From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

Planning a trip to Mexico? Wondering where to stay?

Readers often ask if the Palacio Réal, the hotel in Acapulco that Kurt Rucker manages in the Emilia Cruz mystery novels, is real. The answer is well, sort of.sunglasses isolated on white

The luxurious Palacio Réal  is a composite of my three favorite hotels in Mexico.  Yes, I have stayed at all three and combined the best of each into the hotel in the books. This way, I get to re-enjoy my visits to each place with authentic descriptions each time the action in the books shifts to the hotel.

If you are planning a trip to Mexico, these hotels are worth checking out!

Related: 3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Hacienda Los Laureles, Oaxaca

We stayed in this hotel several years ago when it was newly opened. It is an old Spanish hacienda two miles outside of Oaxaca proper, in a neighborhood called San Felipe del Aqua, that has been renovated with a sense of architectural history so none of the charm has been lost. The owners did everything they could to ensure we had a wonderful stay and fussed over our children with free desserts and appetizers. My daughter still recalls being called “la princesa” for a week.

After hard touristing at Monte Elban and other Oaxaca sites of wonder we’d spend late afternoons on the patio having bittersweet hot cocoa and soaking up the ambiance. We came loaded with restaurant recommendations for places in town but often ended up dining at the hotel. The food was amazing and the service warm and genuine.

Since that stay, the hotel has consolidated its reputation as the only 5-star AAA lodging in the Oaxaca area. It is a small gem off the beaten path.

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers, Mexico City

This hotel has so much to commend it. The first thing is a central location near the El Angel monument, the Colonia Cuauhtémoc business district, the US embassy, and the western edge of the Zona Rosa. The second is the shops on the ground floor including a good restaurant with reasonably priced food, a newsstand and souvenir shop, a clothing boutique, the first Starbucks in Mexico City, and a jewelry shop where I got a box covered in silver milagros charms. You can walk to a Sanborns department store for books and magazines. The hotel is a good base to explore the Zone Rosa district, including the Insurgentes market, across the wide Paseo de la Reforma (cross at the crosswalks only!!)

The third thing to commend this hotel is that the rooms are large, clean and everything you’d expect for an upscale hotel in a big city. The executive floors are worth the small extra amount, given that they come with butler service, a fantastic breakfast buffet in the executive lounge (you can watch the news in either English or Spanish depending where you sit) and an evening cocktail hour in the same place. You can get a reliable taxi out front. A much-vaunted St. Regis opened up a few blocks away but the Sheraton, in my view, is a much better location and value.

Related post: How to Find Love at Mexico City’s Markets

Camino Réal, Acapulco

If the fictional Palacio Réal reminds readers of any specific hotel, it is probably the Camino Réal. This luxe hotel is located on the eastern side of Acapulco bay, in an area called Puerto Marqués, not too far from the better-known Las Brisas resort. We stayed there twice, enjoying the secluded location, huge rooms, and terrific food. The hotel is a multi-level marvel built against the cliffside that its website describes as an architectural “cascade.” The way it is built allows for pools on multiple levels, excellent views, and a lot of quiet corners so it is easy to spend a lot of time there without running into many other guests.

Eating there is half the fun. Room service was wheeled in on a large round table draped with a floor-length tablecloth while the flagship restaurant cantilevered over the water made dinner a special occasion.

The out-of-the-way location keeps you out of the thick of the tourist activity in Acapulco, but the hotel has its own tour office and we were able to set up tours right there. Downtown Acapulco can feel similar to any busy beachfront town—albeit with better views—so staying at this hotel lets you have the experience that Acapulco was meant to be—a majestic sweep of ocean and the amenities to enjoy it.

Thinking of taking a break and heading someplace warm? My friend Dana at is extremely convincing with 8 Reasons Why Travelling is Good for You.  

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


favorite hotels in Mexico

A Nicaragua Christmas: The Treasures of Alter Eco

A Nicaragua Christmas: The Treasures of Alter Eco

Advertising in Managua, Nicaragua, can be hit-or-miss so I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find when I walked into Alter Eco, which bills itself as an alianza hecho a mano. This “alliance” is actually a cluster of artist shops and studios near the big art and antiques store Mama Delfina.

The displays and inventory would be at home in New York or London or Mexico City. Here are some of the treasures I discovered.

cotton clothing

This charming clothing and accessories boutique has a Laura-Ashley-meets-Chanel vibe. Simple cotton and linen pieces kept to a pink, rust, and gray palette.


Visitors to the boutique are immediately drawn in by the charming wall decor featuring trees, birds and 3-D blossoms

boutique ceiling

Silver “raindrops” fall from the tree branches and blossoms on the ceiling


Accessories included locally-sourced jewelry and lizard clutches and belts


The ceramics studio had a beautiful selection of Mexican talavera

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

The place to go for customized tequila shot glasses!

Talavera plaque reading “God Bless This Home.” My wish for you this holiday season.

A Nicaragua Christmas: Shopping at Mama Delfina’s

Managua, Nicaragua, is full of surprises including the beautiful art and antique store, Mama Delfina’s.  Housed in a large white Spanish colonial building with an open courtyard and beautiful old brickwork, the place is a treasure trove of handmade holiday gifts and decorations, carefully curated to offer a collection of best locally-produced items.

While the original Delfina, whose picture is above the cash register, looked on with stiff-necked amusement, the staff graciously let me roam around and take pictures. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did!

Mama Delfina entrance

An old picture of Delfina and a painting of the store hang above the antique blue counter

artwork at Mama Delfina

The store features beautiful displays of painted boxes, frames, wooden angels and handmade paper goods

Silver frames

Some of the frames are of intricately punched metal, a technique that in Mexico is called repujado

Christmas ornaments

All the Christmas ornaments at Mama Delfina’s are one-of-a-kind


Each painted box was a mini-masterpiece of abstract art. Loved the wonderful tablescapes throughout the store.


The store is arranged as a series of vignettes showcasing art and antiques.

textile bags on display

The store carries a line of bags made from a loomed woven fabric that was prohibited during the Samoza regime but is now being reproduced in Nicaragua

archways of art

A beautiful vignette of art, holiday items, and antiques

art on wall

The store chooses and displays art with a practiced eye

Crafting a Christmas at the Mercado

This is the year my Christmas won’t be Made in China. Instead of the usual commercial shiny things we all know and love, I’m aiming for a simpler reminder of what the holiday is all about. Decorations, cards, and gifts will reflect skill, art, and natural materials instead of glossy plastic and machined perfection.  My sources will be local craftsman, a few boutique stores, and several charities.

A stroll through the mercado de artesanias in Masaya, Nicaragua last weekend was the starting point.

typical market scene

Just a typical aisle in the market which is located in an old colonial building with plenty of light and a restaurant on one side.

woven textiles

Most of the textiles in the mercado are from Guatemala. We saw scarves, table runners, and placemats but only a few larger pieces.

The terracotta pots on top look like smiling faces. Or maybe the Kool-Aid jug guy.
I had a sizzling pollo a la plancha after a day of hard shopping and it was delicious. Washed it down with a local beer and was ready to spend a little more!
Pottery plate

This beautiful plate is typical of the colors and motifs found in Nicaraguan pottery.

If you are having Christmas in Mexico this year, check out my post on favorite markets in Mexico City and have a wonderful time!

Celebrate Greek Culture Now More Than Ever

Celebrate Greek Culture Now More Than Ever

Greece has overspent itself to the brink of destruction and angry citizens are showing their contempt for further austerity measures by firebombing downtown Athens.  Talk continues of defaults and the downfall of a country and the entire eurozone as well.

But even if the country’s national institutions wobble, Greek culture will survive the current unpleasantness in Athens. Here are some reasons why:

1.  The Mediterranean Diet   The heart-healthy Greek menu emphasizes fish, olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables and a splash of wine for good measure.  According to the Mayo Clinic “most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.” Read the full article about the benefits of eating Greek here.

2.  Kiosks   There’s a tiny outdoor convenience store every few blocks in Athens where you can buy snacks,  newspapers, bus tickets, an emergency bottle of olive oil, etc.  The kids can be sent down the street with a few euros to buy an ice cream bar and Dad can stop for a small bottle of whiskey to soothe a bad day at the office.  Friends can meet for a quick chat, read the headlines and get a sports drink when the heat roasts marble buildings to a sparkling white and all the fresh oranges and eggplants you bought at the neighborhood laiki open air market start getting heavy on the walk home.  Maybe now isn’t the time to open that designer dress shop in Kolonaki but the kiosks will still be a central part of life this time next year, too.

3.  The lemonade at the base of the Acropolis   You came to see the famous Parthenon, step in Socrates’s footsteps at the Pnyx, imagine the chariot races and salute Hadrian’s arch.  But how did democracy thrive in this heat! The antidote is the amazingly crisp, fresh lemonade sold at the ordinary-looking concession stand at the base of the Acropolis. Buy one–at whatever today’s cost–after your trek up to the Parthenon. And be careful on the way down. There aren’t safety rails and Greece probably doesn’t have the money to install them now.

4.  Storytellers  Writing and storytelling are quintessential aspects of Greek culture. This proud heritage is being carried on by the Aegean Arts Circle. Writer, sculptor and all-around Renaissance woman Amalia Melis runs the Circle which hosts an annual writer’s workshop series on the island of Andros.  Workshops are led by notable authors who help both experienced and novice writers polish fiction manuscripts. This summer’s workshop will be led by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler whose “. . . workshop will focus on the fundamentals of the creative process for any fiction writers, beginning or advanced, who aspire to create enduring literature.”

5.  The Greek alphabet   Fraternities, sororities, astronomers, interior designers, and the electronics industry (Coming Soon! The beta version!) are among the notables who all embrace the timeless quality of the Greek alphabet.

6.  This. Is. Sparta.  Okay, okay. Yes, it’s an internet meme and King Leonidas kept slipping in an accent that suggested he’d been thrown out of his fair share of pubs, but Hollywood loves Greek history. Think Troy.  Alexander the Great.  Beautiful scenery, low budget costumes and pre-written plots.  And then there is the fabulously genuine Nia Vardarlos who singlehandedly brought Greek traditions of family, food, and loud arguments to the silver screen.  And made us laugh.

7.  Ohi Day  There is a Greek resilience best illustrated by a unique holiday which celebrates the day in 1940 that Greek Prime Minister Metaxas refused to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified “strategic locations.” The ultimatum was delivered by the Italian ambassador on behalf of Germany and urban legend has it that Metaxas answered with just the word “ohi,” or “no” in Greek. The Axis forces invaded shortly thereafter. Forced to the brink of starvation, Greece barely survived the rest of World War II and its chaotic political aftermath, best captured in My Brother Michael by Leon Uris.

So tonight, I’m celebrating with My Life In Ruins, and some feta and olives. I’ll watch the news tomorrow.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


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