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Cacao, Mayan culture mingle in new Cozumel tour highlight

Trino Molina - 'Many people believe chocolate is Belgian. It originated here in Mexico.' He is pictured in the colorful shop of The Mayan Cacao Company (Photo: Anne Kalosh)
Cozumel is known for beaches, diving and water sports. Now chocolate makes the Caribbean's most visited cruise port richer. At The Mayan Cacao Company, opened this year at Playa Mia Grand Beach & Water Park, visitors get a full sensory experience—starting with the aroma of chocolate.

They can touch the cacao pods and seeds, see a live demonstration of how the ancient Mayans prepared unsweetened chocolate for their rituals and, best of all, taste—experimenting with flavoring their own hot chocolate using ingredients like honey, chile, cinnamon and vanilla.

'We wanted to explain the role of chocolate in Mayan culture. Many people believe chocolate is Belgian. It originated here in Mexico,' said Trino Molina, md of Aviomar Adventours, the owner of The Mayan Cacao Company and Playa Mia.

Chocolate was for priests, kings or warriors, he added. Not everybody got to enjoy it. 'Enjoy' may be the wrong word, though—the Mayans' version was unsweetened and quite different from what we know today.

Visitors to the Mayan Cacao Company also can explore an authentic Mayan house and garden and sample tortillas hot off the grill. A small outdoor bar sells drinks. No surprise, perhaps, that the most popular cocktail is a $5 chocolate Margarita.

A colorful shop, with paintings by Molina's wife Natalia, an artist, offers a wide selection of chocolate-related treats, and bars in flavors like cacao nibs & chipotle chile. One kind even has crispy bits of tortilla chips.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is adding The Mayan Cacao Company for the upcoming season after Penny Zeilmann, account manager, Global Tour Operations, visited in connection with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Conference and Trade Show this month.

'Everyone loves chocolate,' Zeilmann said.

'The thing many guests are amazed with is the unique blends of spices, peppers and flavors that you would never think of putting together with chocolate,' she added. When they sample what they've concocted, 'their faces show satisfaction and enjoyment.'