For the past eight winters I’ve been visiting Yucatan. I do this for many reasons. One is that I hate to shovel snow. Also, I have never understood the rationale of strapping boards to your feet and hurtling down a mountain so that you can wait in long lines to go back up the mountain and do it again. In addition to those reasons I also love Yucatan, its people and its cuisine. Yucatan – especially along the coast – reminds me of when and where I grew up, south Florida in the 1950’s. That was before wall-to-wall condos and gaudy hotels. That Florida had miles of open beaches and no crowds. Today you are lucky to be able to see the ocean from the highway much less walk the beaches. Florida then was a place where one could drive for 15- 20 minutes and be in real wilderness. The Everglades began less than 5 miles from my boyhood home. Much of Yucatan reminds me of that Florida. Miles of open beaches and with plenty of wilderness close to hand.

One would think that after eight winters you’d run out of things to do and see. Well, it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t see any end in the near future. Ever since my first visit people have told me that we had to visit Rio Lagartos. The end of February before Carnaval was chosen as a good time to make this trip. Since I don’t like to take the same road twice we opted to do a big circle and come back to Telchac Puerto by way of Valladolid and Izamal.

The coast road from Telchac Puerto to Dzilam de Bravo is, if you’ve never driven it, a challenge. It is at best one and a half lanes wide and you are quite likely to meet up with a large truck or a bus. On the other hand the scenery is great and if you take the time to dawdle the bird watching is good. You are likely to see anything from flamingos to a beautiful black and white hawk that I have been told is actually named a ‘Black & White Eagle-hawk’.

Once one turns south and east from Dzilam de Bravo the roads are wider and well signed. We had no problem finding Rio Lagartos and by 2PM were in a party of six on one of the many boats available for tours. Our guide had told us that it would be a two to two and half hour tour of the ria. We were a little disappointed in that this meant speeding down the waterway toward the east where the flamingos were. To our guide’s credit he did slow down if asked and I did get several good pictures of water fowl and termite nests. The main focus of the tour seemed to be the ‘Maya Mud Bath’ where one could cover oneself in clay and God knows what all else. I suspect that there are a significant percentage of flamingo droppings in that clay. We later stopped at a local swimming hole to clean off the mud. If we take this tour again I believe that we would opt for the early morning tour as we are more interested in ‘critters’ and birds than we are in salt pools or mud baths.

We decided to spend the night in Rio Lagartos and get an early start the next morning. Lodging was clean and reasonably priced. The town is literally built along the muelle (pier) and the scenery is beautiful. Breakfast was good and we got to watch a large flock of flamingos flying east towards their feeding grounds while we were eating our hotcakes. After breakfast we hit the road south toward Valladolid. It is – in my opinion – impossible to get lost between Rio Lagartos and Valladolid. One road straight south makes it pretty easy. The only possible complication is the by-pass that goes around Tizimin. If you want to see Tizimin go straight; otherwise take the by-pass.

I must mention one stop that we made on the way to Valladolid. There is a little town by the name of Kikil a little north of Tizimin. It has one store, a bus stop, and a small park-like area; but what makes it worth a stop is a large ruined church. I asked a couple of locals if they knew when it was built or if they knew its name. All I got was “No lo sé” to both questions. They offered that it was possibly 200 years or more old. I can but agree – Yucatan is filled with these little unexpected treasures to look at and ponder over.

We did not stop in Tizimin – possibly another trip next year. We arrived in Valladolid shortly after noon and parked on the main plaza. Parking like this allowed us to take a walking tour through much of Centro and check out the local restaurants for our mid-day meal. We choose to eat at Las Campanas – ‘The Bells’ – and had an excellent meal, well served. We enjoyed the plaza and the local church grounds. They have done an excellent job of maintaining a colonial feel to the city and it is well worth a visit – especially if one is looking for home furnishings. Valladolid looks to be a center for furniture manufacture.

After lunch it was back on the road again headed west towards Izamal. Again, good roads and well signed. As you enter the area around Izamal you soon notice that every municipal building in every town is painted the same color – a warm yellow-orange with white trim; the same color used on all buildings in Izamal itself. I’m guessing that the local leaders got a great deal on a huge quantity of paint. It is distinctive and helps to define the area. Izamal is neat and orderly with a spacious central plaza dominated by the Convent of San Antonio de Padua. This convent established in 1549 by Franciscan monks was completed in 1562 with Brother Diego de Landa bringing a statue of the Immaculate Conception to Izamal from Guatemala. During the 17th Century there were many additions to the convent and many of the original Maya crafted artifacts were lost.

We bought an ice-cream cone at a stand on the plaza and continued on our way back to Telchac Puerto via Motul. We had seen many places of interest in our 2 day sojourn, taken many pictures, eaten some great food and acquired some great memories. But I’m sure that there are many more roads to travel before we can say that we have seen everything that there is to see here in Yucatan.

by Gil Beyer