Yucatán, Mexico - Jan 2010



Arriving in Cancun from Winnipeg, Canada, we picked up our rental car from Cancun Rent a Car and drove 2 hours west to the quaint town of Valladolid and checked into our favourite hotel & restaurant The El Meson del Marqués for 1 night.  The town is undergoing a huge renovation perhaps for “UNESCO” status? so it was a bit disappointing that the main square wasn’t full of Saturday night music and activity like there usually was on our previous three visits.


The next day we drove to another 4 hours west, to Celestún for our 3 nights at the lovely Eco Pariaso.  The hotel is 14 km. North of Celestún on a deserted beach, that you can walk on for miles and not see anyone.  The sand is powder soft and fairly hard packed, littered with seashells , urchins, horseshoe crabs as well as the odd octopus and Portuguese man of war that a storm seemed to have brought in. Various shorebirds race up and down and frigates. pelicans, seagulls etc. own the skies.  The resort is fantastic, with separate little bungalows that face the sea, with bamboo surrounded outdoor showers attached.  The beds have Egyptian cotton sheets, soft mattresses, and they supply robes and slippers.  No TV or radios, just the sound of the surf. Each bungalow has a little porch out front with 2 chairs and a hammock.  The restaurant serves wonderful gourmet meals as well as simpler fare. Unfortunately a cold snap had landed so I never did get to try out the lovely pool or have a dip (except for my toes) in the ocean. There are plenty of lawn chairs and palapa's as well as kayaks for use.  All of the staff do their best to make your stay a memorable experience, especially Mogul & Cesare.  There are no other hotels or houses nearby so the night sky is especially beautiful there. I can honestly say this hotel was a 9 out 10 in all areas.  Some things are still being built, such as another pool, spa and gift shop or I would have given it a 10 out of 10.


The hotel arranged for us to have a private tour of the mangroves and flamingos which Celestún is famous for.  Our guide Alex, is a biologist who studied in New York state and has a true love for the area which he grew up in. The boat ride took about 20 minutes to reach the area and there they were in the thousands ... flamingos in all their coral-coloured glory.  Along the way we saw fisherman still using the “old ways” to catch crab and others wading with nets to catch fish. We also rode through a red mangrove forest, with magical light trickling down through the canopy. Part of the bird watching excitement was spotting the rare Rufous Necked Woodrail which I was able to get a photo of. On our way back to the hotel he also spotted a boa constrictor about 3 feet long.  He picked it up gently and checked it for sex, disease etc. as he logs these details for a nature watch program.  He took it over to the forest and away from the hotel as unfortunately there are still some people that think snakes are “evil” and would kill it.


Celestún itself, is a small town with fishing as the main industry.  There are plenty of boats, seafood restaurants along the shore. Don’t look here if nightlife is what you’re after, but it is an interesting town with warm, friendly people.  Having a beer at one of the outdoor cafes on the beach and watching the boats come in is certainly a relaxing way to spend a few hours.


Following our 3 night stay there, we were on our way to the small village of Santa Elena in the jungles, near Uxmal, for 3 nights at the Flycatcher Inn.  A quaint B&B on 20 acres of jungle land left wild, run by Kristine Ellingson and her husband.  We had the Owl cottage, tucked by itself at the back of the property surrounded by woods, flowers, and wildlife.  Kristine is a fountain of knowledge about the area and gave us lots of inside tips on some of the out of the way little towns and abandoned haciendas and cute little restaurants and cafés.  It was also interesting to see a small number of archeologists and biologists staying there.


One of the highlights of our exploration was the abandoned old hacienda “Yaxcopoil” on 22,000 acres of land. There is a caretaker on site and much of the furnishings, paintings etc, on still there and you are left alone to wander around the estate at your leisure. In it’s heyday, it was one of the largest henequén (sisal) and cattle plantations.  The owners had also built a beautiful theatre for their workers to be entertained. The outside entrance portical has statues of 4 life-size “muses” depicting the 4 seasons.  I have included many photos from this place as we were so entranced by it.


On another day trip we went to the small but unique site of Labna, with its exquisitely constructed portal vaulted passageway, the largest ever built by the Mayan.  Ron also had a visit to the Loltun caves in the area, though I sat that one out as it was very slippery inside. We had a lovely memorable lunch at a local restaurant in the small town of Mani ... no tourists for miles. Driving in the back country there was so beautiful and varied ... and finally “warm” weather.


We spent most of one day visiting the Mayan ruins of Uxmal. I won’t go into detail about this very large and significant Mayan site, as so much has been written about it. Our suppers were taken at the very good little restaurant right in Santa Elena called the “Pickled Onion”, run by a lady from Ontario. There are only about 6 tables there, but wonderful food with dinners so inexpensive we always did a double take at the bill!


From Santa Helena it was time to head south-east to our next destination, Bacalar. So after an early breakfast we drove for 6 hours, for a 3 night stay at a private home that had a small upstairs apartment overlooking a lagoon. The house is called the Casa Vista Magica. It has a small little pier with a palapa at the end and after throwing my suitcase into the room I raced down for my first swim in that beautiful sweet-water lake ... “Heaven”! Bacalar means the lake of 7 colours but I swear there are over a hundred shades of blue. Our hosts (Suzy & Dietrich) where we stayed, arranged a boat ride on the lake with Captain Jim, through the canals & estuaries where we saw lots of shorebirds. In front of our ‘apartment’ we spent a lot of time watching a comical Limpkin (large wader bird) delicately pick up snails from the lake and manage to eat them without breaking the delicate shells.


We ate breakfast & lunch at the ”funky” Hotel Laguna Bacalar, that seashell encrusted establishment and our dinners at the wonderful Hotel Aluxes right on the lagoon. We had lunch one day at the Cenote Azul and also explored Bacalar's famous fort and its amazingly detailed pirate museum. The fort was built by the Spanish, to protect the local industries from pirates and Mayan's. It was a favourite spot for many famous pirates including Captain Morgan. Don’t miss this museum! After our stay there, we headed off on a 3 hour drive to small village of Placer on the “Costa Maya” coast (25 km north of Mahahual) near the Sian Ka'an biosphere.

Upon our arrival at the Mayan Beach Garden Inn we were more than thrilled. Despite the “F5” hurricane in 2007, that decimated much of the jungle in that area, the palms and flowers are returning. It is situated on a beautiful, natural beach with a reef just off shore. There are 3 casitas right on the beach and a few hotel style rooms above the property. We opted for the meal plan which is such a great deal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At dinner all the guests sit together to eat around a large table which is great fun and a wonderful way to get to know other people and exchange travel tips and stories. While we were there we met 4 couples from Canada, 3 from the states and 1 couple from England. The dinner meals always had a salad or soup starter and included desert. Some of us also took a cooking class with Lupe, the hotel’s lovely Mayan chef. It was “hands on” class and we learned how to handle the corn flour to make tortillas, empanadas and huaraches.


The place is so peaceful and every night we slept so well listening to the waves outside our window. The stars are incredible and we were fortunate enough to have a full moon on our last night that lit up the whole beach. The snorkelling is excellent and there are a few jungle roads where you can hug the ocean and get off the beaten track. Our day trip north from the Inn (where they packed a wonderful picnic lunch for us to take) to Mosiqitero, we saw the beautiful Yucatan jays, hummingbirds, a fox, wildflowers galore and many different species of plants. We each had a cold drink at the small restaurant in Mosquitero, where the owner and his family have a wild, pet pig (a peccary) that acts just like a pet dog. After our drinks we got our car stuck in a sand drift and the whole family, including the pig came running out to help ... oh for a video camera to capture those kind of moments.


Marcia and Kim, the owners of the Mayan Beach Garden Inn, are so knowledgeable and helpful about the area and really spend quality time with their guests to help us all get the most out of our stay in the area. Their website is amazing and full of information that puts most tourism sites to shame. They have amassed a wonderful library of books covering everything from the Mayan history and sites to books on the wildlife, flora and fauna of the region. The Inn is bright, cheerful and colourful with local artifacts and crafts on the walls. The rooms and casitas have wonderful beds that are extremely comfortable.


We went into Mahahual a couple times, but it is now a busy cruise ship port with shops calling for you to “come in and just take a look” atmosphere, where they line the people up on the beach for massages and beach club style activities.  At the port they were even opening a Hard Rock Cafe :( ... so this place wasn’t exactly our cup of tea, but the beach in town is lovely and sheltered, so if you hit a non-cruise ship day you could certainly relax with the locals.


We also did a day drive to Xcalak, the small fishing town south of Mahahual where you can also go diving on the Chinchorro Bank Reef. The town itself has some cute, weather worn, colourful fishing shack type houses.  A couple of restaurants including the Leaky Palapa, unfortunately only open for dinner and a true fishing and diving lodge called the Costa de Cocos where we had lunch.  They have individual cabanas that are clean and the place was very well kept.  We also heard that there is now a day ferry that sails to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize.  This ferry travels inside the reef close to shore, and is suppose to be very beautiful. We have stayed in San Pedro a few years ago and think this would be a perfect day trip for a visit.  We were truly sad to leave the Mayan Beach Garden Inn, Marcia & Kim and the other guests ... it was such a magical place, but it was time to head up north for the last week of our travels and stay at the El Dorado Maroma Beach Resort, which is slightly North of Playa de Carmen.


We arrived at the El Dorado Maroma Hotel (just 15 minutes north of Playa del Carmen by car) for a 7 night stay.  We are not really “all-inclusive” people but this such a good deal with our Air Canada Vacations miles, that we chose it for our last week.  It was an excellent choice, smallish (70 rooms) boutique-style hotel, adults only and on one of the most beautiful beaches along this coast. The sand is powdery soft and there is no deep slope into the sea.  The reef is close to the shore protecting it and there are no other hotels for about a 1 hour walk north of the hotel, the land is federally-owned and still natural along the shore.  The hotel is beautiful and has won 1 of Condé Naste magazine’s top 100 picks of resort hotels.  The rooms are beautifully appointed and there are 3 restaurants on site that you don’t need to make reservations at - Asian (Japanese in flavour & our favourite), an Italian and a Mexican-Continental style one.


There are 2 swimming pools, 1 with a swim up bar and lovely grounds.  The nicest thing to my mind about the hotel is that you don’t see people wandering around with large mugs of drinks trying to get ”their money’s worth”.  It was peaceful without all the “rah-rah” of a lot of noisy games, the focus is the beach, nature and the spa at the hotel.  They offered free yoga on a beautiful large palapa over the ocean every morning.  There is a small marina next to the resort and you can do snorkelling & diving tours from there.  My complaint about the marina is that they offer sea-do's and small sport boats that go out near the hotel and make lots of noise sometimes.  I feel, as many others that these are a real deficit on marine life and would like to see the marina offer more wind based sports ideas such as wind surfing or hobby cat sailing.  There used to be turtles here like Akumal until these noisy crafts were brought in.


One of the coolest things we found was Captain Memo and his 30 foot sailboat the “8 Dwarfs” about a 20 minute walk north of the hotel along the beach.  His boat is moored out in the ocean and you have to walk out into the water to get on. He charges $40.00 per person and my husband and I had a lovely almost four hour tour along the coast with him under sail ... no motor.  He will also take you snorkelling if you want.  We couldn’t help but feel like we hit the jackpot finding, him as we saw those catamarans puttering along with about 50 people crammed together on deck (always with no sails up! just motoring).  He is a great guy with many wonderful stories and I encourage anyone to go out with a true sailor.  We do have a couple photos up of our day.  It does take some physical ability to get on & off the boat.


All and all, we had a wonderful time and lots of new adventures.  We have now covered most the this area of Mexico after 5 trips, and are wondering what new place to do next?  We love to do some touring and some beach time and the Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Chiapas offer so much.  We love the food, people, nature and wildlife and are so thankful to Mexico and her people for making our January holidays so memorable.