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Mexico (Yucatan) Trip Report

Part 1: Tulum

We decided to stay on the continent this year, because of a serious illness in the family. So, we chose Mexico, in particular the Yucatan area.

We flew to Cancun on a Saturday morning in early February. After landing at the airport, we went outside to look for the shuttle we had reserved to get to our accommodation in Tankah, near Tulum. We had chosen Cancun Airport Transportation because of good reviews and good pricing compared to some of the options. However, there didn't seem to be any point in making a reservation in advance with this company. When we arrived at the airport, we followed the instructions which directed us to an area that had a crowd of people, taxi drivers, and shuttle company representatives milling about. We had a hard time finding this company's rep (who was not holding up the company sign, contrary to our instructions), and someone from another company helped us find her. Then, we had to wait while she went and located a driver for us. This was the same thing that seemed to be happening with most of the shuttle companies, whether the passengers had reserved or not. We had booked two bottles of water, and our driver stopped at a store by the highway to buy them for us, instead of having them waiting for us. Well, we could have gone into a store at the airport and bought our own, in that case. 

That said, for about $60 US less than the price our hotel quoted us for a private shuttle, I guess it was worth the savings. Also, the ride was good with no issues, and the driver was friendly and nice.

We arrived at our accommodation, Casa Altamar, at about 4:30 pm. The concierge, Arturo, greeted us and welcomed us by serving us drinks on the patio. We also ordered a snack, because we were starving. We hadn’t eaten all day. We’d planned to have breakfast at Calgary Airport, but every option had a huge lineup. Westjet didn’t have any real food on the plane (for a 5 1/2 hour flight!), just a few junky snack options, and I prefer not to remove my mask on the plane, anyhow. My drink was wonderful. It was a non-alcoholic juice drink with a smoking bit of palm leaf in it. We also had nachos with guacamole, and the guac was to die for. Guacamole in the Yucatan has completely spoiled me for the dreck we get at home. We also admired the lovely view and felt like we’d made an excellent choice of hotel.

Casa Altamar has only 11 rooms, so the service is very personal and attentive, and the hotel and beach are quiet. That was our main reason for choosing it, as many of the hotels on the other side of Tulum had reviews that mentioned music blasting, both on the beach and into the night. At Casa Altamar, they play music, but not loudly, and the restaurant/bar closes at 10.

 Once we got settled in our room, we went back upstairs for dinner. I had a brisket dish and dh had pasta with calamari. We shared churros with ice cream for dessert. After supper we went to the room, settled in, and went to bed early.


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Sunday: Beach Day

We slept until 8:30 am and got ready for breakfast. The room rate includes a continental breakfast, and there are other breakfast options available to order for an additional cost, if desired. However, the continental breakfast was plentiful and good, with several types of fruit, toast, and banana bread. 

After breakfast we went to the beach and stayed there for 6 1/2 hours (under umbrellas!). We saw a ray leap out of the water near the neighbouring wharf, and we watched gulls and pelicans diving for fish, frigate birds flying overhead, and sandpipers, flycatchers, and orioles feeding on the shore and dock. Around noon we tested out our snorkelling gear. The beach is rocky there, but guests can get into the water from the end of the pier. The area is sheltered from larger waves, and it is fairly shallow. The fish aren’t particularly plentiful, but some can be seen in pockets where there is a protective shelf or small overhang. We spent the remaining time listening to audio books, testing the grilled fish appetizer that one of the servers offered us, and having ice water and lunch served to us right on the beach.

Finally, in the late afternoon, we went to our room to assess the impact of the sun and shower off the sand and sun screen. We then went upstairs for dinner, which was once again delicious. The food was consistently good at Casa Altamar. 

We had a 6:40 a.m. pick up booked for the next morning for our tour of Sian Ka’an. This was before breakfast, but the hotel left us a cooler with food for breakfast and cold drinks for the morning.

Monday: Sian Ka'an

Monday morning, we ate our breakfast from the cooler and went out to the back of the hotel where the road is. Our guide and driver from Sian Ka’an Community Tours were already there, along with one other tourist, a fellow from Berlin. Our driver and guide introduced themselves as George and Mano (Manuel).

We went into Tulum Pueblo to pick a fourth from the hostel, but he was nowhere to be found. The hostel said he hadn’t been there the night before, so they reported him missing. We never did find out what happened, but apparently this isn’t uncommon with some of the younger tourists who are there mainly to party. 

After a quick stop at the office, we drove about 15 minutes to the biosphere. There was a breakfast buffet prepared for us by a couple of local women. It included coffee, eggs and ham, warm tortillas, a traditional pumpkin seed mixture, and mixed vegetables. So, like hobbits, we enjoyed second breakfast.

Another, larger group arrived, and people were sorted out according to the experiences they had booked. It turned out that dh and I were the only ones who had booked the “Muyil Jungle and Float” experience, so we ended up having a private tour with Mano.

We started by going to a small Mayan temple, where Mano explained the basic structural components and the historical guesswork about them and how they were reconstructed. We then took a pathway that went through an area that was a collapsed limestone cave. As we were arriving at the second Mayan structure, a howler monkey started vocalizing, perhaps in response to the leaf blower a worker was using to keep the pathway clear. We headed to the tree where the howlers were. There were two of them, high in the canopy. This was a thrill. We had seen howlers once before, in Costa Rica, but from a far greater distance. Then we went back to the second temple where Mano explained the base-20 math system the Mayans had used, drawing diagrams with a stick in the dirt. Then we walked past a quarry and a limestone cave, spotting a lovely Mot Mot Bird along the way to the next Mayan structure, a uniformly constructed multilevel platform that is thought to have served as a landmark on one end of a road. Throughout most of this time, we had the jungle and the ruins to ourselves.


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We then entered the wetland area where we walked along a boardwalk. The wetland was populated by a variety of trees and birds, including the Mayan “tree of life” with its spikes on the trunk, and a Yucatan Jay, which has a blue body, a black head, and a yellow bill. We arrived at the observation tower, a somewhat rickety-looking structure made of lumber and sporting a sign saying "4 people maximum.” I climbed to the top with Mano to see the view of the canopy and the lake, but DH waited at the bottom, because he doesn’t like heights. At the end of the boardwalk, we arrived at the lake. As we exited the treed area, George, who was waiting for us with snacks, pointed out a coatimundi (and a cat) in the edge of the forest. The coatimundi was very cute and seemed quite tame. I think people have been feeding it, because it approached us and looked at us with pleading eyes, but I definitely do not feed animals in national parks or other protected areas. We then got into a boat and learned that our Captain’s name was Nemo (true story grin).

We crossed the lake, which is very shallow, going closer to the shore at certain points to look at birds. Captain Nemo was careful to avoid areas where he knew the lake bottom was very fragile. We then entered a Mayan canal where we saw an egret and many fish in the water that one normally associates with aquariums in our neck of the woods. We visited another small temple and then got into the water to float down the canal. We sat in our life jackets and the current carried us along. Fun! Mano showed us some “living rocks” that contained cyanobacteria. Afterward, we followed another boardwalk back to the the boat, and then Captain Nemo took us back to the dock. George then drove us back to the dining pavilion where we’d had breakfast, and we had a wonderful lunch prepared by the same local women. This was one of the best meals we had on our trip. 

 After we were dropped off at our hotel, I had a nap, and dh went upstairs to the balcony to write trip notes and have a beer. Afterward, we had another lovely dinner.

Tuesday: Tulum Ruins

After breakfast we had a taxi called to take us to Tulum Ruins. The taxi ride cost 400 pesos and took about 10 min from the hotel. It was a very hot day, and it's a long walk from the information counter to the ticket booth and entrance. Tulum was stunning but very busy since we didn’t arrive until mid-morning. We spent about an hour and a half at the ruins and returned to the hotel by taxi at noon. We spent the afternoon sitting in the shade by the pool and dipping into the water once in a while, because it was windy and there was a lot of sargasso at the beach. We had lunch by the pool and stayed there until late afternoon.

Wednesday: Last day in Tulum

We had planned to spend it at the beach, maybe snorkelling again and taking out the kayaks that the hotel had available to borrow. However, it was really windy again, and, again there was a lot of sargasso. We asked one of the staff about cenotes nearby, and we found out that Casa Cenote was just a few minutes walk down the road. We paid for the snorkelling tour there, but it really wasn’t a “tour,” per se, and definitely wasn’t worth the money. Our guide led us at a fast pace to the area at the end where the crocodile, Panchito, hangs out in the mangrove. He then led us at an even faster pace back to the starting area, and at some point, he disappeared. We were looking around for him and realized he must have gone back inside the hut. We decided to continue snorkelling some more on our own, and we retraced our route at a more leisurely pace. When we got to Panchito’s cove, there was nobody else there this time, which made me a little nervous, especially when I saw bubbles rising through the water from below us. However, it was only a couple of scuba divers, and Panchito was still keeping a low profile in his mangrove lair.


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We walked back to the hotel for lunch and spent the rest of the day by the pool again. After dinner, we packed up to be ready to leave the next morning.

On Thursday, we checked out after breakfast and took a taxi to the ADO terminal where we caught the 10:50 bus to Merida.

Tulum and area photos:

Next up, Merida and Cenotes!

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Sounds great. It's hard to beat Mexican food, almost universally tasty. I would never have been able to climb that tower. I have seen a wild coati(mundi) in SE Arizona. Looking forward to the more cultural part of the trip.

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7014 posts

Great trip report! Look forward to reading more. I saw so many coatis in Argentina by Iguazu Falls; unfortunately, people feed them everywhere so they come up to everyone for food.

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Following along. Thanks for sharing pics...that video of the monkey sounds terrifying!

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It's more of a roar than a howl, isn't it?

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It brought my husband into the room the ask what I was watching! 😄

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7676 posts

We've been to Mexico so many times that we've lost count. I love to go to Cozumel and make a round of the island stopping at every Tiki bar to get another margarita. I spent a lot of time there scuba diving--something I've not doing in my retirement.

The Yucatan has some really fine large all inclusive resorts. Sounds as if a place like you were staying at would be much more peaceful. There's just so much mariachi music I can stand and then they get to be a nuisance.

We're usually self guided travelers, and rent cars. But the Yucatan and much of Mexico today is best traveled with groups and buses. Even the city of Cancun is getting rough with thugs and guns.

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Thursday: Merida 

The ADO bus from Tulum to Merida had movies playing-in Spanish, of course. The last one was Aquaman. I hadn’t seen it, but it was easy enough to follow the simple plot, and Jason Momoa is pretty easy on the eyes, so the time passed quickly. We arrived in Merida at 3 p.m., Merida time, which is an hour earlier than Tulum time. 

We walked to our hotel, getting a little lost in the process, because DH had forgotten to switch the map directions from driving to walking, so we went up and down a few one-way streets unnecessarily. Our hotel was Casa Tavera, and it’s in a perfect location, right in between the Parque de Santa Lucia, a charming square surrounded by shops and restaurants, and the south end of Paseo Montejo, a lovely tree-lined boulevard with many beautiful mansions along it. 

This hotel has only 7 rooms, and we had the largest and most beautiful of them, the Kinich (sunrise) Suite. After settling in, we went out to find a bank- to withdraw cash for our upcoming tours, and then stopped at La Recova -- a restaurant on the Parque de Santa Lucia, for dinner, which was very good. We then returned to our room and had a jacuzzi in the huge tub in our bathroom.

: Cenotes

Casa Tavera doesn’t have a restaurant, but it does have a kitchen and an included breakfast. We had breakfast at 8 a.m. and then went out front at 9 to meet our guide for our “Cenote Extravaganza” tour with Lawson’s Yucatan Excursions, which had been recommended to me by another poster on these forums. 

In case you aren’t familiar with cenotes, these are essentially large sinkholes that were created when the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs hit the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula. Some are underground caves, some have partially collapsed roofs, and some are fully open. Rainwater enters these cenotes forming pools at their bottoms. Even the more enclosed ones get rainwater through the porous limestone that makes up much of the peninsula. Since this concentration of cenotes is unique to the area, we wanted to make a point of visiting some.

 Our guide, Daniel, was waiting, and we were soon travelling through and out of Merida to the area around the town of Homun, about 40 km outside of Merida.

Our first stop was Acanceh, where there is a Mayan Temple adjacent to a church. There is a story that the town was founded where a stag was shot with a arrow, and there is a statue representing this in the town square. There were many home made cabs built from motorcycles and carts in this town and the other towns we saw in the area. We went into the church, and Daniel told us about the figure of a man inside what looked like a glass coffin. This figure is an effigy, representing people who are ill, and sometimes he is carried around when ceremonies are performed to pray for the sick. 

Next to the church was a small, local flower and vegetable market. First, we walked through the covered area which had meat hanging around the booths. Daniel told us that people in the more rural areas don’t trust meat when it is packaged and wrapped in plastic. Behind the covered area were tables where people sold flowers and vegetables from their gardens.

We got back into the car and drove to another town, Eknakan. There is a picturesque church and, next to it, a gated hacienda undergoing a complete restoration. Daniel explained about the industry that once made sisal ropes and twines from the agave plantations and how the market had collapsed with the introduction of plastics in the 1930s. The haciendas in the area had once belonged to the owners or overseers of these plantations.

We also stopped at a graveyard to see how the graves are in little above-ground "houses," because of the difficulty of digging in the limestone.

To be continued...

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As we drove through the towns, Daniel explained that most people sleep in hammocks here. Because there usually is no air-conditioning and not a lot of space, hammocks are the most practical, cool, and affordable sleeping option. I could see that most of the houses had electricity, but I wondered if they also had indoor plumbing. Daniel said that they did.

We drove through Homun and down a gravel road and onto a private property. Daniel showed us the large “Alamo” tree that is an indicator of the water below. All the cenotes we visited had a main tree at the opening with a staircase built around it but Daniel told of some that instead have ladders built into the walls of caverns.

This first cenote, Maya Chen Yuc, was in a winding cavern and had a few fairly shallow pools of water (i.e. we could stand on the bottom in spots). After we had a dip, Daniel led us through to a little area higher up to show us what the limestone caves look like under water. 

A Surprise in a Cenote

After we exited the cenote, we wrapped up in the towels Daniel had provided for us and drove on to the next stop, Cenote Yaxbacaltun. This one was a little more developed with change rooms, a rest area with hammocks, and a caged crocodile with some tortugas. It had a fairly large opening and a rope people could use to swing into the water. As DH and I entered the water, we could see little fish, tetras, swimming around us. There were others that looked something like small catfish. Like the first cenote, we had this one to ourselves. We swam around for a while, looking at the formations on the cave walls and the swallows darting about. I hung onto the rope for a photo and took some pictures with my waterproof camera. DH got out of the water, and, as I swam over to the platform, Daniel motioned for me to come out of the water and reached to help me get out more quickly. I thought he was just in a hurry to move on to our next stop, but after I was out of the water, Daniel pointed out a snake that was hanging onto the rope that I had been hanging onto a few minutes earlier. I asked Daniel if he had hurried me out of the water because it was a venomous snake, and he said it was a boa, but he was worried that I might panic in the water. I thought it was cool, so I got back into the water to get some closer photos. When I was as closer to the snake, I turned to Daniel and saw that he was videoing me, so I said, “Say hello to my little friend,” which Daniel found really funny. Apparently, this was the first time Daniel had encountered a snake in a cenote. He shared the video with the owner, Ralf, who told me that this was only the second time in 30 years he’d heard of such a thing.

We then went to a third cenote, Balmil, and this one was even more developed. An area near the entry had large posters of Mayan and Spanish vocabulary for animals and human body parts. The cavern was the size of a large auditorium with the tree roots extending far downward and there were large stalactites. There was a group of eight or so other people who were there swimming and playing and jumping from the rope.

The fourth cenote was just a few minutes away. This one, Canunchen, had a number of people in it, and the area was developed for picnics and had snacks for sale. The staircase down had a number of platforms for diving and ropes for swinging. This was the largest cenote we visited that day, and there were two openings in the “roof.”

To be continued...

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We then drove back through Homun and picked up the tamales Daniel had ordered from a small, local business before continuing to the last cenote, which Daniel called “the dessert.” I’m not sure of the actual name of this cenote. I didn’t see a sign, and I forgot to ask. A narrow, dirt road led to this cenote, and there were goats in the bushes as we approached. The entrance to the cave was under a large, flat overhang and we had to duck to get to the stairs that took us into the cavern. This cenote was small but it had many stalactites and stalagmites in it. We had this cenote to ourselves, and it was dimly lit, with a cathedral-like atmosphere. 
 When we were finished swimming, we came out to find that Daniel had the Tamales de Pollo and Coke ready for us. Two cute puppies frolicked around us and begged for food.

We returned to the hotel around 4pm, showered, and went for a walk along part of Paseo Montejo, looking for a place to eat dinner. We settled on Luna sul Mare, an Italian restaurant with a nice patio. The food was great, and we enjoyed sneaking a few bites to the skinny little cat who came mewing at us.

Saturday: More Merida

Saturday dawned cloudy and cool-ish and threatening rain. In fact, our cenote tour had originally been booked for this day, but when I’d seen the forecast a few days earlier, I’d requested to change it to Friday, which was predicted to be hot and sunny, and, fortunately, the company was able to accommodate my request. We thought the cooler day was perfect for exploring a little bit of Merida, which can be oppressively hot, since it’s inland.

Breakfast was Mole Pollo, and we ate in our room because of the light rain. Just as we were finishing breakfast, it started to rain very hard, delaying our start. 

Once the rain slowed, we walked to the Cathedral de San Ildefonso, hoping to visit, even though we knew we’d likely be too late, as cathedrals in that area are open to the public only until 11 a.m. This cathedral is built on the site of Mayan ruins and some of the stones from the ruins were used in its construction. Indeed, we were too late, but we were near the Pasaje a la Revolución (glassed in passageway with art installations) and Plaza Grande, so we explored those and took some photos before walking around to look at some of the architecture in the area.

We then decided to return to Paseo Montejo and walk its length. On the way, I saw a little bazaar featuring local vendors in the entrance to a courtyard. I bought a hat, and the hostess for the restaurant, Crush, within the courtyard told us that a drag show would be happening there that evening. 

We continued on to Paseo Montejo, stopping at a park to sit in one of the “conversation chairs” (aka “you and me chairs” (“tu y yo” in Spanish) or “confidence chairs”) that are common in the parks and squares in Merida’s centro historico. These are white, concrete chairs with an S shape. The seats are built into the two loops of the S, so that two people can sit facing one another. The legend behind these chairs says that a father designed them so his daughter and her beau could talk to one another without their bodies touching. 

The historical buildings along the paseo are beautiful, and tourists ride along it in horse-drawn carriages. Some of the buildings house museums. We weren’t in a museum mood that day, so we didn’t go in, although we did pop into one of the museum shops to buy a “you and me” chair souvenir to use as a Christmas tree ornament. Most of the restaurants along this boulevard weren’t open for lunch, so we ended up eating on the patio of a Chili’s restaurant at a shopping centre a couple of blocks off the boulevard. Our feet were sore by then, so we walked back down Paseo Montejo and went back to our hotel for a rest.

To be continued...

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That evening, we returned to the Crush restaurant for dinner and the drag show. The food was vegan and good. I had chips and guacamole and potato wedges, with a snickers faux ice cream treat for dessert. DH had a faux hamburger with potato wedges and a Tecate (local beer). I particularly liked my root beer, which arrived in two parts— the syrup in a glass, and a bottle of sparkling water to mix in. It was the most delicious root beer I’ve ever had.

When the three performers came out, they said that this was their debut. They were Kikky Bomba, Dyonis Bomba, and Amber is Love. The show was a lot of fun, even though most of it was in Spanish. We left after the first set, however, since we had a big day coming up, and we needed to pack up. So, we went back to the hotel and got ready for checking out and doing tours the next day, but we did fit in another jacuzzi.

We could have used another couple of days in Merida: one to visit some museums and cathedrals, and another to go to the Uxmal Ruins about 80 km away. Given that this trip wasn’t planned very far in advance, though, I think we did pretty well, and we certainly enjoyed our brief glimpse of Merida. 


Next up: Ek Balaam, Valladolid, and Another Cenote

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Sunday: Ek Balaam, Cenote X'Canche, and Valladolid

We had Tortillas Cochinita for breakfast before we checked out of Casa Tavera, and then Daniel picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for our tour and transfer. 

First, we drove to Ek Balam, the ruins of what had once been a capital city of the Mayas. Ek Balam is one of the only ruins where the Mayan name is still known, and it means “Black Jaguar.” It has not yet been completely excavated, and one can see mounds that hide other ruins. The actual size was probably about 12 times what has been excavated. 

Ek Balam is one of the few ruins where people are still allowed to climb the pyramids, and so we did so. The steps are steep, especially on the main pyramid. The main, “El Torre,” pyramid has some wonderful carvings and frescoes, including giant jaguar teeth. It is thought to contain the tomb of a former ruler.

There is also a Mayan ball court, and Daniel told us that this field was actually used, whereas the larger one at Chechen Itza was likely built as a ceremonial/ornamental homage to the games. 

We were hot and sweaty after our climbs at Ek Balam, and Daniel took us to the nearby X’canche Cenote. This is an “open” cenote (no “roof”) and it is quite developed, with zip lines over it and a manmade waterfall cascading into it. It was beautiful but busier than the other cenotes we’d visited previously, and the Disney-ish atmosphere made it less appealing, to me. I appreciated the cool down, though.

We then drove to Temozon, a town famous for its smoked meat. We had delicious smoked pork sandwiches, chips, and guacamole for lunch in a little roadside restaurant.

After lunch, we drove on to Valladolid where we first stopped at Casa del Los Venados, a private home-come-museum which houses an amazing folk art collection. There, Daniel had arranged a tour for us with one of the in-house guides. The tour was a little bit rushed, but we enjoyed seeing the amazing paintings, sculptures, and other objets d’art, as well as the unique architecture of this home. Afterward, Daniel took us to the main plaza. We saw the outside of the cathedral, Templo de San Servacio, that was built on a temple in 1545 and reconstructed after the Mayan resistance in 1700. Daniel explained that the Mayan temple was destroyed and used to build the original church—a common story in the Americas. We walked through the main square, enjoying the fountain and the “you and me” chairs before picking up the car and driving to see a former convent, San Bernardino de Siena, where we went inside the church. It was original from 1552, except for the floors. 

Daniel then drove us to our hotel in Piste, near Chichen Itza. This was the Hotel Puerto Chichen. It was essentially like a motor inn, two stories high with the rooms accessed from an outdoor “hallway.” Our room faced the back gardens, which is what I requested, because the hotel is on the highway, which can be noisy. We walked around the gardens, which contained some fake ruins near the pool, such as a stone turtle, a miniature mayan pyramid, and a strange wall of skulls.

This hotel was only a couple of kilometres from the Chichen Itza turnoff, and there was a pathway along the highway, so we knew we’d made a good choice for going to the ruins early the next morning.


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Note: I’d originally booked at Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows, which is outside the back entrance to Chichen Itza, with a view of the observatory. However, once I learned that the back entrance had been closed since the start of the pandemic, I started trying to find out if the hotel had a shuttle to the front entrance, which would be quite a long walk from the hotel. In searching for information about this, I discovered that was no longer taking bookings for that hotel (even though I had recently booked through them (lucky, because I normally book directly with hotels)), and I found reviews where guests described being forced out of the hotel at gunpoint!!! Yikes! Anyway, I was able to cancel the hotel (but question why had not informed me of the situation and cancelled my booking anyway). Daniel confirmed to us that the situation described in the reviews had happened. Apparently it had to do with some kind of dispute between the partners who owned it.

Anyway, we were happy and comfortable in Hotel Puerto Chichen, which was also very reasonably priced.


Next up: Chichen Itza.

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Monday: Chichen Itza

We arose at 6:30 so that we could have breakfast right at 7 a.m. when the restaurant opened. After breakfast, we walked to Chichen Itzá. There was a well-worn path beside the road, so this wasn’t difficult. When we arrived, at about 8:10, we had to wait in line for tickets. I had read that there were two lines, because two tickets are required (which is true), so my husband got into one of the lines we saw, and I got into the other. My line ended up moving more quickly, and the people behind me were wondering, as I was, whether the other line was for the other tickets, or whether we’d have to go to two different booths on the side where we were lining up. It turned out that we could get both tickets at the same booth, as long as we were paying cash. If we wanted to pay by credit card, there was a separate location to buy the second ticket. I paid by cash, and we ended up entering the ruins at around 830 a.m. Vendors were just arriving and setting up their stalls inside as we arrived, and this continued as we toured. 

There weren’t too many people around the Temple of Kulkulcan (the iconic, big pyramid) yet, so we headed there first and had a look and took some photos. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about clapping to hear the sound of “bird wings” echoing back, so we didn’t try this. We headed on to the Temple de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors). Dozens and dozens of pillars line the side of this temple. We took the path through these to the back. The carvings and sculptures were fascinating. 

We continued on to some smaller structures before heading back out to the central area and noticing that the moon was in the daytime sky above the pyramid. We snapped some photos of that and then explored the other side, including the Temple of Venus, the Sacred Cenote, and the Ball Court. It’s a bit of a trek to the cenote, along a gauntlet of vendors, and the sight at the end is of a cenote that is clogged with algae, making it almost indistinguishable from the surrounding greenery. Apparently, though, there have been some interesting finds in this cenote, include jewellery and human bones.

We then headed toward the ball court. On the way, we stopped at the Tzompantli or Skull Platform. This is thought to have be a place where the skulls of sacrifices or enemies were displayed, and skulls are carved all over the sides of it, too. This was, to me, one of the most fascinating sights at Chichen Itza, in part because some of the colour still remains; some of the carved skulls are red.

The ball court is huge. Daniel had told us at Ek Balam that the ball court at Chichen Itza wasn’t used for playing, but was ceremonial. This makes sense, because the court is so huge, and the stone rings are so high up, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could possibly bump the balls through them.

After we left the ball court area, we were thinking we had seen everything, and it was time to leave. However, I suddenly realized that we hadn’t seen the observatory. So, we found it on the map and headed in that direction.

I’m glad we didn’t miss this area. One of my favourite sights at Chichen Itza ended up being the Ossuary or High Priest’s Temple near the Observatory. It’s a pyramid that is, apparently, built over a deep cave. Its staircases on each side are lined with stone snakes, as is the main doorway. It is positioned in such a way that, when the sun hits at a certain angle during the year, that denotes the start of the rainy season. It’s a fascinating structure.

In this area are, of course, the Observatory with its partially crumbled dome, and other structures that are being painstakingly uncovered by archeologists. We saw some of them working with tweezer-like implements to carefully remove debris.


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After exploring this section, we headed to the exit, noting how many people were pouring in at this time. It is definitely worth getting to Chichen Itza early. It’s very popular, and with good reason.

We were hot and sweaty after this, and after walking back to the hotel, so we quickly showered, changed into our swimsuits, and went for a quick dip in the refreshing pool. Then we changed into fresh clothes, checked out, and went to the hotel restaurant for their excellent and reasonable buffet lunch.

I had booked a transfer to the Ultramar ferry terminal in Cancun through My Day Trip, a company that I have used before, in Italy. After lunch, we went to the lobby to wait for our 1:15 pm pickup.

About 1:20, the driver called, asking where we were. I tried to tell him we were in the lobby, but he said he couldn’t see us. He said something else, too, but I could barely hear him, because of the road noise, and because my phone volume was set too low. He hung up, and I went inside and called him back. It turned out he was waiting for us at the entrance to Chichen Itza, instead of at the Hotel Puerto Chichen. We got the mixup straightened out, and he showed up at the hotel shortly afterward. He said he was given the wrong information. I’m not sure why. I had given the address of the hotel when I booked the trip.

The driver took the old highway to Cancun. He said it was because of the construction on the newer highway and the risk of getting rocks to the windshield. However, we had been on the new highway a couple of times before, with Daniel, without a problem, even though it’s true that there is some construction. We figure that he wanted to save the toll. Driving on the old highway meant we went through a lot of towns with many, many speed bumps.

Finally we arrived at the dock, shaken but not stirred, and we got on the 5:30 pm ferry to Isla Mujeres. I had purchased round-trip ferry tickets in advance, and we had the codes on our phones, so this was an easy process, and the ferry to the island wasn’t busy at that time of day, since most people go there for day trips.


Next up: Isla Mujeres

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Last but not Least: Isla Mujeres

We took a taxi from the ferry dock to our accommodation, since we were staying on the other end of the island. The trip didn’t take long, since Isla Mujeres is only about 7 km (just over 4 miles) long and 650 m (about a 1/3 mile) wide. It is not far off the coast, and, from there, one can watch the sunset over Cancun.

We arrived at La Casa de Jardin after a bit of a wrong turn. La Casa de Jardin is a small and relatively new place located on a quiet lane, so the driver wasn’t familiar with it.

Marcella, the concierge, and Susan, one of the owners, were waiting for us outside the gate. Marcella showed us our suite, which was fantastic. We had the Jardin Suite, on the main floor, right beside the largest and warmest of the three pools. It had a kitchenette, sofa, dining table, a separate, large bedroom with a king-sized bed, and 1 1/2 bathrooms. Marcella had stocked the place with a few grocery items that we had ordered, as well as a complimentary treat basket and coffee. This coffee was specially blended by the other owner, Shelly, who is a chef, and it was delicious.

Marcella then showed us around the rest of the B&B, which consists of 6 suites, a dining area for the included breakfast, and 3 pools—the one outside our suite on the main floor, and two smaller, unheated pools on decks on the third and fourth levels. The deck on the top level also has hammocks and swings, and the owners are planning to have happy hours up there eventually. 

From the top deck, we could see both the east and west coasts of the island, each of which were only about 2 blocks away. Gorgeous views!


Tuesday morning, we went out at 9 am for a fantastic breakfast of eggs, bacon, waffles, fruit, juice, and coffee.

Marcella had booked a taxi to collect us and take us to our golf cart rental. We found a parking spot by the main city beach (Playa Norte) and tried to lock up the cart. Both of us tried and tried, and we couldn’t get the key to work. I didn’t want to give up our parking spot, as they were filling up fast, so we walked back to the rental shop and asked them to show us what to do. The clerk pointed to the key we were supposed to use, and boy, did we ever feel stupid. We had both been trying the wrong key. We both assumed that the large key was for the cart and the small key was for the bicycle-style lock, but we were wrong. I HAD tried the larger key at one point, but when it hadn’t gone in easily, I didn’t keep trying, thinking it couldn’t have been the correct key. Anyway, we laughed sheepishly and told the clerk she’d have a “stupid tourist” story to tell.

We locked up the cart and walked around the area. We looked at Playa Norte and decided it didn’t really interest us. It’s said to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, and the water is shallow for a long way, but its reputation has made it really, really busy. There were loungers with beach umbrellas dotted all over the place. 

We walked over to the east side, admiring the rugged coast and the rough surf, and looking at iguanas and street art. We visited a church that had a large statue of Mary on the roof. It was the Iglesia de Concepcion Immaculada. The murals inside were interesting, although they depicted missionaries converting Indigenous people. There was a cute cherub sculpture outside with words in Spanish that said, “En el Silence habla Dios,” a sentiment I like, as someone who enjoys quiet. Across the plaza from the church was a Super Aki grocery store, so we went inside and picked up a few things. 

Heading back to the cart, we noted that the area of town near the ferry dock and the beach consisted mainly of souvenir shops and restaurants—sort of like what one finds around where cruise ships dock. There were a lot of day-trippers arriving, too.


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When we returned to our cart, we found that someone had lifted the front seat off. I don’t know if they had been trying to steal the cart or if they thought we might have hidden valuables under the seat. 

We drove back to our Casa along Avenida Rueda Medina. I had been looking forward to driving around the island in a golf cart, but I found I didn’t like it. There was more traffic than I had expected, and there was no place to hang on in the cart when we went over the many, many speed bumps. Also, every time a motorbike went by, I got a lungful of diesel fumes. We had rented the cart for three days. In retrospect, I wouldn’t do this. One day, to be able to stop at points around the island, would have been plenty, and it would have been far, far cheaper to take taxis back and forth the few times we needed to go to the north end.

Back at our suite, we had chips, salsa, and bananas for lunch. Later, we went first to the pool outside our suite and then up to the rooftop to relax. I lay in one of the hammocks, listening to an audio book and admiring the views.

It was Valentine’s Day, and I had thought about going out for dinner, but neither of us felt like doing that, so DH cooked a dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and canned meat. We laughed at our simple meal and joked that we were starting a new “spamghetti” Valentine’s tradition.


We were supposed to have a snorkelling tour of the underwater sculpture museum and the Manchones reef, so, after breakfast, we set out to the north end on the golf cart to meet our tour at Señor Frog at 10:30. However, when we met with Captain Lalo, he told us it was too windy for the museum that day and gave us the option to switch to another day, so we changed our reservation to Friday.

We drove South along Payo Obispo on the eastern, open Caribbean side of the island. This was a nicer drive, and we went through a really cute neighbourhood with all kinds of kitchy sculptures (donkeys and carts and little animals) on the boulevard. We learned later from Marcella that this is the neighbourhood where she lives.

We continued on to Punta Sur and paid admission to the park there. There is a walkway that goes by sculptures depicting ancient Mayan life, as well as Mayan goddesses. When the Spanish arrived on Isla Mujeres, there had been a number of temples to these goddesses and sculptures of them, too. It is thought that Mayan women came to the island to seek the blessings of fertility and easy childbirth, and that’s why the island is named Isla Mujeras, which means Island of Women. There is a small ruin on the southernmost point at Punta Sur, mostly destroyed by hurricanes, that was either a temple to the goddess, Ixchel, or a marker/lookout, depending on whom you believe.

We returned to the hotel and cooled off in the pool and relaxed. We ordered dinner delivery online from Tiny Gecko, via the Taste of Isla website. DH had octopus tacos, and I had a taco sample platter and guacamole with chips. The food was good, but not spectacular.


After Breakfast we walked down to the Garrafon de Castillo beach club (not to be confused with the expensive Garrafon Reef Park nearby). It was only a couple of blocks away from our casa, past a small farm with horses and geese. The entry fee here is 150 pesos, and there are washrooms, a restaurant/bar, a large deck with loungers, and a cove with a narrow beach. At one end of the cove, there are more loungers with beach umbrellas, but there is also a section with a natural overhang, shading the loungers, so we settled there. There’s a bit of a tide pool that was just a few feet from our, er, feet, and a pelican spent some time fishing in it, right in front of us.


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There was food and beverage service right at our loungers, and we ordered lemonade minerales and nachos de pollo. The lemonade became our new favourite beach drink, and the nachos were piled on the plate almost a foot high. They were delicious, but two of us couldn’t finish them. 

We stayed at the beach for about 4 hours and spent at least an hour of it snorkelling. There were a lot of fish there, and some of them were very tame, because the beach club sells fish food. It was still a windy day, so the water was a bit rough, but we had a great time.

Back at the casa, we had a dip in the pool and petted, Bella, the owners’ beautiful and gentle dog.

We were still pretty full from lunch, so we just had a late dinner in the suite: mac and cheese, plus nachos and guacamole.


After a spicy breakfast of eggs and refried beans, we took the cart back to the rental agency and walked over to the meeting place for our rescheduled snorkelling tour with Isla Fun Tours. There were a dozen on our boat, and this seemed to be the same with all the tours. In fact, from what we could tell, it didn’t really matter which company one booked with, everyone ended up on the same kind of boat going to the same places. Another couple from our casa had booked with a different, local provider and we saw them in the same set-up area and, later, at the same lunch spot.

We stopped first at the lighthouse to view fish from the surface, and then moved a little way away to a shallow spot where we got out and swam back to that area. There, we saw some fish and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the ocean bottom. We climbed back on board and went down to the south end of the island to snorkel at the MUSA. There were fish and we also saw a ray on the bottom. There were just four groups of statues. Somehow, we had thought there would be more.

To be honest, I don’t think it is really worth snorkelling at this section of the museum. Diving would be okay, as the water over the sculptures is about 30 feet deep here. We knew this in advance, but had read that one could still get a good view of the sculptures by snorkelling here. I disagree with that. I think it would be far better to snorkel at one of the other two museum areas, nearer Cancun, where the water is only 8 feet deep.

The boat took us to the Manchones Reef next, and we snorkelled there for a few minutes. There were some fish, and it was interesting, but it wasn’t nearly as good as snorkelling at Garafon de Castillo had been. (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. This seems to be one of the island's best kept secrets.) 

The boat then took us to Shark Bay for lunch. We had BBQ fish, rice, spaghetti, and salad. It was really good.

DH and I decided to leave the group at Shark Bay rather than boating all the way back to the north end and then returning by taxi to the south end. 

We crossed the road and had a look at the lagoon there, where pirate ships had once sheltered, including that of Blackbeard, apparently. We then walked back to our casa, which took just under 30 minutes. We walked past a lot of mangrove which was full of litter. 

We spent more time on the roof terrace and had the rest of our pasta and canned meat for dinner.

 After dinner, we noticed how clear the sky was, so we went up to the roof terrace to look at the stars, which were putting on an amazing display.


Saturday, we were heading back to Cancun to spend the night before our early morning flight home on Sunday.

We packed up and left our bags in the room (with permission) and went back to Garrafon de Castillo. We spent an enjoyable few hours there, and the snorkelling was even better than it had been two days previously, since the water was calmer and the sun was shining. We saw many, many fish, and we were often surrounded by schools of them. As it was Saturday, the beach club was busier. Some families who may have been local were enjoying the morning there, too.


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We returned to the casa and showered and changed in the washroom on the roof deck before we said our good-byes and took our prebooked taxi to the ferry dock.

When we arrived, a ferry was just about to depart. Fortunately, we had our tickets on our phones already, so we scanned them and hopped onto the ferry—the last to board. This time, the ferry was much busier, so we had to sit outside on the top deck. A local musician was entertaining up there, which made the short trip seem even quicker. We caught a taxi from the ferry terminal to our hotel, the Marriott Courtyard Cancun Airport. It’s quite a distance from the main ferry terminal to the airport area, but everything had gone so smoothly, we were checking in here less than 90 minutes after leaving our place on Isla Mujeres.

We were hungry, so we had a late lunch on the patio right after getting settled in our room. Then we spent an hour or so at the pool. Even though it’s an airport hotel, it has a lovely pool and garden area.

We had dinner and went to bed, feeling satisfied with our experiences and adventures in the Yucatan, and exceedingly pleased with all our accommodations. Although Mexico had never been near the top of our travel list, we’re glad to have taken this trip. We feel we had a good mix of sightseeing and relaxation. However, I doubt we would return year after year, as some people we know do. There are still many other places to experience in this big, wonderful world.


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Thank you. I took an older camera with me (besides my waterproof one), so I didn't have the zoom capability or low-light capability I prefer, but I think I got some fun shots and good memories, anyway. :)