Guaymas, Sonora pearl farm a ‘must-see’

pearl on chain

Sea of Cortez pearl set in sterling silver

No vacation to the San Carlos-Guaymas coastal resort area of Sonora, Mexico is complete without a stop at Perlas del Mar de Cortez, (Sea of Cortez Pearl Farm). The attraction is not only a tourist destination; it’s an ongoing research facility of pearl-producing oysters, a scientific enterprise of pearl farming and also, a kind of historical landmark.

Natural and cultivated, single- and multicolored pearls from two main regional species: the black-lipped pearl oyster and the rainbow-lipped pearl oyster have found their way to various aspects of culture, notably John Steinbeck’s, “The Pearl” and less notably, but more interestingly, “El Mechudo — the long-haired Yaqui.” Find more fascinating cultural and historical references on the Perlas del Mar de Cortez website.

If you’re considering a tour of the pearl farm, plan to spend at least two hours. You will want to either book a tour with your San Carlos or Guaymas resort concierge, or simply venture out on your own, to the location on Bacochibampo Bay. The tour includes a general history of pearls and New World pearls, especially those from Mexico. You will learn how they are created naturally, artificially and also get a lesson about different pearl varieties. You’ll also receive information about how this educational facility began and its current endeavors and challenges.

Dock facility at pearl farm (2004 photo)

Dock facility at pearl farm (2004 photo)

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Actually, there’s not a lot to do or see at the farm – it’s a small group of buildings and a boat ramp. However, your tour guide will spend most of the tour time (an hour) explaining the intensive and fascinating process underwater (the farm), in the lab and at the dock. You will be able to see the black floats, like buoys, out in the bay indicating the location of each submerged cage of young, growing oysters and other implanted oysters developing the pearls. In the submerged cages, or “pearl nets”, it usually takes about 18 months for a young oyster to reach the stage to be seeded and another 18 to 24 months for a seeded oyster to develop the pearls. During this time, workers remove and clean the oysters about every two months — a very tedious, but necessary task.

floats

Black floats mark the location of pearl nets

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After your pearl farm tour, a visit to the pearl gift shop is also a must, because, even if you choose not to buy, you will want to see the finished products – beautiful pendants, earrings, rings and individual pearls in all shapes, sizes and colors!

Tip: After a morning at the pearl farm, take a little detour to one of Guaymas’ many colorful shopping centers for souvenirs and lunch. Also consider visiting other Guaymas sights including Tres Presidentes Plaza, City Hall and San Fernando Church.

Readers: Have you been to San Carlos or Guaymas? Can you tell us: What are your favorite activities and places to visit?

We last visited Guaymas in 2008. Please note that the farm photos are actually taken in 2004. I’m assuming the dock building was rebuilt following the September 2009 storm. Any reader updates or comments would be welcomed and appreciated.

Eight reasons for spring break at Cancun’s Royal Resorts

Ready for a spring break getaway? Soon many Arizonans will be heading to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), San Diego, Las Vegas or Colorado while others may be setting their sights on farther destinations, such as Cancun.

So right now, you’re thinking: Cancun craziness of college spring breaks, wild drinking and partying. Well, it’s not necessarily true of all Cancun resorts. In fact some, such as the Royal Resorts properties, discourage the wild spring break scene by requiring guest-registering adults be 25 years old or older. Plus, strict behavior and noise policies inhibit unruliness. A family-friendly atmosphere is just one reason why we like Royal Resorts. Here are seven more:

2. Floor plan of the ‘Flexivillas’

With the main living area in the middle of each two-bedroom suite, the unit is a perfect floor plan for families. One side is the studio lock-off side, a self-contained room with full bath and kitchenette. The one-bedroom side has the main entrance to the suite, with separate one-bedroom with dining area, fully equipped kitchen with full-size appliances. Each living room area not only is spacious but it also features fold-down Murphy beds. The two-bedroom is an ideal setup for two couples who like some privacy, or a family with four children.

Spacious living room in Royal Resorts suite -- perfect floor plan for family vacation

3. Site design

It’s not really fair to say this ‘horseshoe’ layout is only typical at Royal Resorts, in fact many properties in the hotel zone are designed the same way, with the buildings fanned out with a clean view of the Caribbean, but from what we’ve experienced, the building layout of the Royal Mayan, Sands, Islander and Caribbean seems superior, both vertical and horizontal spaces are maximized. From almost every suite balcony in the resort, guests can set their eyes on the aquamarine color of the Caribbean. Most walkways are open breezeways. Restaurants, lobbies, gift shops, offices, convenience markets all are on the ground floors, so even the lowest floor of suites is higher than the restaurant building, usually set behind or next to the well-manicured gardens and pool areas. Best suites are up in the front row with spectacular ocean views. Steps or elevators take guests down to the palapas on the white sand beach.

Waterfalls cascade over well-groomed landscaping at the Royal Islander

4. Your fridge is filled upon arrival

After you’ve confirmed your reservations, you can place a grocery order to the Royal Resort market to have various items placed in your refrigerator before you get there. So if your flight is delayed, or you missed your transportation from the airport, and arrive at the resort late, you don’t have to worry, your fridge is filled with beverages and groceries for that evening, the next morning or for your entire week, if you want – all at no charge. In fact, many reservations for tours, spa visits, dining, or special events can be arranged online before you get there.

5. Royal shuttle

Unless you plan on driving around the Yucatan, you probably don’t need a rental car. Or, you could rent one for a day or two of sightseeing. Taxis can be an excellent alternative. But the best deals are these Royal shuttle buses – they’re free. Some readers right now are probably cringing because these boulevard buses can be the noisy reminders of civilization we wanted to escape from. But we appreciated the Royal shuttles to carry us between all of the Cancun-area Royal Resorts. So we could visit the beaches in front of the Royal Caribbean, or eat lunch at the Royal Mayan. We could travel from the Royal Islander to the Royal Sands for a spa day, or take a five-minutes walk down the boulevard to the upscale shops at Kukulkan Plaza.

6. Save your cash

Put your cash away in your room safe when you check in. Except for the occasional tip, you probably won’t need much cash – at least while you’re at one of the Royal Resort properties. The room key card is your payment method for all bar bills, dining room meals, grocery and gift shop purchases, tour bookings and spa services. You simply pay for the entire week when you check out. It makes it easy not to have to carry cash with you or worry about misplacing it. Of course, this convenience could be a drawback, especially when you get to the gift shop and are tempted by a fine leather briefcase, a giant stuffed dolphin or a huipil — a colorful, embroidered Mayan blouse.

Even during the busy season, it's possible to find some midday solace on the Royal Islander activity deck

7. Many amenities

Some hotels or resorts will charge as much as $20 per day for parking and Internet access. Both are free at Royal Resorts. Daily maid service was an important one to us too. The well-stocked convenience stores carry many popular American and Mexican brands of just about everything: cereal, snacks, candy, liquor, beer, plus fine local favorites: coffee, chocolate and vanilla. You can have an order (over $30USD) of groceries delivered to your condo for free. Activities are plentiful, frequent and everywhere. Or you could choose to do absolutely nothing but sit on the white sand and soak it all in. Even on the resort grounds, it’s easy to find a quiet corner to finish that novel you started on your flight.

8. Information everywhere…

The website impressed us – it’s very easy to navigate around each of the resort pages to make reservations and check amenities. Online, you cruise around the resorts via a virtual tour while standing in the Caribbean at the Royal Cancun or watch the parasails land on the beach in front of the Royal Mayan. From the comprehensive company newsletter link, “Royal Resorts News,” learn about safety in Mexico, latest news updates from Cancun, tips and travel tools. Here you can link to the Royal Channel, the resorts’ video and photo collection to see recent guests enjoying their Royal Resorts vacation.

Beautiful ocean views from almost any vantage point

US Airways still offers daily nonstop round-trip flights from Phoenix to Cancun ranging from about $600 to $700.

What are your favorite spring break vacations? Have any getaway recommendations you’d like to share?

 

 

Chiricahua National Monument reopened and ready for visitors

If a new year signifies growth, recovery and renewal, 2012 can’t come soon enough — especially to those affected by Arizona’s wildfires. Fortunately signs of growth and recovery are beginning to sprout up in some areas affected by the Horseshoe Two Fire, one of Arizona worst wildfires this past year. Chiricahua National Monument, 36 miles south of Willcox, is one location these signs are evident.

Chiricahua National Monument is best known for its unique rock formations

The Horseshoe Two Fire is the fifth largest fire in Arizona history. It began May 8 and ended with total containment on June 25. Officials determined the fire was human-caused and began about 15 miles south of the national monument, in Horseshoe Canyon. Although much of the park was burned, because the fire had varying degrees of intensity, many areas remained green. Three weeks ago, the park reopened its main roadway, Bonita Canyon Drive. Workers started the repairs on the fire-damaged guardrail back in October and finished in early December.

On the road from Willcox to the park, Dos Cabezas (two heads) towers above state route 186

Massai Point and Echo Canyon areas were also reopened with the completion of the Bonita Canyon Drive repairs. Now that the repairs are finished, the hikers’ shuttle operations have been resumed as well as the entrance fee collections. Now the entire park is back in business and visitors are welcome to return.

On our Dec. 4th visit to Chiricahua National Monument, we were greeted with snow showers and freezing temperatures. The wintry day provided a backdrop of snowy peaks, empty highways and low clouds. Although we came before the park drive was reopened, we were able to check out the grounds surrounding the visitor center and main entrance. The visitor center provided park history as well as information about the Horseshoe Two Fire. On display were many of the satellite maps showing the progress and coverage of the fire. To see the immensity of it was a bit overwhelming. Some of the same information can also be seen on the Incident Information System website, or inciweb.org.

Coues deer are returning to the fire-ravaged area

On the way into the park, we noticed a couple of Coues (Arizona white-tail) deer cautiously working their way through some brambles of pinon pine. A hawk soared over the trees. Gradually more wildlife will be returning to the park and the surrounding Coronado National Forest. Growth, recovery and renewal also will return to this park, also known as the “Wonderland of Rocks.” And, like the wildlife, it will be a welcomed one.

Visitor center at Chiricahua National Monument