Evoking long stints in the car with someone you hopefully get along with, great tunes and quirky photo ops, a good road trip is something to be savored (or survived, depending on the circumstances) in the moment and reminisced about for many years to come.
And while perhaps not as quirky or as iconic as those depicted by Hollywood movies or the romantic ideals associated with Route 66, there are some great outings to be had in and around Yucatán. The road from Mérida to Tizimín and the coast is one of them.
Setting out from Mérida, you will be taking highway 176 with your destination being the cattle-ranching town of Tizimín.
Tizimín is named after the Maya word ts’imin, which means tapir, and what the Maya at the time of the conquest called the horses that the Spanish rode in on, having never seen one of these strange beasts before. Tizimín is known for its annual fair dedicated to the three kings of Bible lore, which also has its Maya roots from pre-Colombian times in a festival that was celebrated to worship three gods, important to the indigenous population well before the Spanish arrived. Starting on December 28 and continuing through the middle of January, the fair is now the second most important cultural and agricultural event in the state, surpassed only by Feria Yucatán, the state fair held in November in Xmatkuil, on the outskirts of Mérida.
None of the above has anything to do with the road trip in question, so forgive me for digressing.
From Mérida, as I said, take 176 east, and your first stop will be the hometown of the famous Yucatecan statesman and the first governor to address the Maya population in their native language, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Now considered legendary, visionary, and practically a saint in some quarters, he is remembered for his stance on education, empowering the substantial indigenous population, and for his romance with the American journalist Alma Reed, who arrived in Yucatán in 1923 on assignment with the New York Times to cover recent archaeological developments. They met, and fell madly in love. Their affair might have continued had he not had the misfortune to be shot by firing squad after a change of government left him on the losing side. Motul honors him with a small museum in his former home, directly across from the market on the main square of this fairly small town.
And while we are on the subject of the market, an obligatory stop in Motul is to try Yucatán’s famous Huevos Motuleños, served up hot and fresh every day until about 1 pm by Doña Evelia from her modest locale on the second floor of the market. This dish was cooked up, according to one version, by Jorge Siqueff, for the afore-mentioned Felipe Carrillo Puerto who needed a lunch in a hurry, for himself and some distinguished guests. Mr. Siqueff whipped up this concoction which has become emblematic not only of Motul, but of the whole of Yucatán.
Order your Huevos Motuleños, with two or three eggs – you choose – and a tall glass of “horchata” or “jamaica,” and then perhaps stroll through the market to pick up some snacks for the drive…and off you go.
You will be driving through what is technically known as dry tropical forest, which, depending on the time of year, will be various shades of green or various shades of brown and grey. As you make your way to your destination you will pass many towns, and it is possible to avoid their sometimes congested centers by way of a bypass, or “libramiento,” which is where the highway skirts around the town and your trip is that much faster. However, part of a good road trip is stopping here and there for photos, snacks, or just having a look.
Shortly after Cansahcab, which you might or might not drive through, there will be a sudden splash of pink on the right, which turns out to be an unmarked hacienda, although there is a sign just before you reach it that says Hacienda Santa María. You can stop right there and take some great photos of this restored building and its chapel, and the unrestored machine room complete with chimney across the road. It really is in the middle of the highway so when wandering about with your camera, be sure to keep a lookout for trucks and other fast moving vehicles. There are no “topes” (speed bumps) here! If you do turn off to see Santa Maria, there is not much to see; a small town with few people around.
Hacienda Chenché de las Torres
Just before reaching Temax (if you are already there, you’ve passed the hacienda) you will see two bus stops seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but if you look carefully you will see the hand-painted indication that this is Chenché de las Torres.
This hacienda is a must-see, if you can get in. The hacienda is privately owned but the European owner has generously allowed her caretaker to open it for viewing (gardens and grounds only) for a small fee. It is one of only two or three haciendas in the area that were built like European castles, and seeing it is a highlight of this trip. The estate is generally open from 8 am -1 pm and from 2 – 5 pm, approximately, but of course we are in México so these hours might change for any number of reasons. A very popular location for wedding and “quinceañera” photos.
Pop in for a look at the San Miguel Arcángel church in the main square and take a photo or three of the colonial-era buildings surrounding that plaza. Temax is a small-large town with not a whole lot going on, tourism-wise, but it’s always interesting for me to see yet another town; each place seems to have its own vibe or feel.
Shortly after getting back on 176, you will see a sign for Dzoncauich – it’s actually the tiny hacienda of San Antonio Cámara – where you will have to slow down thanks to a “tope” (speed bump) or two. This is a great place, if you are hungry again, to have some delicious pig knuckle/trotter tacos highway-side, or simply pop into the store for something more traditionally unhealthy. There is fruit for sale; on the occasion I went (April) papayas were in season and creatively arranged like bright orange missiles in a rack with prices marked on them in black felt pen according to size.
You will have noticed that the shrubby vegetation has given way over the last while to open fields, suggesting the existence of cattle and horses. This is not a figment of your imagination, as you are now entering Yucatán’s cattle ranching area, evident in the town of Temax and your next possible slow-down, Buctzotz, both of which feature many animal feed and accessories stores. There are also cowboys on horseback riding randomly through town and a profusion of pickups of all shapes and sizes, from diminutive Nissans and Toyotas to luxurious Lincolns and Lobos. You can almost smell the money, along with the prevalent odor of manure if the wind is right.
Buctzotz, like Temax, is hit or miss, depending on your traveling style and preference. I got a distinct rough-and-tumble frontier vibe when driving through this town.
Your last taste of rural urbanity, before reaching your destination of Tizimín, is Sucilá. Again, small town, very much a ranching kind of place.
You made it!
Finally, you have arrived in Tizimín! To me, Tizimín feels kind of like Mérida 30 years ago. All the basic services are there, from pharmacies to movie theaters and supermarkets, but there is not really anything that could be considered ‘modern’ happening. A number of churches, fortress-like, stand out, and the main church (dedicated to those three kings I mentioned earlier) jumps out at you when you observe it from the Plaza Principal, or Zócalo, because it has no bell towers! Apparently these were never built and so the colossal stone building stands there, a squat somewhat imposing structure overlooking the trees and surrounding buildings.
Now that you have arrived, find your accommodation – I recommend looking at Airbnb where we found a terrific house with a pool – and relax. Tomorrow, you can explore the city or head out to the beach at San Felipe, tour the mangroves of Río Lagartos, and visit the salt fields of Las Coloradas!
Road Trip 101:
- Fuel: Make sure your tank is always at least 3/4 full. At one time, Yucatán’s gas stations were few and far between in the rural areas, but this has changed and you will find them much more frequently now.
- TP: It’s not a bad idea to have a roll of toilet paper in the car somewhere, for those stops where paper is scarce.
- Drinks: a cooler with water or other refreshments and some ice is a great idea. Take along some extra Cokes and hand them out when you feel like someone might enjoy a cold refreshment. You’ll be amazed how a little thing like a cold Coca Cola on a hot day can make someone’s day, thereby improving yours.
- Tires: Do I have to mention checking the tires (and spare) and the paraphernalia needed to change rubber on the road? Oil and the rest of it as well.
- Camera: take lots of photos!
- Charger: for your smart phone or whatever you use for tunes. A memorable road trip must have a musical background. It’s a rule.
- Towel(s) and a swimsuit: you might see a sign for a cenote and want to pop in for a dip.
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Photography by Ralf Hollmann, Judy Abbott and Andrea Mier y Teran for use in Yucatán Today
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