Travelling around Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico
Round trip, October 24th 2010 – November 11th 2010
By Jutta Rath and Ulrich Schlüter from Münster, Germany
Many thanks to Martin Schneider for the professional translation into English
Comments and remarks are gratefully accepted. Mail to: [email protected]
As always, choosing our destination was a last-minute decision. At our local travel agency “Der Reiseplaner” in Münster-Hiltrup we booked a non-stop flight on Air Berlin from Düsseldorf (DUS) to Cancún (CUN) (http://www.cancun.com/) for 766 EUR per person. The offer by tour operator 5 vor Flug (http://www.5vorflug.de/) included hotel transfer and the first three nights at a hotel in Cancún-City, picked by the tour operator.
Via internet we also booked a double room for the fourth night at the hotel Casa Tucan (http://www.casatucan.de/) in Playa del Carmen. Taking into consideration that our arrival in Cancún was scheduled for late afternoon we didn’t have to bother for transfer to the city or looking for a hotel or even our accommodation at the fourth night of our tour. The Casa Tucan hotel had a rental car on offer (via website), but we agreed to decide the matter on the spot.
Puerto Morelos – a quiet alternative to Cancún or Playa del Carmen
Back home in Germany writing this report I studied “YUCATAN – 2005 – Ein Traveller Reisebericht” (http://www.gerto mat.de/mexico/mexico.html) and found a description of Puerto Morelos. Puerto Morelos is a quiet fishing village, only 13 miles south of Cancún airport. My travel guide says that prices in Puerto Morelos are much lower than in other places along the Riviera Maya. The coral reef is only 400 meters offshore. It is the second greatest reef of the world and stretches from Puerto Morelos south along the Riviera Maya down to Honduras. Visit http://www.mexico-urlaub.com/puertomorelos.html or http://www.puertomorelos.com/ for more information about Puerto Morelos.
My travel guide reports that buses depart every hour from Cancún airport to Playa del Carmen. You can get off the bus two miles from Puerto Morelos and walk or take a taxi downtown. Here are some hotels with internet portals: Posada El Moro (http://www.posadaelmoro.com/), Acamaya Reef Cabanas & Beach Club (http://www.acamayareefcabanas.com/), Hotel Ojo de Agua (http://www.ojo-de-agua.com/)
1st day: We took off from Düsseldorf on Sunday, October 24th and landed in Cancún at 6 pm local time after a ten hour flight.The hotel transfer service of 5 vor Flug took us downtown to the 3star hotel Ramada Cancun City (Avenida Yaxchilan 41 South M 22, downtown, http://www.hotels.com/ho345291/ramada-cancun-city-cancun-mexico/#description), which we can recommend.
2nd + 3rd day: Beside budget hotels and good restaurants there is not much to explore in Cancún city. The bus-station is right in the heart of the city. It‘s quite easy to reach all the sights by local buses or even by a short walk. Getting to other places down the coast is as easy, for example the hotel zone and its beaches, which stretches along the coast on a 12-mile peninsula. It won’t cost a lot and offers relaxation, shopping and even the historic site of El_Rey (http://www.cancuntoday.net/ruins/elrey.php). Three nights and two full days in Cancún gave us the opportunity to check out different hotels, have long walks along the beach and enjoy the casual swim. And there is lots of shopping and fun! October in Yucatán resorts means off-season, so there wasn’t much of a crowd. Even if you don’t like standard tourist destinations and its architecture – some hotels are quite exquisite and of course there’s always the impeccably white, fine-grained sand on the vast beaches and the turquoise-coloured waters of the caribbean sea!
4th day: A short 60 minute ride in an air-conditioned bus took us to our double room in the Casa Tucan hotel (http://www.casatucan.de/en/index.php) in Playa del Carmen (http://playadelcarmen.com/). The hotel is run by a German, the restaurant by a Dane. Within walking distance you will find “Manne’s Biergarten” (http://www.mannes-biergarten.page.tl/), a restaurant which opens at 4 pm. Manne and his wife Susie offer outstanding German cuisine and alcoholic beverages highly valued by Americans, Spanish, Italians and other tourists, and even locals do sneak in. In the evenings german-speaking expats from Playa del Carmen are meeting there for a chat and with beer, wine and tequila on the table you are in for a treat of interesting stories, and insider information about the latest hurrican – complete with photos on Susie’s private website “Mein Leben in Playa del Carmen” (http://www.playasusie.de.tl/). We just stayed one single night for a first impression of Playa del Carmen and Tulum in order to decide later which place we would fancy for the last beach days of our journey. Playa del Carmen ist is lively tourist hot-spot. You can hang out on the beach, stroll through shopping centers for hours or enjoy the nightlife in restaurants, bars and discos. A 1,5 miles walk to the west will take you to your own “private” beach, where you might be the only one to enjoy the perfect sand and blue-green waters.
5th day: Early the next morning we took the bus for the 40 mile ride to Tulum where we choose a budget accomodation double room. The hotel owner supplied us with rental bikes and arranged a rental car for the next day. When we returned to Tulum at the end of our round trip we discovered the hotel Rancho Tranquilo (http://ranchotran quilotulum.com/) which is located at the Tulum Main Road just 200m south from the bus-station. This tranquil low budget hotel offers dormitories (120 pesos / 10 USD), small cabanas with shared bathroom (250 pesos / 21 USD) und bigger cabanas with own bath and air condition (500 pesos / USD 41) in a splendid garden. In the breakfast room you’ve got TV and internet access. Fluent english is spoken by the employees. The Rancho is quite central which enables you to reach historic sites to the north or beaches to the east on your bike. And there’s Tulum city which has a lot of restaurants and shops. The hotels in the beach area of Tulum however are quite remote with hardly any shops and restaurants. That’s why we prefered to have a hotel downtown in Tulum. The beach road is about 2,5 miles from city center of Tulum. With a rented bike or car you can visit various beaches, ruins, caverns or go to any cenote (subterranean pond) to dive or just have a swim.
We set forth to the ruins of Tulum and its separated beach which is only accessible through the ruin’s compound. From there the most splendid public beach stretches for miles towards Tulum city.
6th day: Next morning an employee of CAR RENTAL (www.executive.com.mx) drove us from our hotel to the local branch of the company, located at the main road from Tulum to Playa del Carmen, right hand side north of the ruins area. Address: Carr. Cancun-Carrillo Pto. Km.231-232 Entre Calle Zac-Be y Zac-Zukil Mz.5 Lt.1, Tulum, Solidaridad, Q Roo. Tel. +52 (984) 802 53 71. Our rental car contract included a CDW cover (additional charge), which might be a good idea regarding some local road conditions. For example the road to Calakmul ruins is full of potholes, so you could find yourself with a broken car axle. But any careful prudent driver who checks his speed should not worry to use a rental car. Main roads are in good conditions and there is not too much traffic, so basically it’s a relaxed way of driving in Yucatán.
With stops in Cobá, Valladoloid and Ek Balam we finally reached Piste. The Cobá ruins are situated in the remote rainforest. While Cobá and Chitzen Itza are on the standard tourist track, Ek Balam (north of Valladolid) is less crowded, despite its obvious attraction. There is not much to say about the city of Piste – some hotels and a good choice of international restaurants – and it’s pretty close to Chichen Itza, which is convenient. We stayed in a small, cheap but clean hotel and forgot to write down its name. You will find this hotel walking main street eastbound, side street on the right hand, the hotel sign can be seen from main street, inconspicuous impression. After having checked the room we booked in for the night – it was a good bargain!
7th day: In the early morning we visited the historic site of Chichen Itza. Unfortunately you are not allowed to climb to the top of the pyramid but nonetheless the place is a must-see despite the “tourist-factor”. Staying the night in Piste enables you to be on the spot early in the morning before countless busloads of tourists would arrive.
Via Izamal, the “yellow city”, known for its Franciscan monastery and the ruins of the Kinich Kakmo pyramid, we reached Mérida in the evening.
8th day: In Mérida we spent two nights and watched the activities during La Fiesta de Todos los Santos (All Saint’s Day) – rather strange rites and customs. We stayed at the Hotel Mucuy (http://www.mucuy.com/) at calle 57, which we can recommend.
9th day: We left Mérida in the morning and drove to Uxmal. The Uxmal ruins are in pretty good shape and – contrary to Chizen Itza – you are free to climb at least some of the palace ruins to have a bird’s eye view of the site. On the way between Uxmal and Campeche we passed the historic site of Kabah, but just took some pictures from the roadside. In the late afternoon we reached the city of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico. Our main focus was on the historic old town with its city walls and shore promenade. The colourful restauration of the old town creates an atmosphere of relaxed comfort. We stayed the night in the distinguished Hotel Colonial, Calle 14 Nr. 122 between Calle 55 and 57 (http://www.tripadvisor.de/LocationPhotos-g1632078-d157030-Colonial_Hotel-Campeche_Yucatan_Peninsula.html).
10th day: Leaving Campeche early next morning on the coastal road we passed the city of Escárcega to reach our destination Calakmul. This historic site with its two big pyramids, probably the biggest in Yucatán, is in the middle of the jungle – far off the beaten tracks. In order to get to these remote ruins you have to take the main road from Escárcega to Chetumal, turn right at halfway point and rumble along a pothole-offroad for 30 miles before reaching Calakmul. Due to road conditions, lack of parking space and low standard sanitary facilities only a few individual travellers find their way to this spectacular site. Calakmul was a highlight of our trip, not just because of the ruins but the most impressive rainforest with its abundance of rare local birds. After having spent two hours we drove back to the main road and reached Chetumal in the evening. Chetumal is again at the eastern seaside and at the frontier to Belize. In the city we discovered the budget hotel Maria Dolores (Obregón 206, Tel. 983/832-0508) which offered us a clean room and pleasant meals. A hint on trip planning: If you manage to leave Campeche quite early in the morning you probably have enough time to drive to Calakmul, back to the main road and on to Campeche. If that doesn’t work you will find hotels between Calakmul and Campeche!
11th day: Despite our pleasant stay at the hotel Maria Dolores we were not pleased with Chetumal city. Might be because we were running out of cash in US-dollars and pesos and had extreme trouble finding a bank which would accept US traveller checks. Euro-notes were accepted only in two places, but at horrible exchange rates. We moved northbound along the coast to find a more tourist-minded place where we could change money at acceptable exchange rates. So be reminded: longing for rural Mexico? Carry a bundle of US-dollar notes or pesos in cash, not only Euros! Having seen Bacalar with its fortress situated on a multi-coloured, lagoon-like lake we moved on to Mahahual. Mahahual was intended to be the re-invention of Playa del Carmen like it was 20 years ago – a quite place for indvidual travellers, but unfortunately the 2007 hurrican destroyed not only the buildings but damaged the mangroves and palmtrees as well. When we arrived in the afternoon the place looked like a ghost town and there were hardly any tourists to be seen in the restaurants. But during the night two cruise ships anchored a mile offshore and the next day Mahahual city and the beach bustled with tourists and street vendors. The atmosphere changed completely – incredible! When the cruise tourists were gone in the afternoon the place changed back to relaxation status. We stayed in a budget hotel at the southern end of the beach.
12th day and 13th day: We left Mahahuel for Tulum, where we had rented the car and started our round-trip. We checked in at Rancho Tranquilo (http://ranchotranquilotulum.com/) for two nights and used our rental car for another day to explore the vicinity of the city and to bid farewell to the gorgeous beaches of Tulum.
14th day and 15th day: We took the bus to Playa del Carmen and once again checked in at hotel Casa Tucan (http://www.casatucan.de/en/index.php). We had dinner at “Manne’s Biergarten” (http://www.mannes-biergarten.page.tl/) just a few steps down the road and joined again the expat crowd. Having enjoyed the Mexican cuisine for two weeks the all-german menu was a temptation (for example curried sausage – the real Berlin style).
16th day: We took a bus from Playa del Carmen to Cancún airport and at 8 pm our flight with Air Berlin took us back to Düsseldorf, were we touched ground the next day around noon. Seen a lot, explored a lot and with perfect weather conditions (despite off-season!) we had spent a marvellous fortnight holiday in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
To sum it up: Don’t hesitate to visit Yucatán on your own account. You can go as early as the middle of October when you can avoid overcrowded historic sites and on the other hand enjoy bargain prices. In the evenings it is not too hot at that time, so do not forget a warm sweater or jacket. A fortnight is enough time to have a complete round-trip with a few days of relaxation on the beaches. The Caribbean beaches are incredibly beautiful, even better than your picture postcard dreams. You won’t have any trouble organizing the whole trip by internet – confirmed flights and a hotel booking for the first nights in Cancún or Playa del Carmen might be a good idea. To save money and to become acquainted with the country you can use the local buses for the first part of the trip (if you want to follow our route) to Playa del Carmen or Tulum and rent a car there. Driving a rented car is quite easy and safe. Mexican cuisine is superb, but you can also taste any other international food at most places. In general hotels, food and drinks are quite a bargain. The tickets for historic sites are more expensive. Nevertheless the ancient Maya sites are just great – und you can always start saving your pennies when you’re back home…
Back home in Germany I heard about Puerto Morelos which we did not visit (see the notes at the beginning of this report). Otherwise we surely would have visited this place. It might be an alternative to Cancún or Playa del Carmen for the first days or the last days of the holidays, probably quieter and cheaper than those places. A good suggestion could be to make a short stop in Puerto Morelos at the beginning of the trip, when you are on the way from Cancún to Playa del Carmen. Just walk around to get an idea of the town and the beach, then go forward to Playa del Carmen to spend the night there and start the round-trip. Finishing the round-trip you can make up your mind where to spend the last days at the seaside.
In order to find reports about Yucatán in English language visit search machines like www.google.com and give in key words like “journey Yucatan” or “Yucatan travel report” and of course visit this website yucatantoday.com
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