Yucatán, Mexico - Jan 2009









Arriving in Cancun from Winnipeg, Canada, we picked up our rental car from Cancun Rent a Car and drove to the [Royal Catalonia Tulum] all inclusive resort for a three night stay. We booked this through LocoGringo and were more than pleased with the resort.  It is an adults only, set in a unique jungle-like setting with the resort winding back through thick jungle to the lobby which is near the road.  Our walks along the limestone path (scrabe) and over a cenote to the beach or restaurants were a bit of a nature study, with lots of birds, lizards, butterflies, coutamondi and a the large hamster-like rodent.


The beach was lovely to walk and if you headed south or north you went by a few interestingly old style hotels, that have been abandoned over the years. We loved the fact that this wasn’t a “Rah-Rah” resort with people staggering around with drinks in their hands. The food, staff and facilities were excellent.  I had a spa treatment at the spa and it was wonderful. All and all we found that you could do as much or as little as possible there.  The only people I would not recommend this hotel to, would be people that find walking a bit difficult.


Our next destination was to Mayan ruins of Becán. Travelling south we stopped for lunch at Bacalar, which is set on an amazing lake with every shade of turquoise imaginable.  I chatted with a professor from the U. of Wisconsin who was there with a few students studying eco systems and doing some archaeological digs around the Yucatán.  Like ourselves she has visited many of the sites, so we had fun exchanging which ones were our favourites so far.


After lunch we continued south towards Chetumal and then turned inland and headed west into the rolling hills and countryside on our way to Becán.  It is wonderful to see the quick change in scenery as we are now in ranch land with horses, cattle, and sheep dotting the rolling hills landscape.  We had our first police check point to get through and they did go through the car thoroughly, but were very friendly and sent us on our way. We thought the fact they put long strips of cut up tires on the road for “topes” or speed bumps quite funny.


We arrived at the [Chicanna Eco Village Resort] about 3 pm (6.5 hours from Akumal) and had a cold beer and wandered around the lovely grounds looking at the orchids and doing some bird watching.  There is a nice restaurant and a cute little pool where you can go for dip and cool off after your exploration of the ruins in the area.  After a dinner we are off to bed so we can get on the site of Becan early before the heat exhausts us.  I must add here that our first stop here was lovely and peaceful but out overnight on the return we hardly got any sleep as there was a student group that partied all night there. We were extremely disappointed that the staff at an Eco resort did nothing to get them to quiet down.  This went on till after 12 midnight.  We heard other guests repeatedly ask them to please be quiet, to no avail.


The ruins at Becán are set in a lovely treed canopied setting.  I won’t go into details of the ruins we visit as these have wonderful websites. We always arrive early to beat the heat.  You are allowed full access at Becán to climb and explore the ruins.  We also drove to the small mayan site of Balamku (House of the Jaguar)  At this site in 1990 archaeologists uncovered a 20 meter perfectly preserved stucco frieze.  It was magnificent! This site was probably occupied as early as 300 BC. There were no other tourists visiting there when we were there and a guard opened up the door in the tomb to allow us to see the frieze.  It depicts a scene of gods, animals and men quite different from other sites.


The next day we headed off for a 5.5 hour drive to Palenque.  The drive takes you through rolling hillside, beautiful ranches and lowlands that are a bit swampy with lots of bird life. It was here we got to see the stunning Wood Stork!  Palenque is a must see. It sits on a shelf of the Sierra de Chiapas forests.  We stayed at the [Chan Kah Resort Village] which was 3 km from the site. This was a highlight stay of the trip.  The casitas are set right in the jungle with a gurgling river running through the resort. You have Howler monkeys, iguanas, possums, butterflies, birds (toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, etc.) all around you.  Our casita shared a smaller private swimming pool and was extremely quiet.  There are 3 large natural looking swimming pools scattered about the resort and a wonderful restaurant on site.  The first day I saw a giant anteater who promptly ran under the pool area when he saw us! We can’t say enough about this place.  Staying here is a must!


We set off early the next morning for the Palenque site.  It was already very humid and misty, and as we arrived the ruins peeked out of the mists like some fantasy city. Read about the site and it’s importance for reasons too many to detail here.  After walking throughout the site, we then descended hundreds of steps to the museum that houses the amazing tomb of Pacal’s sarcophagus with an ornate 5 ton slab.  This is behind climate controlled glass and you can walk all the way around it.  Take a cab ride [20 peso] back to the parking lot when you have finished visiting the museum.  It’s just too long of a walk back up to the parking lot.


After 2 nights in Palenque we set off for San Cristóbal.  The road, 5 hours of "Curva Peligrossa" ... mountainous hairpins that rival the Italian Amalfi drive.  The mountains are beautiful however and at times bathed in mists that reminded me of Bali.  The farmers do an amazing job of terrace farming and we passed many cornfields.  There were also many orange, tangerine and pineapple farms. The road also included many of the famous “topes” (speed bumps) that often sneak up on you. In some small villages along the way you will see children using these as an opportunity to walk up to the car and sell you produce.  The road is only a 2-way highway so you have to have lots of patience especially if you are behind trucks.


San Cristóbal is a wonderful, pretty old colonial town that has a “hip” atmosphere, café society charm with very pretty buildings and churches. The cathedrals are very ornate and the locals have daily markets around them.  This city is situated at 2100 m (6890 ft), so nights can become a bit cool, we’re glad we brought our long pants and jackets.  This is also the region that Amber comes from, and you can find many vendors and shops specialising in it.  We visited the Amber museum which was very interesting and well worth the visit.


Our hotel was absolutely perfect! It was the [Posada Real de Chiapas], centrally located with wonderful staff.  Our room was quiet even though we were in the heart of the city. It was a perfect choice. For our first full day we just explored the city, had lunch, sat in one of the many coffee shops and people watched.  We spent the next morning at the Museo Na Bolom which was once the home of the photographer Gertrude Duby Bolom and the Archaeologist Frans Bolom.  The rooms showcase wonderful photographs she took of the reclusive Lanconon Indians in the 50’s as well as many artefacts and personal effects.  These were truly an adventurist couple, considering the areas and people they visited.  It was wonderful to see the legacy they have left us.  Our restaurant discovery was “Miura” on Real de Guadalupe, an indoor grill-style bbq with wonderful cuts of meats.  The place was filled with locals and the corner tv showed films of bullfighting (we didn’t watch!)


The following day we took a day tour to the small outlying villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan.  San Juan Chamula is a more of a gathering place built around a church and daily large market area.  The church inside is ablaze with literally thousands of lit glass prayer candles.  The marble floor is covered daily with fresh long pine needles.  You can see people clearing spaces on the floor and lighting candles on the floor. there were “very few pews but along both sides of the church were over 50 life size saint “mannequins” in stand up confessionals with glass windows.  I had never seen anything like it.  I wish we could have taken a photo or bought a postcard of it, but again this is a very private place.  Apparently the local people practice a mix of “old” religions and beliefs as well as Catholicism.  Many villages in this area still hold strong believes and actively practice the traditional mayan multi-spirit, form of religion.


Zinacantan, this is the greenhouse and flower growing area of the region.  The people here are extremely traditional and taking photos is not allowed in 99% of the area.  Your camera can be confiscated.  We recommend you take the tour with a guide so you can understand some of the culture of this region and where you can & cannot take photos.  We were welcomed into a traditional home by a family who are friends of the guide’s.  The father and son work in the flower greenhouse growing operation and while mom and the daughters do weaving and the day to day household chores.  The house is still traditional with a thatched roof and basic dirt floor.  What is amazing is how clean everything was.  As tourists travelling we felt grubby within a few hours amongst these people, somehow in their simple habitats they were always cleanly dressed.  The mother and grandmother made tortillas for us, they still grind the corn flour the traditional way and cooking is done on over a wood fire.


Another day trip took us on an adventure that started with us taking the “old” road, not the new toll highway.  This road is similar to the mountainous pass from Palenque to San Cristóbal, with many hairpin curves.  The difference in time was about 2.5 hours versus 1 hour.  Make sure you take the correct road out of town!  We took a boat ride through the “Canon del Sumidero”.  There was one moment of looking up from the boat to the canyon walls 3,300 feet straight up that was impressive, however 2 hours on a noisy, bad plastic seat boat, makes this a “pass this by” on our list of things to see.  Next was a visit to the “Zoomat” in Tuxla Gutiérrez.  This zoo specializes in displays of animals from the Chiapas region.  The natural layout was very good and most of the enclosures quite good for the animals.  Again however, we have visited many large zoo’s and this one just wasn't worth the drive.


The following day we headed back for our long drive to Akumal.  We chose to stop for 1 night in Palenque and 1 night in Becán to break up the journey, and not be driving at night. There was mist and rain on our journey back over the mountain pass, plus being behind large transport trucks made driving a somewhat tense experience at times.  However saying that, we would not have wanted to do it any other way.  The scenery and experience is worth having a car.  On our way back through Zapatista country we did see one truck by the side of the road with about 5 balaclavad men in the back wearing the colours of the group.  On our way to Akumal we stopped for lunch at the fabulous and funky, 50’s - 60’s [Hotel Laguna] in Bacalar, overlooking that incredible lagoon of so many colours.  It’s a wonderful, kitschy design of seashell incrusted ceilings and beams and you could almost picture Connie Francis standing on a balcony there.  The grounds, restaurant, pool and beach front were immaculate and wished we had made time to spend a night here.


After two weeks of travel and 2,400 km, we have arrived at our favourite condo [U Nah Kin] and our lovely hosts Marcy & Memo, in the Akumal area for two weeks of R&R and snorkelling.  The weather is marvellous and the feel of sand and water after an extremely cold Manitoba winter is wonderful.  I have written about this area in the past so I won’t go into detail, but it is a little haven of paradise.