Yucatán, Mexico - Jan 2011




We flew in to Cancun on Jan 8th with Air Canada on a great non-stop flight from Winnipeg for our 6th trip to the Yucatan. Caribbean-American car rental met us at the airport as usual with their great service and off we headed for 4 nights in Puerto Morelos, which is about 15 minutes drive South of the airport.  We chose to stay at Abbey del Sol condos which was an excellent choice, located only about 4 blocks north of the town square and 2 blocks from a lovely part of the beach. Abby & her husband were very welcoming and the condo suited us to a tee.  It was bright, airy, clean with a comfy bed, fully equipped kitchen, great towels and lots of hot water. It has a small swimming pool and is very quiet.  Puerto Morelos is still charming and laid back, surprisingly so, as Cancun and Playa del Carmen have become such mega Americanized areas.  The seafood restaurants are very inexpensive and there are lots of little, local bistros, to choose from. We loved El Pirata, right on the water for lovely views, mexican and seafood dishes.  The coffee shop and small cafés next to the Alma Libre bookstore on the town square were wonderful.  There is a quirky, leaning lighthouse on the beach next to the town pier where the fishermen come in with their catch everyday. We loved just walking the beach and town and watching the local colour. People are very friendly and there is no hassle to buy things.  We met up with 2 friends for dinner that we crossed paths with that stayed at a cute little budget hotel right on the beach called The Amar Inn, basic but very charming outdoor courtyard area and bar.


Next we headed up to Rio Lagartos on the northern coastline. We had been there a few years ago for a wonderful eco boat tour with guide Diego Nunez and wanted to go out again for an evening bird watching tour this time. The migratory, local birds and flamingos there are wonderful. We stayed at the simple, clean Rio Tabasco Hotel, but unfortunately the next 2 days looked stormy so we had to pass on the tour and headed off early to Merida. Taking the backroads to go from area to area has always been one of our favourite ways to see the “real” Mexico. From Rio Lagartos to Merida we traveled south-west, through amazing small towns and ranch land. The wildflowers tumble over the shoulders of the roads, tropical birds dart here and there and in January many trees are in full flower. We got to see the magnificent sacred Cieba tree in flower (I have a photo on our photography page). We travelled up to the small fishing village called Dzilam de Bravo. Driving into town we saw people standing at the side of the road pointing at something in estuary that flows into the ocean there. Of course a stop yielded a great view of a large 8 foot crocodile basking on the banks. Dzilam de Bravo had more fishing boats then we could imagine for such a small town!


We have been to Merida four times now and always find new things to see and do. We love the city vibe and the music in the squares on the weekends. Each January, Merida celebrates with a huge city birthday festival (469 years old this year) and the variety of music was outstanding. We stayed at the Casa del Balam hotel again, as we love the convenience and the charm of the hotel.  Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historia has the finest collection of Maya artifacts from the rune sights in the Yucatan area.


Not to be missed is the Mercado Municipal Market which covers 2 huge city blocks. This is the original local market where you can buy anything and everything from budgies to hardware, fish, beef, flowers, herbs, vegetables, spices, clothing, etc. Everything flows together with much colour & sound. In the fish market section you can sit at counters and order fresh ceviche and delicacies I had never seen before. The ceviches ran about 10 to 30 pesos! (about CAD$1.00 to $3.00) Likewise near the meat market they were grilling meats for tacos and other take away. Somehow with all the noise and crowds it seems to work and is a very popular place for locals of all incomes to come.


There are so many lovely outdoor restaurants and small cafes as well as high end restaurants to choose from but some of my favourites were Café Peon Contraries, a charming outdoor or indoor restaurant, Bar La Parranda, Cafe Pop (for breakfasts and light simple dinners), La Belle Epoch ... pick an outdoor upstairs balcony table for 2.  There is also a wonderful homemade ice cream-soda fountain in the northwest corner of the central plaza called El Colon Café.


Leaving Merida we headed south west to Campeche with a side trip for lunch at the beautifully restored Hacienda Rosa in Santa Rosa and then off to explore a lovely abandoned hacienda at tiny village of Cunchumil. There was a grounds keeper on site and he was more than happy to show us around the abandoned place. It was wonderful, atmospheric and eerie. These are the kinds of places that stay in our memories. We especially love the off the beaten track exploration of Mexico.


This was our first time to Campeche and we were so enthralled with the inner historic city (Unesco World Heritage site) and the beautiful malecon along the ocean, which reminded me so much of a mini version of Rio’s in Brazil. Our hotel there was the charming Plaza Colonial Campeche inside the city walls. While in Campeche we saw the museum, the fortress, strolled the streets and enjoyed the music and dancing in the town square Saturday night. The older folks were playing bingo and many different varieties of food vendors set up home made specialties to sell. A favourite is corn on the cob coated with mayo, grated cheese and Nutella chocolate sauce! The restaurant Casa Vieja del Arcos with eclectic Cuban art and vintage photos overlooking the square, has outdoor tables on the second floor which afford a stunning view of the Cathedral and centre square activities. We also went to high end La Piqua, for a wonderful seafood dinner one night ... delicious.


We did a day trip down south along the coast to the small town of Isla Aquada. This wonderful journey took us through gulf coast fishing villages where they were drying millions of sardines on the banks of the gulf while trying to keep the marauding frigates and seagulls from stealing them. The gulf waters are such a rich green colour and the shores are littered with beautiful seashells. We passed by marshy nature reserves, watched snakes and lizards sneak across the highway and stopped to watch fishermen bringing their catch in or repairing their nets.


Another day we drove to see the Mayan ruins of Edzna.  It’s earliest structures were built around 300 B.C.  Again, another beautiful, winding drive through lush forests, orange and papaya groves. We have been to many sites and I especially loved Edzna for it’s beautiful setting and lack of hoards of tourists. You are free to wander around all the ruins, however the largest structure is cordoned off for climbing up.


We set off from Campeche after 4 days to head up north to Izamal taking the beautiful secondary roads. In Izamal we stayed at the Hotel Macan-che. It is a delightful small hotel near the city centre.  Tucked away with beautiful plants and foliage on the grounds, little casita bungalows scattered around a natural cenote-like pool with some of the friendliest staff we have ever seen. Our casita had a porch with chairs, hammock and inside a hotplate, fridge, air conditioning and comfy beds. Breakfast is included and the dinners were simply amazing. Lots of variety including salads, you just have to let the staff know at least 1 hour ahead to your choices as everything is freshly cooked. We ended up eating all our meals there. Part of the charm was that across the street lived a goat herder that would bring his flock down the street every evening and seeing the herd with their little babies bleating all the way, was so cute. Izamal is a beautiful colonial city with most buildings painted mustard yellow. There is a huge convent and cathedral that Pope John Paul II visited in 1993. This was built on top of one of the largest Mayan pyramids using stones of the original structure unfortunately. There are still 3 smaller Mayan ruins in the city centre that are viewable, one where you are able to climb to the top and get an amazing city view and even see Chichen Itza on a clear day. Izamal is a city of true artisans in woodworking, jewelry making, needlework, tin smithing, etc. These are not the usual “tourist” type places or items but the real small studios that are where the artists live and work. We encourage you to visit them and purchase a true piece of handcrafted artwork.


Our day trip west to the small town of Aké was another highlight. We got to visit a real working sisal factory. Seeing the henequen plants brought in on an old track by horse & mini rail car and the production with ancient equipment from the starting process to the end twine bails was incredible. This place takes a little more time and patience to find, it is not a “tourist” trap ... the fellow who took us around only asked for 60 pesos each (around $5. CDN) I gave him more at the end as I was so impressed.  There is also a Mayan ruin behind the factory that is quite impressive.


After our stay in Izamal we headed for 2 nights in Valladolid, at one of our all time favourite hotels El Meson de Marques, It is a beautiful hotel with one of the best restaurants we have ever eaten at anywhere.  The Hotel surrounds a beautiful courtyard where little tables are set up by a fountain and dripping candles in stands flicker along with ornate chandeliers.  The next day we headed up to see the salt flats at Las Coloradas where they mine the salt at the edge of the inland parts of the ocean. The water is an amazing pink colour and you can also see flamingos here.  Driving along the flats you see sand dunes that separate the ocean from the salt pools.  It is a unique place to see.  The town itself is very small with just a couple of restaurants and grocery stores if you wish to pick up a snack.


After 2,500 kms of driving for 3 weeks, we headed down to our favourite beachside town Akumal, where we dropped off the car and looked forward to a week of relaxation.


This year we stayed at the 3 star Akumal Beach Resort. It is a wonderful, smaller all inclusive resort. It is older but the rooms are clean and almost all have some ocean view. The maid service was outstanding. They are slowly upgrading the rooms with new paint colours and flat screen TVs. The buffet has lots of choices, wonderful baked goods, salad bar with fresh Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, etc ... even capers, olives and pickles! There is a serve yourself beer & wine bar. We loved the pasta chef who did spaghetti with sauces fresh for each order. There was always lots of fresh fruit as well. Though not 5 star food, you could not complain about selection and quality at all including pizza, focaccia, usually a meat and fish entree to choose from.  We loved Carlos who offered service in the restaurant and Jorge who was always around making sure everyone was having a good time and answering questions. Their warm welcoming smiles and attention was heartfelt.  My only complaint in the buffet area was for the parents who let their children go to the buffet themselves and run around the dining room bumping into servers and guests. We also noticed they would often touch food and not take it.  I feel the hotel has to put up a sign stating that children under 12 must be accompanied to the buffet. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times that there are a lot of parents that do not teach their children proper restaurant behavior.


We don’t know why they have the a la carte restaurant.  You could reserve for Italian or Mexican nights which they alternate.  The food was very so-so, the service slow and the atmosphere very lacking, no music, tables set up around an unused swimming pool.  They need to rethink the purpose of this area.  Perhaps turn it into part of the kids’ club.  I think having a special night in the buffet in the middle of the week might be a better option, such as offering something a little more special such as grilled shrimp or shellfish night.  The snack bar always had hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, chips and ice cream, so you never went hungry.  The bar by the restaurant was nice though we found people were often aggressive about getting served and not waiting their turn. They also need to make a larger non smoking area in there. While we were there we often didn’t use it because of the smoke smell everywhere.


The pool area is very lovely and never seemed to be crowded.  I swam in it every day and it was often the only place to get a chaise lounge. One of the nicest things about the pool area is that you can see the ocean when you are sitting there. The chaise lounges on the beach get taken very quickly so if you really need to have one of those you have to get up early and stake one out with a towel and personal items. The beach is the true star here and walking the long stretch of it everyday is such a pleasure.  The ocean with turtles, stingrays and fish such a treat. This year I even saw a large green moray eel come out from under one of the fishing boats in the bay right by the shore when the fisherman gave it a barracuda carcass. We walked into town to the Lol-Ha Restaurant one night for shrimp and their entertainment evening. We have eaten there before and with the new decor it is just lovely. Take a flashlight for your travels as there are dark areas around the Akumal Beach Resort and it helps if you want to stroll the beach into Akumal town for the evening.  We would not hesitate to recommend this area or the Akumal Beach Resort to anyone looking for this type holiday. A few tweaks and the Akumal Beach Resort will go from a “good” 3 star to a “great” 3+ star!


Hopefully I can encourage more people to spend time exploring this beautiful region.  Be a good traveller, don’t litter, respect their culture, show patience, support tourism and expand your horizons.  You won’t be disappointed.