March 10, 2010

Yucatan Mexico

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 8:41 pm

It was time for the sun and fun part of the vacation. We arrived in Cancun, but based on what we’d heard we got out and headed to Playa del Carmen since it was supposed to be a little more laid back. Not really. It was kind of like Las Vegas with a nice beach on the side. One strip with chain stores and restaurants and way to many people.

We got out the next day and went south to Tulum. The beaches there – beautiful. The only downside is the cheap lodging and food is in town which is a 10 minute taxi ride from the beach. Fortunately we had fun at the hostel in town, the Weary Traveler. We met a lot of fun people from all over, played some cards, swapped travel stories. We even found a really good vegetarian restaurant, but it took a while since it was 3 blocks off the main street.

The ruins at Tulum are pretty cool mostly because they’re right on the ocean. You can even swim there at a really cool beach. The beaches are all in front of hotels, but the hotels are spread apart about every quarter mile instead of like at Playa del Carmen where they were every few feet. We even had some absolutely delicious Thai food at a place called Mezzanine. It was a bit overpriced, but a much better option than the other food options which were also all overpriced.

The other thing to do near Tulum is visit the Gran Cenote. Cenotes are freshwater, underground pools. The Gran Cenote has a cave area with cool stalagtites and stalagmites that you can see with with snorkeling gear. Scuba people can actually dive down through and extensive cave system. It’s very pretty to swim in, with fish and cool rock formations.

From Tulum we headed inland to visit some ruins. Our first stop was the Mayan ruins and village of Ek Balam. Chichen Itza gets all the press, but if you to go to some ruins that aren’t overrun with vendors and tourists, and actually be able to walk just about everywhere, Ek Balam is much better. The pyramid is taller and you can climb to the top, from where you can see the other pyramids of Chichen Itza and Coba in the distance. And there were probably only 5 other people at the site the whole time. Very nice. There’s a cenote nearby too which was my favorite to swim in. It’s not as pretty as the cenote near Tulum, but it’s got a rope swing, diving platfrom and you’ll have it mostly to yourself.

Our nicest lodging of the trip was at an eco retreat called Genesis. It’s right in a Mayan village, and beautiful. Our room had a bed that hung from the ceiling by ropes. There was a gorgeous pool and some decent vegetarian food. We spent our time reading books by the pool, walking around the village and relaxing in the gardens to the sounds of birds. There’s even an Italian restaurant with pretty good food that just opened. The village is really small, so you can’t not find it. The village is also known for the quality of the hammocks that they weave, so that was our only souvenir purchase for the trip. We also met with a local lady to learn how they made corn tortillas traditionally with a rock grinding surface and cook them over rocks and a small fire in the hut.

After the village we were relaxed enough to face the tourist hordes at Chichen Itza – or so I thought. We spent the night in Piste which is right at Chichen Itza so that we could see the nightime light show on the pyramid. On hindsight, it’s really not worth it as Valladolid is a much nicer city to stay in even though it’s 40 minutes away, and the light show isn’t that great. The grounds of Chichen Itza really are amazing and impressive, it’s just really hard to enjoy with the constant barrage of vendors trying to sell you crap. And it’s really crowded. But the vendors are by far the worst part. I was fairly amused that Elton John will soon be playing a concert at the pyramid too. Modern wonder or just a major money making spectacle? There’s a really pretty cenote nearby too, but all the tourist buses stop there so it’s so crowded that you have to wait or push through crowds of people to jump in, and you then have to wait in line to climb the couple of ladders available to get out.

We spent a night in Valladolid after visiting Chichen. It’s a nice city with cheap lodging, but there’s not a ton to do without taking day trips to places, so we headed back to the coast. Specifically to a place that we’d heard was pretty awesome from all the other hostelers: Isla Mujeres. This is where we really started to take some time to relax on the beach. We stayed at a hostel called Pocna, which we were told was one of the coolest in all of Mexico. I can see why. It’s cheap at about $10 per person, per night. It’s got free activities and live music everyday and night, a game room, free internet, serves decent food, and has a beach bar that goes until very late every night. And the rooms are quiet despite all this activity since they separate most of them from the common areas. The double rooms are an amazing deal as they’re not much more and include towels and blankets, but it’s probably best to reserve them in advance as they’re in demand. We finally got one the third night there after asking everyday.

We did the snorkeling tour with the local fisherman’s coop and it was a great deal. $20 per person and they provide gear, take you out in a boat to a gorgeous reef with tons of fish, catch lunch from the ocean and then cook it on the beach. We don’t usually eat fish, but they really didn’t have a vegetarian option and we watched them catch it, so we figured it didn’t get much closer to the source than that. And it was barracuda. That seemed to interesting not to try. I had a giant mojito along with that and it was delicious. Another nice thing about going with the fishermen instead of the big tour boats is that there’s only a few other people in your boat instead of dozens. We had a group of middle aged women from Wisconsin who were out to have a really good time. They even brought beer to share! The other people on the boat were from our hostel, and everyone was cool and fun. After the amazing lunch, we went back out to another snorkel spot. There were a ton of barracuda there which was fun to see. Kim got cold pretty easily in the water so had to get out early, but other than that it was awesome.

The next few days on the island we spent partying at the hostel until late, chilling out on the beach during the day, and exploring the island. There was some pretty good food places, and I think our favorite was called Manana and was right next to the hostel. Another fun activity was a turtle farm where they raised turtles of all sizes, including a couple gigantic ones.

For our last night we had to spend in Cancun since we had an early flight the next morning. We ended up staying at a hostel in the guidebook, but it was totally sketch as it was all guys and a lot of older, dirty looking guys. Kim wasn’t comfortable so we got a private room. On the upside of Cancun we found a great local plaza that had awesome cheap food.

The flight back was exhausting. I remember when traveling on airplanes was fun when I was little. I’m constantly amazed at how unpleasant they’ve made the whole airport experience the last few years. I also got a nasty cold on the flight back. Yuck.

Anyway, the vacation was great and it was really tough going back to work the next day. This will be the last major vacation before we have kids. Crazy, huh?

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