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For most visitors to Belize, there is barely enough time during their once in a lifetime adventure to see all that the country has to offer, much less a few extra days left over to allow for a road trip. But to the locals and expats that call Belize their home, after you've been to San Pedro for diving off the reef, lunched over a meal at Rasta Pasta on Caye Caulker, hiked about the prominent Belize Maya sites, tubed a cave or two or paddled one of the numerous rivers like the upper Moho or the lower Rio Grande, visited the Baboon Sanctuary and the Old Belize Museum and the Belize Zoo, you start to look across the borders for some new diversions.
From anywhere in Belize you can catch a bus to the northern Belizean town of Corozal, then hop the borderline either by taxi or bus to the town of Chetumal, Mexico. You can actually catch a direct bus any day of the week from Belize City all the way to Chetumal and once there, you are off and running. Departing the bus station in Chetumal, well I like to catch the regularly scheduled 'directivo' that delivers me and my backpack within about four hours to a small hotel in the town of Playa Del Carmen. Although I love the Belizean beach that defines the Placencia Peninsula and though I think there is not a pretty stretch of sand in the Caribbean than you'll find offshore Toledo District on Snake Caye, I have to admit that I love to get up to Playa Del Carmen.
Two excellent choices for your accommodation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, are the Hotel Zanzibar and the Hotel Quinto Sol.

In Playa as the locals refer to the once small fishing village that now is the hub of the famed Mayan Riviera, you have countless restaurants offering every type of cuisine from sushi to pizza to Spanish 'paella' to tacos to cheeseburgers to filet mignon. All along the beach there are oceanfront bars that offer buckets of ice cold 'cervezas' during all day 'happy hours' where Mariachi bands play traditional Mexican songs for tips. The beach is crowded and rightly so, for the white sugar sand is ever so inviting as it blends into the turgouise blue water, a vision that is simply stunning.

I have been travelling to Playa for many years now, so I have lots of people that I have befriended over time. And although I first met up with Pia and Thed from Sweden that own and operate the La Rana Cansada Hotel & Bar via a complimentary room they extended to my wife and I back in 2001, I always go back to 'the sleeping frog hotel' because no other place in Playa Del Carmen exemplifies to me such genuine hospitality. The margaritas are to me the best in Mexico, the staff always somehow remembers my name, and best of all, each time I have visited La Rana I leave with new acquaintances. Of course, the rooms are no longer gratis to this traveller and though I always try my best to remember to pay for my margaritas since Thed always seem to give me a new t-shirt, somehow Thed lets a few slide my way for free.

Thed and a friend at the Bar 'La Ranita' at La Rana Cansada, the Tired Frog Hotel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
During my last road trip to Playa Del Carmen, if it had not been for Thed and Pia at La Rana Cansada, I would not have been able to connect to AllTourNative Expeditions. The way it all started, I was talking with Thed about my desires to go to the remote Mexican Maya archaeological site of Coba and climb Nohoch Muul, the tallest pyramid in the Northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. I was at odds with myself and the local bus schedule as I tried to figure out a cost effective way of travelling to the site located back down towards the Belize-Mexico border, That's when Thed wiped out his cell phone, punched in a handful of digits, asked a few questions from the person on the other end of the line, and then turned to me and simply said, can you be ready to hit the trail to Coba tomorrow morning??

I have to admit I do not like the structure and patience required of a tour, much less the 'blah, blah, blah' that most tour guides force upon you as they regurgitate patented recital that bore this traveller to tears. That said, AllTourNative is just about the best outfitter I have ever had the pleasure of trekking with. I put them equal to my absolute favourite trekking company in the Himalayas, who are located in Kathmandu, Nepal. To this day I get personalized emails from their owner Nava Raj wishing me sincere 'Namaste' from the land of Sagamartha, the Nepalese name for Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet.

AllTourNative was formed in 1999 by a group of young Mexicans who followed their adventuring dreams. They employ multi-cultural guides to insure that language does not become a barrier for the adventurer. The adventure I went on combined a trip to the Archaeological site of Coba with a zip line run through the jungle canopy and a repel off a cliff. AllTourNative insures that their clients learn something about not only the archaeological site, but also about the Mexican Maya people, as you share time and experiences over local dishes prepared and served under the shade provided by a traditional thatched roof palapa champa with Maya villagers. The end of the day has you and your fellow trekkers saluting the end of the day with a shot of local tequila, before you are delivered back to the doorsteps of your Playa Del Carmen hotel.

The Patio at the Flamingo Hotel on Cozumel, Mexico
And if you are a diver, Playa Del Carmen is very convenient to the dive sites to be found in the waters off the island of Cozumel. It is easy enough to catch the hourly ferryboat that departs the dock in Playa for Cozumel that is literally seeing distance from the beaches of Playa on a clear day. Once on Cozumel, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the Hotel Flamingo and Dive Center. Operated by an expat named Thomas Fryer who hails from San Francisco, the small boutique hotel provides great food, comfortably clean accommodations, an amazingly accommodating staff and it is located less than a city block off the often touristy boardwalk most frequented by the scores of cruise shippers that descend upon the island of Cozumel almost daily. Thomas Fryer is a diver at heart and I can assure you that he can provide the very best local advice. He will also be able to point you in the direction of Sergio Sandoval Vizcaino, owner and dive master of Aquatic Sports Cozumel. Sergio will take you the must dive sites in the waters off Cozumel. Sergio has been diving since 1966 and has recorded well over 5000 dives. He will take you to some his favourite dive spots like Santo Rosa Wall, Paso Del Cedral, Mantarraya, Silent World and the Palancar Caves, Palancar Horseshoe and Palancar Dropoff to name just a few.
Images of the underwater world near Cozumel, Mexico
Although there are lots of Diamond shops, souvenir stores and timesharing hawkers that make walking along the boardwalk of Cozumel challenging, one of the real bonuses I discovered while overnighting at the Hotel Flamingo is the reality that instead of turning right out of the front entrance of the property, turn left. That will allow you to walk away from the hordes of tourist and into the neighbourhoods that gives you a taste of the real Mexican culture. In fact, once I changed directions, I found Cozumel to be a wonderful place, literally filled with side street restaurants and friendly locals that give you a since of what the island is really about. At the end your road trip from Belize up the Yucatan to Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel, you are likely to return again and again.

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