mammoths of the deep is heart pounding awe.  Spanning up to 40 feet and weighing on average 36 tons these pescados are the world's largest fish species. There are unconfirmed reports of much larger specimens of 59 feet all the way up to 75 feet, but since they are aren't documented they are relegated to remaining fish stories for the time being. Despite their enormous size, these sharks pose no threat to humans.  They are very docile and seem undisturbed by any contact with people. Licensed tours do follow special rules to protect the whale sharks from harassment from over-exuberant tourists.  They are asked not to touch the whale sharks and boats are instructed to stay 10 meters from the whale sharks.  The later rule is a little hard to enforce since often the sharks swim right up to the boat as if to take a look at you.

These majestic sea creatures are still relative mysteries to the scientific world.  Their lives span between 70 to 100 years most of which is spent out of sight.  Capable of diving up to a mile and a half down into the ocean depths and migrating thousands of miles at a time these marine marvels still hold many secrets yet to be discovered.   Yet for ages the world over the whale shark has been revered and respected. To the Vietnamese he is known as a deity called Ca Ong  translated  "Sir Fish."  To much of Mexico and Latin America he is Pez Dama or Domini, because of the spots on his back.  In Africa he is Papa Shillingi.  To the peoples of Madagascar, he is called Marokintana meaning "many stars."  To me, he is  Magi - a wise king  wandering the deep.  Now is the time to see these wonders of the water while it is still possible to interact with these giants in such a personal, and profound encounter.  Feel the current of the water as they swim next to you, look them in the eye and feel the rush of a lifetime.  Visit Isla Mujeres now and experience the marvel of the Magi!  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Island Grit

Part of the charm of Isla Mujeres is it's grit and garish mishmash of color. It has a casual Bohemian vibe with a Mexican Caribe flair.  If you are looking for a polished resort, Isla Mujeres may not be for you.  But if you are looking for a slice of laid back island life, with just enough tourism to make it comfortable this little piece of paradise is it.  At five and a half miles long and half a mile wide, Isla Mujeres conveys the intimacy of a tiny fishing village with a taste of the tropics.  Touted as one of the top 10 beaches in the world by Yahoo, the cool white sands combined with the vibrant turquoise water make Isla Mujeres' North Beach hard to beat.  Yes you can have a waiter bringing you Coronas or margaritas if that's what you want. Or you can scout out your own palm tree tucked away from the crowd. After a day of sunning, sailing, snorkeling or deep sea fishing the cobblestone streets of el centro offer a nice array of culinary choices.  With everything from Italian, Mediterranean, French and of course Mexican food you will not go hungry.  You can even learn Salsa at Valentina's, a new restaurant with delightful Mexican cuisine with an inventive twist. There never seems to be a shortage of things to do or fiestas to attend. You can get just about any of the luxuries you could want from a resort on the island like a massage on the beach or a coffee mint pedicure of Mi Secreto Salon.

         However, it is what you can get on the island that you won't find at a resort that I love. I enjoy watching the local fisherman mending their nets, or the Mexican kids playing on the beach and swimming in their clothes.  I smile whenever  a whole  family passes on one motto. (How do they do that?) I like buying fresh orange juice from Martivino's cart at the ferry or ice cream from Jose. I like eating ceviche  at the docks and listening to the waves lapping against the battered yellow and turquoise boats with wonderful Mexican names painted on their bows or watching the pelicans diving for fish.  I love the delicious salt air mixed with just enough smell of old crates and fishing nets to make it seem authentic. I once had an old sailor tell me that Isla Mujeres was one of the few islands left that still had a soul.    As the Riviera Maya is burgeoning with new tourist traps as fast as they can build them, Isla Mujeres remains a small sliver of languid island charm where the sun sets over the bay while the palm trees sway in the breeze, fisherman still bring in their catch, and life is still muy tranquilo.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Twilight Zone

I am about to enter the Twilight Zone once again. We return to Mexico in less than a week and I can hardly wait. Do any of my friends living abroad experience what I call the Time Capsule Effect?  I'd like to know if anyone else experiences this. When we enter or leave Mexico or the U.S.,  it almost feels like we never left or that we've just been plopped back wherever we left off.  They are just two totally different worlds.  One moment I am in flip flops with the sand in my toes and the wind in my face, and the next moment I am back in Springfield squeezing into my Mini-Cooper and running to my Mother-in-law's house or the grocery store. It doesn't matter if I have been gone 6 months - it feels like I never left.  It reminds me of the old Star Trek movies where Captain Kirk says, "Beam me up Scottie," and suddenly they are on a new planet.  When we arrived in the U.S. the week before Christmas, I must admit I was enamored with the Christmas spirit and the cold weather only added to the romance.  But after a week of literally freezing my buns off, I was ready to elope back to Mexico. I actually think I lost a little weight, which is amazing considering how much chocolate I have consumed.  So with dried out sinuses and runny nose (how do you have both?) I am busily packing my bags and tidying my house for our joyous return to Mexico.  Like James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," I will arrive on the island saying, "Hello Mr. Pelican!."  "Hello Ferry!"  "Glad to smell you salty air!"  "Hello you beautiful 84 degree temperature!"  "Good day Mr. Palm Tree!"  "Olah Martivino!  Benediciones Armin!"  And I will soak in that view of the gorgeous Caribbean ocean that never ceases to take my breath away.  I already am anticipating sitting on our rooftop and gazing up at the moon and a thousand stars our first night home. I am definitely ready to enter the Twilight Zone!