Wine Tasting in Franschhoek South Africa

Stellenbosch gets most of the attention for wine regions in South Africa, known especially for their Pinotage wines. There is a lesser known region just a half hour away from Stellenbosch called Franschoek (French Corner). We set out from Cape Town for a weekend of wine tasting in Franschhoek with friends. Along the way we stopped in Stellenbosch at the Stellenbosch Slow Market which is open on Saturday mornings. This market is full of venders selling coffee, beer, baked goods, all kinds of different food, as well as crafts and some really wonderful art. There are picnic style tables in the center so you can eat whatever you decide on. We picked up some biltong and droëwors to snack (inspired this recipe!) on during the day and ate at a Turkish food stall for breakfast/lunch before heading out.

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Wine Tram in Franschhoek:

In Franschhoek there is a wine tram which you can purchase tickets and take for the day. The tram has several lines so you can choose which line you want and that will determine which wineries you can stop at. You can hop on and off the tram depending on which wineries you want to go to. The mountains around the wineries are beautiful and the tram has an open air area which was great for taking pictures along the way. One thing to be mindful of is that the tram is on a schedule so it drops you off and comes back to pick you up approximately 45 minutes later.  If the winery is full or a large group gets off the tram with you if may take a while to get through your tasting. The wineries do tend to pour one wine at a time vs pouring all your tastings out for you when you arrive. It normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but for us it meant rushing the last few to make sure we didn’t miss the tram. The tasting portions were generous at all the stops we made.  There are eight hop on, hop off lines you can chose from. Here is the link for the website for more information: https://winetram.co.za/tours/

We chose the orange line and stopped at the following wineries:

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Noble Hill: This was our first stop of the day. We were one of the only small groups there during our tasting. we sat outside on the patio for our tasting. This is a great place to relax, enjoy your tasting or a glass of wine and take in the views of the surrounding Simonsberg mountains. The winery also has two Rhodesian Ridgeback winery dogs. These dogs are very friendly but also very large. they won’t bother you if you aren’t a dog lover but if you are they are more than happy to let you pet them!

Babylonstoren: This winery is a traditional Cape Dutch farm. The winery and restaurant is a combination of Cape Dutch architecture and more contemporary features. The restaurant has large floor to ceiling glass windows all around it which show off the views of the surrounding vines and mountains. We took more time at this stop so we could have a small lunch as well as our tasting. We particularly enjoyed the Shiraz and the Viognier.

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Plaisir de Merle: This wine tasting was in a beautiful old farmhouse. The wine was good, but the service wasn’t awesome – we waited a while to be served and then we were very rushed in order to make the tram. The server also didn’t give any details about the wine, just poured and left. I would go back, but it wasn’t the best one we went to.

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Allee Bleue: Our last stop of the day. We particularly loved their Brut Rose and all of their reds were also very good. This was also the only winery we went to that had Pinotage believe it or not. It is apparently more of a Stellenbosch varietal. We really liked their Pinotage and actually left with a bottle.

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We spent the night at a hostel in town and then in the morning we went to one more winery before heading back to Cape Town. We stopped at the Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons Winery which had wonderful reds and was fun for us since we had been to the Rothschild family owned winery in Chile so we now have a bottle from each trip in our cellar at home. We left with a bottle of Baron Edmond which is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. The winery has nice patio area as well as a very large and beautifully decorated, modern tasting room. We also got to taste the Flechas De Los Andes Gran Corte 2011 which is a Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz if your one of THOSE people :-)), Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Rothschild winery in Argentina. This wine was not for sale at the winery in Franschhoek but we would definitely recommend it or if you can find it for sale in the U.S.

 

Here are links to our other South Africa posts:

-TFWY

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Road Trip – Cape Peninsula South Africa

These places where some of our favorites during our trip to South Africa. We would highly recommend all of these stops. This part of the trip you would need a car for. We rented a car to do the Chapeman’s peak drive and kept it for the day. We had a driver through our volunteer program who drove us to Boulder’s beach and Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope. Due to our schedule we split it into two days, but you could do everything below in one full day.

Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope:
This was the highlight of the trip for both of us. We had a driver through our volunteer program that drove us and stayed while we explored, but if you have a rental car you can go at your own pace. Cell service there is not that great so having an Uber or taxi driver drop you off and then planning to get another ride back will probably not work out (it also costs money to enter the park, so taxis don’t sit around in there). As you drive through the park you can see several different types of animals. We saw baboons, bontebok and elands.

Our driver was great at pointing these animals out to us as we drove. You can also see wild ostrich in the park which we did not but our driver did drive us by an ostrich farm just outside the park so we could at least see them up close.
We walked up to the lighthouse at Cape Point where you have a great view of where the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean meet. You can see the currents in the water, as they mix it looks like a perpetual wave way out in the water. The day we visited it was sunny in Cape Town when we left but as you get closer to Cape Point the breeze off the oceans hit land and it gets cloudier and more humid.

From Cape Point you can take a path which leads you along the coast to the Cape of Good Hope. This walk was beautiful and only takes about 30-45 minutes. if you have the time we would highly recommend this trail. It is a well marked and well maintained trail the entire way. It takes you along the mountain with views of secluded beaches below and waves crashing on the rocks. You walk up a small hill to get a panoramic view of the Cape of Good Hope before finally heading down to the beach where there is a parking lot so our driver was able to pick us up from here after our walk. This is where the iconic sign marking the Southwestern most point of Africa is located so you can take your photo before heading out.

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Boulders Beach:

This is where the penguin colony is and there are penguins everywhere! You do need to pay an admissions fee to enter. Once you are in there are several look out decks where you can watch the penguins swim and walk along the beach. Outside of the park there is a public beach access that you can sunbathe and swim. It is known because you can swim with the penguins (and it’s completely free. We did not swim but stood on the rocks in the water and stood in the shallow water near the shore and had penguins swim around our feet.

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Chapman’s Peak drive:

This is one of the most scenic drives in the world. It is a toll road that goes between Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast. You do need to make sure the road is open as it may close due to weather conditions. Along the way there are multiple places you can pull over and stop to take in the view and take pictures. The views along the way are spectacular, we stopped at just about every place we could pull over to take pictures. Definitely worth the drive as you work your way around the peninsula.

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Here are links to our other South Africa posts:

-TFWY

Cape Town Essentials

These are our recommended must see and do items within Cape Town. This post focuses on the City itself. You could see/do all of these things without having to rent a car if you are staying in the city or nearby. We used Uber throughout our trip. It was inexpensive and we never had a problem, all the drivers were friendly and very knowledgable about the area.

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Table Mountain:

Table Mountain is a major presence from anywhere within Cape Town. It towers over the city and offers incredible views of the city and surrounding ocean. If you want to take in the views from the top there are a few options. There is a cable car you can take, or you can go up one of the many paths to the top. There was only one day that worked with our volunteering schedule, so I decided to hike up then take the cable car down. One of the other volunteers we were staying with started the hike but quickly turned around due to the heat and pace in order to make it in time. She turned around and decided to take the cable car up to meet me at the top. The hike is steep and it was an extremely hot day (unusually hot for December). I decided on the Platteklip Gorge hike as it seemed to be the most direct and fastest to the top. If you are going to climb Table mountain be prepared that it is quite a hike, be prepared with sun protection, water, and enough time. The Platteklip Gorge hike took me just under 2 hours, but I was moving pretty quick. The sign said 2.5 hours from the start to the cable car so make sure you plan accordingly. The climb itself was not too technical, it was basically like walking up stairs for 2 hours. I went up in the late afternoon so the final 1/3 of the hike was in the shade which was an incredible relief. At the top, it feels like you are on a different planet, to the South you see the Twelve Apostles – the mountain range parallel to the Atlantic and directly below you are the Clifton beaches (there are 4 of them). If you walk towards the cable car, you will get some of the best views of Cape town and Lions Head with the Atlantic and Robben Island in the distance. You can get a one way ticket down the cable car in the gift shop if you don’t want to climb back down. There is also a cafe at the top and drinking fountains.

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V & A Waterfront:

The waterfront area is a great place to walk around. This is where the V & A Food Market is located where you can find lots of different food options. We would highly recommend trying some biltong and droëwors. Biltong is similar to jerky, it is a cured meat (usually game of some kind) sliced very thin. Droëwors is a dried sausage. Both are great snacks. Watershed market is also worth walking through. It is full of stalls selling art, clothing and jewelry. There are several restaurants in this area as well, it is a more touristy area but it does offer great views of the water and of table mountain. We ate dinner here the last night of our trip  and got a table with a great view of the water and of Table Mountain. We were able to watch the tablecloth (the clouds) flowing over the mountain as we ate.

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Bo-Kaap Neighborhood:

This is a former township within the city. It is traditionally a primarily Muslim neighborhood which is known for its colorful houses. It is worth wandering through as you are walking around the city. There are several streets lined with brightly colored houses which are beautiful to see. There were lots of other tourists walking through taking photos while we were there. Do be mindful when taking photos that these are peoples homes so do be respectful of that.

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Clifton Beach:
Clifton is an affluent neighborhood within Cape Town. Clifton beach is a series of four beaches, somewhat separated by large boulders. Clifton Four is the most popular beach, the other three are slightly less crowded. We spend a few hours one afternoon relaxing at the beach. There are vendors selling drinks and snacks and umbrellas along the beach. As you walk to beaches three, two and one it becomes progressively less crowded. All the beaches are beautiful and offer amazing views. You can see the Twelve Apostles mountains from anywhere on the beach. This area is lined with apartments, hotels and is a very crowded area, if you drive yourself be prepared that parking is difficult to find near the beach. There are parking lots but they fill up fast.

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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens:
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a beautiful area. There are lots of open spaces where you can have a picnic or just relax and enjoy the park. There are concerts in the park but we did not make it to a concert during our trip. There are two restaurants in the park. One is a tea garden with Mediterranean food, the other serves traditional African food and is more expensive. There is an aerial walkway that winds through the tree tops and provides excellent views of the park and of the city surrounding it. The park is at the base of Table Mountain and there is access to the mountain if you want to hike. We hiked up part way through Skeleton’s Gorge. This side of the mountain is forested with large trees, small streams and waterfalls which you will pass along the way up. This path is also mostly shaded since you are in more of forest than the other side of the mountain where the cable car is.

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Gin and Tonics in Cape Town:

If you are a Gin and Tonic fan (or even if you aren’t) Cape Town will not disappoint! There are multiple gin bars downtown and you can find great gin and tonics at most bars and restaurants downtown. There are some very unique gins in the area because of all to botanicals grown on table mountain. This is something we did not know before our trip but we were very happy with the gin and tonics we had at each place we went downtown!

Long street is the main party street downtown. This street is full of bars and restaurants and lots of people! This is definitely a place to watch your personal belongings and be mindful of pickpockets. While this is not really our scene we did find some awesome street meat on long street. There are multiple vendors selling homemade sausage similar to a brat in the U. S. We were taken by our friends who were living in Cape Town to find an older man who has been selling on Long Street for years. He was working alone, grilling up sausage and onions and offered multiple sauces and toppings you could add on. You can smell the onions grilling as you walk towards his stand. This is a great late night snack after walking around and enjoying your gin and tonics!

Cheetah Outreach:

Just as a warning, you would need a car to get to the Cheetah Outreach. Their primary goal is promoting the survival of the South African Cheetah through environmental education and conservation initiatives. This place is about a half hour outside the city. One of our friends who was living in Cape Town at the time of our trip was volunteering at the Cheetah Outreach Nature Preserve. As a visitor you can walk through and see all the animals. They have fox, jackals, meerkats and several other smaller cats. Also you can pay an additional fee to enter with a volunteer and handler and pet the Cheetahs while you’re there. You can give them your camera and they will take pictures of you with the animals. Make sure you bring cash for this because credit cards are not accepted.
http://www.cheetah.co.za/2018/index.htm

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View our other South Africa posts below:

-TFWY

 

 

Muizenberg and Kalk Bay – Beach Towns in the Western Cape South Africa

We stayed in Muizenberg for most of our trip to South Africa as we were doing the IVHQ surfing volunteer program (see our IVHQ post for more info on the surfing program) . Muizenberg is about 20-30 minutes south of Cape Town and it is known for its surfing. It is a small beach town with a few surf shops and restaurants. The beach is always packed with people surfing at all times of the day. Along the beach there is a long line of colorful beach huts which are iconic to the town.

Muizenberg has a great, relaxed beach town feel to it. People are always walking into the shops and restaurants right off the beach in wet suits, swim suits and flip flops. You can see the Muizenberg mountains from the beach and from pretty much wherever you are in the town. Since you are on the coast the weather is much cooler in Muizenberg than in Cape Town and there is always a pretty strong breeze. Although it is a bit of a drive outside of Cape Town it is a nice place to stay for a few days, especially if you are looking to surf.

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Surfing in Muizenberg

We surfed twice per day while we were volunteering with IVHQ, but if you are just there for a visit you can rent boards just across the street from the beach. Multiple surf shops in the town rent for pretty reasonable rates (wetsuits and boards). One thing to note is that there are Great White sharks in the bay and while sightings in the surfing area is rare it can happen. There is an organization called Shark Spotters: https://sharkspotters.org.za that keep a look out from the mountains and there is a flag and siren warning system to communicate conditions to the surfers/swimmers. There were no warnings the whole week we were there and honestly once you’re in the water you kind of forget about it.

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Places to Eat & Drink in Muizenberg:

  • Live Bait for a nice seafood dinner and a view of the beach. This restaurant is on the second story of a building along the beach so it offers great views from the large windows in the dining room.
  • Tiger’s milk for sit down burgers/pub food
  • Easy Tiger for more fast food/quick burgers on the go
  • Bootlegger Coffee Company for the best espresso in the mornings. We walked here every morning and then sat on the beach to watch the waves while drinking our coffee.
  • Lagerchinos – inexpensive drinks and pub food. Nice outdoor seating for a beer after a day on the waves
  • The Striped Horse – Bar with good live music
  • Rolling Wood Surf & Skate – This is a place that was introduced to us by another volunteer the first day. It is a little surf shop that sells really cool boards but also has coffee and some of the best carrot cake we’ve ever had – don’t miss it!
  • Blue Bird Garage & Food Market- we headed to this market with some of the other volunteers on the first day we arrived. It is full of people selling crafts and food/drink venders selling some amazing food! The market is open every Sunday.

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About 10-15 minutes from Muizenberg is Kalk Bay. This is a small beach town with more shops and restaurants- more of a vacation town feel than Muizenberg with a lot more shopping if that’s what your looking for. The streets are lined with small shops selling clothing, crafts, furniture and antiques.

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Places to Eat & Drink in Kalk Bay:

  • Olympia Cafe- great coffee and great food. We recommend trying the mussels. They were some of the largest mussels we have ever had!
  • The Brass Bell- this place has a wonderful beach view and a small walled off tidal “pool” area where you can swim in the ocean. This is surrounded by large boulders that you can walk out on when the tide is low. We ate here twice just for the view and the food was also great. On Wednesday nights this restaurant turns into a huge Karaoke bar. We did go to Karaoke night with the other volunteers one night at the Brass Bell (the IVHQ volunteers go every week). Be prepared for a crazy, college bar night experience if you go on Wednesday night.

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Links to our other South Africa posts:

-TFWY

IVHQ Surf Outreach: Volunteer Program in Muizenberg South Africa

We were first drawn to Cape Town because we had friends who were living there at the time and wanted to visit before they moved back to the U.S. After doing some research we found a surf outreach volunteer program in the Cape Town area through IVHQ.  As a volunteer your time is spent teaching and supervising kids as they are participating in an after school surf program. We decided to volunteer for a week and then give ourselves a few days after our volunteer program to visit our friends, explore more of Cape Town and to of course do some wine tasting.

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IVHQ/Dreams to Reality Surf Program

The surf program is based in Muizenberg which is about 20-30 minutes south of Cape Town. Muizenberg is a small beach town known for its surfing. The local organization in the Cape Town area is called Dreams to Reality. There are several volunteer programs offered in the Cape Town area; other programs included childcare, teaching, and sports development. We thought Dreams to Reality was a very well run organization that did a good job focusing on the relationships between the kids and volunteers. When we arrived we were picked up at the airport by another volunteer and taken to the house we would be staying at. There are several bedrooms in the volunteer house, each with 4-5 beds. We had people from several of the other volunteer programs in our house. There are several volunteer houses in Muizenberg, all within walking distance of each other so you get a chance to meet a lot of the other volunteers. The other volunteers are awesome. This program was a great way to meet a bunch of people from around the world some of whom we still stay in touch with.

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The first full day we were provided a walking tour of Muizenberg to help familiarize us with the area. We were also given a walking tour of Cape Town and offered several tours through a local tour company- CapeXtreme. We did not book any tours with them so cannot recommend or not recommend them. They did do a nice job of showing us around Cape Town for the afternoon. The tour was more of a brief overview of the city, nothing very in-depth.  We chose to stay after the tour was over and explore more on our own. You can read our Cape Town Essentials post for more details on what to do in the City.

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Before this trip Erika had never surfed and Ryan had done one lesson. You do not have to know how to surf to join this program but you do need to know how to swim. Both of us swam in college so we figured this program would be a good fit for us. The first day you are given a quick surfing lesson by the instructor and given time to work on your surfing. Each day consists of two sessions, one AM session where you get to surf with the other volunteers. The afternoon session is when the kids come and they get to surf. Most of the kids in the program while we were there were already very good at surfing. As a volunteer your job is to help the kids get their wet suits on and walk to the beach. Once everyone is at the beach your job is to help keep an eye on all the kids and help out wherever needed. That may mean you get to help push the kids into the bigger waves, help some of the younger kids learn to surf or just play in the water. After surfing everyone walks back to the surf shop and the kids get a meal. Some of the volunteers will be helping kids clean and hang up the wet suits, others will be serving up a simple meal. After the kids eat the volunteers clean up and the kids are picked up and brought home. The program is working to give kids from a local township a good activity to do after school, to learn social skills and responsibility. The leader of the Surf program did a really nice job of relating to the kids and served as a great role model for the program.

When the kids aren’t in school (during holiday break for example) the times the kids come in may change and on some days they may go to a local park and play basketball or play beach games pending weather conditions and the conditions of the waves.

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Check out the IVHQ website for the most up to date lists of programs they offer as they are always adding new opportunities. We would strongly recommend if you do a volunteer trip that you volunteer for more than one week. We are lucky that one week was the minimum requirement needed so that we could do this trip since our time off was limited but it is really difficult to really get to know the kids when you only volunteer for one week. The first day of the week you do spend all day in an orientation so you actually only get to volunteer 4 days if you are there for a week. At the bare minimum two weeks would be our recommendation so you can do orientation, get your bearings and also have some time to actually connect with the kids you are there to help.

Link to the IVHQ website: https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-south-africa/

Here is the link to our other South Africa posts

-TFWY

Tulum Ruins, Beach, and Snorkeling

We had heard about how cool Tulum was prior to the trip, but nothing really prepared us for the ancient ruins juxtaposed with the white sand beach and turquois water. We got off the colectivo from Playa del Carmen and went walked to the entrance. When you arrive at the entrance there will be lots of people trying to stop you and offer tours. You do not have to take a tour, you can pay the entrance fee and walk through the ruins on your own.  We ended up going with a company that offered a boat tour and snorkeling out on the reef for around $10 per person. We first walked through the park on our own to see all the ruins you can see from the land. As you walk through this part you get incredible views of the beach and the water. The ruins are all roped off so you can look and take pictures but you cannot climb on or touch them. We were there on a hot, sunny day and saw lots of Iguana’s laying on the ruins.

After our walk through the park we headed down to the beach. We found our tour guide and took a small boat out on the water. We were given a brief tour down the shore to see the ruins which face the water and are not visible from land. After that we were taken out to the reef for snorkeling. All necessary snorkeling equipment was included in our tour cost. We got to snorkel for about an hour. We saw lots of colorful fish, sea turtles and sting rays and got to swim along the reef. After we got back to the beach we decided to walk down the shore for a while. The beach at Tulum is one of the best beaches we have been too. The sand was basically powdered sugar, and the water was clear and turquoise. There are a few restaurants right on the beach so you can sit and enjoy a drink or some food which we would highly recommend. You will need to bring cash because none of them took a credit card while we were there and you need to make sure you have enough cash for the ride back. We regretfully didn’t go into the town of Tulum due to the timing of our trip, but we have talked about making a whole trip to Tulum one day in the future.

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Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan

Ek Balam and Cenote Maya through Alltournative Tours

We chose to do an all day excursion with the Alltournative Tours company. The Alltournative company gives a portion of the fees they charge back to the communities and local people in the area. They work to offer tours that promote cultural awareness and promote conservation efforts in the area. We chose a tour that spent part of the day swimming in a cenote followed by a lunch of traditional Mayan food. The second part of the day was spent exploring the Ek Balam ruins. The Cenote Maya is the largest cenote in the Yucatan. The area around the cenote is a garden area with traditional Mayan homes so that guests can see how the Mayans lived. We also got to see a traditional shaman ritual before entering the cenote.  You have two options for getting down to the cenote; you can rappel down or you can take a staircase. I am scared of hieghts so I opted for the stairs. Ryan rappelled down. Once your in the cenote you can swim, and zip line over the water. The water is fairly cold and also very clear. you can see some small fish swimming around. They will ask that you rinse off in a shower stall before entering the water and to not apply sunscreen before getting into the water in efforts to keep this water source clean.

After lunch we were off to Ek Balam. There are multiple old ruins at this site, which is less visited than other Mayan ruins. While you are visiting you can walk on and climb through all of the ruins. You are given a tour of the grounds with an explanation of what all the different buildings are. This tour is offered in English, we also had French speakers in our group so they split up from us and were given the tour in French. After the tour you have time on your own to walk through the ruins. There is also a small market in the parking lot near the entrance were local people are selling crafts and locally made liquors and other goods. We got to sample a local liquor called Xtabentún. This is made from anise seed and honey. It has a very distinct flavor, we enjoyed it and would recommend trying it while there since it isn’t something we have ever been able to find it in the U.S.  The people in the market are very nice and will offer to show you things and explain to you what they are but they will not haggle you or pressure you to buy.

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Here is the link to the tour we took with Alltournative Tours

https://alltournative.com/servicio/ekbalam-cenote-maya/

Link to the Playa del Carmen post

Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan