Tag Archives: market

Isla Mujeres – part 1

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Statue of a woman in Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. This is what the name “Isla Mujeres” means. Half hour by ferry from Cancun, this small island (7Km in length) has become in recent years a very popular tourist destination for those who are not so keen on the Cancun party scene and prefer a quieter environment.

mexicophotogallery_066Yet for me, arriving from quiet Bacalar and largely undeveloped Caye Caulker, it was like being in Las Vegas by the sea. I hated the crowds that packed the beaches during the day and the streets/restaurants/shops/bars in the evening. Too many tourists, not enough authenticity.

But there are reasons for the crowds: the island is beautiful.
Playa Norte (North Beach) – with its crystal clear waters and white sand – is amazing. I spent a lot of time in and out of the water, also to cool down from the heat.

The Malecon (esplanade) offers opportunities for leisurely walks. It was especially busy with families on Christmas day, everyone enjoyed the waves and the sea breeze. A section of the Malecon gets busier towards sunset, when fitness-addicts  appear for jogging and a varied range of outdoor gym-related activities. After dark you will also find people sitting for a relaxing end of the day in front of the sea.

The main town is certainly full of tourist shops but if you just wander away from the crowds and explore the streets further away from the main pedestrianised area, you will find interesting sights, including lots of beautiful murals painted on the house walls.

And if you want to buy souvenirs, avoid the overpriced shops along the main drag and head to the Artisan’s Market just off the town centre. Nothing is better than buying something that has just been sewn in front of you! And how about those old Singer sewing machines?!

More on Isla Mujeres in my next post…

Discovering Bacalar town

The name “Bacalar” most likely derives from the Mayan b’ak halal, which means “surrounded by reeds”. The town was named a “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 because of the magical experience it offers thanks to its natural beauty and historical relevance.

So when you are tired of trying outdoor activities, go for a walk around town! The highlights are the main square and the Fuerte de San Felipe Bacalar (the fort), which was completed in 1729 and is open to visitors. But don’t miss exploring the streets, with their shops, restaurants and food stalls. The town comes alive at night, when most of the eateries start serving food.

A 10-min walk from the centre is the municipal market. If you’ve been following me for some time you’ll know how much I love markets! I love the vibe, the colours, the people, the interactions that develop in what is often a loud and chaotic environment. The market and the little grocery stores in Bacalar were quieter than I expected. But the colours and the people didn’t disappoint.

Dambulla: Cave Temple and markets

Dambulla, in central Sri Lanka, has the largest and best preserved cave temple complex of the whole country. Known as the Dambulla Cave Temple or the Golden Temple of Dambulla, it is made of around 80 caves, although only 5 of them are open to the public. Built at the base of a 160m-high rock, these caves have been converted into shrine rooms and contain statues and paintings related to Buddha and his life. There are a few statues of reclining Buddhas, up to 15m-long, as well as statues of standing and seating Buddhas. The whole complex is quite impressive and in 1991 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But there is more to discover in Dambulla than the world-renowned cave temple! This town also hosts the largest wholesale produce market of Sri Lanka, something that wouldn’t usually appear on a tourist wishlist but is actually a great place to see and photograph people. I spent over an hour there, going from feeling quite shy at the start (hundreds of men were staring at me as I walked around huge vegetable bags and trucks and started taking photos) to being pulled here and there as some workers really wanted to feature in my pictures! I ended up having really good laughs with some of them.

So allocate some time to Dambulla in your Sri Lanka trip, either as a stopover or as a daytrip from Sigiriya, and you won’t be disappointed!

Discovering Marrakech

Before travelling to Marrakech I didn’t really know what to expect. I had the feeling that it would be a chaotic place full of historic buildings, people in traditional clothing, and lots of colourful stalls dotted around the narrow alleys in the souks.

In simple words, that’s exactly what Marrakech is.

The Medina. This is Marrakech in its essence. The old Marrakech. The traditional Marrakech. The most intriguing part of this city. The Medina of Marrakech is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural value and its impressive number of masterpieces of architecture and arts. And it will not disappoint!

Visit the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, once a theological college dating back to the 14th century but rebuilt two centuries later and the largest madrasa of all Morocco. Spend some time at Palais Bahia, built in the late 19th century and intended to be the greatest palace of its times.

Walk with no purpose except that of discovering the city, lose yourself in the maze of narrow alleys, follow the pungent scent of spices, let the local artisans approach you as they are trying to sell you some of their artifacts.

Reach Jemaa el-Fnaa, the real centre of Marrakech. This square is synonymous with chaos but this is what makes it such a great place too! Visit around sunset and you will be rewarded with amazing colours and incredibly vivid images. Bargain a price with the water sellers and they will be “yours” for as long as you like. Watch the women in colourful traditional dresses, the snake charmers, wander around the food stalls displaying a large variety of dishes: they all contribute to the charm of Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Then sit down and eat at one of the food stalls, all easy to identify because they use reference numbers. One word of warning though: they tend to overcharge tourists so make sure that you only order from menus with prices on display! But don’t let this spoil the experience: the food is very good and fresh, and a meal in Jemaa el-Fnaa will be the perfect end to a day of discovery of Marrakech.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

This is the texture created by a “sea” of flip flops at a market in Bangkok, Thailand.

Featuring in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.

Luang Prabang: not only temples

Since 1995 Luang Prabang, in the north of Lao, has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its high concentration of beautiful Buddhist temples mixed  with European-style colonial buildings.LaoPhotogallery_025

Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is a charming town and very easy and pleasant to walk around. When I visited the unbearable heat after 10:30am was not ideal for sightseeing, yet other options were available for the rest of the day.

So here’s my random list of things to do/see in Luang Prabang:

  • If you visit at mid-April, be prepared to get soaked in the New Year celebrations (see my blog post here).
Buddhist temples
Buddhist temples
  • Visit some Buddhist temples: there are many beautiful ones but definitely not to miss are: Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai.
  • Pop into the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre: they have very interesting displays and information about ethnic groups in Lao.
Old Quarter in Luang Prabang
Old Quarter in Luang Prabang
  • Stroll along the streets in the Old Quarter and enjoy the colonial architecture.
  • Wake up at dawn for the Alms giving ceremony (see my blog post here).
  • Visit the Royal Palace/National Museum: probably not the most interesting I have ever seen, but worth an hour of your time.
The National Museum
The Royal Palace, now National Museum
  • Cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river and go for a stroll in the village on the other side. Then stop at the Dyen Sabai restaurant and chill with a drink while enjoying a view over the river and the surroundings.

    The bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river
    The bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river
  • Go to the Library and buy some books for the children in the villages. This is in collaboration with Lao Kids. You may also find students or monks who want to practice their English. (You can do the same at Big Brother Mouse, whose presence is all over the internet. I went there too but I preferred the Library).
  • See a performance of traditional Ramayana dance. During the New Year celebrations there were free performances every day. During the rest of the year, shows are on at the Royal Palace complex.
  • When it’s too hot, go to the swimming pool. La Pistoche is the place to be for both tourists and locals. Nice place for a day of splashing and chilling!
  • When you have exhausted all options above, there are dozens of spa/massage places where you can get pampered for an hour or two at superlow cost. I had a great one-hour foot massage for US$5!

And now you can enjoy more Luang Prabang photos!