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New experiences add zest to Puerto Costa Maya

(Photos: Anne Kalosh)
In Callejón del Sapo - tacos al pastor, freshly baked pastries, chocolate-making, tequila tasting and more
Tequila tastings, an interactive and highly entertaining chocolate tour, a cocktail botica (pharmacy), little shops that make tacos al pastor, bake pastries and sell handicrafts—all are part of a colorful new village area inside Mexico's Puerto Costa Maya.

It's called Callejón del Sapo (Toad Alley). All the elements 'highlight our culture,' Costa Maya's Oscar Amable told Seatrade Cruise News.

Visitors can learn how tequila is made and taste different kinds, accompanied by lime, cinnamon-sprinkled orange slices or even toasted crickets. Chocolates are made on site using cacao from Tabasco state. Antique toys and dolls decorate a wall. Carts sell snacks and drinks.

'We try to create experiences that make good memories,' Amable said.

The brand-new tequila tour shows how the piñas are harvested from the blue agave plant, baked then mashed and the juice fermented then distilled into different types of tequila. The tour takes about half an hour including the tasting/pairing, and costs $10.

A tequilería currently serves 22 brands, and Amable said the plan is to expand the selection to about 50, with five to 10 artisanal choices among those. Shots are $4 to $10. If anyone wants to take home a really special bottle, the Don Julio Real, decorated with silver agave leaves and capped with a silver agave piña, costs $590.

All the 17 flavors—and counting—of chocolate at a shop called Kakaw are made on the premises from organically grown cacao. Visitors can take a cleverly staged and acted tour that begins with a shaman who tells how the Mayans revered cacao as the 'food of the gods,' and continues through its development with flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla before ending in the future with a zany scientist who proclaims: 'Let's make chocolate great again!'

White chocolate with tequila, dark chocolate with pink salt and milk chocolate with tortilla chips are among the flavors sold at Kakaw.

Costa Maya's new attractions go beyond Callejón del Sapo.

Visitors can get a close look at brilliantly colored tropical birds—blue and yellow macaws, golden pheasants, pale blue and yellow cotorras de kramer, jandaya parakeets and many more—in an extensive aviary suspended above the port and reached by a rope footbridge.

Near the beach, at a natural aquarium where seawater flows in and out, rays and multicolored fishes swim.

A Mayan Healing Spa offers a treatment that starts with a traditional cleansing ceremony then continues with a sauna, followed by a cooling rain forest shower. After a coconut milk soak in large alfresco tubs that look like coconut shells, patrons get a hammock massage.

At the neighboring VIP beach area, visitors can rent cabanas for a day of relaxation and pampering. The $500 fee for up to four people per cabana includes an open bar, ceviche, shrimp, grilled chicken and other dishes, chocolates from the Callejón del Sapo shop and discounts at Costa Maya activities.

The port's owners have 'a great vision and the most amazing part is they execute it themselves,' said Mark Tamis, svp hotel operations, Royal Caribbean International. He was among several company executives who experienced the port's Lost Mayan Kingdom Water Park when Empress of the Seas visited Friday as part of its inaugural Cuba cruise.

'One of the coolest parts is how many different things there are to do—zip lines, the zip coaster, lazy river, water slides and free fall,' Tamis said. He watched families having a great time, from children enjoying the water slides in the kiddie area to teens and their parents doing the more daring rides.

The park suits the 'adventure-seeking mindset' of Royal Caribbean passengers, Tamis said.

He called the continual refreshing of the offerings at Costa Maya 'awesome.'