Tag Archives: mexico

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How Run Down Does The Man Get?

I watched the trailer for “Running Down the Man” and I was hooked.  I like wading for bonefish.  I like running for fitness. What could be better than sprinting down some beach after a large, exotic-looking roosterfish?

After a fair bit of research, I booked a trip with Grant Hartman of Baja Anglers in Los Cabos, Mexico. Out of all the guides available, he had the most experience at beach fishing for roosters. He generally does week long trips, but I nabbed him for 3 days as his prime season was winding down at the end of June.

He met me at the Cabo airport and we hopped in his pickup for the hour long drive out to Los Barriles, a small town on the East Cape of Baja – north of San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez. As we drove, Grant’s passion for roosterfish, especially on the fly and from the beach, bubbled up. He compared them to permit and maintained that even a single big one, or “grande,” in one trip was a real accomplishment

Los Barriles is a very comfortable place for tourists and visiting fishermen, with good restaurants and a variety of accommodations.  A beautiful, white sand beach stretches the town’s entire length.  Grant dropped me off at my condo at the Villas de Cortez. (Note:  On the East Cape, booking a condo through a site like HomeAway is a great alternative to a hotel room.) “See you at 9AM tomorrow and don’t forget to wear something drab,” he said.

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At 9 AM the next morning, we were in Grant’s truck again, bouncing down scenic back roads through cacti and low hills. After about 20 minutes, we pulled up at a fairly deserted beach; a couple of vacation homes were the only things around. Immediately, we started rigging up my 10 weight. Before knotting on one of his custom 10  inch long flies, Grant asked me how much backing was on my reel. “About 225 yards,” I replied confidently. “Better use this,” said Grant, and he handed me his personal reel with about 400 yards of gel-spun.

What followed was a crash course in Grant’s highly refined tactics for beach roosterfish – the approach, the cast, the retrieve, and the hook set. I’d love to describe them but I’ve been sworn to secrecy!  It was all based on wading the shallow surf and spotting the fish before it spotted you. One thing I can mention is that the line of choice was a tropical Outbound Short with an intermediate head.

The preliminaries took about half an hour and then we were walking along the beach looking for roosters. After about 15 minutes, the first one showed – a dark shape I’d get quite familiar with over the next few hours, swimming parallel to the beach and maybe 60 feet out. Grant had done a great job at prepping me but I don’t think anything can really ready you for that first shot. My running line got tangled in my feet and my fly got impaled in my pant leg; there were no more chances for that fish.

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Nevertheless, another fish showed minutes later and my second shot fared slightly better. The running line and the fly both steered clear of body parts but the latter was a disappointing 15 feet short of the target. I frantically stripped in line and started to run down the beach for another cast. And promptly tripped, tangled in the running line again.

A third rooster showed up and I finally managed a good cast – right across its line sight. The fly had absolutely no impact on the fish and it kept motoring down the beach. So I stripped in my line and sprinted to get ahead of it. The next cast was also shunned. More stripping and more sprinting led to a third cast… And a third refusal.

I was about 200 yards down the beach from my starting point, breathless and sweat-soaked. (Remember, this was Baja in the summer!)  Mercifully, the rooster had disappeared to deeper water.  Grant seemed like a speck on the horizon and I trudged toward him.

Then another fish appeared… That meant three more reps of casting, stripping, and sprinting. Now I was three hundred yards from where Grant stood. When I finally got back to him he grinned broadly, “Some good casts, bro, but I think those last three were to a milkfish…” I very quickly learned to make out the characteristic tube shapes of milkfish and ignore them.

The action was quite consistent that first day.  We visited several beaches, ranging from completely pristine to somewhat populated.  Sometimes we walked along the beach.  Sometimes we drove.  Sometimes we just waited at a likely spot.  I probably had shots at upwards of a dozen roosters.   They often just swam past me – no running required.  But some needed a burst of speed – along with the requisite heavy breathing and perspiration – to overtake the fish and get in position. Roosterfish are not like bonefish, meandering along and rooting around here and there.  Most roosterfish seem to have a pace that is unfailingly linear and brisk.

The end of the day came around 4 PM, due to the lack of a high sun for spotting fish.  I had experienced nothing but refusals, but a couple of them were spectacular…

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One “grande” – that Grant estimated at fifty pounds – broke from its flight path and closed the distance to my fly in an instant.  I stripped frantically, desperately trying to move the fly, move as fast as possible.   The rooster tracked the fly perfectly, always an inch or two behind it.  When the leader was a couple feet from entering the guides, all I could see was the mouth of the roosterfish trailing my fly.  It looked enormous, like it could swallow my fist whole.  I was on my knees in the shallow surf, trying to stay invisible to the fish.  As the leader entered the guides, the fish abruptly swam off.  I was almost shaking with excitement and didn’t even try for a second shot.

Not too long after, a rooster of about 25 pounds peeled off towards the fly and followed it from about three feet back, staying deep enough so that all I could see was a dark shape.  When the leader was almost in the guides, it accelerated towards the fly and its spiky dorsal fin, or comb, broke the surface.

To me, the comb is what gives a roosterfish rock star status. When I saw it bristling out of the water, I braced myself for a hit and thought, “Strip strike… Strip strike.”  And then the fish vanished, leaving me with no more than a permanent image of its comb in my brain.

The second day of fishing dawned much like the first.  The sun was bright, perfect for sight fishing.  But the wind was howling, making the water on the turbid side.  Grant said it would be a tough day and he was right.   We tried most of the same beaches but saw absolutely nothing.  Grant even tried teasing some from the deeper water out of a fly rod’s range. He used a nine foot spin rod to bomb a hookless surface plug about the same distance as most golfers hit a five iron.  Then danced it back into shore. My job was to throw the fly in behind the plug when it came into range. Regardless, nothing showed itself.

Finally, about an hour before quitting time, we staked out a spot where a couple near shore troughs ran towards each other and met on a shallow bar. A roosterfish swam out of one trough and onto the bar, close enough for an easy cast. Unfortunately, it ignored my fly and quickly made its way towards the blue water. This happened twice more, in quite rapid succession, before we called it a day. I had been quite discouraged but the flurry of action gave me a shot of optimism for the next day.

My third and final day looked pretty hopeful. Grant took me on an isolated highway through the mountains and the sun shone brightly. Although the road was paved, it was still very much an adventure.   We stopped to help three young locals with a flat. “Never pass anybody in need in the desert,” said Grant. Their spare wasn’t the proper size, so Grant gave them his aerosol tire sealer and inflator.

A little further up the road, sections of roadside pavement were missing. The only thing taking their place was a steep drop down a cliff. After about an hour, the “highway” transformed into a rocky track through scrub and cacti. I was glad Grant drove a 4X4. Eventually, we steered off the rocks and headed down a sandy path toward the ocean. After about 100 yards of this, we emerged onto a very isolated beach. It was rockier than those we fished the last couple of days. As well, the hills seemed to be crowding it into the ocean. Although there was one beach house off in the distance, I got the impression that we had somehow left civilization far behind.

Geographically, it seemed like an ideal place, but meteorologically, things had gone down hill. It was completely overcast and the wind was howling. The water was choppy and dirty; sight casting was impossible. To be honest, back casting was also impossible. The wind had a fierce tendency to blow my fly into the back of my head with every forward cast. The only thing I could do was lay the fly line down behind me on the beach and launch it without a backcast. (You have probably heard of water-loading a forward cast. … This was beach-loading.)

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Nonethless, Grant had me blind casting and working my way down the beach.

And then I got bit! Strip strike! Rats, I missed it… Then another hit and another miss on the same retrieve. With the next cast, 18 inches of silver torpedo rocketed half a rod length out of the chop. “Ladyfish!” yelled Grant. I grinned. It sure felt good to have a fish attached to the line.

And so went the day. The ladyfish action was incredibly entertaining and almost non-stop. Every so often we lost contact with the school; however, with a bit of moving around, we always found it again. I have now seen why ladyfish are sometimes called a poor man’s tarpon; they are amazing leapers. They are not big but they certainly are fun. Grant cut back the 10 inch roosterfish fly to a ladyfish-friendly 4 inches. “Careful,” he warned, “Roosters like to snack on ladyfish and that fly is still big enough to tempt a rooster.”

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The certainty of a jumping ladyfish and the possibility of a hulking rooster kept me busy all day. The wind and the clouds never disappeared but they did not bother me in the slightest. As we drove back to town at the end of the day, I thought about the last three days. I had not caught a roosterfish but the trip was still a success in my mind. I had seen a rooster’s comb bristle at my feet and also caught a bunch of ladyfish. For me, both were firsts…

The trip still was not quite over. The next day was spent snorkeling at Cabo Pulmo, a marine preserve south of Los Barriles. The tropical fish below the water and the stark headlands above the water were both beautiful. Even though I didn’t bring a fishing rod, I have to admit that I kept glancing around, looking for the dark shape of roosterfish gliding alongside the beach…

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A Look Inside: Fishwest’s Yucatan Adventure 2014

Editor’s Note: Dave Zanardelli from Pennsylvania recently returned from the 2014 Fishwest hosted trip to Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe, Mexico in cooperation with Yucatan Fly Fishing Adventures. Here is what he said to say about his experience:2014-08-22 14.18.55

Tarpon Cay Lodge, in cooperation with the Hotel San Felipe de Jesus, may be the perfect destination for the first time tarpon fly fisher. From my first impression upon arrival of complimentary margaritas to ease the travel fatigue, to the last impression of making a detour on the way to the airport to visit a Mayan ruin, everything is just about as good as it gets. Comfortable accommodations, excellent housekeeping, and the highest quality food make a visit here an experience that will remain a pleasant memory for a very long time.2014-08-20 17.58.36

Now, the important part…tarpon! Baby tarpon are not everywhere, but one is never out of sight of them   for very long. Every day provided multiple opportunities at fish, from singles to schools of a dozen or more that had one thing on their minds – eating! The fishing is not difficult, and the casting is not all that demanding. Never before has a guide on a tropical flat instruct me to make a short cast, at nine o’clock, at 20 feet! A raw beginner will have reasonable opportunities to boat fish. Of course, being a capable caster greatly increases the number of chances. And when a tarpon does eat your fly, good luck boating it! These guys jump, fight, jump, run, jump, and bulldog all the way to the boat. One tarpon to the boat in three hook ups seemed about average.2014-08-17 12.05.30The second most important factor in any trip – the guides. These guides are friendly, expert at what they do, enthusiastic about what they do, and top notch at providing instruction. Carlos and Chris are among the best fly fishing guides I have encountered.

2014-08-22 12.36.16For those of you who want numbers, here they are. In six days of fishing, I jumped between 40 & 45 tarpon and managed to boat 16 of them. They weighed from about 7 pounds to nearly 20, averaging at about 12 pounds.

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I will be back next year. Along with a companion too skeptical to go on this trip, but is now convinced of his error!

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Last Thing: The team here at Fishwest is proud to announce we will once again be hosting a trip to the Tarpon Cay Lodge in conjunction with Yucatan Fly Fishing in San Felipe, Mexico. Join us from August 15-22nd of 2015. Please check out the Fishwest Outfitters Travel Page for more details or call us toll free at 877.773.5437

Mexico GD 9

Great Days 9: Fishing Below the Border

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Once again the staff over at Smith Optics have brought us a killer video for our viewing pleasure. In this latest installment, A few guys from Idaho travel south in pursuit of Dorado and Roosterfish.  It looks like quite the adventure and well the fishing doesn’t appear to suck… Enjoy

I cannot stress enough: Polarized glasses are arguably the most important piece of  gear apart from a rod / reel / line.  My Smith glasses have treated me so well over the years. I would urge you to check them out for yourself if you haven’t already .  My personal choice? The Touchstone with Black Frames and Polarchromic Copper Mirrored lenses.

Marina Flags

Teasing In Cabo

(A sample of the fishing and – the non-fishing – in Cabo San Lucas.)

To me, a “non-fishing” vacation involves fishing – just not the majority of the time.  So even for a “non-fishing” vacation, I research the fishing possibilities well before any flights get booked.  And I’m sure you can imagine why my girlfriend and I wound up in Cabo San Lucas this past March…

Halfway through the trip, I had a full day charter booked with Baja Anglers. At about 7 AM that morning, I hopped on a very fishable 26 foot Glacier Bay catamaran with my captain and mate. Our first stop was getting the bait part of “baiting and switching” from a local pangero; $20 got me a half dozen, 8 inch goggle eyes.

We started fishing almost as soon as we left the marina.   The mate ran the boat slowly along likely beaches and rock outcroppings while the captain bombed out long casts with a spinning rod and a hookless surface plug – the teaser. My job, with a 9 weight and 350 grains of sinking line, was to land a Clouser just beyond the teaser as the captain skipped it back into range.   And then strip like crazy.  Sounds simple, right?

The persistent swell, which was likely great for surfing, was not terribly noticeable when just sitting in the boat.  However, it felt like a mechanical bull was out to get me while  casting.   I have to admit that for the first 15 minutes I was pretty sure that my entire day would be stumbling around the stern of  boat while trying to avoid “clousering” myself and the crew.  Eventually, however, my casting smoothed out.

I actually found it helpful to throw my fly on alternate casts of the teaser.  Every other cast of the teaser, I would merely watch, ready to throw if a fish showed behind it.  The whole routine was a bit hypnotic, even zen-like…

Cabo JacksUntil fish crashed the party.   About every third spot we tried, a gang of jacks assaulted the teaser.  It was very visual – sometimes they were a dark, swarming mass and sometimes they churned the surface.   Regardless, before they could touch the surface plug, the captain jerked it away and I replaced it with a fly.

The jacks were hyper-aggressive.  The first struck so violently, I seriously thought my rod was going to break; I froze and the fish shook off.  A second jack was well into the backing before it came unbuttoned.  I finally landed jack number three and was shocked by its lack of size.  The way it tested my backing knot and bore under the boat, it felt much larger than its 6 or 7 pounds.

When the action slowed down for jacks, the captain harnessed a goggle eye to the spinning rod and slow trolled along the shore, hoping to attract a roosterfish within casting range.  Unfortunately, the roosters did not make themselves available and we changed gears again.

This time we headed about a half mile offshore, towards a loose gathering of other charter boats.   I should point out, that up to this point, we weren’t exactly fishing in the wilderness .  One of the jacks was taken with a construction site as a backdrop; many of the other spots were just off major resorts.  So heading into a pack of boats seemed like no big deal.

“Spanish mackerel and maybe some yellowtail,” said the captain as we took our place in the formation over about one hundred feet of water. Fishing this depth was VERY relaxing.  I believe I polished off a sandwich as my fly sank toward the bottom.

However, once more, the fish interrupted. Something pulled my rod into a deep bend and kept pulling until the backing knot was deep in the water.   I thought it was a big yellowtail, but it turned out to be a 5 or 6 pound Sierra mackerel.

And so it went…  Another half dozen sierras reluctantly came to the boat and a couple were kept for delivery to our resort’s kitchen later.   As strange as it may same in that deep water, the sierras occasionally boiled on the surface and offered a visual target.

With an hour left in the charter, the captain still wanted me to experience a roosterfish, so we went back inshore to a couple more beaches.  However, the roosters played shy and we were soon heading back to the dock, escorted by a squadron of low-flying gulls.

As I left the marina, a few locals filleted my catch for a few dollars.  That night, with the wizardry of our resort’s kitchen, the sierras provided our best meal of the trip.  Sierra mackerel definitely are definitely too tasty for their own good..

Overall, it was a great part of a non-fishing vacation.  But what about the truly non-fishing aspects?  Here’s a few things both my girlfriend and I would recommend:

  • Rent a car and drive out of town. Visit Todos Santos, a picturesque village with quaint shops and galleries.  On your way, pull down a side road and look at the giant cacti. Maybe even find the beach at the end of the road….
  • Take a guided hike to a waterfall in Baja’s interior mountains.  The scenery is incredibly unique. And the water is incredibly refreshing (icy?) if you decide to take a dip.
  • Stay at a resort that is off on its own with a quiet stretch of beach.  Pueblo Bonita Pacifica is one such place. Watch the surf roll up. Watch for whales in the distance. Stroll down the sand to the rocks at either end of the beach.

A kayak tour and some snorkeling – those are a couple things we didn’t do  in Cabo San Lucas.  Someday, I’d like to get back there and try’em.  Maybe in November, ‘cause I heard that’s a good time for striped marlin…

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(P.S. For non-fly fishing significant others and family, Baja Anglers is adept with ALL types of light tackle.)

Geofish

Get Your Popcorn Ready: Geofish Volume 1 Mexico Review

Authors Note: I am going to do my best impression of the late Roger Ebert here but by no means am I a film critic. After many years anticipating this movie release, here are my thoughts:

This is the type of adventure that I could find myself contemplating doing with my buddies. Going beyond the contemplation stage is probably out of the question for me at this point. The movie follows four friends, Jay Johnson, Chris Owens, Thad Robinson and Brian Jill (Formerly of AEG Media) as they attempt an 8,000 mile journey from the friendly confines of the Pacific Northwest to the tip of South America. Leg one sees the crew venture off into mainland Mexico.

The trip itself starts off as an adventure with the acquisition of a 1996 Ford F250 off of good ole reliable Craigslist.  They picked up this truck from a Utah dairy farmer who delivered it to them on a trailer. Red flag? Not for these guys, just a minor speed bump.  Running off of a limited budget these guys needed a more economical way of traveling. Knowing that gas prices would be the biggest determent the film budget these guys decided to convert their glorious F250 into a veggie oil powered home away from home. With the extreme generosity of Joel Woolf of Veg Powered systems who helped to do a complete overhaul of their F250 they were finally able to start their adventure.

Overcoming obstacles is a reoccurring theme throughout the movie. From spewing vegetable oil on the streets of Mexico to getting robbed at knifepoint at a Wal-Mart, these guys become good “amigos” with the Policia during their travels. The best part is that even after all these events they still soldier on, and with good reason.

The fishing sequences within this movie can be accurately described in one word. EPIC! First off is Marlin fishing 101. This isn’t your fancy marlin fishing that you see with a giant deep sea yacht and a full crew teasing in fish. The reality is that these guys are motoring around off the coast in a tiny panga with an outboard motor with a “guide” that doesn’t speak a lick of English searching for these leviathan creatures. The fishing starts off slow, but when they finally figure out how to do it the fishing pays off. That day Marlin fishing has to be one of those days that those guys will never ever forget.

It doesn’t end there. From lakes in central Mexico that are the homes goliath Bass to the baby Tarpon and Snook of the Yucatan. These fishing outings are the foundation of stories that become fishing legend and lore. Without giving too much away some of these locations and fish give a new fresh perspective to being “Off the Grid”.

Overall the greatest single thing about this adventure has to be that these guys got to do it together. Friendship and camaraderie is an important aspect of the sport of Fly Fishing. This movie is the ultimate example of that. Four buddies traveling thousands of miles while enjoying a sport that they love along the way. Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so. So get your popcorn ready! If you are interested in this Geofish or other fly fishing films and media please check out the Books & Media  section at Fishwest enjoy!

What it's all about!

Yucatan Baby Tarpon

Baby tarpon react to a hook like their oversized parents; they try to put as much air as possible between themselves and the water.  However, they are far more accommodating.  When fishing for adults, a great day is 5 fish jumped and 1 landed.  With babies, jumping 15 and landing 5 is definitely not out of the question.  And the babies aren’t exactly puny – 5 to 10 pounds is a common size.

I am by no means a seasoned tarpon hunter, but over the last few years I’ve managed to visit some of the Yucatan’s premier baby tarpon fisheries.  Although not definitive, my impressions might be helpful if a trip is germinating in your brain.

It should be noted that all my trips took place in July or August.  Visiting the Yucatan in the heat of summer sounds a bit twisted but it’s actually prime time for baby tarpon.

The gear for baby tarpon is simple – an 8 or 9 weight rod, a floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag.  Most baby tarpon will not take you into your backing.   Some veteran baby tarpon fishermen recommend stripping them in without putting them on the reel.  A decent fly selection would include baitfish patterns, poppers, and Seaducers – all on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.  A very functional leader looks like this:  5 feet of 50 lb mono for a butt section, 2 feet of 25 lb mono for the tippet, and 2 feet of 40 lb fluorocarbon as a shock tippet.

Now, here’s a look at some baby tarpon destinations…

Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe (Rio Lagartos)   www.yucatanflyfishing.com

San Felipe, about 100 miles west of Cancun, is a sleepy, pleasant village where walking around gives your camera a taste of real Mexico.

The baby tarpon fishing starts after a 5 minute boat ride.  It’s mostly blind casting the mangroves off points or in the rios, which are saltwater creeks.  Oftentimes, rolling fish provide targets.

Once you’ve shaken the jitters when fishing to babies, San Felipe can give you the opportunity to come unglued in front of much larger fish.  A boat ride of an hour or so will take you to a spot offshore where migratory adults up to 100 pounds hang out.  This is sight casting to rolling fish over deep water.

Isla del Sabalo at Isla Arena    www.yucatanflyfishing.com

If San Felipe is sleepy, then Isla Arena is comatose – in a good way.  Even though you are only 100 km north of Campeche, it’s like the edge of the world.

The fishing is very similar to San Felipe with the addition of sight fishing on the flats in front of the mangroves.  (N.B.  Tarpon are much easier to see than a bonefish.)  Some of the guides like to go WAY up the tiniest of creeks.  Bring a mosquito repellant and don’t forget to duck under that mangrove branch!  I found a Sage bass rod a great tool for such close quarters.

You will likely fly into Merida, which is an incredible colonial city.  It’s like being in Europe, but the tarpon are much closer.

Paradise Lodge on the Costa Maya Coast   www.tarponparadise.net

Between Chetumal Bay and Espiritu Santos Bay, Paradise Lodge has a breathtaking variety of fishing opportunity.

Baby tarpon are the backbone of this fishery; they hang out in cenote lakes, which are land-locked lagoons connected to the ocean via underground channels.  Each day starts out with a truck ride as your boat is trailered to one of these lakes.  Bring your casting arm – you’ll blind cast the mangroves like crazy.  Nevertheless, you’ll probably see enough tarpon to keep your motivation in high gear.  One of the lakes has a good population of both snook and barracuda.

During your stay at Paradise, you’ll probably drive south to sprawling Chetumal Bay to chase bonefish and permit.  I caught my only permit in Chetumal Bay.  I’d like to say I made  a 70 foot cast to a tailing fish but I actually flipped a crab pattern about 30 feet into a HUGE mud.  The permit that popped out was VERY small.  At dinner that night, I downplayed my catch and was promptly chastised by the lodge owner.  “A permit is a permit!” he insisted.

If baby tarpon are the backbone of the Paradise Lodge fishery, then Espiritu Santos Bay is the jewel.  It’s a long, pre-dawn drive to the north.  Punta Huerrero, an obscenely picturesque fishing village, guards the bay’s entrance.   Once your skiff ventures into Espiritu Santos Bay, you’re not on the edge of the world, you’ve actually gone over it!

Very few people fish Espiritu Santos. Its flats are beautiful, wild and abundant, just like its bonefish.  Chances are you’ll see permit, too.  My guide even pointed out a few wily snook underneath the mangroves.  I didn’t believe they were there until he chased them out with his push pole.

Isla Blanca by Cancun  www.yucatanflyfishing.com

Cancun, as you probably know, is fueled by thousands of beach and bar-seeking tourists.

However, 30 minutes north of the sunscreen-slathered hordes lies Isla Blanca and its tremendous variety of fishing environments – hidden lagoons, picturesque bays, mangrove tunnels, small flats, large flats.  Is your boat careening towards a solid wall of mangroves?   Relax, the guide knows exactly where the opening to the other side is. Baby tarpon, a few bonefish, and smallish permit roam all over these waters.  The permit, although small, are numerous.

If you want a break from fishing, and perhaps Cancun’s frantic pace, there are loads of guided excursions to Mayan ruins, traditional villages, and cenotes.

Isla Holbox   www.holboxtarponclub.com

Isla Holbox is comfortably touristed but in a golf-carts-on-funky-sand-streets sort of way.   It is about 60 miles northwest of Cancun; the last part of the journey is onboard a ferry.

Although Holbox is noted for big, migratory tarpon in the open ocean, the backcountry flats and channels in the lagoon behind it have excellent populations of babies.  Tired of slinging 500 grain heads on a 12 weight?  The babies chase poppers and streamers and put on a great show when connected to an 8 weight.  I found sight-fishing for the babies to be excellent.

Another attraction at Holbox is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks.

Nichupte Lagoon (Cancun) and Campeche

These are a couple places I have yet to visit.  The former is the lagoon directly behind the Cancun hotel strip.  The latter is a colonial city.